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

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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/

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 57B—Christian and Ana’s Interview

All of the same disclaimers apply. Have fun and enjoy…

Chapter 57B—Christian and Ana’s Interview

<The interview opens with the camera panning into the large wrought iron gates of Grey Crossing>

MARIA NARRATING: Here in the exclusive neighborhood of Mercer Island, Washington—a ten-mile island reserved for the crème de la crème—Christian and Anastasia Grey enjoy the trappings of wealth and luxury afforded to only the most elite of high society.

<Cut to and pan various rooms of the Crossing while Maria narrates>

Aptly named “Grey Crossing,” this beautiful home boast 13,721 square feet of pure opulence and elegance complete with a full staff on hand at all times, sure to turn even the most discerning among us green with envy. From the marble-floored grand entrance to the Grecian formal dining room to the splendid luxury infinity pool, there’s no question that Mr. and Mrs. Grey enjoy only the best of the best. However, neither of them spends their days lazing away by the pool eating truffles and sunbathing. No—to get the full picture of who the Greys really are, you have to look outside the gates of Grey Crossing.

<Film rolling quickly in reverse of the opening wrought iron gates>

The best place to delve to begin this story would be here at the glass tower known as Grey House—world headquarters for Grey Enterprises Holdings, Incorporated.

<Cut to a pan of Grey House from the front door and up the glass building against a partially-cloudy but sunny sky>

Easily one of the most fascinating people in America and arguably, the world, master businessman and entrepreneur Christian Grey started his company just over a decade ago and within a very short time, became a financial and industrial powerhouse. Revered and respected by many, Christian runs his company with the wisdom, effectiveness, and efficiency of much more experienced captains of industries. Underestimating his shrewdness because of his youth has been the downfall of many unsuspecting rivals.

<Cut to Christian having a conversation with Allen in the glass boardroom>

He prides himself on choosing the best of the best to run his company beside him, recently securing a highly sought-after executive to extend his impressive repertoire.

<Cut to Ana strolling confidently through the lobby towards the elevators>

Gone are the days of the haughty businessman and his “trophy wife,” now being quickly replaced by what we can clearly see as “the power couple.”  Grey House is a state-of-the-art smart-high-rise that boasts sleek lines, opulent design, open work spaces with lots of natural lighting, sophisticated systems that ensure the most efficient processes, and lots… and lots… of security.

<Pan through various work areas of GEH, then the front lobby desk showing a visitor being checked in, then cut to several of GEH’s security team lined up in black suits, the camera panning across each of them quickly>

In fact, GEH probably boasts the most stylish security squad in the country, but don’t let the good looks fool you. Hailing from various backgrounds including military and special training, GEH’s security team prides themselves on proficiency and effectiveness. These gentlemen run a tight ship, working as a synchronized team and utilizing some of the most sophisticated security protocols and equipment in existence.

Facial recognition software and hardware prevents unauthorized persons from accessing any area beyond the main lobby, allowing for the continual tracking of the location of any GEH employee as well as all visitors while on the premises. And speaking of visitors, if you don’t have an appointment, forget about it.

<Maria continues to narrate as Christian and Ana show her through various departments of the building, giving a quick synopsis of the activity occurring in each area>

Mr. Grey seems most at home in his seat at the helm of GEH in its executive offices. After a tour of the impressive organization, I sit down to have a short tête-à-tête with the head and founder of Grey Enterprises Holding, Inc.

<Christian is seated in a large white chair in his office while Maria sits across from him on one of the white sofas>

MARIA: I won’t ask that cliché question “To what do you owe your success.” I can imagine that’s pretty old and, at this point, redundant. So, I guess I’ll just ask what made Christian Grey the Christian Grey?

CG: Well, nobody wants to know the rags-to-riches story—you’ve heard that already, many times and from different people, and not all that interesting. Even though my story is a story of rags to riches, it’s old news. If you don’t know the tale already, you won’t hear it from me.

I wasn’t old enough to drink when I started my company with a small loan and an idea. I was both exhilarated and terrified to be branching out on my own. My parents were horrified that I dropped out of college—Harvard, no less—to follow this pipe dream as my father called it, but I was… exhausted.

MARIA <frowning>: Exhausted? Before you started your business?

CG <nodding>: Yes. I was Christian Grey. I was the orphan from the streets of Detroit who was granted a silver spoon—and there’s the rags to riches story I was trying to avoid. <He shrugs> Yet, it’s a terrible burden. It’s even more of a burden, I think, than to be born with that silver spoon in your mouth, because you’re expected to be grateful, and not to step wrong—to take advantage of the opportunity given to you and to do your very best to be perfect, or at least that’s the way I felt.

MARIA: And were you perfect?

CG: Far from it. I gave my parents hell, not because I was a bad kid, I just had a rough start and I didn’t know how to respond to certain things. So, when I came to my parents and told them that I was dropping out of Harvard after everything else that had already occurred in our lives, my father wasn’t hearing it. He was having no part of it, he was totally against it, and he was ready for me to either return to Harvard or move out. And he had every reason to feel that way—who in their right mind throws away the chance at a Harvard education?

MARIA: So, you didn’t resent your father for not supporting you.

CG: Absolutely not! At the time, I wished he would have had more faith in me, but as time progressed, I understood why he didn’t. But then there’s always that drive to make your parents proud and I was already on the uphill climb with that battle, so I had no other choice but to succeed. Yes, the odds were very much against me. Nonetheless, I followed that pipe dream, and my instincts paid off and helped get me to where I am today.

MARIA: Well, we see the obvious wealth and power and people easily see and paint you as a tyrant, and economical dictator. So, when you reference where you are today, exactly where are you today, Christian?

CG: One-hundred percent self-made billionaire whose name commands respect with many in the business world and strikes fear in many others. How did I get to where I am right now? Raw grit—pure unmitigated drive and determination and a learned and complete lack of fear. Do I want to find myself homeless and broke? No, but I understand more than anyone that you can lose everything with one wrong move. Hell, today, you don’t even have to do anything to lose everything. All you have to do is blink and not see something coming.

To further answer your question, GEH has controlling interests or substantial participation percentages in 28 industries comprised of 419 subindustries in 165 countries on all seven continents, including funding to one of the scientific research stations in Antarctica, and that’s just our for-profit endeavors. I haven’t calculated our impact and involvement in philanthropic work. Am I cocky? Absolutely. It takes pure brilliance and unshakable will to build what I built and be able to flaunt that success without anyone being able to take credit but me—and my competitors know it. Yes, I have an amazing executive team, and I wouldn’t be able to function without them, but GEH—the brain child—that’s mine. I’m not afraid to lose a battle or three. I’m not afraid to sacrifice the small things for the greater good, because sometimes, lost battles result in ultimately winning the war, and there’s always a war going on, Ms. Sanchez.

MARIA: And what’s the war right now, Mr. Grey?

CG: Oh, make no mistake—there’s always a war. When you are in a position of power, someone’s always looking to get that position. Now, if there’s another position available that’s like your position, then you may be safe because both of you can be in that position of power. However, if yours is the only position of power available, make no mistake—they’re gunning for you.

Immediately, however, we’re fighting domestic threats. I’m cutthroat with my business—mercilessly brutal and unapologetic about it. I’ll show up to negotiations for a hostile takeover with a virtual Samurai sword, walk into the room with my weapon hidden, but end up swinging two-thirds into the meeting. I’ll walk out of that room with a signed contract in hand, with high-handed, puffed-up executives lying across the boardroom table and slumped over in chairs bleeding from vital organs and left to die.

I proclaim this with no small amount of caution. I know that people are going to be gunning for me. They were gunning for me before and they’ll be gunning for me after this program airs. But no man worth his salt became great by being afraid—cautious, yes; wise, of course; prudent, no doubt, but afraid? Not a chance. A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.

MARIA <raising her brows>: Shakespeare!

CG: I’m well-read, and I did go to college for two years before I dropped out, although Shakespeare was required reading in high school.

MARIA: So, you mentioned the threats being domestic. Care to elaborate on that?

CG: Close to home, where they think I’ll be weak due to my emotional involvement. We have media personalities attacking us for no reason, just looking for the next sensational headline at our expense, no offense…

MARIA: None taken.

CG: False accusations against me and my wife, perpetuated solely to destroy our reputation and careers; internal assaults on my company that I’m not allowed to expound upon at this time; physical attacks on my wife and her family—you saw those on the news and they’ve left devastating effects on us. We bounce back, yes, but none of these attacks have left us unscathed.

Yet overall, none of these people have succeeded. Some of them just go away. Others go down as flaming failures—but they just keep coming. For every failure, there’s 20, 30, a hundred more behind them waiting for their shot at the Greys. Everybody wants the dream—to be financially secure enough not to be worried about the future—but many are spitefully angry with those of us who have achieved it. They want to take what we have or destroy us completely. What sense does that make?

MARIA: Maybe they feel like you’ve taken something from them—like you owe them something because of who you are and what you have… or what they feel you’ve done.

CG: They all feel that way! They all feel like I should divvy out what I’ve earned to them in one way or another—frivolous lawsuits, false accusations, Grey babies that aren’t Grey babies…

I can count on one hand—one hand—the number of people who may have had cause to feel that I had wronged them and came after me in some way for it. Not only did they fail, but their accusations were unfounded. Everyone else just has some delusional reason for wanting to bring me or my family down. I’m in this business to make a profit—to take sick companies and make them well again or to pull the plug on those that are hopelessly dying; to expand my interests and make sure that GEH remains the international powerhouse that it is in the most ethical manner imaginable. But I don’t pull punches. There’s no slight of hand when you see me coming. I conduct business like a businessman and if you get my iron fist, it’s because you earned it and you know it. So, these personal attacks on my family for business reasons or whatever reasons they are, they’re going to stop because we’re pulling out all the stops from this point forward.

MARIA: You haven’t been pulling out the stops to this point?

CG: We have, but apparently the message hasn’t been clear enough.

MARIA NARRATING<pan to Christian overseeing a meeting of his department heads with Ana sitting in the seat to his immediate right>: Christian Grey has unequivocally thrown down the gauntlet. He’s fearless in his business dealings but appears to be an even more formidable opponent if you cross him in terms of his family. With a net worth of more than 14 figures, he commands the boardroom with little effort, and is the quintessential example of self-made power and success. <animation of several magazine covers featuring Christian including Forbes, Money, Time, Entrepreneur, and People>.

The jewel in his crown, Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey.. Dr. Grey is a successful psychiatrist in the Seattle area who put her career on hold to become assistant director for Helping Hands, a Seattle-based charity that helps displaced families and victims of domestic abuse.

Image result for Genie FrancisHeaded by Dr. Grace Trevelyan-Grey—Christian’s mother—the charity hopes to soon offer continued learning, tutoring, and early learning classes for displaced families as well as members of the community. Helping Hands was featured in a public service announcement last year known as “Faces of Abuse” where many local celebrities, civic leaders, and everyday citizens confessed to being abused at one point.

<Portions of the “Faces of Abuse” campaign play>

HH Resident: They actually have security, so I feel safe bringing my kids here. Dr. Ana started a self-defense class after she had her babies. I can’t do all the stuff that she does, but I can handle myself pretty well after taking her classes, such that I’m not afraid anymore.

MARIA NARRATING: Dr. Grey confided that her aim in her chosen profession was to help others overcome frightening and adverse situations in their lives. Dr. Grey experienced her own trauma as a teenager, fueling her desire to assist those who need it most at a time when they’re most vulnerable.

<Scenes of Anastasia and Grace assisting families at Helping Hands>

However, in the hallowed halls of Grey House, it’s quite a different story. Armed with a minor degree in business and finance, Anastasia is hardly merely the “boss’s wife” in these walls. Walking through the lobby, it’s easy to see that she—like her husband—is also revered and respected. Having been gifted half of GEH as a wedding present, she takes her responsibility as part owner very seriously. She rightfully walks around like she owns the place, but I wanted to be sure that this wasn’t an act for the reporter. So, I randomly chose a department that I felt the boss’s wife would have no reason to frequent.

When I ask her to take me to Quality Control, she laughs. I mistake it for nervousness. I’m soon to realize how wrong I am. A short elevator ride later, we find ourselves in the Quality Control department. Here, Anastasia is giving me a brief rundown of the different products in testing and I’m already astounded by her level of knowledge of simply what’s on the floor.

AG: Mr. Braxton…

<A gentleman in conversation with someone at one of the stations raises his head and, upon noticing Anastasia, excuses himself and joins the ladies in the middle of the room>

I’m sorry to interrupt you, Omar. This is Maria Sanchez. You may have heard that she’s doing a human-interest piece on myself and Mr. Grey. Maria, this is Omar Braxton. He’s the head of our quality control department.

MARIA NARRATING: Omar is friendly and accommodating, and after we talk for a short while, Ana decides to flex her GEH muscles a bit.

AG: Omar, that information that I gave you about that transmitter a while back—you never got back to me on the final findings. I know it was pretty cryptic, and I know we saw some anomalies, but did it help break any codes? Were any of our questions answered, particularly the biggest one?

<Omar’s face lights up and he’s become quite animated>

OB: Like you wouldn’t believe! Breaking codes is an understatement. I’ve had an entire team working on those figures since you brought them to our attention. It’s amazing how the slide of a number or three can make such a huge difference, but it did… all the difference in the world. We never would have caught that without running those extra tests. I’d really like to show you the data… <looking over at Maria> … when you have a moment.

AG<smiling>: Of course. We understand. There’s just been so much going on, I haven’t had a chance to get in here and ask you about it. I’ll set up a meeting as soon as I can to go over your findings.  I’d love to see your progress.

<They smile at each other before Anastasia and Maria move to another area>

AG: Proprietary information. You understand.

MARIA NARRATING: Of course. I won’t lie. I was hoping to catch the queen snoozing at the switch. I should have known something was afoot when my request to visit QC was followed by a giggle.

Having seen Anastasia outside of the corporate world in her natural habitat at Helping Hands, so to speak, I wanted to get an idea of who she was before she was the glamorous and sophisticated billionairess we see now—not that she wasn’t sophisticated before, but she wasn’t always a billionairess. Imagine my joy when I find out that she still owns the condo where she lived before she met Christian. I would have expected the space to be vacant, maybe a college space like a small apartment or a loft that was shared by a group of struggling students.

Not in the slightest.

Anastasia’s condo is large, spacious and beautifully decorated. I asked her if she had remodeled it once she was married, and she assures me that it’s in the same condition she left it in when she moved out to live with Christian in his penthouse at Escala downtown, complete with a very masculine guestroom—which we’ll get to later.

<Maria walking towards the camera while she addresses the viewing audience>

MARIA: So, here we are in Ana’s pre-Christian condo overlooking Elliot Bay. It’s obvious that she’s no stranger to posh surroundings as exhibited by the stunning décor and open floor plan, semi-gourmet kitchen with stainless steel appliances, and a view of Mt. Rainier that was certain to attach a heavy price tag to this property. As it turns out, Ana secured this property for a steal from a divorced wife trying to unload it—that “steal” nonetheless resulting in a 7-figure price tag.

<Cut to Maria and Ana sitting across from each other in Ana’s living room>

MARIA: So, Ana, tell me—how does a girl from Montesano suddenly find herself a businesswoman and half-owner of one of the largest corporations in the world?

AG: Well, I’m no Christian Grey. I was somewhat catapulted into this situation. It’s kind of like a baby bird being slapped out of the nest and either you fly, or you die. When my husband first told me that he was making me part owner of GEH, I thought he had lost his mind. Yes, I minored in business and finance, but that’s only because I knew that fresh out of med school, I wouldn’t have enough money to hire business managers, financial planners, and accountants and such once I was ready to start my practice. So, I took some business classes and one thing led to another and boom—minor in finance. I never in a million years would have thought that I’d be even partially at the helm of a multibillion dollar conglomerate.

MARIA: How did this come about? I mean, did he just come home and make the announcement?

AG <rubbing the side of her head>: It was somewhat like that, but there was so much more involved. It’s kind of gray when I try to put it all together, but I remember that I had inherited—for lack of a better word—a company as part of a settlement. We had intended to absorb the company into GEH. However, closer examination revealed that it wouldn’t be prudent to do so. While we were sorting out the particulars of disposing of the company, the precariousness of my position with GEH came to a head and that’s when we decided to make it official. I was a figurehead up to that point, and not even that. The story is far too long and tedious for me to repeat it, but let’s just say that the transition was anything but seamless.

MARIA: Were you met with resistance? <Ana ponders her answer for a long while> Animosity? Resentment? Jealousy?

AG <sighing>: Those are strong words and remember, I’m a psychiatrist. So, words mean a lot. Amazingly, I can’t really put into words what I was met with because I’m not inside anyone’s head, but I can tell you what I think it felt like.

Imagine being part of an organization where you have a clearly-marked figurehead. Strong, powerful, knows exactly what he wants, successful, he gets things done—there’s no doubt who’s in charge. He’s “take no prisoners” and you don’t cross him. Suddenly—out of nowhere, literally—you’re getting marching orders from the little woman who is not only in actuality a petite woman but has already been pegged a gold digger. Now imagine being on the receiving end of those feelings when you’re trying to get something done. <Maria blanches>

MARIA: How do you do that… not mince words and still remain so politically correct? <Ana scoffs>

AG: It’s a blessing and a curse.

MARIA: So, tell us about Ana before Christian.

AG: You mean besides what’s splattered all over the tabloids?

Independent, driven, self-sufficient. I had my own practice, and it was successful. I even had a waiting list. I was doing volunteer work as well, but it wasn’t really satisfying. That’s because I wasn’t in the right place and I wasn’t contributing what I felt I needed to contribute, so I had to move on.

MARIA: Someone’s going to ask, so I’ll ask first. You speak like this was no big change for you, but your life wasn’t nearly this extravagant before Christian, right?

AG: You mean the life of a billionaire’s wife? Of course, not, but I wasn’t a pauper, either. This condo is decorated exactly as it was when I met Christian. <She gestures around the room> Nothing has changed except that I have a friend staying here so that it doesn’t fall to disarray. But look around you.

<Pan of various rooms and décor of the condo>

Does this look like the digs of some poor struggling woman waiting to be rescued?

I drive Audis now, but when we met, I was driving a current-year Chrysler 300. I was a fashionista, just like I am now, although my shoes may not have been Louboutins. I hadn’t dated anyone for four years and I wasn’t looking to date. When I met Christian, I didn’t know who he was and when I found out, I didn’t like him. I wanted him out of my presence as quickly as possible and I tried to do that, but he was persistent. One thing I learned about Christian Grey. When he wants something, he doesn’t give up easily if at all.

MARIA: It almost sounds like you loved him against your will.

AG: I did! I wasn’t looking for any kind of relationship, least of all with Christian Grey, but look what happened.

MARIA: Is it really that simple? Is it really just look what happened or was there more to the story?

AG: There was quite a bit more to the story. Most of the story was plastered over the news—in trials and kidnappings and attacks and accusations… bitter lies and just plain hatefulness. We couldn’t get any peace. I’ve always considered myself just a regular girl, you know—no frills, nothing special… just me. Suddenly, I become half of AnaChris and everything about me was different. It was like…

<Anastasia pauses here, trying to find her words>

I just got lost in the whole billionaire-ness of it all, and it wasn’t that it went to my head. It was just that I wasn’t me anymore. Suddenly, I had to justify every decision I was making—from what I was wearing, to who did my hair, to what I was driving, to the precarious timing of my pregnancy.

MARIA: Okay, but besides the obvious wealth and dollar signs, where did the ‘more’ come in? <Anastasia frowns>

AG: The more?

MARIA: Yes, the ‘more.’ You said that there was more to the story than just look what happened. <Ana sighs>

AG: Christian is nothing if not cautious and thorough. I was in a position to cause him distress, and I wanted nothing more than to just be out of it… by any means necessary. Our relationship was no accident. How we came into each other’s presence may have been chance, but the events that followed were anything but. Everything that occurred to lead us to become a couple was planned, and believe me, he’s not ashamed to admit it.

It wasn’t that way at first. He wanted me out of his hair and I wanted out of his hair. But one action led to a series of events that, in the beginning, I felt weren’t supposed to happen, but now I feel they were destined.

MARIA: Forgive my bluntness, Ana, but you’re speaking in riddles. <Anastasia shrugs>

AG: Well, you must know that I have to be careful what I say. Before I expound on how this particular portion of our lives played out, I have to talk to Christian first.

MARIA: Are you afraid of how he’ll react? <Anastasia raises a brow> Okay, let me rephrase. Are you concerned that his reaction would be less than favorable?

<Anastasia leans back in her seat, placing her fingertips delicately under her chin>

AG: I’m always concerned about Christian’s reaction, not because I’m anxious that his reaction may be less than favorable, but because I don’t want to be the deliberate cause for his duress. My job is to be his helpmate, his life-mate, to love him and bring him comfort and solace. I can’t effectively do that if something that I’m doing is a source of angst, now can I?

My husband has always been a very private person. There are parts of our personal lives that the public will never know, just like there are parts of everyone else’s personal lives that are not subject to public scrutiny. So, yes, I will need to discuss with my husband how much of this story will be revealed during this segment.

MARIA<nodding>: That’s fair enough. So, let’s move on to this Judd Rossiter thing. What can you tell us that won’t put you in a bad position?

AG: Nothing, unfortunately. It’s an open case and there’s a gag order. I’m afraid that anything I say could compromise the proceedings or definitely put me in contempt of court. I’ll just say that I know when to keep my mouth shut <an obvious shot at Rossiter>

<The setting changes to the backseat of the converted Audi>

MARIA: So, how have your relationships changed, Ana? How do your friends feel about the new life you lead? Was it a rough transition? Did you have to make new friends?

AG<sighing>: It had its bumps every now and then. It’s no secret that my sister-in-law was battling a brain tumor shortly after my husband and I married. That was a trial for us all because she was my friend before she was my sister-in-law. But she came through it with flying colors, thank God, and she’s doing better than ever. That was probably the biggest transition we had to deal with in terms of friendships. My core support circle is the same as it was before I got married. It even merged a bit.

MARIA: Merged? Do elaborate

AG: People who had been dating got married, and people who weren’t dating each other started dating. As you know, my friend Valerie whom we were just speaking about married my husband’s brother and became my sister-in-law. As for making new friends, my husband’s sister Mia—I would consider her now part of my core group of friends along with her husband, Ethan. I have friends at Helping Hands… so, yeah, I’ve met more friends, but my core friendships have remained the same. The original group call ourselves the ‘Scooby Gang.’

MARIA<chuckling>: Why the ‘Scooby Gang?’

AG: It’s simple, cute, unassuming, maybe a little naïve because the Scooby Gang never fought, and we’ve had the occasional tiff or falling out, but we always find ourselves back at the core again. When the chips have really gone down, there’s never been a time where we haven’t been there for each other. We’ve had segments in time where something may have gone down that we weren’t aware of, but when the situation was revealed, we all came together like we usually do. I don’t know if you remember that when I was kidnapped, it was my best friend Allen who made the call to arms with Christian.

MARIA<nodding>: I do remember that. So, what’s the makeup of the Scooby Gang?

AG<smiling>: Without getting into detail, there’s me, of course. Then, there’s Allen, Valerie, Maxie and Phil, and Gary.

MARIA: So, there’s six of you… like a real-life episode of Friends. 

AG<making a face>: Yeah, we’re… friends, of course, but… well, there are more people that are in the core by default, like Marilyn and James… even Christian and his brother Elliot…

MARIA NARRATING<while Anastasia continues to explain the ‘core’ dynamic>: I could tell that she didn’t necessarily agree with the comparison to Friends even though she didn’t really protest. She just went about the business of illustrating how different from Friends her inner sanctum really is.

MARIA: So, do you get to see your friends as much as you used to?

AG: Not as much, but that’s because of life events on the part of all of us. Most of us were single before, and now, we’ve all coupled-up or married. Two of the couples have had children <she raises her hand>, we’ve had career changes, health issues… you know, life events. But what I love about our friendship is that the minute someone says, “I need you,” or “Hey, let’s get together,” we’re together or have a party or F&L planned within a couple of hours.

MARIA<grinning>: FNL? What is that, Friday Night Live?

AG<laughing>: No! Not FNL, F-and-L… Food and Libations. I love to cook. When I was a single girl in that beautiful condo with that gorgeous kitchen and open floor plan, at least once a month and usually more, I and my friends would come together for Food and Libations. It was usually on a Saturday night. I would cook, and they would bring the drinks—libations—whatever they wanted. We socialized and caught up on the week’s events, and they would clean up. That’s why you saw the other bedrooms at the condo. In case someone drank too much, they could crash. Allen is my right arm; he has been for 14 years. So, he has a permanent room at my condo and a key.

MARIA: Does he have a permanent room at Grey Crossing?

AG<rolling her eyes>: Everybody has a permanent room at Grey Crossing. Have you seen the size of that place? What can one nuclear family do with all that space?

MARIA NARRATING: All that space indeed…

<Cut back to the opening gates of Grey Crossing from the beginning of the interview and pan to various rooms as Maria narrates>

Eight bedrooms, double-digit bathrooms—not including the staff’s apartments on the lower levels—a gourmet kitchen, two-story formal living-room and Grecian dining room, a ginormous family room, several outdoor patios on multiple floors, and an outdoor dining room and barbeque kitchen and a small private beach in the backyard leading to an enviable view of Lake Washington, and we haven’t even scratched the surface.

Two working elevators, a fully-loaded workout room, an infinity pool with jacuzzi, a private spa, and an outdoor sauna and shower; a theater room that would put some theaters to shame; a lush parlor for her and a decked-out den for him as well as his and her offices with posh furnishings and an aquarium in between.

And speaking of aquariums…

Full-wall aquariums greet you not only at the entrance to a massive entertainment room on the ground floor, but also in the private spa where Mrs. Grey goes to have her beauty treatments every now and then.

And Ana was correct when she mentioned room for everyone at Grey Crossing.

<Cut to shots of Valerie and Elliot in the dining room, and Elliot later in the family room>

Christian’s brother and sister-in-law are a regular fixture at the Crossing, a bit of a home away from home, you could say. And good luck sneaking onto this estate uninvited. The Crossing is equipped with all of the state-of-the-art security devices as Grey House and a few extras including a combination location and two-way communication system.

We could spend another hour just touring the beautiful rooms, furnishings, and amenities of the gorgeous estate, but we’d much rather talk to the couple who call it “home.”

<Cut to Anastasia and Christian on the sofa in the formal living room with Maria sitting on the opposite sofa>

MARIA: So, let’s get to the question that everyone wants to ask. How did a local psychiatrist land Seattle’s most eligible bachelor?

CG and AG<simultaneously>: Well…

<They look at each other and Anastasia gestures to cede the floor to Christian>

CG: Let’s start by clarifying your question. She didn’t land me—I landed her. People think that there’s some formula to this—there isn’t. My life is and always has been very private, so although I had interactions before, they weren’t plastered all across the news. This one only became news because my wife—then girlfriend—was kidnapped, but we very much would have preferred to keep our relationship private.

The truth of the matter is that when the right person comes along, all bets are off. There’s no amount of conniving, scheming, hoping, wishing, praying, or plotting that you can do that can make you be that one. There has to be an emotional and physical connection and at some point, there has to be a willingness on the part of both parties to engage.

In our case, this was truly cosmic intervention. We hated each other—unquestionably, undeniably, and unequivocally. She correctly had me pegged as an arrogant, egotistical, narcissistic donkey’s butt and she made it no secret… and she wanted nothing to do with me. I thought she was a pompous, stuck-up, headstrong, disagreeable female and I wanted nothing to do with her. She had my fate in her hands and I resented it. I tried to bully her, and she was having none of it. She pretty much told me what I could do with myself and where to go and stormed out… and I fell in love.

So, if you ladies want to know the answer to the age-old question “how to land a billionaire,” call him names and tell him the truth about his crappy behavior, and then leave him to marinate in it and refuse to speak to him… but know that if you’re not the one that supposed to end up in his life, you may end up landing a restraining order and jail time as opposed to landing a billionaire.

<Maria looks at Anastasia, who simply shrugs>

AG: I told you, I wasn’t looking for love, and even after I met him, I wanted anything but a relationship with him. You know how the boys in grade school would kick you or hit you or tease you if they liked you? <Maria nods> He was worse. He tormented me. I thought he hated me and I certainly could do without him.

MARIA: So, how did you end up crossing that thin line between love and hate?

CG: It was… tricky.

<Maria cocks her head at Christian, waiting for the rest of the tale>

CG: My life was very private before I met my wife. I did have relationships, but they were very structured and very formal. From my side, they were very dispassionate, very unemotional. Although they were monogamous, they were only a means to an end. The women involved were legally sworn to secrecy. Believe me, there are legally binding non-disclosure agreements all over the state of Seattle.

MARIA: What if one of these women decides to come forward with this information? Like if they felt as if they had nothing to lose?

CG: Well, first of all, everyone has something to lose. They just don’t know what it is until they lose it. In all honesty, I can say this—it’s no secret that I’m a powerful man. If you come after what’s near and dear to me, to any man, he’s going to come at you with all he’s got. Do you really want that? In terms of the legal system, I’m a businessman. I’ve never had a board of directors—I am the business. Wherever I was, the business was—in my building, in my cars, in my penthouse, in my shower, on my private jet—you get the picture? I discuss and conduct business in all those places. To that end, any information heard or discovered in any of those places is protected business information including the color of my underwear, and the language of the contract is such that revealing that information is a punishable criminal act.

MARIA: Oh, come on, seriously?

CG: Corporate espionage.

MARIA: Revealing the color of your underwear is corporate espionage, Christian?

CG<shrugs>: They should have read the contract. So far, no one has been brazen enough to attempt to breach a signed NDA, but should they try, they’re in for a rude awakening because they’ll most likely find themselves in cuffs. All I can say is that if they would like to test that theory, they can try.

