Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 6

No email this time. Still training for my promotion. I’ll post as often as I can.

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

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

Season 5 Episode 6

ANASTASIA

It’s my babies’ first birthday!

I’m walking on sunshine making mental plans for their first birthday party tomorrow. I’ve counted the guests and I’m going through my phases of Better Homes and Gardens again, only this time, it’s the birthday edition—if there is such a thing—and I’m not depressed or running from dread. I’m so filled with glee that I could just burst. There’s no GEH or Helping Hands today as I have to be sure that everything is just right for Minnie and Mikey’s birthday.

My guest list is all set—small but large for a birthday for a couple of one-year-olds, but who cares? Nothing could ruin my mood today, but surprisingly, something pretty damn morbid made it a whole lot better. The television is playing in the family room and I’m listening to the local news channel. I’m sitting at the breakfast bar working on the menu for tomorrow’s party when something on the news catches my attention.

“Within the last hour, we’ve learned that Washington State Penitentiary inmate and former Seattle socialite Elena Lincoln has suffered a massive stroke…”

I rubberneck to the television and feel my body floating into the family room. I don’t even remember getting out of my seat. I watch as a picture of an extremely much older-looking Elena Lincoln flashes across the screen. She didn’t look like that when she went in. I know she didn’t. Her natural hair had grown out, and it was brown. This woman, though she looks much older, has blonde hair… and she’s smiling… and she’s outside! And she looks like she’s wearing makeup! Where did this picture come from?

I’m pondering what the fuck is really going on in that goddamn prison when this bitch is supposed to be in maximum security and she’s able to get her hands on hair dye and makeup… and she’s fucking outside! I can’t see the surroundings behind her or if she’s wearing prison garb, so she could be in the exercise yard for all I know, but hair dye? And makeup? Tupac couldn’t even get a decent haircut when he was in jail!

I’ve missed the entire newscast lost in my wondering, and I scramble for the remote to rewind live TV. I’d die of suspense waiting for the story to come back on.

“Ana, what is it? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”

I hear Gail’s voice, but I’m too focused on getting back to the story that I don’t even respond to her. I get back to the point where I see She-Thing’s picture on the screen and stop the rewind just before the story begins. I listen to the last bits of a story about the homeless people under the viaduct before the story begins to play again.

“Within the last hour, we’ve learned that Washington State Penitentiary inmate and former Seattle socialite Elena Lincoln has suffered a massive stroke. Lincoln was administered a routine flu shot when shortly thereafter, she began to show symptoms of a stroke. Prison officials indicate that Lincoln complained that she was dizzy, so she was instructed to lie down. Her symptoms became increasingly worse until she became unresponsive…”

“Is she dead?” I ask aloud. The words shocked me coming out of my mouth, but I don’t regret it. I want to know if the Pedo-Bitch is dead!

“Lincoln appears to have been in a coma since Wednesday, but has regained consciousness a short while ago…”

The Bitch is stomping her feet like Rumpelstiltskin while I attempt to appear unaffected.

“Although she is awake, Lincoln appears to have suffered extreme paralysis as a symptom of the stroke. At this time, she is unable to walk, move, or speak. There is currently no information on if the condition is permanent.”

Well, that’s something. The Bitch settles a bit.

“Questions arose as to whether Lincoln could have had an adverse reaction to the flu shot. Toxicology reports tested for the flu vaccine and revealed that she was given the same strain of the virus given to all the inmates and staff of the prison. Reports indicate that there was no way the flu shot could’ve caused a stroke.

“Lincoln will be moved to a minimum-security prison where a special team will oversee her care in hopes of a recovery.”

“She had a stroke from a flu shot?” I ask aloud.

“That’s impossible,” Grace says, and I forget that she was in the room. I look over at her.

“Not that I really care what happens to the bitch,” I tell her. “To be honest, it would have been good news had they said she was dead, but a stroke from a flu shot? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“Well, they clearly said it couldn’t have been caused by the flu shot,” she replies. “It has to be coincidence. Maybe she got some really bad news, or she had high blood pressure or something. There has to be an explanation.” She shrugs.

There is.

It suddenly dawns on me—my husband’s words a few days ago when I asked how things went with Greta Ellison.

“Nobody’s dead… except the book, and it won’t be back.”

Nobody’s dead except the book, and it won’t be back. That is so ominous, but I guess he’s right. The book, indeed, will not be back.

“Damn,” I say, gazing at the television, the news moving on to another story. “Karma’s a real bitch.”

“You look relieved,” Gail says, her brow raised when I turn to look at her.

“I am,” I reply. “There’s no use in lying. That woman is pure evil, and I’m surprised that it hasn’t consumed her from the inside out well before now.” Gail twists her lips.

“You’ll get no argument from me,” she says matter-of-factly, “the bitch shot my husband.”

Once I get over the initial shock of Elena’s fate, I walk around for the rest of the day on a damn cloud. I consider whatever happened to that bitch a necessary evil. She’s one miserable person who was hell-bent on destroying the lives of potentially dozens of families. I wholeheartedly believe that the world would be a better place without her, and I don’t regret those feelings. I only regret that the stroke didn’t finish her off.

Second only to my two darling bundles of joy, it’s the best present I’ve gotten in a year.

My husband didn’t seem surprised.

“Did you hear about She-Thing?” I ask when he gets home.

“I sure did,” he says, coming into the family room as I’m decorating for the birthday party. “I wish the bitch had died.”

“I said the same thing,” I reply. “Maybe we should ease up on that before we bring some bad Karma onto ourselves. “

“No problem. I don’t want to talk about her anyway. So, a month ago, Santa Claus shit all over the house. Now, we’ve got Minnie and Mickey Mouse droppings.” I glare at him.

“First of all, you better be glad my children aren’t down here to hear you cursing or I’d find some way to make you pay for it, and I don’t mean a swear jar. Second, I’m having a great time, so don’t you come raining on my parade, Christian Grey!” I’m pointing at him with a Minnie Mouse wand made of a black glitter Minnie head with a pink glitter bow on it attached to a wooden dowel.

“Careful where you shake that thing!” he warns. “I don’t want fairy dust all over me!”

“Fuck you, Dr. Killjoy,” I declare.

“Oooh! Who needs the swear jar now?” he teases, capturing me in his arms and tickling me, his fingers madly manipulating my ribs.

“Christian, stop!” I giggle helplessly.

“What? What was that? I don’t think I heard you…”

“Stop or I’ll pee myself!” I warn. He stops tickling me and pulls me into his arms.

“Well, we don’t want that,” he says, kissing me softly.

“You seem in a better mood today,” I observe, closing my eyes as he peppers gentle kisses on my lips, my neck, and my jaw.

“It was a better day,” he says between kisses. “Somebody came in there and put the fear of God into my staff and they’ve been getting their shit together.”

“Mmm… have they now?” I say, still absorbing his tender kisses.

“Mmm-hmm,” he says, gently tasting my skin.

“Sheesh, get a room,” Jason says, coming from the mudroom and through the family room.

“We don’t need a room. We have a house,” Christian retorts, “and you’re in it.”

“Along with a very impressionable teenager,” he remarks. Oops, he’s right. Sophie should be around any minute to help me with the hors d’oeuvres and sandwich fixings for tomorrow.

“Look who’s talking,” I say as Christian releases his embrace. “You come in kissing Gail every day.” He pauses as he reaches his wife to do just that.

“I kiss her,” he concurs, “I don’t maul her in the middle of the family room. We’re not making out amongst the Disney paraphernalia. Hello, Love,” he says, turning to his wife and kissing her sweetly.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Christian says, forcefully pulling me back into his arms. “I’ll maul my wife whenever and wherever I damn well please… but I will be mindful of the teenager.” He looks at me again and pops a fast, hard kiss on my lips eliciting a giggle from me.

“So, what’s going on at the Ivory Palace?” I ask my husband. “Finney and Ros finally get their asses in gear?”

“Among other things,” he says. “Everybody’s waiting for the Queen of Hearts to come breezing into the office… ‘Off with their heads!’” he jests, still holding me close to him while ceasing his kissing. “It’s one thing to have one hardnosed boss, but two… and then whatever gets pass me or—heaven forbid—you, is now being picked up by the executive team who are also afraid of having their craniums severed.” He raises a brow.

“Aha! Now we’re getting somewhere!” I declare. “That’s all we needed in the first place. Why the fuck did I have to come down there and put some fire under these assholes? And what’s with the Queen of Hearts analogy? That woman was insane. I’m not that bad.”

Queen of Hearts

“Well, get used to it because that’s what the ‘peasants’ are calling you,” he says. “And the Queen of Hearts may have been insane, but she was powerful. Insane or not, if she said a head came off, a head came off, and you proved that by sending Mosele home for a short ‘vacation’ to ponder his position. And let’s not forget the fact that you came breezing in there that Monday morning in this fierce red dress daring someone to test you. And those who did were made quick examples—not down the line, but in that same meeting. I think these people know who their dealing with.”

“Must we refer to them as peasants?” I ask. It sounds so unpleasant and elitist.

“If they can call you ‘Queen of Hearts,’ I can call them ‘peasants.’ And trust me, they have a plethora of unsightly names for me, so I’m being kind.”

Jesus, I would prefer not to have the company have the us/them mentality, but unfortunately, it looks like it may be what we need to get things done.

“Speaking of the executive team, how’s Ros doing with her dilemma?” I ask.

“I have no idea,” he tells me. “I don’t want to be in her personal life that way. While I truly do sympathize with her familial woes, I’m sure that I would prefer not to be in her proverbial bedroom that way. I can’t empathize with her at all because she made a vow to one woman when her heart was with someone else. I can’t speak to what she should have done or what she should do now. I can only say that it’s not my arena.”

I try not to frown. Ros is his second in command, so he very well should be concerned about her familial woes. However, I guess as the psychiatrist between us, I’m going to have to keep an eye on the situation myself. However, his reaction—though very calm and PC—is not getting past me.

“What?” he asks, obviously noting my contemplation.

“You have some very distinct opinions about this,” I say. He raises a brow. “I live with you. I’m married to you. I fuck you. I can read between the lines,” I say, answering his unasked question. He adjusts his posture, about to make a point.

“I can clearly say that’s something that I would never do,” he says. “When I asked you to marry me, that’s where I wanted to be. I had the choice to stay in my lifestyle and be with whomever I chose whenever I chose—that’s not what I wanted. I wanted you. I want you. So, the concept of wanting someone else after I said that I wanted you is something I can’t fathom. But you…”

He pauses. What the fuck? What about me?

“I’m with you. I love you. I know you well enough to know that this is where you want to be. That whole Westwood bullshit was a blip in the radar for a few different reasons, but I know this is where you want to be. The thought that you would marry me while you still had unclear feelings for someone else only to have those feelings resurface years after we said our vows—I would be murderous. I wouldn’t even know how to handle that.

“So, right now, while I am concerned about Ros, I have to compartmentalize this whole thing. What she did was selfish and cruel, and now she’s trying to find the easiest way out of the situation she created. She totally created this monsoon, and now she’s trying to get out of it without getting wet. And where the fuck does that leave Gwen?”

He’s beginning to get angry, but I can see him visibly trying to shake off his anger with Ros.

“I see,” I say, calmly. “So, your empathy strikes again, but this time, it’s striking with Gwen. How does that feel?”

He raises his gaze to me and I’m looking at him with soft but inquisitive eyes, nothing confrontational. He couldn’t empathize with Ros because he would never do that. The only thing that he could do is put himself in Gwen’s shoes, and it’s infuriating him.

“Pretty pissed off,” he says, his voice calmer, “which is why I can’t talk to her about it. When her personal shit interfered with her job, I got involved. Where it doesn’t interfere with her job, I’m out of it.” He shakes his head. I nod and put my hand on his cheek.

“I think that’s best,” I tell him. “I’ll handle it. Like you said, as long as she does her job, right?” He closes his eyes and nods, leaning into my hand.

“Thank you for not getting mad,” he says. I scoff a laugh.

“You almost had me for a minute there, Grey, but luckily, I learned to listen,” I say with a wink and a smile. We hear the clearing of someone’s throat, and we turn to see Marilyn standing there.

“Um, I hope I’m not disturbing you,” she says. Christian laughs. I turn to him.

“What?” I ask.

“She just did a ‘Jason,’” he says with mirth. My brow furrows.

“A ‘Jason?’” I ask. Christian cocks his head at me.

“If we’re in the midst of a conversation—or anything else—when Jason walks into the room, what does he do to get my attention?” I roll my eyes.

“You mean besides tell us to get a room?” I say, turning to Marilyn. “You’re not interrupting, Mare, what’s up?”

“I got a call from Alex. He said he tried to call you twice but no luck.” I begin looking around for my phone. Where is my phone?

“Hell, I don’t know where my phone is. Is everything okay?”

“Yeah. He said that you were looking for a final background check on Jade Goldwin. He emailed it to you,” she says. Oh, yeah, her.

“Thanks, Mare. Did he say that there was anything to be concerned about?”

“Not to me,” she says with a shrug. “I would think if there was cause for concern, he’d ask me to get you to the phone, so I would say not.” I nod.

“I agree, but I’ll look at it anyway,” I say. She nods and smiles before heading back off towards the elevator.

“Jesus, has she lost more weight?” I was hoping he wouldn’t notice that, but she has. My silence is enough for him. “Butterfly, this is not good. She’s really going to hurt herself if she doesn’t stop this!”

“I know, I know,” I lament. “I’m the doctor, remember?” He gazes at me for a moment.

“Her parents aren’t here,” he says, firmly. “She doesn’t have a significant other anymore. I hate to do this, but it’s you, baby. It’s all you.” I roll my eyes.

“I know, Christian, I’m just trying not to ambush the girl right now…”

“You may not have a choice. She’s slowly killing herself!”

“She just got back…” I excuse.

“Nearly three weeks ago!” he counters. I deflate. He’s right. She needs to eat.

“I’ll talk to her,” I say.

“You may need to do more than that,” he cautions.

“Like what?” I recounter.

“I don’t know, but you may need to do more than that! This is serious! She’s really hurting herself right now.”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” I say, hoping to halt the conversation. Jesus, I’m not the one starving myself for crying out loud. I just have to figure out what to do.

“So…” he says, stalling, “what’s with this Jade Goldwin?” Holy cow, that’s the way to change gears.

“She’s coming to the party,” I tell him. “She’s in Maxie and Mindy’s Mommy and Me class, and she has a son the same age as Mindy. I just wanted to vet her before she came to my house and head her off if necessary.”

“Oh? How did you meet her?” he asks. Now he’s interested. Good grief.

“Maxie and I were shopping, and we bumped into her at the Marketplace.” He nods. I know he wants more information. I roll my eyes for the umpteenth time. Where the hell is my phone?

“Keep doing that and they might get stuck that way,” he says, swiping his phone and touching the screen. I’m about to roll my eyes at him again when I hear the muffled sound of our song playing. I look around and back at him, and he’s holding his phone up, showing me that he’s calling me. Where the fuck is my phone?

It goes to voicemail and he calls it again… and again. It took four times for me to find the damn thing between the sofa cushions. How the hell did it get there?

I swipe the screen and the battery is nearly dead. It’s a good thing I found it, or I may have never found it.

“Don’t you have a case or a clip or something for that?” he asks.

“No, Mr. Grey, I keep it in my purse, and I didn’t go anywhere today!” I snap.

“Touchy,” he teases.

“Annoying,” I counter in the same sing-songy voice. I open my email and click on the pdf attached.

“Yeah, she’s Jane Q. Housewife,” I say, scrolling through the document. “Twenty-nine, married, four boys just like Maxie said.”

“And her husband?” Christian asks.

“Sells insurance for a local company,” I tell him. “Small beans.” He nods.

“Who’s coming?” he asks.

“Just Jade and her youngest,” I say, closing my phone. “Maxie vouches for her, so she can’t be all bad.”

“Who all is coming?” he asks.

“All the grandparents, the godparents—Mia bowed out this time, the Scooby Gang… except for Gary, Luma and Herman and the girls, Marlow’s bringing Maggie and probably a date…” Sophie will love that, “… and our newest guest Jade and her little boy, English.”

“English?” Christian says in horror.

“I didn’t name the kid,” I say, with a shrug.

“Dear Lord,” Christian says. “That poor kid is going to be teased incessantly.”

“You don’t know that, Christian,” I scold.

“Baby, I’ve traveled the world and I’ve never met anybody anywhere named English,” he points out.

“Okay, so he has a unique name,” I argue, “It’s not wild or crazy, like Fallopion or something. It’s just different.”

“You’re so sweet,” he says, stroking my cheek. “He’s going to get teased. Whoever came up with that name, that’s grounds for divorce.” I gape at him.

“You’re kidding, right?” I ask in horror. He raises a brow.

“Am I?” he asks, impassively.

“You’re saying that when we have another kid, if for some reason you’re indisposed and I come up with a name that you don’t like, you’ll divorce me?” My voice rises to a squeak on the last two words and I think hearing it come out of my mouth makes him realize just how ridiculous he sounds.

“Well, no, but you wouldn’t name our child something ridiculous like English!” he quips.

“And what if I did?” I say, putting my hands on my hips.

“Then there would definitely be some papers filed somewhere,” he says, “maybe not for divorce, but we would be changing that kid’s name. And anyway, it’s a moot point because we sat down and picked our children’s names together, months before they were born. So, why are we arguing about a kid who isn’t even ours?”

I twist my lips and fold my arms. The argument does seem a tad ridiculous.

“You were the one who started talking about divorce,” I pout.

“Yeah, and you were the one to actually take it literally,” he retorts. “Divorce you? Over a name, even? Seriously?” Asshole.

“Be useful and grab that garland,” I pout.

“Hey, wait, I’m not getting roped into decorating,” he protests.

“Oh, yes, you are!” I whirl around on him. “You came in here pissing on my happy place then we’re talking about everything from Elena to Queen of Hearts to Ros to Westwood to Marilyn to some random kid named English to divorce and dammit I want my happy place back!” I say the entire sentence without breathing and he just gazes at me.

“I got your happy place right here,” he remarks, matter-of-factly and I roll my eyes for the 101st time today.

“Grab the damn garland, Christian.”

*-*

It’s Saturday, the day that we meet with Artemis and Savvina, but that’s not until much later. Right now, Minnie and Mickey Mouse decorations are exploding all over my dining room and family room much like yuletide exploded all over my house for Christmas. I’m definitely in the mood to celebrate.

There are two giant Number One balloons to greet you at the door. One has a Mickey Mouse head and the other, a Minnie Mouse head. There’s also a Minnie and Mickey sign that reads, “Welcome to the birthday clubhouse.” Once they don their Minnie or Mickey Mouse party hats, the kids get to munch on “Daisy’s garden vegetables,” “Goofy grapes,” or various melons cut in the shape of Mickey’s head and garnished with blueberries and pineapple. There’s always a way to get kids to eat healthy if you make it fun.

They also get to build ham and turkey sandwiches out of bread, turkey, ham, and cheese all cut in the shape of Mickey’s head with choices of lettuce, tomato, pickles, and condiments as well—or they can choose to have Mickey shaped chicken nuggets or a hot dog from the “Hot Diggity Dog” bar. There are games and bubbles and prizes to keep them occupied, but let’s face it—who’s not going to have fun in Mickey Mouse land?

I was smart enough to know that “Hot Diggity” dogs and chicken nuggets wouldn’t cut it for the parents. So, we have the option of what I call “Chicken Bacon Crack Pinwheels,” Rueben pinwheels, quinoa salad, and seven-layer dip, along with the aforementioned fruits and vegetables. The drinks were either “Pirate Punch” or “Sea Water” from the Pirate Mickey drink bar, and various Mickey and Minnie Mouse cupcakes are spread around the house, along with the Mickey/Minnie birthday cake on the kitchen counter.

Sophie has help me with most of the same-day preparation, like she always does. She wants to be a chef or a caterer, and she loves preparing the food and decorating the house. She’s so grown up for her age that I’m a little afraid that she might be missing her childhood. With a mother like Shalane, though, she’s probably already missed it. She’s seen too much for her age, and once you see certain things, you just can’t unsee them.

Sophie shed her purple tresses shortly after her last altercation with Marlow’s most recent date on Christmas, and after a visit to Miana’s, Jason is glad to see her enter with shiny, beautiful, billowing blonde waves. She actually looks a little older, but it’s most likely because that purple hair made her look so much younger to me.

She gleefully helps me finish setting up for the twins’ party which, as we all know, is really a celebration for the parents, but I don’t care. My little brother will be here. Max is bringing Mindy and I even told her that she was clear to bring Jade to the party since they’re such good friends. I should definitely get to know her if they’re that close.

Celida and Mariah will be here. At the tender age of 6 and 8, they love parties for whatever reason. Maggie’s coming, too. I don’t know if Marlow will be bringing a date this time, but I almost wish that he wouldn’t. It usually ends miserably for him and for Sophie. Until she gets over this crush that she has on him, she’s not going to behave. She’s a woman scorned at 13, and most women scorned don’t even know how to behave as adults!

Mia has decided to sit this one out, but the grandparents and godparents will be here, and of course, our resident waif, Marilyn. I hope I can get her to eat some cake or something before Christian declares martial fucking law!

The guests are now arriving and surprisingly, Maxie, Phil, and Jade arrive before Al.

“Forgive me,” Jade begins, “if I seem a little out of place today. I can’t believe I’m here—this place is absolutely astonishing. And the decorations—dear God! Did you do this all yourself or did you have help?”

“Well, both, actually. I did it myself, but I had a little help, too. My biggest helper was this young lady right here…” I snag Sophie as she’s walking by. “This is my resident party helper, Sophia. Sophie, this is Jade, and you know Maxie and Phil.”

Sophie smiles and waves shyly.

“Hi,” she says sweetly.

“Hi, Sophia,” Jade says, “or do you prefer Sophie?”

“Sophie’s fine,” she says. Jade smiles.

“This is my son, English,” she says. English is older than the twins, but he manages a smile and a wave from his mother’s arms.

“English,” Sophie says, as if testing the word, “I’ve never heard of that as a name before.”

“He’s named after his paternal grandfather,” she says. “My husband insisted.”

“Oh,” I say, “so it’s a family name.” She nods.

“I would have chosen something normal, like Chad, or Blake, or Worcestershire,” she says, rolling her eyes, and I know the last one was a joke, but with a name like English, you can’t be too sure.

“It’s unusual,” I say, “but it’s nice.”

“Thank you,” she says. “It does sound distinguished at the very least.” I see my husband and decide to poke a little fun at him.

“Christian, come, meet our guest,” I say loudly so that he can’t ignore me or try to get away. He raises his brow at me because he knows what I’m doing, but I don’t care.

“This was my other helper,” I say to Jade when he comes over to us. “He hung a piece of garland or three.”

“A piece of…” My husband trails off in mock horror and I pretend to ignore him.

“Christian, this is Jade and her son, English,” I say, introducing them.

“It’s very nice to meet you,” he says with a nod of his head.

“Likewise. Thank you for having me,” Jade replies cordially.

English is an unusual name, isn’t it, Christian?” My husband throws a side gaze at me. “It’s a family name,” I tell him. “He’s named after his grandfather.” Still grounds for a divorce, Sir?

“Is that so?” Christian says. “Tell me, what is the origin of that name.”

“I have no idea,” Jade says. “As ridiculous as it sounds, I’m assuming it’s English! I can’t even derive a nickname from that, so I just call him Eddie.

My knees buckle and I’m literally choking on nothing. Christian catches me as I’m going down and makes an excuse to get me away from Jade. He takes me over to the pirate bar and I sit down.

“I’m fine. I’m fine. I just wasn’t ready. It caught me off guard,” I excuse.

“Okay, so you can just sit here until you’re back on guard,” he says, kneeling in front of me.

“Really, Christian, I’m fine,” I assure him. “That’s just the last name I expected to hear at my children’s birthday party.”

“Well, maybe Maxine should tell her friends to do some homework before she brings them around,” he states.

“Oh, please,” I lament, “aren’t I considered enough of a prima donna to the public without people having to know my life history before they visit me? Besides, what would we do, tell her to change her son’s nickname because of my ex-boyfriend? Just let it go.”

I raise my head just in time to see Maggie giggling with Sophie, and a few moments later, Marlow enters… with a date, and not the girl from Christmas. Jesus, what was that, a month ago?

“You may need to talk to him,” I say to Christian while gesturing to Marlow. He looks over his shoulder at Marlow, then back at me.

“What?” he asks

“The girls,” I whisper harshly. “He brings a different girl to every event.”

“He’s young, Butterfly,” he excuses. “He’s not attached to anybody and I know he practices safe sex.” I know that too, but…

“He brought one girl to Mia’s wedding in September; another one to Thanksgiving; another one to Christmas; and now another one to the twins’ birthday. That’s four girls in five months! You don’t see anything wrong with that?” Besides the fact that it’s totally tormenting Sophie, it just doesn’t look good… and it’s not smart!

“He’s a young boy sowing his oats like young boys do. He’s no dummy. He won’t get caught up in a bad situation. I don’t see the problem.” I cock my head at him.

“Oh? So, if Michael brings a string of girls home from the ages of 15 to 18, you wouldn’t have a problem with that?” I ask.

“No,” he says matter-of-factly. Is that so, Mr. Grey? I fold my arms and square off.

“And if Mackenzie brings home a string of boyfriends?” I say, and just let the words hang in the air. His face blanches and he begins to look a little ill.

Mm-hmm, that’s what I thought. What’s good for the goose is going to be good for the gander in this house, Grey. So, if you don’t want to see your little princess doing it, don’t think I’m going to allow little Master Grey to get away with it either.

“Talk to him,” I say, firmly before rising from the breakfast bar and going back to the dining room.

I greet my guests and assure everyone that I’m okay, chalking my coughing spell up to an unexpected bout with my own saliva. Marlow introduces me to his date—Tasha, I think her name is. It doesn’t matter. I’m sure that I won’t see her again after today.

Sophie and Maggie have taken to getting the children situated and playing “Pin the bow on Minnie” when Al finally decides to grace us with his presence.

“Sorry we’re late,” he says, and that’s all he gives me by way of an explanation, not that I need one. He and James are both as loose as a noodle and look like fresh, new daisies. I’m sure sex was involved.

“You nearly missed your godchildren’s party, you sex fiend,” I say, my voice low.

“Don’t be so dramatic,” he says waving me off. “You haven’t even opened presents yet.” I roll my eyes. “Who’s the bird with Maxie?”

“That’s Jade,” I tell him. “She’s in a Mommy and Me class with Maxie, which they probably had to miss to come to this party.” He looks at me.

“You sound a little snippy,” he observes. I glare at him.

“Jealous,” I say, honestly. “Maxie got married before me; had her baby before me; and now she’s moving on to new friends without me. Yeah, I’d say I’m just a little snippy.” I look over at Jade and Maxie having a conversation with Val.

“Jade calls her Max,” I say with disdain. “Her son’s name is English.” Al frowns.

“English? That’s his name?” he asks. I nod. “That’s odd. Where did that come from?”

“Apparently, it’s a family name. And get this, his nickname is Eddie.” Al literally winces at the mention of the name. “Yeah, my sentiments exactly, only a little more graphic.”

“Well, she seems like a nice enough person,” he says.

“She is,” I admit. “I just resent the fact that she’s apparently taking my place.” Al scoffs.

“Darling Jewel, she may be friends with our Maxine, but trust me—nobody can replace you.” He puts his hand on my shoulder.

“You’re sweet,” I tell him as we go to join the party.

Everything is going well, and the children are having a really good time playing games, opening prizes, and blowing bubbles. I’m with Minnie most of the day, standing her on her feet and coaxing her to walk with me, which she does. She’s doing very well keeping her balance and standing for several moments until she realizes that she’s standing, or she moves too fast to get to some new toy or adventure. Then she’s back on her hands and knees again. I think it’s adorable and, sure enough, after a few hours of guidance, she’s toddling around more than she’s crawling. Christian gets a few videos on his phone since I’m detained with entertaining. We’re just finishing singing “Happy Birthday” to the twins and I’m cutting and serving cake when I hear it.

“Is constantly twirling your hair an art form or can anybody do it?”

Oh, dear God. I raise my gaze to see Sophie, once again, facing off with Marlow and his date. Tasha looks at Sophie, appalled.

“Is this little brat talking to me?” she asks Marlow while pointing at Sophie. Marlow appears to be trying to smooth things over while Sophie stands there looking like she had nothing to do with Tasha’s current mood.

“No, Marlow! Does she speak to any other adult in this room that way?” Tasha shoots. I know what that means. Marlow is 17, so this girl is probably 18, and by pointing out that she’s an adult, she most likely just turned 18 and she’s smelling her adultness. I sigh.

“Nice one, Sophie,” I lament quietly.

“I don’t care,” I hear Tasha say. “In our house, children know to stay in a child’s place. Someone apparently forgot to teach her that!” She is furious. She throws a murderous look at Sophie and walks away.

“Seriously, Sophie?” Marlow hisses. “Jesus Christ, what’s going on with you?” and now, he’s livid, too as he goes after Tasha. I take this opportunity to make my way over to Sophie.

“Sophia!” I say quietly, “seriously, you’re going to have to stop this. Marlow is going to despise you if you keep this up.”

“I wasn’t trying to tease her,” she excuses, “it just slipped out. She stood there the entire time twirling her hair around her finger. Jesus, is she that flighty or is it a nervous tick?”

“And if it wasn’t her hair, it would be her shoes, or her dress, or her voice. This is getting out of hand!”

“What does it matter what I say?” she says. “He still going to do her.”

“Sophie!” I exclaim appalled.

“They’re so obvious! How can he not see it?” My question is how can you see it so clearly? “How can he even like these girls? They’re scatterbrains. They have the attention span of a goldfish. None of them even show up again after the first time!”

That’s what I said, but that could have a lot to do with you.

“Well, for whatever reason he likes them, he likes them, and you’re going to have to stop being rude to them. For one thing, it’s not very ladylike at all. And for another thing, I defended you when that girl passively aggressively insulted you at Mia’s wedding. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see how she made you feel although Marlow was clueless. What ground do I have to stand on right now when you’re behaving the same way she did? And third, and most important…” I put my hand on her shoulder and hold her gaze.

“I’m very fond of you, Sophie,” I say. “I consider us good friends, but I don’t like for anyone to insult the guests that come to my home and you do that repeatedly with Marlow’s dates. If they lash out at you first, I completely understand your need to defend yourself. But when you say disparaging things against them for no reason, that’s unacceptable behavior, Sophie.”

This is the first time that I’ve had to scold Sophie and I really don’t like it, but it’s necessary. She shrinks a bit as my words sink in.

“I really didn’t think about it that way,” she says. “I still think they’re flighty little thots, but I don’t want to make you guys look bad. I’m sorry, Ana.” I nod.

“You might want to apologize to Marlow and his date,” I tell her. She grimaces.

“I can’t do that,” she squeals quietly. “He already hates me, and I couldn’t face him right now… or her. Please don’t make me do that I’ll die!” She says the last part all in one breath, and I really believe she would just keel over and die if she had to face Marlow right now.

“Well, I can’t and won’t force you to do anything, Sophie, but you might want to think about your behavior and what damage has already been done.” She sighs heavily as if I’ve just pardoned her from the death penalty.

“Sophia!”

I discover that I may have spoken too soon. Gail’s voice interrupts our conversation and she is none too happy as she comes marching over to us.

“Sophia, is it true that you said something unkind to Marlow’s date?” Gail accuses. Sophie’s mouth falls open and she looks in horror over at Marlow. When I glance at him, he and his date are looking in our direction like they’re waiting for the ax to fall. Oh, this is just great.

“I can’t believe it,” Sophie says incredulously, her voice three octaves higher than normal. “He snitched on me?”

“So, that means that it’s true,” Gail accuses, a statement not a question.

“I was just kidding around, Momma Gail,” Sophie excuses. “It’s not my fault she can’t take a joke.”

“That’s because she didn’t find it funny,” Gail says. “You can’t say mean things about people and think it’s okay. It’s very unbecoming, and you owe them an apology. You march over there right now and apologize.”

As if Sophie’s face could show any more horror, she glares over at Marlow and his date then turns her gaze back to Gail.

“No,” she says, calmly, her voice resolute. You could knock Gail over with a feather right now.

“Excuse me, young lady?” Gail says in disbelief.

“I’m sorry, Momma Gail, but I’m not going to apologize. He already won. He snitched on me for hurting his girlfriend’s feelings, and now they’re staring at me waiting to see what kind of trouble I’m going to get in. So, he won. I’m in trouble, I already know it, but I’m not going to apologize.”

Sophie stands firm on that sinking boat that she’s not going to apologize. To already be convicted of the crime, she pled her case very well for a 13-year-old kid. Right now, Sophie would rather run naked down the I-5 than to go over there and apologize to Marlow and that girl. Gail looks at her stepdaughter and knows that it’s a lost cause to try to make her apologize.

“The party is over for you, young lady,” Gail says firmly. “Go to your apartment. You’re grounded for the rest of the weekend.” Shit, there goes my helper.

“Yes, ma’am,” Sophie says dutifully, and marches past Gail without looking back at me or at Marlow and his date. I roll my eyes before Gail turns around to look at me.

“What?” she says. “She was wrong. She’s going to turn out to be a bully if we don’t nip this in the bud.”

“I highly doubt that,” I say, “but don’t be too hard on her. You know, teenage angst, sibling rivalry… She was probably just giving her ‘brother’s’ date a hard time, nothing more.” I do the finger quotes around the word brother knowing damn well that it’s more than that, but she’s not a bully. She’s lashing out because she’s jealous.

“I don’t know,” Gail sighs. “I hope you’re right.” She walks over to Marlow and his date and says something to them. I turn away and head over to the food table. I can’t help but empathize with Sophie again. Even though she was clearly wrong, he told Mommy on her. There’s no better or more thorough way to drive home the fact that he looks at her as nothing more than a child than to tell Mommy that she said something wrong. There’s no way in hell Sophie was going to apologize after that. She’ll most likely gladly take the grounding and hide under her bed for the next two days.

“Trouble in the happiest place on earth?” My husband’s voice breaks me out of my thought process as I fill my plate with a few pinwheels.

“I just lost my party helper,” I say, taking another pinwheel. “Sophie was poking fun at Marlow’s date, something about twirling her hair on her fingers, and Marlow didn’t like it. Apparently, he told Gail and now Sophie’s grounded.” Christian frowns.

“He snitched on her?” he says. I raise a shocked gaze at him.

“That’s exactly what she said!” I say, surprised.

“Well, yeah, me and Mia used to do shit like that to each other all the time—me and Elliot, too—but we didn’t snitch on each other.” I smile and shake my head.

“I think it might be a different dynamic here, Christian,” I say before I realize that I’m saying too much.

“How so?” he asks, and before I get the chance to trip over my tongue, he continues. “He considers her a little sister and that’s just how she’s acting, like a bratty little sister trying to embarrass him in front of a girl. But hell, he snitched. He broke the sibling code.” I frown.

“There’s a sibling code?” I ask incredulously.

“Well, apparently not with him,” Christian says. “I know there are some siblings who’ll squeal if you left the top off the mustard, but in our family, Vegas rules applied—what happened outside of Mom and Dad’s knowledge stayed outside of Mom and Dad’s knowledge.”

Well, that’s scary. Stuff was going on right under their nose and they didn’t know it. That’s probably why Pedo-Bitch could so easily get to Christian and almost to Elliot. Everything was so hush-hush.

At this point, I don’t know who’s side I’m on.

“Yeah, well, I’d say the lines are drawn in the sand now,” I say, eating a pinwheel.

“I’d say you’re right,” my husband concurs.


CHRISTIAN

“When you are in a submissive role, your duty is to serve. However, it cannot only be your duty. It must be your desire. You cannot force this relationship–it has to be something that you want… crave or desire, even. Some soumises are born, some are cultivated. Either is fine, but this must be something that you want to do for yourself, or you’re wasting your time.”