MARIA: What about you, Anastasia? How do you feel about this whole NDA thing?

AG<shrugs>: I never signed an NDA. Our relationship is far from dispassionate, quite emotional, and to hell with structure.

MARIA: Well, alright, then. So, Christian, why were you so secretive about your relationships?

CG: I have a lot to lose. My reputation is at stake. People wanted to easily paint me as a playboy or they wanted to marry me off. I wasn’t serious about anybody. I really couldn’t afford to be half of a whole until I was half of a whole.

MARIA: And that happened when Anastasia was kidnapped.

CG<sighing and taking Ana’s hand>: Yes. Nothing else mattered then but getting her back. I didn’t know where she was. I didn’t know if she was hurt; what he was doing to her. I didn’t know if I would get her back alive or at all. <Holding his head down> I couldn’t see past the moment. I could only see getting her back, and I had to make sure that people paid attention. So, that’s why I put my face to the plea. <A clip of the plea plays silently as he speaks> At the time that we had recorded the call for help, we hadn’t gotten any clues yet except who took her, so we didn’t know where they were or what the next move was.

MARIA: Then there was the daring helicopter rescue. What were you thinking, Ana?

AG: I honestly don’t remember most of it. It’s partially because of the trauma and it’s partially because of my later accident where I’ve lost some of my memories. I remember the gunshots and I remember the lights of the hospital. Then I remember going home. The rest of it is kind of a big fuzz. I remember the smell of mildew and the feeling of hopelessness…

<Anastasia trails off>

MARIA<reaching over and squeezing Ana’s hand>: Well, we don’t want to take you back down that road again. I think we’d all like to know when you first realized that you were in love.

AG<she and Christian are looking at each other>: It just happened. We were in my apartment and I remember thinking this can’t possibly be happening this fast.

MARIA: You’re smiling, Christian.

CG: I didn’t feel that way.

<Anastasia’s glaring at him>

It was happening for me. I didn’t know what it was at first, but it was happening, and I knew it was.

<Anastasia’s glare softens>

MARIA: Who said it first?

CG: That’s why I didn’t feel the way she did. She said it first. I felt it first. I felt it long before she did. I would go so far as to say that I think she was still hating me when I first felt it.

AG<amazed>: That can’t be right!

CG: Oh, I think it was. The first time you said you loved me, you were asleep in my apartment. By that time, I was deeply in love with you, but I hadn’t said it yet. You said it again in your sleep, this time in your apartment and I said it back, but you were still asleep. The first time you said it to me awake was the third time you had said it to me.

AG<in awe>: Are you kidding?

CG<shaking his head>: And the first time I said it to you while you were awake was the second time I had said it… that I know of.

AG: You said you knew… while I still hated you. How could you have known? I mean, before me? How…

CG: Honestly, I think I loved you as far back as when Allen and James came to pick you up from the community center.

AG<stunned speechlessness>: Wha…?

<Maria watches in gleeful anticipation>

CG: I was still trying to figure it out <Christian laughs>

MARIA: This is so adorable. So, this totally shoots down the whole gold-digger theory…

AG<still stunned>: Huh?

MARIA: Well… you know there are still the hangers on with the gold-digger theory that Ana was looking for a billionaire and snagged Christian and got pregnant to keep him and… you know the rest.

CG: Once again, I say, Anastasia didn’t chase me, I chased her. Anastasia didn’t even want me. Anastasia didn’t even like me. When she says that she hated me, let me tell you… she hated me! She saw me at my worst… my very worst. As it turned out, she was on a disastrous date saying goodbye to the same guy that later kidnapped her. She had a little too much to drink and I made sure that she and her car got home safely. The rest is history.

MARIA: Now, how did you end up getting to her exact location that night?

CG: I shamelessly stalked her on her date. Then I sent a bottle of wine to her table to apologize for being such a jerk. I just wanted to make my presence known. I didn’t know she was breaking up with the guy.

AG: It’s a long story, but I had already broken up with the guy. He was asking for another chance.

MARIA: Needless to say, you said, “no.”

AG: Needless to say.

CG: Anyway, we fell in love because I pursued her. I had to have her. We’ve always been completely open and honest with each other, even about our secrets…

MARIA: Secrets… Elena Lincoln.

CG: Yes, Elena. I can’t talk about her too much. She was a mistake in my life that lasted for many years. I can’t begin to tell you the effects she had on me and my family. I just can’t talk about her. I can only say that my wife is slowly undoing the damage that woman has done to me. <Anastasia smiles>

MARIA: How so?

CG: It’s very personal, but she’s doing it by loving me… unconditionally, flaws and all. She’s undoing all the bad and replacing it with good. It’s scary and sometimes painful, but she chases all my monsters away.

MARIA: Wow, that’s very deep. Ana, does he do anything like that for you?

AG<Her voice incredulous>: Are you kidding? He’s my ultimate protector. I fear nothing with this man around. Nothing. I feel like if there’s anything that he can’t do, he’ll find a way to get it done. I and my children have nothing to fear as long as he’s alive.

MARIA: Those are big shoes to fill, Christian.

CG: I’m up to the task.

MARIA: So, you mentioned early on that you were secretive about your relationships because of your reputation. Couldn’t the details of a past relationship still ruin your reputation?

CG: Yes, they may damage my reputation, but here’s something to remember. I have enough resources right now to retire every member of my family including my infant children. Me going after someone for damaging my reputation could destroy them completely, but how much would it really hurt me? The most that anyone could ever hope to gain by trying to expose me in any way would be homelessness because I would spend all of my energy on injunctions and gag orders. By the time they had any hope of collecting anything from me, we would both be dead. That’s the big and the little of it. If anyone tried to do anything to ruin my reputation, I would adapt. If they tried to do anything to harm me or my family, just know that I’m coming at you with everything that I have. It’s that simple.

MARIA: I can understand that. Now, we may not be able to talk about the relationship with Lincoln, but can you elaborate a bit on the attempted murder?

CG <sighs>: Not really. It’s not because I can’t talk about it. It’s because I don’t know what the hell happened. To this day, I’m still not sure what was going on. I really thought I knew, but I don’t. The woman is some kind of crazy—that’s all I know.

MARIA: Ana, this is your area of expertise. Care to elaborate?

AG: Well, this is delicate territory for me, but since the case has already been decided, I can offer a bit of opinion. From what I saw, long story short, all of her actions were justified. In her eyes, everything she did was justified—it didn’t matter what it was, she was justified in doing it. So, she went about the business of doing what she wanted to do, and the court didn’t agree with her. There’s just no other way to explain it.

MARIA: But why did she want to kill Christian?

AG: She said it in the courtroom—to free him from me.

MARIA: I don’t get that.

AG: You and me both. Neither did the jury.

MARIA: So, let’s back up a bit. Before the wedding… you left for a while.

<Christian drops his head>

AG: Yeah, I did.

MARIA: Why?

AG: Because I was having a hard time dealing with rejection.

CG: I wasn’t rejecting you.

AG: I didn’t know that.

MARIA: How do you know that now?

AG<shaking her head>: I still don’t. <Christian raises an amazed gaze at her> The heart is fragile. He knows that now more than ever. <Christian drops his head again> My man disappeared for several hours, and when he returned I heard, “Let’s not get married,” and that’s all I heard. I couldn’t take it, so I left. I left to try to clear my head and deal with the heartbreak that I was feeling. There was a bit of back and forth—he found me, we fought, we talked, he left, he kind of fell apart. I came back and saw what it was doing to him. We talked again. He told me that he didn’t say, “Let’s not get married.” He said, “Let’s not get married right now.” I understood what he said the second time. The problem is that I still only heard, “Let’s not get married,” and I saw all my dreams dying.

CG<barely audible>: You still feel that way?

AG: We’re married now, but that’s still what I heard.

<Christian wraps his arms around his wife>

MARIA: So… you made it down the aisle and you go on this lovely honeymoon, and it’s cut short…

AG: Yes, crazy ex-boyfriend decides that he wants his speedy trial right in the middle of our honeymoon. We’re sure that he planned it. You saw how that turned out.

MARIA: It’s my understanding that during that case, you discovered that you were pregnant with your children.

AG<grimacing>: You understand correctly. There was an unfortunate incident involving the defense attorney that prompted me to take a pregnancy test.

MARIA: An unfortunate incident… care to elaborate?

AG<her eyes wide>: No.

MARIA NARRATING: At the request of our hosts, we move the interview to their spacious and well-equipped family room. Though they looked quite majestic in the formal living room, our couple is much more relaxed in this setting.

MARIA: Okay, Ana, let’s move to something that I hope is a little more palatable than the last few moments of our previous discussion. I know that one of the main reasons for your appearance today and other appearances before now is centered on the allegations of sexual harassment against you. Just a quick synopsis. Someone made an anonymous call that you behaved inappropriately with a patient and that opened an investigation into the allegations. Tell us about that.

AG<straightening her posture>: Yes. The medical profession is based largely on trust. People trust us with their bodies. In my case, they trust us with their minds. It’s a huge responsibility, so accusations like this must be taken very seriously. Of course, I was devastated when I heard that someone would even think I would do something like this. But when I saw who the victim was, I knew it was a personal vendetta.

MARIA: Are you allowed to reveal who the victim was at this point?

<Christian slowly raises his hand>

MARIA: Yes, Christian? Who was the victim?

<He sits there in the same position>

MARIA<horrified>: You??

<Christian nods>

AG: My sentiments exactly. I was anonymously accused of sexual misconduct with my husband.

MARIA: Dear God, how did that come about?

AG: Well, we’re still trying to get to the salt of the matter. Anything that we say about the person who made those calls would be pure conjecture. Even though we have our theories, those claims are anonymous for a reason… to make sure that the accusers—valid accusers—are protected. The problem is that the system also protects those who just want to throw smut.

I’m going public with the accusations against me because not only were they totally untrue and unfounded, but they were completely ludicrous! And the way that I was treated at that inquisition that they called a hearing was preposterous and the most blatant display of unprofessionalism I had ever seen. They dragged in people from my past—colleagues, patients—they chose completely irrelevant questions even down to questioning my attire. They locked me in a room for hours without my phone, my purse, or any type of timepiece with a guard who never said a word to me the entire time, like I was a common criminal.

They subjected me to this board of stuck-up elitists who all looked down their nose at me and refused to refer to me by my title. All doctors themselves, they all knew how offensive it is to strip a doctor of her title. So, as a continuation of their emotional warfare, they all called me “Mrs. Grey” instead of “Dr. Steele-Grey,” no matter how many times I corrected them and informed them that I still had my license.

I could go on forever about how unjustly I was treated by the board, and quite frankly, I’m lucky that I escaped that witch hunt with my license still intact. I’m not some pompous, pampered little doctor-person who got her little feathers ruffled because the big bad men didn’t pat me on my head. <Anastasia feigns baby talk> I just want to see people treated more fairly when they’re required to present their cases in situations like this. Even killers get a right to a fair trial—I was convicted before I even stepped in that room on zero evidence and a rumor.

So, my campaign is not to toot my own horn and proclaim that they’ve hurt the feelings of the great Anastasia Grey. My purpose for going public is to hopefully appeal to others who may have experienced this kind of treatment. When the board was confronted about this incident, they swept the whole thing under the rug like nothing happened. So, how many other people have been subjected to this?

My voice is loud because I refuse to remain silent about this, but two voices are better, four is a lot louder, The more, the better, of course. So, how many people within the sound of my voice has been treated unfairly by this board or knows someone or of someone who has? If this is you, you can reach me at my office at Helping Hands. Yes, we have security screening, but it’ll be worth it if we can shed some light on this situation.

MARIA: So, you’re looking for a class action?

AG: It’s more like a call to action. If I’m the only person who was treated this way by the board, well then, I’m just one person. This is my battle to fight and mine alone and we don’t have to worry about other people being treated this way. However, if this is the usual treatment of people who are accused of this kind of action, then we need some kind of investigation—maybe an examination of the archaic ideals of the board and possibly replacing its members.

MARIA: Are you up to that job, Ana… possibly being a member of the board?

AG<her eyes wide>: Oh, God, no! I don’t want someone’s fate in my hands like that. With everything I’ve been through, they don’t even bother picking me for jury duty!

<Christian laughs>

MARIA: So, if the board approached you, would you turn them down?

AG: First, I highly doubt that the board would ever approach me, but second, I’ve never even given the concept any thought. I just want people to be treated fairly. I don’t necessarily have to be the one to do the job in order for that to happen. And third, to answer your question—no, it’s not something that I want. I have no dreams or aspirations whatsoever of being on the board.

I felt like the views of the board were quite antiquated in the questions that they asked me and the way that they treated me. I have no problem with the traditional values being part of this process. In fact, I support it. However, I feel that the board and its members and guidelines need to incorporate more of the forward-thinking concepts that define the passing of time as well as modern medicine and practices.

I seriously felt like I was in that movie, “Twelve Angry Men,” and I was the accused awaiting the verdict. I left those proceedings, went home, and waited for them to tell me that they were stripping me of my license. Had I done something wrong, I could do nothing but hang my head in shame, but I really, really did nothing wrong. So, I think something needs an overhaul here, and if I remain silent, it’s not going to happen…

MARIA NARRATING: The seriousness of the conversation is interrupted by cooing babies in the background, Christian gestures to someone to come forward.

MARIA: Oooohh, this is such a treat!

CG: Hello there, Minnie Mouse! <Christian takes his daughter>

AG: How’s Mommy’s handsome man? <Anastasia takes her son>

MARIA<brimming with excitement> Please! Please! Introduce us!

CG: Well, this redhead beauty is Mackenzie and that handsome prince is Michael, and these are the heirs to the Grey estate. <Mackenzie looks adoringly at her father>

MARIA: Is she a daddy’s girl?

CG: She’s definitely a daddy’s girl.

MARIA: And what about Michael—is he Mommy’s boy?

AG<examining Michael>: I don’t know. Mikey is laid back. He likes everybody. Mackenzie is more expressive, so while I can tell that she loves Mommy, she coos more at Daddy.

<Watching Mackenzie do just that while Christian makes faces at her>

MARIA: Most Moms say that parenting comes naturally. Is that how it was for you?

AG<twisting her lips>: I think that’s a broad statement, Maria. I don’t think parenting comes naturally to anybody; that’s why some children are taken away from their parents. I think the connection that you feel while carrying a little life around in your body for nearly a year can’t help but to extend to the living breathing human being once they’re no longer in your body. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

<Cut to the scene of Anastasia in the rocker in the nursery with her back to the camera nursing Mikey and singing to him>

AG<while the scene is still playing>: I can’t speak for anyone else. I can only speak for myself. The moment I discovered that I was pregnant, all I wanted was to love and protect my babies. I was afraid that the world would gobble them up and mistreat them, and I knew that the only way to prevent that from happening was to nurture them, shield them from what harm I could and prepare them for the world ahead. It’s a frightening and daunting task, but it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Minnie’s first smile and Mikey’s first babble… I can’t even describe the feeling that comes over you when you witness the smallest milestones.

<The scene continues for a few moments more, the only sound being Anastasia serenading her baby>

<Cut back to the family and Maria in the family room>

MARIA<with a broad smile>: Minnie and Mikey… was that intentional?

AG: Yes and no. We mulled over our children’s names, each of us making suggestions about what we wanted to name them.

<Cut to a picture of Minnie and Mikey each in their Minnie and Mickey Mouse swim suits earlier that summer>

I had always had my son’s name picked out since before I was even pregnant, and Christian insisted on naming the girl after me.

MARIA<frowning>: But her name is Mackenzie…

AG: Her middle name is Anastasia. I drew the line at the first name. One “Anastasia” is enough! <Christian shrugs>

MARIA<laughing>: I see. Well, I can say that they seem to be two well-behaved babies.

<Cut to scenes of Christian playing with Mikey; Keri rocking Minnie to sleep; Anastasia playing an animated game of peek-a-boo with her son; Christian bouncing his daughter on his knee while she laughs gleefully>

AG: I’ll be the first to tell you that my children are blessed. They have a lot of people around them that love them—their mom and dad, two wonderful nannies, their grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, and friends… We have quite the village for these two.

MARIA: You realize that you’ll probably come under scrutiny from traditional moms because of your nannies.

AG: Even traditional moms have babysitters. Mine just happen to live with me. We have two children and there are two of us. We both work, so we need help. Even if we had one child, we’d still need help. You saw the nursery at Helping Hands—my children go to work with me every day. I personally come and feed them at lunchtime and I check on them several times during the day. There’s also a day care at Grey House. So, if I need to spend the day there, my babies can come with me there. My nannies are at my disposal, so if I decide that I want the babies to stay home, they can stay in the comfort of their own space. I won’t allow people to guilt-trip me about having help with my twins when I have such a busy life.

MARIA: Christian, how did you feel about having nannies to help with the children.

CG: I suggested it. While there was a condition with both of us that nannies wouldn’t raise our children, we both agreed that we would need help. It would be unrealistic not to seek that help since we readily had the resources. Mrs. Taylor had already been in my employ for several years and was delighted to help out, and Ms. Illidge has been a friend of the family since before we were married. Her qualifications stem back to before we even met her. Circumstances landed her in our laps and we couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

We get to spend time with our children, watch them grow, love and nurture them without having to worry if they’re in good hands when we’re not around. Make no mistake, my wife and I raise our children. Our nannies are back-up.

MARIA<nodding>: Very well said, Mr. Grey. So, Ana, on the topic of parenting, Ray Steele… he’s adopting you. <Anastasia nods> You’re 28. <She nods again> Why now?

AG: It’s long overdue. My father has done the honorable thing by me for as long as I can remember—even years before. He’s the only father I’ve ever known, and he’s never made me feel unloved or unwanted. Whenever he was able, he was always there for me.

MARIA: Whenever he was able? <Anastasia sighs>

AG: I won’t smear anybody because it’ll get me nowhere, but my father and I were kept apart for a long time. We did what we could to stay in touch, but it was hard.  I know my father. If he had the foresight that he does now, if he had any idea that forever was not really forever, he would have adopted me when I was a child—before all the hardships and nightmares that I suffered because we were forcefully ripped apart and kept from each other.

MARIA: You’re talking about your mother.

AG: I’m talking about my childhood. Daddy adopting me now is closure for us both on so many levels, I can’t begin to explain them all to you. Everybody has their theories and some of them are correct, but the bottom line is that I love my Daddy and he loves me. We just want to make it official.

MARIA: Ray has a son of his own. You’ll have a brother soon.

AG: I already have a brother. The adoption is just a formality.

MARIA NARRATING: As you can see, the Greys have a strong and enviable sense of family. Christian is fiercely loyal to those he loves, and Ana makes it no secret that she’ll go to the wall for the ones she holds dear.

On the flipside of this wholesome, loving family picture is a fearsome twosome with a hidden talent, so to speak. We’re here at the West Coast Armory where Christian and Anastasia have decided to showcase yet another aspect of their personalities. I could easily see Christian in this setting, but I was surprised by what I discovered about Anastasia.

So, here’s this tiny woman in black jeans and a black, long-sleeved muscle shirt with a three-foot ponytail hanging out of a fitted baseball cap looking every bit a miniature SWAT member in safety gear for the shooting range and some of these firearms are bigger than she is.

MARIA: Not that any of us would really understand, Ana, but tell us what you’re working with here.

AG: This is a Mossberg 500, 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun. Now this is normally a pretty big gun…

MARIA: It’s still a pretty big gun compared to you.

AG<laughing>: Well, not as big, because it’s been modified with the Mossberg Flex system. In laymen’s terms, the huge deer hunting stock has been replaced with a pistol grip, the larger barrel swapped out for a shorter barrel and the camo fore-end removed and replaced with this tactical fore-end, which is better used for home defense. Trust me, in its original form, this gun is probably as long as I am tall. Now, the pistol grip takes about four inches off the length of the gun, and it makes it easier to handle. You can hold it comfortably in your hand and shoot from the hip.

A double-barrel does a lot of damage and the recoil can be really insane. I took a dare once and pulled both triggers of a double-barrel when I was about 22 and dislocated my shoulder. Got a pretty nasty cut on my hand, too.

Where a double-barrel allows you to shoot two rounds, you would have to pop out the shells and manually reload. A pump action, on the other hand, allows you to pop out the shell and reload immediately, which is crucial in an emergency. So, more rounds, more opportunities to hit your target, but I rarely miss.

<Cut to scenes of Anastasia in gear and goggles, pumping the Mossberg and hitting the targets every time>

MARIA NARRATING: She’s definitely proficient with this firearm and with others as we discover during the course of the day. Though Christian’s an excellent shot <cut to Christian in goggles firing off his Glock and shredding a target several feet away while Maria continues to narrate>, I was quite stunned to discover that Ana is a more precise marksman than her husband. While he truly decimated his target, enough to strike fear into any aggressor, Ana put twelve rounds nearly perfectly into the same bullet hole.

<Shot of Anastasia standing with feet apart, wearing headphones and goggles and firing her Glock rapidly in front of her>

That’s impressive.

Me, on the other hand, not so much.

<Cut to Maria in gear and Anastasia showing her how to hold and fire the Mossberg>

I’m proud to say that I hit one target, but that was after firing off about nine rounds and taking at least 10 seconds to ‘pump’ the gun after each discharge. I think I’ll leave this to the experts.

<Cut to Anastasia and Maria standing on the open gun range>

MARIA: Now, Ana, with gun violence on the rise, you won’t have immunity from the criticism that you’re promoting acts of violence by glorifying the use of weapons. How do you respond to that?

AG: I can’t be held accountable for the behavior of every gun owner in America. My father is a Marine. He trained me in knife throwing, self-defense, and the proper way to handle and discharge a firearm, as you just saw. I’m responsible with my guns. They’re well-maintained and kept under lock and key when they’re not on my person. I’m adequately licensed to carry my weapons and they’re all legally registered. I’m not contributing to the wretched state of affairs where illegal guns make it into the hands of lunatics or, worse yet, children, and mass or accidental shootings occur.

MARIA: Yes, but what about your children?

AG: What about them? As I said, our firearms are always under lock and key when they’re not on our persons, so my children are in no danger of our guns. And for the record, when they’re of an appropriate age, they’ll learn to shoot, too.

MARIA: There are those who are going to say that the safest gun is no gun at all. Look at the countries who have successfully banned guns or have very strict gun-control laws. Violent deaths in those countries are exponentially lower than here in the United States and sometimes nearly, if not completely, nonexistent.

AG: To be honest with you, Maria, I would love to live in a country and an environment where this wasn’t necessary. I would love to raise my children in a society where they didn’t have to worry about one day having to defend themselves or their home with a deadly, projectile weapon. Unfortunately, I have no intention of moving to the UK, Australia, Japan, or Germany anytime soon. It’s a lovely concept, but unfortunately not feasible for my family at this time. We live in a country where we not only exercise our constitutional right to bear arms, but also—unfortunately—some of us abuse it. I’m not one of those people who abuse that right, and I will not be held accountable for those who do. As for those countries who have successfully implemented gun-control laws—bravo! You got it right. As for America, I don’t know what to say about that. I’m not speaking for the entire country, but in my mind’s eye, I can see law-abiding citizens turning in their firearms while gang members and criminals retain theirs, leaving us vulnerable and defenseless… a country even more gripped in fear than we already are. It would be a 24/7/365 version of The Purge. It’s sad and unfortunate that guns fall into the wrong hands, but I feel that it would be completely counterproductive to remove guns from the right hands, and that’s my opinion.

MARIA: That’s a lovely speech, Ana, but you know that you’re still going to come under fire, don’t you?

AG: Let ‘em come! I use my firearms for recreation on the gun range, or for self-defense, and that’s all. When they see me brandishing my gun in public or using it for any illegal means, then I may feel some conviction from naysayers. In the meantime, I’m exercising my second amendment right to bear arms in America and I apologize, but I’m not going to try to sway to opinions of the portion of viewing public that feels like I shouldn’t be able to do so. When and if America bans guns, I as a law-abiding citizen will turn in my firearms. Until that day, I will continue to take advantage of my right to be a responsible gun owner. Those who don’t like it and want to put me in judgement, c’est la vie, I can’t hear you.

MARIA NARRATING: Very powerful words. And, there you have it. If you’re looking for a scapegoat, you won’t find it here. Mrs. Grey stands firm on her rights and refuses to be held accountable for the unscrupulous acts of others. You have to admire her gumption.

<Back at the Crossing in the family room>

MARIA: So, Christian, I’ll direct this to you. If you wanted one thing to be a major take-away from this segment, what would that one thing be?

CG<sighing heavily>: Good grief, we’ve covered so much, I don’t know that there could be one takeaway.

For starters, it needs to be known that I and my family will no longer be a target, not that we ever were. In terms of our physical well-being, my wife and I are both very well-trained in self-defense. In addition, we are both licensed to carry concealed weapons. This information is only pertinent should you get past the several military-trained men that protect us.

Now, we’ve had other attacks on us—financial, emotional, attacks on our character, things of that nature. These attacks will no longer be tolerated either. In the end, we’re still just people. We just want to live our lives.

I’ve worked hard to become the man that I am. Nobody handed me anything. I didn’t have a trust fund from Daddy to start my business. I had a loan that—like any other businessman—I had to repay, with interest. I took that loan and parlayed it into a billion-dollar corporation and somehow, that’s a bad thing. Well, too bad. I’m sorry that hurts the feelings of people who for whatever reason think I don’t deserve what I have or I owe them something. I owe no one but creditors, the IRS, and my family to take care of them. Know that anybody who comes at me, my family, or anything that I’ve worked for and love, I’m coming back with both barrels loaded.

My wife and I were a chance meeting. We were the last person on each other’s radar. Her formal impression of me was that I was an egotistical, narcissistic bastard and she put that in writing, so let me tell you. If she was trying to woo or trap a billionaire, that’s a very strange way to do it. I’m ashamed to admit that my first intention was to destroy her. As you can see, fate had other plans for us.

Once and for all, she was not ever and never will be a gold-digger. She didn’t “make it big” when she met me. She was financially well-off before she became Anastasia Grey.

Hopefully, this answers those questions of the prying minds and the ignorant, unless you just choose to remain ignorant. And if you see us out having dinner, at the park with our kids, at the grocery store, leave us alone. I’m not the President of the United States and we deserve some kind of little bit of a normal life. I get that you’re curious, but we don’t deserve to be abused because of your fascination.

MARIA: I couldn’t agree more. I have to say that when we first discussed doing this interview, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I mean, you have your theories and so you prepare yourself for what you think may happen, who you think you may meet, or who may be presented to you because everybody has a person or persona that they present to everyone else, but the real part of themselves, they keep private. We often shield the real person from the public, so that you really don’t know who you’re dealing with in front of the camera. But I will have to say that it’s been a pleasure speaking with the two of you, getting to know your family and your children, getting to see what you do on a day to day basis and being able to show the viewing audience that it’s not necessarily what they think. It’s really hard to humanize someone, especially when all you’ve ever seen of them or known of them is dollar signs. When all you know of someone is money, that’s all you see is money—you don’t see the human being.

<Slow motion news clips play of every scene Maria describes>

We saw the protector in full glory carrying his damsel from the hospital, her face shielded by a jacket after she had suffered the brutal beating during her kidnapping.

We can probably name every sacrificial lamb whose career has fallen at Anastasia’s hands.

We were all broken hearted when Christian announced that Anastasia was “the one” at the first press conference we had ever seen him in addressing his personal life.

And each milestone—and heartbreak—since then, we’ve been with you every step of the way… in the trials, with the announcement of the pregnancy, with the Faces of Abuse campaign…

From the fairytale wedding to the mourning of a loss of a patriarch, we’ve all felt your pain, your tears, your happiness and your frustration.

<Cut back to Anastasia and Christian holding their children, and Maria looking into the camera>

So, I humbly thank you very much for allowing me to introduce and present to the world the human beings that are Christian and Anastasia Grey. Thank you, and goodnight.

<Fade to black>


~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 50—Unexpected Guests

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 50—Unexpected Guests

ANASTASIA

Sakes alive, she looks just like me. I think she’s even younger than I am! Same haircut, blueish-greenish-gray eyes, similar build—before I had my babies, that is… what the fuck?

“Whoa,” Daddy says, under his breath. I’m sure he’s having the same thought I am. This shit is creeping me out and I really don’t know how to handle it. I don’t really care who Brian fucks, but did he have to go get my twin? She looks even more like me than I look like Shannon… and I really look like Shannon.

“I know,” I hear Maxie’s voice say from behind me. I turn around to look at her. “It’s uncanny. I started talking to her when I got here, thinking she was you.”

“And how did she take that?” I ask.

“She laughed it off and just went on about her day. I’m sure he’s told her that she looks like you and who you are.” I twist my lips.

“It takes some getting used to, that there’s someone else in the world that looks so much like me.”

“No, she looks like you used to look,” Maxie corrects.

“You said yourself that you struck up a conversation with her thinking she was me,” I protest.

“That’s because I know how you used to look and I could have mistaken her for the old you, but anybody who knows you now knows that’s not you. You’re a mother, you’ve got some wisdom and it shows. She seems nice and all, but she doesn’t have that sophistication that oozes off of you, and it’s not the money, Honey. You’ve been that way since I’ve known you. So, from a distance, she might pass for college Ana, but up close, nope. When I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around, I knew it was mistaken identity.” I laugh.

“Often imitated, never duplicated,” I murmur.

“Indeed,” Maxie says, giving me a high-five. We share a few moments of our private joke before Christian joins us again.

“So, what’s the joke?” he says. “I want to laugh, too.” I turn around to look at him and see Brian over his shoulder. He was making his way over to me but pauses and decides on a detour when he sees that Christian gets to me first.

“We were talking about possessive husbands who like to cockblock ex-wannabe-suitors midstride,” I tease.