Pussycat and I are sitting in our mentors’ den. The sessions with them and our attendance at the Munches have been highly rewarding and very informative. Pussycat has done lots of research on her own along with several assignments given to her from Savvina. She has brought several questions to our sessions, and today’s question has to do with tasks.

Tasks are generally set in a 24/7 D/s relationship, which ours is not. However, Pussycat points out that she can see how having a task or even several tasks would help her to maintain a submissive mindset. It doesn’t mean that she is releasing any of her independence. It just means that she’s acknowledging that I’m her Dominus and she, my soumise—and that in that role, she has the attitude of service, which is why Savvina is speaking on the duty of a soumise to serve.

“Service is a relative term,” Savvina continues. “It may mean that you perform direct duties required by your Dominus or it may not. It may also mean that you make yourself available for what he needs, or that you assist him with a skill or ability that he may not have. The possibilities are endless, and the two of you will set the guidelines for how you will serve him or what your specific tasks will be, if any.” Pussycat looks at me.

“Are there any specific tasks that come to mind that you think you may require of me?” she inquires. I ponder for a moment.

“None come to mind immediately,” I admit, “but I’m certain that we’ll come up with something.”

As we’re speaking, the coffee service arrives and is placed on the table in front of us. Savvina dutifully prepares two cups of coffee—one for Artemis, and then one for herself. She prepares Artemis’s cup with cream and sugar, and then her own before she sits back to enjoy the coffee. Pussycat’s and my cup remain empty.

I immediately see this as a test from our mentor if Pussycat is willing to serve—literally, although I’m not sure this is what she meant when she asked about tasks and service.

Noting that Savvina didn’t pour any coffee for us, Pussycat pauses only for a moment before retrieving the silver coffee pot and pouring a small amount into her cup. She replaces the coffee pot and takes a sip of the coffee. Then she retrieves the coffee pot again and fills my cup nearly to the brim. She adds a bit of cream and sugar before stirring it and handing me the cup and saucer, which I graciously accept. She then prepares her own cup and relaxes in her seat to enjoy her coffee.

“Why did you pour your cup first?” Savvina asks.

“I didn’t pour my ‘cup’ first. I poured a tasting in my cup,” Pussycat responds.

“And why would you do that?” Savvina asks. “Why would you pour coffee for yourself before pouring coffee for your Dominus?”

“Because I didn’t make the coffee, and it wasn’t made in my home,” she says. “How he takes his coffee is dependent on the brew, so I had to taste it to know what to put in it.” Savvina raises a brow and looks at me.

“Does she normally serve your coffee at home?” Savvina asks.

“Never,” I reply. “As of late, I’ve been leaving the house very early–before she wakes. It’s not something that I require her to do. Our staff makes sure that the coffee is prepared before either of us wakes. I sometimes leave so early that I just get coffee at the office.”

“How do you know how he takes his coffee if he’s never home or you’re not awake when he drinks it?” Savvina asks Pussycat, and she’s at a loss for words. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that she was affronted.

“If you are serving your Dominus, you should never drink or eat before he does,” Savvina says, and crosses her legs definitively. Pussycat is silent for a moment, her brow furrowed, and just as Savvina begins to speak again, she interjects.

“I disagree,” she says, crossing her legs as well. Savvina’s brow rises again.

“And why is that?” she prompts Pussycat.

“If I make my own coffee, then I want it strong and black. If he drinks my coffee, he wants it black, too. It’s been that way since the first cup of coffee he drank at my apartment more than two years ago. Coffee in restaurants or at the office are a good, robust blend, but not as strong as mine—as is the coffee made by my staff at home. In that case, he’ll take a little creamer, but not sugar. Designer coffees usually have a flavor of their own, so he won’t take anything in those either, unless he opts for a shot of espresso. If coffee is particularly weak, it’s nothing but English tea to his palette. So, he takes it with cream and sugar. So, I beg to differ with you, because if it’s coming from a strange pot, unless he’s pouring his own coffee, I don’t know what’s in the pot. So, I have to taste it before I serve him.”

Touché.

“Well,” Savvina says, “The teacher has been duly chastised.” She takes a sip of her coffee. “This is a perfect example of service being a relative term and the two of you setting your own guidelines for your definition of service. You came to me with a question about tasks and service, and you ended up educating me on one of the most important aspect of the D/s relationship—that it’s totally a la carte, and that each couple writes their own rules and guidelines for their relationship.” She turns to me. “You should be proud.”

I look at Pussycat, who’s unsuccessfully resisting the urge to smile. I reach over, take her free hand, and kiss it gently.

I am, very proud.

*-*

“I’m going to stop breastfeeding.”

I’m shocked to hear this announcement come from my wife as we’re riding into GEH on Monday morning. She lives to breastfeed our children and now she wants to stop?

“May I ask why?” I probe. She drops her gaze.

“There are so many reasons to stop,” she admits. “I’m more active outside of the home, with GEH and all, and even without GEH, I’m going to be more active with Helping Hands. We’re going to Vegas in a week and we don’t know how long we’re going to be there. I can’t go to the bathroom and pump every few hours and I don’t want to risk leaking all over my clothes. Most importantly, our children are drinking out of sippy cups and eating solid food. They just turned a year old. It’s time.” I twist my lips.

“You don’t seem too happy about it,” I tell her. She sighs. Breast-feeding was how and when she bonded most with the children. Now, she’s not going to be doing it anymore.

“We all have to be weened in one way or another,” she says with a shrug. “We might as well start doing it now before I start suffering from separation anxiety.” I take her hand and kiss it gently.

“I’ll be here for you,” I say. “And if I’m honest, I’m being a little selfish, too. Watching that nectar drip from your breast when you’re full and you come is very sexy.” That elicits a giggle from her.

“I know. I guess we’ll just have to ween you, too.”

I try not to stare at Marilyn throughout the morning, but she’s getting thinner and thinner and it’s not looking good on her. When she catches me staring at her, I ask her for a moment of her time.

“You’re going to Las Vegas with us, right?” I ask.

“That’s my understanding,” she replies.

“You know Las Vegas has some of the best cuisine in the country,” I inform her. “World-renowned chefs have restaurants there in some of the casinos and hotels. Have you possibly thought about which ones you may want to visit?” She sighs and rolls her eyes.

“I hadn’t given it any thought,” she says, her voice a bit perturbed, but I don’t allow it to sway me.

“Butterfly and I are hoping to go to Americana one night while we’re there. You’re welcome to come. I hear the food is exquisite…”

“I know what you’re doing, Christian,” she says. “You haven’t talked about any of the shows, none of the sights, not the nightlife or even the spas. You’re only talking about the food.” I purse my lips.

“I’ve known you as long as I’ve known my wife,” I say. “I’ve never seen you this thin… and you’ve gotten thinner just over the last couple of weeks. You barely touch your food at dinner if you eat anything at all and I have no idea what you’re eating throughout the day. You’re fading away in front of us…”

Marilyn hugs her iPad to her body like a shy schoolgirl as I drone on about eating and meals, and I get the feeling that I’ve lost her, so I stop talking.

“I’m not trying to preach to you,” I say, softening my voice. “That’s the very last thing I’m trying to do. I just don’t want to see you cause undue harm to yourself.”

She nods, and a single tear falls down her cheek. Shit.

“I’m sorry if I spoke out of place or if anything I said offended you,” I add.

She nods again, but doesn’t raise her head.

“Can I get you anything?” I ask.

“I just need to go to the restroom,” she says, her voice small.

“Yes, of course, by all means…”

She’s out of the office before the words are out of my mouth. My en suite would’ve given her more privacy, but I get the feeling that she wants to be as far away from me as possible. She brushes past the reception desk and nearly runs into Butterfly on her way to… the restroom.

“Mare?” Butterfly calls after her, but she continues her bolt down the hallway. Butterfly turns to me and storms into my office.

“What did you say to her?” she demands, Momma-Bear loins girded for battle. I roll my eyes and thrust my hands into my hair.

“I didn’t say anything wrong,” I say, my voice squeaky as I explain myself to Mistress. “I just informed her that Vegas has a lot of good cuisine and world-renowned chefs and that she was free to try any of them. I just thought that something may awaken her palette again and encourage her to eat.” Mistress deflates immediately.

“Oh… that,” she says, her voice somewhat small as she falls onto my sofa. “I don’t know what to do, Christian. I know this isn’t good for her. I can’t force feed her, but she’s got to stop this.”

“At the risk of sounding insensitive,” I say, sitting down next to my wife, “she’s going to have to address this before she gets on that plane. She’s going on this trip in an official capacity. She’s flying on a GEH jet, and she’s staying on a GEH dime. There’s all kinds of liability involved if something happens to her while she’s on this trip. Though it was small, she had a medical procedure two months ago and she’s not looking well at all. She needs to be medically cleared to travel, not to mention her doctor needs to see what’s become of her.”

“Don’t you think that may be a bit drastic?” she replies. I can’t even find the words to respond to that. My face must display utter horror as I scoff and gesture wordlessly to the door that Marilyn just hastily exited.

“Alright, alright,” she says, raising her hands in surrender. “You’re right. I’ll talk to her. I’ll get it done.” I lean over and kiss her.

“It’s for her own good, Butterfly,” I say. She drops her head and worries her scar.

“I know,” she says, her voice full of defeat.

Son of a bitch, where the hell is Garrett? The girl could die, and he wouldn’t even know. Would he even care? He’s a real fucking prince among men, I swear!


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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 5

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

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

Season 5, Episode 5

ANASTASIA

To say that I was surprised to find out that Ros’ marriage was over is the understatement of the century. To find out that her wife left her because Ros wants to be with someone else completely floored me.

When I think about her situation as I would a patient, I have to be objective with my opinions. When I’m talking to someone that I know, it’s a little harder to find that objectivity.

On the one hand, she’s a person in an unhappy marriage. True, she shouldn’t have married Gwen if she was in love with someone else to begin with. However, be that as it may, we’re dealing with the present and where she is today, what her next move should be in terms of her own happiness. If she were a patient, my advice to her would be that I can’t encourage anyone to leave their marriage, but that life is short, and happiness can be fleeting—you have to grab it where you can, or you may lose it. What decision will make her happiest in the long run?

There would be questions about the lesser of two evils and which choice would have the least severe consequences, because both choices will have consequences. Once she has weighed all of her options, then she can decide as to which choice would be best for her.

On the other hand, I know this woman. She works closely with my husband, and I want to grab her and shake her and ask her why the fuck she would do this to another person. She married Gwen hoping that Gwen would make her happiness complete when her heart was with someone else. Love is such a precious thing that I have no idea why you would do that to someone.

She’s crying and broken, and she says it’s because she hurt Gwen and she really didn’t want to do that, but I don’t know if that’s true.

It could be that she’s scared shitless to leave the familiar and branch out into the uncertain, but she can’t stay with the familiar because Gwen doesn’t want her anymore.

It could be that after she has weighed her options, she really does love Gwen and want to stay with her over this Monique girl, but that ship has sailed because Gwen doesn’t trust her anymore.

Or it could be exactly what she said—she’s hurting because she hurt Gwen and Gwen doesn’t deserve that.

Her position is not an enviable one. She’s going to suffer a loss no matter what she does. However, I sincerely have a hard time finding sympathy for cheaters. As long as she pulls her weight at GEH, that’s fine by me.

Apparently, my husband had some kind of “Come to Jesus” talk with her and Finney, much like the one that I had, but obviously more effective as Finney went scurrying from the room on a mission to be more proactive, and Ros was reduced to a slobbering, blubbering mess confessing her infidelities and the breakdown of her marriage, something that we later discover that Finney didn’t even know. None of us can really empathize with her on this as we’re all on our first marriages and have no intention of leaving.

In other news, I’m about to pull the final rug from under one ex-GEH research assistant, Ms. Deanna Corman. She is ruing the day that she crossed me and came on to my husband—in my presence, no less—she just doesn’t know how much she’s ruing it, yet. I’ve decided to let her in on the punchline today.

The last few weeks have been a bit inconvenient for Ms. Corman. Her neighborhood has been papered with her pictures and details of her little petty citations—nothing major, just embarrassing.

I procured every available billboard in the Seattle area and filled them with little factoids about her without posting a picture or mentioning her name… initials maybe, but not her name, unflattering things like:

DC will offer you a good time, then sue you if you refuse.

There’s no way that she wouldn’t know the boards were about her—information about her being a homewrecker and unemployable, things that the average person may not even figure out. However, if you see it and you know that it’s you, you assume everybody knows that it’s you.

GEH got a call about one of the billboards from some attorney. Of course, they had no idea what the guy was talking about since I paid for the billboard under an alias. Don’t worry, DC, it’s only for a couple of weeks.

Probably some of the most satisfying results were the fact that her surveillance officer informs me that she was excused from two restaurants because the fliers that I circulated somehow made it to the restaurants. I honestly don’t know how that happened, but… bonus!

She’s been refused three interviews from companies that are close to GEH and can barely get an interview anywhere since Christian damn near owns everything except the Space Needle.

There have been other tiny little inconveniences, and I’m not sure if she knows that I’m at the base of her misery. However, she’s the only one who hasn’t dropped the lawsuit against GEH. All the other plaintiffs knew a losing battle when they saw one and got out while the getting was good. Little Ms. Corman apparently wants some visibility since word got back to us that she was fired because the boss wanted her, and she was ready to reciprocate until I threatened her. Granted, this is only rumor mill—nothing in print—but if she wants attention, I’m the bitch to accommodate her.

She received long-stemmed roses at her home today stating that a certain billionaire wanted to meet with her to clear the air, inviting her to dinner in a private room at Christian’s club downtown. What she doesn’t know is that the billionaire that’s coming to clear the air is me.

I’m sure to arrive well before her so that I can enjoy my meal before she gets there—duck a l’orange with sautéed cabbage, roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes. Certain that she plans to be fashionably late, I instruct the server to wait until my guest arrives to bring her meal to the table and in the meantime, I order two chilled bottles of Cristal—one for now, and one for when she gets here. The meal is superb, and I enjoy every bite of it while waiting for my prey to arrive. Just as I’m finishing my tiramisu, the server announces that she has arrived. I nod for him to show her in. The look on her face is priceless when she clears the large velvet curtains and finds that it’s me sitting there at the table instead of Christian.

“I see that you dressed the part,” I taunt of her cocktail dress that’s not even a sneeze off her snatch. “Unfortunately, I don’t bat for that team.” She narrows her eyes.

“I don’t need this,” she says. “I’m not dealing with this.” She turns to leave.

“Oh, no, you’re going to sit your ass down or three wives will receive very unflattering pictures of you with each of their husbands, including the one who put a gun to your head last year.”

She whirls around and stares at me in disbelief. I raise a brow at her, daring her to call my bluff. Her stare changes to a glare, and she slides into the seat across from me. I gently dab the corners of my mouth and take a sip of my champagne.

“You’ve had quite the spell of bad luck over the last month,” I say, smiling. “You lost a really great job with a really reputable company, billboards announcing your extra-curricular activities, being thrown out of classy establishments, interviews refused… you’re just the happy whore of Seattle, aren’t you?”

“Says the woman who has to threaten people to keep them from fucking her man,” she says, rolling her neck. I chuckle lightly.

“But you didn’t get to fuck him, now, did you?” I say with a smile.

“I ain’t dead yet,” she shoots back.

“That can be arranged,” I retort flatly and glare at her, my eyes piercing. Her resolve shakes a bit, but she’s determined not to give me the satisfaction of seeing her sweat, but she doesn’t understand that I already have.

“You’re feeling awfully brave,” she taunts. “I could be wearing a wire.”

“For what?” I ask. “If you’re wearing one, fine. You won’t get anything you can use in court… for what? What are you going to use—the fact that you’re a hoe that comes on to other women’s husband’s and we all know it? Yes, Your Honor, I’m guilty of calling this skank ass, sleazy, tramp-ass bitch a whore! Lock me up! Throw away the key! Nasty bitch.”

“I’ve already got something,” she says. “You said my death could be arranged.”

“I didn’t say by whom,” I retort calmly. “You’re currently fucking three other women’s husbands. You’re not fucking mine. But that’s okay, because I know you’re not wearing a wire. You’re not that smart.” Her face hardens as I sip my champagne.

“I appreciate your chutzpah,” I tell her. “You’ve got to be really brave or really stupid to pretend you still have the upper hand in this matter. While I would love nothing more than to drop kick your ass off the edge of the earth, I think watching you squirm worked out a whole lot better. Keep fucking with me, little girl. You ain’t seen nothing yet.” Realization finally dawns as she realizes what I’m saying.

“All this shit was you?” she asks incredibly. “The billboards, the restaurants… all this shit was you?” I shrug playfully.

“Guilty,” I say. “It’s only slander if it’s not true.” I smile and take a bite of my tiramisu. She leaps out of her seat and gets in my face.

“I oughta kick your fucking ass right here and now!” she threatens. Chuck emerges from the shadows behind her, but she doesn’t see him.

“You go right ahead and try,” I taunt, leaning forward into her face. “By the time I’m done with you, they’ll be finding parts of you on five different continents.”

She jerks back a bit, but still doesn’t sit.

“I’m your worse fucking nightmare, bitch,” I tell her. “I’m a wife who’s madly in love with her hot husband and her happy home and you’re threatening that. But what’s more, at the very least, I’m a comfortable billionairess with a really great setup and you’re trying to muscle in on my fucking territory, and you thought I was just going to roll over and take that have you lost your fucking mind?”

I say the last part all in one breath and she still hovers over me.

“Sit. The fuck. Down.” I say threateningly, but she doesn’t, so Chuck so graciously comes from his post and not so gently helps her back to her seat. Her eyes widen when she sees him—or feels him, I should say—and she turns an incredulous glare to me.

“You ain’t shit without your security,” she says. I swallow another bite of delicious tiramisu.

“That sounds like something I heard in a movie once,” I taunt. “’You ain’t shit without that gun, are you?’ I think that’s what she said. And yet, she still didn’t fuck with the bitch with the gun.” I sip my champagne.

“Christian came on to me,” she declares, changing tact. “He’s only putting on a show for you. I’m who he really wants.”

“Oh, I believe that,” I say laughing sarcastically. “And during your pillow talk, did he tell you about the time I made him come so many times that he had to beg me to stop?”

Her eyes widen and she can’t believe I just said that.

“You bounce your little ass on their dicks, and you suck their cocks and they shoot to the moon for you and you think you’ve done something? Has even one of those fuckers left their wives for you? You’re just some hot little hole to shoot a load in—a readily available piece of ass. They leave a couple of C-notes on the nightstand for you and ‘Thanks until next time, babe.’ And if that’s what you want, then fine, you got it. But bitch, I’m a wife. I got the kids, the mansion, the cars, and the name. What’s more,” I lean in closer to her, “I’m a young, flexible, horny freak and there’s nothing I don’t do. So, while you’re spouting about the dicks you can suck and fuck, believe me, Christian Grey ain’t one of ‘em!

“Do you really think random community pussy is that powerful?” I ask her with a frown. “The man married me; I’ve had two children for him—twins, the apples of his eyes—and notwithstanding the ridiculously generous prenup that you knew nothing about, I own half his company! You’re just some little tramp trick hoebag handing it out to anybody with a couple of pennies to rub together hoping for the big windfall. What could you have possibly hoped to achieve by crossing me?

“I only did this because you pissed me off,” I say, sipping my Cristal. “You tested me, and you tried me, and you dared me to call you on your shit. Or maybe you knew I would, and you were hoping I would give you something that you could use in court.

“I didn’t even have anything to prove by doing this to you, Deanna,” I say, finishing my champagne, “nothing in the world to prove but the fact that I can. This wasn’t even a coup. This was just some little thing I did in my spare time. I was just having a good time at your personal expense. Hell, it’s only money to me. Imagine what I could do if I really put my mind to it?

“Do yourself a favor. Walk away now. We are an at-will company with a positive drug test from a sampling of your hair from a reputable global testing company. No matter what lawyer you fucked that convinced you that you can win this, you can’t win. If you feel like wasting your time and money, be my guest… sue away. You’ll be stuck in litigation for years and in the meantime, I’ll be clocking your every move, taking note of every hard-up, married thousandaire you take up with, and reminding you that the Grey reach is infinite.”

I slide a hard drive across the table to her with several pictures of her most recent escapades.

“A bit of my research,” I tell her. “You can keep that.” I stand and retrieve my purse. “Enjoy your meal. Try the duck—it’s delicious.”

I turn around and walk out of the room and Chuck falls in step behind me. I stop at the server who’s standing just outside the door.

“Pour the lady some champagne, please,” I say. “She’s extremely thirsty.”


CHRISTIAN

“Do whatever you need to do, just be safe.”

Those were my wife’s words when I left the house this evening. Things have come to a head much faster than I expected and it’s time to move forward with the rest of the plan.

During our Downtime session on Friday, she told me about her meeting with Deanna Corman, the one final holdout on the wrongful termination lawsuit. She informed me about how, without my knowledge, she single-handedly launched a smear campaign on that poor girl that was utterly merciless and completely untraceable. Her final blow was the meeting where she informed Ms. Corman—who arrived thinking that she was coming to see me—that her demise could be more than dinner talk if Ms. Corman thought for one moment that she was going to muscle in on my wife’s cushy lifestyle.

That was a gangster move.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I thought it time to tell her my plans for our not-so-favorite author and her clan of unmerry men and women. After all, it was she who told me that I had better do something about the Pedophile or she would. I couldn’t let that happen.

I let her in on the things that were happening to Holstein—the box of live rats, the cliché cement shoes, and the plans I had for him this weekend. There was no use in drawing out the situation once I got the word that everything needed for Ms. Ellison had been done and secured. She’s really the big fish, because she’s got the pen.

“But what about Elena?” Pussycat had asked. “She has the original story. What’s to stop her from hiring another ghost writer? It’ll obviously be difficult, but from what you say, the warden won’t even be a factor anymore. She can just convince the new warden that she has the story of a lifetime and we’re back where we started from.”

I love my little Pussycat Butterfly, but she obviously underestimated my ability to tie up loose ends. I informed her about the Pedophile’s little accident and the fact that they’ll be culminating in a finale that Mrs. Lincoln won’t soon forget.

Our arrival at GEH on Monday morning was epic. The lobby was filled with the usual morning chatter until Mr. and Mrs. Grey showed up. My wife has been wearing these amazing power outfits and Monday was no different. She came breezing through the lobby in a gray sleeveless pencil dress cut right above the knee with a matching tailored gray blazer, sporting a pair of classic black Louboutin sky-highs and her signature Jackie O’s. She strode through that hallway with all the class, style, and power of the perfect CEO and I’m certain that the silence that ensued was just as much for her presence as it was for mine, if not more.

That morning, the power wife went off to her meetings with Lorenz in tow and I got updates on Project Alcatraz.

The Pedophile has been spending quite a bit of time in the infirmary—broken ribs, sprained ankle, and most recently, a strange bout with what appears to be food poisoning. Funny that she’s the only one who got it. She even suffered from a really bad forced haircut, which resulted in nearly all of her hair being cut off by the barber so that she didn’t look completely ridiculous.

Even the poor little smart-mouthed receptionist has been getting her due. For several consecutive days, gifts have been arriving at her home precisely when her husband is present and she’s not. That wasn’t very easy to pull off since there’s only a small window between the time that he gets home from work and the time that she gets home from work. Apparently, however, it worked… a little too well.

Coupled with the gifts, there’s been a gentleman perched across the street from her house… just watching, nothing else. He was conspicuous, meant for her and her husband to see. Mr. Receptionist could obviously be seen pointing at the guy one day and demanding that she tell him who the guy was, especially in light of all the gifts she had been receiving. She disappeared into the house with her husband while they were still arguing.

Apparently, she emerged Monday morning wearing sunglasses and looking like she had been through Armageddon. Sources at the prison informed us that the fucker has battered her… badly. She wouldn’t make a police report as, with everything going on, she knew the situation with her and with the warden were somehow related. She just didn’t know how.

I felt more than a tad guilty as I was only trying to cause a bit of inconvenience for her. I didn’t expect it to go this far. Hell, I don’t know what I expected. Nonetheless, Operation Receptionist halted immediately, and an anonymous call was placed to the police regarding how she showed up to work on Monday morning and requesting a wellness check at her home. No word yet on how that turned out.

However, the biggest news of the weekend was all about the warden. He fell prey to a harmless drug that knocked him out and landed him in a very compromising position—a position that landed on the front page of nearly every available news outlet on Monday morning. I say nearly every news outlet because some of them are unable to show the pictures due to their graphic nature, although the local morning shows took the liberty of blurring out the good parts while reporting the breaking news.

Supposedly, the good warden bats for the same team and was photographed in very compromising positions with what is revealed to be a gay, male hooker. Of course, the warden didn’t show up for work Monday or today with the press following him around, and with good reason. However, he probably should have been more careful where he parked his car.

This morning, armed with a search warrant based on an anonymous tip supposedly from the gentleman friend that he spent the night with, the police raided Holstein’s car and found four kilos of coke, an undetermined amount of meth, and an illegal firearm. My team takes credit for the gun; the drugs were a bonus. Apparently, the good warden was into a lot more than I thought he was.

So, with the warden completely out of the way and everything in place for this bug that keeps buzzing up my ass in the most lethal ways, I’ve informed my wife that the final steps are in place to assure that the Pedophile’s book never gets published, and that the skank that keeps inserting herself into our lives is not able to do it again. She knows how far I’ll go to protect my family, but this is bigger than just my family. This is decades and decades of young boys who have been victimized by that sick bitch, and now both these unscrupulous cows are trying to find a way to capitalize on her wretched behavior. I can survive the shit she might throw at me. There are several others out there who may not.

Thus, my wife’s warning to be safe.

We’re in one of the Fords tonight when Jason pulls up to yet another warehouse. We’re in all black again, both strapped with our Glocks and ready for any eventuality—very James Bond/Mission Impossible… quite fitting since this bitch has the disguise ability of Ethan Hunt.

She’s going to wish she hadn’t used it tonight.

A private text to her “Dom” phone requested her presence at a secluded location in an adequate disguise so as not to be recognized. She was then abducted in the old-fashioned manner and transported to this warehouse at approximately 10:00pm. Alex called me on our burners to tell me that she was in position, and I let her stew for an hour or so. When Jason and I arrive at the warehouse, she’s naked, duct-taped to a chair and gagged. A look of sheer horror comes over her face when she sees me enter the room.

“Wanted a little eye-candy, did you?” I ask Alex. He shrugs.

“That was a bonus,” he says. “I had to make sure that she wasn’t wired.”

“Where are her clothes?” I ask.

“In her car,” he says.

“And her car?” I press. “Did anybody leave any DNA behind?” Alex scoffs.

“Probably, but good luck finding it,” he says matter-of-factly. “That DNA and her bald man costume have both been thoroughly burned along with her car—down to the frame—which is now being deposited into a very large, but obscure, body of water as we speak.” I nod and turn to a trembling Ms. Ellison.

“And we meet again,” I say as I move to stand in front of her. “I’m dying to know what she told you that made you think I couldn’t get to you.”

“Here’s what I really don’t understand. You know that you’re playing with fire and you know who holds the torch. How can you not expect me to come at you with every incendiary device in my arsenal? My complacency has cost me way too much already and I refuse to allow myself, my family, or any of these other people that she has hurt become collateral damage on your twisted road to recognition. I’m going to put this matter to bed once and for all, and it’s never going to rise again.”

I can see her screwing up her courage for one last stand. Good. That’s what I want. In your final attempt to save your life, you’re going to tell me all your fucking secrets.

“Ms. Ellison, I’m not going to snap your wrist this time. I’m going to snap your fucking neck, and I’m going to enjoy it, if you don’t answer every fucking question I ask you quickly and truthfully.”

“Oh, you need information,” she says. “So, without my cooperation, you don’t get what you need. That’s quite the predicament.” She sounds so confident. I just laugh.

“Impressive,” I say, turning to Alex. “She’s duct-taped to a chair, surrounded by four men—any one of which could put a bullet in her ass right now and not care—and she still thinks she has the upper hand.”

“I may not have the upper hand,” she says, her voice trembling, “but there are other people involved, other people with things at stake, and they’ll see to it that the book is published, even if I don’t do it!” I’m unmoved. I turn back to her.

“Well, then, what good are you to me?” I ask, callously. “I could just get rid of you right now and move on to the others, right?” Fear clouds her eyes and she tries to speak, but nothing comes out.

“Is that what you’re looking for?” I add, with my hands extended in a shrugging manner. “You want a legacy? Because if I fuck you up right now, or I turn you over to any of these powerful, crazy motherfuckers you’ve named in that book, that’s all that’s going to be left—your legacy, which will most likely be worthless, because no one will be around willing to cosign this crud that you’re trying to print.

“Do you think I’m the only one looking for the total decimation of this bullshit? Do you think I’m the only one that knows you’re the fucking ghost writer, BD Simmons? Do you have any idea how easy it was to find your ass? You weren’t even creative! A civilian found you—a vanilla civilian at that! I gave your powers of stealth way too much credit, but I underestimated you at the same time. That’s something I don’t intend to do again.

“Oh, and don’t think she’s going to walk away from this either,” I taunt. “Why do you think you haven’t seen her for weeks?” I smile fiendishly.

“So, we’re going to try this again, and I’m going to hope—for your sake—that you want to keep your miserable fucking life and that you’re going to tell me everything that I want and need to know about everyone involved in this endeavor so that I don’t have to waste precious time looking for answers. Now…” I crouch down in front of her and rest my elbows on my knees.

“The difference between me and you is that I’ve got time. You, on the other hand, are not leaving this room. I don’t care if you eat; I don’t care if you sleep; I don’t care if your shit blocks up in your ass and comes out of your fucking throat. I and my friends are going to ask you questions which you are going to answer and then we’re going to check the validity of your answers. Each time you lie or fail to tell us everything, we’re going to break a finger. If too much time passes and we can’t validate what you’re telling us, we’re going to break a finger. When we run out of fingers, we’ll move to your toes. But my dear, when you run out of toes, you run out of time.

“With or without you, I will look under every rock in every slimy, sleazy slum of the country and I will turn over every diamond in every mansion of every billionaire who ever breathed to discover who all has a hand in this. If you’re writing her story true to tale, you already know that she’s most likely molested dozens of young boys, myself included. Whatever dirt or harm can be done to me by that book, I can recover, but all those other boys… their families, my children… you don’t give a fuck and neither does she. I have nothing at all to lose, Ms. Ellison, so let’s begin, shall we?”

I step away from her and remove my jacket, tossing it to Alex and revealing my Glock and harness. I grab a nearby chair and turn it backwards. I sit down and lean my arms on the back of it, glaring at her the entire time. I don’t think I saw this much fear in the eyes of the hackers when we questioned them.

An hour later, I have more information from this lying cunt than I ever thought I’d get. Alex immediately dispatches teams and special ops to verify her information. The faster we can get this thing laid to rest with the least amount of people knowing, the better. As it turns out, the Pedophile convinced the Cunt that less was more, too. So, no one had intimate details of the book except for the two of them. That was a condition of the publishing because although it could be leaked that a book was being written, had any of the details of the book leaked, the book would be worthless.

We already knew that the warden was in on the process. We just didn’t know how deep in he was. Basically, all he did was arrange special meetings for them and the passage of information. According to her, he’s pretty clueless, too. We’ll see.

I’m sitting in front of her glaring at her with a pair of vice grips in my hand when Jason walks into the room. He’s completely undercover. He looks like a member of the SWAT team. He wasn’t this incognito when we were dealing with Dodd and his crew. He looks down at the vice grips in my hand and back up at me. It’s no surprise why I have them. If this cunt lies to me, I’m going to be the first to break one of her fingers.

“The coast is clear?” I ask.

“Yes, sir,” he seethes, glaring at Ellison sitting naked in the chair.

“You okay?” I ask cautiously. He turns his gaze back to me.

“I’m trying to remember that I don’t hit women, sir,” Jason says, his voice menacingly low.

“Don’t worry,” I say, holding up the vice grips. “Maybe she’ll lose a finger.” He’s still glaring at her.

“I said I don’t hit women, sir,” he says. He marches over to the cunt and backhands her—hard! So hard that I damn near hear her neck snap and she cries out from the pain. When she raises her head, she’s spitting blood.

“Thieving, lying accessories to attempted murder… yeah, I can hit them just fine!” he hisses before turning back to me.

“We weren’t followed,” he informs me. “Her bank account has been cleaned out as has her safe deposit box earlier today. Her apartment is being cleaned as we speak.” She frowns, no doubt wondering what we’re talking about. I’ll tell her… when it’s time.

It’s about 2am as all the information Ellison has given us starts to flood into the warehouse—hard copies of pieces of the manuscript; research and data on all of her electronic resources. However, we did find a link to the cloud and to her storage there where she backed up most of her documentation, notes, outlines and draftsstorage that she failed to disclose.

I suppose she doesn’t need that index finger.

Once she’s finished screaming from the pain and is coherent enough to realize that I would gladly make good on my prior threats, she gives up four more cloud storage locations that contained more pictures, names, and information.

Good God in heaven. This crazy bitch has been fucking little boys from even further back than I thought. Her penchant for the underage was honed in Amsterdam when she was living with her sick aunt—and it never stopped. She was fucking kids even before she married Linc, and it never stopped. The more information that streams into our databases, the more horrified I become. I turn angry, disgusted eyes to this bleeding bitch taped to the chair.

“You knew,” I say, my stomach churning and my frown deep. “How long did you know?”

She’s weeping, unable to answer my question. Her lip and cheek have swollen from when Jason backhanded her. We just heard about the book late last year. She has an unbelievable amount of research on an insane amount of people. The carnage this book could have caused is immeasurable. I can’t see her just finding out only a few months ago that Elena was a pedophile and then accumulating this much information in that period of time. I can’t even see her being able to swallow that realization in just a few months—not even a horrible, conniving bitch like her!

She had some time to process this… to absorb this. I don’t know how long she knew, but this bitch knew! How could you even associate yourself with someone like that? She fucking knew!

Before I even realize what I’m doing, a size 11 ½ black hiking boot is planted squarely between this bitch’s tits, and she and the entire chair go flying into the air, landing several feet behind her with a loud thud. She shrieks in pain and I think she may have hit her head.

“You’ve secured any and all copies of that manuscript?” I ask Alex through gritted teeth.

“All the ones that we could find,” he says. “Manuscripts and notes—the outlines are very detailed… you should know that they have real names in them, including yours.” I shake my head. Retrieving the vice grips, I march over and roll the cunt in the chair over to her side to gain access to her hands again and firmly grip her next finger in the teeth of the tool. She cries out in pain.

“Is there anything else?” I growl. “You lie to me this time and I swear to God, I’m not going to stop when I hear the bone break!”

“No!” she screams. “No! I swear to God! There’s nothing else! I told you everything! Google, Dropbox…” and she just starts naming off all of her cloud storages, all of her data backups, hiding places for manuscripts in case we may have forgotten something, even confessing that there were drives and documents hiding in the car, which Alex assures me is a charred frame at the bottom of the ocean.

“You dumped it in the ocean?” I ask in horror. “That’s not a secluded body of water.”

“Are you aware of every bank, beach, tributary or coast that feeds into the Pacific Ocean?” he asks, flatly. No… no, I’m not.

“Duly noted,” I say. I turn back to Greta fucking Ellison.

“Tape her mouth,” I instruct. “Well! I’ve heard enough.”

She struggles uselessly, crying as two of the guys wrap tape around her mouth several times. I stand in front of her, looking down at her one last time.

“I told you that you would regret fucking with me. You didn’t believe me. I let you go once. I won’t make that mistake twice.” Her eyes widen and she’s trying to say something through her gag. I think it’s “please.” I don’t care to hear it.

“Instructions, sir?” Alex asks.

“Get her out of my sight and make sure that she doesn’t come back,” I reply, watching Ellison’s face pale to nearly white under her duct tape gag.