“He’s got to get through me if he wants to get anywhere near you,” Christian says. “The last time we spoke, he said he was happy with that Ana Lookalike that he brought to your father’s house and to leave him alone. And I have, so now, he can leave you alone.” I raise my brow.

“It’s not that serious, Christian. I really don’t care.”

“I do,” he says. “I have no doubt that he wakes up and when he rolls over and looks into her face, he sees you. One day, he’s going to look at that woman and not see you, and I don’t know what he’s going to do when that happens. In the meantime…” He puts both arms possessively around my waist, “… My girl said she wanted a party. I couldn’t think of a better reason to celebrate.”

I look around the room at the wonderful “baby shower” set-up that’s going on—the only babies in attendance being mine, passed from person to person and testing the whole stranger theory. So far, so good—no fires, floods, hurricanes or baby sirens. Christian even brought our staff, who are preparing what looks like a fabulous steak lunch—exactly what Daddy wanted after the proceedings—and awesome hors d’oeuvres for before lunch.

“You did this all in a few hours?” I ask. He nods. “In the middle of a Monday afternoon, you got everybody to skip work and come here?”

“Are you kidding?” Maxie says. “We wouldn’t miss this.”

“Yeah,” Phil says joining the conversation behind his wife. “This has been such a long time coming. When Christian called, I suddenly got a stomach thing and had to leave work,” he laughs.

“Christian called?” I say, looking at my husband and back to Phil, who nods.

“He activated the contingency,” he adds.

“Without me?” Al says, also coming over and joining in the conversation.

“You were a bit detained, Mr. Forsythe-Fleming,” Christian excuses.

“I don’t want to hear it!” Al says flippantly. “God, I hate not being part of the conspiracy.”

“Steele,” Val chimes in with Elliot following her. “You got a little sister you never told me about?”

“Yeah, what’s up with Ana, Jr.?” Phil asks. “I thought I was seeing double for a minute… until I got a good look at her.” Maxie throws a knowing look at me and I wave her off.

“I certainly hope not,” I say with a shrug. It’s so damn unnerving to see so many people that look like me. Hell, my mother doesn’t even look like me—or I should say I don’t look like her. All I got was her hair… and her eyes, I think. God, I can’t even remember what color my mother’s eyes are. The siren wail of my son crying snaps me from my introspection.

“Don’t look now, but…” Phil points to Ana, Jr. and a screaming squirming Mikey in her arms, with her futilely attempting to calm him.

“Christian…” I say, my voice beseeching.

“Don’t worry, I got it,” he says. I watch as Christian makes his way over to Brian and… his girl. Mikey is feverishly reaching for his father on sight. Christian coos at Mikey, trying to calm him before rescuing him from the imposter—or maybe before rescuing the imposter from him—but Mikey can’t be calmed until he’s in Christian’s arms. Even while lying on Christian’s chest, he quietly babble-cries his protest of being handed to that woman. Good God, what the hell? It’s not that bad, Mikey.

“What is with all that performing?” I say to my son as Christian joins us, rubbing Mikey’s back and causing him to calm a bit. I see Brian out of my peripheral and, surprisingly, he’s not looking at me. He’s looking at Christian.

That’s a first.

Ana Jr., on the other hand, is looking a bit slighted.

“What is her name?” I whisper. He pauses.

“Sha…” he pauses again. “Shawna.”

“You had to think about it?” I ask, rubbing Mikey’s hair as he continues to whimper a bit.

“I don’t think about her much,” he says matter-of-factly. “Why would I let her name occupy mental real estate?” I nod. “Why did you want to know?”

“Because I keep calling her Ana, Jr., and it’s creeping me out. Her boyfriend didn’t bother introducing her to anybody. Who does that? And why are they even here? Did you invite them?” Christian shakes his head.

“My guess is that he heard about it from Ray,” Christian says. “I can understand him wanting to be here, but I have no idea why he brought her.” I raise my brow.

“She makes you uncomfortable,” I say.

 

“She makes me very uncomfortable,” he cedes.

“Why? Because she looks like me?”

“No, because of the implications of her looking like you. She looks so much like you that the Paparazzi could get a picture of her from a distance and think it’s you. So, here’s hoping that she’s as clean cut as she appears, because she could be trouble. She lives in the same state, for God’s sake.”

And suddenly, I’m wet.

“Oh, no,” I squeak. Christian looks over Mikey’s mop of hair and back at me.

“Crying baby,” I say, pointing to my leaking breasts. I hear Mandy laugh.

“I see you pointing at the food factory,” she says. “You need a shirt?”

“Yes, please, but duty calls first,” I say, pointing at my leaky jugs.

“Um, I don’t think…” Mandy does a circular gesture around her boobs, signaling that I’m probably going to be out of luck in the bra department.

“You got a sweatshirt?” I ask, and she nods. “I’ll be fine.”

We’re having this entire conversation in a room full of people. Ah, motherhood.

“I’ll take him,” I say, reaching for Mikey. Christian whines a bit at the thought of releasing him to me.

“Do you have milk in those?” I chastise, pointing at his pecks. He pouts and gently lifts Mikey off his shoulder. Mikey protests a bit but reaches out his grubby little hands when he sees that he’s being handed to me.

Then he quiets right down.

“I feel a bit slighted,” Christian complains.

“Oh, hush. He came to you first, and I have an advantage. Like I said, you don’t have milk in those things.” I stand on my tippy-toes and plant a quick kiss on his lips.

“Be right back after I feed our children,” I say.

“Okay, Butterfly.” I look around for Minnie and see that Gail has her and one of the diaper bags and she’s waiting for me.

“I’ll come with you,” Maxie says.

“Me, too,” Val chirps in, and I know they want to talk shit about Shawna. We all follow Mandy.

“I’ll have to set you up in our bedroom,” she says. “Harry’s asleep and not due to wake for another hour, but the commotion in the living room will wake him soon enough.” I nod. She has a small sitting area set up in their bedroom and I take a seat in one of the chairs while Gail settles into the other one and gets a bottle ready for Minnie. No sooner I open my shirt and Mikey is greedily pulling at my bra. He knows what’s under there.

“Settle down, you little monster,” I jest, quickly situating my nipple in his mouth. He hungrily slurps his lunch and I know that even though my boobs are full, they’ll both be empty in no time. “Geez, you’re worse than your father.”

“Too much information, Steele,” Val says. “Are you saying that he still indulges in the nipple even though you’re breastfeeding? I mean… does he drink it?” I now have the attention of every woman in the room.

“Like you said, Val, too much information,” I say, diverting the conversation from my boobs. Mandy laughs and hands me a large, clean sweatshirt.

“I’ll see you out there,” she says as she leaves the room. I turn back to Mikey who looks up at me with large, grateful gray eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I say as I sit back in the seat.

“So, how long have you known about Ana, Jr.?” Val says. I shrug.

“Her name is Shawna—please stop calling her Ana, Jr. That shit is creeping me out,” I beseech them. “I seem to remember Christian saying something about her a while back, but you know my memory sucks and I only hold on to what’s important, so unfortunately, I don’t remember anything if he did tell me about her. But damn—this is some creepy Twilight Zone shit.”

“I’ll say,” Gail mumbles, and I think we weren’t supposed to hear her.

“Mikey sure as hell knew the difference,” I say looking down at my son. “He was having none of that shit when someone put him in her arms.”

“Didn’t that guy used to have a thing for you?” Maxie asks. “I seem to remember discussion about a terrible fight between him and Christian that landed them both in the hospital. Is this the same guy?”

“Same guy,” I say with a nod, trying not to show my discomfort.

“Don’t you think it’s a little… unsettling that he found someone that looks just like you? Not unsettling because she looks like you, but the fact that he found someone that looks just like you…”

“They’re both unsettling,” I reply. “Christian’s right. If he’s trying to recreate me in her, he’s in for a rude awakening because no two people are that much alike naturally. And I’ve already been through this with one psycho. I was chosen because I looked like someone else, so if she’s chosen because she looks like me…” I trail off.

“I take it nobody’s tried to talk to her,” Val asks.

“Nobody from my camp that I know of,” I respond. “If I know Christian, he’s said something to Brian and he’s just watching from afar. Why would he bring her here? To my father’s house? We’re celebrating my adoption. I barely want him here. Why would he think to bring her?”

“For moral support?” Maxie says.

“To show you that’s he’s moved on?” Val adds.

“Has he?” I squeak. “The girl is my goddamn twin! Is it really moving on if the person that you’re with looks just like the one that you left behind… supposedly?”

“Well,” Val interjects, “look at me. El’s my type. Most of the guys that I’ve dated pretty much look like him. All hot blondes, all pretty well-to-do and none owned sport cars. Maybe I’m not the best authority on this.”

“Yeah, same features, but none of the guys you’ve dated looked exactly alike, at least not while I’ve known you.” She shrugs.

“Yeah, there is that,” she concedes. I shake my head.

“He and Ray don’t see each other much. He probably just wanted his friend to meet his girl,” Maxie says, still playing devil’s advocate.

“This is my adoption,” I say, breaking Mikey’s suction on my now empty breast. Gail rises on cue. “He had to know I would be here. What did he expect—for me to say, ‘Hey, Dad, thanks for signing the papers. Bye now?’”

Gail swaps babies with me while I’m talking and begins to pat Mikey to get him to give up a burp while Minnie latches onto my other bulging tit.

“I know Christian didn’t tell him,” I continue, “so Daddy had to. It would have been awkward enough with just him showing up, but he brought a damn doppelganger to my adoption celebration!”

“Okay, so, just so I’m clear, are you upset that he’s here, that he brought a girl, or that the girl looks like you?” Val asks, bemused.

“The fact that he’s here and that he brought a girl that looks like me,” I answer. “The last time I saw that man, he thought it was a good idea to beat my husband until he literally couldn’t see and had to have his teeth fused. Believe me when I tell you that I couldn’t care less what that man does with his dick or who he does it with, but I do want to know what he’s trying to prove by bring that girl to my adoption.”

“I’m still not sure why you’re so upset,” Val says. “I can understand being perturbed by the whole thing, but you’re really pissed.”

“That’s because you’re missing two key words here. I keep saying them, but you keep missing them. My. Adoption. If it seems like I’m taking this personally, goddammit, I am! This is my celebration with my daddy. I can begrudgingly accept him showing up because he’s Daddy’s friend. I can’t and won’t condone him bringing an Ana-lookalike-doppelganger here during this time. The moment he discovered that this was going to be a party and not an intimate setting for him to introduce Daddy to his girlfriend, he should have excused himself and set a time for them to get together. He stayed because he knew it would unnerve me and it would unnerve Christian. I can shake my head and disapprove and judge how healthy or unhealthy his choice of woman is from afar. But when you invite yourself and her to my celebration and throw her in our faces knowing how we would react—yes, I’m pissed about that!”

Everyone in the room falls silent for a moment.

“Well, when you put it like that…” Val says and trails off. Finally! She gets it! This was a calculated move on that jerk’s part and nothing she can say can convince me otherwise.

“So, what now?” Maxie asks.

“I don’t know,” I reply. “I have nothing to say to either of them. I don’t believe for one second that she walked into this blind, so she’s just as guilty as he is as far as I’m concerned. Then she has the nerve to try to hold my damn baby…” I trail off angrily. I don’t know what’s irritating me so badly about the situation. All I know is that I wish they would both just leave.

It’s time to change the subject.

“Are you getting settled into the office okay?” I ask Maxie. She raises her brow at me.

“I had never been to your office,” she says. “I had no idea how ‘pimped out’ it was!” I laugh.

“It’s not pimped out. You’re just accustomed to the offices at the family center,” I tell her.

“Well, it’s pimped out to me. We never decided on rent.” I shrug.

“I don’t know what to charge a friend. Make me an offer.” She twists her lips.

“A beautiful office near downtown and you don’t know what to charge?” she asks.

“ A wonderful friend and mentor who was my therapist for many years and several times kept me from leaping off the proverbial cliff? No, I don’t,” I reply matter-of-factly. She makes that face where you tighten your chin.

“Well, since you put it that way,” she says, “I do some research on the rents in the area.”

“Good, then cut it in half.” She twists her lips at me. “Family and friends discount,” I add.

“Fine,” she says begrudgingly.

*-*

Once Minnie and Mikey have been fed, burped, changed and put down for a nap, the girls rejoin the party as I sneak off to the laundry room to wash my blouse and bra. God, my tits feel so much better now that they’re empty! Jesus, these jugs are getting out of hand!

As I’m about to step out of the laundry room, I hear voices and peak out to see who’s there. Brian and Shawna are having a not-so-pleasant conversation in the hallway that leads from the kitchen to the laundry room.

Shit. Trapped.

“They hate me!” Shawna says, her voice low and sharp. “They all hate me. Even the baby hates me! Did you see how he screamed? Babies love me, and he screamed!”

“They don’t hate you, Sha,” Brian says. “They just don’t know you…”

“I don’t want to know any of them!” she retorts. “They’re all ‘one big happy,’ and I’m some intruder that comes in looking like their diamond child. Most of them started talking to me thinking I was her. One guy turned fifty shades of pale when he discovered that he was talking to the wrong person! Why did you bring me here?”

“Because you’re an important part of my life and I wanted you to meet Ray, who’s also an important part of my life.”

“Why did we have to come today?” she whines. “Why couldn’t we come up on the weekend or something?”

“Believe it or not, I was trying to avoid running into the family!” he defends. “Who the hell would expect the whole damn clan to be here on a goddamn Monday morning?”

I can tell that he was talking more to himself than to Shawna when he asked the question.

“It’s an adoption, Bri,” Shawna says, pointing out the obvious. “It’s a family affair.”

“Yeah, but I know Ray. I know they probably had lunch or something planned just for him and his daughter. Then he would come back here, or even go to work, and Mandy would have called him and told him that we were here. Then he would have come back and we all would have relaxed and chewed the fat. But of course, Grey…”

He trails off. Oh, no. Don’t act like it’s my husband’s fault that you brought the Counterfeit Contessa here and we didn’t welcome her with open arms.

“When can we leave?” she pouts. “Ray and Amanda are the only ones who have been nice to me. Everybody else is looking at me like an alien—when they’re not mistaking me for her. Unlike the rest of the female population of Washington, I have no desire to be Anastasia Grey!”

Well! Don’t get all hissy about it. You’re in my father’s house, and nobody’s stopping you from leaving.

“I don’t want to be rude,” Brian says, matter-of-factly. “We’ll leave right after lunch. Can you tolerate that?” I hear her sigh loudly.

“When we get home, I’m cutting my hair and dyeing it red!” Shawna declares.

“Baby, you could shave it bald. I wouldn’t care. I’d still love you,” Brian says. I roll my eyes. Oh, good grief. It would be cute… if it were anybody else.

“Stop being sweet,” she pouts. “I’m still not comfortable here at all.”

“I know, baby. I’m sorry,” and he sounds sincere. I wait for a minute or two after there’s silence in the hallway to poke my head out.

The coast is clear. Thank God!

I go into the kitchen with Ms. Solomon and the staff, doing the final preparations on the meal.

“Can I help?” I ask. The room falls silent for a moment, then Ms. Solomon engages.

“Mrs. Grey, this is your lunch… you and your father…”

“I’d be eternally grateful if you would allow me to help with something—anything, instead of going through that door right now.” She raises her eyes.

“She’s unnerving, isn’t she?” Ms. Solomon asks, and I don’t even try to deny it.

“More than you can imagine,” I say, commandeering Mandy’s apron and waiting for instructions. Ms. Solomon hands me a knife.

“There’s nothing left to do but the salad,” she says, pointing to a huge mountain of vegetables.

“Thank you,” I reply, “Leave it to me…”

By the time I’m done, I’ve created three beautiful salads in about fifteen minutes… one Greek, one Caesar, and one antipasto.

“You’ve been holding out on me!” Ms. Solomon says. “I had no idea you had this kind of skill. And that knife! The staff was afraid to come near you!” I laugh.

“Before we had a staff, I had that gourmet kitchen built for me,” I confess.

“Nothing left to do but serve,” she says. I sigh.

“I’ll take the salads out and go sit down,” I say. I take two of the large salads and one of the other servers grabs the third. When we enter the dining room, Christian immediately spots me.

“Lunch is ready,” I announce, placing the two large salads in the middle of Mandy’s formal dining table.

“That’s where you got off to,” Christian says, leading the charge into the dining room. “I didn’t even see you go in there.”

“Nobody did,” I say, keeping my eyes on the salad while arranging them on the table. “I just wanted to help out.” Christian looks knowingly at me. “I hope you don’t mind, Mandy. I borrowed your apron.”

“Not at all, whatever makes you feel happy,” she replies. The staff begins to fill the table with the hot food and sets everything up buffet style since there’s really no formal seating. Everyone begins to dig in and I, for some reason, am still organizing things on the table—removing dishes as they’re emptied and helping the staff refill platters with more food, helping with drinks…

“You really should sit. This is your celebration after all.”

I turn to see that nearly everyone has left the table and is sitting somewhere with a plate of food—everyone except me, that is, and the voice that’s telling me to sit is Brian’s.

“I will,” I say, even more feverishly cleaning and adjusting things on the table. “In the meantime, go, eat.” Shoo, for Christ’s sake. You’re making this awkward enough just being here.

“I didn’t get a chance to congratulate you,” he says, still trying to make small talk. “Ray is very happy. He was like a kid at Christmas when you suggested it.” Oh, dear Lord.

“Yeah, I’m happy, too. It should’ve happened years ago,” I reply, trying not to be rude.

“Has your mother called?” he continues. “How does she feel about it?” Just as I’m about to respond…

“Wrong woman,” Christian says, appearing behind me. Brian raises his eyes.

“You’re awfully paranoid, aren’t you, Christian?” Brian says.

“No, I’m not,” Christian replies. “You told me to stay out of your business, and I have. This…” He puts his hand on my shoulder, “… is not your business. This is mine. Yours is over there.” He points to Shawna, tucked away in a corner talking to Mandy. “I just thought you might have gotten them confused.”

“You’re still stuck on that?” Brian taunts.

“Is everything okay, guys?” Daddy asks, noting the tension between Brian and Christian even though there are no raised voices.

“Oh, yeah, everything’s fine,” Christian says. “We were just discussing the uncanny resemblance between our significant others.”

Oh, shit. There’s the fucking gauntlet. The room falls silent, and there’s that mouse pissing on cotton.

“You really want to do this now, Grey?” Brian threatens.

“I’m not doing anything, Brian,” Christian says. “We struck a deal, and you’re breaking it right now. You said stay away from you and stay out of your business and I am. The same goes for you… she’s over there,” he repeats pointing to Shawna.

You can see the fury rising in Brian’s face. Christian hasn’t really done anything wrong, but you can clearly see that Brian feels violated by the announcement.

“You did that deliberately to make my girlfriend uncomfortable,” Brian accuses.

“Are you blind?” Christian asks. “That poor girl was uncomfortable when Mikey started screaming in her arms. I simply thought you just may have mistaken my wife for her since you have absolutely no business with my wife, so I was just pointing you in the right direction.” Brian’s face is getting redder and redder by the second and his ears look like they’re just going to melt off his head. That’s when Elliot steps into the conversation.

“Look, dude,” Elliot says, “I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you and I don’t mean you any offense, but it’s the elephant in the room, man. Ask her, half of us started talking to her thinking she was Montana. She’s a beautiful girl, but she looks like Montana.”

Brian frowns at Elliot, probably because he doesn’t know who the hell Montana is, but you can tell that he’s still furious and wants his pint of flesh. So, he turns around and looks at my father.

“Do you know about his lifestyle?” Brian says aloud to my father. “Do you know what they do—what he does to your daughter?”

What the fuck?? This is the same shit that happened that day years ago at the Greys—the same fucking shit! It’s Elena Lincoln all back over again. I’m horrified.

“Yes, Brian, I do know,” my father says, stone-faced. “My daughter told me awhile back. She tells me everything.” Well, maybe not everything, but he knows about this. Brian’s eyes widen and Daddy sighs.

“You’re my friend, Brian, and I miss you terribly, but it wasn’t your place to make that announcement in front of a room full of people. Christian didn’t do anything foul. He didn’t reveal any of your secrets or expose you in any way. He made a statement of fact… she looks like my daughter.”

Brian deflates immediately, and Shawna looks completely mortified.

“You’re right,” Brian says, his voice somber. “I’m sorry.” He looks over at me and Christian. “Really, I’m sorry.”

Christian squeezes my arms and I just drop my gaze.

“I knew about your feelings for my daughter long before you told me about them, but I thought it was just a crush. The fact that you know this much about her private life tells me that it’s much more than that,” Daddy accuses.

“It was,” Brian admits. “I wanted to be sure that she was safe, that she wasn’t doing anything against her will… that she was happy… and yes, at one point, I wanted her for myself, but that’s not the case anymore.”

“Isn’t it?” Daddy accuses, gesturing to Shawna, who shrinks a bit. I can see her in my mind’s eye making an appointment with a hairdresser before they even leave Seattle. She’ll be a ginger in no time.

“No, Ray, it’s not, I swear,” Brian says. “I’ll admit that I was initially drawn to Shawna because of her physical appearance, but that’s because she’s my type. And she already knows that she reminded me of Ana when I first met her—I was completely open and honest with her about that. But these two women are only physically similar. They couldn’t be more different. I love Shawna because of the woman that she is, not because of how much like Ana she looks. Believe me, Ray, had I known that it was going to be a big family party, I would have planned my visit differently—showed up later maybe…”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Daddy says, and Brian freezes. “I want to catch up with you. I want to get to know Shawna better, but now isn’t the time. Whatever the current situation is between you and my daughter and her husband, you all don’t mix well together. It’s bad news when you’re all in the same room. Why don’t you go back to your hotel and we can all meet for dinner—just like old times, just… with our ladies, okay?” Brian smiles.

“That’s sounds great,” he says to my father. They shake hands and hug. Shawna has abandoned her conversation and her lunch and joined Brian. When Daddy and Brian release, Daddy leans down and kisses Shawna chastely on the cheek while holding her forearms, causing her to sink a bit in relief, and Brian turns to me and Christian, his lips forming a thin line.

I feel like Christian now. I just want him to leave us alone, forever. If you’re happy with Shawna, be happy with Shawna, and just leave us alone.

Instead, he makes his way over to us. Christian immediately grasps my arms with both hands.

“I really am sorry,” Brian says to me as he approaches us. I turn my head. Jesus, I don’t even know what to say to this man. “Really, man, I am,” he adds.

“We heard you,” Christian says, his voice crisp. Brian lingers for a few moments more before walking back over to Shawna and Daddy. They exchange words that I can’t hear. Then he kisses Mandy on the cheek, exchanging words with her as well before taking Shawna’s hand and leading her to the door. I turn around and face Christian.

“He’s going to retaliate,” I say, dismally.

“I don’t think so,” he replies. “He knows that if he hurts me, he’ll hurt you, Ray, our children… He’s a selfish bastard, but I really don’t think he wants to do that.” I sigh and lay my head on his chest as he wraps his arms around me.

“I hope you’re right,” I respond.

Time stands still for a moment or two, or five, or ninety, as I contemplate what could be in store for my family at the hands of a slighted Brian Cholometes. I watch in somewhat suspended animation as Christian makes his way over to Daddy and they have a conversation, no doubt about what just transpired. I wrap my arms around my body, using my hands to try to warm myself from the chill that has come over me. I don’t even see Maxie when she comes over to me.

“Jesus, Ana, what was that all about?” I turn an uncertain gaze to her. I don’t know what to tell her, but I know what I’m not telling her. Her brown furrows.

“What was Brian talking about?” she asks, her voice serious. “What did he mean by what he does to your daughter?

And there’s the Maxine that showed up at my house with the court order to have me committed when I was catatonic. Oh, hell no—no time for weakness now. I pull myself up to my full height, ready to face off with my friend if I must.

“I’m. Not. Talking about it,” I say, my voice controlled. “It’s my personal business, and the fact that he blurted it out without my permission doesn’t mean that I have to disclose it to anybody.” Maxie examines me for a moment.

“Duly noted,” she says coolly. “Can I please just ask you one question?”

“I can’t guarantee I’m going to answer it,” I reply.

“You’re not being hurt or abused, are you?” she asks. “You’re not doing anything against your will?”

“That’s two questions, and I’ll answer them both. Absolutely not. Father of my children, husband, money, good looks—none of that matters. I would never stay in a position like that. I work at a battered women’s shelter, for God’s sake!” Maxie nods quickly.

“I know. I know. I know Christian wouldn’t hurt you like that. He loves you too much. It’s just… you’re my friend and I get kind of blind to logic when… you know what I mean.” My defense mechanism releases and my guard drops back to normal. I touch her arm.

“Yes, Maxie, I know what you mean,” I reply, softly.

“Besides,” she adds, “your Marine dad would have killed him by now. If it’s okay with Ray, I guess it should be okay with me.”

And just like that, the mood lightens.

I try to enjoy the rest of the celebration, playing silly games with my father and family, eating the good food prepared by my staff. Grace excuses herself and goes back to Helping Hands right after lunch and the rest of the party starts to dwindle as the afternoon moves on. I wanted to see what kind of progress there was on my office but decide against it.

When it’s time to go, Gail and Keri go to gather the twins and I get a little bit of playtime with my little brother who finally decided to join us. When he grows weary of his big sister, I go to retrieve my bra and shirt from the laundry. Once I’ve changed and dropped Mandy’s sweatshirt into the hamper, I swipe the screen on my phone. I know his number is the same, so I text him.

**We won’t bother you. We’ll leave you alone, I promise. Please, leave us alone. **

I press my phone to my chest, sending up a silent prayer that nothing befalls me and my family because Brian feels slighted. I never wanted him. I never even led him on. I feel that I shouldn’t have come to him when I needed help. I never should have let him in or given him any opportunity to be a part of my life at all. While I’m lost in my lamenting, I get a text that puts my fears to rest.

**Okay. Be happy. **


CHRISTIAN

Hearing that Cholometes intends to leave my family alone last night was music to my fucking ears. I don’t have to be in the guy’s business; he’s not that important to me. My only concern is that he doesn’t sneak in when I’m not looking and launch an attack on my wife. Because he doesn’t matter, I’ll stay out of his business. Because I don’t trust him, I’m still keeping an eye on him.

My wife was remiss to tell me that she had texted him after the “Seeing Double Scandal” at her father’s house, and I could see why. There are just too many ways that situation could have played out, especially after that semi-threatening email he sent to her after his last visit. That fell dead in the water, thank God, but I still can’t help but feel like there was an ulterior motive for him bringing that Ana Twin to Ray’s house.

So, I’m keeping an eye on him.

The time difference in England made it impossible to know what time was good to call John. So, I decided to forego my morning run to get in touch with him.

“I loved it there. Now, not so much. It’s not like my son is Typhoid Mary. They know what this is… America just didn’t know what it was at first, and now, they do.”

“I understand how you feel, John, but leaving the country completely? Is that smart? What about your citizenship and that of your family?”

“It’s a bit of a mess with the visas unless we want to relinquish our U.S. citizenship. I’m sure that Rhian doesn’t want that. I could honestly go either way. England is my home, so I don’t have the same trouble with immigration that they do, and I was never naturalized, so I didn’t give up my English citizenship.” I frown.

“You’ve been here all this time on a visa?” I ask.

“They wanted me to denounce my English citizenship. I wouldn’t do it,” he replies.

“So, what you’re saying is that your family would live indefinitely on visas there in England like you did here.”

“It depends on what we decide to do, but yes. As long as Rhian can prove that she won’t be a financial burden, they can all stay here indefinitely as long as we renew their visas. And to be honest, the school system here is looking better than the US. The children get more physical activity during the day. They look forward to going to school… I’m just quite disenchanted with the States at the moment, Christian. I’ve decided that we’re going to stay here right now for at least a year. I hate to leave Grace and my patients in such a bad position, but as you know, family comes first.”

“You don’t have to explain that to me, John,” I assure him. “You’ve just given me and my family a reason to visit England.” He chuckles.

“How’s married life treating you?” he probes. “You’re not my patient anymore, so I’m no longer privy to these little intimate details.” I sigh.

“It’s an experience,” I admit. “Some days, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world. Other days, I sit back and wonder what the hell I’ve gotten myself into. And the twins…!” I trail off.

“Oh, yes! Marriage and fatherhood all in the same year! I forgot about that,” he declares.

“I certainly didn’t!” I exclaim. “I watched my wife scold my daughter for the first time this weekend and it was fucking torture! She literally threatened my life if I interfered!”

“She threatened your life?” John laughs shamelessly. “Tell me that’s a joke!”

“It’s not!” I confirm. “I tried to comfort my child and she told me to leave her alone or she would kill me!” John laughs loudly and freely into the phone. “I’m so glad you’re enjoying this.”

“In my professional opinion,” he chuckles, “you and Ana sound like you’re right on track with this marriage/parenthood thing.” I sigh.

“I don’t know,” I admit. “We’ve had some pretty big bumps as of late.” John’s laughter fades.

“Anything you wish to discuss?” John asks. “Not as your shrink—as your friend who happens to be a shrink.” I sigh again. How would Butterfly feel about this? The truth is that I need all the help I can get, and he is my friend. Differing viewpoints may actually help, and if I can’t get a handle on my role in Butterfly’s mood changes and developments, I’m going to consult Ace for some additional guidance.

“You don’t mind?” I ask, cautiously. I did fire the man after all.

“Like I said, we’re friends. I won’t even start the clock on you…”

I talk to John for two full hours, spilling my guts about every little thing that’s bothering me, every little kink in the armor that is our marriage—my massive fuck-ups; the whole broken trust issue between me and Butterfly; my wife’s bipolar-type reactions to bad situations… one moment she’s all Zen and the next moment it’s the apocalypse. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m coming or going. We switch roles at the drop of a dime where she has to hold everything together and I’m falling apart—like Detroit—or I have to be the pillar and she’s falling off into the pit of oblivion—like Sunday and the viewing session.

Luckily for me, John wore the friend hat more than he wore the shrink hat, although he did wear the shrink hat. I needed them both. Jason fills one of those roles while Dr. Baker fills the other, but I really needed them both to help me get back on track with what I need to do to constructively and effectively deal with the varying situations involving my wife and myself. It’s ironic that I called to check on John trying to help him and he ended up helping me.

I send my beautiful wife and our adorable children off to Helping Hands while I head into the office to catch up on whatever I may have missed on this super-long weekend. Capito is trying to discredit me among businesses in Madrid, so I assume that the government or someone higher up may be getting a cut of his human trafficking operation since nothing has been done about it yet. Maybe a different approach is needed…

“What has come from the Capito situation?” I ask Alex. “He’s spreading false propaganda about me abroad and I need it nipped. I have some business deals in the works in Madrid and I don’t need him pissing on them if it can be avoided.”

“It can be avoided. Let me make some calls and see what progress there is. These things take time, unfortunately, but I’m sure there are some fires I can light,” Alex responds.

“Good, the sooner, the better.” I end the call and proceed through the massive amount of emails that have accumulated over the last few days. It’s amazing to me that one person can accumulate hundreds of emails per day. Even with my sorting function, I still have to try to review each email to see if there’s something that went to junk mail that shouldn’t have.

“Sir…” Andrea’s disembodied voice from the intercom interrupts my review just after noon.

“Yes?’

“I have Terry Smalls on line three. He’s in charge of organizing the items in your grandfather’s storage facility in Detroit. He insists on speaking to you now. He says it’s urgent.” Oh, fuck. What’s in the goddamn storage facility?

“Thanks, Andrea.” I pick up the call on three. “Grey.”

“Mr. Grey, this is Terry Smalls, sir. I’m managing the team that’s organizing the contents of your grandfather’s storage unit.”

“Yes, Mr. Smalls, what can I do for you?” I ask.

“I just want to apprise you of a couple of developments, the first of which is that each box has a label that indicates its contents can be identified by a log on file in the management office. None of us are authorized to access any records in the management office, so I was wondering if you could make a call and tell them that I can take a look at that log. It would cut our work time loading, unloading, and at the warehouse more than in half and it will also alert us ahead of time if there’s anything particularly fragile in any of the boxes.” I nod.

“Excellent news. I’ll have my uncle call the storage facility as soon as possible. We may be spared from opening many of those boxes before we ship them back to Seattle.” Some of them may not have to be shipped at all if Uncle Herman decides to allow Uncle Stan to keep some of it, which I know that he will.

“You said a couple of developments. Are there more?”

“One more, sir. As we started to remove the higher levels of boxes, we realized that they’re stacked to the ceiling, but they’re only three layers deep. The storage facility isn’t full of boxes.”

“Well, that’s good news,” I say. “It wasn’t as full as we thought it was.”

“No, it’s full, it’s just not full of boxes.” I frown.

“What do you mean?” I press.

“Well, after the boxes, there’s some furniture—real antique valuable stuff… and a car.” Huh?

“You mean, model cars, right?” He must be talking about the model set that Pops was giving to Dad.

“Um, no sir, I mean a car—an automobile, a classic Mustang from what I can see.”

“What?” I exclaim. “What kind of condition is it in?”

“Well, it’s under a tarp, but if the tires and the part of the bumper that I can see is any indication, it’s been restored.” Fuck me.

“A classic Mustang. Fuck…” I hear someone call Terry’s name in the background.

“I’m on the phone with the boss!” he shouts back to whomever is calling him.

“Then you might want to tell him to hold on and come look at this. We might have some more news for him.” Shit, what the hell now?

I hear rustling and jingling, like the clatter of keys.

“You’re shitting me,” I hear Smalls say.

“Smalls?” I call out, but he doesn’t answer. I hear wind and movement, like he’s walking. “Smalls?” Still no answer. Guess I’ll just have to wait. A few moments later, he comes back on the line.

“We may have another… Oh, hell.”

“Um, that’s not a good sound, Smalls,” I warn.

“Sir, if your Uncle has the authority to speak to the management here, please tell him to find out exactly how many storage bins your grandfather has. We found at least two more.” Oh, dear God.

“Two… are they full?” I ask. I listen as I hear the sound of a rolling door opening.

“More antique furniture, sir, really high-end stuff from what I can tell… and yes, this one is full. We have to figure out where the third one is, but it would help if we had authority to speak in detail to management.” I sigh.

“I’m on it. Tell your guys to take a break or something and let me call my uncle. Give me your direct number.” I end the call with Smalls and immediately call Uncle Herman.

“Christian, hey. How’s the move going?” he answers.

“That’s why I’m calling you, Uncle,” I begin. “It appears that there’s more than one storage bin down there…”

“I knew it!” he interrupts. “I knew it! Unless he got rid of a whole lot, I knew all of Dad’s stuff couldn’t fit in that one storage bin.”

“Well, there are two more that we know of, and my people have only found one… and Uncle Herman, there’s a car in the first one.” Silence.

“A car?!” he exclaims. “You mean like a real life, living, breathing automobile?” Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but…

“According to my staff, we were looking at a few rows of stacked boxes hiding a restored classic Mustang.”

“Shit… he did it. I didn’t think he would do it, but he did,” Uncle Herman says.

“Who did what?” I ask.

“My dad wanted a classic Mustang,” he says. “I knew he had been looking at one that was in the process of being restored years ago, but I didn’t know that he bought it.” I nod as if he could see me.

“Well, he bought it, and it’s in that storage facility. My people found a second—lots of antique furniture—and mentioned that there’s a third. I don’t know how they located keys, I didn’t get that far. My guy also says that there’s some kind of itemized list filed with management, but that he doesn’t have access to it, so he needs you to call them and see if he can get a copy of it.”

“Well, they already have my authority on file down there. I faxed them my documents yesterday. I’ll give them a call. What’s your guy’s name?”

“Terry Smalls.” Once I give him Terry’s number, I call Terry back.

“Terry Smalls here,” he answers.

“Smalls, my uncle is calling the management office now, so you may want to go on over there. I’ve given him your number as well in case he needs to talk to you. His name is Herman Grey. Keep me abreast of any further developments.” And speaking of developments…

“Sir…” Andrea’s voice interrupts me again.

“Smalls, I have to go. Keep me informed.”

“Yes, sir.” We end the call. “Yes, Andrea?”

“Sir, I have Antamonides Capito on the line. He’s quite perturbed and he’s being very insistent and belligerent.” That was fast.

“Is he now?” I say, showing little interest. “What line is he on?”

“Line one, sir.” She sounds exasperated.

“Thank you. Leave him there.”

“Sir?” Now, she’s bemused.

“Leave him there. See how long he holds. Let me know when he disconnects and if he calls back, put him on hold the moment you hear his voice.” There’s a pause.

“Yes, sir.”

I’ll talk to him… when I’m ready. This immediate call at nearly 11pm Madrid time means that Alex has hit a soft spot hard proving once again just how valuable he is. So, I’m going to let the asshole squirm for a bit. I hope he was fucking when he got the call.

I take my time reviewing two more acquisitions that we have on the table. I even have a meeting with Ros and Lorenz about our other Spanish deals while the fucker calls me five more times this afternoon. Ros questions what’s going on.

“Capito is trying to spread venom on my name with other companies in Madrid. I can’t just come out and say that he’s into illegal activities without endless repercussion… possible slander suits, dangerous consequences for myself and others—including quickly eliminating inventory, if you know what I mean…” Ros shivers.

“So, what has him calling like a desperate housewife searching for a wayward husband?” Lorenz asks.

“Our head of security has amazing connections,” I inform him. “Sometimes, you have to pluck a few cock feathers to show him that he’s still nothing more than a chicken.” Lorenz stifles a laugh and Ros just shakes her head.

And Capito calls again.

*-*

Ch 50 Capito

Antamonides Capito

“It’s the end of my day and I’m leaving my office to join my family. What do you want?”

Around five thirty when I’m ready to go home, I finally take Capito’s call, nearly four hours—and nine attempts—after his first call.

“You Americans think you are so smart, so invincible—your so-called power means nothing to Madrid!” he hisses into the line.

“Then why are you calling me?” I taunt. “It appears that we have nothing to discuss.”

“You know people in high places,” he replies. “I know people in high places, too.”

“And apparently, some of those people have been talking to you, haven’t they, Capito?”

“Do not push me, Mr. Grey. You do not know how far my reach is.”

“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong,” I correct him, having gotten updated intelligence from Alex earlier this afternoon. I’ve got this fucker by the balls and he doesn’t even know it, but he’s about to.

“I know about your extracurricular activities, Mr. Capito, and I now know who your associates are. I know why you didn’t want to release and why you didn’t want me to visit Albien Textiles, and now you know why I chose not to do business with you. I tried to walk away quietly, but you threw down the gauntlet. My wealth is my reputation, and I refuse to let some small-time, wannabe thug dabbling in illegal activities of which he has no full comprehension start badmouthing me in the Madrid market because I wouldn’t play in his little sandbox!”

Capito is silent. I can almost hear the shock and awe on his face through the phone.

“I may not know who all you’re dancing with, Capito, but trust me—I’m familiar with your most prevalent bedfellows. And I know that a few extra dollars means nothing to them in comparison to the risk of exposure. Am I right?” More silence.

“Name your price,” he says flatly. Foolish little Spanish man…

“I don’t have a price, Capito, only a demand. Stay. The Fuck. Out of my affairs. And keep my name out of your mouth or you will find out just how powerful this American really is.”

“Sí, señor,” he says, after a pause.

“And in case you get any ideas, if anything befalls me or my family, I’m holding you personally responsible. I’ve already got documents and contingency plans in place in the event of my disappearance or sudden demise. If they’re implemented, there’s nowhere in the world that you would be able to hide from the authorities or your associates, including your panic cave in the Congo.” I hear him gasp.

“How did…?” He catches himself before he finishes his question. “Sí, señor.”

“You and I have no business, Capito. Walk away. Don’t speak of me again and don’t contact me again, unless you’re declaring war. And believe me, I’m prepared for it.” I end the call before he’s able to give me another “Sí, señor.”

I’m exhausted. Smalls informed me that they’re cataloguing all the antique furniture and he’ll contact me tomorrow with a detailed list to find out what we want to do with it. I’ll ask Butterfly if she wants anything, but I doubt it. I’m sure Uncle Herman will want to split it between the family members that want it—except Freeman. I close my laptop and rub my eyes. I don’t want to go to bed early tonight, but it may be in the cards for me. I’m beat.

Jason meets me in the lobby and as we’re heading to the parking garage, an official-looking gentleman standing by a black Mercedes parked in front of my building catches my attention. My brow furrows and I get Jason’s attention.

“What’s this?” I say gesturing to the front door. Jason looks, then speaks into his earpiece.

“Vic, J.R., come with me,” he says, and two of the security staff behind the desk rise. The three of them walk out the front door and Jason approaches the guard standing near the car. He doesn’t appear to be engaging Jason at all… which means that Jason isn’t who he’s looking for.

He’s looking for someone else… at this hour, probably me.

“Oh, dear God,” I say, stepping behind the wall near the information desk. I press a code into the wall and duck into a door there. Having practiced this many times, I’ve got this routine down to less than a minute. I remove my coat and jacket and quickly don a bullet-proof vest with a built-in holster. Since my Glock is in the locked glovebox, I retrieve one of the M9 Berettas from the security arsenal and quickly load a magazine in it. After putting it in the holster, I put my coat back on and walk out the front door.

“Sir!” Jason says in surprise when he hears the doors open. The guard at the car moves towards the door and every person on my staff reaches inside their coats. I stand still waiting to see who’s in the car. I’m stunned nearly to silence by who steps out the back seat.

“Mr. Grey,” he says, gesturing to the door. “Join me.” You have got to be fucking kidding me! Will this goddamn day never fucking end?

“Oh, hell, no!” I declare. “Shoot me now!”


A/N: Now, the question is… who the hell did Christian see?

I’m aware that the person that I chose to represent Capito is not Spanish, but that’s my choice—because I hated that guy in John Wick 2.

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

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 49—Finding Anastasia

My twelfth wedding anniversary was this past weekend, so posting was kind of the furthest thing from my mind.

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 49—Finding Anastasia

CHRISTIAN

My wife is walking to the theater room like a man walking to the gallows. I know that it’s going to take some time for her to overcome this whole impending doom thing, and she’s doing a great job of grabbing the bull by the horns with her meditation, yoga, dancing, and whatever else she’s doing to take control of it. But when that insecurity rears its ugly head, it’s really ugly… not in the sense that it’s unattractive, but in the sense that it makes my larger-than-life Butterfly appear weak, helpless, and powerless, and I don’t like that at all.

Gail and Ms. Solomon arrange refreshments while Maria attempts to explain what we’re going to see. She’s even gone so far as to have a program that outlines the order of the interview and what we can expect. She’s gone all out with full disclosure, even insuring that we’ll be left with a copy of what we see today, which is what the network plans to air—notwithstanding any changes that we request after the viewing.

Butterfly sits quietly in one of the luxury reclining theater seats, sipping a glass of cabernet sauvignon and daintily munching on popcorn, finger sandwiches, and crudité. She’s paying attention to everything that Maria is saying; she’s just not responding.

“So, things aren’t necessarily in chronological order,” Maria explains. “If you remember, the footage at the gun range was one of the last things we recorded, but it won’t be the very last thing in the segment, although it’s pretty close to chronological. I feel that I’ve put the segment together in a manner that represents both of you and presents you in the light that you wanted to be presented. In spite of what has occurred up to this point, I hope I haven’t let you down.”

Butterfly acknowledges her with an almost indistinct nod and turns her attention to the large screen. I can feel it emanating from her skin.

Shut up and let’s get on with it already.

The lights go down and the segment starts.

“By the way…” Oh, for Christ’s sake, lady, will you shut up before my wife bites your head off? “… We were approved for two hours.”

We both rubberneck over to her.

“We were?” I ask. “But I thought you said nobody got two hours… not even Obama or Bono.” She shrugs.

“The station manager loved the material. He couldn’t decide what to keep and what to cut, so… we got two hours.”

I’m impressed. Butterfly, not so much. I can’t imagine what’s going through her head right now.

The introduction starts with the gates opening at Grey Crossing, like some episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and I already don’t like it, but the interview quickly recovers by moving almost instantly away from the mansion to an upward pan of Grey House followed by a shot of my wife strolling through the halls like the boss that she is.

GEH looks magnificent on film. The headquarters has never gotten much airtime. Press conferences or news releases were always carefully planned and released on our terms, leaving most of the whole of the company out of the proverbial limelight—except for the numbers part of it all. People have often wondered why, with all my success, I haven’t gone public. This is why. I have total control of my company. Why would I hand that control over to someone else for money that I don’t need?

My beautiful wife looks just like a female mogul, roaming the halls, offices, and departments of our company. I’ve never seen her as majestic as she looks with the power of the House behind her. No wonder women are so jealous of her—and men are intimidated by her.

I’m extremely impressed with how the one-on-one interview with me and Maria turned out. It’s just what I was hoping for—the ruthless, but shrew businessman coupled with the papa-bear that would stop at nothing to protect his family.

I watch my wife’s expressions through various parts of the interview, especially when she describes who she was before me, how she changed when we got together, me being her ultimate protector. I feel pretty shitty having dropped the ball on that duty, leaving her in the uncertainty that she feels now.

I’m quite pleased with where they placed that asshole’s footage of my wife breastfeeding our children. She’s talking about the mothering instinct that’s not so natural to some women and how her main priority is and was to protect our children inside and outside the womb. You would have thought the filming was intentional just for this moment, instead of some grip boy pervert trying to get a shot of a nip-slip.

We both look pretty bad ass on the shooting range, and we all got a little chuckle out of Maria’s obvious inexperience with a firearm…

We all, that is, except Butterfly.

Her face is stone throughout most of the segment. Even portions that brought small chuckles and reactions from Mac. She’s watching this entire thing with a highly critical eye, and she’s not even enjoying it.

When the segment is over, I feel a collective sigh release in the theater room. I don’t hear it, but I feel it.

“I secured releases from everyone who was filmed when we were last here except from your nanny… Keri, I think is her name. Forgive me if I got that wrong,” Maria informs us.

“No, you got it right,” I say. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”

“So, what did you think?” Maria asks nervously. I turn to my wife; whose face still looks like marble.

“Butterfly?” I urge.

“The segment was good,” she says, her face stoic. “Concise, honest, thought-provoking. The placement of that idiot’s footage was quite timely. I was afraid of how that would be incorporated into the segment, but I’m satisfied. Nothing was overdone, which is something that I was afraid of. I would have liked to see more of the children, but I guess there’s only so much you can fit into a two-hour segment, and that was a lot of material. Overall, I’m satisfied with the ultimate outcome.”

Timely… concise… satisfied. My wife is choosing her words carefully, not at all saying that she liked or disliked anything in the interview apart from the fact that Minnie and Mikey didn’t get more screen time. This point doesn’t get by Maria, and her uncertainty is transparent.

“Is there anything that you didn’t like, Ana?” she asks. “Anything you want to remove or change? I can get some more footage of the children added if you want. I just didn’t want to overdo it…”

“No, it’s fine,” my wife interrupts. “The overall focus was Christian and me and that’s how it should be. Too much information about the children could be dangerous.” Maria nods in resignation.

“What about you, Christian?” she says, slightly crestfallen but trying not to show it, and for once, I have to be the diplomat in the situation. I’m not sure that I can do it, but here goes.

“I liked it,” I begin. “I think it portrays just what we wanted—Christian and Anastasia Grey as a whole and not just the crap that the press or the gossip rags want to show. It had that ‘here’s what it is, take it or leave it’ vibe, and I like that. I was afraid that it was going to be some plastered-over, painted and spit-shined depiction of us and I wouldn’t have liked that at all. When the segment started with the gates opening, I was worried, but you recovered very quickly…”

“I did that intentionally,” Maria interjects. “I know that people are expecting some ‘Robin Leach, Ana descending the stairs in a diamond-encrusted robe’ presentation. So, I had a little fun and let them think that’s what they’re getting.”

Of course, they did get some of that, but it was appropriately placed and not overused, so, I can’t complain.

“I had a feeling,” I say. “I’m just glad that wasn’t the entire focus of the interview. Yes, we have a beautiful home and yes, we have money, but the hope was to focus on the people and not necessarily the situation. I think you did that well. I particularly loved the parenting segment and where you put the forbidden footage.” Maria sighs.

“I was hoping that you would be happy with that… both of you,” she says. We look over at Butterfly who simply takes another sip of her Cabernet. Maria deflates a little. “When you gave me permission to use it, I had no idea where to put it at first. My questions were, ‘where do you insert a woman breastfeeding?’ Then I thought about it being the original natural process, second only to sex, and realized that it could have fit just about anywhere that we were talking about the woman that Ana is, but best fit when we were discussing motherhood.”

“Well good for you. It looks good,” I encourage. “I’ll have to admit that I see quite a bit of me but more of Ana.”

“That’s also intentional,” Maria says. “The camera loves Ana and the press and the public gobble up every little tidbit of her that they can get. It’s been that way ever since she’s been in the limelight. That’s not to say that the camera doesn’t love you, too, but public Christian Grey is a new flavor. The viewing audience has a delicate palate. If you dump it on them all at once, they quickly lose the taste for it. Even in what appears to be a relaxed setting, you’re a force of dominance…”

Quite the appropriate description.

“You can’t push that in somebody’s face too much. It comes off like an arrogant pissing dog. So, instead, I gave you that one power segment, then introduced a segment of Ana before bringing you both together again. From there, you were still very present, but she did most of the talking. Finally, you came in as the anchor. So, I started and ended with you, but Ana was the cream filling, so to speak. As a result, hopefully, a little more Ana and a little less Christian actually gives the segment just the right amount of balance.”

Mac is nodding introspectively, and I can see that she agrees with what Maria is saying.

“Well, I agree with my wife; it’s very precise, and I feel that it’s a good representation of us—a bit of a bite at some moments as well as the softer, human side of the Greys. I’m quite satisfied.” I look over at Butterfly who finally succumbs to compliment.

“Yes, Maria, it’s a good presentation. I like it,” she says. Maria’s face finally lifts a bit and she signals for the film operator—whoever is up there with Jason—to play the promos. If this is what Mrs. Miller saw, it truly wasn’t much. There are two separate promos and in either of them, you only see a fraction of the house—pieces of the grand entry, dining room, family room, and backyard. I guess that was enough for her to call Elliot… or call Gia who called Elliot. Anyway, the promos weren’t revealing at all—some pictures of Grey House and the two of us showing Maria around, no pictures of our children at all, and that was it. I can still understand why my wife wasn’t happy that the footage was shown before we consented, though. It could have been much worse.

Maria indicates that she has to get back to New York for shooting of portions of her show that will be this week and that she will call ahead to approve the immediate airing of the promos we approved. This was the warning that if we watch television, we’ll most likely see some of our promos as soon as today as the program will air in primetime a week from tomorrow. Butterfly rises from her chair, shakes Maria’s hand and thanks her for coming and for her good work before sitting back in her seat and drinking her Cabernet. I walk a bit with Maria and Mac to the theater room door.

“Don’t take it personally,” I tell Maria in a low voice. “My wife has recently been through something and it’s taking a bit of a toll on her. Hearing about the promos before we had approved the segment didn’t help.”

“Again, I am so sorry about that,” Maria grovels. “I have no excuse for it, but I hope it didn’t completely ruin the experience.”

“If she could find her words right now, she would tell you how much she liked it. I know that because I liked it and I’m very hard to please.” I finally get the wide smile from Maria that she’s been holding back.

“Thank you, Christian. I appreciate that. The last thing I want is for the two of you to be disappointed.”

“Come on, Maria. We’ll find Keri and get that last release signed for you,” Mac says. I gesture to Chuck sitting in the back of the theater and when he meets us in the middle of the aisle, I explain that the ladies need to find Keri and that Mac will most likely want to come back here when all is said and done.

“You’re feeling better?” I ask my wife when I take my seat next to her.

“A little,” she says. “The sky didn’t fall.” I know that’s a reference to her constant feeling of impending doom as well as the theory of Chicken Little that nothing’s really wrong, but she still expected the end of the world. I simply put my arm around her and sigh.

“When I found out that I was pregnant,” she begins, “I was afraid that I was carrying two little lives inside of me—two little blessings from God—that I would nurture inside of my body and bring into this realm just so that the world could gobble them up and destroy them. As time went on, I managed to fight those demons back even though it was hard, and things were still happening to prove my point rather than dispel it. Now, they’re here—they’ve made it into the world and they’re okay. And as time goes on, I see more and more that I was right the first time.

“People are untrustworthy and as a result, horrible things happen to other people. Even when you think you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do, somehow you slip up and do something wrong—you make the wrong decision, or you don’t take an action you should have or you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time and because of it, hell falls down on you like burning hot lava and sears your very soul.

“You go to one of your favorite places in the world to calm down and think things through and just as you’re leaving, your psycho ex-boyfriend shoots you full of drugs that should only be available to doctors and handcuffs you to a bed for four days.

“You take a left turn instead of a right which takes you a different route than you normally take, and a neurotically delusional ex-submissive T-bones your car most likely gunning for the Dom whom she felt scorned her… or maybe she was gunning for me, who knows?

“And instead of running to my husband and telling him about a situation that I erroneously thought I had under control or simply avoiding the situation altogether, he walks in and sees a man that I don’t want at all about to kiss me, and he leaves me for three weeks with no word—put an ocean, a few seas, and a continent between us.”

Shit… that hurt.

“And this,” she says, gesturing to the screen. “Grip boy records me without my permission hoping to see some tits, and then we hear through word of mouth that the promos were released before we approved them. I couldn’t even enjoy the premier because I sat here the entire time waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Jesus, I don’t know what to say. I want to come up with something that will make this all better, but I can’t. I see a single tear fall down her cheek, quickly followed by another.

“Butterfly…”

“You were my safe place,” she says, her voice squeaking. “Everything was okay in your arms, under your protection, and suddenly…” She trails off. What’s more alarming is that she’s speaking in past tense. I am your safe place, Butterfly.

“You’re only human,” she continues, her tears dictating her voice. “You’re not perfect, immortal, or impervious to pain or mistakes, but somehow… somehow…” Her voice trails off again. She raises her eyes to the ceiling and sighs heavily before quickly wiping her face with both her whole hands to remove as many tears as possible.

“It’s an uphill battle,” she says, “fighting the Boogeyman and trying not to let fear overtake me and become a complete recluse, but I’m fighting it. I see things more differently than I’ve ever seen them before in my life, and I just have to incorporate this new knowledge into my life without crumbling to the hand of doom. That’s the hard part. Wisdom is a terrible burden to bear.”

That sounds horrible. She’s slipping into the doom again. This is exactly what we don’t want. She’s moving backwards, away from progress.

“Baby, what can I do?” I ask, feeling completely rudderless. She shakes her head.

“I’ll be alright,” she says in that flat voice that I hate. It’s that quiet acceptance of hell. “I just… need a few moments to regroup. I’ll do some yoga and meditate.” She stands from the seat and heads to the door.

“Do you want me to come and meditate with you?” I ask. We haven’t meditated together in a couple of days. It might help. She turns sad eyes to me.

“Sometimes, you have to face your demons alone,” she replies. She looks at me for a moment, then walks out of the theater room.

Jesus, I feel like a stone has been tied around my neck and I just have to carry it around until she comes out of this. If that’s how I feel, I can only imagine what she’s feeling.

“I just saw Ana.” Mac’s voice startles the shit out of me. “She’s not doing very well.” I shake my head.

“My impromptu trip to Madrid did more damage that I ever thought possible,” I say, scrubbing my hands over my face. “I’ll be honest, even looking back on my anger, had I ever thought it would cause this much injury, I would have made a different decision.” Mac frowns.

“I thought you went to Madrid on a hunch,” she says, “that you got a bad feeling about something and had to go immediately. There’s more?”

“Yes, there’s more, but I’m not going to tell you about it because it’s irrelevant and won’t do any good. I will tell you that you’re right, though. I did get a bad feeling about something and I did go on a hunch—and I was right, which is why I pulled out of the deal. But I didn’t need to go as suddenly as I went, and that’s all I’ll say about that.”

I straighten in my seat, raising to my full height and changing the subject, indicating to Mac that this topic of conversation is closed.

“What about what Stanton said?” I ask. “Did I give enough to prove that she missed a golden opportunity?”

“Oh, dear God, do you have to ask?” Mac replies. “You gave just enough of the interview that she was looking for not to bore the audience, plus you gave crisp and valuable insight into your personal life that wasn’t syrupy sweet, overly ostentatious, or Desperate Housewives. She’s going to be sick when she sees this.”

“How do you know she’ll watch it?” I ask.

“It’s primetime Monday night Sweeps Week—of course, she’s going to watch it. She’s hoping to see it flop, so she’s going to watch it the entire way through, looking for exactly what she’s expecting to see, and trust me. You guys nailed it. Maria asked the tough questions and you two came back without flinching. You got the point across that you wanted to relay as well as giving a good, solid 10-15 minutes as to exactly why you are the brilliant entrepreneur, businessman, mastermind, savant, and guru that she claimed you were. Those statistics that you threw out there in a moment’s notice—28 industries, 419 subindustries, 165 countries… that shit was brilliant. Raynell fucked up and when she sees this interview, she’s going to know it. You got the grit that she was looking for plus the fantastic human-interest piece that you wanted… Stories like this—and on Sweeps Week—are the stuff that Barbara Walters is made of. She’s going to shit herself when this airs. She pissed on the golden ticket and she’s going to know it!”

Well, I take some small amount of comfort in that. Mac and I talk for a few minutes longer about the publicity that will be generated over the next week and how to handle it, including a “no comment” press release until after the segment airs. Jason and Chuck return to the theater room after showing Maria and her reel operator to the door.

“I have the copies of the interview and the promos, sir,” Jason says, handing me a very fancy looking silver flash drive. “It really was a good segment.” I nod, hardly pacified from my angst about my wife.

“Well, I’ll be going now,” Mac says, rising from her seat. “Thanks for the great grub and… call me if you guys need me.”

“Thanks, Mac,” I say without raising my head.

“I’ll show you out,” Chuck says as he escorts Mac from the theater room. I run my fingers through my hair and drop my head. There’s that stone around my neck again.

“Do you want to be left alone?” I forgot that Jason was still here. Now, he’s standing in front of me.

“I don’t know what to do,” I admit. “It’s like she’s bipolar. Just about anything could set her off. She was my rock in Detroit, Jason,” I say, turning my gaze to him as he takes a seat next to me. “She never complained about that cold room. She was right there when I needed her. She held me together when I thought I was going to fall apart. She was everything I needed and then some. She was supportive, passionate, even playful… but the moment the slightest bit of adversity comes her way, she loses her footing. True, she did everything throughout this viewing to hold it together, so she didn’t fall apart completely, but she was so withdrawn and detached… so aloof. If was hard to watch. It was a good segment…”

“Very good, boss,” Jason says. “She depicted you guys extremely well. She even turned a bad situation into a good one.” I nod.

“Exactly, but my wife was sitting there waiting for some horrible thing to come across the screen and never absorbed how great we looked—as a couple and a family… as a team. It was just what I wanted, and she still looks like the world is ending.” I drop my head into my hands.

“God, why didn’t I see this before?” I say, still holding my head while I’m shaking it. “My wife is and always has been mostly emotion and I… I, who can’t identify what I’m feeling half the time without help from my shrink or from her or from you… had to go all mega-Dom on her and disappear for three weeks without telling her where I was. This damage may be irreparable.” Jason sighs.