“You’re certain, sir?” Alex asks again. I turn to him.

“I was almost killed because of this woman,” I say through my teeth. “My personal bodyguard and best friend took a bullet that was meant for me from a gun that she stole and gave to the assailant.” I turn to Ellison. “I confront her thieving, conspiring ass with my evidence and she scoffed at me—through her grimace, that is, since I was trying to break her fucking wrist. In my kindness—or naiveté, take your pick—I warned her and let her leave that place in one piece and what does she do? She conspires with that murderous, pedophile bitch once again to ruin my life and quite possibly the lives of countless other people.

“Even behind bars, that bitch is a pestilence—a disease—and you want to give her a fucking voice, the most powerful voice of all…  a goddamn book. You’re as bad as she is. In fact, you’re worse, because you keep fucking going and you think you can’t be punished. Well, you can rest assured, BD Simmons, that after today, she’s going to be silenced and so will you.”

Tears form in her eyes and she begins to sob behind her gag. Sorry, cunt, I feel no sympathy for bitches who conspire to kill and destroy me. I turn back to Alex.

“If you’re asking if I want her to die, I don’t—but I don’t fucking want to see her again… ever.” Alex nods.

“You and Jason leave now, sir,” he says. “Plausible deniability.” I nod.

“I get it,” I say, grabbing my jacket and taking one final look at a terrified Greta Ellison. I turn back to Alex.

“Ever!” I reinforce before leaving the warehouse.

Jason drives us to another location, yet another of GEH’s obscure acquisitions. I see the Audi parked there along with who I assume is another member of Alex’s black ops team. Apparently, he’s somehow gotten clearance to get these guys without Colostomy’s help, because he said nothing about having to contact him for this mission.

“I need you to come inside, sir,” Jason says, and I follow him into the building with the black ops guy behind us carrying a bag. We enter the building and ride up the elevator to a secured loft.

“I need your clothes,” Jason says. He’s right. That bitch’s blood, tears, and DNA are probably all over me. “You can shower in there.”

I strip right there in front of Jason and the stranger and march to the shower to scrub away any evidence. When I come back, Jason has already showered and changed and is handing me a pair of boxer briefs.

“What about her?” I ask as I step into my underwear. “Won’t my DNA be all over her?”

“I’m assured that it’ll be taken care of, sir,” he says. “Plausible deniability.” I nod and continue to get dressed.

Once I’m clothed, we leave the loft. Off in the distance, I see our other black ops guy with a fire blazing in front of him. Jason signals to him and he nods before we get into the Audi and drive home.

The dawn is breaking when we get to Mercer Island. Everything all around us is proceeding as normal. No one looks at us like we’ve most likely made one woman disappear and will later be responsible for the incapacitation of another. And you know what?

I don’t care one bit.

It’s surprising how one can turn into a totally vicious and lethal animal when it comes down to survival. I totally believed my wife when she said that I had better take care of this or she would, and I wasn’t going to let her get her hands dirty with this shit. If the justice system can’t do their job of keeping this bitch on a leash, then I will. Holstein’s out, Ellison’s gone, and now it’s Lincoln’s turn. Just as I’m thinking about the bitch and how soon we’ll be putting our plan into action, Jason informs me as we’re walking into the mudroom…

“It’s flu season, sir.” I purse my lips and nod.

“That it is,” I say knowingly while removing my boots.

Butterfly is still wide awake when I come into the room. I knew she wouldn’t be able to rest until I returned. She makes eye-contact with me but says nothing until I remove my clothes.

Do we sleep now? Do we talk? Do we eat something, because I’m starving!

“Um…” She’s just as lost as I am. “How did it go?” I guess that’s a safe enough question under the circumstances.

“Nobody’s dead,” I say, pulling on a pair of sweatpants and sitting on the bed next to her, “except the book, and it won’t be back.” She moves behind me and leans her chin on my shoulder, gently rubbing my arms.

“That’s all I need to know,” she says, with a kiss on my shoulder. “I think we’ve earned a day off, don’t you?” I sigh heavily, feeling the weight of the world lifting off my back.

“I think you’re right.”


LINCOLN

I’m back in the hole. Why the hell am I back in the hole? I didn’t even do anything! But these fuckers dragged me straight from the infirmary to the hole. I’m really beginning to worry now. Where the hell is Ron? And why the fuck hasn’t Greta contacted me? I haven’t heard anything.

Things were pretty good for a long time. Sure, I had Christian’s threat about his precious wife and their ridiculous little family. Twins… talk about over-achieving. It’s not enough the bitch gets herself knocked up as soon as they get married. No, she has to spit out two at once! That’s probably how she got him to marry her in the first place. He was having second thoughts—I know he was. That’s why the little cunt ran off to Montana. Had it not been for that damn restraining order, I could have gotten him a suitable submissive and this never would have happened.

But no, almost seven months to the day they got married, she spits out twins. She was pregnant when they got married. She trapped him and he was too stricken to even see it.

Now, I’m in this place and I’m afraid to walk around out there anymore. My skin is saggy, and my body is starting to ache everywhere, and not just from these stupid accidents either… if that’s what they really are. At least in here I’m not getting randomly thrown against walls or tossed down the stairs. Jesus, I don’t know how much more of that my body could take.

Ron was providing my dye jobs—not the flaxen blonde I’m accustomed to, but a strawberry blonde. Anything’s better than this dull brown, which is showing again at the roots, by the way. This is becoming utterly ridiculous! I want some fucking answers.

“I want to see the warden,” I tell the guard when he brings my dinner. “I have a right to see him and I want to see him!” He smiles.

“You want to see the warden?” He smirks. “I’ll send word up right away that you want to see the warden.”

He raises a brow at me and leaves the cell. He’s probably bullshitting me. He’s not going to tell Ron that I want to see him. Nobody else has. I shake my head, sit on my bed, and eat my dinner.

A while after I’ve finished my meal, I hear the guard coming back down the hallway.

“Hands, Lincoln,” she says. Okay, they must be taking me to see Ron. Finally! I can find out what the hell is going on!

I stick my hands out of the small square and the guard shackles me.

“You know the drill,” she says, “other end of the cell.” She watches me through the small square as I walk to the far end of the cell. When she opens the door, she steps in with another female guard and a third woman dressed in a suit.

Who is this, the prisoner liaison? Where the fuck is Ron?

“Elena Lincoln, prisoner number 582625, ma’am,” the guard says. Ma’am? What the fuck?

“Lincoln,” the woman says. “I’m informed that you desperately needed to see me.” You were?

“Who are you?” I ask, bemused. She raises her brow.

“I’m Sylvia Mumford,” she says. “I’m the new warden.”

New warden! Fuck me!

“You asked to see me, Mrs. Lincoln?” she says, her voice impatient. Shit, what the fuck do I say?

“What… what happened to R… Mr. Holstein?” I ask.

“Mr. Holstein is no longer with the Department of Corrections… well, not in an official capacity anyway.” The guards chuckle behind her and she throws a look over her shoulder, not even making eye-contact with them, and the bitches stop laughing. Hell, I need her on my side. How to do that?

“Mr. Holstein was arrested and taken into custody, and thus, relieved of his duties.” I bite the inside of my lip. “Is that what you wanted to know, or did you want something else?”

“Well… yes,” I stutter. “I want to know why I’m in the hole,” I ask. I at least need to know that much. She turns to the guards.

“Why is she in the hole?” she asks.

“Lincoln’s been getting into a lot of fights on the tier lately. We’re not sure why,” one of the guards say. “The first couple of times, the detail just says that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nobody seems to know why she was pushed down the stairs,  and McCooley used her body as a ping-pong ball the other day. We don’t know what brought that on either.”

Mumford takes a closer look at me and frowns.

“How long have you been incarcerated?” she asks.

“Nearly two years from the first date of my arrest,” I reply. What does that have to do with anything?

“You’ve been here for almost two years, and you’ve got brown roots?” the new warden inquires. Oh, shit. How do I explain this?

“I… got a beauty day for good behavior,” I excuse. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

“Good behavior,” she says, incredulously. “You’re literally bouncing off of walls and you got a beauty day for good behavior? And a beauty day includes a wash and trim, a manicure and pedicure, maybe a clear polish if you’re lucky. A beauty day does not include toxic dyeing chemicals that are prohibited in the prison.”

“I…” I don’t have an explanation for her.

“Well, that stops now,” she says. “Some things are going to change around here. I run a tight ship, and there will be no special favors anymore. I will, however, find out why you’re in the hole. What are you in for?” Oh, shit, here we go.

“Attempted murder,” I say, leaving off the rest. She shrugs.

“Well, that’s big for the justice system, but not so bad for the prison system. Have you made any enemies? I would think not since you got that whole beauty day.” Now, she’s mocking me.

“Um, warden,” one of the guards says, “Lincoln may very well have several enemies. She might be in here for her own protection.”

“Oh?” she says, turning back to me. “How so?”

“She’s not just here for attempted murder. There are probably several women on the tier that wouldn’t mind… a few moments alone with her.”

“Like whom?” Mumford asks.

“Like every mother on the block,” the guard replies. “Aunties, sisters, even cousins…”

“Spit it out, Redford. Why is she here?” Mumford says impatiently. “Did she try to kill a kid?”

“No, but she’s done some other things,” Redford says. “She’s doing 25 years for child pornography, statutory rape, and molestation.” The warden’s eyes widen.

“Twenty-five years!” she says, appalled. “Good God, 25 years? What the fuck did you do?” she says, throwing a glare back at me.

“Apparently a whole lot,” Redford says, when I take too long to answer, “to a whole bunch of boys… for a long time. She pled to the 25 years. Our only guess is that sometimes the block simmers down and leaves her alone and other times, they’ve got it in for her. She’s been on the bad end of quite a few mishaps over the last month or so.” Mumford’s brow furrows in contemplation.

“Lincoln,” she says. “That name is familiar to me…”

“She was all over the news for her trial…”Redford says. Mumford ponders a while longer before a look of realization comes over her face. Oh, shit. I’m screwed.

“And she’s all over the news now!” the warden says. “The word is that you’re writing an exposé about your encounters—about your crimes!” I swallow hard and clear my throat.

“I’m writing a memoir…” I excuse.

“About your encounters!” Mumford accuses. “How is that even possible? The law says that you can’t profit from your crimes!”

“I’m only writing about my life!” I defend. “And I’m using a ghostwriter, whom I haven’t been able to speak to in weeks.”

“You shouldn’t have been able to speak to them at all!” she declares. “This is preposterous! Who would authorize…?”

She trails off and her eyes widen again. I can see the nickels dropping left and right. There goes my book; there goes my privileges; there goes my protection; there goes everything. The warden turns her gaze from me and back to the guards.

“Does the population know about this?” she asks, completely ignoring me.

“About…?” the other guard asks for clarification.

“That she’s writing a book!” the warden barks. “That she’s planning on exploiting her crimes and these children that she raped and their families for personal gain!”

Goddammit!

“Um, I don’t know, ma’am,” Redford says. “Usually if something like that is in the prison population, we would know.”

“Oh, give it time,” Mumford says, angrily. “It’s probably only on the gossip rags and tabloids, but don’t worry. It’ll be on the regular news in no time, especially with Holstein’s recent arrest. It only broke on the dark news over the last couple of months. It’s my job to know these things. You’re prison guards in a maximum-security facility. It’s your job to know it, too.” She turns to me.

“The bad news, Mrs. Lincoln, is that you won’t be leaving solitary confinement for a while. The good news is that this is probably the safest place in the prison for you to be. No matter your crime, it’s my job to ensure your safety, and that’s what I intend to do. In the interest of the greater good, this is where you’ll be staying for a while until I can get to the bottom of just how far this goes. And you don’t have to tell me; I know that Holstein was in on something. You’ve had a ghostwriter coming to visit you and you’ve got blonde hair, for Christ’s sake!”

The bitch does a military turn and walks out of the cell. I’m waiting to hear the cell door close so they can remove these damn cuffs when I hear her talking to someone in the hallway instead.

“What’s that? Who’s it for?” she asks.

“Lincoln,” I hear someone say. “She didn’t get a flu shot before she left the infirmary.”

“It’s January!” Mumford exclaims. “She should have gotten a flu shot months ago.”

“I don’t know, ma’am, but her chart shows that she hasn’t gotten one,” comes the reply. I thought I already had a flu shot. I don’t know anymore. I’ve got bigger problems. What the hell am I going to do now? I’m totally cut off from everything! This is a disaster!

“She may not even need it now,” the warden says sarcastically. “I guess we don’t want any of the staff getting sick. Go on and give it to her,” I hear her say as her voice disappears down the hall. The cell door opens again and two nurses and another guard walk in—a guy I’ve never seen before.

“I’ll take it from here,” he tells the other two guards, and they leave.

“Have a seat, Lincoln,” one of the nurses says as she puts on her rubber gloves. I sigh and sit down. I have to stay in here. Granted, I’d rather be here than on the tier where they want to kick my ass regularly, but I was on my way out of here to an easier block. Minimum security, Ron promised me. All those times I sucked his tiny dick and let him come on my face, promised him the lion’s share of the profits from my book, and it got me nothing! It landed me here and now he’s in jail, too.

“Ah!” I say after the needle goes in and the vaccine is injected. “Shit, is it supposed to burn like that?”

“You might be having an adverse reaction to it,” the nurse says nonchalantly. She removes the needle and puts a cotton ball on my arm with a bandage.

“Shit, that really burns,” I say again. I don’t ever remember a flu shot burning like that.

“Aaaww, poor wittle baby don’t like da needle?” the other nurse teases, and the guard laughs. I roll my eyes at her. Bitch.

I suddenly feel heavy all over, like the weight of Atlas is on my back. This shit really sucks. I was this close—this close—to a cushier setup, to more privileges, to blowing the lid off of what would be the biggest scandal greater Seattle had ever seen, and what happens? Holstein gets arrested and Greta fucking disappears. She probably got word that Holstein got nabbed and ran for the hills. I could have fixed this… even without Holstein.

My head feels like a brick… really feels like a brick. I’m trying to focus and I’m suddenly seeing double.

“Thomtis wong…” Huh? The second nurse turns to look at me.

I can’t see straight, something’s wrong. That’s what I’m trying to say, but it comes out more like “Thatha fee som…”

“What the hell…” The second nurse is trying to lay me down on the bed, but it just looks like the room is spinning. The guard just stands there looking at me, while the first nurse calmly says, “Radio the infirmary. Tell ‘em we need a stretcher in the hole.”

She’s awfully fucking calm while I’m losing the ability to move my limbs.

“Mrs. Lincoln,” the second nurse says. “Mrs. Lincoln, can you hear me?”

Her voice is fading down a long tunnel, as is her face…

*-*

I open my eyes in a well-lighted room. I’m lying on my back and my head is elevated. I can’t move. I must be restrained, but I can’t move anything. My throat feels like sandpaper and I can’t even swallow. I can focus a bit and there’s someone sitting next to my bed… another nurse. I’m back in the infirmary.

I’m thirsty.

I’m thinking the words, but I’m so damn weak, I can’t even form them to come out of my mouth.

I’m thirsty.

Wait a minute…

I’m thirsty.

Wait a fucking minute. I’m fucking talking and nothing’s coming out! And I can’t move! Anything! Not my head, not my hands, nothing! What the hell is going on?

Hey, fucking nurse lady! Look over here! I can’t fucking move.

It takes an eternity, a literal eternity, but she finally looks over at me.

“Ah, Mrs. Lincoln, you’re awake,” she says in a pleasant voice. I look at her with frightened, beseeching eyes.

What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I talk or move?

“Give me just a minute, okay?” she says. She gets up and walks to the door, looks up and down the hallway, then closes the door and walks back over to me.

“Now, listen to me carefully, Sunshine,” she says, her smile wide. “Right now, you can’t talk. You’re going to hallucinate. You may even have a nightmare or two. You can’t walk; you’re going to be very dizzy very often; and unfortunately, there’s some vomiting and incontinence in your future. You’re having all of the symptoms of an acute cerebrovascular accident, or in laymen’s terms, a sudden stroke. However, Mrs. Lincoln, this was no accident.”

I think my eyes widen when I look at her. At least, that’s what they did in my mind. I know one thing for certain—I’m drooling, because she’s wiping my mouth.

“You’ve been diagnosed with a stroke. There’s no reason to believe otherwise, and there’s no reason to look for anything else. Now, I and my team are going to be in charge of your care, and we’ll take really good care of you. This condition could be permanent, or it could be temporary, but no matter what happens, when and if you come out of it enough to form words, you’ll never be the same again. You’ll probably be in a wheelchair and most of your thoughts will just be considered the ramblings of a delusional old woman. Knowing that, I can tell you this.” She leans closer to my face.

“I know you’re completely cognizant. I know that you can understand every word that I’m saying, so listen to me carefully. You’ve pissed off some really powerful people, and they want you to shut the fuck up. That flu shot that you got a few days ago… wasn’t a flu shot. It’s a little substance that mimics a stroke if it’s ingested or absorbed and it’s completely traceable—if you know to look for it.

“There’s only been about a dozen cases of poisoning from this substance and to my knowledge, only one of them resulted in death. That’s because it was ingested purposely and in a large quantity to bring about a suicide. That’s not what’s happening to you, however, Mrs. Lincoln.”

What the fuck is happening to me then? In my mind, I’m yelling, but there’s no sound in the room except the voice of this wretched woman apparently describing my fate.

“The people you pissed off want you to know that you pissed them off. They also know that you know who they are, so I don’t have to name them for you. You’re in this current state of purgatory because you need to think about what you’ve done. You’ve spent most of your life taking advantage of people, and once you were caught, you were determined to make your victims pay for your mistakes. The penal system may mostly be for punishment, but it’s also for rehabilitation. It’s a time to reflect on your mistakes and see if there’s some way that you can give back while repaying your debt to society. You weren’t doing either.

“Now, I don’t want you to take this personally. I’m just doing my job. My job is to care for you and keep you alive, but it takes a cold person to take an oath to care for people and watch them suffer at the same time. I am that person, Mrs. Lincoln. You’re not my first or only case like this, and you won’t be my last. This is what I do, and I and my team are well paid for it. So, here’s the deal.

“I’ve done my research on you. I know exactly why you’re here. I’ve read your story and I’ve seen your trial. I’ve got three children, Mrs. Lincoln—all boys. The youngest is 18. At any given time, my boys could have been one of your victims. I don’t feel any sympathy for you. I’m taking care of you because I’m being paid to do it. This experience is going to depend solely on you. It can last for six months, or it can last until I retire and pass the baton on to someone else. Either way, you’re going to be so screwed up when the fog somewhat clears that nobody will ever believe we had this conversation, and somebody will always have to take care of you.”

Dear God, this is not happening. This is fucking not happening. I can’t say anything; I can’t move; and this bitch is sitting here taunting me about how my life is in her hands! She can drag this out as long as she wants—as long as they want, and she’s already told me that this drug that they’re using on me can kill me. Oh, God, I know I’ve done some terrible things, but I don’t deserve this…

“Now, that look,” she says, pointing to me, “that’s a dangerous look, Mrs. Lincoln. That look, where your pupils constrict that way and your eyes sharpen, that look is telling me that you want to fucking choke me.” She smiles, because she knows that she’s right. “You’re going to want to control that urge, because I can hurt you in ways that don’t leave bruises.”

I’m doomed. I’m fucking doomed.

“That’s more like it,” she says.

The bitch can read my expressions. My eyes are the only things that move right now, and the bitch can read my fucking expressions.

“Now, in the next few days, you’re going to be moved to minimum security, where we can keep a closer eye on you, and assist in your rehabilitation and recovery. You’re trapped in your own mind, Mrs. Lincoln, so I suggest that you do what I said and take this time to reflect on your life and your mistakes, because right now, that’s all you have is your memories.”

The bitch smiles at me again and leaves me alone in my room. Whatever drug they’re giving me, I can’t even form the tears to cry. I wish I could die right now. I really wish I could die and just end all this. My best years are well behind me and everything I could possibly look forward to is gone.

I know Christian is a part of this if he didn’t engineer the whole thing by himself. But she said I pissed off powerful people, so there has to be some others in on this, too. Did Greta sell me out? Did all my clients and prior pets gang up on me? It can’t be a coincidence that Ron gets arrested and I get ambushed. Or is Greta going to write and sell the book without me? She’s got all the information—is that her plan?

Who cares? Who fucking cares now? Greta’s not going to sell that book. The people in that book are the reason that I’m in the situation I’m in now. Greta’s risking everything if she still tries to publish that book. She has probably met the same fate that I have if not worse… if they found out who she is.

A prisoner in my own mind… indeed. I only have my memories to keep me company until I go insane from the solitude, my only companions being the tormentors paid to keep me in this state. I close my eyes and try to remember a happier time. It’s the only thing that’s going to keep me sane…

Of course, I think of Christian… the day Grace brought him to me to hopefully straighten him out. He was a beautiful, beautiful boy with a gorgeous body. I enjoyed breaking him in and teaching him so much. He’s the only one who ever warmed my heart…

Young Christian in Elena's head in S5 E5

Behind my eyelids, I see a flash of light, and suddenly, I’m in the courtroom. It’s the day of my verdict, and that gorgeous boy is standing at the podium. He’s not the impressive, strong, virile man I last saw here in the visitation room. No, he’s that well-built, spry, angry young boy I met all those years ago. He’s glaring at me—sharp, gray eyes pierce me under a mop of unruly dark reddish-brown hair. He opens his mouth and he speaks… the same words he said to me that day that broke my heart. I never forgot those words, and he’s speaking them now… my favorite pet…

“I hope you rot! I hope that your evil festers in you and boils you from the inside out every day of your miserable life. I hope you live a long, long life of pain, suffering, and unhappiness. I hope your days from now on are filled with nothing but hopelessness, misery, and despair.”

I release a mourning, animalistic wail from my soul that I’m sure shakes the foundations of the earth, only… I’m the only one who can hear it. No sound is coming from me, and I can’t even have the cleansing cry that I need to lighten the burden on my heart.

I’m in hell. I’m really, truly in hell, and there’s no escape…

I finally see it. It’s really true what they say. Karma’s a real fucking bitch.


A/N: This was a very refreshing chapter to write. Payback all around… 

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 72—Searching for Blue Skies

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 72—Searching for Blue Skies

ANASTASIA

I haven’t been at the Center all week. It may be a bit selfish of me, but I just can’t reconcile myself to making executive decisions or putting in a year’s worth—or more—of work on a project just to have my work, expertise, decisions, and opinions dismissed and disregarded because I’m not the number-one-head-honcho. I don’t have a problem relenting when my idea may not be the best one or with taking orders, being a team player, or taking one for the team. Hell, trying not to rock the boat with Liam caused me to keep my guard down and not cut him off at the knees like I would have done anybody else who came on to me, and look what the hell happened there!

Courtney hasn’t called me either and that makes me feel like she’s certain that I betrayed her trust and set up a meeting between her and Addie. That pisses me off to no end considering all the time and effort she and I both put into building the relationship that we had.

I feel crappy getting Ebony into the Center and just disappearing like a specter in the night, but every time I think about going into the Center, I see Grace’s cocky smirk looking back at me outside of my office door. I don’t think anything felt more like a betrayal than her standing there with that smug expression on her face like she was right all along, and I was supposed to bow to her knowledge and wisdom. I’ve decided that if she can preserve herself from having one of her “episodes,” I need to exercise a little self-preservation as well and avoid any attacks of PTSD—or just the desire to punch my all-knowing-all-seeing mother-in-law and boss in the nose.

I know that I can’t avoid my responsibilities and commitments. However, when I awake in the morning, I go straight to the empty play area and do my yoga. Then I shower and dress in yet another pair of yoga pants and a comfy shirt before going down to get some breakfast. I know that Christian wants to say something about it, but he just examines my attire and proceeds to discuss what’s happening at Grey House… and with the Pedo-bitch.

“I’ve been trying all week to get in touch with the warden,” he says while sipping his coffee. “I’m fairly certain that he’s just avoiding my calls altogether. He has no reason to do that… unless he’s involved in some way.”

“Could that be the case?” I ask. “Think about it—how could she get manuscripts, excerpts, recordings, phone calls out to a ghost writer without help or permission? She can’t just do that. She’s got to have help.” Christian’s brow furrows.

“Shit, I never even considered that,” he says. It’s safe to say that this is one of the people that Christian may have had in his pocket. I remember that before I even left the building after visiting Edward, the warden knew I was there and was greeting me at the door. It looks like this one may have gotten away.

“So,” I begin, “looks like this problem may be a bit bigger than we anticipated.” I can see the contemplation lines forming in his forehead.

“Yeah,” he says, distracted, “I think you’re right. This may take a different touch.” He finishes his coffee and stands from the breakfast bar. “You’re going to be home today?” I nod.

“Between my office and the babies,” I tell him, finishing my eggs and bacon. “I need to fill in where my two employees aren’t today. Have you heard anything from Chuck?”

“The testimony was over yesterday. From what he said, it was pretty brutal. He’s going to stick around to see if he gets a verdict today, then he and Keri will most likely be on their way home this weekend either way.” He pauses for a moment. “Have you heard from Marilyn?” I twist my lips and shake my head.

“No, and I’m worried,” I say. “She and Gary are both avoiding my calls and I have no idea what kind of condition either of them is in. It’s starting to wear on me.”

“Well, don’t let it stress you out too much,” he says, kissing me on the forehead. “I gotta go, I need to put some things in motion.”

“Love you,” I say to his retreating back and he waves at me. I take my coffee and head down to my office. I need to go through my calendar for the next month and figure out Marilyn’s notes and reminders in case my P.A. decides Seattle just isn’t for her anymore.

The calendar is a bit of a mess to decipher. I can’t figure out what all of these reminders are. I guess when they pop up, I’ll see them and note what they are at the time. I see some interviews scheduled for next week. Right now, I don’t see myself returning next week, and I don’t see Marilyn coming back in that time frame to notify the Center that these people are expected. So, I forward appointment emails to Grace with “no reply requested.” I’m not trying to spark a dialog. I just think it’s only fair that she knows what’s on the agenda if I don’t plan to be there.

I call in and check my voicemails. One of them is one of the aforementioned interviewees requesting a reschedule due to an emergency. I make a note to call her and have her reschedule with Grace. Two are from fellow doctors who saw my interview and want to discuss their experiences with the licensing board. I’ll definitely be giving them a call back today. No time like the present.

Dr. Daisy Sharwin is a dentist who was also accused of sexual misconduct. According to her accuser, Dr. Daisy was touching her inappropriately. Once the findings were reviewed, it was determined that the patient was suffering from a mental illness and had wrongly accused the doctor during a psychotic episode. Dr. Daisy describes the same experience I had, being closed in a room for several hours with a guard who never spoke and no clock before being called before a panel of high-nosed superior officials who treated her with an unbelievable lack of respect. Although she was cleared of the accusations, she felt that she had no recourse for the way she was treated by the board—until I went public with my experience. Now, two voices are better than one.

Make that three.

Dr. Emma Falstaff, a local chiropractor, is accused by the wife of one of her patients of sexual advances. While her case is still pending, she described an experience very similar to mine and Daisy’s, the only difference being that she was able to keep her watch. I’ve instructed her to keep me updated on the outcome of her case. Whether she wins or loses, her treatment during the process is what I’m focused on. However, I don’t want her involvement in this action to compromise her case in any way.

Two more people to add to my contacts and track information. God, do I need Marilyn.

The only other voicemails I had at work were two hang-ups from unknown numbers. Having cleaned out all the voicemails, I turn my attention to my emails. One of Marilyn’s reminders pops up that I have a 3:00 with Lordes Avery. I click the link to follow the reminder and discover how to read the coding on my PA’s calendar without having to take an entire class on the nuances of Outlook, thank God! It’s not that I didn’t know how to use it before now. It’s just that her system of organization is so far advanced beyond us mere mortals that I never would have been able to figure it out without some kind of hint.

Three O’clock with Lordes Avery… hmm…

Should I call him? I didn’t make last Friday’s appointment, but I’m almost certain he didn’t expect to see me. I still get charged if I don’t cancel within 24 hours, so why bother fucking calling at this point? Should I return his oh-so-considerate gesture and send him a text? Naaaahhhh!

I go back to my emails and one pops up that nearly makes my heart stop. After trying to get a response all this time…

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: MIA
Date: Thursday, December 4, 2014, 23:21
From: Marilyn Caldwell

Dear Ana,

I’m sorry that I haven’t returned your calls. This whole thing has been more of a nightmare than I can even describe.

I had to tell my parents why I needed to stay with them for a while and as I told you, they’re staunch fundamentalists. The moment I confessed, they threw me in Hell. I came to try to get a break from the hurt and the pain and I just swapped one torment for another. My mother plays these wailing songs of repentance every day that drive me up the damn wall! I’m spending most of every day being preached to and cautioned to ask forgiveness for my sin and thrown into the “lake of fire.”

I haven’t been ignoring you, but not looking at my phone is easier than staring at it and waiting or hoping for a call from Gary that never comes. I’m an emotional wreck, Ana. Some days, I wake up so depressed that I just want to jump off a bridge somewhere. Other days, I realize that’s not the answer and I have to live with my decision and move on. Hindsight is always 20/20 and I know that no man—or woman—is an island, but the feelings that are plaguing me right now simply because I chose this path for an unplanned pregnancy is making me never want to touch anyone ever again. I certainly can’t tolerate anybody touching me right now. Being an island doesn’t seem like such a bad idea at the moment.

I’m sorry I can’t tell you when I’ll be back. Being here with my parents is nerve-wrecking as fuck, but it still beats the memories that I face in Seattle and all the things that Gary and I shared. It’s a geographical cure of sorts that’s like putting a bandage over a stab wound but having someone poking at it all the time. The alternative would just be having the wound gaping and seeping and bleeding and having someone just jab that knife in again every day. I’m sure you can see why the former torture is preferable to the latter.

I just can’t stand being in that apartment right now or doing any of the things that I used to do. This hurts so much. I’ve been hurt before, but never like this. There are some times when I truly want to just curl up in a little ball and die—which is different from being suicidal, so don’t worry, doctor. As much as I would like for the pain to stop, I’m not brave enough or stupid enough to end it myself. My parents would probably come into the room and try to exorcise my lifeless body (yes, it is that bad).

If you feel like you can’t hold my job for me, I’ll completely understand, but my mind is so fucked up right now that I would do more harm than good if I tried to work. I would be completely useless right now. I’m not going to read my email anytime soon, because I just realized that this would be another way for Gary to reach me, and I don’t want the disappointment of not seeing a letter from him. I’ll check it at some point, so if you do intend to fire me, it’s okay if you send me an email. I’ll see it eventually.

I’m sorry if I let you down, too.

Marilyn

Jesus, she sounds absolutely hopeless. I’m not so certain that she won’t attempt suicide with the despair I hear in her words. I have to trust her, though. Getting in touch with her parents would only make a bad matter worse, but her suffering all alone and enduring the religious bullying of her mother and father is not a good combination, either. I sigh and begin typing out my reply.

To: Marilyn Caldwell
Re: MIA
Date: Friday, December 5, 2014, 13:45
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Dear Marilyn,

Only because I had a hateful, cheating, worthless boyfriend can I say that I can empathize with your pain and the loss you feel. I know it’s not the same and the circumstances are quite different, but I know that feeling of emptiness and the constant inner bleeding that feels like it’ll never end. I’m here if you need to ramble about it.

I don’t feel like you’ve let me down. More than anything, I just want you to be okay. You’ve always been a strong woman and you’ve always known what you want. Looking into a future of pure uncertainty is undoubtedly one of if not the scariest thing that can ever happen to someone. I completely understand that you need time to take self-inventory and regroup. I won’t preach to you as it appears that you have quite enough of that going on in your life. I will say, however, that you may want to reconsider your escape plan as the current one appears to be just another prison. Let me know if you need any help.

I will offer what advice I can as a doctor and as a friend. Get out of that house. If that’s where you choose to stay, okay—but don’t stay there every day all day. If your parents are playing “repentance music” all day, it’s psychological warfare and it’s adding to your misery. Didn’t you grow up in Spokane? Are any of your old friends still there? Maybe catch up with some of them. Go for a walk. Go to the park, the library, anything, but get out of the house and away from the weepin’ and moanin’ music. I can guarantee it’s not good for you.

I want to say more, but I think I’ve said enough. I don’t want you to feel like I’m going to chew your ear off or beat a dead horse. Keep me posted on how you’re doing. I may need to find a temporary replacement while you’re gone as I feel so damn helpless right now without you. I’m home today—not only because I don’t have my trusty assistant, but also because Keri is gone to South Dakota with Chuck for the case against his brother, Joe. Also, there’s been a bit of a development at Helping Hands.

Long story short, Grace engineered a meeting between Courtney and her grandmother without anyone’s knowledge or permission. When I tried to explain to her how wrong she was for what she had done, she basically snubbed me and ignored my concerns. I feel like she doesn’t respect me and any authority that I thought I had as her second in command is imagined. She acted the same way when we found out that she was perimenopausal, but that was understandable. She was reacting to a hormonal imbalance that had her doing things totally out of character. This was done with full consciousness and purpose, and her dismissing all my concerns and authority was equally purposeful.

So, I’m at home. I was trying to decipher what my calendar looks like for the next month and, as soon as I started to think like you, I figured it out. Except for Wednesday when we went to the reading of Tina’s will, I’ve spent most of the days with my babies, which turns out to be a welcome change. You know I already spend as much time with them as I can but spending day in and day out with them has been heaven. Once I’m done with the calendar today, I’ll be with them again for the rest of the afternoon. I’m thinking Mickey Mouse Clubhouse marathons or maybe Bubble Guppies. I haven’t decided yet.

Anyway, you keep me posted on what you’re doing and please call me or write me if you start to feel completely hopeless. I wouldn’t consider you weak, stupid, or cowardly, but grief can be a powerful thing.

Your Friend,
Ana

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

I click “send” to transmit the email and immediately begin thinking about Gary. This radio silence is bullshit and I’m not having it anymore. He may not want to talk to me, but he’s fucking well going to talk to someone.

“I’m activating the contingency,” I say.

“What?” Val says over the phone. “Why?”

“He and Marilyn broke up,” I explain. “It was ugly, and I can’t elaborate, but apparently, he’s not speaking to me.”

“Good God, Steele, when did you last speak to him?” she asks.

“Last Monday,” I admit. “I’ve been calling him nearly every day and he’s not responding. I need somebody just to verify that the man is still alive.”

“How’s Marilyn through all of this? Weren’t they living together?”

“Not well. I haven’t heard from her in a week and I just got an email from her last night…”

“An email?she interrupts.

“Yes, Val, an email.”

“Did she quit?” Val asks surprised.

“I don’t know,” I admit. “I know that she’s taking a hiatus right now and I’ve already told you more than I should have.”

“Alright, alright. I’ll call the others. We’ll track him down.” I end the call with Val and decide that I’ve done enough “work” for the day. It’s baby time.

*-*

Line up, everybody. It’s time to go outside!
Outside! Outside! Outside, everybody, outside!
Line up everybody line up line up line up my gup-gup-gup-gup-guppies!
Everybody get out! Get, get, get up, get out, get everybody go outside!!
Line ‘em up, here we go, here we go, here we go,
Everybody line up! Here we go outside!
Everybody let’s go, g-go-go-ga-get out-out-out-out-out-out-out-out-outside!
Bubble Guppieees!

My children are bouncing madly on the floor trying to say something that vaguely sounds like “outside” while I’m clapping along like a toddler singing the words with Mr. Grouper. I’m probably one of the few adults that knows every syllable of the Bubble Guppies Outside Song. The entire thing is only about 20 seconds long, but it’s such a good beat that it’ll probably never get old.

“Are we interrupting?”

I whirl around shocked out of my fucking mind at the sound of my husband’s voice. I’m so caught off guard that I feel like I’ve just been caught masturbating.

“Godda…” I catch myself knowing that our children are beginning to form words.

“Frag-nabbit, Christian, you scared the… ding-dang outta me!”