“Well, you got one thing right,” he says. “You did go mega-Dom on her.” I raise my eyes to him. “I may not be in the lifestyle, boss, but I had to learn something about it working for you, and that trip to Madrid wasn’t about you at all. It was about her. Somewhere during the course of that trip, you may have gotten all caught up in your feelings and decided that you felt betrayed or hurt or used or whatever feeling you want to put in there. But the entire time that you were downing shots at the bar, vomiting on the plane, wearing a toga during the descent, and running around Madrid in sweatpants, you were pissed. You convinced yourself that she was a villain and she deserved to be punished—and that’s what you did. You went mega-Dom and gave her the biggest punishment that you’ve ever given her. Emotional warfare is far more damaging than physical, and you punished her so badly that she punished herself.

“I’m not saying that she’s blameless in this. I know that’s not true and so does she. I’m just saying that this could have definitely been handled in a better way and now, she’s paying for it. What you did was the equivalent of ‘two wrongs don’t make a right;’ they only result in an even bigger wrong and in this case, it’s astronomical. She’s suffering a form of PTSD…”

“Oh, she’s not going to like the sound of that,” I protest. “She won’t even talk to Dr. Baker without coaxing because she said the same thing.”

“Well, she may not have been suffering it at that time, but this time, she is. She emotionally or physically separates herself from any situation that may cause her discomfort; then she sits in the corner and waits for Armageddon. That’s the same as a combat soldier who can’t tolerate fireworks, who’s set off by a ceiling fan thinking it’s a chopper blade; who wakes up in the middle of the night screaming and fighting ghosts who aren’t there; a victim of a serious accident who’s afraid to drive a car; a victim of sexual abuse who doesn’t trust the opposite sex. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. She can deny it all she wants, but that’s what she’s suffering.

“Is it irreparable? I don’t know. I’ve seen some victims of PTSD that never come out of it. I’ve seen some that just learn to live with it—that can function and control their triggers. Her behavior in Detroit gives me the idea that she has hope. It just depends on how deep her despair is and if she can control those feelings of doom. She’s going to have to find out exactly what triggers it and control those triggers. That’s the hard part, but you have to be patient and give her time… and space, when she needs it.” Did he hear her tell me that there was nothing I could do for her right now?

“Are you a part-time shrink, too?” I try to jest.

“No,” Jason says, “I’m a combat veteran. I suffer a bit of the old post-trauma myself. I just… know how to handle it.”  I gaze at him.

“I never knew that,” I reply soberly.

“I don’t publicize it,” he retorts. “If Her Highness denies that she’s suffering from the effects of post-traumatic stress, she’s never going to be able to find an effective treatment plan. She knows that.”

“Well, Jason, I can’t tell her. When I tell you that it was disastrous the last time we approached that topic with Dr. Baker, I’m saying that the silent passive-aggressive blows in that room could have caused physical carnage in a different setting.” He sighs.

“I’ll try to find a decent time to talk to her about it, but it won’t be today. She’s already triggered, so she can’t hear me right now.” I twist my lips.

“You did some shrinking somewhere, Jason. Admit it.”

“Nope,” he denies, shaking his head. “Any intelligent person will learn everything they can about their illness, particularly mental illnesses. They can be deadlier than any physical illness around. I educated myself on triggers, coping techniques, symptoms, medications, things like that. I’m not a shrink, Christian. I’m just informed.”

“Quite,” I cede. “I’ll let you decide when the best time is to broach this topic with Her Highness. In the meantime, I need your help with another situation.”


ANASTASIA

I’ve lost it. I’ve completely lost hold on everything that I’ve been working on—all my Zen, all my chi, all my fucking self-control… right out the goddamn window.

Get it together, Grey. Get it the fuck together.

For the first time in my life, the Bitch sounds like me. I shudder and try to compose myself. I can’t lose it. I have to maintain control and balance.

I’m walking around the house aimlessly, not sure where I’m headed or what I’m trying to do. The meditation room won’t do it right now. I need more than meditation to shake this feeling. I need meditation on steroids!

Nothing happened. Nothing even happened. It was just the fact that Maria Sanchez seemed a bit careless with our footage and suddenly, the sky is falling again. I can’t function like this. I can’t constantly walk around being afraid to think or move or breathe.

Nothing actually went wrong. It just took the hint of something possibly not being quite right for me to slip into the anticipation of Armageddon.

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Who is this wimpy bitch before me and what has she done with the fearless Anastasia Steele?

Anastasia Steele… why did I go all the way back to her?

I know why… because I’m trying to find that independence that I once had, that ability to call my own shots and tell it like it is without pulling punches or holding back. That same woman who told David the he would never have a chance and subsequently pulled a gun on him in the parking lot. Yeah, he kidnapped me, but when I was free, I kicked his motherfucking ass with the last bit of strength I had left.

That’s the girl I’m looking for—the same girl that faced off with the Pedophile and won every time, even after she stole my gun. Yeah, she shot Jason with it, but I beat her within an inch of her life after that.

And then there’s the girl who really let Grey have it—showed him just how displeased I was with his staring and his fucking, “Google me.” Yeah, I’d love for her to make an appearance.

How did I become so weak? How did I become so dependent that I couldn’t define myself without him? Made him everything in my life so that once he was gone, I was rudderless and had no identity?

It’s my fault. I made him “perfect.” I made him the answer to all my questions, prayers, and problems. I made him invincible and incapable of disappointment, so that when it happened, I nearly crumbled.

It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.

Michel’s words come back to me…

“You two are going to be together for 100 years and sometime during that hundred years, you’re going to have a big breakup. It won’t be the end of the world. It’ll just feel like it. Don’t let it destroy you.” 

God, I hope this was the big breakup. I don’t think I can survive anything bigger than this.

All my wandering finds me in the spa room. I don’t know how I got here, but yes, this is the perfect place for me at the moment. I turn the lights on and the room looks like a haven, a nice, quiet haven. I immediately start the water running in the sunken spa. I sit on the bench in front of the wall aquarium, which easily holds twenty to thirty fish… or more. The only thing my mind can conjure right now is… who’s responsible for feeding these fish? I immediately think of that aquarium I bought with Edward… and how I couldn’t wait to get rid of that fucker once he was gone.

That of course leads me to my visit to the aquarium where he and his ex-security flunky kidnapped me.

“You’re a dirty fucking bastard, Edward,” I say aloud. “You were a wretched excuse for a human being. I’m glad you’re dead and I hope you burn in hell.”

The honesty of those statements is incredibly liberating. Fuck political correctness. For much of the time that I knew that man, he made my life a living hell even through the moments where I foolishly loved him. Now, when I find myself in my darkest moments, he comes back to taunt me—make me feel like I’m nothing or worse yet, make me feel afraid of the future. How the hell do you give a dead man that kind of power over you?

I stand from the bench and move to the shelf of bath salts. Sandalwood—yes. Evocative and soothing at the same time.

“Fuck you, Edward David,” I say as I sprinkle bath salts into the slightly steaming water, “and your little dog, too.”

That fucking keystone cop… No, not a keystone cop. I won’t insult keystone cops by comparing them to him. He was even more worthless than Edward—pissed off because he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do his job and then blames his termination on me. And manhandling me while I was cuffed and helpless—that was really fucking macho. Your plans for success were based on Edward needing to get me alone and when that didn’t pan out for you, you raid my credit cards. Brilliant, fucking brilliant.

And you have the nerve to haunt me, too.

“Fuck you, too, you miserable asshole,” I say aloud. “I hope Satan is fucking you in the ass with a red, hot dick every night.”

Jesus! That sounds horrible.

But I don’t care. It serves him right.

I swirl my hands around in the hot, aromatic water. It’s perfect. I strip, dropping my clothes on the floor next to the spa and descend the stairs into the hot water. It feels heavenly. As I settle into the water, I practice a meditation technique I saw in one of my studies.

I wiggle my toes, stretching them wide and feeling the tension release in each knuckle as the hot water caresses them. Once my toes feel loose and light, I stretch my feet like I’m doing one of my interpretive dances. I feel the release all the way to my ankles. I close my eyes and stretch further, flexing my calf muscles—first the right and then the left. It’s like tiny fingers working the stress out of my muscles, releasing all the tension and darkness into the water and washing it away from me.

Next, I flex my feet hard, causing my thigh and hamstring muscles to stretch. I imagine all the fear and anxiety rising to the top and dissipating in the continuous bubbles, floating off in the air to somehow return to the depths of hell from whence they came. My body is beginning to feel physically lighter. I tighten and flex my glutes, feeling the release all the way in my lower back.

I control my breathing the entire time, bringing good, healthy air in and releasing the bad, burdened air that had previously invaded my lungs. Fuck this silent reservation. If the Boogeyman wants me, come at me! I got something for you, and I’m not going out without a fight.

I roll my abs, flexing and tightening, imagining more of the darkness sliding out of my soul and off my body, imagining the fear releasing its death grip on my heart and mind, clearly seeing a shiny newness that leaves no room for doubt, anguish, painful uncertainty.

The pop of each vertebra is a celebration of the releasing of the weight of doom and when the final vertebra pops and I end the dance with a long roll of my shoulders, I feel the final monkey jump off my back. I stretch my arms and wiggle my fingers, basking in the feeling of being able to roll my neck around and from side to side without the hinderance of, “What the hell is coming at me now” following me or lurking on my left or my right, making me afraid to turn my head and look around me, to walk confidently into my future whatever it may hold.

The bubbles massage my sensitive breasts and I reach up to my nipples to protect them from the flow of the jets. Good God, they’re taut! I cover them, allowing them to still feel the heat of the water without the constant pressure and stimulation of the jets. Jesus, I can’t remember the last time they felt like this—dark pink and hard like little pebbles. I’m so fascinated by how they look that I start to massage them. No wonder Christian likes them so much… they’re beautiful.

Before I know it, the stimulation sends jolts of pleasure right down to my core. I’m suddenly very aroused by my own nipple play and the water is caressing me into comfort and seduction like you wouldn’t believe. I want to find Christian, but this caress… this massive release of trouble and anguish… the embrace of the warm, aromatic water…

Do you need him to come, too?

My hand slides from my breast and locates that sensitive bundle of nerves between my legs and I stroke… again… and again… and again. I pinch my nipple to remind myself of the sensation the brought me to this point.

“Ah,” I purr as pleasure shoots back and forth between the two manipulated points. I stroke myself harder, deeper, spreading my legs wider, the warm water adding to the sensation of my building orgasm.

“Ah… ah…” I croon, pinching my nipple and stroking my clit, over and over until…

I bite my lip and groan through my climax, feeling the final weight of uncertainty fall from my body. I take more deep, cleansing breaths as my body trembles through aftershocks and slowly melts into the comfort of satiation.

Why did I do that? I don’t regret it, but I can’t remember the last time I touched myself just for the sake of touching myself. At my condo? After Christian’s first kiss… or sometime around there. I touched myself after I had the babies, then Christian interrupted me and made me feel like shit without saying a word. True, he made me come so hard that night that I could barely say my name, but the way he looked at me… I remember never wanting to touch myself again.

So, I didn’t.

But this is my body. Yes, it’s his, too, but it’s mine first. Why do I need an excuse to make myself feel good? Why should I be ashamed? It’s not like I’m letting someone else touch me—I’m doing it myself. Jesus, have I completely lost all definition of Anastasia in the definition of AnaChris?

No matter. I’m on my way to finding myself again, to finding that tiger that he fell in love with and that I admired so much. She’s not gone, she’s just suppressed, and she needs to come back. I can still be Christian’s wife without totally losing myself and who I was in the process. No wonder I’m a fucking basket case. Yes, bad things are going to happen. They happen all the time. They’ve happened to me since I was a child… but I didn’t die. Shit, somebody tried to kill me—killed the baby that I was carrying—and I still didn’t die.

I still carry my guns in my purse and in my glovebox, and I walk around afraid that someone from Green Valley is going to sneak up behind me again. Please, walk up on me… please! I will take great joy in filling their asses full of lead.

David did some horrible shit to me and to other women, and he ultimately paid with his life. Why the hell am I still holding onto that one?

And Christian, my lover and my tormentor. One day—heaven forbid—he may just decide that I’m not enough for him anymore. Am I going to roll over and die if that happens? At the rate I’m going now, yes, I will. I’m going to curl up and shrivel away into nothingness without him.

No, I don’t want to lose him. Yes, I’ll be crushed if he leaves me. But right here, right now in this space and time, who am I? Who is Anastasia besides being Mrs. Christian Grey?

The question floats around in my head as I allow the comfort of afterglow, release, and liberation to soothe me as the warm water continues to caress my body.

*-*

“Baby wake up.”

Christian’s voice is cutting through my solace. Maybe cutting is the wrong word, but I was visioning… dreaming maybe… about clouds and flying and dancing, flowers and soft spring dresses… and twirling…

“Hmm?” I say groggily. He pushes the wet hair from my face.

“How long have you been in here?” he asks, his voice concerned. I shrug. I’m still in the spa… with the warm water.

“Uhuhuh,” I make the I don’t know sound while shrugging my shoulders, because I really don’t know how long I’ve been in the water, but long enough for the heat and massage to coax milk from my breast. Sure enough, when I sit up, they’re empty and light…

Just like the rest of me.

“Are you okay?” he asks, reaching his hand out to me to help me out of the spa. I take his hand and drag myself from the comfort of the warm bath. My body is a little heavier now, but it’s no doubt from the loss of that weightless feeling from the water, and from the fact that I’m totally pruney, which means…

“I’m fine, just a little waterlogged apparently.” I step out of the spa and walk over to the closet. Retrieving one of the terrycloth robes, I wrap myself in its warmth.

“You seem to be feeling a little better,” Christian says, handing me a towel. I take it and begin to dry my hair.

“I’m working on it,” I say, wrapping the towel around my head turban-style. “I’m working through some things. I guess we’ll see how it goes.”

“Is there anything I can do?” Oh, Christian. I love you so much, but therein lies the problem. Ace has been right all along. I have to start over from the beginning… finding me. And now that I have an idea what I’m looking for, the journey doesn’t seem so scary anymore… but it’s my journey. And no, he can’t be there every step of the way because he can’t take this journey for me. What’s more is that I need to know who I am outside of him. I need to exist in my own space and my own skin… and learn to coexist with him as well, not just exist because of him or for him.

None of this gloom and doom would have befallen me had I not fallen completely apart when he went to Madrid. Yes, it was tragic, and it was going to be painful no matter how balanced or together I was, but it wasn’t the end of the world and I fell completely apart. Just like we have to find our way back to us together, I have to find my way back to me on my own.

“Just be supportive and love me. That’s all I ask.” That’s all I really can ask.

“Now, why does that sound like a massive blow-off to me?” he laments.

“Well, because when the person you’re talking to doesn’t have a cut-and-dried answer for you, they can only give you what they know, and that’s what I know. I need you to love me and be supportive. Can you do that?”

“You know I can,” he says, closing the space between us and pulling me into his arms. “You know I do.”

“I feel like having a party,” I say later that evening as I lie on my back on the sofa in the family room. Minnie is lying on my chest, breathing evenly in her slumber and occasionally suckling her binky while I play in her copper curls. Christian’s brow furrows.

“What kind of party?” he asks while rubbing Mikey’s back and attempting to gently coax him to sleep. “Food and Libations?”

“I don’t know,” I say, because I really don’t know. “I’m just in the mood for a party.” I know it’s a ridiculous thing to blurt out of nowhere. In fact, I don’t even know where that came from.

“I… guess we’ll have to see what we can do, then,” he says, squeezing my foot and smiling.

*-*

“Rosie…”

I don’t know where I am. It’s gray, not necessarily gloomy, but maybe a bit maudlin… and I hear his voice.

“Rosie…”

I focus a bit and out of the rolling gray midst comes Edward… young and beautiful, like he was when I first met him. His expression is sad—nothing like the young, confident man with the GQ model looks that I met back in college. My heart leaps and a myriad of emotions run through me, some good and some bad. They all flow into the three second funnel and produce a single thought, as always. I pull myself up to my full height, square my shoulders and ask…

“Why are you here now? What do you want?”

As if it could, his face falls even more and he appears to get shorter—shorter than me, even.

“I’m sorry, Rosie,” he says, without making eye-contact with me. “I’m so sorry for the horrible way that I treated you…”

Why the hell is he coming to me now? Is it because I thought of him today? That has to be it. I fold my arms and twist my lips.

“You’re dead. There’s nothing you can do about it now. And I know that I’m dreaming, so why don’t you go back to wherever the hell you came from.” He sighs, and his clothes become more and more tattered by the second. Is that evil bastard that confronted me while Christian was gone about to present himself to me? Well, I’m ready for you, asshole. Bring it on!

“Hell is right,” he says, sadly. “I know it’s not you, but I see you every day. You torment me every day. You and Camilla and…” He trails off. “Mostly you. I don’t know why it’s mostly you. I didn’t do to you what I did to the others.

“It was worse,” I reply. I’m not minimizing the fact that he brutally beat those women, but I get the feeling that they got the beatings because they didn’t stay around for the emotional and mental warfare that he put me through for years. And even after we broke up, there was more warfare when he kidnapped me.

“You tormented me, mentally and emotionally, but Harris took care of the beating for you.”

Edward winces, the shirt and pants he was wearing now disintegrating from his body leaving something that looks somewhat like a tattered loincloth… more like a diaper.

“I don’t expect you to forgive me…”

“Ha!” I scoff. “Forgiveness! That’s a laugh! You’re a monster, Edward. I’m glad your dead. I once said I don’t know how I ever loved you, but I do. You tricked me. You tricked me just like you tried to trick me a minute ago, walking in here all beautiful and seemingly untarnished. You did your song and dance and you sold me this performance and this lie, and when the monster came out, it was too late. I was already in love—helpless and fooled into believing that this horrible creature had taken over my man and praying that one day, he would go away and bring my ‘Eddie’ back to me. But that was never going to happen, because my ‘Eddie’ was the façade and the monster was the real you all along. You did a bait and switch on me, only the version of you that you were offering was nothing like the version of you that you originally presented—nowhere near it. You sold me swampland and passed it off as resort property, and I didn’t know it until I was sinking and dying. No, I don’t forgive you. I’m glad you’re dead and you’re obviously rotting in hell, so I know that karma really does exist. Now, go back to eternal damnation and never darken my mind again. I bind you or I cast you out or whatever it is that I have to do or say to let you know that you are not welcome! Do not come back!”

Edward’s face becomes pale… no, not pale, blue… death blue. His skin sags on his bones and the sadness he emits is nearly unbearable. That sheet is around his neck again, the one he foolishly thought would end his suffering, and darkness begins to swallow him. I hear a horrible rumbling, like a growl, but I can’t make out any words.

“Yes, Master,” Edward’s voice says, now gravelly, like he’s drowning, and the darkness envelops him. Moments later, a vision appears like a movie floating inside the black clouds. It’s a room—like the Red Room, but morbid and dark, very uninviting. Edward appears before me, on his knees, not facing me, Thank God. His hands are bound behind him and his cuffs look like hot lava circulating around his wrists. His head is down and his ‘Master’ is nothing more that a darker-than-black midst in front of him. The horrible, rumbling, growling sound comes from the midst and it chills my very soul.

“Yes, Master,” Edward’s voice says again, and I see a long, narrow flame whip out and across his back. He cries out in pain as another flame reaches out and lifts his chin. He’s weeping like a child as he looks up at the past-midnight black midst, and I look around the room that he’s in…

What looks like a spanking bench is in the corner, but there are spikes all over the portion where you’re supposed to sit…

Another device looks like a helmet inside of a vice, no doubt meant to crush your skull…

Yet another gruesome looking device consists of two large chunks of wood with large spikes on the inside and an apparatus made to squeeze them together. I shudder to think what’s supposed to go in between them…

The more I examine the room, the more horrible torture devices I see.

Some kind of rolling device with a long handle fashioned with nails or barbs or something—it looks like a homemade gardening tool. There’s even a medieval rack and an iron maiden. This is a fucking torture chamber!

Another lick of fire down his back causes Edward to scream and brings my attention back to him. The rumbling grumble that comes from the horrible mist this time is clearly a laugh, and Edward crumbles to the ground in tormented tears.

Torture chamber… Red Room… licks of fire, like a whip… could it be?

Edward is Satan’s submissive!

As the meaning of this ghostly vision dawns on me, a horrible dog with snarling, bloody fangs comes from the black mist and starts viciously biting the bound and helpless Edward. Just as I’m about to turn away from the grisly display, the dog turns to me…

And I see Harris’s face.

He growls at me, then falls to the ground, gnawing angrily at his own paws, mangling them and yowling in pain the entire time. Jesus, what was I watching before I fell asleep? What kind of craziness is this?

“Forgive me, Rosie! Please, forgive me!”

And somehow, I get the feeling that my forgiveness is directly linked to the level of torment this asshole is suffering. I don’t know how, but I think I’m right. The very thought of it rips a cackling laughter from my chest.

The sound of my laughter is still echoing in my ears when I open my eyes. Apparently, the sound wasn’t enough to wake my husband. Thank God for that—I don’t even want to begin to try to explain that dream to him. I roll over and snuggle under the covers.

“I forgive you, Edward,” I say softly with a chuckle. “You can’t do anything else to me anymore, so I really don’t care what happens to you, but I’m not holding onto this shit anymore. Now, stay the fuck out of my dreams or I’ll come in there and get you myself, and Satan’s red-hot dick will be the least of your worries.”

Within moments, I’m asleep again, dreaming about clouds and music and flying…

*-*

“I have to say that this is a pretty remarkable case. I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never had one.”

Judge Purdy looks over our petition as she reviews our case. Al is as calm as ever, as am I, but Daddy looks like he’s about to burst.

“You seem nervous, Mr. Steele,” the judge says. Daddy shrugs.

“Maybe… just a bit. I’m… excited I guess. I’ve been waiting for this for a while. It’s just… way past time we did this, that’s all.” Daddy’s words tumble out completely unrehearsed, like he’s going through the supermarket and picking the words off the shelf as he sees them. I reach over and squeeze his hand, trying to calm him.

“Better late than never, right?” the judge says with a smile and Daddy calms right down. “Tell me, because it’s not part of the petition. Why did you wait so long? It won’t affect the decision. I’m just curious.” I look at Daddy and he nods, ceding to me to answer the judge’s question.

“My mother,” I say without hesitation. “It was a rocky and unstable relationship, to say the very least. My mother legally changed my name to Steele very shortly after I was born, but never gave my Daddy parental rights. Once she decided that she didn’t want to be married to him anymore, she went about the business of ripping away from him the daughter that she gave him and had built a relationship with him for over ten years. The decade that followed was torturous—for both of us. We kept in touch as we could, saw each other whenever we could, kept our relationship going the best we could. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I was able to come to him and fully rebuild our relationship. Even though we have the love and don’t really need the piece of paper to define our relationship, different things that have happened to me over the past few years have led to the conclusion that Daddy and I do need legal documentation to solidify our relationship to the rest of the world. It’s not about what people think; it’s just what’s necessary.” The judge nods.

“Very astute explanation, Mrs. Grey,” she says. You’ve answered my question and any follow-up I was thinking of. So, if no one objects, let’s get on with it.”

“In the Superior Court of the State of Washington and in the County of King; in the matter of the adoption of Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey by the petitioner, Raymond Steele, this cause coming on to be heard and being heard before myself, the Court, and from all the evidence presented in this proceeding, makes the following findings of fact and law:

“That all necessary parties are properly before the court and that notice of the adoption petition has been served on any person entitled to receive notice of this proceeding.

“That the adoptee is eighteen years of age or older and proper consent to the adoption has been given by her in writing and has been filed with this proceeding.

“That any other necessary consent has been obtained and any other necessary documents or judicial orders have been obtained and filed with the Court.

“That the adoptee was born in the State of Washington on the 18th day of October 1986.

“That this adoption is entered into freely and without duress or undue influence for the purpose of creating the relation of parent and child between the petitioner and the adoptee, and that the petitioner and the adoptee understand the consequences of the adoption.

“That the Decree of Adoption establishes the relationship of parent and child between the petitioner and the person being adopted. From the date of the signing of the Decree, the adoptee is entitled to inherit real and personal property by, through, and from the adoptive parent in accordance with the statutes on interstate succession and has the same legal status, including all legal rights and obligations of any kind whatsoever, as a child born the legitimate child of the adoptive parent.

“Please note that this Decree for Adoption does not terminate the parental rights of any living biological parents or sever the relationship of parent and child between the individual and the individual’s biological mother as you have requested not to do so.

“Now therefore, upon the foregoing finding as a matter of law, it is hereby ordered, adjudged and decreed: that from the date of entry of this Decree, the adult is declared adopted for life by the petitioner and that said adult will continue to be known by the name of Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey in accordance with the provisions of the General Statutes.”

I think Daddy and I both hold our breath until she gets to the bottom of that document. She’s still reading, and I don’t hear a thing except “adopted for life.”

Daddy is officially my daddy!

“Congratulations to you both,” the judge adds. Daddy beams with immeasurable pride when Judge Purdy hands him the final adoption order.

“Thank you,” he exclaims. “Thank you, Your Honor. Thank you so much.” Daddy gathers me in his arms and I can feel him shaking. He’s not an emotional man, so I know he’s a bit overwhelmed right now. I squeeze him hard and sink into his chest, that strong man who has always been there for me—when circumstances allowed. No matter what came between us, my daddy never turned his back on me. We may have been kept apart by circumstances beyond our control, but he never deserted me. He came to get me after I was attacked and was prepared to finish raising me on his own until that woman and her walking moonshine still came and got me and ripped us apart again.

“I love you, Daddy,” I whisper, my voice cracking.

“I love you, too, Sunflower,” Daddy says, his voice thick with unshed tears.

“Okay, happy smiles, happy smiles. It’s picture time,” Judge Purdy says. It’s customary for new families to take a picture with the judge, so Daddy and I buck up and put on our best smiles for the camera. Al snaps a few pictures with his phone and with the judge’s phone as she wanted one for her wall. When he’s done, he’s thumbing through his phone and frowning again. I thank the judge for her services and we proceed to leave the courtroom.

“Is everything okay?” I ask. He twists his lips.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Check your phone, did you get a text from Christian?” I reach in my pocket and swipe my screen. Sure enough…

**Don’t be alarmed. I need you to come to your father’s house with Ray when the adoption is complete. **

And nothing else.

“Annie, I know we were supposed to do lunch, but Mandy just texted me. She’s says there’s nothing wrong, but that I need to come home,” Daddy says.

“I got a similar text, and I’m thinking Al did, too,” I respond and Al nods. “Meet at Dad’s?”

“Pretty much,” Al says, and I sigh.

“Let’s go see what’s going on.” Another catastrophe, no doubt… today of all days! I stiffen my back and prepare to face whatever it is.

I will not let this bring me down.
I will not let this bring me down.

I spend the time in the car meditating and trying to steel myself for whatever is about to happen at Daddy’s house. When Chuck turns the corner to my father’s street, I quickly realize that my fears are unfounded.

“He didn’t!” I laugh as we approach the house.

“Is that what I think it is?” Daddy exclaims while Chuck hides his chuckles and Al breaks out in shameless laughter.

“You should know,” I tease, a reference to an earlier time.

It's a girlOn my father’s lawn is the biggest pink stork announcement I’ve ever seen, even bigger than Harry’s! It has to be at least eight feet tall, wearing a pink cape with a pink Superman symbol on his chest. The sign simply says “Anastasia Rose” and it has today’s date on it.

“My husband is insane!” I declare. “When did he order that damn thing and how did he get it here so quickly?” Daddy is now laughing as we pull into the driveway behind Christian’s Audi—one of them, anyway. Mandy is in the door waving when we arrive, and I wonder just how long she’s been standing there. The porch is decorated with pink balloons and a banner that reads, “It’s a girl.”

“You guys are too much,” I say as I exit the car. I walk into Mandy’s arms and return her embrace

“I love you, dearly,” she says, “but still don’t call me ‘Mom.’” We laugh at the throwback to our first meeting.

“Maybe just once or twice,” I tease, pinching my fingers together in front of my eye. Mandy twists her lips in a half-smirk.

“Maybe… we’ll see,” she retorts. She releases me to kiss Daddy and I go to Christian’s arms.

“You’re too much,” I say to him, greeting him with a gentle kiss.

“What my girl wants, my girl gets,” he says. I furrow my brow. I didn’t want a pink stork. I like it and it’s cute, but I didn’t request it. He just smiles and ushers me into the house behind Mandy and Daddy.

“Surprise!”

The house is full. The salutation startles me so badly that I actually turn to run back out the house and I’m greeted by an equally stunned Al. He catches me in his arms—and against his chest—looking over my head at the crowd of people assembled.

The Scooby Gang, Gail and Keri with my precious babies, Grace and Carrick, Mia and Ethan, Marilyn, Elliot, a person or two from Helping Hands…

And Brian.

Brian was here with Christian? For how long? The house isn’t in a state of disarray—so I guess there was no brawling, but how did that happen?

Brian moves forward and grabs my father’s hand. They embrace for a long time, and Daddy closes his eyes. He has missed his friend. I feel a little guilty. Their relationship is strained because of me and I wish that I could change things…

And then I see her.


A/N: Don’t ask me where the hell “Satan’s Playroom” came from. I don’t know what kind of dark place I was in when I came up with that one. I even researched torture devices! I think somebody pissed me off that day…

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

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 47—Getting to the Bottom of Things

I’m so happy that you guys liked that last chapter. I didn’t mean to cut your hearts out with the cliffhanger, but with word counts and this particular storyline, that’s the only place I could end it. Having said that, I’ll quickly address a couple of things from the last chapter.

I don’t think things are going to occur the way everyone thinks they are, but I will say that in the end, I think you guys will be satisfied. I won’t lie and say that it’ll be by the end of this chapter, but when all is said and done, I think you’ll like it.