He and his unexpected guest are both standing there laughing at me and I want to hit them both.

“It’s early!” I scold. “What’re you doing home so soon?” and then I realize who’s with him.

“Vickie?” I ask, in confusion, scrambling to get off the floor. “Is Courtney okay?”

Vickie’s laughter fades and her brow furrows.

“Y… Yeah, Court’s fine,” she says, bemused. “She told me to give her a report on you, though. She said you hadn’t been to the Center all week… now, I’m confused.” I shake my head.

“Well, you can tell her I’m fine and I hope all is well with her. She’s still at the condo? She’s not moving?”

“Why would she move?” Vickie asks. “What am I missing?… Oh, you mean that thing with her grandmother? They’re talking, but she’s not moving back in with her as far as I know.”

“No… that’s… Never mind,” I say, waving her off. “If it’s not Courtney, why are you here?” She looks at Christian.

“She’s here to bring your summer wardrobe early,” Christian says, removing his suit jacket and tossing it over the sofa.

“Okay… why?” I ask.

“Because you need to decompress,” he says, sitting on the floor with the twins. “We both do. We’re blowing this popsicle stand and we’re taking our Australian cruise. We’re flying out of here first thing tomorrow morning and we’re leaving the country for a week.”

Well, I’m in shock.

“A… what?” Speechless.

“We’re getting the hell out of here,” he says. “It’s an emergency matter of extreme importance and detrimental to our sanity.”

“But… we… You’ve already told everyone that we’re going?” I inquire.

“I’ve told no one and neither will you,” he orders. “Only our staff knows that we’re going.”

Good Lord. I know we have that jet-setting kind of money and ability, but this still seems so sudden. At the moment, things seem so… undone.

“Baby,” he takes my hand, “we’ve been wound tight ever since Madrid—you more than me—we need to decompress or we’re going to self-destruct. The world will be here when we get back. It probably won’t even miss us while we’re gone.”

“My babies…” I protest.

“There’s enough breast milk stored to feed our children for a month and they have the best hand-picked nannies in the world. Keri should be back this weekend, and Harmony is here to help out. We’ll call them every day if you like.” I take a deep breath and hold it. Even though I hate leaving my babies for the slightest bit of time, he’s right. I need a severe change of scenery or I’m going to implode. I release my breath.

“Okay, Vick, show me what ya got…”


CHRISTIAN

“May I ask, is the warden in at all today?” I question. I’ve called Holstein every day this week. I’ve left messages on his voicemail and with this sow of a secretary of his who is now behaving like I’m taking up her precious time, and he doesn’t even have the decency to return my calls.

“Yes, sir. He’s here, he’s just not available,” she says, her voice a little impatient.

“Has the warden been in the office all week?” I further inquire.

“Mr. Holstein is a very busy man!” she says, her tone now scolding.

“That’s not what I asked!” I say, dropping decorum, my voice sharp. “I asked if the warden has been in the office all week. If you can’t answer the question, simply say, ‘I can’t answer the question!’” I’m calling on a business matter, you disagreeable cunt, so you can save that smart-ass attitude for someone else.

The line is silent for a moment or two. I completely expect her to hang up in my ear, but she surprises me by answering the question.

“Yes,” she replies, “the warden has been in the office this week.” That informs me that the fucker is simply ignoring me.

“I see,” I say, understanding that this asshole is going to evade my calls until I give up. You don’t want that, Ronnie, but since reason won’t prevail…

“Thank you,” I say roughly. “I know what I need to do now.”

“Wha…?” I don’t allow her to finish her statement—or question—before I end the call.

“Andrea, get Josh Shaler down here, please,” I say into the intercom. I’m already online planning my week before she acknowledges that she heard what I said.

My wife turned her entire life upside down to be available to my mother and Helping Hands, and now, she doesn’t even know if she’s going to stay there.

Her assistant exercised her right to choose, and now, she’s hiding out in eastern Washington somewhere—which is also putting a strain on my wife.

One of our nannies is in South Dakota with my wife’s trusted security detail dealing with a case against his brother that I can’t even describe.

And now, a woman who shouldn’t be able to reach us in any way whatsoever because she’s locked away for the rest of her miserable life is yet finding another way to reach out and cause us grief from inside prison walls and her fucking zookeeper won’t answer my goddamn calls.

It’s time for a vacation… a real one… now!

Before Josh even arrives in my office, I arrange for the jet to be fueled and ready to get us to Sydney, Australia. Take off will be 5:30am tomorrow morning and we’ll have a layover in L.A. to refuel and pick up a second pilot for the flight to Australia. I send off a text to Lanie to tell her that we’ll be in L.A. for a few hours in the morning, suggesting that we get together for breakfast. I’ve just requested that we activate our contingent cruise seating with the cruise line when Josh knocks on my office door.

“You wanted to see me?” he says, sticking his head in the door. I gesture for him to come inside.

“Are you still freelance?” Josh laughs as he takes a seat.

“No offense, sir, but when I leave here, I’m in disguise. So, yes, I’m still freelance.”

“Good. I’m sure you’ve heard about Elena Lincoln’s book,” I tell him, trying to keep my ire in check.

“I have,” he says. “I thought you were going to talk to the warden about that.”

“He’s avoiding my calls,” I declare. Josh raises one brow.

“Really?” he says. “I thought he was on our side”

“I thought he was, too. Apparently, he’s had a change of heart. Now, I’m completely in the dark and I want to know what the fuck is going on.” I punch out a text to Alex that I have a situation and he needs to come to my office.

“Okay, so I’m assuming that you want me to put my ear to the ground…” he begins.

“All the way to the ground,” I tell him. “I don’t like to be on the outside of critical information, and this is as critical as it gets. I don’t understand why this witch can’t just shut up and let people get over what she’s done to them. Does she really believe that crock of shit she said in court?”

“So, how badly do you need this information?” Josh asks. I raise my eyes to him. What the fuck is he asking me?

“What do you mean by that?” I ask him.

“I mean how low do you want me to go?” I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that.

“As low as you can go without getting caught,” I tell him. “I’m ready to pull some down-in-the-valley switches on this shit. I’ve had enough of running behind the eight ball on this woman…” Alex sticks his head in the door as I’m releasing to Josh. I gesture him inside. “She has caused immeasurable harm to more people and families than just me and mine and she won’t stop. I’ve had enough of this.”

“I take it we’re talking about Lincoln,” Alex says, taking the seat next to Josh. “No luck with the warden?”

“Yes, we are and none at all. He won’t take my calls and his smarmy ass secretary had the nerve to get a little salty with me on the phone today.” Alex purses his lips.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” he says. “The story is sensational. If she promises him just a couple of points or something off the publishing rights, let alone any possibility of screenplays and such, that’s enough palm oiling to buy her protection.” I ponder it.

Future palm oiling,” I point out. “The book has to be written first.” I look over at Josh. He raises a brow to me.

“I need as much information as you can get,” I tell him. “If you can find out who she might be talking to—even if it’s just family and friends. And I know they’re called ghost writers for a reason, but I’ll be forever in your debt if I can somehow get a name.”

“I’ll do what I can.” He stands to leave. “And Alex?” Alex turns to Josh. “Whatever you’re about to do, can you give me a couple of days before you do it? I’m just a reporter looking for a story. Your type of looking attracts attention.” He nods.

“I got you,” Alex replies, “but I can’t give you long.”

“If I can’t get what I need in a couple of days, I won’t get it,” Josh says. If I need more time than that, I’ll let you know.”

“Fair enough,” Alex says, and Josh leaves the room.

“So, I take it that I don’t need to explain anything,” I say to Alex.

“Nope,” he confirms. “Now, how low do you want me to go?”

“To hell,” I tell him, “and get me something on that high-nosed-ass secretary, too. I’m done fucking playing nice. I’m out of the country for the next week, but I’ll have my cell. Try not to use it if you don’t need to and get Jason in here for me.” I dial Victoria’s number as Alex leaves the room.

“This is Victoria.”

“Vickie, it’s Christian.”

“Christian, hi. Courtney was just asking me about you guys. Is everything okay?” I frown.

“Yes, why wouldn’t it be?” I ask.

“She hasn’t seen Ana in a week,” she says. “She wants to know if everything is okay.” Oh, that.

“Well, you’ll be able to ask her yourself shortly. I need you to meet me at the Crossing. I have one of those impossible tasks for you.”

“Oh, dear, what is it now?”

“My wife needs a summer wardrobe—casual, formal, and swimwear—a week’s worth in twelve hours or less.” The line is silent.

“You’re fucking kidding, right?” she says.

“No, I’m not. We’re on a plane tomorrow morning to an Australian cruise and excursion and we’ll be gone for a week. Can you do it or should I call a personal shopper?”

“Can I do some shopping?” she demands. “There’s no way that’s going to get done unless I can get some shit off the rack—and I gotta hit my best consignment shops.”

“Do what you must, just get it done. I’m going to be home at four and I prefer that you are there with me,” I inform her.

I’m going to charge you out the ass for this, Grey,” she says.

“What else is new?” I say.

“If I still liked men, I would make you fuck me till my hair curled!” Okay, she’s pissed.

“Your girlfriend wouldn’t like that, and my wife already gave me one pass when it comes to you. I doubt she’d do it again.” The line is quiet again.

“You told her?” Vickie asks horrified, “about us?

“Yeah,” I reply casually. “Months ago.” She scoffs.

“You’re fucking insane, you know that?” she says before hanging up on me. I look at my phone.

“See you at four.”

*-*

“I’m sorry, son. I’m not trying to pull you into this, I promise. I was just hoping that you could tell me what’s going on.”

“Nope, Mom, I’m sorry, I can’t,” I say. I came home from the Family Affair and heard my wife pretty much tell my daughter that she doesn’t like being married to me. I’m out of this shit.

“I haven’t seen or heard from her all week. I haven’t seen Marilyn for two weeks. When I hear from Ana, she forwards me the appointments that she’s scheduled for next week. So, it’s safe to assume that she’s not coming back?”

“It’s never safe to assume anything, Mom. You need to talk to my wife.”

“I—” She stops abruptly. “She doesn’t want to talk to me.” Well, that’s obvious.

“Well, I’m really sorry, but I don’t have any answers for you, Mom. You have to talk to Butterfly.” She sighs.

“Can you tell me… if she’s alright? Does she seem hurt… or angry?” Nope, Mom, not giving you that either. I can hear it now… Christian told me you were mad…

“She seems like herself,” I reply. “She gets up in the morning, gets dressed, exercises, eats her breakfast, and goes to her office—and I go to work. When I come home, she’s watching television or playing with the children… she’s being herself, like she normally does.” She sighs again.

“Okay,” she says. “Can you at least relay a message that I called, and I would like to know what’s going on please?”

“I can let her know that I spoke to you and that you’d like for her to call you.” She scoffs into the phone.

“You’re not crossing that line at all, are you?” she accuses.

“Not in the slightest, Mother,” I confirm, “not on your life.” She chuckles aloud.

“Smart man,” she says. “Love you, son.”

“Love you, too, Mom.”

Vickie’s driving up just as I’m getting out of the car. I hope she didn’t get too much shit off the rack. I don’t want my wife walking down the streets of Sydney or strolling down the halls of a luxury cruise ship looking like a dime-store tourist.

“If she swings at me, I’m going to kick you square in the balls,” she says, dragging a roller bag behind her while her assistant is carrying several shopping bags and a garment bag.

“Are your choices that bad?” I ask with a raised brow.

“You know what I’m talking about,” she says. Oh, the college fuck.

“I can guarantee you that she doesn’t care. Let’s go.”

The family room is strewn with bathing suits, summer clothes and evening wear, and my wife goes about the tedious task of trying to pick her wardrobe for the next week while Gail scurries to get her packed as she chooses certain pieces and vetoes others. Jason comes in with some packages that I need, and I’ve set up shop on the pool table nearby to make sure that all necessary arrangements are being made while my wife is giving instructions to her personal stylist and to Gail for pieces to commandeer from her dressing room. Two hours later, she’s packed and ready and I’m finishing up the necessary changes to our itinerary and accommodations while Jason makes plans for our security and moving to and fro in Australia.

“Tell Courtney for me that I’m fine and we’ll definitely talk in detail when I’m back from my trip,” she says to Vickie.

“Good,” Vickie says. “She’ll be glad to hear that.”

“Tell her that I may need her help on a task, too. And let her know that Harmony will be staying here with us indefinitely. I won’t be here, so she’s going to have double duty.”

“Will do,” Vickie says closing her bags and cases. “I’ll send you my bill,” she says to me. “I’d give it to you now, but I hate to see a grown man cry.”

“Just charge it to the Black,” I tell her. “You’ve got the number.” She shakes her head.

“Men like you with that kind of play money make me happy and irritate me at the same time.” She waves to Butterfly. “Have a wonderful trip.”

“Thanks, Vickie!” My wife calls as she leaves, then turns to me. “What is it with you and these crack-of-dawn flights?”

“You know where we’re flying, right?” I ask. She shrugs.

“Australian cruise—somewhere in Australia, I presume,” she says.

“Exactly,” I say. “That’s about a 20-hour flight without a layover, and we have one. Not only that, but we’re going to lose a day traveling to Australia. We’re going to leave Saturday morning, but we’re not going to get there until Sunday night.” She frowns.

“Well, that sucks,” she complains. “We’re going to lose a day of our vacation.”

“No, we’re not,” I inform her. “We’re going to get it back at the end of the week. That reminds me…” I reach into my pocket and pull out Jason’s latest acquisition for me. “Phones age in dog years. What do you have—like the iPhone 4?” She nearly growls at me.

“Four S,” she hisses. I reach into the bag and pull out an iPhone 6 Plus.

“Still dog years,” I tell her, handing her the 6 Plus.

“Ooo, pretty,” she says, examining the gold-toned phone.

“I’m glad you approve,” I say. “I couldn’t commandeer your number because it’s not my phone, but this one has been updated with all the usual apps that I know you use and the tracking software. Any apps that I don’t know you use, you’ll have to update yourself. You can forward your calls to this number or put a message on your old phone that your number has changed, but this is an international cell. You never know when I want to whisk my bride away to some exotic foreign country—like today.”

“Good point. I’ll just notify the necessary parties that my number has changed… maybe I’ll do it when I get back. I’ll forward the calls until then.” I nod.

“I can help you transfer all of your contacts and app information when you’re ready.”

“Naw,” she shakes her head. “That won’t be necessary. I’ll get Maril…” She trails off. Force of habit was about to cause her to say that Marilyn would do it. “On… second thought, yeah, when we’re back, I’d appreciate your help.” I nod.

“No worries,” I say, walking past her and proceeding to the stairs.

“I know you have a lot of power, Mr. Grey,” she says, falling in step behind me, “but can you please tell me how you decided on Friday morning that we were going to Australia and on Friday night, we’ve got travel arrangements? That’s a lot, even for you, sir.”

I pick her up and playfully throw her over my shoulder. She yelps as I take the staircase, two at a time with her over my shoulder. I place her back on her feet when we get to the top of the stairs.

“I had open tickets for the cruise, so I exercised my option,” I say walking to the bedroom. She falls in step behind me again. “I own a jet, so I had Jason arrange my pilots this morning. We’re making a bit of a change to our cruise. It was a seven day—we’re only doing five because I have plans for the weekend, so we’ll be disembarking at our last port of call.” I walk into my dressing room and try to figure out what I need to pack.

“Doesn’t that cost extra?” she asks, quickly selecting suits and a tux from my closet area. “Isn’t there a fee for disembarking early or something?”

“Yes, there is,” I say, watching her gather my wardrobe like a pro, complete with underwear, while it took her two hours to organize hers. “But this is what I wanted, and I have money, so…” I trail off.

“Do I get to know where this special destination is that requires us to disembark from a luxury cruise to get there?” she asks as she lays out my clothes. “Where are your garment bags?”

“They’re in storage,” I tell her, “and maybe I’ll tell you, maybe I won’t. I haven’t decided yet.”

“Will I like it?” she asks as I head for my en suite.

“You’ll love it,” I call behind me. “Activate two-way communications… Locate Windsor.”

“Windsor,” he responds.

“Windsor, I need you to bring my Alfred Dunhill luggage to the owner’s suite. I need the black rolling suitcase, the duffle, the toiletries bag and the garment bag.”

“Yes, sir,” he replies.

“End two-way communications,” I say.Alfred Dunhill Luggage--Chapter 72

“Hmmm, Alfred Dunhill,” she says, coming out of my dressing room. “And I’m carrying the Louis Vuitton. We’re going to look so pretentious.”

“And you care?” I ask. She shrugs.

“Not really,” she remarks, laying out more clothes on the bed… and I’m perfectly outfitted without lifting a finger—except to choose my toiletries from the en suite. I shake my head and scoff a laugh. “What?” she asks, bemused.

“How do you do that?” I ask. She looks at my cruise wardrobe and smiles.

“You have your special gifts and I have mine.”

*-*

“Are you sure you don’t mind us leaving you like this?” Butterfly asks Harmony as we’re about to leave the Crossing. “I know this can be a delicate time for you.”

“I’ll be fine,” Harmony replies. “Courtney and I are going to the mansion today so that I can start going through my things and Mom’s things that aren’t going to be confiscated and donated to charity. I really want to get the house cleaned out as soon as possible. I’ve got so much to do and lots to keep me occupied. I know I need to mourn Momma, but right now, I just want to keep busy.” Butterfly hugs her.

“Call if you need us. I have a new international phone now.” Harmony looks over Butterfly’s shoulder at me and I raise my brow.

“I won’t be calling you, Ana,” Harmony says. “Now, get out of here and have a great time.”

Butterfly says goodbye again to everyone and we get into the Audis with our luggage and head to the airport.

She sleeps for the entire flight to Los Angeles. It’s only three hours, but she’s dead in her seat the moment the seat belt light is off. I’m going through and responding to emails, giving instructions for the next week in my absence and putting out feelers on who might be Lincoln’s ghost writer. I may be sinister in my thinking, but she’s one of only two people that I can think of at the moment that I wish would just die.

I’ll also have to remember to tell Butterfly about Rossiter’s “settlement”—him agreeing to get the fuck out of our lives and stay the fuck out of our lives from now on. It’s my understanding that he’s actually going to lay down roots somewhere else, but not without the assurance that we’re going to be watching him wherever he goes. The very idea that he thought he would flash a raw, naked pussy painted on his arm at my wife and somehow get a payoff for it—the fucking nerve of this guy.

“I didn’t know if you would make it,” I say to Lanie and Leo when we disembark at LAX to refuel. “It was such short notice I thought we may have to just wait until next time.”

“I’m trying to be like you, man,” Leo says, grasping my hand and shaking. “I’m flirting with a couple of options for a private jet, but the right number of zeroes can get you a charter anytime. It’s only an hour flight for us from San Fran.” My wife and Lanie greet each other with a hug. That’s when I see Burtie.

He seems… shy and small for the lack of a better description. There’s a guy walking with him as he approaches us. He’s a little taller than Burtie—a nice looking guy with stylishly cut black hair and a medium to stocky build. He takes Burtie’s hand as they get closer and I note that this must be Leo’s cousin.

“How was your flight so far?” Lanie asks.

“I wouldn’t know,” Butterfly admits. “I was up most of the night preparing for the trip, so the minute we took off, it was ‘Goodnight, Nurse’ for me.”

“I couldn’t tell you either,” I say. “I assume that it was pretty smooth since I was able to work uninterrupted the entire way.” Butterfly glares at me.

“Yeah, that’s the only time he’s going to be able to work,” she declares, “when I’m asleep. This vacation is going to be a damn vacation, so I will definitely have a problem with him working during any of the time that I’m conscious!”

“Hear, hear!” Lanie says. Butterfly smiles widely at Burtie and opens her arms.

“Don’t I get a hug, cousin?” she says sweetly. He coyly returns her smile and walks into her open arms.

“It’s so good to see you,” I hear him say softly. She embraces him warmly.

“It’s good to see you, too, Burtie,” Butterfly says. I lean over and kiss Lanie on the cheek.

“And who is this?” Butterfly asks when she and Burtie release their embrace.

“This is Bernard,” Burtie says, taking the young man’s hand again and pulling him into the fold. Bernard waves like a shy little girl and smiles.

“Hi,” he says sweetly.

“Bernie, these are my cousins, Ana and Christian. Bernie is my fiancé.” Butterfly raises her brow.

“Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Bernie,” Butterfly says extending her hand to him.

“A pleasure,” he responds. “I know this is going to sound so stereotypically gay, but I saw you the moment you stepped onto the tarmac and that outfit is to die for!” Butterfly beams at the compliment.

“Thank you!” she says.

“I so love Jackie O!” he gushes.

“That’s exactly what I was going for!” Butterfly exclaims.

“Oh God she was like only one of the most elegant women that ever lived!” he says all in one breath.

“Absolutely! She was unbelievably iconic. You can’t go wrong matching any of her fashions…”

And this conversation is going to go on forever,” Leo says. “I should mention that my cousin is one of the most sought-after designers and personal stylists in the San Francisco Bay area. Right this way, please… we have a car.”

“To fit eight people?” I ask, thinking of Jason and Ben.

“Yes,” Lanie replies. “We procured a limo for just such an emergency.”

As Butterfly and Bernard continue to discuss the polished grace and timeless, easy elegance of Jackie Kennedy, we all make our way through the airport to the taxi stand where our limo awaits us. On our way to brunch in Beverly Hills, Leo and I talk about the strides we’ve made in identifying the variations in the XRC90 transmitter. The ink on the Waymark deal should be dry just after the new year.

“How’s Aunt Nellie? Why didn’t she join us?” I ask. Lanie looks over at Burtie who’s in an animated conversation with Butterfly and his fiancé.

“She’s better than she has been, but still not great,” Lanie says in a low voice. “She didn’t feel like coming out so early on a Saturday morning, but she sends her regards. She’s had a small setback though. She got word that my father is moving towards signing the divorce papers soon. Their lawyers are just hammering out the terms. It should be final any day now.”

“I thought that’s what she wanted,” I say bemused, “to put this thing to rest. You know how these things can drag on forever.” Lanie sighs and checks to see that her brother is occupied.

“Mom explained it to me like this. Imagine one of your children comes up missing. You search for them for months or even years, but you never find them. You finally give up hope and resolve yourself to the fact that if they were alive, they would have found a way to get in touch with you by now. You go about the business of living your life, putting yourself back together again and sometime later, the police show up. They inform you that they’ve found your child’s body.

“Now, even though you knew the child was dead because there was just no way that they could still be alive, the body makes it final. It makes the loss tangible and real. This is the equivalent of hearing that my father is going to sign the divorce papers. She now has the body, and it’s tearing her up all over again. He’s a horrible, wretched person, but that doesn’t negate the fact that she loved him for thirty-some-odd years.” Lanie finishes with a sigh.

“Does she know about the life insurance policy?” I ask. “And what about the house?”

“She knows about the life insurance policy and she knows that he’s protesting Carrick’s share of it. She’s sure that he’s just protesting it until the divorce is final, and she’s not waiting for that. As for the house, she’s never going back to Michigan, so he can have that, too, but his other assets are going to have to be split.” I shake my head.

“He got Pops’ house,” I tell her. “That’s what he wanted. He’s going to sell his house and pump the money into rebuilding Pops’ house.” Lanie’s eyes widen.

“What??” she exclaims, garnering the attention of everyone in the car, which is exactly what she was trying not to do.

“Sorry,” she says, trying to play the situation down. “Don’t pay me any attention, you know how I can get.” She waits for Bernie and Ana to attract Burtie’s attention again before she turns back to me.

“That dilapidated old hole?” she hisses just above a whisper. “That stack of sticks is worthless! I don’t even know how Grandpa and Herman stayed in it for so long. That place should have been condemned years ago!” I shrug.

“That’s my understanding, too,” I tell her. “But he’s going to put his house on the market and use the money to rebuild that ‘stack of sticks.’” She shakes her head.

“Well, it doesn’t matter. Mom’s ready for the ‘funeral.’ She’s had enough. There’s no way she can possibly move on with this divorce still in progress, and she’s not really sure how she’s going to move on when it’s over. Hell, my father has a girlfriend—it was over a long time ago. Mom just didn’t know it.”

“Why didn’t he just let her go instead of dragging her through all this hell?” Leo asks. “It’s cruel and unusual punishment to put someone through this.”

“Freeman’s so cocky, he thought it would never come to this,” I reply.

“I think it was just cheaper to keep her,” Lanie says. “Once he reached the 10-year mark, half his shit was hers.” I twist my lips.

“Yeah, I guess there’s that, too,” I cede. I look down the row at Burtie.

“How about Burtie?” I ask not much above a whisper. Lanie shakes her head.

“Bernie’s good for him, but he’s having a really hard time with this situation, too,” she says. “I don’t know which of these are harder to swallow, so I’m just going to toss them at you.

“His parents are getting divorced. That sucks for anybody under any circumstances. Now, before you say, ‘Hey, Lanie, they’re your parents, too,’ you need to see the difference. That’s his mom and his dad. That’s my mom… and my father. All these years, he’s just been my father, just the man who nutted and brought about my creation. All these years, before this shit, that’s been his dad. So, his mom and his dad are getting a divorce, and he has to contend with that.

“Also, just like Mom, he loves Freeman. All he has ever wanted was for Freeman to be proud of him, and this is what he gets to take with him—the fact that for whatever reason, he wasn’t good enough; that his beloved dad battered him so badly that his face is slightly deformed and some of his teeth were knocked out or had to be removed. And that’s number three.

“Burtie was always an attractive young man, but now he keeps his face down and he tries to fade away and not be seen. He’s got several teeth missing and that makes him feel subconscious, and then he has those two horrible scars on his face. He’s getting his implants this week and the surgery for the scars will be in the next two weeks, but that’ll take care of the physical damage. What about the emotional damage?”

I look down the row in the limo again and Butterfly has moved next to Burtie. She’s holding his hand and his head is down. Bernie is leaning forward very close to Burtie, holding his hand as well.

That looks like a session.

“Has anybody pointed out the name thing?” I ask, “Burtie and Bernie?”

“Several times,” Leo says, looking at his cousin and brother-in-law. “They appear to be really in love. I wondered how it could happen so soon. Burtie’s only been here for a few months, but Bernie says he’s been stricken ever since he first met Burtie in Michigan. According to them, ‘When you know, you know.’”

“Yes, I can attest to that,” I say, looking over at Butterfly.

“Was it love at first site for you, Christian?” Lanie asks.

“Oh, I know this story,” Leo interrupts. “So do you, babe. Remember the interview?”

“Oh, yeah,” Lanie says, looking at her husband and then back at me. “She hated you at first, but you were quite taken with her.”

“Bingo,” I confirm, “So, I can understand being stricken very early on. At the risk of being Devil’s Advocate, however, just be mindful that Burtie’s in a vulnerable and compromised position at the moment…”

I don’t know how to say what I’m trying to say without making Bernie sound like he’s trying to take advantage of Burtie’s predicament or without making Burtie appear to be a weakling looking for someone to hold him up. Luckily, I learn that I wasn’t alone in my concern.

“I’ve had the same conversation with my brother,” Lanie says softly. “His response assured me that he realizes his position and he’s aware of his feelings. He even admits that he’s susceptible to the smallest act of kindness right now, but that he’s certain that with Bernie is where he wants to be.”

“And I’ve spoken to Bernie,” Leo continues, “both because he’s my cousin, I love him, and I don’t want to see him hurt and because if he hurts Burtie, he’ll hurt my Lanie, and then I’d have to kill him. I’m certain that he’s going into this with both eyes open, but in all honesty, they’re both grown men and will make their own decisions. Only time will tell.”

I nod. I know that he’s right, but that poor guy is fighting some serious demons and some of them are written right on his face.

“At least pretty soon he won’t have the visible reminders of what happened,” I say with a sigh.

“At least there is that,” Lanie says. “He’s been seeing a therapist. He’s been working through some of his issues, but I’m afraid that the emotional betrayal is probably going to be there forever. He’s heartbroken. All he has ever wanted was for his father to be proud of him and now, the betrayal he feels from that unprovoked attack…” Lanie trails off and shakes her head. We’ve had this entire conversation in hushed tones, trying not to let it appear that we’re keeping a secret.

“So, we’re planning a spring wedding as Burtie is certain that all of his scars will have healed by then, and Bernie is willing to give that man anything he wants. Bernie does very well financially and Burtie has a very promising future in engineering. Neither of them is in a particularly destitute situation,” Leo says.

“Burtie just has a long way to go,” Lanie adds. “His self-esteem has taken a hit with the scars and the missing teeth, and he’s fighting depression and rejection from the man who, like Mom, he still really loves.”

“What about you, Lanie?” I ask. “You don’t feel anything, honestly? Nothing at all.” Even I feel a bit of a tug when discussing the crack whore every now and then. Lanie shrugs.

“I feel bad that my family was torn apart—that my mom and my little brother are struggling to find balance,” she says, matter-of-factly. “But I was abandoned a long time ago, cousin. You can’t miss what you never had.”

And there you have it.


A/N: I originally had Christian carrying a different brand of luggage, but changed it when that whole “black face” shirt came out. I’m sure can figure out which one he had before.

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 71—Chain Reactions

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 71—Chain Reactions 

CHRISTIAN

We put Chuck and Keri on a plane to South Dakota yesterday to be present for the case today. Butterfly was not happy to see either of them go as Chuck is her detail and Keri is her nanny.

“I feel like my limbs are being cut off one by one,” she says. “My detail, my nanny, my PA…” I had forgotten that Marilyn had taken some time off as well in light of recent developments. I can imagine Butterfly feels a bit rudderless. Thank God Harmony’s here and has agreed to help Gail with the twins.

We haven’t discussed anything that happened Saturday night. I’m not sure how to approach the topic or even what needs to be discussed at this point. After talking to Jason, I somewhat understand the “Cinderella” concept, but how do I voice my displeasure with the way she spoke to my mother? Is this one of those situations where I should just “butt out” since it really had to do with the Center and wasn’t anything personal? It became personal, though—the comments that she made. However, had she said these things at Helping Hands in the course of her job, would I feel the same way? Am I only feeling this way because these things were said in my presence?

She was talking about her professional stance, and the position that my mother put her in by revealing to Adelaide that Courtney was still in town. To Mom, she was trying to help a friend, but to Butterfly, this was a professional betrayal.

I should have stayed out of this.

“You going in this morning?” I ask my wife who has been silent at the breakfast bar.

“Yes,” she says coolly. “I have new employees starting today and I should be there. And I have to figure out what’s going on with my calendar because I’m like a fish out of water without Marilyn.”

“Do you want to meet for lunch?” I say, attempting to offer an olive branch. She looks over at me.

“I’ll… let you know,” she replies uncertainly. “The morning is kind of heavy…”

“I’ll wait,” I interrupt. “You say what time.” She pauses for a moment, still gazing at me.

“Okay,” she says softly. “I’ll call you, then.” I give her hand a squeeze and kiss her on the forehead.

“I’ll see you later, then,” I say, and she nods.

*-*

“Kavanaugh wants nothing to do with you,” Lorenz says at the executive meeting that morning. “He’s shutting down any attempts from this camp to contact him.”

“Well, there’s always a hostile takeover… buy him out,” I suggest.

“Yeah, he thought of that, too,” Ros says, “so he’s not selling.” I nod. My lips form a thin line.

“Fine,” I say. “We’ve got plenty of Kavanaugh’s stock. Start dumping it.” Lorenz frowns deeply.

“Are you crazy?” he asks. I turn to him.

“Do you remember my interview, Lorenz?” I ask. “You’ve seen my portfolio—controlling interests or substantial participation percentages in 28 industries comprised of 419 subindustries in 165 countries on all seven continents. Kavanaugh is one subindustry in one industry in one country on one continent. This is only one of my holdings. It’s his entire life. He doesn’t want a financial and industrial powerhouse to bail him out when he’s on a proverbial dingy with a hole in it about to sink simply because the bailout is coming from me, well then let his ass sink. Start dumping stock 2% at a time. Once the NYSE and the NASDAQ reports that information, he’ll be lucky if he can still be considered penny stock.”

“Christian, this sounds dangerously close to insider trading,” Ros warns.

“Far from it, Ros,” I tell her. “It’s only insider trading if I use inside information not available to anyone else to further my position or unload a disadvantage. This is not inside information. It’s public knowledge that he’s on the skids. ‘Pump-and-dumps’ do it all the time. They buy low, drive up the price, watch the trends, and when it looks like it’s about as high as it’s going to go, they drop it. I’m an investor, and I see an opportunity to save my investment that’s very crappy right now and getting crappier by the second. I’m throwing him a life preserver and he’s kicking it back to me. He’s only looking at one side of that investment coin and that’s the fact that I don’t have enough to do a hostile. And he’s right, I don’t. However, I do have enough to make other investors sit up and take notice if I start dumping my shares.”

“There’s going to be no coming back from this,” Lorenz warns.

“There’s already no coming back from it,” I tell him. “He’s made it clear that he wants no part of my golden parachute. So be it. If I were so shrewd as to drive the price down, make him open sales again and gobble up the market before anybody else, guaranteeing at the very least a hostile takeover, he’d poison pill the company before I got my hands on it. I can tell when a company is on that final spiral down the drain, and Kavanaugh already has his feet in the grates—he just doesn’t think anybody knows it.”

I raise an eyebrow at Lorenz whose expression confirms that he agrees with me.

“Someone can still reach in and save him, and it doesn’t have to be me, but when and if they do, they’re going to be dealing with a company that’s worth at least one-third less than it is right now if not even less than that. Start dumping the stock. If I’m wrong and it turns around for him and the investors are making money, by dumping 2% at a time, I’ll still have a portion of my investment left. So… let the market decide.”

I wave the whole thing off. Buying Kavanaugh Media would have been a personal coup, but nothing more. I’ve got enough money to use C-notes to wipe my ass for the rest of my life. I don’t need this shit.

“And what’s going on with Kate Kavanaugh?” I ask. It makes me nervous when people just disappear.

“It appears that the Kavanaugh Princess is hiding out in the Hamptons with young Kevin… at least we think Kevin’s with her. You know her career is tied up in Kavanaugh Media and shortly, there’ll be no Kavanaugh Media. So, unless she has an endless money pot stashed somewhere, she’ll be looking for a job soon.” Ros replies.

“Make sure we keep our eye on her… just in case.” Lorenz nods.

“Excuse me, sir. Mr. Welch is in the lobby and says he needs to talk to you immediately.” Andrea’s voice surprises me as she never interrupts when I’m in a meeting. “He has Ms. McIntyre with him.”

Oh shit. Mac. What the hell is going on?

“I’m going to have to take this meeting,” I say to Lorenz and Ros. “Alex and Mac usually isn’t good news. Have we covered everything?” Lorenz looks at Ros, who nods.

“For now, it seems,” he says. “I’ll keep you posted.”

“Good man,” I say. “Send them in on your way out.”

I pop my neck as Ros and Lorenz leaves preparing myself for whatever the Gruesome Twosome have to tell me. I know it’s bad when I see their faces. Alex is serious, and Mac is a bit somber.

“Okay, out with it,” I say. Don’t beat around the bush, just give it to me. Alex closes the door and Mac drops a gossip rag on my desk.

“Tell me what I’m looking for here,” I say. “I really don’t feel like combing through stories of back woods women having babies by Elvis, aliens, and Michael Jackson.”

“Bottom left hand corner,” Mac says taking a seat. Alex stands behind her. I look at the bottom left corner of the tabloid.

Incarcerated Socialite to Write Tell-All Book of her Ordeal

“What?” I ask horrified. “I thought the law was written as such that she couldn’t exploit her crime for profit!”

“If she writes it as a fiction novel and changes all the names, she can,” Mac informs me.

“She’d have to change the events, too,” I nearly screech. “That woman molested children! It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who she’s talking about in her story—just a really good critical thinker, and I’m not just talking about my experience. One of those kids killed himself!” I suddenly want this woman to just disappear from the face of the earth.

“You’ve confirmed that this is true?” I ask them both. “This isn’t just some nasty rumor?”

“It’s confirmed, sir,” Alex says. “She’s been corresponding with ghost writers, publishers… even attorneys to make sure that she’s following the rules to get the book published.”

“And they’re going to publish this garbage.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Are you kidding?” Mac says. “Like you said, it won’t take a rocket scientist to tell who the characters are, even if she changes the names and events. A tell-all about Christian Grey and other possible prominent members of Seattle society? Right after you do an exposé of you and your lovely wife and your lovely life? Her timing is perfect—for her, that is. Depending on what she puts in that book, she can blow your image of your happy home right out of the water. But there’s so much more at stake here…”

“You don’t have to tell me,” I say. The damage that can be caused by the implications of this book are nearly fucking endless.

“So many pictures,” Alex laments. “So many boys…”

“Exactly,” I sigh. “We don’t even know if we found them all. Decades and decades of that shit—the embarrassment, humiliation, and pain this could cause is endless.”

Hasn’t she caused enough fucking heartache? What the fuck is she after? Before she died, Aunt Tina told me that Elena was corresponding with people, trying to get responses. What is she really doing? She can’t possibly hope to profit from this. Her only chance of release is escape. What’s really going on?

“Why is she trying to get attention?” It’s a rhetorical question.

“How did this story hit the mainstream?” I ask.

“There’s no telling,” Mac says. “She could have done it, it could be a publicity leak—nobody’s paying attention right now, but they’ve got their breach. All they need from this point is momentum.”

“And me visiting the prison would be momentum,” I observe.

“I’m so glad you figured that out on your own,” Mac exclaims. “I could just see you in my mind’s eye flying to the prison to ruffle some feathers and all you end up getting is a front-page spot.”

“Okay, so,” I stand from my desk and clasp my hands, “I’m open for suggestions on how to proceed with this because you know me—I’m ready to run in like a bull in a China shop.”

“We could get an injunction,” Mac says, “but we’d have to know what was in the book before we could do that.”

“So, an injunction’s out. Next plan?”

“Get in touch with the warden,” Alex offers. “He knows you, if I recall.”

“Yes, we’re acquainted,” I remark, remembering the very uncomfortable circumstances I arranged for Mrs. Lincoln after I discovered that she was responsible for the false accusations of sexual misconduct against my wife. “Anything we can do about her possible publishers and ghost writers? Make this endeavor look unattractive?”

“Here’s the thing about writing, Christian,” Mac says. “Once something is out there—articles, print, pictures, books—it’s out there. It’s so much easier to undo something someone said, even on television, than it is to undo the backlash of the written word. Any attempts to make something like this look unattractive would only have the opposite effect because believe me, no one is more aware that the pen is mightier than the sword than the person holding the pen.”

“So, I basically have no recourse now outside of talking to the warden?” I ask appalled. “He can’t possibly be ignorant to this, and he hasn’t done anything yet!”

“It’s very likely that he’s not,” Mac replies. “Why he’s not doing anything is yet to be determined.”

I scroll through the contacts on my computer and locate the information for Ronald Holstein. After going through a million transfers, I’m finally connected to his receptionist who, upon hearing my name, informs me that he’s unavailable but that she could take a message or patch me through to his voicemail. Since I’m not really sure if he’s aware of what’s going on, I leave a professional message on his voicemail to contact me as soon as possible no matter what time.

“So, now we wait,” I say.

I just got the damn Pussy DJ off our backs and now this? Jesus, it never ends!

*-*

I’m irritated when I get home as Holstein didn’t return my call, and surprised that Butterfly is already there since I’m home a little earlier than usual.

“Hey,” I say. “You’re here early.”

“So are you,” she says matter-of-factly. She’s sitting in the family room with a bowl of popcorn watching old movies like she’s been kicked back for the entire day.

“Is everything okay?” I ask, sitting next to her.

“I would really rather not talk about it,” she says. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you for lunch, but I was terribly distracted.” I nod.

“I have some news,” I say. She picks up the remote and silences the television. Placing the popcorn on the seat next to her, she brushes off her hands and sits up straight, like she’s preparing herself to go into battle.

This must have really been a pretty fucked-up day.

“Elena’s trying to write a book,” I spit out. She rubbernecks to me, her expression horrified.

“What?” she gasps. “I thought… I thought criminals weren’t allowed to profit from their crimes. I mean that’s the only thing she could possibly be writing about.”

“There are ways around it,” I tell her. “There’s no law against her writing a book. If she changes the names and events and it becomes a work of fiction, she’s in the clear assuming that no one can determine that she’s talking about real people—but everyone will know that she’s talking about real people. Conspiracy theorists and bloggers and motherfuckers with too much time on their hands may even be able to match her story with timelines and events and point a compass to specific people…”

“Like us,” she says.

“More than us, Butterfly, we were all over the trial. We’ll just be her anchor. Think of all those boys and their families. Some of them are adults and have families of their own, and if you remember, at least one that we know of didn’t make it. This woman has no fucking scruples!”

“And apparently absolutely nothing to lose,” Butterfly says flatly. I thought I proved that she did have something to lose in our last conversation, but maybe I wasn’t firm enough. We’re silent for a moment, and then my wife drops a bombshell on me.

“I’m considering leaving Helping Hands,” she says calmly. My turn to rubberneck.

“You’re what?” So much for not wanting to talk about it.


ANASTASIA

I can barely decipher what’s going on with my calendar. Marilyn has a lot of shorthand going on here and several reminders for her to do certain things. I really should have taken a better look at this thing last week when I wasn’t all a-flustered from the weekend’s events, but c’est la vie. I may have to draft someone somewhere to help me with this mess, but we’ll have to see.

I shoot a text off to Marilyn simply saying that I hope she had a nice Thanksgiving and I hope she’s taking care of herself. Every call I’ve tried to put in to Gary has gone straight to voicemail. I’ve left a few messages for him but stopped after the third one. After having that treatment from my father when he didn’t want to speak to me and then from Christian when he escaped to Madrid, instant defer to voicemail calls leave me with a very icky feeling to the degree of stirring up remnants of the Boogeyman. How about I choose not to do that to myself.

In an attempt to make sure that my friend hasn’t fallen to an ill fate, I recruit the assistance of the rest of the Scooby Gang to try to contact Gary. I only tell them that it appears that there has been a break-up and Marilyn is with her parents right now. None of us have had any luck contacting him.

Marilyn hasn’t returned my text either and I deduce that they’re both still radio silent. I just hope that she has me listed somewhere as an emergency contact so that someone will know to inform me if something really bad happens.

Ebony is doing well in the day care center and I’m hoping that we can convince her to put some of her other skills to use in the Center. God knows we need them in the worse way. We have a few new employees on the cleaning staff as well. We’re planning to end the contract with Sherwood and Clean It Up for You in January. So, we want to have a core team in place by that time and hire additional staff as needed.

Another development we’ve had since the interview is the outpouring of support from the community as well as the influx of donations right in time for the holiday season—clothing, non-perishable food items, cash and pledges, even additional volunteers. I’ve been able to get some applications from various sources for people who may be able to fill the many positions we’ll be needing to fill since we finally received our accreditation. I wasn’t kidding when I told Christian that my morning would be full—even fuller than I thought with me having to do my own administrative work. That must be why I was totally bowled over by the voice that greets me in the middle of the morning.

“Ana?”

I raise my head to see Addie standing in my office door. Oh, dear God.

“Addie!” I say, standing quickly from my seat and nearly knocking it over. “Please, c… come in.” Come all the way in and close the door behind you!

“I…” She timidly walks into my office. “Your office… it looks really different.”

“Yes,” I say, gesturing her further into the office and closing the door behind her. Sweet Jesus, this is a disaster. “I was able to make some changes with… all the different things that have been going on. We’ve finally gotten our accreditation, you know. There’s a lot that needs to be done in such a short time.”

“I’d…” She takes a seat in the Zen sitting area. “I’d like to make a donation… if I could.”

“Addie… that’s so kind of you.” She reaches into her purse and hands me a check. I don’t really focus in on the amount, but I see a whole lotta zeroes. “Addie, this is so generous.”

“It’s the very least I can do,” she says, lowering her head. “I turned that child away—ready to feed her back to the dogs that she came from. You’ve worked miracles with her.” I sigh.

“I didn’t do anything, really, Addie,” I tell her. “Courtney did all the work on her own…” and if she sees you here, the work may all be undone.

As if the fates heard my lamentations, my door flies open and in marches a distraught Courtney. She never enters my office without knocking when the door is closed. I know why she’s coincidentally here now.

“G… Grandmother!” she says, her voice more horrified than anything. Oh, shit. Addie stands and turns to her.

“Courtney!” she breathes. “Yo… you’re so… beautiful.” Courtney never takes her eyes off her grandmother but begins to frantically wring her hands. Addie takes a step towards her, but Courtney takes a step back, the dams bursting immediately and causing massive waterfalls down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” Courtney says, her voice full of tears, “I’m sorry, Grandmother, for the horrible person that I was and the terrible things that I did…”

“Oh, Courtney…”

“I’m sorry… that I hurt you… and that I hurt Grandfather… but you hurt me, too.” She weeps. Addie looks a bit horrified.

“You said I was worthless… nothing… you said I was better off dead…”

“Courtney!” Addie exclaims. “I did not say that! I would never say that!”

“Spare parts!” Courtney cries accusingly. “You said I was worth nothing but spare parts!”

Addie stands guiltily looking at her granddaughter.

“I felt like the world would be a better place without me. I was horrible and awful and even my spare parts were worthless. Maybe that’s how I made you feel… maybe I made you feel like you’d be better off dead and that’s why you made me feel that way. It’s a horrible, awful, wretched feeling and if I did that, I swear to God that I’ll never do that to anybody else as long as I live!” Courtney cries.

“Court…”

“I didn’t change my ways because of that,” she sobs, cutting off her grandmother. “I changed because I didn’t want to go back to Chuktapaw. I didn’t want to end up in a dead-end life like my mom! She has no hope! No future! And she doesn’t want to change! She wants to stay in that rat-infested lean-to that she’s lived in with that low-life man that she’s been with for years and she’s going to die there, and I don’t want that to be me!

“Somebody showed me that I was worth something even when I thought I wasn’t… even when you thought I wasn’t. Ana could have let me rot in that shelter, answer ads to be a stripper, but she and Ms. Grace took pity on me—after how I treated her, the things I said to her! She took pity on me… somebody thought I was worth something…

She weeps harder and Addie doesn’t speak. She must know that Courtney is just reloading.

“But I don’t care how horrible someone is to me. I’ll never in my life ever make them feel like they don’t deserve to be alive. I’ll walk away forever and never speak to them again before I ever make them feel like the earth would be a better place without them!”

“Courtney…” Addie says finally, “your mom is gone.” Courtney’s eyes pierce.

“What?” she asks incredulously. “When?”

“June,” she says.

“How?”

“Some rare virus,” Addie says. “I didn’t get the details. I didn’t even know she was sick.” Courtney purses her lips and clears her throat.

“Hence, my point,” she says nodding through her tears. “My mom’s gone, and nobody cared. Nobody knew. Nobody felt anything, not even me. Not even now, I don’t feel anything. I didn’t wish her dead and it’s tragic that she’s gone, but I knew,” she says, her voice still cracking, “I knew that’s how she would die. That’s how I would have died, and you were okay with that.”

“I was not okay with that, Courtney, I was hurt…”

“But that’s not what you said!” she wails. “I hurt you! I accept that and I’m sorry. I knew I would get money when you died, but I didn’t wish you dead! I never wished you dead!” she sobs. “I didn’t expect for you to account for what you said or how you felt. I just couldn’t deal with it. I couldn’t look at you and know that you felt that I was nothing more than an organ donor. I can’t change the things that I did and the way that I treated people, but there’s enough bad crap going on in the world and enough bad memories in my head to not subject myself to any new agonies.”

She straightens her back even though the tears continue to fall.

“Things have changed for me, Grandmother,” she says. “I found a life that I didn’t know I could have—a real life, with real people and purpose! I see a future beyond dollar signs. All I could see before was money and what I could do with it, and now I see so much more…

“I found somebody who loves me, who doesn’t care that I’m broke, who’s not looking for the next big trust fund. I had to find me first, but once I did, she saw what I couldn’t see. She helped me see that there’s so much more to me. I’m in school now. I want to help kids—troubled kids, kids who don’t think anybody understands them. She helped me see that I could do that. I didn’t think I could, but she wouldn’t let me give up… and now, I’m on my way. And I love it, and I love her, and she loves me!

“I have friends and people like me, and I can be myself—not what I think people want me to be. I don’t hang out with any of the ‘cool kids’ anymore, because just like I was a bad influence on them, they were a bad influence on me.

“Mrs. Franklin died. Did you know that?” she asks but continues talking before Addie can answer. “I didn’t go to her funeral. I didn’t know who would be there, but her daughter—Harmony—we’re friends. I’ve been talking to her and helping her through this time as much as I can. Mrs. Franklin’s children… they’re horrible. They’re worse than I ever was and old enough to know better, and now Harmony has to deal with them. I’ll never be like them again, but Harmony is good people, and I’ll be there for her…”

Courtney is rambling on and on and on about the person that she has become, and I realize that this is something that she needs to do. We let her talk and talk through her tears for a solid twenty more minutes until she’s physically exhausted. I catch her before she collapses on the floor in tears and help her to the seating area where she crumples onto the sofa and continues to weep.

Addie tentatively moves next to her and takes Courtney’s shuddering body in her arms. Her own tears flowing from her eyes, she expels a string of apologies, telling Courtney how much she loves her and never stopped.

Now is my cue to leave. I’m emotionally exhausted myself.

I leave my office and close the door behind me. When I raise my head, Grace is standing there with her arms folded, a triumphant smirk on her face.

“Don’t give me that look,” I say, firmly. “You were still out of place and you still meddled where you shouldn’t have. You got lucky. This could have been disastrous.” She still smirks at me.

“But it wasn’t, was it?” she says haughtily and turns away, beginning her victory stroll down the hall.

“Grace!” I call, my blood boiling. She turns to face me, ready for battle.

I’m not.

“I love this place,” I say closing the space between us, “but you know that I don’t have to do this. You know I’ve worked hard with Courtney and I respected her wishes because just like Addie, she was traumatized. You threw that out the window like it was nothing because you felt like it. I’ve built up her trust and you could have destroyed that because you thought the outcome should be different. You could have undone everything I did, everything she did, and you walk around haughtily flexing your plume because the situation happened to work out this time without any consideration for the damage you could have caused. I know that I’m only second in command, but if you ever undermine my authority like that again, you can find yourself another second.” She folds her arms, frowning.

“Is that a threat, Anastasia?” she confronts. Oh, dear God. She does want a fight. She can’t see for the life of her that she could have undone all of my hard work, and nor does it matter to her. I sigh a scoffing sigh and cover my face with my hands shaking my head. That’s it. I give up. I can’t put in this kind of work to have someone look at it like it’s nothing.

Nothing. That’s what it is.

“Absolutely nothing.”

I didn’t know I verbalized the words until I hear myself say them. I shake my head and walk away. I can’t even go to the nursery to see my babies because I didn’t bring them with me. I need alone time and my office is occupied. I walk to the other side of the building to the empty rooms that will soon be classrooms and activity rooms. I sit at one of the tables with the lights out and focus on my breathing…

In with the good air, out with the bad…
In with the good air, out with the bad…
In with the good air, out with the bad…

I don’t know how long I sit in that room meditating, but when I emerge and go to my office, the coast is clear. I go inside, closing the door behind me. I don’t think about anything. I just move, closing my laptop and putting it in its bag, packing small personal items into my messenger bag—nothing dramatic. I take a little time to scribble a note on my notepad. I know she’ll come back looking for me.

Dear Courtney,

I’m sorry if this situation caused you any grief. However it turns out, please know that I didn’t engineer this meeting. I hope you don’t feel like I’ve betrayed your trust and that we can still be friends. Please continue to stay in the condo for as long as you need to, and if you choose to leave, just let me know.

Anastasia

I fold the letter, seal it in an envelope, and write Courtney’s name on it in large letters. I put on my coat, pull my purse out of my desk drawer, and put my laptop bag and messenger bag over my shoulder. I snap off a piece of tape and tape the letter to Courtney on my office door. I retrieve my briefcase, walk to the door and turn out the lights without looking back, closing the door behind me.

I look carefully up and down the hallway and, spotting no one, I leave the office and quietly make my way to the service door and the parking lot behind the Center. I type a text to Chuck, then I remember that he’s not here with me. He’s in South Dakota in court with his family. I copy the text to Ben’s number and inform him that I’m in the parking lot and ready to go. Moments later, he comes out to join me.

“Is everything okay?” he asks when he gets into the driver’s seat of the Audi.

“Yes,” I lie. “I’m just ready to go home.”

*-*

“Why are you thinking of leaving Helping Hands?” Christian questions.

“Because my opinion is no longer respected or valued,” I reply.

“Baby, don’t you think that may be a bit dramatic?” he asks.

“I certainly do not!” I retort. “Do you see the progress Courtney has made in the last year? Even you have to say that’s remarkable. Do you know what kind of work it took to get her there? Do you know how hard I had to work to gain her trust—to get her to confide in me? She was living in squalor and I had to convince her to move into my condo. You can look at her face and see that she’s a completely different person than the girl we met. Even her showdown with Mia—it was extremely emotional, and it showed just how much she had grown, evolved. It took forever to earn her trust and she only asked one thing of me—not to tell her Grandmother that she was still in Seattle. I tried everything I could to convince her to talk to her Grandmother and she. Was not. Ready, and Grace just dismissed her wishes, my promises, all the work she had done, everything.”

“You guys are still fighting about that?” he asks.

“No, were not,” I say finitely. “We’re not fighting about it because one, she dismisses anything I say about the situation and two, she engineered a meeting between them.”

“Really?” he asks, his eyes wide. “How did that go?”

“I don’t really know!” I reply perturbed. “Courtney flipped the fuck out, sobbing and rambling for about half an hour, telling her grandmother how worthless and awful she made her feel. Things that Courtney was feeling that I didn’t even know came out in this meeting. She was devastated. She talked and wept until she collapsed in exhaustion.”

“Then what?” he questions, his mouth hanging open in awe.

“Addie hugged her, they were crying, and I left the room,” I finish. My husband’s head snapped back.

“Okay, what happened after you left?”

“Grace is standing outside with this smug I told you so look on her face, and I’m trying to explain to her that situations don’t always turn out that way. They could end up disastrous if you don’t handle them carefully.” My mind immediately goes to Stoley and to Ace’s shark tooth. “I tried to get her to understand that things could have gone astronomically wrong and she totally dismissed me—smugly, too!”

“But baby, can’t you just count this one as a win? I mean, all’s well that ends well, right?”

“NO!” I yell. “How can you two not see this? This was a four-way stop where the traffic lights don’t work, and everybody went forward at the same time! They were just lucky they didn’t crash and end up splattered all over the street! Somebody has to be out there to direct that traffic and that’s what I was trying to do, and she totally disregarded me. She disregarded everything and she’s proud of it. She told everybody to just drive, and the accident did happen. I’m just waiting to see if there are any survivors.”

“Baby, don’t kill me… but… could it be that you’re angry because my mother was right?” he asks.

“No, I’m angry because your mother was wrong!” I correct him. “What she did was the equivalent of playing Russian Roulette and the gun just didn’t go off. Instead of breathing a sigh of relief that her brains didn’t end up splattered all over the wall, she’s doing a taunting victory dance that the bullet happened to be in a different cartridge.

“But here’s the thing,” I say, moving the pillow from my lap and putting it back on the sofa, “I don’t have to be right. I’m just not going to be in a place where someone doesn’t respect my authority or wishes. She hired me because I’m a doctor—a professional, licensed psychiatrist. Then she completely ignored my professional recommendations on a case that was mine—a case that I had cultivated and groomed personally for a year—and then she gloated about it and she taunted me, and she disparaged everything I said. I can’t work like that. I can deal with being wrong, but I can’t… and won’t… work like that.”

I stand up and walk out of the family room, not because he doesn’t agree with me but because he and I shouldn’t be fighting about this. I won’t argue with him anymore about things that happen between me and his mother at the Center, assuming I go back to the Center.

“I’m not walking away angry,” I call back to him through the kitchen. “I’m just walking away… okay?”

“Fair enough,” he says after a pause.

I don’t even change out of my pajamas on Tuesday. I deliberately spend the entire day playing with my children, eating junk food, and watching romance movies with Harmony while deliberately ignoring my phone. Harmony plays hooky from school, too, because tomorrow, she has to go to Carl’s office and face off with her mother’s children for the reading of the will. She asks if Christian and I will come with her. I promise to be there and told her that we would have to approach Christian when he gets home. As it turns out, he knew about it before I did and had already planned to attend.

So, D-Day comes, and we put our war clothes on and head to Carl’s office. Harmony wears a turban so that her shaved head won’t be the topic of discussion. I’m not looking forward to this meeting, but Harmony admits that she’ll be glad when this is over so that the vultures can get their money and go away forever. She’s certain that she’ll never see them again unless they try to get her out of the house. In fact…

“I’ve decided to put the house up for sale,” Harmony says as Jason parks the Audi and we exit


CHRISTIAN

“Are you sure about that?” I ask her.

“I’m positive,” Harmony replies. “Not only are there just too many memories for me to stay, but it’s just too big. I know Momma only put the place in my name so that they wouldn’t put me out the moment that she passed away and to give me some time to figure out what I would do next. I’m certain she won’t mind. I like having space, but it’s way too much space. With the money from my trust alone, I’m sure that I could find a really nice place—maybe even downtown somewhere not so set apart from the rest of the world.”

“What are you going to do with the money from the sale,” I ask, “if you’re going to use your trust to buy a new place?” She shrugs.

“Replace the money from my trust,” she says. “I’m not going to spend the whole trust on a place. Maybe I’ll just rent something in town until I sell the mansion. Let’s face it, I’m a twenty-something girl in a big ass mansion out in the suburbs all by myself. I have all the makings of a recluse while I’m fighting off my brothers and sisters. The sooner I get away from the house, the better. I’m going to hold on to it long enough for Momma’s estate to be properly disposed of and then as soon as it’s done, I’m finding a real estate agent.”

“Would you be interested in a downtown penthouse?” Butterfly and Harmony both snap their heads over to me.

“Would I!” Harmony says, her interest piqued. “You know of one available?”

“I do,” I say, and my eyes shift to Butterfly’s.

“You’re selling Escala?” she asks in disbelief. I sigh softly.

“You love your condo,” I begin. “It had great memories for you, and I don’t have a problem with that. Escala… not so much.”

“Escala? Are you serious?” Harmony says. “You have a penthouse in Escala?”

“Yes, I do,” I say. “I’m having a few renovations done to it, and if you can wait until they’re done and I’ve gone through it to make sure that there’s nothing remaining that I want, we can negotiate a fair price and you can take it with all the furnishings.”

“That would be perfect,” Harmony says. “How long do you think the renovations will take?”

“Everything should be ready by the new year,” I inform her. The playroom will have been converted back to a regular bedroom by then and all of the BDSM paraphernalia removed. “You can stay with us until then if you don’t want to go back to the mansion.”

“Yes, please,” she says. “I’m thinking that I’ll just have to go on and dismiss the staff,” she adds as she steps onto the elevator. “I’ll give them some kind of severance once I hear what Mom has done and decide who I’d want to come with me… and who would want to come with me.”

“You can’t have Windsor,” I tell her.

“I figured as much,” she laughs as the elevator rises.

When we enter the office, all of the siblings have already arrived. They look at Harmony in distaste and with narrowed eyes and all I can think is that Paige and Theo sure don’t look like they’ve recently spent time in jail.

The receptionist leads us to the conference room and we all take a seat at the large conference table—the siblings on one side and Harmony, myself, and my wife on the other.

“Why are there strangers at the reading of my mother’s will?” Ilsa says haughtily.

“They’re only strangers to you and I want them here, so they’re staying!” Harmony claps back, her voice so sharp that no one else dare question our presence. There’s a fierce stare-off between Harmony and Ilsa, but Harmony doesn’t stand down. I’m a little entranced waiting to see which of them is going to blink first when I’m jolted from the spectacle by someone calling my name.

“Christian!” Carl greets me, surprised. He enters the room and shakes my hand. “I’m sorry, I didn’t expect to see you. I’m glad someone could be here for Harmony.”

“Thank you, Carl. This is my wife, Anastasia.” He smiles at Butterfly.

“Mrs. Grey,” he extends his hand. “A pleasure to meet you. Thank you for being here.”

“Ana, please,” she says. “So, it’s okay that we’re here?”

“It’s absolutely okay,” Carl confirms. “In fact, it’s welcomed. Please, have a seat.” He moves to the head of the conference table. “Everyone, please sit. Let’s get started.”

“So, all he saw was the guy and the tart sitting at the end of the table?” Ilsa hisses to Paige. What the fuck!

“Watch it, you bitter, cantankerous, old bat!” Butterfly shoots across the table, and all eyes turn to her. Ilsa gasps and literally clutches her pearls.

“How dare you!” she exclaims, appalled.

“How did you know that I was talking about you?” Butterfly asks matter-of-factly. “Was it the bitter part, the cantankerous part, or the old bat?” As if they could, Ilsa’s eyes widen further and she gasps again. “If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out,” Butterfly adds and Paige scoffs.

“Young people these days have no respect for their elders!” Paige hisses.

“Says the woman who waited for her mother to die, then showed up and asked for her diamond earrings back!” Butterfly barks. Now it’s Paige’s turn to gasp. “You don’t think I saw you examining your mother’s body jewelry—for your precious earrings, you grave-robbing, greedy ass vulture? You don’t know the meaning of the word respect, so you certainly won’t get it from me!”

Paige’s gasping is audible, like she’s having an asthma attack.

“Are you gonna die, Paige?” Harmony asks. “You might want to hold off until you at least find out what you’re getting.” Paige’s performance ceases and her evil glare is now turned to Harmony.

“I want them removed!” Ilsa barks at Carl. “I will not be treated this way at the reading of my mother’s will!” Them? Who is this them of whom you speak? I haven’t said anything to you yet, Ms. Daisy!

“It’s like she said, Ilsa,” Carl says, “If you don’t want anybody throwing adverse comments about you, don’t throw adverse comments about them. It’s a simple concept—a variation of The Golden Rule, you remember that? We learned it in Sunday School.”

Ilsa is even more appalled than she was before.

“Now, can we get started, or would you rather throw more insults across the table?”

“I didn’t insult anyone. I simply spoke the truth.”

“That woman,” Carl says, pointing at my wife, “is a highly-regarded member of the community, just like your mother was. She’s a doctor, a respected businesswoman, and a philanthropist well known in many social, business, and professional circles—more well-known than you are if for nothing else but her philanthropic work alone. So—Ms. Ilsa—calling her a twat simply because you don’t like the fact that she’s young, rich, and beautiful is the furthest thing from the truth! Now, shall we get started?”

Ilsa’s already prune-like face shrivels up even more as she absorbs Carl’s words, but she says nothing else.

“I have here Tina’s last will and testament. It’s quite detailed as to the disbursement and disposition of her estate and reading it will most likely take all afternoon. To that effect, I have a video that I will present before we proceed.”

Carl pushes a button on a remote and a screen descends from the ceiling against the wall behind him, much like the hidden screen in my office. Everyone in the room sits silently as we await whatever presentation we are about to see. The lights dim only slightly and after several seconds, the screen comes alive.

The setting is the second-floor library at the Franklin mansion, and Tina sits comfortably in a large chair in her shawl with her afghan over her lap.

All of the women gasp, including my wife.

“My name is Ernestina Eloise Franklin. I am of sound mind and not-so-sound body, and this is my last will and testament, recorded September 14, 2014. A written, signed, detailed, and notarized version of my will is currently in the possession of my attorney, Carl Richardson. This informal recording is for my family.

“I don’t know how many of you have gathered for the reading, but I assume that at least the immediate children will want to know what my will contains. Unless one or more of you have preceded me to the afterlife and nobody bothered to tell me, I know you’re all here, so let’s get right to it, shall we?

“My written will is solidly eighteen pages of very small print. I won’t put Carl through the tedious process of having to read the whole damn thing as I’m certain that each of you would much rather I just get to the point. So, without the hitherto’s, whitherto’s, therefores, and whatnots, this is what my will says.

“Let me start by saying that none of you get to contest it—none of you! I’m fully aware that the only person that I’m not allowed to disown is my husband, and he preceded me in death. Don’t make me disown any of you post-mortem. Trust me, I found a way to do it.”

The siblings all look at each other while Harmony never takes her eyes off the screen. I don’t even think she’s paying attention to her mother’s words; she just gazes lovingly at her mother’s image and barely takes a breath.

“You all have houses—sprawling mansions on huge estates afforded to you by the fortunes you acquired from me, Daddy, or your profit sharing from Franklin Steel. Some of you even have vacation homes and timeshares in exotic locations. To that end, you don’t need another house, but Harmony does as she doesn’t have one. On that note, Franklin House and the contents therein are to be passed down to Harmony.”

She must have made this tape before she did the quit deed. This, however, is no surprise to anyone in attendance.

“I have various other investment, ventures, stock options, mutual funds, CD’s, and the like in my portfolio. Carl has compiled individual portfolios for each of you to indicate how these investments will be divided among you. The particular numbers and dollar amounts are in my written will, but I guarantee you that the amounts in your portfolios are accurate. You may consult with Carl—or your own private attorney—concerning the disposition of these various assets. They can be transferred, or they can be liquidated—the choice is yours.

“My current liquid assets including all bank accounts, CD’s, the family trust and cash on hand total approximately $62 million. This does not include Harmony’s trust fund, which she has not yet received. The amounts will be divided as follows:

“All of my estate expenses are to be settled first—funeral costs, hospital bills, any outstanding debts or claims against the estate. The remaining members of my house staff are to receive $200,000 each. This will be considered severance pay should they decide they do not wish to continue under the employ of Franklin House upon my passing.

“Each child will receive $500,000 to distribute among their families—children, grand-children, etc.—as they see fit. Those funds will be disbursed to whichever of your descendants that you indicate. My grandson Damien’s share will be given directly to him as well, as his mother preceded me in death. Harmony, as you have no children, your $500,000 will be put into a separate trust for your future descendants. I hope you don’t think me cruel or think that I’m trying to force you to have children. I just want to be sure that, in that eventuality, your children have something as well. I think 40 is a good age to decide if you’re going to procreate. So, if by that age, you haven’t decided to have any children, the $500,000 is yours to use as you see fit.

“Once all expenses have been settled and the disbursements executed as requested, the remainder of my liquid assets are to be divided evenly among my five surviving children, the disposition thereof to be overseen directly by my attorney, Carl Richardson.

“As for the distribution of the family business, each of you will retain your voting shares in Franklin Steel. My shares will be divided as follows:

“Harmony, since you don’t have any shares yet, you will get 60% of my shares. Ilsa, Theodore, Jonah, and Paige, the remaining 40% will be split among you. If my calculations are correct, that means that the five of you will now have equal voting shares each. If you have sold any of your previous shares, that’s not my problem.”

There’s a whole lot of scoffing and gagging on the other side of the table as had Tina’s voting shares been split evenly among the children, each of the siblings would have had much more than Harmony—significantly more, in fact.

Each sibling currently holds approximately one-sixth, or just over 16%, of the Franklin family voting shares… every sibling except for Harmony, that is. Tina held the other one-third. Had she split her one-third five ways, each sibling—Harmony included—would have gotten 20% of her shares. With the shares that the current siblings should already have in their portfolios, that would have put each of them at over 23% of the voting shares each, leaving Harmony with less than 7% for herself. I can imagine that Tina spent quite some time calculating the value of her shares and comparing them to what each of her biological children had to arrive at the calculations she reached. If each of them held on to their voting shares, they will now each have 20% of the Franklin Family voting shares.

It’s obvious that several of them are displeased with this outcome. Jesus, they’re worse than Freeman.

“If you pay attention to my body, I shouldn’t have had a single piece of jewelry on me—not a diamond, not a piece of platinum, not even my wedding ring. Why? Because you can’t take it with you… right, Paige?”

Everyone looks over at Paige, who doesn’t seem surprised that her mother singled her out.

“Yes, Paige, I remember what you said. Each time you asked me for those diamond earrings back—12 times over the last several years to be exact—and I told you that I loved them so much that I wanted to be buried in them. Well, Paige, I lied.

“You bought those earrings and gave them to me for my 50th birthday. I wore them at that party and I never wore them again. They’re huge, they’re gaudy, they’re highly overstated and unattractive and you bought them for yourself! You made this big production of giving them to me in front of all my friends only to ask for them back six months later. Well, here’s what’s going to happen now.

“Christian, I’m assuming that you or your lovely wife has accompanied my Harmony to this reading…”

Okay, I’m a bit in shock, as are each of Tina’s children… including Harmony.

“If you haven’t, not to worry. Carl will apprise you of this portion of the will. All of my jewelry—all of it—is to be sold at auction and the proceeds donated to charity. That means every. Single. Piece of it, and I’ve already had it inventoried. I’d like for you to oversee the disposition of the jewelry and assure that the final donation be forwarded to Grace or Anastasia at Helping Hands.”

Paige gasps when she hears the fate of her beloved earrings… or so she thinks.

“Paige, your earrings aren’t part of that inventory… because they’re already gone. I donated those gaudy things to Habitat for Humanity four years ago. I have no idea what sum they rendered, but you can rest easy knowing that some poor family now has a home because of your generosity.”

So, this is priceless. She’s had her heart set on getting those earrings back for years, to the degree that she examined her mother’s body in the casket to see if they were there. She even has a charge of breaking and entering against her to get those earrings back, and they weren’t even in the house. They’ve been long since gone. I can’t help but laugh out loud when I hear this. She throws a look of death at me when she hears me chuckling and I give a sinister look right back, the one that I give cocky CEO’s or opposing board members when they think they want to challenge me. I can see her get a chill right down to the bone.

“I have various other knick-knacks and small items that will be distributed according to that multipage document I had to sign to keep you vultures from picking my estate apart like a rotting carcass. You’ll each get a copy of it to read at your leisure, but unless you are that interested in what’s going to happen to the damn fountain on the front lawn or the rubber ducky I used to play with as a child, I think you’ve pretty much heard what you we’re primarily interested in.

“So, there you have it. My fortune is yours now, you greedy, heartless leeches! You’ve got what you wanted—except for your precious earrings, Paige. Now, go away and leave my Harmony alone! I know that none of you have had a single kind word to say to her! Be gone with you all and leave her in peace.”

The screen goes black, and Harmony releases a held breath. I’m sure she had no idea that her mother had recorded her will, and this was more than a bit of a surprise to her.

“Carl’s going to see to the distribution of the will. Carl has the inventory of the jewelry. Carl is going to tell us what we get from the portfolio. Whose side are you on?” Jonah accuses. “You two are in cahoots to get the biggest chunk of the estate?”

“I’m on Tina Franklin’s side, sir,” Carl hisses, “as you have well known for decades. I’m the executor of her will and that’s what I’m doing—executing it! Now, you’re free to contest Mrs. Franklin’s will if you like. Just know that Ms. Harmony’s trust is untouchable as is the house. So, Harmony will have her fortune and the home, and you’ll simply be jeopardizing your and everyone else’s share of Ms. Tina’s fortune. Now, what would you like to do… sir?”

“A video will… indeed! I don’t think my mother did that without coercion for a moment! You’re not fooling anybody! Either of you!” Jonah barks. “I’ll have you disbarred for gross misconduct…”

“Oh, cut the shit!” Carl exclaims, causing the entire room to glare at him.