Now, about the cold room… years ago—I can’t remember where I was—I was in a room just like that. The vent was in an area that was about 10 feet wide so that the heat would come out and hit this other wall ten feet away and it was right in front of the window. The room never got warm and I never forgot that room. I just don’t remember where that room was.

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 47—Getting to the Bottom of Things

CHRISTIAN

“To my second son, Freeman…”

“About goddamn time!” Freeman hisses, almost inaudibly, but I hear him through the wall. Neither of his brothers react to his selfishness.

“Impatient as always, weren’t you, Freeman? That’s why I saved you for last.

“It’s hard for a father to realize that he’s done everything that he could and still, it wasn’t enough. In all the years I’ve been on the earth, I can honestly and fretfully say that I’ve never met another human being in my life who was as bitter as you. You’ve never taken responsibility for any of your circumstances and although I understand that life dealt you a massive emotional blow, that’s life. It does that to all of us.

“I’ve got diabetes. I need a kidney, but I’m not blaming anybody else for that. You blamed your shunning sweetheart and her rich boyfriend for your unhappiness. Although she was responsible for the original blow, she was not responsible for everything else that happened thereafter. That was all you—your unending need to be the center of attention and have everything exactly your way or else!

“When the world didn’t bow to your will, we were all wrong. Rick was a monster because he found a rich woman who loved him and wanted to marry him. Nollie was a disappointment because she wasn’t your precious firstborn son. Nellie was a failure because you, my son, did not provide the Y-chromosome, or did you forget that’s how that worked?

“So, now I’ve found my way to greener pastures and if you’re hearing this now, it means that you still haven’t changed. I can see that the people around you are slowly beginning to see you for what you are. My final wish for you is that I wish you the best, son. I hope you find whatever it is that you’re looking for, because at the rate that you’re going, you’ll end up with no one and nothing.”

Wu pauses at this moment, having read Pops’ words with the fever and fire that Pops himself would have delivered had he still been alive. Freeman says nothing. His expression is hard to read—either stoicism, impassivity, or he’s doing a really good job of hiding his pain. I completely expect him to say, “Come on, get on with it,” but he doesn’t. He sits silently waiting for Wu to continue.

“On more than one occasion,” Wu continues, “I’ve heard you bickering about that house with the rest of the boys. You win, Freeman. You get the house. If I know my sons, none of them want it anyway, and I only ask their forgiveness if I’m wrong about that, but you made it quite clear that the house meant more to you than I did. So, now that I’m gone, you get what you’ve been waiting for. It’s all yours. Let him have it, boys. It’s truly worthless—physically and emotionally.”

Dad, Uncle Herman, and Uncle Stan all look at each other and a silent conversation passes between them. Uncle Herman twists his lips, Dad does a non-committal shrug, and Uncle Stan just waves it off, each of them signaling in their own way that they don’t give a damn about the house. Uncle Herman and Dad told him before he left Seattle that they didn’t care, but he still chooses this moment to gloat.

“You got a toy car collection. I got a house,” he taunts. Dad just shakes his head.

“Enjoy,” he retorts.

It only takes a moment for the impact of that word to hit Freeman.

Whatever condition it’s in, that house is a family house, and he no longer has a family. So, he really can’t enjoy it. I know from having the house guarded for about a year that it’s in a terrible state of unrepair and is pretty worthless. It’s in an area of Detroit that’s considered a historical area, but the property values are way down because it’s Detroit. If he wants to sell it, he’s going to have to sink a mint into it to get it back to its former glory, or he’s going to have to sell it as-is and get maybe one-fifth of the value.

And let’s not forget the back property taxes.

His victory really isn’t a victory at all and just like Pops predicted, he’s losing everything. The house is a consolation prize and not even that.

“Although you have proven almost up to my last day to be a disappointment, I’m still a fair man and you’re still my son. To that end, you will still get your share of my monetary worth upon my passing,” Wu adds.

“Monetary worth?” Herman interrupts. “What is he talking about?”

“Herman, apparently, your father made preparations that he didn’t even tell you about,” Wu says as he turns his attention back to the will. “Because Burton’s medical bills and final arrangements have all been handled by you and/or your brother, Carrick, there’s no demand on the proceeds from the life insurance policy.”

“Life ins…” Dad trails off. “Dad had a life insurance policy?” Freeman perks up immediately at the thought of money.

“Who’s the beneficiary?” Freeman intercepts. Even Wu looks like he’s had enough of Freeman.

“I’m getting to that,” Wu says, impatiently, “if you would all give me a moment to do my job…”

“Just tell us who gets the money!” Freeman demands.

“Man, just shut up!” Uncle Herman declares. “By law, that will must be executed exactly as Dad wanted, and if you keep flapping that hole in your face, we won’t know, and nothing you say is going to change what’s in there.”

“You gettin’ ballsy, too, brother?” Freeman rises from his seat across from Uncle Herman. Oh, shit.

“Freeman, you have disrespected our father and our family name in every way imaginable and unimaginable. With his final words, he declared just how worthless you really are and the fact that he meant nothing to you and he knew it—that you were just waiting for him to die so that you could get his house. Now, I am a breath away from beating the hell out of you with every inanimate object in this room that’s not nailed down. So, sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.”

Uncle Herman’s voice sounds like a gentle and menacing growl coming from his chest, and it unnerves me… even from behind this glass. Freeman’s resolve cracks for a moment, and when he looks like he’s about to reload, Dad pipes in.

“Make that two of us,” he says. Freeman looks shocked to hear my dad collude with his brother to kick Freeman’s ass, but not nearly as befuddled when Stanley’s voice adds…

“I’m in.”

Just like that, like he was anteing up for poker! Freeman looks at the snarling eyes of all three of his brothers sitting across from him at the conference table, their hands all clasped in front of them in the exact same pose, glaring at him and waiting for him to make a decision. Common sense that I thought the man never possessed appears to influence his actions, and he quietly takes his seat. No doubt, the thought of a violent beatdown from his three angry brothers is enough to cool the narcissism of even this asshole.

Wu reads the remainder of the legal jargon—and there’s a lot of it—including a no-contest provision and concludes the reading of the will. Afterwards, he retrieves another document from the file and begins to describe it.

“Herman, you are the primary beneficiary of the policy. You were to handle your father’s final arrangements and present the billing to me so that I could see that the mortuary was paid. Apparently, your notification of this information, which I sent right after your father’s death was… lost or rerouted, I don’t know…” He doesn’t raise his eyes to Uncle Herman or Freeman. “As a result, you and your brother took care of all of your father’s final arrangements. There are no demands on his estate from creditors and as a result, the entire proceeds of the life insurance policy will split four ways.”

“So… how much was it?” Uncle Stanley asks.

“Two million,” Wu says. “You each get $500,000.”

“Five-hund… fuck me…” Uncle Herman whispers. Uncle Stan is stunned into silence. Dad sits there with his brow furrowed. I know exactly what he’s thinking—he doesn’t need the money.

Apparently, he’s not the only person who feels that way.

“I’m contesting,” Freeman says, matter-of-factly. Four heads in the room rubberneck towards Freeman.

“Contesting what?” Stanley nearly shrieks. I can tell by his expression that he sees his dreams going down the drain like a toilet. “Dad had four sons. He split the life-insurance evenly—we all get $500,000. You’re fucking ruining this for us all!”

“That bastard was absent for the last 25 years!” Freeman shoots, pointing at Dad. “He doesn’t deserve a goddamn thing from Dad!”

“And you do?” Herman shoots. “When Dad was dying, your suggestion was to bring him back to Detroit and put him in a goddamn nursing home! You didn’t care that he was happy in Seattle, only that he was in Seattle. Why do you have to be such a miserable bastard all the time!”

“He can’t do that!” Stanley protests, almost sounding like he wants to cry. Freeman is dug in, trying to make it appear that it’s Dad’s fault that none of them will get their money, but he’s crazy like a fox. First of all, he knows that contesting means that nobody gets any money. Not only does it hurt Dad—so he thinks—but he’s hoping to turn the other two brothers against him for holding up the life insurance payout, even though it’s not even Dad’s fault.

Second, the longer he holds up that payout, the more likely it is that the divorce will be final, and the IRS audit will be complete, meaning that Nell and the Feds won’t be able to attach the funds from the policy.

“I hate to tell you this, little brother, but yes, I can,” Freeman says, celebrating in his immediate victory. “Herman and that asshole dragged my dad all the way across the country away from the protection of the rest of his family. He was on dialysis; he was on the list for a kidney. He was holding his own for years while he was here, then they get him out there and a year later, he’s dead and there’s a mysterious two-million-dollar life insurance policy. That’s awfully convenient and I can contest the validity of the whole damn thing. Isn’t that right, Mr. Wu?”

“You can,” Wu says, “but you need to hire your own attorney. I’m the second executor of the estate, and I have no intention of going against my client’s final wishes. Know that contesting the beneficiary of the life insurance policy is very expensive and almost impossible to win.”

“You fucking piece of shit!” Uncle Herman seethes now standing from his seat. “Are you suggesting that I let my father die for a life insurance policy that I didn’t even know existed?” Uncle Herman’s tone and expression is murderous and I’m certain that Freeman’s next words are likely to determine his immediate fate on planet Earth at the hands of the oldest Grey brother.

Freeman’s expression indicates that he’s got the same feeling.

“I thought there was a no-contest clause,” Stanley interjects, trying to diffuse the situation and no doubt, keep Herman out of jail and avoid another Grey funeral. “Didn’t you say there was a no-contest clause that says if he contests the will, he loses his share?”

“That’s if he contests the will,” Dad says, “not the life insurance policy.” Stanley looks at Wu, who nods. Stanley deflates immediately.

“Son of a bitch,” he hisses uncharacteristically.

Dad and Freeman are silently facing off with each other as Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman vehemently voice their displeasure with his selfishness. As Freeman sits there with a cat-who-caught-the-canary sneer on his face, Dad’s eyes narrow and the corner of his mouth slowly begins to rise.

“Valued at about $500,000 apiece, you said, Mr. Wu?” Dad says, without breaking his glare from Freeman.

“Yes, Mr. Grey, that’s correct.” Dad pulls out his phone and presses one number. “Isabelle, yes, can you please prepare two transfers, each for $750,000?… Yes, one in the name of Stanley Grey, and one in the name of Herman Grey… Yes, I’ll contact you back with the account numbers…”

I already know that Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman are going to protest the transfer, so I get on the phone with Alex.

“I need both of my uncles’ bank account information as soon as you can get it to me—like three minutes ago. Stanley Grey and Herman Grey.”

“I’m aware of your uncles, sir. Give me fifteen.” I end the call and continue to watch the soap opera unfolding before me.

“We can’t let you do that, Rick,” Uncle Herman says. “This is all of our fight. We’ll fight it… and we’ll win.”

“And I believe you,” Dad retorts, “but as long as the money is stuck in probate and you guys aren’t using it to live, he’s winning,” he says pointing at Freeman.

“But our share is only 500… why 750?” Uncle Stanley asks.

“Because I don’t need the money, but you do,” he says. “If I took that money, it would be like taking a handful of popcorn and throwing it on top of a bucket of more popcorn. It would just sit there. You guys take it. You can use it.”

“You’re our brother,” Uncle Stanley says. “You’re entitled to it, too.”

“In a pig’s eye,” Freeman shoots.

“And I appreciate that and accept it,” Dad says to Uncle Stanley, ignoring Freeman’s comment, “and now, I’m doing what I want to do with it…”

Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman continue to protest Dad’s gesture when my phone buzzes. It’s an email from Alex and he has sent me the bank account information for my uncles. I forward it to my father. He ignores his buzzing phone, so I tap on the two-way glass. He looks in my direction even though I know he can’t see me, then he reaches in his pocket and pulls out his phone, swipes the screen a few times, and begins typing into it.

“Well. Gentleman, my son has just forwarded me your bank account information and I’ve just sent it to my assistant. You’ll have the money within twenty-four hours.” They both look at the two-way glass and Freeman now knows that he has an audience.

“Who’s in there?” he demands. “Who the fuck is in there?”

“My son is in there,” Dad says. “He’d be in here, but he has to maintain a safe distance from you,” Dad smirks.

“You mean the little bitch that has a restraining order against me?” Freeman hisses.

“Careful,” Dad says, unfazed. “Anything you say could be a violation of your court order.”

“I can say whatever the fuck I want, as long as I don’t say it to your little prick son,” Freeman shoots. Dad smiles.

“Is that true, Mr. Wu?” Dad says, folding his hands on the tabletop and flashing a knowing smile. “Can this insensitive asshole say whatever the fuck he wants in front of my son who currently has charges pending against him for harassment?” Wu clears his throat.

“No… that’s not true,” Wu says. “Anything that he says or does that can be seen or heard by the complainant can be construed as harassment. It’s part of the cyberbullying law.”

“Cyber…” Freeman begins, incredulously.

“Shut the fuck up, Freeman. You’re being recorded,” my father says, menacingly. Freeman sighs angrily resigned.

“You have ruined my entire goddamn life,” he says to Dad. “My entire fucking life! From childhood, all the way ‘til now, you’ve been nothing but a goddamn problem. You’re a fucking thorn in my side and I just wish you would disappear.”

“I didn’t ruin your life, Freeman. You ruined your own damn life. Your wife is divorcing you. Your children left the state to get away from you. None of the family will speak to you. You missed your final goodbye to your father because you were being an ass. You have charges pending against you and you could be facing jail time for beating the hell out of a perfect son in the airport! Of all places, the airport… where they detain you for sneezing! You left several threatening messages on my son’s voicemail, calling him so much that he couldn’t even conduct business to run his billion-dollar empire on his cell phone until the police told you to cease and desist and I ruined your life?” Dad laughs incredulously before continuing.

“You’re going to get your wish, Freeman. I’m going to walk out of this room and never think of you again. You will only be topic of conversation if somebody brings you up or you continue with this stupid fight. But you’ll just burn through your portion of Dad’s life insurance, because it’ll be frozen during the fight with probate. You’ll be coming out of your pocket to pay any attorney to contest this policy, and I’ve got money to burn. I won’t allow my brothers to suffer because you’re being an asshole as usual.”

Stanley reaches for his buzzing phone and I can only assume by the look on his face that he received notification of Dad’s wire transfer. He interrupts Dad and Freeman’s arguing.

“You did it…” he says incredulously. “He did it…” he says to Freeman. “Seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars was just deposited into my account.” He turns to Dad. “Rick, you can’t do this.”

“Yes, I can,” Dad says. “It’s my money and I’m rich. I’ll do with it whatever I want.” He turns his glare back to Freeman. “I won’t allow this selfish bastard to ruin Dad’s final gift to the two of you. When he finally loses his contest and you get your share of Dad’s policy, you can pay me back then… if you want to.”

“If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine, but I’ll only accept five-hundred from you, Rick,” Uncle Stanley says. “That’s my share.”

“I would have given you guys my share anyway,” Dad says, looking between Uncle Herman and Uncle Stanley. “If Freeman wasn’t such an asshole, I would have given him a share, too,” he adds as if Freeman wasn’t even in the room. “I appreciate and accept what my father did for me. Even in his last days, he remembered me and showed me that he still loved me. That’s priceless. That’s all I need. You two can do so much more with this money than I could.” He turns to Uncle Herman. “The woman you love has two little girls that are going to need college funds. You may want to take a vacation. God knows, you deserve one. And you…” He turns to Uncle Stanley. “I’m sure you can find some use for that money. Isn’t Kevin about to graduate high school?” Uncle Stanley sighs.

“Rick…” he begins to protest.

“Please, Stan… let me do this,” he beseeches his brother. “Please?” Uncle Stanley sighs again.

“You got a heart of gold, Rick,” Uncle Stanley says. Freeman scoffs, but Dad doesn’t acknowledge him. Dad smiles and squeezes his brother’s hand before standing from the table.

“Mr. Wu, please make sure that any other fees for my father including your own are all paid promptly and keep me informed of the progress of this other matter.” He takes out his business card and hands it to the attorney. “Don’t use any of the funds from the estate for this issue. As my brother Herman is my father’s executor, you can send your bill care of my brother Herman to this address. I can assure you that after today, there’ll be no more tampering with our mail. Oh, and by the way, there will be demands on my father’s life-insurance policy. Although my father’s final arrangements were covered by me and Herman, they should have been covered by the life insurance. I will be submitting certified and notarized documentation from the mortuary to be reimbursed for the cost of the services rendered before the proceeds are divided between me and my brothers.”

Freeman sneers at my father and probably at the thought that Dad is still going to be getting a share of the policy before anyone else.

“I had services, too!” Freeman barks. Dad doesn’t acknowledge him, but Wu turns his attention to Freeman.

“What services did you have?” he asks.

“We had a memorial for him here… after that asshole had him cremated against my wishes!” Freeman retorts. Wu turns to the other three brothers.

“Not that I have to explain this,” Uncle Herman said, “but Dad said that those were his final wishes. Three brothers were present and weighed in on the matter before Dad was cremated. We called Freeman and tried to include him, but he refused.” He turns to Freeman. “He’s finally learning—the hard way—that he doesn’t have the power to control everybody’s lives, and it looks like he doesn’t even have the power to control his own.” Wu sighs and turns to Freeman.

“You can submit documentation for reasonable expenses for any mortuary preparation or services that you had here in Detroit. Private memorial services are not subject to reimbursement from the life insurance policy,” Wu informs him. The magic words…

Reasonable expenses… which means don’t submit documentation for $10,000 since Pops’ remains were already cremated, and in an urn, when you received them.

Mortuary expenses… again, the remains were already prepared when you received them.

Private memorial services… that means don’t present a bill for a $20,000 rave you had to celebrate the fact that your father has finally kicked the damn bucket!

“But he gets to write off his memorial services?” Freeman nearly screeches.

“I’m only submitting documentation for mortuary services, transport of my father’s remains from home to the mortuary, to and from the church, to the crematorium, and back here to Detroit. I’m not submitting any documentation for the repast or any private memorial services.” Dad looks at the glass and I know that I need to get him an invoice from GEH for the transport of Pops’ ashes back to Detroit on the jet.

“Any more questions, Mr. Grey?” Wu says to Freeman. Freeman stands angrily mute. “Please note… reasonable mortuary services. I’m not sure what else could have been done by a mortuary once Burton Grey’s remains had been cremated and his ashes had been sealed in an urn, but you’re free to submit documentation.”

I can see Freeman’s blood boiling right before our very eyes. Wu takes Dad’s card and they shake hands before Dad leaves the room. Freeman’s ready to reload, but before he gets the chance to retort at all, Uncle Stanley turns his glare to Freeman.

“Lose my number, Freeman,” Uncle Stanley says. “I’m done with you after this.” He stands to leave after my father.

“Stan…” Freeman begins but trails off.

“You’re toxic, Freeman!” Uncle Stanley shoots, whirling back around to face him. “I don’t know how I didn’t see it before! I always thought you were just hurt and angry—like you felt deserted or somehow wronged, but you’re just spiteful, hateful, and wicked. You destroy everything you touch, and Dad was right—you’re going to die a lonely old man and it has nothing to do with Rick! It’s you! You let something that happened to you when you were a kid effect your whole goddamn life and you still won’t let it go. You blame everything and everybody for your situation and you have for years and here’s a newsflash for you, brother. There are people who have been through far worse than you have and turned out to be much better people. You have no excuse for decades of bitterness and selfishness, and I’m through with you!”

Stanley glares at his brother for only a moment more before he storms out of the room after my father. Dad enters the room with me right after Uncle Stanley leaves and watches the screen as Herman wordlessly examines Freeman before standing himself and walking out of the room.

“Let’s go, Dad,” I say, putting my hand on his shoulder. He turns without a word and we leave the room.

The ride is silent for the first several minutes as we begin to head south towards Detroit. This trip doesn’t make me happy, but I’m more concerned about the expression on my father’s face. It’s completely unreadable. It started out as stoicism, but is now morphing into something else completely… anger? Dismay? Complete and utter discontent? I have no idea.

“Dad?” I ask after the car has been silent for way too long, each brother lost in his own separate contemplation. There’s no response or reaction from my father.

“Dad? Are you okay?” I try again. My voice causes Uncle Herman to turn around in his seat and look at Dad. Uncle Stan is driving since he knows the area better than anyone, but even he glances in the rearview mirror to see what’s going on with Dad.

“You alright, Rick?” Uncle Herman asks. Dad shakes his head.

“When did he do it?” Dad asks. We all look at each other and back at Dad. We have no idea what he’s asking. Herman makes to say something, but Dad continues.

“I hadn’t seen Dad for over two decades until my son got married last year. He had no way of knowing whether I was dead or alive. He knew I had married Grace. He knew I had married money…”

What is he getting at?

“I was fine,” he continues. “I’m a successful lawyer who married a trust fund girl who ended up being a successful doctor. I’m rich. I’m very rich. When he came out to the wedding, he knew I was rich. Granted, I didn’t pay for the wedding, but it was in a goddamn castle!”

Is he angry with Pops? Uncle Herman and I exchange quizzical looks, but we all know that we have to let Dad work through whatever this is. He raises tear-filled eyes to Uncle Herman.

“Look how we were living,” he says. “My home is called ‘Grey Manor.’ My son’s home is ‘Grey Crossing.’ We have more money than we know what to do with.” His voice is starting to tremble. Uncle Herman is the first to engage.

“I… I know, Rick,” he says cautiously.

“Then why?” Dad says, his voice cracking and tears falling down his cheek. “Somewhere during the last year, he changed his will. Did you listen to the tone of it? It sounds like he was talking to us the day right before he died! He got a life insurance policy—a two-million-dollar life insurance policy, and then he made me—a rich man—one of the beneficiaries.” He’s weeping now. “He wouldn’t let me buy him a goddamn kidney! I could have bought him a kidney! I could have saved his life! He left me half a million dollars…”

I knew it! Pops alluded to it, but I knew it. I knew Dad wanted to buy him a kidney. I knew because I wanted to buy him a kidney. Now, I have to ask why, too. Why would Pops leave money to Dad knowing that Dad didn’t need it and probably wouldn’t accept it?

“A two-million-dollar life insurance policy,” he says. “For the love of God!” Dad’s weeping has become nearly hysterical.

“Dad…?”

“My father had a two-million-dollar life-insurance policy,” Dad said. “He even included that ungrateful ass bastard that he knew was just waiting for him to die. That worthless piece of shit! I never want to see his face again as long as I live!”

I don’t know how serious Dad is about not wanting to see his brother again or if he’s just feeling super emotional right now. I just know that Freeman better stay the hell away from the vast majority of Grey males at this time if he doesn’t want to breathe his last. My father drops his face in his hands and weeps bitterly.

“I love you, Dad,” he sobs. “I love you so much…”

*-*

Dad is in no condition to confront the private investigators who were following him, so Uncle Stan decides that we should have lunch first. I put a call in to Jason to have the jet on standby because we may be leaving later than anticipated. We pull up to this restaurant with a giant guy in red and white checkered overalls standing in front of it. I can’t imagine getting a decent meal at this place, but when Uncle Herman sees where Uncle Stanley has taken us, he turns around in the seat to get Dad’s attention.

“Rick… look.”

Dad raises tired bloodshot eyes and looks out the window. When he sees the giant chunky guy in the jumpsuit, he smiles a wide smile and attempts to dry his tears.

“You’re an asshole, Stan,” Dad laughs.

“I know,” Uncle Stan acknowledges. “Now, let’s go get a Big Boy.”

I discover a few things about my dad and his brothers during lunch. First, Big Boy is the name of the restaurant—hence, the giant “boy” in the front wearing the checkered overalls. Second, Big Boy is also the name of the famous burger served at the restaurant. They serve a lot of other food, but apparently, the franchise is best known for the burger. I mistakenly said that the Big Boy must have come from the Big Mac, but the Grey brothers quickly corrected me by telling me that the Big Boy came first. While McDonald’s opened in 1940, Big Boy opened the prior decade.

Most importantly, Big Boy burgers were a treat, and often used as rewards or bribes in the Grey household—like good report cards, finishing chores first and, in Dad’s case, no longer wetting the bed.

Apparently, Uncle Stan gave him a really hard time about it even though Dad stopped wetting the bed long before Uncle Stan was old enough to know that he was doing it.

The outing brought back good memories for the brothers of their childhood, but it also reinforced the fact that they don’t remember Freeman in many of those memories. He was in some of them. Apparently, he and Dad were really very close at one point, but now, they’re a perfect example of the thin line between love and hate.

With new resolve after his breakdown in the car and the subsequent lunch with his brothers, Dad is now able to face the owner and investigators at Best Shields Family Investigations. Upon realizing the severity of what his brother had done, he decided to initiate the steps to get a restraining order against him as well. He knows that Freeman won’t try to contact him, but he wants to be sure that the asshole knows that he can’t do anything else either.

The agency is in a small city called Hamtramck—which happens to be right in the middle of Detroit. It’s one of two cities surrounded on all sides by Detroit. I don’t know whose bright idea that was, but…

Uncle Stanley took a route the went straight up Dequindre, so that I didn’t know we were in Detroit until we were leaving and entering Hamtramck. Uncle Stanley really is quite sensitive to other people’s feelings.

Best Shields is housed in this unimpressive storefront-type building on Conant, right down the street from one of those jailhouse-looking schools… a junior-high school, no less. We enter, and I immediately see a receptionist that looks way too young to be a receptionist.

“Hi,” she coos at me. I immediately step forward.

“Hi…” I trail off waiting for her to fill in her name.

“Lori,” she purrs. I smile.

“Lori. We’re here to see your boss about an assignment.” I say the words like it’s a top-secret mission.

“Mr. Westcott? Sure. Why don’t you gentlemen have a seat.” While my father and uncles have a seat, I lean over the counter turn on my best flirt with Lori while she informs her boss—Brad Westcott—that he has clients in the waiting room.

I learn that Westcott owns the business.

I learn that sweet little Lori wants to be a private eye one day but doesn’t know when to stop talking.

I learn a lot of useless bits of information, including the fact that Lori has big dreams of leaving Hamtramck one day and that Brad always makes new clients wait for a few minutes because he doesn’t want to appear desperate.

Lori’s not very smart.

I drop my name and GEH more than once to see if this little chatterbox is going to do me any good. I often get what I want when people know who I am, but I get the feeling that in this state, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. She keeps mulling over the name as if she should already know who I am. I’m not the Grey that you know, Darling.

He doesn’t bother coming out to greet us. He has Lori to show us into his office. It’s something I would do, but I’m a multibillionaire businessman who runs my worldwide empire from a glass tower in downtown Seattle, not a small-time private dick in a brick, one-story storefront office in a small city hiding in the middle of the east side of Detroit.

“Gentlemen,” he says, standing to his feet. “Bradley Westcott. What can I do for you today?” He extends his hands to no one in particular. Uncle Herman raises one eyebrow and steps forward to be the mouthpiece.

“Herman,” he says, taking Westcott’s hand firmly. “This is my brother, Stanley; my nephew, Christian; and my other brother, Carrick.” Westcott nearly has to wrench his hand away from Uncle Herman.

“You look familiar,” he says, looking from Uncle Herman to Dad.

“We should,” Dad says, extending his hand to Westcott. “You may know our brother.” Just as Westcott takes his hand, Dad drops the bomb. “My surname is Grey. Carrick Grey, Esquire. This is my brother, Herman Grey. The brother that’s not here that you may recognize on sight is Freeman Grey. Ringing any bells yet?”

Dad’s grip on Westcott’s hand must be tighter than Uncle Herman’s, because it takes Westcott more jerks and extra effort to free his hand from Dad’s.

“I don’t know why you’re here, esquire,” Westcott mocks. “If you’re not looking for my services, you can walk right back out the door you walked in.

“I was hoping to appeal to your sense of reason,” Dad says, his voice menacing. “My worthless brother has become Public Enemy #1 to most of my family. He’d do better to walk around with a target on his back, but it doesn’t matter, because we’ve all disowned him. That’s one of the reasons why his payments to you stopped so abruptly.” Westcott’s lips form a thin line at the mention of losing his cash cow.

“My brother’s behavior and activities have been atrocious, and I was merely hoping that you would be willing to share the information that you gathered on me and my brother. You see, I plan on getting a restraining order against Freeman Grey for the invasion of my privacy and the fact that he attacked me in my home then tried to have me arrested, subsequently hiring a private detective to spy on my life for no reason at all. Even certified mail intended for my brother and I have been intercepted and we now have proof that those letters were signed for and received by someone other than us. I’m sure you can see our dilemma in trying to collect information for possible prosecution. And if your man was any good at all, he knows who I am, what I have, and maybe some of who I know and what I can do. So, once again I say that I was hoping to appeal to your sense of reason.”  Westcott folds his arms.

“You already know, esquire, that I don’t have to tell you a goddamn thing. And I don’t care who you are or where you come from. You’re not going to get me to openly admit to committing a federal crime,” he jeers. That’s enough for me. I may have left my suave and attitude back in Seattle, but I have no problem stating cold facts.

“Look,” I begin, matter-of-factly, stepping in front of my father, “I’m not saying this to scare you. I’m giving you information. We both know that you’re not obligated to give my father anything, but there are two things that you should know.

“First, my father is a very, very wealthy attorney from Seattle. You’ve probably dealt with wealthy clients before and they’ve probably thrown some weight and some threats around at you, and my father could most likely do the same thing. He could tie you up in litigation and it would go on forever and ever and it would be inconvenient and that would be about it. It would most likely exhaust your legal fund and put you in a bit of a bind, because my father’s very wealthy and this is personal.

“I, on the other hand, am not only an international businessman, but I’m also one of the top three most powerful entrepreneurs in the country. If you don’t believe that, ask your receptionist. I deliberately dropped my name and my business name with her when I walked in the door. I’m not sure how thorough your investigations are, but had you looked into my father’s children, you would already know who I am. Hopefully, you didn’t since I have a restraining order against your client, and you would have been an accessory in his harassment if you had.