“You can’t speak to me that way…”

“You’re in my office—I can speak to you any way I damn well please!” he hisses, and the room falls silent. “I’ve been your parents’ attorney nearly since the day I passed the bar. Ever since the moment I met you—all of you—you’ve all been a bunch of insufferable brats! Uncontrollable, never satisfied, entitled little vermin who have run around the entire time I’ve known you asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ‘Where’s my share?’ You’re like those goddamn seagulls in that cartoon, running around screaming, ‘Mine! Mine! Mine!’

“Your. Mother. Was dying. For months! And none of you—not one of you—could be bothered to even come and say goodbye. This woman sat on the floor at her feet and wept in her lap, more times than I care to count! She’s had to battle crooked house staff, a greedy ex-husband, you—all while watching her mother deteriorate day after day. And you have the audacity—the unmitigated gall—to harass and besmirch the one person who stayed by her side and cared for her until she took her last breath when you didn’t even make the effort to show up? How dare you!” He growls the last words, and four stunned siblings continue to stare at him in awe and silence.

“Thurgood Franklin was my friend,” Carl continues. “And when he passed away, I made sure that his affairs were in order and that his wife taken care of, and you all know that because you were there. Now, Ms. Tina has passed away—also my friend—and because her spoken will is not to your liking, not only do you attack the one person who lovingly and painstakingly took care of her, but you also have the audacity to sit in my office and try to accuse me of misconduct? I’ve been your parents’ attorney for so many years that I’ve lost count! Your selfishness and greed have taken over your senses, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. I’m sure that Thurgood and Tina are thoroughly ashamed of you!”

For the first time since I’ve seen any of them, Tina’s children all look a bit contrite.

“Your mother. Is gone,” he continues. “She’s dead. She’s not coming back, and I think I shed more tears at her funeral than all of you combined. And I’ll tell you one thing that’s really going to piss you off. If I had my way, none of you would have gotten a goddamn dime! I told her more than once not to leave any of you anything, but she didn’t listen to me. You are her children, and she felt that you were entitled to it, but she made it clear that she was going to have her last say before any of you got a nickel.

“So, if you want… please, go ahead and contest the will. You’ll hold it up, but when it’s done, your proceeds will be divvied up between all of the remaining siblings… all of them!” Including Harmony, you assholes.

“You’ve heard your mother’s verbal rendition of the will. The printed rendition is exactly the same, with a little legal jargon thrown in. Do what you choose with that information. I have all of your contact information and you’ve heard what you’re getting. I swear to have the will executed and have the proceeds disbursed as soon as humanly possible just so that I never have to see any of you again. Now, get the fuck out of my office.”

He turns away to try to compose himself. Four siblings sit stunned, staring between each other and back at Carl—waiting for the punchline, I guess. After several moments and no one moving, Carl glances back over his shoulder to see the siblings still sitting there stunned.

“Are you all deaf?” he yells as he whirls around to face off with them. “Do you need a map? Or should I arrange for an escort for you? Get the fuck out!” He points to the door and stares at Theodore. It’s a standoff. One of them had better move.

Theodore stands, straightens and buttons his jacket, and with a last glare at Carl, turns and leaves the room.

Without moving his pointing arm, Carl turns his glare to Jonah, who repeats all of the gestures of his brother and leaves. Ilsa and Paige are out of their seats before Carl can turn their glares to them. I see them hovering outside the office waiting for Harmony when Carl puts his arm down, drops his head and sighs mournfully. Harmony stands, and I stand with her.

“My friend is dead,” he says, his voice low. “Over forty years of camaraderie and memories reduced to this. She and Thurgood are the main reasons I went into law in the first place. She’s the reason I stayed. I’m too old for this.” He raises glassy eyes to Harmony.

“I’m going to carry out my friend’s wishes and get this will executed as soon as humanly possible. I’m going to have her liquid assets divvied up and have millions of dollars distributed to four ungrateful, greedy, hateful ass children who don’t deserve a fucking dime!” he barks loud enough for the vultures in the hallway to hear him. “And then I’m out. I’ll be available if you ever need a consult or advice, but I’m not doing this anymore.”

“Carl!” Harmony says, her voice heavy with concern. “Don’t do this! Don’t leave your profession—what you worked so hard to achieve—because of them.”

“It’s not just them!” Carl retorts. “Do you think this is the first time this has happened? It certainly won’t be the last. People don’t have hearts anymore! They’re just walking, talking shells filled with evil and greed. People have come into this office for will readings and gotten into fist fights. Your loved one is dead! You’ve lost a part of your family! These people lost the woman who carried them for nine months, went through incredible hell, pain, and suffering to bring them into the earth. Paige was breech—she ripped your mother’s body apart so that she couldn’t have any more children. Tina nearly died trying to get her here and they couldn’t even say ‘goodbye?’ Did you know that, Paige?” he yells out into the hallway, and Paige moves away from the doorway and out of visibility.

“None of them have any conviction! Hell, they’re not even mourning. They’re sitting here more upset that she left you the house than they are that she’s gone and she’s never coming back! Who does that?” He falls into his chair.

“My last moments with your mom… she cried, and she asked me what she did wrong. She asked me what she did to cause her children to hate her so much. She talked about how she did her best to raise them and to make sure that they had everything that they needed their entire lives, and that they deserted her and left her to die alone. She thanked God for you, though,” he adds. “She knew that as long as you were around, she wouldn’t die alone.

“She was tired, Harmony. She was bone tired, and she waited until that deed was filed, and she let go. She didn’t take her last breath that night when she went to sleep and didn’t wake up. She took her last real breath when I told her the house was yours. She smiled and sighed deeply. Then she closed her eyes and said, ‘thank you.’ She was still alive after that, but it was all mechanical. She was already gone—already content to go home.

“She loved you so much, Harmony,” he says, his voice cracking. “She never regretted one minute of having you in her life. She understood what you were going through as a teenager, but she was immensely proud of how you turned out. If you take nothing else from this horrible experience, please take that.”

Tears are flowing from Carl’s eyes and Harmony, along with my wife, is openly crying.

“Thank you, Carl,” she whispers through her tears. “That’s the most precious gift I could ever receive.” Carl nods and composes himself.

“I hate to dismiss you this way, child, but I need to hurry and perform my last act as an estate attorney. My friend is gone, and I have no reason to do this anymore.” Harmony nods and takes his hand, giving it a firm squeeze. “If you need me…” he adds. She nods again and turns to leave. Butterfly puts an arm around her and Harmony returns the gesture. I think, at this moment, they’re holding each other up. I shake Carl’s hand.

“You’re a good man,” I say. He nods and purses his lips—his form of “thank you,” I think, as he fights to keep from completely breaking down. I quickly fall in step behind Butterfly and Harmony as they both watch the floor to avoid bumping into anything. They don’t make eye-contact with any of the siblings as they exit the office. Jonah moves to speak, and I throw a look of death at him.

Say something and I’ll knock your fucking dentures out!

I see a visible chill run through him as he takes a step back and clams the fuck up. As we’re waiting for the elevator, I hear Carl’s disembodied voice speaking through the intercom to his assistant—the siblings still hovering around her desk.

“Mrs. Andreini, please get the ball rolling on the Franklin file immediately. I want it executed and closed as soon as inhumanly possible. Also, close my door and get those people out of my office. Call the police if you have to.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Richardson.”

The elevator comes, and we don’t wait to see the outcome. I usher the ladies inside and push the button for the first floor, leaving the siblings behind us as the elevator doors close.


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.

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 2—Beginnings and Conclusions

Okay, so, before all the medical practitioners and professionals that ever read my story decide to jump down my throat, PLEASE HEAR THIS! I’ve never been part of a medical investigation. However, in order to try to get this as close to real as possible, I researched the protocol and procedures of several states as well as talked to a few medical professionals—one of which actually took part in these kinds of investigations and admitted to me that the task was very stressful.

Having said that, please recognize that this is not only NOT going to be a by-the-book rendition of what may happen during one of these investigations, but also, I took a lot of creative license to develop this story line for reasons of my own. The last time I showed a doctor—ONE DOCTOR, not every doctor in my story, JUST ONE—in a bad light, I had a reader jumping down my throat, pretty much telling me that I was persecuting the medical profession by simply pointing out A PAINFUL REALITY that is unfortunately true with some doctors… SOME doctors!

I ask that you please put the torches and pitchforks away as you read this part of the story, because quite frankly, I don’t want to hear “That’s not how it happens!” I hate to tell you this, but research and discussion shows that part of this is EXACTLY how it happens while the other part is that great thing that we call FICTION! Speaking of fiction, Ana is now a 28-year-old psychiatrist. Explain it however it suits you. 😉

One more thing… Be sure that I have the email address that you want me to use on my mailing list. Also, be sure that you are checking that email regularly and that it doesn’t get too full. I sent my email out to the entire list last week and fifty-five emails BOUNCED! 

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 2—Beginnings and Conclusions

CHRISTIAN

“Talk to me,” I say to my father as Butterfly joins my side.

“He’s on oxygen, of course—he can barely breathe,” Dad says. “He’s becoming confused more often and he has awful muscle spasms. His skin is powdery…” Dad trails off. He holds his head down to try to rein in his emotions. “It… won’t be too much longer now.” I frown.

Pops’ condition deteriorated significantly not long after Valerie and Elliot’s wedding. Valerie finished radiation a couple of weeks later and Butterfly and I were planning our trip to Italy. Just when Valerie began to show significant signs of improvement, Pops’ health started to decline very quickly and he had to be rushed to the hospital. There wasn’t much that could be done for him. Without a kidney transplant, he doesn’t have much of a chance. To be painfully honest, it’s too late for a kidney even now. The hospital kept him for two weeks or so, but he has asked to come home. He has no unrealistic expectations. He’s certain that God still has miracles stored up there, but unfortunately, none of them are for him this time around.

“How long?” I ask. “Any idea?” Dad shakes his head.

“Weeks, maybe,” Dad says sadly, “but… I’d… put my money on days.” He squeezes the last words out. “That’s why we called everyone here. We’re most likely going to bring him home and let him live out the rest of his days in peace and comfort instead of alone in the hospital… and we just want everyone’s input.” I nod and squeeze his shoulder.

“Whatever you think is best, Dad,” I say softly. He nods and purses his lips. He looks over at Butterfly like he’s only just noticing that she’s there. She hands me the other baby carrier and hugs my dad. I’m glad she has so much faith in me carrying two of these things… not that I can’t do it.

“I’m so sorry, Carrick,” she says sweetly. “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Dad nods while Butterfly cups his face. His strong façade almost cracks at her touch.

“Being here is enough right now. Thank you, dear girl,” he says. My wife kisses my father on the cheek before she relieves me of one of my children and we all walk inside.

Elliot and Valerie are already here talking to Mom in the great room, along with Mia and Ethan. I look up the stairs just in time to see Luma disappear around a corner. She has become quite at home here since Pops and Uncle Herman arrived. It’s one of those situations where you understand that everything happens for a reason—even the really bad stuff. She lost her family and we welcomed her into ours. Now, she’s helping us through a difficult time. Mom rises when I enter and I kiss her on the cheek.

“How are you?” I ask. She smiles tightly.

“As well as can be expected,” she says. “Cary is so tired; the whole thing is really taking its toll on him. Herman puts up a brave front, but…” Mom shrugs. “You know we just have to be pillars for our men.” I raise an eyebrow.

Our men?” I ask suspiciously. “So, have Luma and Uncle Herman finally made it official?” My mom smiles a knowing smile.

“I knew it,” she declares. “I told them the only ones that they were fooling were themselves. Who all knows? Everybody?” I nod.

“Yeah, I think that’s a safe assumption,” I say. “I mean there hasn’t been any family powwows or anything like that, but the way they look at each other and the way they sneak away for stolen moments…” I gesture around the room. “… Like now.” Mom nods.

“He’s going to need someone… when Burt is gone,” she says sadly. “The last several years of his life have been centered around taking care of his father and that’s going to change soon. He’ll need a diversion—someone to care for him, and maybe someone else to care for.”

I look over at my wife who has settled in next to Valerie and Elliot, talking in hushed tones about who knows what while she situates the baby carrier at her feet. I still have one of my children in the carrier in my hand, I don’t know which one yet.

“She’s been so good for you, Christian,” my mother says. “I never thought I would ever see you shed your anger. I hoped, but I never thought…” She chokes up before she can finish her sentence and I rub her arm. “But look at you now,” she says, sniffling and fighting her tears. “A family man with a wife and two beautiful children.” I reach in my pocket and hand her my handkerchief when she loses the fight. “I’m sorry. It’s just that… times like these make you realize how important family really is.”

I hug my mother with my free arm, which only makes her cry harder. This is something else she didn’t think she would ever see, but being with Butterfly has changed me in ways that no one ever thought possible… not even me. The little bundle in my carrier begins to fuss and Butterfly’s attention immediately turns to me.

“Oh, please, please, let me,” my mother beseeches quickly drying her eyes and reaching for the baby seat. I look to Butterfly who nods once with a kind smile. I remove the blanket off the carrier to reveal which child I have been carrying. It’s Minnie.

“There’s grandma’s precious little Minnie Mouse,” my mother says, taking a fussing Minnie out of her carrier. Mikey must have heard the cue and starts to fuss as well.

“That means that this must be my godson,” Valerie says, removing the receiving blanket from the carrier before my wife has a chance to protest. “Hello, Sir Michael. Come and give Tee Tee Val kisses!” My little boy is quite the ladies’ man, because the moment Valerie retrieves him from the carrier, he gives her the biggest toothless grin. Speaking of teeth, Minnie has already started teething and has been quite irritable over the last couple of weeks. Butterfly is nearly at her wits end with Minnie’s relentless unwillingness to settle. The baby’s constant crying upsets her because she doesn’t like hearing Minnie cry. Noting her obvious distress, my mother comforts her.

“Don’t worry, dear. It’s just one of the growing pains they’ll have. Let me take care of her for you,” Mom says. Butterfly nods, and soon Minnie’s cries are off in the distance somewhere after Mom takes her from the great room. It’s obvious that my mother needs a distraction and quite frankly, Butterfly needs a break. Even with the two nannies at home, Butterfly is extremely active in caring for our children. Mikey has gotten to where he can sleep through the night if he’s not disturbed, but once Minnie started teething, her unrest would disturb him and now, he’s awake at night again when she stirs. Knowing that her daughter is in pain, my wife can’t sleep through the night either, so her latest sleeping habits have somewhat matched Minnie’s and, although I won’t tell her so, she looks exhausted.

She keeps telling me that something is holding up the accreditation at Helping Hands, but no one can seem to tell her or my mother what it is. So, of course, that’s very frustrating. Then there’s the hearing before the medical board looming over us and now, the family is gathering to discuss Pops’ deteriorating condition. We were planning a vacation on our anniversary at the end of the month. I intended to take Butterfly to the Italian villa that I bought for her, but with everything going on with work and licenses and Pops and the twins, it doesn’t look like we’ll be making that trip this year.

I sit on the sofa opposite Elliot and Valerie. Butterfly comes to join me and snuggles under my arm. I watch as my brother and his wife coo over my son who is hungrily taking a bottle offered by Valerie. I lean down and kiss my wife on the forehead.

“You okay?” I ask. She nods.

“I can’t stand to hear her cry that way,” she says, her voice sounding defeated. “It’s so shrill and I know that she’s hurting and I can’t do anything about it. It pierces me right in the heart—like a rusty knife!” I rub her arm and kiss her again, sinking into the silence.

“Listen,” I say and pause. She listens, realization dawning only moments later.

“She’s not crying anymore,” Butterfly says. “I wonder what Grace did.” I shrug. I don’t know what my Mom did, but I’m very happy that Minnie is settled, even if only for a moment.

“Are you guys planning to have kids of your own someday?” I ask Valerie and Elliot. “You’re a natural with babies.” Valerie smiles.

“Someday, but it won’t be for a while,” she says. “The radiation needs to work its way out of my system and then we need to know for sure that I have healthy ovaries.” Obviously, they’ve talked about this. “Once I have the ‘all clear’ from all pertinent doctors, we’ll most likely start trying sometime after that.” Elliot smiles and I nod.

“That’s a good idea. I’m feeling the need to keep our family line going,” I say. “We’re losing one of the foundations of the family and I’m just feeling that need to keep the legacy alive.”

“Tell me about it,” Elliot says before tenderly kissing his wife. Soon thereafter, Mom comes back into the great room with a cooing Minnie.

“Is she asleep?” Butterfly asks. Mom shakes her head.

“Just content,” Mom says. “I put something on her gums to soothe the ache.” Mom reaches into her pocket and pulls out a vial. “It’s a lavender oil dilution with just a touch of clove oil—not too much as clove oil can cause irritation in some infants.” She gives a vial to Butterfly. “A little bit on your finger—just enough to coat it—and rub it on her gums. She should get relief fairly quickly. When you run out, let me know and I’ll make more. I know the right concentration and you can’t be too careful with infants and clove oil. In a pinch, you can also use German Chamomile hydrosol. You’ll probably have to get it online, but you can put it right on her gums.” Butterfly nods and rises to put the vial in the diaper bag… but she doesn’t quite make it off the sofa.

“Butterfly!” I exclaim, catching her just as she falls back down on the sofa. She puts her hand on her forehead.

“I’m okay,” she says softly. “Just a little light-headed.” My brown furrows.

“Exhausted, you mean,” I accuse, taking the vial from her hands and putting it in the side pocket of the diaper bag. I turn around to the questioning faces of my family and the convicted downcast gaze of my wife. I sit next to her again and cuddle her close to me, nearly pulling her into my lap.

“Why are you exhausted, Anakins?” Mia asks. When Butterfly doesn’t respond, I speak instead.

“There’s a lot going on and it’s happening all at once,” I say without being specific. “Some things that can’t be helped and some things that certainly can, and I swear, Butterfly—if you don’t get a handle on those things that can be handled, I’m going to do it for you.”

“You can’t rescue me, Christian,” she protests.

“No, I can’t,” I agree, “but I can assure that all this stuff you’re taking on doesn’t kill you. It’s going to be your choice or mine, baby, but I won’t lose you.” She drops her eyes again.

“I’m afraid he’s right, Steele,” Valerie says and Butterfly raises her head. Valerie starts to count on her fingers.

“You were there for me, and I needed 24-hour care. You’re there for two babies and you never faltered. You’re there for the help center. You do the radio spots. You went from the six-week check-up to that crazy woman’s trial to caring for me and planning my spur-of-the-moment wedding. And this is just the stuff I know about. That doesn’t include if something else is going on…”

“There’s a whole lotta ‘something else’ going on,” I interject and Valerie nods.

“You’re not looking well, Ana, and the moisturizer that you’re wearing does not cover the bags under your eyes. You’re spread about as thin as you can be. Do you need to pass out before you take a break?”

“Fuck, no,” I answer emphatically, until I hear my mother hiss softly. “Sorry, Mom, but fuck no.” This time I mouth the word fuck. Butterfly’s shoulders sag her defeat. I cuddle her close to me. I don’t want her to feel like we’re ganging up on her, but I’m glad Valerie chimed in and told her that her overworking herself is not invisible to those around her. She would have taken it as me being overprotective.

“We’ll work this out,” I tell her, “together, but baby, the twins and I need you healthy, fit, and happy, so something’s got to give. At your current pace…” I trail off. She raises sad blue eyes to me in surrender and nods, curling into my chest and allowing me to hold her. I think there might be a bit of shrinking involved, but I allow it this time.

I gently stroke her hair as conversation carries on around us about babies and life and Mia’s upcoming wedding—anything but the elephant in the room and the reason that we’re all here… Pops’ condition. A few minutes later, Dad, Uncle Herman, and Luma all come from different parts of the house and join us in the great room. Dad and Uncle Herman look as run down as my wife if not more. Valerie and Mom have gotten the twins settled and back in their carriers and my father and uncle find a seat. Luma has already taken a seat with Mia and Ethan.

“Well,” Dad begins, “Dad’s not doing well at all. He’s very weak and very frail. The number of symptoms piling up is more than we can even describe. He’s irritable, upset… quickly deteriorating and currently alone in a hospital bed. Dialysis really can’t do much more to help him at this stage. The disease is so advanced and with his advanced age and no new kidney on the horizon…” Dad trails off. After several moments of silence, Uncle Herman continues.

“We called my brothers back in Detroit for input. You can just about imagine how well that went,” he says, rubbing his forehead. “Anyway, we don’t have time for the bickering. We have to make a decision. Dad doesn’t have long left and he’s refusing dialysis because he knows this. He wants his last days to be as comfortable as possible. We’re considering bringing him home on hospice instead of leaving him at the hospital, but it’s certain that if we do that, he’s going to die here and not too far down the road. We want his family to be around him when that happens, maybe even to hear and see his great-grandchildren on his last day… Is she alright?”

Uncle Herman had turned his attention to me to weigh in on the great-grandchildren suggestion, but is now referring to my wife. I was so engrossed in what he was saying that I wasn’t paying attention to Butterfly. She’s in the most awkward position on my chest with her mouth hanging open—fast asleep. She wasn’t shrinking, she was cuddling and trying to get comfortable. I adjust her so that she’s laying on my lap and she doesn’t even stir. If it weren’t for the rise and fall in her chest, I’d be concerned about her.

“She’s overworked,” I answer Uncle Herman. Dad looks at Mom with a furrowed brow. “It’s more than that, Dad,” I counter, anticipating his thoughts. “There’s a lot going on.”

“I’m sorry, son. I didn’t mean to dump this on you while you two while you’re going through something…”

“Trust me, Dad, it’s okay. This is family. It’s just that everything is happening at once and I have to help my wife delegate some things. She’s not going to be happy about that, but she can’t continue the pace that she’s keeping.” I stroke her hair again while she’s lying on my lap. “Please, Uncle Herman, continue.”

“I… feel a little guilty asking what I want to ask now,” he says, looking over at Dad, who sighs heavily. “We’ve decided… to bring him home and let him go in peace. We’ve talked about it and… we’d like for anyone who can to move into the Manor for a while. Dad’s become accustomed to having the family around and if everyone stays away while he’s dying… well…” Herman trails off this time. This is very hard for my father and his brother. I’m certain that Butterfly won’t mind moving in with my parents for a little while. It’ll give me a chance to pull her away from the situation she’s in for a while, too. Not so much a vacation, unfortunately, but at least a breather from some of the things she has to handle. I’ll cut down on my work, too, so that I can keep an eye on her and help out with the babies while this is all going on.

“Um… we have nannies that help with our children. I’m sure security can probably set up in the pool house or the pool house, but the nannies…”

“Give them a vacation,” Mom says. “We’ll help you care for the children.”

“Yes,” Luma says. “I am certain that my boss will allow me a revised schedule for a family emergency,” she says with a wink, causing me to chuckle. “I will be happy to help out with the children.”

“Me, too, when I’m not forced to work,” Mia chimes in. “You know how I love babies.”

“More time with my godchildren? Count me in,” Valerie also says. “Besides, Steele needs a break in the worst way. We’re going to have to pry her away from those babies, because that’s where most of her energy is going and life in general is zapping the rest. Even with the nannies, she’s right there every time one of the children cries. She’s going to have to let go just a bit. That’s why she has nannies—to allow her the time to do the other things she wants to do, not to try to be a stay-at-home mom and carry a full-time schedule. They’re both full-time jobs. Geez, she even takes the babies to work with her.”

“You’re preaching to the choir here,” I tell her. “I’ll appreciate your back-up when it’s time to convince her.”

“You got it,” Valerie confirms.

“Does that mean that you all are willing to move in for a while?” Uncle Herman says. “We don’t know how long it will be… we just know that it won’t be long.”

Various affirmations around the room confirm that Grey Manor will soon become Grey Compound for however long it takes for Pops to make his transition. More conversation reveals that one brother in Detroit is on the fence about what to do while the other is adamant about leaving Pops in the hospital. His suggestion is to have Pops deemed incompetent and unable to make his own decision and forcing him to take the dialysis to extend his life. Yeah, that’s the kind of fucker I want to make my end-of-life decisions… not!

Luckily, for lack of a better word, even if Pops’ capacity may be slightly diminished, he’s not completely gone and still able to make his own decisions. Not only that, he has advanced directives that were put in place before his health deteriorated and the person able to legally make decisions about his care is already here—Uncle Herman has power of attorney and is already trustee for Pops’ estate.

Once we sort out what’s going to be happening over the next several days or weeks—however long this process takes—I take my wife to my childhood bedroom and put her to bed. She still hasn’t stirred. One good thing about being here instead of home… no two-way communications, so she can’t be disturbed by the babies crying.

I get to work immediately on what needs to be done for our stay, as does Elliot and Ethan. The women are left to coo over the babies and make sure all the refrigerators are stocked. Jason will set up Security Central in the pool house and have a of staff rotation working shifts while we’re here. Gail and Keri will be on-call and brought to the Manor only if needed as the place will already be overrun with people. I arrange for cribs and baby furniture to be delivered to the Manor to set up nurseries in two parts of the house as Mom and Dad don’t have the staff or accommodations that we have. Gail and Keri are packing the things that we’ll need for a possible month-long stay with my parents—including clothes for me and Butterfly.

Work schedules will be severely cut as well as appearance schedules for my wife. Marilyn will also be on call to handle most of Butterfly’s tasks so that she can finally get a little rest. We can’t avoid the hearing coming up next week and I’m hoping that my deposition in all of this will put this shit to rest. Sexual misconduct… what a fucking crock. Although, something that Valerie said earlier stuck with me…

“You went from the six-week check-up to that crazy woman’s trial to caring for me and planning my spur-of-the-moment wedding.”

In two years—two years—of being with my lover, my fiancée, and my wife, there were only three people with intimate knowledge who really questioned our relationship…

Ronald Carlisle, the director of the community center where I attended the group sessions. I’m sure he did so for professional reasons and we never heard from him again after the sessions were complete.

Brian Cholometes, Ray’s best friend and a serious suitor for Butterfly. Could his jealousy and need for revenge have caused him to want to harm Butterfly after ultimately losing her to me?

And of course, the crazy woman to whom Valerie is referring—one Elena Lincoln. She knew the circumstances under which I met Butterfly. She could very well be the one who’s trying to ruin Butterfly’s reputation.

There could be any other number of people who could have made this false report, including someone that was in the initial group sessions, but I’d like to focus on these three first—eliminate them and then move on to possible other suspects. It’s time to shake the tree and see if anything falls out.

“Welch.”

“I appreciate more than anyone that I can pick up this phone at just about any hour of any day and reach you, but damn, man, you need a life,” I proclaim into the phone.

“This coming from my boss,” he retorts. “Should I hang up and go find one right now?”

“Don’t be a smart-ass,” I warn.

“Don’t tell me to get a life. I’ve got a life—the life I want. Now what do you need?” I stop egging him on and get to the point.

“I know that we can’t really pinpoint who contacted the licensing board about me and my wife since the complaint was anonymous, but if you know who to look at, could you find out if they contacted the licensing board at all?” The line is quiet.

“It’s a place to start,” he says. “If someone was trying to cover their tracks, you may never find out. But if they were using their cell or office phones or home phones, it should be easy enough. If it was in writing, that’s trickier.” I shake my head as if he can see me.

“It was a phone call,” I tell him. “Allen got that much from the review board, but they wouldn’t give any further information.”

“What do you have?” I give him the names. “Has Ana tried talking to Carlisle to see if he had suspicions? Or you? Didn’t you see him separately for a while?”

“He had suspicions,” I say. “He openly asked us if something was going on. Separately, but he asked us.”

“Then why wait two years?” he asks, the same question I was considering.

“Whoever made the complaint waited two years,” I point out. “I’m just going through a process of elimination. Besides our family and close friends, there’s only a handful of people who even knew that Butterfly and I met in those sessions. I’d like to start with the obvious.”

“Brian… you like to give me impossible tasks, don’t you?” he says.

“Only because I know you can do them,” I retort.

“Lincoln will be the easiest one. I’ll start with her.”

“Good man. Let me know what you come up with.”

“Will do.” I end the call and go in search of my mother.


ANASTASIA

I slept like the dead. When I open my eyes, it’s still daylight, but I can tell that it’s somewhat late in the day. I can’t remember the last time I had that content of a sleep. I’m in Christian’s bedroom with no idea how I got here. I throw my legs over the edge of the bed, stand up, and go to the bathroom. After relieving myself, I wash my face and try to tame my bed-head hair. Once I’m satisfied, I go in search of my family.

There’s no one in the great room and I didn’t want to just start opening bedroom doors and maybe walk in on something I really don’t want to see. I head for the dining room and discover my husband talking to his mother. I hear my name and decide to hang back at the door for a while. I’m sure that quite a bit has been discussed while I was sleeping.

“You just wouldn’t believe the headache we’re having,” I hear Grace say. “I don’t want to dump it all on Ana, and I swear that I haven’t, but she takes it on anyway. She has all the plans for the school and the day care center—it was her baby from day one. She feels like it’s her responsibility to see it through to the end. That’s partially my fault for freaking out when she announced her maternity leave.”

“That’s water under the bridge now, Mom,” I hear Christian say. “What’s important now is that she doesn’t work herself to death. You saw her this afternoon. She’s running on fumes! She even has the communications system in the house wired so that if one of the babies makes the slightest sound and she’s not in the room with them, she’s notified even if she’s on the toilet!”

“Good God,” Grace says. “That’s a bit extreme.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. We have two nannies and two children. At first, it was Gail and Ana. But when Sophie came to live with us, we didn’t want Gail spread too thin, so we hired Keri. There are three women in that house that can care for those children, but Ana cares for them the most. I think that may partially be my fault for telling her that I didn’t want my children raised by nannies.”

That’s not his fault. We agreed that the babies wouldn’t be raised by nannies. I want my children to know who I am. They can know who the nanny’s are, but this is called being “Mom.”

“That’s Mom for you, son,” Grace says, verbalizing my thoughts. “Mom is going to be the one to kiss boo-boos. Mom is going to be there for birthdays and holidays and to tuck them in at night. Mom is going to parent-teacher conference and to hug Minnie through her first heartbreak and give Mikey advice on girls that you may not be able to give him. Moms care; nannies help.”

“I know,” he says, and I can see him in my mind’s eye running his hands through his hair, “but she’s killing herself, Mom. She’s exhausted. She’s going to make herself sick. She can’t do both full-time and everything else that she’s trying to squeeze in. Something’s got to give. She’s going to have to cut down to part-time on both or let one go or something… There’s no way in hell she can keep up this pace. I just need to know that you’re on the same page with me.”

I lean against the wall as I listen to Grace agree with my husband. His voice sounds… distressed, and this is one of those times when even though I may feel like Wonder Woman, my husband needs to care for me. It’s not the control freak in him—well, maybe it is,  just a little bit, but not really. No, this is genuine concern for my welfare and the fact that the slightest thing is causing me to snap or fall apart lately. Although I wouldn’t call discovering that someone is accusing me of sexual misconduct a slight thing, it took the staff three days to get my office back to par after that revelation.

“Our biggest problem is getting the accreditation approved.” Grace’s conversation brings me back from my wanderings. “Now, I’ve discovered what’s holding it up.”

She did? Why didn’t she tell me?

“I only found out late yesterday. With what I knew was coming with Burt and the hearing on Monday, I was going to wait until after to say anything to her about it,” she says, once again reading my mind.

“Well, what is it?” Christian asks.

“The director of the licensing board,” Grace says. “She’s been putting us through the paces for months, continuously holding up our license for one thing or another and we couldn’t figure out why. I researched the process to have an appeal or an investigation conducted to see why we’re being subjected to such scrutiny and if this is the usual process for organizations seeking accreditation. Every time we pass one test or another review and we’re led to believe that we’re going to get our accreditation, something else has to be submitted or reviewed. I think the steps are unnecessary, so my research led me to the head of the board. You won’t believe what I found.”

“What did you find?”

“Gloria Felton,” Grace says. The name sounds slightly familiar, but there are no alarm bells going off.

“Should I know this person?” Christian asks.

“No, you wouldn’t,” the response came, “but Ana and I would. I passed Gloria Felton up as Assistant Director for the Center and gave the job to Ana. Ana was overwhelmingly more qualified for the job, but Gloria was convinced that I only did it because she was dating you at the time. She was spewing threats on her way out the door and now, it appears she’s making good on them.” I burst into the dining room.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I ask in a shrill voice. “Gloria fucking Felton? Really?”

Grace and Christian are both beyond shocked at my entrance.

“Ana! Were you eavesdropping at the door?” she asks.

“Yes, I was,” I admit openly. “I heard my name when I approached and I didn’t want the conversation to drop the moment I walked into the room. Gloria Felton? Is this a joke?”

“I’m afraid not,” she says.

“Was she the director back when she was trying to socially climb through the charity?” I ask. “How could she expect to do them both?” Christian raises an eyebrow at me.

“I don’t know,” Grace replies. “I don’t think so.” My scar starts to throb. Gloria fucking Felton. I only knew her as Gloria, which is why she didn’t ring any bells. All that work we’ve done can be just shot to hell because of somebody’s personal vendetta. Give me a fucking break. I notice the room has fallen silent and raise my eyes to see Christian and Grace both staring at me.

“I heard you,” I say, looking over at my husband. “You’re right. I’m exhausted. I can’t keep up this pace. I’ll talk to Marilyn about my schedule and work some things out, and I’ll utilize my nannies more…” I turn to Grace. “… But Grace, if something must suffer in this, it’s going to have to be the Center, because it’s not going to be my babies.” Grace’s face breaks into a sincere smile.

“I would expect nothing less, dear,” she says. Before I know it, Christian has gathered me in his arms and is holding me so close to him that I can’t move. He buries his nose in my hair and inhales.

“Thank you,” he whispers softly. “Thank you thank you thank you…”

I can only imagine that this is hard for him, what’s going on with Pops and watching Herman and Carrick fall apart before his very eyes, and now me—barely able to stay awake for a very important conversation. When he releases me, I open my eyes to see that Grace has left us alone in the dining room.

“It’s getting late,” I say. “Are we staying for dinner or shouldn’t we be getting home soon?” His lips form a thin line.

“Yeah, about that.” He returns to his seat, pulling me with him. I sit down in the chair next to him. “I’ve somewhat made an executive decision and I hope you don’t mind… you were asleep.”

“What’s going on?” I ask. Christian tells me about the conversation the family had while I was fast asleep on his lap; how all the siblings, their significant others, and Luma with her girls have all agreed to move into Grey Manor as a unified support system until Pops passes on; how Mia, Luma, Grace, and even Val have all agreed to become part-time nannies for the girls and for the twins while we’re here; how everyone wants to be present to support Carrick and Herman through this and help ease Pops’ mind knowing that family is around him during his final days.

“And I slept through this?” I ask horrified. “Christian, you let me sleep through this?”

“I couldn’t stop you, baby,” he states matter-of-factly. “I didn’t even know you were asleep until Uncle Herman asked if you were okay.”

“Why didn’t you wake me?” I protest. This was an important meeting and I slept through it like a toddler at naptime. He twists his lips.

“Baby, I moved you several times and you didn’t even stir.” He’s right. He got me off the sofa, upstairs and into the bed and I didn’t even know I was there. “Everyone understood, Butterfly. You tried, but you couldn’t hide it… you looked you were going to pass out.” I roll my eyes, admitting defeat.

“So… where are the babies going to sleep?” I ask.

“Well, we now have two nurseries—one in the guest room next to Mom and Dad’s room and Mom’s library has been converted to a nursery, too.” My eyes widen.

“How long was I asleep?” I ask.

“Several hours, baby.” I shake my head and stop arguing.

“Is there a space somewhere that I can commandeer as a makeshift office while I’m here?” I ask. “I’m going to have to meet with Marilyn—cancel some appearances, rework my schedule… I think Grace and I will have to alternate at Helping Hands for a while, and some days, they’ll just have to do without us both.” Christian smiles.

“I’ll see what Mom says about commandeering a room. I haven’t lived here in a long time, remember?”

*-*

Marilyn and I comb through my schedule on Sunday morning and cancel all my immediately upcoming appearances until further notice due to a family emergency. I know that this will lead to speculation, but right now, I can’t be concerned with that. As Christian and I prepare to give our depositions at the hearing tomorrow, he gets a call and decides to take it in another room. That makes me feel a little uneasy since it’s late Sunday evening, but I don’t squawk about it.

Mia and Grace take the rounds on baby watch so that Christian and I wouldn’t be late to the preliminary hearing for my license review in the morning. It’s an informal hearing, so I don’t necessarily need Al, yet, but the moment I enter the building, I begin to feel like I should have brought him with me.

I can’t even begin to express how ridiculous I think this exercise is. Just like in a real courtroom, Christian isn’t allowed hear my testimony and I’m not allowed to hear his. However, I’m quite surprised to see some of the participants of that same group that Christian was in as well as Ronald Carlisle in the waiting room, waiting to give their testimony. When I check in, I have to turn in my purse, my phone, and my watch before I’m led to a separate room where I sit all by myself… with an escort who’s not allowed to leave the room.

Why the hell did they take my watch?

I sit in that room with nothing but a table and no windows, and I slowly begin to lose hope. There’s no clock, there’s nothing to let me know how much time has passed. I sit and sit and sit in silence, and I feel like it’s been hours. I already know that I’ve been escorted to this room to make sure that I speak to none of the witnesses and I’m also certain that with the way that I’ve been treated—like a nobody, and I’m a licensed medical professional—that unlike a criminal trial where I’m innocent until proven guilty, I’ve pretty much been convicted, and it’s up to me to prove my innocence. I’m feeling more and more helpless the longer I sit here and I finally settle on a plan of attack, if you can call it that.

“Excuse me, why did they take my watch?” I ask the escort/attendant/guard or whatever the fuck she is.

“It’s protocol, ma’am,” she says in a clipped voice.

“But why my watch? What can I possibly do with my watch?” They didn’t take my wedding rings or my earrings or any of my other jewelry. What could I do with my watch?

“It’s protocol, ma’am,” she says again, and it’s obvious that she has no other words for me. I shake my head and sigh.

Just like I said, a nobody.

I close my eyes and meditate while I wait. I focus on my children, on my wedding day, my honeymoon, all of my best friend’s weddings; on Food & Libations and on holding my little brother for the first time; on dancing with my father and Christian’s proposal; on realizing that he loved me and I loved him even when I didn’t know who he was after coming out of the coma; on building a High School Musical bear with Sophie at Thanksgiving and on Keri’s return from Anguilla; on…

“Dr. Steele-Grey, the board is ready for you now.”

I look up at the escort who has been sitting silently in the cell with me all this time. That’s what this room is. It’s a cell, and after being stripped of my dignity this way, I’m resigned to accept whatever they say.

“It has come to the attention of the board that there has been an accusation of sexual misconduct against you, Dr. Steele-Grey.”

There’s some kind of introduction about this not being a formal disciplinary proceeding blah blah blah. I’ve already tuned them out. I was forced to walk about 100 feet from the door to a single chair sitting in front of a long Oxford wood table with four people on the other side facing me. They give me their names, but I don’t commit any of them to memory—two men, both over the age of fifty, a younger man and a woman… I can’t place her age. Christian’s got their names. I know he does. No matter, I already know what I’m going to say.

“You mean a conviction, don’t you?” I say, my voice controlled. All four of the people who sit in judgment of me raise their eyes to me.

“Excuse me?” one of them says.

“You said an ‘accusation.’ You meant a conviction, didn’t you?” I repeat. “I sit before this board accused by a ghost! Someone who can’t be bothered to come before this panel, show their face and proudly proclaim they openly accuse me of wrongdoing. No, I’m called before a disciplinary board and treated like a common criminal from the moment I entered this building based on opinion and conjecture. I’ve been sitting in a cell for four hours with no contact with anybody. I couldn’t even check on my children!”

“It’s not a cell, Mrs. Grey…”

“It’s Dr. Steele-Grey you haven’t stripped me of my license yet and have you been in that room?” I say all in one breath. They all fall silent. “If that’s not a cell, why did they take my watch? My watch! What can I possibly do with a watch?” I exclaim. “I remember a psychological experiment when I was in college where they put people in a cell with no window for days and deprived them of the ability to tell time. The subjects lost their minds. Is that what this was? Some kind of mind-freak experiment to break down my resistance? Stick me in a cell for four hours and hope I’ll confess to anything?”

“Mrs. Grey, that is not a cell,” he repeats, his voice sounding impatient.

“Excuse me, but is something wrong with your hearing?” I ask.

“I beg your pardon?” he scoffs.

“I repeat, is there something wrong with your hearing?” I ask, folding my arms. “Is your hearing okay?” I am pointing to my ears this time.

“There’s nothing wrong with my hearing!” he shoots.

“Eyesight good, too?” I ask. “I wear glasses, too, and I know things can tend to get a little fuzzy.” He’s really getting heating now.

“My eyesight is fine,” he replies as if he can barely maintain control.

“Well, I’m only asking because you keep addressing my sister-in-law. You see, she’s Mrs. Grey. I’m Dr. Steele-Grey, and when you called me in here and addressed me for the first time, that’s what you said. And when you look at that documentation in front of your face, that’s who you’re trying. And since you’re so sure that the description of that room is a matter of my own perception, I’ll tell you what, sir. You have one of these fine employees take you to that room, take your watch, and sit there with you for four hours without saying a word and then come back and tell me that it’s not a cell.”

He clears his throat and looks at his notes.

“We’re getting off the mark, here,” he says, bringing the conversation back to the cause of the hearing. “You know that you’re here because accusations of sexual misconduct have been levied against you.”

“By whom?” I ask.

“Christian Grey,” he says. I now notice that he must be the mouthpiece while the others just observe and take notes as he’s the only one who speaks.

“Would you like to rephrase that now or would you like to wait until I turn this over to my attorney for slander?” I say, impassively. He glares at me when the other older gentleman leans over and whispers something in his ear. He clears his throat again.

“What I mean to say is that the victim is Christian Grey,” he corrects himself.

“And again, I ask, accusations have been levied against me by whom? Christian Grey will tell or has already told you that there has been no sexual misconduct on my part while he was in my group session. So, what are we basing further hearings on? Who is my accuser and what is their evidence?”

“Mrs. Grey, you’re hardly in a position to make demands right now with the delicate nature of these proceedings.”

“It’s Dr. Steele-Grey, for the third time. And sir, if you’re not required to answer my questions, I’m not required to answer yours, nor will I defend someone’s opinion to this board.” They look at each other as I cross my arms and legs. That’s when the totally inappropriate questions begin.

“Did you wear provocative clothing to the group sessions you facilitated?”

“Did you ever act inappropriately around your patients or participants?”

“Did you and Mr. Grey have a lover’s quarrel during which time you outed him in front of the other members of the group for ‘mommy issues?’”

More and more questions exactly like this one are fired off at me. I shake my head at the line of questioning and laugh. I don’t answer a single question. When he’s done with his barrage, he asks one last question.

“You don’t have anything to say for yourself, Mrs. Grey?” I laugh again. Mrs. Grey. Okay.

“Yes, I do,” I say, rising and standing behind my chair. “Not one of those questions that you asked had anything to do with possible sexual misconduct except possibly when you incorrectly described a disagreement that I had with Mr. Grey as a ‘lover’s quarrel.’ So, since you have a problem wording your questions, I’m going to guide you in the right direction.”

“Mrs. Grey…” he begins.

“Mr. Grey’s first group session with me as a facilitator was June 11, 2012,” I begin without regard for this ass’s interruption. “Three days later, I learned that I would not be the right person to facilitate his anger management sessions because he—like you—did not respect me as a doctor at the time.”

I pause to allow that last statement to sink in for a moment. Old Boy #1 narrows his eyes at me and I continue.

“The following Monday, June 18, 2012, I had every intention of informing the court of Mr. Grey’s complete and total lack of respect for me as a doctor since he—like you—insisted on calling me Ms. Steele instead of Dr. Steele. At the time, he was trying to make me feel inferior, much like you’re trying right now by not correctly addressing me. However, I was going to use his unwillingness to participate in the group sessions as a reason for possible reassignment for him.”

“We really don’t…”

“Later that week,” I continue over his interruption, “I find out that he performed a background check on me, which caused me to fear for my safety. So, I had one performed on him as well, strictly on a personal level. This is where I learned about the unfortunate incidents of his childhood, including something to do with his mother. The argument that ensued the following Monday on June 25, 2012 had absolutely nothing to do with a lover’s quarrel, sir!” I hiss. “It had everything to do with the fact that I was tired of being antagonized by Mr. Grey for the prior two weeks when I was only trying to do my job, and I had had enough of attempting to help people who did not want my help. ‘Mommy issues’ was an unfortunate outburst that was subsequently followed by my resignation on the same day. If Mr. Carlisle told you correctly, I turned in a blank report for Mr. Grey so that someone else could evaluate his situation.

“I had no impact on Mr. Grey’s report or treatment for the anger management sessions. In fact, our romantic relationship didn’t begin until four days later when he interrupted a disastrous date that I was having that Friday night. That’s all I have to say. Draw what conclusions you need from that narration. Unless you have questions for me based on factual evidence, I’ve told you all that I’m going to tell you. And allow me to add that I’ve never been treated more unprofessionally by a supposed group of professionals in my life. If this is the governing body over my profession, I’m thinking that maybe I made the wrong career choice.” I turn away from them and begin the 100-foot walk towards the door.

“Mrs. Grey, this hearing is not over yet.” I stop and turn around.

“Yes, it is,” I say. “First of all, you keep calling me Mrs. Grey, so you’ve already made your decision. Second, and more importantly, this entire proceeding has been based on nothing but opinion. You haven’t presented one single fact—not one, and that’s not something that I think! That’s something that I know. The reason that I know is because none exist. There’s not one fact in existence that indicates that I have been sexually inappropriate with any of my patients. That is a fact! Your deliberations and decisions will be based on nothing but opinions, so what does mine matter? I’m the condemned…” I put my hand on my chest mocking contrition. “Oh, I’m sorry. I meant I’m the accused,” I correct myself sarcastically. “So, when you’re all done mixing all of your opinions in your cauldron and you come up with a decision about the fate of my impeccable record, I’m sure you’ll notify me if I’m deemed worthy to continue to practice psychiatry in these great United States!” I turn around march out of the room.

Christian is waiting for me outside of the hearing room when I come whooshing out the door. He stands immediately, his concerned gaze fixed on me.

“Butterfly?” he says, cautiously.

“Take. Me. To. My. Children.” I say. He nods once, puts his hand in the small of my back and leads me out of the building.


CHRISTIAN

I’m stepping off the GEH jet making the same trip my wife made a few months ago for pretty much the same reason. I’m about to ruin someone’s life more than it’s already been ruined.

Sunday, while we were planning our attack and testimony for her hearing, I received a call from Welch. Butterfly looked at me questioningly when I took it in the other room, but luckily, she didn’t ask anything.

Sunday…

“What do you have for me?”

“Lincoln,” he says. “She made a call to the licensing board a couple of months ago. As it stands, she saved up whatever credits she earned over the last year and used them to make that call. It’s hard as hell to save up those credits in prison because it’s basically a barter system. So, I can guarantee you that she’s been planning this for a long time.”

“Is there any way that we can legally get a recording of that call?” I ask.

“We can, but it would take more time than Ana has. You want to pull some strings on this one if you can, especially if you plan on using it to get her off the hook.” I run my hands through my hair.

“See what you can do to get it anyway,” I say. “And start working on getting me into that damn prison as early on Tuesday as possible. Get Holstein directly. I’ll need to meet with him personally.”

“On it,” Welch says before ending the call.

Today…

You would have thought the President was coming to Walla Walla with the cavalcade that met us on the tarmac. A caravan of police cars and motorcycles escort us to the prison as I remember the look on my wife’s face when she came out of that room.

“Take. Me. To. My. Children.”

She didn’t say a word about her testimony and she didn’t ask me about mine. She spent the rest of the evening basking in the love of our children and the support of our family and we didn’t mention anything about it, but once my testimony in front of those buffoons was complete hours earlier, I knew there would be a shakedown. Although I didn’t think it wise to tell Butterfly about Lincoln’s involvement in the whole thing just yet, I was bound and determined to bring everyone down that had anything to do with this farce, including that kangaroo-court panel of high-nosed assholes, and I made sure that they knew it.

Monday at the hearing…

“Why didn’t you tell me that Ana was inappropriate with you during her sessions?” 

I was surprised when Carlisle caught me at the fucking urinal and confronted me about the accusation. I already knew that it wasn’t him, but if I hadn’t, this would have driven it home. 

“It wasn’t me,” I assured him, “and we shouldn’t be talking about this here. It could hurt her case…”

I had answered all their ridiculous questions about my relationship with my wife when she was facilitating the group sessions, which was nothing but angry and tumultuous. I even answered questions about her demeanor and her style of dress—things that had absolutely nothing to do with the matter at hand. There was no romantic relationship until after she quit the sessions. The more they talked, the more I smelled a witch hunt, and that’s when I threw all decorum out the window because they weren’t looking for the truth.

“If an anonymous tip—and a fabricated one at that—is able to cause this much upheaval in the life of a respected doctor without first speaking to the supposed victim as well as considering the source before continuing with any formal or informal proceedings, then I feel sorry for all of the licensed professionals in the state of Washington and across the country for that matter who can be subjected to this kind of scrutiny based on something not even as reliable as a high school lavatory whisper. Even accused murderers are allowed to confront witnesses and accusers and yet my wife sits here fighting an apparition. She didn’t pursue me. I pursued her and I did so after she quit the center. That’s what you need to know. Those are the facts. We never even had a kind word for one another while she was my facilitator, much less a sexual relationship. She didn’t even know who I was and when she found out, she didn’t like me. After I kissed her for the first time, she fled my office. I literally had to crash her date and convince her that I wanted to be with her before she would have anything to do with me. There never was any sexual misconduct on Dr. Steele-Grey’s part towards me. Me towards her, that might be a different story.”

“What do you mean by that?” Carter asked. He appears to be the head man in charge of the board, because he’s the only one who speaks.

“I used every tactic I could think of besides whipping it out right in front of her to break down her defenses. At first, I thought it was because I wanted her to do what I wanted her to do. After a while, I realize that I just wanted her… and I’m an asshole.”

“Mr. Grey, profanity is not necessary,” Carter protests.

“What are you going to do—hold me in contempt of the board?” I say sarcastically.

“No, but we can have your testimony withheld from the proceedings.” No, he can’t. He’s being a jerk, but I’ll roll with it.

“You do that,” I say. “I’ll just give my testimony to the media. I’m sure they would love to hear how you ignored the statement of the supposed victim in a case of sexual misconduct.” His eyes grow large.

“I’m sure Mrs. Grey wouldn’t like that kind of publicity,” he retorts. I lean back in my seat.

“Let’s examine the facts,” I say, counting off on my fingers. “You’re disrupting her life right now and holding her license over her head not six months after she’s given birth to twins while our family is going through a major crisis. Your inquisition is based on accusations from a faceless, nameless person that she’s not allowed to confront. The victim is not some random patient that she treated with a possible ax to grind—it’s me! Her husband and the father of her children and I’m standing here telling that your claims are bullshit and you won’t even listen to me—the supposed wrong party! You’re dragging her away from running her charity and helping people for this nonsense and you think she would be averse to shining public light on this travesty? This three-ring circus? This unjust witch hunt? And with my resources, you don’t think I’ll find out where that anonymous tip came from and make that public as well?

“Have you not heard the radio spots that she’s been doing to drum up donations for the Help Center? If you seriously think that she wouldn’t jump on the opportunity to expose the injustice of attempting to defame her character and put her license and reputation at risk with absolutely no concrete evidence, then you have no idea who you’re dealing with. She’ll be on a radio spot or a television show before the ink is dry on the paper you sign.”

I’m sure there’s some kind of agency that polices the board, even if I don’t know who or what it is. If they pull Butterfly’s license or impose any disciplinary action on her without true just cause and evidence, somebody’s going to be investigated. To bring a public light to that situation is the last thing Carter wants, and I see it in his eyes.

“I can already tell that you’re not interested in the truth; only in tearing a young doctor apart and ruining her career for whatever reason. I can’t stop you, but I can tell you this. I won’t stop until I’ve turned over every rock and searched every crevice and I’ve gotten to the bottom of this. Whoever is under those rocks better beware. I don’t care how high I have to go and you know I have the resources to do it.”

So now, I’m being searched and allowed into the prison where Edward David drew his last breath… well, technically, it was at the hospital, but this is where it all started. I’m led straight into the restricted area and up into the superintendent’s office.

“Mr. Grey,” he greets. “Welcome. What can I do for you?” Ronald Holstein ensured Butterfly’s safety when she came to visit David that last time.

“I appreciate you seeing me on such short notice. I’ve imposed upon your kindness before and I was hoping that I might be able to impose upon it again,” I tell him.

“If it’s within my power, I’ll be glad to help you,” he assures me.

Twenty minutes later, I not only have the recording of the bitch’s phone call sent to Welch and to my phone, but also on a small recording device lent to me by Holstein so that I can play it for the Pedophile in case she tries to deny her involvement.

When I enter the small room, she’s sitting at a table with her head down. I swear I barely recognize her until she raises her head to look at me. Those cold, empty eyes begin to sparkle at the sight of me. I almost feel sorry for her for the hope evident in her irises.

“You just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?”

I’m sure that she was certain that she would never see me again except for the Faces of Abuse PSA, but here I am, live and in living color. I’m sure she wants to count this as a victory on her part. She’ll feel differently once this visit it over.

“Christian,” she breathes, relief and longing evident on her face. Mine remains impassive.

“I won’t bother with formalities or even the usual insults that I normally throw your way, because you won’t hear it. I will tell you this, though. I know what you tried to do to my wife.”

Her facial expression changes just for a moment before she dons her Domme mask, entwining her fingers like she did when she spoke to me as her pet.

And that just pisses me off more.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she says impassively.

“That’s fine. Just know that I know. I’ll make this quick because I don’t want to be in your presence any longer than I have to, but you need to hear this from me. You failed. I’m going to use my connections to have Ana’s record cleaned of these accusations. Not only that, but before my testimony was even complete, one of the board members declared that the entire hearing a waste of taxpayer’s time and money.

“I’m not sure what you thought accusing my wife of sexual misconduct against me was going to accomplish. Yes, an accusation normally could stay on her record for months, maybe even years… if I didn’t have friends in high places. I have the governor’s private cell phone number on speed dial, for God’s sake!

“To top it all off, you used prison resources to file a fraudulent claim against my wife that caused emotional distress and possible loss of income had these allegations become public. So, to start, we now have a restraining and gag order against you—again! You can’t even breathe my or my wife’s name without consequences.” She cackles loudly.

Consequences?” she asks in a disbelieving tone. She gestures around her. “Take a good look, Christian,” she says sarcastically. “Consequences? Seriously?” I match her cackling laughter with a sinister, deep, throaty laughter of my own—a sound that silences her immediately.

“Wait a minute,” I say through my laughter. “Are you seriously under the impression that… it can’t get worse?”

Her face falls again and fear materializes in her eyes, although she won’t cower. I lean over the table, towering over her.

“Listen carefully, Mistress!” I hiss. “You. Have. Nobody. Even your rich aunt has opted for self-preservation and abandoned you. If you were free, we would sue you for what you did to my wife. Since you’re not, we can sue the prison for allowing these actions occur since all your calls are supposed to be monitored. Guess how the warden felt about hearing that possibility?”

She sits solemnly listening to what I’m saying. She knows what I’m getting at.

“So, who exactly do you think would give a flying fuck if some unfortunate thing were to happen to you every day at 3:00? Death is too good for your ass, so I… we… would definitely want you to live through it.”

She begins to tremble a bit as her pupils constrict, her resolve breaking into nothing.

“Take your fucking sentence and don’t bother us anymore,” I hiss. “If you do, there will be no rest for you. There will be a steady flow of padded pockets to insure your unending pain and suffering—a lifetime of misery and unhappiness just like I wished for you in court. And to give you just a little taste of what’s in store, this is what you get for trying to ruin my wife’s reputation. When you leave this room, you’ll be taken straight to solitary confinement where you’ll stay for fourteen days. Let’s see how you like that tiny room with no light and no running water. Once your stint in solitary it complete, you’ll spend fourteen more days with a new cell mate. My understanding is that her name is Roberta Coleman.”

“Ber…” she breathes. “Bert!” She’s horrified. I smile.

“Ah, you’re already acquainted. Good. I suggest that you use the next twenty-eight days to ponder your situation… to think about if you want to face these or other consequences again if you cross me or my wife. And a piece of information, you sick, sadistic bitch, there are 206 bones in the human body. That’s 206 separate opportunities to break something on your worthless ass. Fuck with me again. The jury may not have believed you, but I do. You are a narcissistic, pathological, screwed-up cunt, and if you fuck with my family again, I will treat you with no regard. And by the way, since you so readily see the afterlife as an escape, you’re on suicide watch. The last time a Grey visited this hellhole, someone ended up dead. You won’t be so lucky. Enjoy your 28 days.”

I turn around and walk out of the room, half wishing that she—like David—would do the world a favor and off herself, but knowing that she’s too self-centered to try it.


A/N: So, the sigh heard ‘round the world—“It was Elena… that’s so predictable!” Well, maybe it was, but for me, that story was still left open-ended and I didn’t like it. Here’s why…

Elena went to jail still delusional, still thinking that Christian loved her, but was under a spell that Ana put on him. Make no mistake—every time Elena said that Ana had Christian under a spell, she really believed it. There was no possible way that Christian could want Ana over her after all these years and all the beautiful subs that were perfect for him that he turned away when they wanted more except that he had to be under the influence of something. She was completely convinced that if she could get him away from Ana, she could get him back. That’s why she wanted to kill him—to have him in the afterlife.

Now, why—after everything—did she do what she did? Well, she’s behind bars for life! What worse can happen to her? In her little mind, prison gives her some amount of protection from Christian’s reach. The prisoners already make her life hell, so if she can watch Ana be dragged through the mud and publicly humiliated, then that’s one bright spot… one thing to look forward to in her dismal little life. If there was no “Yes, I can reach you even in here,” she could always come back nibbling at them like a mouse. And what do mice do? They leave shit droppings, they gnaw into your bags of food and leave signs that they’ve been there. Then they get away before you catch them, and you have to set traps and bait for them or call the exterminator and hope that you get them all.

Nasty bastards!

So, Christian called the exterminator.

So, now here’s something that I don’t normally do. I’m giving three spoilers… listen carefully.

1—The person in the epilogue was NOT Elena.

2—A storyline will develop where Elena might have the potential to reach out and strike again. “Might” being the operative word.

3—I needed this to happen to Ana to lay the groundwork for a different storyline.

That is all.

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 75—Emotional Rollercoasters

I want to thank everyone that donated to my GoFundMe project and that sent me well wishes and prayers. I have to take this test on 04/21/17 and as if I’m not worried enough about the results, they keep finding more things for me to pay for. So, keep me in your prayers. 

Don’t forget to add those crucial email addresses and let me know if you’re still not getting emails. I found that some emails transferred from the new list and others didn’t, while yet others are just not getting the emails even though my mailer says they have been sent. 

bg.holmes@butterflysaga.com
AND
bronzegoddess@butterflysaga.com

If you are not getting the email, please check your spam folder and if you have Gmail, check in the “promotions” folder.

NOTE!!! If you put in the comments below that you haven’t received an email from me, you have to include your email address or I don’t know how to look for you. The best way to let me know is the “contact me” link in the menu to the left.

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

Chapter 75—Emotional Rollercoasters

CHRISTIAN

“Mr. Grey, how do you feel about the verdict and the sentence?”

The Paparazzi are all over us the moment we leave the courtroom. With my hand tightly clenched to my Butterfly, I take a long, deep breath of the beautiful Seattle air and reply,

“I’m glad it’s over.”

Butterfly and I take the stairs and slide into the back of the SUV, releasing each other’s hand only long enough to secure the seat belt. We’re well on our way back to the Crossing, as I recall the morning’s events in my head.

No one else said anything. The only sound that could be heard in the courtroom is Lincoln’s quiet keening. That’s when Judge Burgess drops the boom.

“I have to say that this has been one of the most incredulous cases I’ve ever sat on, and I’ve seen more than my share. I’ve listened to the testimony, heard the verdict now entered into the court records, and reviewed the evidence in an attempt to render fair judgment in this case. When I came to the decision, I waited to see if the statements from this day would sway me in any way as each person speaking would hope would happen. I’m surprised that Mrs. Lincoln had nothing to say on her own behalf when given the opportunity, but I can only assume that she must have felt that her testimony was damaging enough.” He turns his attention to the defense table.

“Mr. Underwood, I’m not in the habit of insulting defense attorneys in my courtroom and I won’t start now. So, please, take this statement with all sincerity when I say that I have no idea what made you think you could bring that defense into this courtroom. I understand that our justice system isn’t perfect, but I hold nothing but contempt for anyone who steps into a court of law and attempts to make a blatant mockery of it. I feel like you tried to become famous on the back of your client and that if anyone else is willing to touch her after this that she has a solid case for appeal, because you didn’t defend her. I don’t know which of you came up with that cock-and-bull plea and defense, but you’ve been watching too much television and you would have done better to plead her out than to present that nonsense to this forum. Maybe you felt that you had nothing to lose, and maybe you’re right, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse defense in my life than I saw during this case. I hope you’re satisfied.

“In response to your statement, you have to forgive me, but I truly feel that if your client was ‘well on her way to rehabilitation’ as you so proudly proclaim that she would never have come in here and tried to insult this court into believing that after 50 years on God’s green earth, she was exempt from responsibility for the consequences of her actions. No, Mr. Underwood, I believe exactly the opposite is the case with your client, and since you have chosen to introduce the facts and sentence of a prior case into these proceedings, let me also inform you that the only sense of justice that I feel was served by that light sentence she was given for the many charges against her is the fact that the State of Washington did not have to waste money on a trial and drag the lives and suffering of many innocent people and families into the public eye. But make no mistake, sir; I may have my opinions about the prior case and I can’t do anything about that, but in terms of this case, I will not allow your flowery speech and your fancy footwork to persuade me to hand down a sentence that will set a precedence to one day allow an attempted murderer to walk free.”

Underwood looks totally deflated and although I never bring my eyes to the Pedophile, I’m sure that she feels the same way.

“Mr. Grey’s statement was profound and powerful and most likely gives voice to those who suffered in silence, didn’t speak, or no longer have a voice. While I can’t do anything about the prior sentence, and although the sentencing in this case for Mrs. Lincoln has already been decided, his words ring such truth that I can only hope he feels that some sort of justice will be served in this court today.”

Justice was served right there at that moment… when somebody heard me and acknowledged. She could get a one-day sentence for her crimes for all I care. I’d be fine from this point on.

“Will the defendant please stand for sentencing.” It was a statement, not a question. The Pedophile stands and never raises her head. “Elena Gabrielle Lincoln, having been found guilty by a jury of your peers, I hereby impose the following sentences for your crimes:

“For possession of a stolen firearm—a Class B, level V offense, I hereby sentence you to 17 months and no possibility of parole.

“For first degree assault—a Class A, level XII offense, I hereby sentence you 129 months with a deadly weapon enhancement of five years with the possibility of parole after twelve years.

“For attempted murder—first degree assault with intent to inflict great bodily harm—a Class A, level XII offense, I hereby sentence you to 129 months with a deadly weapon enhancement of five years with the possibility of parole after twelve years.

“These sentences are to be served consecutively after any other imposed sentence with no credit on this sentence for time served. You are hereby reprimanded back to the custody of the Washington Department of Corrections.”

Sweet relief… sweet, sweet relief.

“Christian! I love you! I’ll love you forever!” she wails as she’s being dragged from the courtroom. Thirty-three years total—well, thirty-two years and eleven months—served consecutively with her other sentence, which holds no possibility of parole. That means 58 years, and she has to serve 25 from the first sentence, then a year and a half from the second. Then she has to go into the third sentence and serve at least 12 years from that one, and if she just so happens to have a parole board of bumbling idiots that would parole her from that one, she would still have to serve at least 12 years of the fourth sentence. This means that if someone looked at her old decrepit ass and said, “Hey, let her out on her paroles,” she still wouldn’t have any hope of seeing the outside of prison walls until she was 99 years old. It’s all I can do not to cheer and do a fist pump when I see her disappear behind those doors, never to be heard from again.

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

Jason’s roar after we get to the bridge snaps me back to the here and now. What the hell? We just got great news—what now?

“Dammit! Thanks, Jax.” He ends the call. I’m glad Chuck is driving right now and not Jason. I didn’t even hear his phone ring. He’s dialing another number frantically and I’m waiting to find out what’s happened. “Manny, keep your eye on Tweety-Bird. The bitch made bail.”

Shit! I know what that means. Tweet-Bird must be Sophie and from the sounds of it…

“Jason?”

“Shalane made bail,” he hisses. “She put her house up and they let her ass walk.” He’s pissed.

“Sophie?” I ask.

“She’s got a detail at the school with her,” he said. “Even though I told them about the custody issue and that I’m now the parent of record, I don’t trust them not to let her take Sophie. I want to change her school, but we’re so close to the end of the school year that it wouldn’t be a good idea just yet.” We ride for a few more moments and just as we get into the gate at the Crossing, Jason gets another call.

“She did?… Good man. Maybe I’ll let her stay after all.” He speaks for a while longer, then ends the call. “She went straight from the jail to Sophie’s school. She didn’t even stop to change her clothes. Manchester headed her off, but couldn’t prevent her from going into the school. She couldn’t get Sophie, though. The school wouldn’t release her.” Jason chuckles. “She caught a cab,” he says. “She didn’t even get her car out of impound. She better spend that money wisely. She won’t be getting any more.”

When we pull into the garage, Butterfly says that she wants to go to the hospital. I debate if I want to go or not, but I think of Elliot and decide that I’ll go, too. She wants to change into something more comfortable. I’m only wearing slacks and a turtleneck, so I opt not to change. I notice that Chuck seems distracted while we’re waiting for Butterfly to change.

“You okay, Chuck?” I ask. My question brings him back from his daydream. He nods.

“Yeah,” he says. “My little catastrophes have nothing on what’s been going on in this house.”

“Little catastrophes?” I repeat. He waves me off.

“It’s nothing, really,” he says. “Joe got served with his papers from court last week. It turns out that we had to file in South Dakota, where Mom and Dad live. He’s blaming me because Mom is suing him, but what else is new?”

“Wow, he and Elena would make a great couple, don’t you think?” Chuck half-smiles. “Is that all?” Chuck shrugs.

“Keri,” he says. “She’s not doing too good. She had this cold… or at least we thought it was a cold. It hit the minute she got back to Anguilla and we thought it was just from the weather change. It held on for weeks. Now, she seems to be over it, but she sounds so weak and tired when I talk to her. I want to keep her on the phone to hear her voice, but at the same time, I want to let her go so that she can rest.”

“Do you need to go to her?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“I want to, but the babies have just been born and I can’t duck out now. Besides, I can’t fly to Anguilla every time she sneezes.” I raise my eyebrows.

“No… you can’t,” but you still look sick yourself that you can’t be with her.

“I’m fine, Christian, really. I’ll keep you posted,” he says, a bit too eager to get out of my presence. He misses her. I know he does, and the fact that she’s not well can’t be making that situation any better.


ANASTASIA

So, we finally get Sophie settled into the house and talking about things… and Shalane is trying to show up again. That has all kinds of implications. As much as Jason wants to keep her away from Sophie, that may be easier said than done.

Elliot has gone to stretch his legs. The pain and discomfort from sitting in one spot for more than 24 hours was more than he could tolerate. Christian coerced him to go for a walk the moment we got back to the hospital and I promised to stay here with Val, of course. She has no hair left. They shaved her completely bald… and I was complaining about a bald spot.

“Just have to outdo me in everything, huh?” I say. “I get in an accident and lose a patch of hair. You get a tumor and get your whole damn head shaved. You always had the coolest friends, the best clothes, the money… you were popular… but you never made me feel like less than a person, and you never let anybody else do it, either. That’s why I knew something was wrong when you changed. You were so cold. You were nothing like my sister.” I sigh.

“More than once, I wanted to find out what was wrong, but you wouldn’t let me in. You wouldn’t let me get close. But I never stopped loving you, Val. It was one of the worst break-ups of my whole life.”

I lay my head on her bed and, contemplating life with her gone and no hope of reconciliation, I weep. I weep until my chest rocks and feels like it’s going to cave in. I feel like it’s the end of the world. There’s no way that she can die without knowing how much she is truly loved. There’s no way she can die at all. It’s just… way too soon…

“There you go… with that… weeping shit again.”

A weak, barely-there voice causes me to turn my head to face her. It’s too heavy to lift off the bed, so I just lay there—still sobbing—watching her watching me. She’s watching me… am I dreaming? If I am, just let me stay here for a minute. She may say or do something sweet and if I move too suddenly, I might wake up. This may be the only way that she can reach me right now and I just want to stay here with her for a minute. But why is she still so weak? Dreams are funny things, I guess.

She raises her hand very slowly and lands it heavily on my cheek. She slightly moves her thumb in an unsuccessful attempt to wipe my tears away. It only makes me cry harder. I cover her hand with my own and turn my lips to her palm, kissing it repeatedly, just in case this is goodbye. Maybe that’s why it was so easy for Elliot to leave. Maybe she said goodbye to him, too.

Thank you, Val, wherever you are. I’ll always love you… always.

“Settle down… before you… hyper… hyper… ventilate, Steele… Grey…” she slurs. I’m trying, but it’s hard. My friend is here and I’m filled with relief, but for how long?

“You’re a terrible bitch,” I weep. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you go through this alone?”

“I wasn’t… alone… I had… El…”

“But you didn’t have me… or Al… or any of us… and we love you!” I snap quietly.

“I know, Steele… I just…” A single tear falls from her eye.

“I should have known,” I say, gently stroking her cheek. “None of this was like you, not in the slightest, not even on your worst day. I should have known.”

“I treated you like shit,” she protests, her voice slightly stronger.

“That’s why I should have known!” I wail. “You’ve never treated me badly. Even when I needed a smack upside the head, you were right there beside me.”

“How could you know?” she slurs. “It’s my head and I didn’t know.” I shake my head vigorously in denial… vigorously. No waking up! I’m awake! I’m awake and she’s awake! Don’t panic… don’t panic…

“I’m supposed to be your best friend. I should have known.” I squeeze her hand and kiss the back of it, my voice shaking and trying to remain calm, trying not to let her know that I thought I was talking to a figment of my imagination all this time. “Please get better soon. You have to meet your godchildren.” Her eyes become glassy and the tears fall.

“I… you ha… I’m still the godmother?” she weeps weakly.

“I couldn’t choose anybody else. It was always you.”

“Oh, Ana…” she’s weeping as much as her weakness will allow. I stand up and gently stroke her cheek.

“Ssssshhhh, relax now,” I soothe, “Don’t get upset. It’s not good for you.”

“I treated you so badly,” she sobs quietly. “I couldn’t control it. I could see it, but I couldn’t control it.”

“Ssh, no more,” I coax her as I push the call button. “It’s forgotten. It wasn’t you. I know now that it wasn’t you. When you feel like this, remember—it wasn’t you. It was the tumor, okay?”

“I’ve lost all of my friends… the people I love… my job.”

“You haven’t lost anybody, Val,” I tell her. “Look at this room. Do you think this is all Elliot?” She weakly looks around the room. “This…” I pick up a little arrangement with a tiny bear on it. “This is from Mindy. Maxie said she picked it herself… well, as much as a baby can point at a bear.” I laugh nervously and Val smiles at me. “I’m going to activate the contingency—not that I really have to. Everybody’s been here every day. Our friends will be here before day’s end. I promise.”

“Do you think so… after how badly I’ve treated everybody? Oh, my God… Al!” she laments.

“Especially Al. He’ll have a few of his choice gay words for you, but he’ll probably be here first.”