“Nonetheless, if your receptionist—and aspiring PI—did her job, she can most likely give you a decent dossier on me right now. Having said that, I should say that if my father doesn’t get what he’s looking for by the time we leave this office today, then we’ll leave, and I’ll wish you luck getting any clients anywhere in the United States from this day forward.”

“I don’t respond kindly to threats, Mr. Grey,” Wescott says. I shrug.

“Okay,” I say with no malice, and nothing else. I’m not trying to throw my weight around. I just want Dad to get what he needs. If he doesn’t, this little speck will just be wiped off the radar and I’m just going to go about my day. Whatever he has on Dad will be useless anyway, so it won’t make a difference to me. He laughs at my response.

“That’s good. I’ve never seen that tactic. Are you trying to intimidate me, Mr. Grey?” he taunts. I shrug again. He’s so minor league that he has no idea just how minor league he is.

“See, we’re not doing this,” I say calmly. “I’m not here to prove that I’m a rottweiler and you’re a poodle. I’m here so that my father can get what he came for. If he can’t get it, we’ll leave… but you’ll certainly know that we were here. So, I’m going to leave and go into the lobby, because I’m not having a pissing contest with you. Either you’ll tell my father what he wants, or you won’t but you and I, we have no business… yet.”

I walk out of his office and back to the lobby where I comfortably take a seat right in front of the aspiring PI and slide my finger across the screen of my phone.

“Sir,” Alex answers on the second ring.

“How quickly can you blackball Best Shields Family Investigations?” I ask aloud. I can see Lori’s head pop up in my peripheral. That’s right, listen carefully, little girl.

“How quickly do you want it?” he asks.

“Good answer. Not yet, but I do need a message sent like five minutes ago. Something loud and clear, fairly harmless, but with implications that bigger things are to follow. I’m not playing with this guy. I don’t feel like doing the one-two step of who’s the bigger dog in the yard. My father has taken about all he can take right now and I’m ready to wash my hands of this whole thing.”

Lori’s fingers are typing madly on the computer. Either she’s doing the research that I accused her of before, or she’s warning her boss that I’m drawing battle lines in the sand… or both. Either way, I know that Alex is thorough, and my message will be heard loud and clear. I can also hear Alex typing on the other end.

“Brad Westcott, not too many high-profile clients, family business… consider it done, sir.”

“Thanks, Alex,” I say and end the call. I start running through my emails and before I can respond to the fifth one, Westcott’s door opens. I can hear him bitching up a storm in there, but Uncle Stanley’s head pops out.

“Christian, can you come in for a second?” he beckons me. I stand and put my phone away. I raise an eyebrow at Lori who immediately looks down at her computer screen. When I enter Westcott’s office, he immediately falls silent and turns his tirade onto me.

“Who the fuck do you think you are?” he barks. “What the hell is this shit? Is this supposed to fucking scare me?”

I did scare you, buddy—that’s why you’re screaming, but I don’t have the strength to be the usual cutthroat that I am. I’m not looking for reverence or respect. I’m looking for results. I put my hand on my father’s shoulder.

“Come on, Dad, let’s go,” I tell him. Dad looks at me, bemused. “You’re getting a restraining order against Freeman, so he can’t do anything with any of the information that he has. He’s cock-strutting and posturing and throwing weight around that he’s too dense to know that he doesn’t have, and we don’t have time for this. He’s playing a game that I refuse to play, and you should refuse to play it, too. The jet is already fueled and waiting, and my pilot is ready at any moment to take us out of this God-forsaken place. Let’s just go.”

I’m resolved. Whatever damage can possibly be done by whatever information this asshole has, I can undo it. Freeman’s reach stops here and now. I’ve had all I can take.

“He just went from being cool, calm, and cocky to going into a kindergarten tirade. What is he looking at?” Uncle Stanley asks.

“I have no idea what he’s looking at,” I say to Uncle Stanley. “I called my head of corporate security five minutes ago. Whatever he’s looking at, that’s how long it took Alex to get it.” I turn my gaze to Westcott. “Imagine what he could do with unlimited time and resources.”

For the first time since we’ve walked into the office, Westcott looks… cautiously contemplative, although some of the color has left his cheeks. I never threw a single threat at him. I only used inuendo and insinuation—not my usual style, but then again, I’m not my usual self in this place.

Westcott narrows his eyes and rises from his seat. He goes to a file cabinet behind him and pulls out a file that’s about an inch thick.

“Here,” he barks. “That’s everything.” He slams the files down on his desk. Dad moves the file over to him and begins to thumb through it.

“Take it with you,” Westcott hisses. “I don’t want anything else to do with you or your family.”

“We don’t want anything else to do with you either, Mr. Westcott, but that’s not all of it,” I respond calmly. I put my business card on the desk in front of him. “You already know how to reach my father and uncle. Here’s my information. We’ll be expecting the rest of your findings by the end of business today, including your digital documentation. Remember, sir, unlimited time and resources, and very little patience.”

I don’t wait for a response or a reaction. I’ll admit that I usually gloat in staring someone down and knowing that I’ve intimidated them. Not today… not here. I just want to get out of here. I turn around and walk out of the office without another word.


ANASTASIA

I don’t know what’s happening with Christian at this very moment, but I’m totally unable to relax. Even meditation didn’t help much. It helped, but not much.

We didn’t meditate before he left, either. We fucked, but of course, that was my idea. And the thought of feeling him inside of me calms my racing mind right down. I hope it does the same for him.

I order a few bonsai trees—some for my Zen office at work and some for home. I like the Zen gardens, too, so I order a couple of those. I didn’t get a chance to tell Dad what was going on, so I call him and let him know that Christian and I are in Detroit and why, but that I’ll be home before Monday and wouldn’t miss our court date for the world. He puts Harry on the phone and we have a conversation where he’s sprouting his usual baby jabber and I answer like I know exactly what he’s saying. It’s good practice for when I must translate what my own children are trying to say. I’m told that I’ll know, and people will constantly be asking me. We’ll have to see.

Of course, cooing at my little brother made me realize that I hadn’t spoken to my own children. Even though we’ll be home in a few hours, I miss them. So, I Facetime Gail so that I can wave at my little darlings and blow them kisses.

Mommy misses you! I’ll be home soon.

Courtney missed her calling as an organizer and coordinator. I’m glad that she’s going to school and has a direction that she wants her life to take, because she can whip any situation into shape if you set her to task for it. She has set up interviews for PRN relief staff on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. She’s collecting information for interpreters and looking into hiring bilingual and multilingual staff for obvious reasons, and she has emailed me a general format of needs for the additional counseling and support services that we want to initiate.

Keri is contacting the necessary parties in Anguilla and here in the states to make sure that she has the teaching and possible child care qualifications to be certified here. We talked briefly, and she informed me that Chuck asked her to marry him again. She declined… again. She wants to get her own footing in America and make sure that she can’t be asked or forced to leave on her own before she agrees to become Mrs. Davenport.

“Why are you waiting?” I ask her. “You love him, and he loves you. You obviously can’t live without each other. He was a basket case the minute you stepped on that plane to go back to Anguilla—the minute—and you nearly starved yourself to death. You’re not going to be without each other, so why not make it official?” Keri sighs.

“Ah con’t explen it to yah, Anah,” she says. “Et’s sometin Ah jes gottah do. Den I can marry me Choonks wit a clean conscience.”

“How does he feel about it?” I ask. She laughs.

“Yah knoh hah he feel,” she chuckles. “He tek meh today, he tek meh tomorrah, as long as I let ‘im tek me.”

I love Choonks, too, so I’m making it my business to be sure that Keri gets her certification in the states, no matter what it takes, and a permanent job is waiting for her at the Center as well as being my nanny for as long as she chooses.

I skype for an hour with Ace. Because of the time difference and the fact that I expect to be in the air on my way back to Seattle when our regular session is supposed to be, he agrees to take his lunch when he should be meeting with me and have a session with me earlier in the day. We rehash some of the things that we talked about on Monday, and he scolded me thoroughly for making Christian feel like we had to start over with our relationship and would never get back the love and the bond that we had before.

“I’ll admit that you may come out of this relationship with something totally new and different, but to make him feel like he has to start from square one? Have you met your husband?”

I try to rationalize my thinking by telling him that I felt a fresh start would be good for us, something to wash away the old ways of thinking and behaving and introduce new and more productive ways of dealing with issues and with each other… and he promptly called me on my bullshit.

“That’s all well, fine, and good if that’s what you were doing, but we both know that you weren’t. You were scared to death of the concept of having to face rebuilding yourself from the first healthy techniques that you learned for coping with problems and you wanted to drag Christian in there with you. You know that there’s nothing wrong with your relationship and the way that you love each other. What’s wrong is the way that you two handle controversy. That’s the thing that needs a revamp, not the whole damn relationship.”

It’s no fun being handed your ass twice in the same week by your therapist.

Just after lunchtime, there’s a knock at my door. I answer it and find Jason on the other side.

“I was just checking on you,” he says. “You’ve been quiet all day and I wanted to make sure that you were still alive in here.” I raise my brow at him.

“I haven’t been quiet. You just haven’t heard me. I’ve been quite busy, in fact.” I leave the door open for him to come in. He’s probably going stir crazy down there in the room by himself with nothing to do and just being on standby if I want to go somewhere. “Have you had lunch yet?”

“I was going to get something after I made sure that you were okay,” he says.

“Why don’t you order something up for room service for us both? Unless you had other plans…”

“What other plans?” he says. “We’re in this God-forsaken place with nowhere to go and I’m glad we’re only here for a day.” I twist my lips.

“It’s not that bad,” I protest. Jason scoffs.

“Anything in this area—in the general vicinity—is Detroit to Christian Grey. Detroit is hell to him and he’s a completely different person when he’s here. I hate it almost as much as he does when we have to come to this place. The spirit is suffocating, and even though the surrounding cities and even many areas in Detroit are not as bad as the slums he was born in, it’s all bad to me. There’s nothing good about it. If there is, I can’t find it.”

“That’s because you’re not looking for it, but then again, why would you?” I smile at him. “Lunch.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

*-*

“Jason, how did we end up in this room?” I ask as we’re eating. I’m having a turkey club with fruit and French fries and Jason opted for a burger large enough to feed four people. “Did Mr. Grey go down there and threaten someone’s job?”

“Not directly,” he says, after swallowing a bite of his burger. “I went down and had a chat with them.”

“With whom?” I ask. “What did you say to them?”

“I went down and asked for the manager on duty. I told him to listen to me if he wanted to and if he didn’t, don’t. I warned him that there is a self-made billionaire and international businessman on the third floor in a cold room with a cold wife on a cold night and a bedsheet on his bed posing as a blanket. He’s in the state on a very sensitive matter but has avoided this place like the plague for the last twenty-five years. He just called down to the desk to get some assistance and relief from the cold and was pretty much told, ‘tough cookies, freeze your ass off—this is Michigan.’ I warned him that said businessman has very deep pockets, a short temper, and a far reach and that his fortune was made by acquisitions and hostile takeovers and that right now, while he’s between a rock and a hard place in a cold room with a cold wife freezing her pretty little toes off that when he gets back to Seattle at the top of his beautiful, climate-controlled glass palace, he’s going to remember this trip and this cold room, and he’s going to start making calls. That may not make any difference to him because this is just another guest complaint, but he might want to see who’s complaining.”

He scrolls through his phone and shows me GEH’s LinkedIn page, maintained by the PR department. The damn thing is a testament of perseverance, money, and power. I raise my eyes to Jason.

“And that’s just the LinkedIn page,” he says. “You know that if you Google him, you’re going to get a whole lot more shit. That’s why he’s always telling people to Google him.”

“Yeah, I know,” I respond, recalling our first meeting with distaste and the day Mr. Money Man told me to Google him. Jason chuckles.

“Well, anyway, it didn’t take much after that to get you this room with the fireplace already heating so that you didn’t catch your death trying to get a good night’s sleep after taking a bath.” I nod.

“Well, thank you,” I tell him. “And you’re right, Christian is totally not himself right now.”

We talk a little more, finish our lunch, and shoot the shit about nothing and everything while I’m telling him about what I’m working on at the Center. We’re also conspiring on Chuck and Keri to try to make things easier for them to finally tie the knot when my husband comes breezing into the room looking very emotionally heavy-laden.

Shit, what kind of day was this?

“Call Metro,” he says to Jason. “Notify me the moment the jet is ready for takeoff.”

“Yes, sir,” Jason says. He nods to me and leaves the room without another word. I turn to my husband, afraid to ask how things went.

“It was a bit of a disaster,” he says, removing his coat and tossing it into a nearby chair before falling onto the sofa. I just sit down next to him and curl my knees under me. That’s when he drops the two-million-dollar bomb on me.

“There’s no way Dad would have accepted that money. We both wanted to buy Pops a kidney, and he said “no.” I didn’t want to rob some kid of his chance at life, I just wanted more time with my grandfather. I didn’t even want a black-market kidney, just bribe a match to give up one of theirs… maybe… I don’t know. Is that the same as a black-market kidney?”

“No, but it’s unethical, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a doctor that would agree to it if you found one at all.”

“Well, it’s moot now. Pops is gone, he wouldn’t take the deal anyway, and Dad’s in shreds again because he left him $500,000… which Freeman is protesting.” My head pops up like a chicken.

“What?” I ask. “Why is Freeman protesting?”

“The same reason as always… he’s an asshole,” Christian says.

“Well, couldn’t he use that money right now?” I ask incredulously.

“Right now,” Christian says. “Yeah, that’s another thing. As long as the money is locked up and nobody gets a share, his creditors can’t attach the money—neither can the IRS or Nell’s attorneys. So, he’s got a win-win from this… sort of.” My brow furrows.

“What do you mean sort of?” I ask.

“Well, he wins because Dad won’t see the money anytime soon, but it costs a lot to contest a life-insurance policy and Wu won’t help him. So, while he’s contesting, he’s going to have to pay for those services, which means that when he does get his share of the money, it’s going to be significantly less than it was before if there’s anything left at all. Not only that, but Dad and Uncle Herman are submitting funeral costs to the attorney to be reimbursed, which means I have to give him a billing for flying Pops’ remains and at least one brother back to Detroit. I could actually charge for Uncle Herman going both ways, saying that he was the one that delivered the remains.

“Nonetheless, Dad and Herman will see some of the money first, and a portion of their reimbursement will come from Freeman’s share. He tried to say that he had services, too, but Wu told him that the life insurance policy will only pay for verified services for the remains. That deflated him quickly. To add sprinkles to this Karmic sundae, Dad had $750,000 transferred to Uncle Herman’s and Uncle Stan’s accounts right while we were standing in the office.” My mouth falls open and my eyes widen.

“Christian, are you serious?” I ask incredulously. “I thought each son’s share was $500,000.”

“It is, but I know Dad was probably rubbing salt in Freeman’s wounds,” he says. “Dad said that his other brothers shouldn’t have to suffer because of Freeman, and split his share between the two of them, so that if Freeman keeps that money tied up for a long time, they can still do what they want with their share. And like I said, Dad wouldn’t have accepted that money. He announced that if Freeman wasn’t such an asshole, Dad would have split his share with him, too.

“But the pièce de résistance, Dad’s getting a restraining order against Freeman, too, in case he gets the bright idea to have Dad followed again and all of the brothers wrote him off at the reading of the will, including Stan. Nobody’s speaking to him now.” I shake my head.

“That won’t do anything,” I tell him. “Freeman is one of the most extreme narcissists that I’ve ever seen. All he’ll do is keep doing the same things that he’s doing and keep blaming someone else for his problems.” Christian shrugs.

“Well, he’ll be doing it alone, because no one who counts is going to be there to hear him,” he says. My husband runs his hands through his hair. “Get changed, Baby, unless you want to wear your yoga pants to the airport. I’m ready to get the hell out of this place as soon as possible.”


A/N: I miss Big Boy. It was Elias Brothers when I lived in Detroit. I don’t know if it’s still there.

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

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 11

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 necessarily CG with Ana together. Proceed at your own discretion, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

Fifty Shades Golden

Chapter 11

63f9d0ec73831eb51a5c9b2974340f1c
GOLDEN

In my line of work and with what I do, vulnerability is not a favorable quality. However, when it comes to thoughts of Mommy and Daddy, I have no defense. I was 10 when I lost my parents. My last memory of Daddy was this tall, handsome, beautifully mocha-colored giant who could take on the world. He fought the bad guys and won! He caught the Boogeyman! I was never afraid of the monsters under my bed as long as Daddy was alive. They dare not show their faces to Officer Steele’s baby girl or he would banish them to parts unknown, and I knew this without a doubt. I knew that officers died in the line of duty all the time, even at that age, but not my Daddy. Bullets couldn’t pierce his impenetrable armor, and no one could convince me otherwise. My Daddy was unstoppable.

My mother… Oh, my mother was the kindest, sweetest, most beautiful woman I had ever known. She never coddled me or treated me like a kid who couldn’t handle the truth, so she always told me the truth—well, except about a few things, like Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy. But she taught me about discrimination, about racism, prejudice and bigotry. She taught me what to say when the kids in school taunted me because my daddy was a “nigger.” She even taught me what to say when I changed schools and the black kids called me “whitey” and “cracker” and “honkey.” She taught me that their ignorance and hatred made them say those things, and that I should never let those words hurt me because hatred is painful, and it really hurts them more than it hurts me since they carry it and have to walk around with it—I can walk away from it.

She also taught me that if someone ever put their hands on me to beat the ever-living shit out of them!

My mother was a sweet, kind, and beautiful woman, but she was a white woman married to a black cop most often living in a black neighborhood, and she could fuck you up! My mother fought like a street brawler, and if you were ever unlucky enough to get into a fight with her thinking you were going to “beat this little white bitch’s ass,” you got more than you bargained for. Mommy was a “scrapper,” and after an altercation with her, that’s most likely all that was left of you…

Scraps.

I adored the two faces of Mommy—the soft, sweet, gentle caretaker that hugged and kissed me; showed me so much love and affection that it overflowed from my tiny little soul every day; kissed my boo-boos when I was little and taught me the rougher lessons of life as I began to grow; and the strong, alabaster queen that wouldn’t take shit from anybody. The woman who told you where to go and how fast to get there and would give you directions if you needed them. She was amazing and magnificent, and when I looked up at her, beams of light burst from behind her head like a sunlight halo and she could always right the wrongs of my day… of my life! There’s no woman in the world like my Mommy, and there never will be again.

So, in times like these, when thoughts of them come flooding back to me like a tsunami, I become that same little girl riding in that car with my aunt and uncle, trying to grasp the fact that my beloved Mommy and Daddy are never coming back and not being able to embrace it all. It’s like no time has passed at all and I’ve just lost them just this minute, and the pain is going to swallow me whole and devour me alive.

I don’t cry… but today, I weep. I cry and cry until my chest hurts and my head aches. I cry until my eyes feel like they’ve swollen shut and I can barely breathe or see or think. And when I feel like I can’t cry anymore, I cry more. I miss my parents so much at this moment that I could literally lay down and die without them. Maybe it’s the fact that Uncle Richard has popped back into my life and won’t go away. Maybe it’s the fact that Elena’s creepy ass husband with his creepy ass eyes physically gave me the heebie-jeebies and Daddy wasn’t there to chase away the Boogeyman. I don’t know. All I know is that I miss them so badly right now that my entire body hurts and I just want it to stop…

“Mistress…”

I raise my eyes and Blake has entered my room without permission. I don’t know if he knocked or not, but his expression says it all—sorrow, pity, helplessness. My body shakes with grief and I can’t focus. My caretaker comes over to my bed, toes out of his shoes and removes his jacket, placing it on a nearby chair. He climbs into bed with me and gathers me in his arms. I fall helplessly onto his chest, sopping and waterlogged in my tears that start anew at his display of concern and tenderness.

“Déjalo salir, Señora,” he coaxes as he strokes my hair. “Even the strongest among us cannot keep it in forever.”

*-*

Once Blake and a hot toddy helped me relax and get to sleep, I awoke at dusk ready to cook. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and cornbread… and that one packet of grape Kool-Aid that I keep around for emergency purposes, although we never called it grape when I was staying with my aunt and uncle. We called it purple. So, when I went to college and tried to find purple Kool-Aid, I was hesitant to buy grape, not really sure it was the same thing. Blake will replace my pack tomorrow.

We eat in relative silence although a million thoughts are going through my head right now. I want to talk… somewhat, but I never talk to anyone about Mommy and Daddy. Those are my private thoughts, my private memories, the one and only thing I’ve ever kept for just myself. Although Blake knows that my parents have passed away when I was very young, he doesn’t know the whole sordid tale of my childhood. It’s not really sordid—it’s more pathetic, if anything. And to be honest, my childhood was fantastic. It’s my teenage years that sucked.

“My uncle is the damn D.A.,” I say while picking at my chicken. “My father’s brother. I would have thought the fucker was dead all these years. I wouldn’t have lost any sleep to find out that he was.”

I push my food around on my plate, angry that my appetite has left at the thought of dear old Uncle Richard.

“When did he become the District Attorney?” Blake asks. I shrug.

“I don’t know,” I reply. “I haven’t seen him. Let me rephrase. The first time I saw him was in juvenile court about seven or eight months ago—a 14-year-old kid, Tommy Dietrich, hanging out with the wrong bunch of boys and they ripped off some store at the mall. Tommy was innocent; I knew it, but there’s dear old Uncle Richard passing judgment on yet another kid without all the facts.” Blake frowns.

“Richard?” he asks. “Richard Steele? That’s your uncle?” I raise my eyes to him.

“That’s my father’s brother, yes. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I claim him as my uncle. You know him?” Blake shrugs infinitesimally.

“I know of him,” he says impassively. “I know that he’s with the State’s Attorney’s office. I never made the connection. Then again, I’ve never really referred to you as Steele,” he points out.

“How do you know of him?” I ask.

“One of those pieces of useless information,” he replies. “I know of several people in office… judges, senators, congressmen, assemblymen. Some I know personally, some I don’t. Some I’ve learned of in passing, in background checks, others I may have personal knowledge… like Officer Stanley Hamilton, the man who never gave me a breathalyzer the night my Danielle was killed. If he had, I might have been charged with murder. And Dr. Helga Valdemot, the medical examiner who could pinpoint the exact moment my Danny took her last breath, as if I don’t have that moment forever etched in my memory. Kevin Peterson, the paramedic who caught my wife when she fainted when they told her our daughter had expired and how. Eric Scholls, a nobody, and one of two men driving a car that I’ve paid for, spending my money, and fucking my wife so that she’ll one day forget that I killed our daughter—an impossible task. So, yes, I know of Richard Steele, but he’s barely a corner of my mental real estate.”

What makes this situation so fucked-up that he gives that entire dissertation like he’s giving me the recipe for chicken soup.

“You have to face Steele tomorrow?” he asks, as if he hasn’t just recounted the most tragic event of his entire life. I nod.

“I’m pretty sure that I do,” I reply. “I’ve been in juvenile court many times, but I hadn’t seen him at all before Tommy Dietrich.”

“He could have been assigned to other cases,” Blake says. “You know the state’s attorney covers all kinds of cases—criminal, family court, even some civil matters depending on the case. Otherwise occupied?” I twist my lips.

“Well, he sure the fuck hasn’t been otherwise occupied these last few months,” I point out. “I’ve had four cases come before him in front of four different judges. Of course, they were all garbage. Three of them were thrown out. One of them went to trial and we still won. It’s like he’s on some kind of mission to persecute the unfortunate youth of Washington. One kid he tried to get thrown in juvenile was a clear case of mistaken identity! And the case that I won, the state’s key witness identified someone sitting in the audience! It’s like taking candy from a baby. The cases are almost an insult to my intelligence, but left to the public defender, these innocent kids would be locked up right now.” I shake my head. “As if that’s not bad enough,” I continue, “he’s been unsuccessfully trying to get an audience with me for the last several months. Blake frowns again.

“An audience?” I nod.

“Yes,” I confirm. “He wants me to sit down and talk to him or listen to him. He won’t just come out and fucking tell me whatever it is he wants to tell me. He spit out that Aunt Sheila is dying of cancer, so I thought that’s what he had to tell me. Now, he’s acting like there’s something else that he has to tell me, but he won’t just fucking spit it out. He’s trying to orchestrate this whole ‘Forgive me family reunion’ bullshit for him abandoning me when I was a kid, and I won’t hear it. So, whatever it is that he’s trying to tell me, I’ll never find out because it’s not important enough for him to tell me without the condition that I forgive him first and accept him back into my life.”

“Well, then, it’s not important,” Blake says dismissively.

“Apparently not,” I say, turning my attention to my cold meal. “Although… he’s my father’s brother… and I can’t help but wonder if he’s holding something back about Daddy.” Blake pauses.

“Why don’t you just ask him?” he says. I raise my eyes to him. You know why I won’t ask him. That puts me in a position of vulnerability—of subservience—with that fucker, and I won’t have that. Blake raises his eyebrows and tips his head in that knowing way before standing from the table and removing both our plates. He knows our meal is over; neither of us could stomach another bite. “So, what are you going to do?”  he asks. I sigh heavily before pushing my hair out of my face.

“The same thing I always do,” I say. “Go in that courtroom tomorrow and kick ass.” I scratch my eyebrows as I listen to Blake prepare after-dinner cappuccinos.

“The ball was particularly difficult last evening,” he says without raising his gaze to me. I roll my eyes.

“It wasn’t the fucking ball,” I hiss. “Well, it was, but it wasn’t.” Shit, what the fuck was it?

I was feeling all raw about missing Mommy and Daddy. I still do.

I was extra sensitive with the thought that Blake was going to bolt under the impression that I was outgrowing him.

Then, of course, there was Blondie and her Bald Eagle!

“Ugh!” I say aloud, recalling Linc’s overall creepy persona and the discomfort he left upon me. Blake’s gaze darts towards me in surprise at my reaction. “Elena was there.”

“Elena is always there,” he says puzzled as he continues to prepare to coffee.

“She wasn’t alone,” I add. “Her husband was with her.”

“Her husband? Really? He’s in town?” Blake asks.

“Yes. Do you know of him?”

“Only by name. Owner of Lincoln Timber. I’ve never seen him.” I twist my lips.

“Well, the Senator calls him Linc,” I hiss. “He better hope I never see him again. Have you ever seen The Chronicles of Narnia?”

“That’s an odd question, but yes, I have,” he replies.

“That fucker reminds me of Jadis, the White Witch… not as cuddly and just as warm.” Blake frowns deeply.

“Those are strong words, Mistress,” he says as he pours the cappuccinos. I sigh. I’ve opened Pandora’s Box, but hell, it’s open now. It’s not like I’m trying to protect the asshole.

“He introduced himself by insulting me, which he continued to do for the rest of the night until I assured him that his unfounded and slanderous declarations would land a summons on his desk first thing in the morning. I managed to extinguish that fire—lit by his manipulative, trouble-making wife… who, by the way, was dressed like a goddamn hooker—only to ignite another blaze in which he thought he was going to pick me up like that cheap, slut, harlot, bride of Frankenstein of his. When I wasn’t as forthcoming as he wanted me to be, he assaulted me twice in a matter of ten seconds!”

Blake is frozen at the table with both cups of coffee in his hands. I can tell that his temper is rising very quickly as I can hear the delicate cups clattering ever so slightly on their tiny saucers.

“Put the coffee down, Blake,” I say firmly, and he obediently places both saucers and cups on the table, having only spilled a minimal amount.

“Jesse was on him at second eleven,” I assure him. “He didn’t hurt me.”

“And where was your security during seconds one through ten?” Blake asks, his voice controlled. I sigh.

“In the restroom,” I say, without apology. “I ditched him and went to the balcony to get some air.” Blake closes his eyes.

“Mistress…” he whispers, slightly perturbed. He, like Jesse, knows how quickly disaster can strike. What he doesn’t say speaks louder than what he could say.

“The jerk saw his opportunity and took it,” I continue, without acknowledging Blake’s discontent. “The moment he made his move, Jesse was on him and had him subdued—painfully—and ultimately removed from the premises.” Blake pauses for a moment, then lifts one of the coffees and sets it down in front of me. “The Senator has assured me that he plans to send Mr. Lincoln a message to stay far, far away from me. I’ve already threatened to chop his dick off if he comes near me again. Jesse had him partially paralyzed on the balcony and promised to do permanent damage if he didn’t get the hint to behave himself. Now, you look like you’re ready to tear him apart with your bare hands. It appears I bring out the worst in people.” Blake takes a sip of his coffee and says nothing.

“Not so,” he says, after a pause. “He appears to need a lesson,” Blake adds calmly.

“I have a feeling that there are several people in line willing to give him one,” I say, sipping my coffee. “I get the impression that I’m not the only person in town that he’s rubbed the wrong way.”

“We shall see,” Blake says, his voice still an eerie calm. “Mr. Steele… Richard Steele, how will you find out what he has to say?” and we’ve come full circle.

“I may never find out what he has to say,” I admit. “If he has information about Daddy, I’ve lived all these years without it. I won’t allow him to pop back into my life after he’s done Jack shit for me for nearly two decades and then try to use some possible imaginary information to emotionally blackmail me. No, he can keep that shit and stay away from me. Jesse has orders to keep him at least fifty feet away from me at all times unless we’re in the courtroom.”

Blake raises an eyebrow at me and I almost hate the way my submissive can have a conversation with me without having to say a word. Yes, Blake, I know. Jesse can’t protect me if I fail to follow protocol. We’ve already had this damn discussion.

“You are not that person,” he says. I frown.

“What?” I ask.

“That weak, soft, person who can’t hold it together—that’s not you. Don’t let anyone take you there again.” I drop my head.

“Do you think I wanted to do that?” I retort. “Do you think I wanted to come in here and fall apart? I was bombarded with memories of my parents and I don’t make apologies for being vulnerable when it comes to them.”

“And that’s fine if that’s what it is, but that wasn’t what is was and you know that. You’ve been in that place before, and while it brought you to a melancholy place, it never broke you down… not like that. Whatever it was, only you know. You can’t allow that to happen again. That’s not you. This weak, fragile, lost, floundering woman is not my Mistress. Whatever you’ve done with her, she needs to come back. You’ll hate yourself if she doesn’t.”

He’s right and I know he is. Ever since I discovered who I really am, I’ve never wallowed in self-pity. Ever. Even when I felt the loss of Mommy and Daddy, I didn’t let it drag me into the depths of despair. I know why it happened this time. It was a combination of things and I didn’t handle them well, but he’s absolutely right. I can’t let this happen again.

“No man—or woman—is made of stone, Blake,” I admit. “You have to allow me one moment of painful pause in all the time you’ve known me. Imagine what kind of cold, bitter, unfeeling monster I would be if there wasn’t at least the slightest bit of vulnerability… even if the rest of the world doesn’t get to see it.” I close my eyes and try to gather myself… try to find Golden again

You are your biggest strength… and your biggest downfall. No one can defeat you or penetrate your armor unless you allow it.

Lanette’s mantras are playing in my head. I didn’t hear them last night or this morning, when I was feeling forlorn and sunken in despair, but even I know that no one survives alone. Elena is painful proof of that. No one loves her. No one even covets or admires her. As a result, she has to pay for loyalty and attention, and she foolishly thinks that her pennies, tokens, and trinkets can get her the same unconditional devotion that I get from my clients.

Elvin was stalking her, ready to ruin her and God only knows what else simply because I refused to see him anymore.

The Senator was ready to shut down Seattle at the mere mention that Linc was giving me problems at the ball last night.

Trey was buying me priceless gifts before he even got the Golden treatment. When I finally put a whip to his skin, he’s giving me Beyoncé-sized emeralds!

And let’s not even get started on the man who has never seen, smelled, or felt my pussy or had a taste of the end of my crop, but takes better care of me than any human being alive.

Elena couldn’t buy that kind of loyalty for all the tea in China, and she is painfully alone. She’s even more alone with her husband around because he’s an asshole. He makes it agonizingly obvious that he’s not even slightly romantically interested in her anymore if he ever was, and I’m totally convinced that her telling him about me and Trey was her way of throwing him off the scent because she knew he wanted me before he even saw me.

“Blondie’s going to be a bigger problem than I thought,” I lament, as Golden slowly begins to stiffen my backbone once more.

“What do you mean?” Blake asks, his voice low, and I hear the military man lurking behind his concern. To be honest, I might need him.

“Last night at the party, Linc came on to me—hard. He did a full 180 on me,” I say as I sip my cappuccino . “He took liberties that no civilian, for lack of a better word, would ever take with me. Trey is seasoned in the game—money, power, good looks, dominant—the whole nine yards. And even he didn’t take the liberties with me that Linc took last night. Linc thought I was Grey’s ‘woman’ and that didn’t deter him one bit. If anything, it egged him on,” I observe.

“I still don’t see how that makes Elena a problem,” Blake says.

“Don’t you see?” I tell him. “She uses me as bait for whatever situation she sees fit. She’s busy talking about me and I have no idea what she’s saying—what kind of damage she’s doing. First Trey, then Linc. Who the fuck else is she talking to and what the hell is she saying? Her failed beauty shops are proof positive that the wrong word in the wrong ear can destroy you, and now she’s out there talking to anybody who’ll listen. Slander and libel suits will only get you so far and they can take forever to produce results. She’ll have dragged my name through the gutter by then based on a delusion of competition, jealousy of her husband’s attraction to me, and some crazy self-imposed fabrication that I had something to do with her goddamn demise.”

I cross my arms and lean on the counter. If she thinks I’m going to stand around and wait for her to destroy me and my reputation, try to use me as a puppet and then get mad because the game doesn’t turn out the way that she wants—boy, is she in for the surprise of her life.

Make sure that they know—all of them—that there’s none other like you.

Blondie just may need a lesson or three.

“I see… my Mistress is back,” Blake says.

“She is indeed,” I reply, contemplating my next move. “However, would it be too much to ask for you to… stay tonight, Blake?” Something flashes in his eye, but only momentarily before his says,

“Of course, Mistress,” he replies. “Whatever you need.”

*-*

As I suspected, I’m facing Uncle Richard for the kid yanked from playing street ball and charged with a B&E. This poor kid is pale as a ghost, afraid that the court is going to throw the book at him. I would be, too. Had I not arranged for bail for him, he would have sat in juvenile detention until his preliminary hearing since his mother was in no condition to post his bond.

As we prepare to face the judge in this motion to dismiss, Richard drags his ass into the courtroom looking haggard, like he had a few too Martinis the night before and unsuccessfully tried the hair of the dog cure. I quickly divert my gaze before he looks over at me, but it didn’t really do any good as the exasperated sigh he emits is the “shot heard ‘round the courtroom.” Several people give him a puzzled look, but I don’t even bother to entertain his theatrics.

“All rise.” When the judge enters the courtroom, I see that Judge Grey is sitting again. I sigh inwardly. I know him to be a fair man, but I make a mental note to see if he’s any relation to Chopper. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

The bailiff reads the docket number and proceeds to open the floor for the case. As I’m preparing to present my points that my client wasn’t mirandized and didn’t have the presence of legal counsel or his parents for the first seven hours, making this entire arrest and case invalid, I hear the most shocking request from the prosecution.

“Your Honor, there’s a conflict of interest here. Ms. Olivet can’t be assigned to this case.”

I lean forward and look at my uncle like his head just exploded and his brain is dancing a jig in the middle of the courtroom floor, because surely, he’s lost his mind.

“Excuse me?” I exclaim, before I can catch myself.

“Counselor,” Judge Grey warns me before turning his attention back to Richard. “Explain, Mr. Steele.”

“Ms. Olivet’s interests are in direct conflict with the interests of the office of the state’s attorney,” he says firmly. My mouth falls open. He’s not serious.

“In what way?” the judge presses.

“She’s my niece,” he confesses. Judge Grey looks over his glasses at Richard in that way that he does when he’s pondering information.

“She’s your niece?” the judge clarifies. Richard nods.

“Yes, Your Honor,” Richard says. Judge Grey clasps his hands.

“So, her conflict of interest is not with the state’s attorney’s office. It’s just with you,” he clarifies. Richard says nothing. “Counselors, please approach,” Judge Grey instructs. Richard and I approach the bench. Judge Grey examines us both for a few moments. “You’re not looking well, counselor,” he says to Richard.

“Just a little tired, Your Honor,” he says. “Family troubles.”

“I’ll say,” Judge Grey retorts. “How long have you known your niece was assigned to this case?” He looks at Richard, who doesn’t answer, probably because he has no answer. The judge turns to me. “Did you know that your uncle would be assigned to this case?”

“I suspected that I might be facing Richard in this case,” I admit, not willing to refer to him as my uncle, “but no, I didn’t know for sure.”

“Have you two discussed this case outside of the courtroom?” he asks.

“We don’t discuss anything outside of the courtroom,” I clarify. Judge Grey looks at me over his glasses.

“Not for lack of effort,” Richard retorts, causing the Judge to turn his gaze to him.

“I take it this is not a cordial relationship,” His Honor observes.

“You take it correctly,” I inform him. “Richard Steele is my adopted father’s brother, and that’s where it ends. Though he put forth a good show for a while, he made it clear that any obligation he may have had to me died with my father. There’s no avuncular relationship here whatsoever… Your Honor.”

“He didn’t need to know all that,” Richard hisses.

“You’re the one who referred to me as your niece. I’m just setting the record straight,” I say impassively without glancing in his direction. “I have no problem doing my job. He’s like any other adversary I would face in the courtroom. If he has a problem facing off with me, he needs to take that up with his employer.”

“I tend to agree,” Judge Grey says. “Examine your dockets carefully, counselor. You’ve made it clear that you don’t want to deal with your niece in a professional manner, so if you find yourself arguing a case where she’s the listed counsel, you may want to pass that off to someone else.” Richard nods.

“Understood, Your Honor.”

“So, how do you want to proceed today?” the Judge asks. “This young man shouldn’t have to suffer because you have a conflict of interest. Are you able to perform your duties today, or should we call to the prosecutor’s office to get someone to take your place in this matter? I can request a recess until this afternoon.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Richard says. “I can handle it. I’ll just be more discriminating in the future.” I don’t like his tone when he says that, but it only makes me sharpen my claws. The judge raises his brow at him.

“You do that,” he says to Richard. “Then I guess we can proceed.”

He should have called to the office for a replacement. I chewed Uncle Richard up and spit him out like nasty tobacco. I could have argued this case blindfolded, but he made it easy for me. Not only was he ill-prepared, but he appeared to get the facts from this case mixed up with some other case he was trying, and when it came time to make a recommendation, he had none. I was so outdone with the whole useless waste of time that I actually made a “What the fuck” gesture at the judge at one point. I fully expected him to stop the proceedings and make us reschedule with fresh representation from the D.A.’s office. Instead, he shut the whole thing down. I had presented my case well and the prosecution failed to argue probable cause and had no leg to stand on in terms of the Miranda issue. The case was dismissed… again.

I couldn’t even bask in my victory because he gave me no fight. While my client is thrilled to put this behind him, I’m wondering why the hell Richard showed up to court at all if he’s going to give that less than lackluster performance. I sure as hell don’t need his help to win a case and that better not be what this was all about. I’m suddenly very angry, thinking he may have thrown the case in an attempt to get into my good graces. I notice that while I’m gathering my things and saying goodbye to my client, the judge has summoned him to the bench again—probably to chastise him for that weak ass performance he just gave. I want to march right up there and ask him what the fuck that was.

“Ms. Olivet? A word?” Judge Grey says, once I’ve gathered my things. I grab my briefcase and purse and approach the bench where Richard is still standing.

“I’m not sure what happened here today, but this had better not be some kind of plan on the part of the two of you to get your client off.” Richard raises appalled eyes to the judge and I have never been so humiliated in all my life.

“With all due respect, Your Honor, I’m sure that you saw that I gave my defense my all. I’ve never come to this or any other courtroom unprepared or given my clients less than 100%. I don’t know what’s going on in Mr. Steele’s family or personal life, but I truly do not appreciate being accused of any misconduct or even having it implied because of his dreary performance and lack of preparation. You can rest assured that from this point forward, I will be filing advanced motions with the court and the state’s attorney’s office to have him removed from any of my cases. I refuse to have my integrity brought into question because of his behavior or his conflict of interest!”

I have to stop talking before I say something that will have me held in contempt of court, but this is the first time that I’ve wanted to climb the bench and slap a judge upside the head. I realize that Richard’s performance was so terribly bad that one can hardly believe it was real, but dammit, don’t disparage me because he’s a fuck up.

I actually feel my bun getting tighter on my head and I know that my blood pressure is rising. So, there’s going to be some yoga in my schedule later, and some poor fuck is going to get the hell beat out of him tonight, right before he comes violently all over the goddamn floor.



TREY

“Umph!”

Apparently, the last time I was in Golden’s dungeon, I talked too damn much. So, this time, I’ve been commanded not to speak. I can make sounds, but no words unless I’m spoken to. I had to remind the gilded goddess that I’m not a submissive, at which point she reminded me that she is a Dominatrix and this is her dungeon and her rules and that I was free to leave if I chose not to follow them.

Needless to say, I’m not going anywhere, but the fact that I agree to punishment if I speak out of place baffles even me…

… Until this moment.
… Until I remember.

She’s vicious today, fucking brutal with those damn whips and crops and floggers. Her torment is exquisite, and I remember with fondness why I returned.

My libido is insane. I’ve always been insatiable. I don’t apologize for that. It’s why Juliet and I didn’t work out. My sex drive was way too high. Even though I wanted to explore outside of our relationship, I never did. I was unhappy, but never unfaithful. I wanted more. I needed more. I was bored and unsatisfied—not only could Juliet not give me what I wanted, she didn’t even give me what she had to offer often enough. I was fond of her, but I don’t know if I loved her… I think not. Breaking up with her was only sad for me because I had to find someone else to fuck, and we had been together for two years. I have no idea how it lasted that long.

When I walked in on my father fucking a thoroughly flogged and bound Bunny, my dick was hard in an instant. To say that I was intrigued was the understatement of the millennium. That shit was the hottest thing I had ever seen up to that point. I’m a red-blooded adult male, but I thought they only did that shit in movies. Thoughts of my mother and the obvious betrayal were the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, telling Mom would have been the worst thing I could have done. I would have never have been introduced properly to the lifestyle and I would have been the direct catalyst of my mother’s broken heart—a lose/lose situation as far as I was concerned, but Dad didn’t know that. He would have done anything—fucking anything—to keep me from revealing his activities to my mother.

Seeing what the Dominants were doing to the submissives when my father first took me to one of the exclusive BDSM clubs that I often frequent now, I knew that I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of that shit. However, watching those beautiful nymphs squirm in chains and leather binds, silk scarves, spreader bars, and Japanese ropes, then watching horny men with pulsing, angry dicks bruise and use them in various way until those cocks exploded in hot erupting orgasms—yeah, that shit was for me. I was so ready to flog and fuck one, or several, of those beautiful girls that I almost didn’t make it through Dom training.

And then, along comes Golden. I didn’t want her to be my submissive. I just wanted to taste her—wanted to sink my dick into that hot little pussy and grab that big, golden-clad ass she kept teasing me with. Domination isn’t about causing the pain and beating the women for me. That’s a means to an end. I like the control of seeing them squirm and making them do what I want, bend to my will, and satisfy me, but fuck—what man doesn’t?

I don’t judge people’s different reasons for getting into the lifestyle, but I don’t beat women until they’re black and blue. I don’t get off on that. A few pretty stripes or a nice shade of pink turns me on, and it’s usually good enough for them, too. A lot of them just want to be dominated sexually—bound and erotically used and misused with a little S&M thrown in. That’s perfect for me. That’s what I had in mind when those golden thighs sauntered past me for the first time—maybe no S&M since she was obviously the Domme, but I certainly had plans on fucking that tight little body until my dick was temporarily dysfunctional.

Things certainly don’t normally work out how we expect, do they?

Since our first encounter, I’ve had the best fucking sex of my life. The ass-virgin Hazel was dizzily delicious. She loved that shit so much that she prefers it in the ass now more than the pussy. I have to switch it up to remind her who’s in charge… but she blew my fucking mind when she showed up with another submissive from Crimson for one of our scenes. She knew it was insubordinate and cause for punishment, and I certainly obliged her that—turning that large, juicy, beautiful ass a lovely shade of pink with a leather flat paddle while she’s bent over and bound to a spanking horse right before I slowly and deeply drilled hard into it, all while our third nearly swallowed my balls in her hot and talented mouth.

I came so hard that my legs nearly gave out on me.

This and several other subsequent fiery sexual encounters are peppered with memories of the feeling of Golden’s whips on my back… her paddle on my ass… her crop on my chest…

Her mouth on my balls…

Fuck! I never in a million years thought pain would turn me on at all, let alone turn me on this much, but every time I think about the combination of one of her pain-inducing methods coupled with her pleasure-eliciting techniques, I have to fight to keep from coming no matter where I am. If my hands are gasping a thick ass while I’m pushing a tight, wet pussy down on my dick, I lose that fight almost immediately, but my libido is so untamed that I’m usually ready for action again just a few minutes thereafter.

Imagine trying to fight off a woody and an involuntary ejaculation in a room full of businessmen.

The days that followed our last scene have been filled with immeasurable pleasure—violently throbbing and crippling orgasms into bodies bent in half and open fully to my ample, anxious, veiny meat. That’s my favorite position—knees in their chests, feet up in the air, me squatting over their wide-open cunts, and no restrictions. They’re helpless to escape that way and they can take me balls deep. I usually come several times inside of them in this position because I fuck through each climax—which is agonizingly orgasmic and extends the pleasure—and then thicken right back up and keep going right into the next one.

Not one orgasm since that night with Golden has occurred without thoughts of our encounter. Yes, the sex with the subs is unreal. I have two—and Hazel’s little friend—on tap when I need to fuck, and it’s amazing, but as soon as I get in the zone… the last leg of the race, so to speak… I see her… I feel her… her whip, that fucking bullet, her mouth, the painful burn on my ass, the shocking pinch of the crop on my chest…

… And I explode—majestically!

This is what I was looking for all this time. I need the spark both ways. I never would have known… and my submissives never will…

… Which is why our scenes must always take place in her dungeons. I’ll work my submissives over in the clubs. I’ll watch Golden work over a client in the club if I feel so inclined. I learned my lesson about calling her clients submissives. I’m beginning to think that many—if not all of them—are just like me. They just need a fix—a hit of Golden, pun intended—to assist their mental and physical stimulation. And why not, she certainly is just like a drug.

Which would explain why I kept that fucking necklace for six months when I truly had no intention of seeing that woman again.

My subconscious knew that I was full of shit, knew that somewhere, somehow, our paths would cross, and she’d work her way back into my life or I would find a way to get her back into my life… and I would give her that necklace again. Now, I know her purpose. I still want to fuck her. God, do I still want to fuck her! But right now…

My dick is hot and hard and aching to come. I swear it feels like it’s going to burst out of its skin right now. I basically immobilized on Golden’s submissive table, eagle-spread and face down. Her submissive table is more like a converted massage table—soft, luxurious leather for your comfort and a hole for your face when you’re face down…

… and one for your dick.

I had to inform her of the aftermath of our last session, that my arm hurt so badly that I was in discomfort for a few days thereafter and still feeling a bit of discomfort now. There’s no way I could withstand being suspended from the ceiling again without safewording simply from that pain alone.

As a result, my golden Mistress introduced her adjustable “torture table” and strapped me to it, face down. My genitals are fully exposed and accessible through what I can only describe as a “glory hole.” It’s been a couple of weeks since our last scene and my memories of her were getting a little fuzzy. I needed new ones or a refresher of the old ones.

I watched her work over a client last Monday at Club Syndrome and it was not pretty—hot as usually, but sadistic as fuck! She was really feeling it that day. She was untamed and vicious, and it turned me on like crazy, but she was merciless to that guy that she had wrapped up so tight in latex that I didn’t think he could breathe. His dick was hers and she knew it and so did he. He came so many times and so hard that I was out of breath, but not before she tormented him so badly that I started to feel sorry for the guy. Obviously, she knows what each client wants because he was jizzing like a fucking fountain all night, but damn—I knew not to fuck with Mistress that day. It was not the time for me to venture into that territory with her.

Nonetheless, she had me sweating with pleasure as I watched her work him over. Good God, she’s a fucking maestro. He was tied down to some sort of frame and couldn’t budge—and his dick was so fucking big that it looked deformed! I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, and the more she tormented it, the bigger that fucker got! And each time he came, the dick torture was ungodly! I’ve stayed buried inside a hot, tight pussy and allowed it to continue to stimulate me after I’ve come on several occasions, but that’s a controlled action.

To have a sadistic Madam attached to your freshly ejaculated dick after you blown a load large enough to choke a horse—literally? That is sincerely cruel and unusual punishment.

She loved it… and he loved it even more… and I decided to wait a while before allowing her to get a hold of me, but I came so hard in that observation room—twice—watching her torment Long Dick Don that I had to send her tribute. It was the very least I could do.

Later that week, I watched another client groan unbelievably hard just from her tying him up—basic Shibari, I discovered later—where the rope is tied in intricate patterns, but he looked really uncomfortable, bent in this strange pose.

His dick didn’t seem to mind, though.

Then she attached bamboo nipple clamps to his breasts and tormented the pink protruding peaks with a wartenberg wheel.

His dick loved that shit! He squirmed and grunted in what looked like agony, but his dick darkened and hardened, jutting straight up and the skin tight and shiny. Did I mention that he was on the floor? Yeah, so he could squirm all he wanted. Oh, and at least two passes of the rope went across his mouth acting as a gag, so I don’t know how he was supposed to safeword, but he showed no sign of wanting to do so.

Next, she used what looked like a super-long, narrow shoestring and began some same sort of Shibari on his dick and balls—around the base a few times, then around the shaft right at the base of the dick above the balls, then between the balls a time or three… She’s meticulous, paying close attention to her work, but his genitals were at least four shades darker than his body and his balls were as shiny as large glass marbles, ready to burst out of the skin.

Nonetheless, she kept right on wrapping and tying until she was satisfied. Then she pulled the ends of the long strings between his legs and attached them to the rope somewhere at the ankle so that his restrained and painfully erect dick sticks straight out. Now, if that’s not bad enough, she did the same thing to the tip of his dick—right at the hood, where the frenulum is, so that the head was shining like a marble, too. I can bet that air was stimulating the fuck out of him and making him want to come!

But that’s not all!

Two passes over the slit—you know, where relief is supposed to come when he ejaculates? Yeah, that looks bound and covered now. Then, the tiny rope was wrapped around the base of the hood again and crisscrossed down and back up his shaft in the most artistic—and restricting—manner, then fashioned in a bow right at his frenulum.

Once again, oh, the humanity!

Then she’s back at the nipples with the wartenberg wheel—and he’s grunting again, and his dick is throbbing and jumping as she torments him. Bound the way that he is, you can only see the ripple of his abs and the curling of his toes to know that he’s reacting to the stimulation.

Oh, and the seeping of his dick.

She scratched her nails through his pubic hair several times, stimulated his nipples with her fingers and the wartenberg wheel, rubbed his abs and talked sexy to him like she does with all her clients. Never once did she touch his dick except to bind it.

About twenty minutes after she bound his dick, he’s coming—long, hard, violent, and seemingly painful squirts… endless shots, over and over again around the bounds over his slit. The fucking floor should be bearing his goddamn children!

And she never even touched his dick.

Now here I lay, glutton for punishment that I am, strapped face down to her submissive table after she has tormented me in more ways than one.

First, she strips down to suspenders, stockings, and stilettos, climbs on top of me and rubs her naked body all over the back of me… while I’m tied down to this damn table. She’s digging those damn nails into my back, biting me in various places… I can smell her naked pussy and feel it rubbing over my ass and thighs. That shit was so fucking cruel that I was shaking when she finally removed that delectable body from mine. She knows I want her, then she does that shit to me. That’s just disrespectful.

She makes up for it, though, by striping the hell out of me with that damn flogger. She’s not as timid as she was the last time. There’s a little more force in her blows and I have to close my eyes to focus, because with every third or fourth strike of that flogger, she strokes my dick with a soft, oily hand. It’s confined in a metal cockring—something I never wear—and it’s pretty effective in holding back a premature ejaculation, because her body is so fucking soft…

“Umph!”

The flogger whacks at my ass again and my dick, anticipating the stroke, jerks in excitement. Even with no direct stimulation, my body can’t seem to separate the two, and my nuts feel like they’re going to burst.

I try to brace myself for the next blow. My body is dripping in sweat as she has used various instruments on me today. I’m not so sure that I like electrostimulation yet, although she only used it on my back, so we’ll have to see about that. Ass play is a slow-go for me as well. I just don’t know how I feel about it. She’s attentive enough to know what works for the moment and what doesn’t. Getting that cockring around my dick and balls was no small task and now the restraint of the device is agony. Not too sure if I want to repeat this exercise either. We’ll see how it turns out.

I hear her drop the flogger and release the breath that I was holding. I try not to pant, but it’s no use. I’m gasping in air quickly, sucking in precious oxygen and trying not to relax as I don’t know what she’s going to do next or when she’s going to strike. I flex my hands in their leather cuffs a few times. My fingers are sore from keeping my fists clenched to bear the pain.

It seems like an eternity has passed, and just as I’m preparing myself to brace for the next assault, she appears in front of me, wiping the sweat that has dripped into my eyes so that I can see. I didn’t even notice the sting until that moment. My eyes were shut so tight and she didn’t bother with a blindfold. I’m face down, so I can’t see anything anyway.

When I’m finally able to focus, there she is—brown hair fanned out on the floor, still completely naked except for a very flimsy garter and flimsier pair of string panties with gold chains in precarious places. That must be what took her a while… she was pantyless when she massaged me with her body, and I know for certain that I didn’t feel those gold chains against my ass. So, I get to feel her, but not see her. So not fair.

The garter is attached to a pair of sheer, shimmering gold thigh-high stockings, her petite feet adorned in jeweled golden stilettos. Her perfect pink breasts are sitting on top on her chest like ripe melons just staring at me, and I feel my mouth watering. And she’s wearing my tribute—a golden, reflective, bib-choker necklace. It looks like a collar and I’m certain that she knows that it’s not only my way of exercising a bit of my own dominance, but also of topping from the bottom.

She’s fucking gorgeous, and if only for this moment in time, she’s mine. I would give her anything. Do anything for her. Fucking anything.

She could destroy me.

“How are you holding up, Chopper?” she asks in that sexy, sing-songy voice of hers. Chopper… there’s that name again. I keep meaning to ask her about that.

“Fine… Mistress!” I choke, and every bit of cool I thought I had just skittered away on little mice feet. Fuck it, this woman has my body and dick at her mercy. What the fuck do I care about cool right now? She raises a knowing eyebrow at me and rolls over onto her stomach with the grace of a ballet dancer. That ass makes my dick throb painfully in this cockring, and more and more, I’m thinking that this thing will probably be a no-go.

Golden curls up onto her knees like a cat and changes position. Her bare ass framed by the golden suspender and chains with the thong disappearing into her cheeks is right in my fucking face and I just want to bite it. I groan mournfully before I can catch myself, and she chuckles a bit. I’m certain she thinks I didn’t hear her and I dare not call her on it—now or ever. I gasp when I feel her hand on the tight skin of my balls, then her mouth on the even tighter skin of my dick.

I groan deep in my chest as she takes an ample length of my cock into her mouth and ghosts her hot, moist orifice over my skin. Though I’m immobile on her sub table, the entire apparatus shakes with my desire and arousal. She repeats the motion, eliciting the same response. She does it again and again and again—the gentle ghosting all the way to the tip. It’s agony, and she knows it, because my dick is throbbing and bobbing all on its own, and this fucking cockring is killing me! I swear to God if I ever find out who created this thing, I’m going to find them and kill them with my bare hands!

I’ve seen her abilities, but to experience them firsthand is a mind trip that I can’t begin to explain. She’s flexible as fuck, because somehow, that beautiful ass is right in my face—spread out and round and begging to be fucked—and that mouth is on my dick in a soft, slow torturous stroke from base to tip, repeatedly. It’s fucking agony! The warmth of her mouth on my entire shaft, taking me almost all the way to my balls with what appears to be no gag reflex. I’m fucking dying here. And now, the sweat begins again.

Oh, fuck. No. If it goes into my eyes, I’ll be blinded, and I won’t see that beautiful ass. Shit. I’m powerless to stop it. I examine her ass as she continues to fellate me in the softest, cruelest way possible. I memorize every curve, every slope, the beauty of that thong covering the mound of her plump pussy then disappearing between two gorgeous alabaster globes. I imprint the images on my brain and close my eyes just in time to stop the sweat from stinging my pupils.

And now, the image is plastered on the back of my eyelids.

Oh, fuck, I groan inwardly as her mouth wraps around my shaft once again. With one of my senses gone and the picture of her ass firmly in my head, my dick is taking on a mind of its own. Her hot, wet mouth becomes those two beautiful globes in my mind’s eye—round and oiled—and my angry, pulsing dick is rubbing against them and between them, hard and anxious and ready to fuck. I feel the skin tighten as I grab her hips and grind my dick against and between her cheeks and she pushes back against me, beckoning me to take her, to sink into her and fuck her. I want to, but every time I try, my dick just rubs against the outer globes again. I groan and curse in frustration, the skin on my dick burning so hard that I can hear my teeth grinding.

The next thing I know, my dick slides into her… where, I don’t know… ass, pussy, I can’t tell. All I know is that it’s tight and it’s disappearing into some hole beyond those luscious globes and she’s backing that ass up onto my painfully throbbing dick over and over again. I moan in such relief and satisfaction that I feel dizzy again with the pleasure, and when I close my eyes to concentrate on my dick, I realize that is not her pussy or her ass that’s wrapped around my cock. It’s her mouth, wrapped tight around the first two or three inches or so and working feverishly on the head.

“Umph! Umph!” I grunt as I remember where I am. “Umph! Umph! Umph!” I want to swear and pray and cry and groan because she’s working my head so feverishly and masterfully that I’m certain she’ll start a fire down there.

My dick approves. It’s fucking her mouth without me being able to move my hips. I can feel the damn thing bobbing and throbbing up and down and back and forth until…

“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! Mmmmmm! Mmm! Mm! Mm! Mm!”

Release, goddammit! Release!

My dick is coming so hard in this woman’s mouth that I don’t know how she’s not being smacked by it. I feel it pulsing so hard that it’s actually bending a bit between her lips, fighting to give up its offering around this cockring.

“Mmmmmmmmmm! Mm! Mm! Mm! Mm! Mm! Mmmmmmmmmmmm!”

And now I know the purpose of the cockring. It holds back premature ejaculation and prolongs your erection, but when you finally do release, greatfuckingscottbreadandbutteronabiscuitwithcheeseandcrackersandfuckingcaviar! The table is definitely shaking now, and I could shatter this fucker to pieces! This shit will give your brain damage!

And fuckinghellonearthhadescrossingtheriverstyksinthemorning, is she swallowing? Because her mouth has not released my dick the entire time it has been bouncing, bobbing, bending, and hemorrhaging in her mouth! Son of a bitch, I need to get off this table before my dick detaches from my body and runs away whimpering in surrender.

I’m tapping out, goddammit, I’m tapping out!

I finally feel her release my dick and I don’t know what’s going on down there, but all I can say is thank God for air!


A/N: “Déjalo salir, Señora”—”Let it out, Mistress”

B&E—Breaking and entering

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~~love and handcuffs