“Oh, God, how can I face him?” she weeps and I just sit on the bed and hold her hand. She’s going to beat herself up for a while over this and there’s really nothing I can do about that. I stroke her cheek with my free hand and just let her cry. There’s a commotion at the door and the nurse and a doctor comes into the room with a disheveled Elliot in tow behind them. He freezes when he clears the door.

“Angel?” I hear Elliot’s wispy voice over my shoulder.

“El,” she says longingly, her prior tears halting.

“Angel! You’re awake!” Whatever he has in his hands is now on the floor and he rushes to her beside. I quickly scramble to give him his place and he cups her face gently, kissing her several times.

“I didn’t know… I didn’t think you…” He can’t get a sentence out as his tears fall on her pillow. They need this moment, and I need to activate the contingency. I move to the door.

“Ana!” I turn around and there’s a panicked look in Val’s eyes. “Please… don’t stay away. Please come back.” I smile warmly at her.

“I will… and I’ll bring reinforcements.” She sighs sweetly and smiles before turning her attention back to an obliviously weeping Elliot. I step outside of the room to give them some privacy. Christian is standing there waiting for news.

“She’s awake,” I say, my voice barely there. His eyes grow large.

“She is?” he says and I nod. His eyes ask the question that his mouth doesn’t.

“She’s back,” I wail. He puts his hands on my upper arms.

Back back?” he asks, and all I can do is nod. “Oh, thank God,” he says, closing me in his arms. I know it’s been hard seeing me suffer all these months—even harder watching Elliot these last several days. So, I know his relief is genuine. I indulge in a relieving cry for a while, sinking into his chest while he holds me, then I pull myself together.

“I’m fine. I need to call Al,” I say. He nods and releases me with a kiss to my forehead. I dial Al as I’m walking towards the waiting room.

“Hey. What’s up, babe? I’m on my way to the hospital.”

“Well, that’s good, because you’re not going to want to miss this…”


CHRISTIAN

She looks very pale and frail when I Butterfly and I walk back into the room. We waited until the doctors and nurses left and gave us the go-ahead before we entered. Elliot is laser focused on her, so he doesn’t notice when I enter, but Valerie makes immediate eye-contact with me. She’s obviously weak and it’s hard to read her emotions right now, but she answers my question about her thoughts of my presence with two words…

“Hi, Christian.”

Her voice is so soft, so faint… I can barely hear her. I suddenly feel a twinge in my chest, like this is so serious and none of us really wants to lose her.

“Hey, Valerie,” I reply, my voice also very small. “How are you feeling?” I ask, sincerely.

“Bald,” she says, forcing a smile.

“I’m sorry,” I reply.

“Don’t be,” she says softly. “It’s for the best.”

She releases Elliot’s hand and holds her hand out to me. Her arm shaking and I know it’s hard for her to hold it up, so I don’t keep her waiting… though the gesture is more than a bit surprising. Elliot allows me to sit on the edge of her bed and I take her hand—much like she held mine when I was crying over Butterfly’s Montana sabbatical. The moment our hands touch, she starts to weep gently.

“I’m so sorry,” she squeaks, through her tears.

“Ssssshhhh,” I soothe, “None of that,” I say, caressing her hand for comfort. “I haven’t known you as long as Butterfly, and even I knew that it wasn’t you.”

“Yo… you’re a good man, Christian,” she stumbles, “A won… derful husband… to Ana and… I need you to know that… I would never… willingly treat her… that way… She’s my… Jewel… too…” She’s so overcome with emotion and weakness that she can barely speak. Butterfly immediately gets choked up, and I know that it can’t be good for Valerie to be this upset. “Please… forgive me.”

“There’s nothing to forgive,” I tell her, squeezing hand a little tighter and looking her in the eyes. “We. Know. It wasn’t. You. An intruder took you over and changed who you were, and we’ll all be by your side to chase that intruder away. Do you understand that? We’ll all be here.” I didn’t know I had closed the space between us. There’s maybe only a foot between my face and hers, and I have her hand clasped close to my chest.

That’s a first. I feel a little funny, now, but I won’t move until she understands that she’s not alone. My brother loves her; that makes her family. She’s about to go through a horrible ordeal after nearly pushing away everyone that could have walked through this with her. She needs to know that she’s not alone.

“Yes, Christian,” she says softly, her teary eyes concentrating on mine. “I understand.”

“Never alone,” I reinforce.

“Never alone,” she repeats.

“Damn straight!”

We all turn to the door to see where the added confirmation came from and find Al standing there more casual than I think I’ve ever seen him, in a T-shirt and jeans. His hair looks like mine does after a grueling day, so I know he’s been pulling it or torturing it somehow, and his eyes are bloodshot. James is standing behind him, just inside the door and I swear he looks like he’s holding Allen up.

“You bitch,” he says as the tears start to flow again. “I’m supposed to be the goddamn drama queen!”

Valerie breaks into laughter as much as her body will allow. Al breaks free from James and rushes to her bedside. Butterfly moves quickly and allows him access to their friend. She hugs him with her free arm and he kisses her repeatedly on the face and lips. I feel a small comfort knowing that he doesn’t just do that to Butterfly, but this is his family and he almost lost one of them.

“You’re a horrible human being for stealing my spotlight, but thank God that you’re back,” he weeps, holding her face in his hands.

“It’s good to be back,” she says, and the mournful tears start again. “Please, don’t ever forget that I love you…” She looks around the room at each of us. “… All of you. If this thing comes back…”

“It won’t!” Elliot says emphatically.

“But if it does,” she continues, “please don’t forget. Please don’t ever forget. I know this could kill me, but I’d die anyway if you all didn’t know how much I love you.”

You could hear hearts cracking all over the room. Each of us have had our own moments over the last several months of wondering what the hell was wrong with this woman… and each of us are feeling our own convictions now.

“We love you, too, you cow,” Al says, his voice still shaking.

“Ditto,” Butterfly squeaks.

“In my own way, I love you, too,” I confess, eliciting a small chuckle from Valerie’s throat before she turns her gaze to Elliot.

“Hey, you already know how I feel, Angel,” he says, longingly. “My life would be empty and lost without you.” The love that swells up in her eyes could chase away every ailment in her body. Part of me hopes that it will, as Elliot will be inconsolable if she doesn’t make it through this.

“And none of that dying shit,” James pipes in. “It would be a less exciting world without you, so you’re not allowed to die. You fight this thing!” She smiles weakly at James.

“Yes, sir,” she whispers.

*-*

Elliot feeds Valerie ice chips while Al and Butterfly try to catch her up on what’s been going on in the world. Al tells her all about the wedding, set to take place at our house next weekend—something intimate during a spring, sit-down party. The three of them immediately start discussing promising ideas for the wedding as well as what could be disastrous. Valerie suggests an indoor/outdoor thing since spring in Seattle is unpredictable and usually rainy.

Shortly thereafter, the rest of her friends come into the room, and the reunion of the Scooby Gang is complete, just as it should be. They talk about everything, catching Valerie up on all the things that have happened since she first blanked out, as she calls it…

The babies are here, of course. She will see them once she’s out of ICU.

I’m calling more people by their first name, including members of my staff who are now family instead of just staff.

David’s dead.

Dead dead?” she says, her eyes growing large. “Like graveyard dead?” Butterfly nods. “How the hell did that happen?”

Butterfly explains the whole thing about the crooked company, culminating with David’s “suicide.” Valerie looks a little remiss.

“He was an asshole,” she says, “but I never wished him dead.”

“Well, you’re a princess among women, because I had champagne when I heard the news,” Butterfly announces. “After everything he did to me, including handcuffing me naked to that bed and allowing that man to assault me, he’s lucky I didn’t drive to Walla Walla and spit on his remains!” And that’s the end of that conversation.

Sophie lives with us now because her mother is a drug addict that tried to sell her into slavery.

Chuck reunited with his parents and is suing his brother for a small country.

Keri was here and now she’s gone back home to Anguilla, but she’s been ill since shortly after she left and that has Chuck concerned.

While Butterfly closed her practice, Maxie is considering opening her own so that she can focus more on her family, which is timely since Phillip just got a raise and a promotion.

Sometime in the near future, we will be traveling to Italy as one of Butterfly’s push gifts was an Italian villa.

Garrett and Marilyn are pretty much the same and have no complaints. According to them, there’s enough going on in everyone else’s lives that they can just watch and be entertained.

“I need to say I’m sorry, you guys,” Valerie begins.

“Angel, no…” Elliot protests. Valerie put her hand on his bicep to silence him.

“I know, El,” she says, her voice gaining more strength, although she’s still clearly weak. “But I really have to say this. So, please, shut up and let me… I’m sick, you have to do what I say.”

The nervous chuckle that wafts through the room is more accommodating than sincere.

“If I could tell you what it was like being in this head for the last several months,” she begins. “It was like watching a terrible horror movie, only I was watching it and I was starring in it—a character in a real-life horror movie, where you can see the psychopath coming at you with the machete. You know he’s about to chop you up, but you can’t do anything about it. Then there’s the me that was in the audience, screaming at the dumb character to run out the door and down the street instead of upstairs and hiding in the attic where she was sure to meet her doom—but she couldn’t do anything but watch.

“I saw the looks on Ana’s face when I said those horrible things to her… the look of reservation at Maxie’s house when she handed Mindy off and left. That’s when I knew I had completely lost one of my best friends. It cut me to my soul, but I still couldn’t do anything about it. It was like, in my head I was saying something completely different, but when I opened my mouth and started hurling that stuff, all I could think to myself was ‘are you crazy?’

“After that, the alien just took over completely and I could do nothing but sit in the corner and watch while it pushed away everything and everyone I loved. There were moments when I came to myself and I thought I said something to let someone know what was going on in my head, but then I’d look around and I was alone—a solitude that I brought all upon myself.” She shakes her head.

“It wasn’t until El packed his things and I knew the last person that I had in the world was going to leave me that I was able to agree to see someone. Even then he had to take the reins… I still couldn’t do it. He told the doctors how I was acting and what was going on. I barely said anything.” She reaches over and takes his hand. “He saved my life. No matter what happens from here, he saved my life. He gave me back my mind… and I’ll love him forever for it.” She gazes into his eyes. “I want to spend my life with you, Elliot,” she says, her voice shaking. “Please don’t ever leave me.”

“Not a chance in hell,” he says, kissing the back of her hand. She smiles weakly at him before taking a breath and releasing it.

“I know everybody had… and has their theories about what was going on with me or what I was thinking. Grace and Mia will probably never speak to me again, especially after all Elliot had already gone through with Kate…” I don’t say anything about how Mom reacted when I told her about Valerie. I figure that when she’s ready, Mom will come and talk to her. “Whatever happens, know that I’m just glad that I was able to talk to you all and say that I’m sorry for anything that I said or did to offend you. I know that it was the tumor talking, but it was still my voice and my mouth, and I’m sorry if I caused any of you pain.”

“And that’s enough of that,” I hear my mother’s voice say from the entrance to the room around the corner. She has a huge bouquet of purple and white blooms as she comes completely into view. “Well! It looks like no one invited me to the party… and there’s no room anywhere for these.” Mom scans the room for a flat surface to put her flowers.

“I got it, Mom,” Elliot says, taking the monstrous bouquet from our mother and making room for it on the windowsill, currently already full of several bouquets from the rest of us.

“Grace, they’re beautiful,” Valerie says weakly. “What are they?”

“Windflowers and peonies,” she says. “They denote health and healing.” She sits next to the bed in the chair Elliot vacated to put her flowers in the window. “My son has never been so happy and so grounded as he is when he’s with you. I secretly prayed that we would figure out what was going on, although I never prayed for anything like this. You’ve only ever been a remarkable person, especially when that wretched woman tried to lay a child at his feet that didn’t belong to him. You stood by him, became his rock… I wouldn’t have expected anything less from him during your time of need.

“I’m so sorry you had to go through this. I’m certain that you’ll make a full recovery because you’ll get the best medical care that money can buy and you’ll have all the love and support that you need until and after you are whole again. I may be speaking for everyone, but for no one more than myself, when I say that I’m so glad that you’re back.” Valerie bursts into weak tears.

“I’m glad to be back, Grace,” she weeps. “It was awful! I so sorry…” My mother moves to sit on the edge of the bed next to Valerie and cradles her while she cries.

“There, there now,” Mom says as she rocks Valerie in her arms while we all watch in silence. “You get this all out, and then there will be no more crying about this. We all understand and we’re so glad that you’re here with us. You’re going to be fine now… just fine…”

*-*

“Christian!”

My wife gasps my name as she tightens around me, my rock-hard dick buried balls deep inside of her. I clench her ass and hold her against my throbbing member as she sits on my hips having dropped her weight hard onto my pelvis and grinding deliciously on my shaft as she holds onto the headboard. Her head thrown back, her face to the ceiling, she pants and moans loudly as she trembles atop me and my balls and penis empty wildly inside of her.

“Ffffffffffuuucccckkkkkkkkk!” I hiss, squeezing her ass so hard that I’m sure there’ll be handprints when I’m done. I want to get her into that new playroom and do some kinky, freaky shit to her, but with everything going on in the last few weeks, we haven’t even been able to look at the finished product yet, let alone take it for a spin. My dick throbs harder, empties faster, and burns hotter as I contemplate the things I want to do to her in that room.

“Dammit!” I pant as she falls over on top of me, spent and sated. “Goddammit!” I grab her head with one hand and guide her lips to mine, the other still squeezing her ass as I catch my breath. “Fuck, that was good.”

“Yes… it was…” she pants between kisses, her pussy still clenching my dick. I push up into her a few more times, my dick still burning and tender inside of her. What would be discomfort to someone else turns me on and I roll my hips so that the burn intensifies inside her quivering walls.

“You feel so fucking good,” I breathe against her lips as I wind myself up for round two of mid-Saturday morning sex. We had all stayed at the hospital for quite some time last night once Valerie regained consciousness. If I’m honest, all I wanted to do after all that damn emotion in that room was come home and bury myself inside my wife—to feel her tremor and clamp around my angry dick just like she did this morning. But when we got home, the twins demanded her attention—our attention, and she was just too wiped out to do anything after caring for our babies. So, I just brought her to bed and held her until she fell asleep.

However, when I woke up with morning wood so hard that I could barely go to the restroom and piss around it, I climbed back into this bed, pushed up that night shirt, ripped those panties off, rolled that body on top of me and dropped that hot, juicy, wet pussy right down on my full-staff pole. At first, she protested, but only for a moment—only until she felt that stiff, rock-hard thickness reaching so deep into her body, pumping up into her so hard and fast that her entire body was bouncing in the air and she momentarily couldn’t speak. Then, she ripped off that nightshirt, grabbed those tits and rode like the wind!

That pussy was so hot and tight that I almost blew before she did. When that burning, agonizing, vise-grip hold became soaked, slippery, juicy goodness with her cum secreting from her walls and sliding down my dick, I fucking lost it, gladly mixing my juices with hers until we were both a slippery, sticky, gooey, hot, erotic mess grinding into each other and about to start the fire again, until…

Beeeeep…

Fuck.

“Ooooohhh,” Butterfly groans. “Ana,” she calls into the air as I continue to tease her with my stiffening dick and we wait to hear the cooing of our two little angels.

… But nothing.

“Ana,” she calls out louder, but still nothing. She partially pushes herself up and looks at me. I half roll my eyes and call into the air.

“Yes?” I call out, perturbed and angry to be interrupted.

“Sir, it’s Benjamin Lawrence. I’m just getting to the Crossing and there’s a development at the front. I tried to call J and I don’t know if he’s asleep or what…” He’s probably fucking, just like me! “… but his ex-wife is here demanding her child. She’s making a terrible scene. If he gets here, we’re going to need more reinforcements than just security.”

“Shit!” I hiss, pissed as fuck that I have to pull out of my goddamn happy place for this sad excuse of a human being at my front gate. Butterfly slowly rises off of me, recognizing the seriousness of the situation and the glide is agonizing… almost orgasm-inducing.

“Fuuuuuuccck!” I exclaim at the separation, the burn almost unbearable and only making me harder. She covers her mouth, her eyes wide.

“Sorry!” she whispers loudly as I clench my teeth and my dick throbs.

“Sir?” Lawrence beckons.

“I’m on my way, goddammit!” I hiss, my eyes squeezed tight. “End two-way…” and she grabs my dick.

“Fuck! Just leave it alone please just leave it alone!” I would fucking safeword right now if I thought it would help.

“I can’t just leave you like that,” she protests.

“We don’t have a choice—just leave it alone, please!” I beseech her.

“Sorry, sir,” bellows across the room and pisses me the fuck off.

“Fucking end two-way communications!” I belt into the air. At least his voice cured the erection.

*-*

I’m nearly too late by the time Butterfly and I are cleaned up, downstairs and outside in our portico on this brisk March morning. Gail and Sophie are standing just outside the door, Gail with her arms draped protectively over Sophie’s shoulder while Sophie clings to both of Gail’s hands with her own. Jason is already marching toward the guard house and front gate where Shalane is screeching like a banshee for Sophie to come and get in the car. I’m only lucky that the property of the Crossing is so large and somewhat obscured from prying eyes by walls, fences, and foliage, because this woman is really creating quite the scene. Butterfly stays at the door with Gail, pulling her warm sweater around her while I quickly fall in step behind Jason. He’s likely to kill this woman once he reaches her.

“Open the goddamn gate!” I hear him hiss.

“No, don’t,” I say to Williams in the guard’s booth. Lawrence is still on the other side of the gate with Shalane. “She’s unstable enough to drive that car through here if you open that gate,” I tell Jason. He narrows his eyes—not in defiance, but in anger. I think he was getting laid. We both look like angry bears right now.

“Just enough for a person,” he hisses, and the gate opens enough for him and I to walk out. I won’t let him talk to her alone. He might kill her.

“So now you need a bodyguard, Mr. Taylor?” His spiteful ex shoots as we walk through the gates.

“No, but you might,” I say before I can catch myself. I have no love lost for this classless, snippy, drug-addict little… “I’m here for your protection.” She fixes her mouth for a comeback, but Jason beats her to it.

“You’re trespassing and you need to leave,” Jason says quietly. “You can’t see Sophie at all. I don’t want you anywhere near my daughter.”

Your daughter?” she laughs haughtily. “Have you forgotten?” Shalane taunts, attempting to pull a trump card that she thinks she still has. “I’m her mother and I have a court order that says I have custody of her.”

“Not anymore you don’t,” Jason says, holding up the order from the judge. “This is a court order placing Sophie temporarily in my custody until the custody hearing. You can only have preauthorized and supervised visitation with her. If you show up any other time without invitation, I will have you thrown off the premises and arrested. If you continue to call my phone like a crackhead looking for her next fix, I will get a restraining order against you for harassment. If you show up at my daughter’s school, at practice, or at any of her extracurricular activities, I will have you arrested for violating a court order. But you know what?” He leans in closer to her.

“Let me make this perfectly clear to you so that there’s no misunderstanding. You. Will not. See Sophie until I say so, and right now, I say ‘no.’” She’s panicking, already shaking from what appears to be withdrawal. I can see her mind racing for a comeback.

“You can’t keep me from seeing her,” she says shakily. “You said that document at least says that I can have visitation.”

“It does,” he says calmly. “Preauthorized and supervised visitation, but I don’t see any time in my immediate schedule to preauthorize visitation for you. I’ll let you know.”

Shalane is seething. She appears to be losing every bit of her grip on reality.

“You can’t do that to me!” she screams. “You can’t keep me from my daughter!”

“You mean like the many times you kept her from me over the years?” Jason retorts. “I had reasonable visitation—not preauthorized or supervised and you wouldn’t let me see her at all! How does that feel? Not so good, does it? I would love to say that I’m doing this to get back at you, but I’m not! I’m doing this because you’re dangerous to my child!”

“You know I’d never hurt Sophie…” There’s a back and forth between them for a while and they have forgotten that other people are watching them for a moment, but out of the corner of my eye, I see a small frame walking quick time down the driveway and across the lawn towards us. Shit—Butterfly is coming to give this woman what for, no doubt. I’m surprised to see that the small form isn’t Butterfly at all.

It’s Sophie!

I’m trying to get Jason’s attention, but he’s too busy arguing with Shalane to pay me any attention. Shalane, however, stops the argument when she sees Sophie running in her direction with Gail and Butterfly running quickly behind her.

Shalane squats to scoop Sophie in a hug, but I can tell by Sophie’s expression that this isn’t going to be the tender reunion Shalane is expecting. Before any of us can stop her, before Jason even sees her, Sophie runs full speed—hands out in front of her—and slams into her mother. Totally unprepared for the blow, Shalane falls back hard on the gravel portion of the driveway. She’s stunned into silence as she scrambles into a sitting position.

“Sophia!” Jason yells, not pleased that Sophie struck her mother even though she may have deserved it. “What are you doing?”

“Really, Mom? Really?” Sophie is screaming, tears streaming down her face, fury in her voice and posture. “You were going to let those guys take me? You were really going to let them take me, Mom? Really?” She kicks the gravel onto Shalane lap as Jason tries to stop her. When that’s not enough, she takes handfuls of it and throws it at her mother, yelling insults about her being a drug addict that hates her daughter and was about to sell her off for a fix.

“All this time, I listened to you blame Daddy and I never understood why,” she cries as Jason finally restrains her, keeping her from hurling rocks at her mother. “He would never say anything bad about you except that you wouldn’t let me see him, but you called him all kinds of terrible names and told me that he didn’t have time for me. It was all lies. I know it was now. I see how he and Miss Gail live. He’s got plenty of time for me!”

“Sophie, I’m…” Shalane is broken, still sitting on the ground and now, crying.

“No!” Sophie interrupts, no longer flailing in her father’s arms. The fight is gone out of her, but she has a lot to say. “You spent all the money on drugs. You lied to me about my father. When there was nothing left, you were willing to give me away!” Sophie accuses, sobbing. “You took everything he ever gave me, and when you were about to go to jail, you wouldn’t even let him come and save me!” Her cries are mournful now. She truly doesn’t want to fight anymore. “You tried and tried to make me believe that Daddy was the bad guy when all this time… the bad guy was you.”

Jason’s grip drops from his daughter. He’s anguished seeing her hurt like this.

“Sophie, no,” Shalane says, weeping sincere tears at her daughter’s accusations. Sophie pushes her again—one last time.

“Go away, Mom,” she weeps bitterly. “Go away!” Sophie launches herself into Jason’s arms, squeezing him around his neck like she’s drowning and he’s the lifeboat.

“Don’t cry, Baby Boo,” he says, stroking Sophie’s bright blonde hair, trying to calm her, but Sophie is inconsolable. “I want you to go with Gail, okay? I need to take care of this. I’ll be in shortly. I promise.” She nods, still weeping and releases his neck. He kisses her on the cheek and hands her off to Gail, who takes her hand and she and Butterfly lead a heartbroken Sophie back to the house. He turns back to Shalane.

“You heard her… go away,” he says flatly. Shalane gawks gaped-mouthed up at him, still sitting in the gravel of the driveway.

“I bet you wish I were dead, now, don’t you?” he adds and she pales. She finally stands and attempts to straighten her clothes.

“I only told them that because I thought they would let me go,” she defends. “I thought they wouldn’t lock me up if they thought that I was all Sophie had.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it!” Jason retorts, no longer willing to be any kind of civil with this woman, for lack of a better word. “You didn’t want me to know what was going on! What the hell did you really think was going to happen? You were moving four kilos of cocaine with a 12-year-old girl in the car and then you tried to trade her to those fuckers! What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I wasn’t trying to trade her!” Shalane lies.

“Well, tell me, what the hell was it? Why the hell did she have to tell you that she wasn’t going with those assholes?” Jason retorts.

“She misunderstood!” Shalane cries.

“Well, she misunderstood the fuck out of that conversation then!” Jason hisses. “But I didn’t! And neither did the shrink she spoke to… or the police! And neither will the judge in family court!” Shalane’s face pales. She can’t talk her way out of this and she knows it.

“What you do with your own life, I couldn’t care less. But when it comes to Sophie, you fucking have to deal with me! You’ve been doing your very best for the last seven years to erase me from her life, and you’ve failed miserably, but now this? I shudder to think what could have happened to our daughter on a goddamn drug drop if the police hadn’t shown up, let alone with you trying to sell her into human slavery for your goddamn drug habit!” He is seething, so much that Williams has placed himself in position to intervene should he lunge at this sorry excuse of a woman.

“Getting caught was the best thing that could have happened to both of you,” he continues. “My guess is that your dumb ass was an offering from the fucker that sent you out there, and you took our daughter with you—for leverage, no doubt! Then you don’t have the good sense to call me when you get caught. I might have been able to help you in all of this, but no, you tell the authorities and Child Protective Services that I’m dead! If I hadn’t already filed a case, my daughter would be down at Spruce Street right now, and that would have been just fine with you, wouldn’t it, you contemptible bitch? Anywhere’s better than being with me, right? Her loving and devoted father who continued to pay you alimony and child support? Even paying for her to attend an exclusive private school while you continuously found ways to deny my court-ordered visitation because you were the cheating slut who couldn’t keep her legs closed! Anywhere but with me, where she could discover just how much of a lying, conniving, sniveling, greedy little bitch you really are!” Her face is now showing signs of fight and insult.

“You don’t have the…” she begins.

“SHUT! UP!” Jason growls. Williams steps forward and puts his arm between them, unsuccessfully trying to push Jason away from his ex-wife while whispering, “J, chill.”

“You have nothing to say to me!” he continues. “You put my daughter’s life in danger and then you tried to prevent me from saving her! She was traumatized. She was weeping when I got there. I don’t know if you’re going to get off on the drug charges, but now, there are separate charges against you for child endangerment. Did you know that?” Her expression says that she did.

“I knew you had bats in your fucking belfry, but I didn’t know that you were that goddamn crazy! You don’t get to see her unless she asks for you. Don’t you dare fucking call me. I’ll call you when she wants you. Unlike you, I won’t keep her from you if that’s what she wants, but she has to say so and I won’t force her. And if you get the bright idea to just take her from any location where she may be, not only will there be an arrest warrant issued for you for kidnapping, but there’s nowhere in the world that you’ll be able to hide from me. I will hunt you down like the filthy dog that you are and believe me, lady, I will find you. I’ve found people in witness protection. Finding your ass won’t be any harder than ‘Where’s Waldo.’”

His voice is menacing when he talks to her. She was married to him once and I’m sure she believes him when he says these things. She had better—I’ve seen him find someone in witness protection. She could treat him any way she wanted when she had Sophie. She doesn’t have Sophie anymore.

“Now get your ass away from this property, you selfish, treacherous cunt!” I know this conversation is over, so I step in before she tries to poke the monster anymore.

“You need to leave,” I tell her, stepping close to her and pointing to her car.

“He can’t just…” she begins, her voice desperate. As much as Jason doesn’t want to hear anything this woman has to say, I want to hear even less.

“Ms. Deleroy!” I declare in the sharpest, loudest Dom voice I can muster, “Leave! Now!” She shrinks back and gasps at the sound of my voice, frightened and whimpering as she scurries to her car, gets in, and makes a U-turn in the driveway to enable a hasty retreat, taking out part of the landscaping and three of the lane lights on her way out. I look at Williams who is still holding Jason.

“I’ll make the call and get it repaired, sir,” he says. I nod and put my hand on Jason’s shoulder and Williams releases him. He looks over at me, his eyes still fiery and menacing. They don’t scare me, though.

“Come on,” I say, gesturing with my head to the house. “We have families waiting for us.” That breaks his angry resolve. He looks one more time in the direction that his ex-wife traveled, then turns and walks with me back towards the house, towards our wives and children.

*-*

My wife looks adorable cooing at our daughter while our son is in his seat nearby and Sophie looks on, starry-eyed and content, like the horrible incidents of just an hour ago never even happened.

“So,” I begin, “your apartment only has one bedroom. Sophie can’t stay there. So, what are you thinking—maybe the other one-bedroom suite next to you guys? Do you think she’s old enough to stay in there alone? Or would you feel better with her in one of the guest rooms upstairs on the second floor?” Jason gazes at me for a moment.

“I don’t have custody, yet, Christian,” he says. “We might be jumping the gun.” I wave him off.

“No judge in his or her right mind would place Sophie back with her mother. And even if they tried, Sophie would protest… and win! Look at the comparison! Huge mansion on Mercer Island where father and stepmom are live-in employees and stepmom is at the residence all day as nanny for twins or… drugged-out mother living alone who disappears for several days at a time who took her daughter on a drug bust and then tried to use that daughter as a bargaining chip. Was arrested and almost let the child go to a group home, then had to put her house up as collateral for bail. Oh, did I mention that she’s been charged with crimes in relation to the drugs for which she has not been tried which means Sophie will most likely have to find someplace to live anyway. Yeah, I can so see a judge deciding that sending Sophie back to Shalane is in the best interest of the child,” I finish sarcastically.

“Okay, okay, I get the point,” Jason says. “It’s just that I never dreamed that I would ever be in this situation where I would be able to have custody of Sophie without the bitch dying, that’s all. It’s so surreal!” I nod.

“So, I think it’s time we start making preparations to have a teenager around the house.” Jason scrubs the back of his neck.

“Yeah, she’s going to be thirteen really soon,” he says. “So, what do we do?”

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I’ve never had a teenager around the house.” He shrugs.

“Sophie’s so smart,” he says. “She’s wise beyond her years. She’s tried to hold on to her childhood, but things just keep happening and then she has to be an adult. She’s too young for that. I want to have some of her childhood, but for other parts of it, I know it’s too late.” He sighs. “I’m trying my best not to hate Shalane. She kept Sophie from me for so many years. All that time I could have been spending with her… as it was, our time together was like stolen moments. I was only able to spend time with her when it somehow served Shalane. Now, she’s going to be here full time and I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, this is the point where you have to take advantage of your resources,” I tell him. “You have a pediatrician who adopted three children at varying ages and raised them to adults at your fingertips. I’m sure she’d be more than happy to help you with what you should expect from Sophie in the coming days, weeks, and years. In addition, you live with a shrink.” He looks at me, blinking.

“I couldn’t see Ana professionally,” he says. “She’s too much like a daughter to me. I know I’m not that much older than her, but… you just can’t help how you feel.”

“So?” I say. “Does that mean that you don’t value her opinion? Let’s not forget that she’s the one who inadvertently discovered what Shalane was planning with Sophie and got Sophie to tell you and the police.”

“It’s not that, it’s just…” His sentence trails off.

“Use your resources, man. And if not, go talk to a child psychologist somewhere. Waste good money when you’ve got one of the best head doctors in the greater Seattle area living under the same roof as you.” I shrug.

“You’re biased,” he teases.

“You’re right. I am… and it’s absolutely true. How many lives have you watched that woman put back together again, including her own?” He ponders the thought as he looks over at Sophie and Butterfly and the fact that Sophie truly appears to be unscathed at the moment no matter how traumatizing the entire experience has been—and will be—for her.

“And again, you’ve made your point,” Jason says.

*-*

“Please… oh, God, please!”

Her hands are bound above her head, the restraints on each wrist attached to the opposite leg of the bed.

I’ve tormented her for several minutes with soft licking and sucking of her clit while her legs are tied open—her thighs restrained wide to the bed frame. I hold that delicious pussy open with my fingers—sometimes one side with one finger, sometimes both sides with my index and middle finger—just enough space to allow my tongue to get in there and torment those lips, the sides of her clit, the hood and the raw, sensitive underside over and over again, creating that intense burn that never goes away until she’s sated… gently tasting, licking and teasing with just enough moisture on my tongue to give her the slightly rough, gravelly feeling against that precious bundle of nerves and the soft, slick burn that edges her into insanity and keeps her right on the edge of orgasm until I want her to come. She’s blindfolded and the way her arms are bound, crisscrossed over her head, they press against the sides of her head, too, blocking her ability to hear.

I press down on the mountain of flesh right at the top of her slit… her Mons Venus… and it becomes firm and starts to pulse—hard—under my hand. Her orgasm is right there, violent, powerful and waiting. It only takes one never ender circle of the slightest increased pressure against her clit to…

“Oh, Goooooooooooooooood!” she wails, the Mons under my hand contracting hard and violently as this orgasm ripples through her, ripping her apart. I continue the circular pressure and she continues to wail, attempting to writhe, completely at my mercy. Only when there’s the slightest cessation of the bunched muscles under my palm do I stop my massage and quickly position my painfully aching and anxious cock at her opening. She’s still panting, still coming, still contracting underneath me.

Holding her hips down with both hands, immobilizing her, I push deep into her still quivering pussy.

“Fuuucckk!” I hiss as her pulsing walls and lips kiss and suck me deep. “Fuck, fuck, fuck…” I move my hips slowly, rhythmically, rolling our pelvises together and my dick inside along, around and against her walls at the same time, my full weight pushing down on my hands and her hips so that she can’t move a muscle. The feeling is agonizingly good—a truly deliciously painful burn, and I move slow and deep, so, so slow… deep grinding circles that have me shaking almost in no time.

“God, help me!” she chokes, her upper body trembling as her lower body has absolutely no purchase to move. God, she is so tight! I fight to keep my thumping, growing dick rolling, stroking, burning, slowly—so slowly, deep in that pussy.

“Fucking hell!” I hiss, stretching my tongue out of my mouth as I watch my dick, shiny and wet, slide in and out of this wet, shaved pussy, a ring of white cream being spread back and forth over my dick with every stroke, her arousal anointing me more and more with each push and pull, each in and out, and those pussy lips wrapping around my goddamn cock our juices mixing as I know I’m contributing precum to this delicious, hot, slick, silky mix.

“Fuck, baby!” I say, damn near drooling as I watch and feel the burn, the stroke, the blinding pleasure of our joining. “This shit is sexy as fuck!” I roll my hips so that the head hits each wall on the in-stroke. “Oh, God…” I groan as I almost lose it to the pleasure.

“Christian…” she wheezes, “Christian… God…”

I’ve got her now. Her pussy lips are hot… pink… wet… pulsing. Her mouth is open and she’s panting… lost in a world of passion and mindless ecstasy. I’ve hit that sweet spot and with her legs spread open and her hips held down, she’s at my mercy. She can’t do anything but absorb the pleasure.

“Yes, baby,” I coax as I roll my hips again, trying to block out the burning in my balls signaling my pending orgasm until I can get one more from her… one more fiery release. “I got you, baby. That’s it. Feel it, baby. I know you feel it. Shit, it feels so good… so hot and sweet and wet…”

She starts to tremble and pant, making no sound now, her body twitching uncontrollably… where she can move, that is.

That’s it, baby. Take it all…

I feel her pulsing, contracting, and though she’s silent and I have no idea if she’s coming or not, the feeling is so good—her tightening and throbbing and burning around me—that I can’t stand it anymore. I groan deep in my chest and bury myself hard inside her pussy, grinding so deep in that short, hard, inward and upward stroke against her that my body bows and arches backwards painfully. My jaws tighten so that my face actually hurts and my body stiffens so that my arms tremble from trying to support my weight as I push into her, grind into her, throb into her, empty painfully into her.

I hold my breath as this orgasm grasps my pelvis and holds me immobile with Nirvanic bliss. She pulses and tightens madly, milking and sucking every bit of nectar from my loins. When I finally release my breath and I’m able to move from the two massive hands that had my entire body in a choke hold, I look down at my wife—covered in a thick coating of sweat, gasping gently for air from her parted lips. Her chest rises and falls quickly, showcasing her gorgeous round breast and beautiful, taut nipples super-pink and pebbled from her intense arousal and orgasm, involuntarily spilling life’s milk down the sides of her mounds. I’m weak from the force of my orgasm… and my love for her, my awe at how beautiful she is in her ecstasy right now and how I want to kiss her and love her all over.

Still nestled between her legs, still cuddled in her sex, I release the restraints that hold her legs open. I rest my weight on her… still weak, sated… I release her wrist restraints and remove her blindfold. I gently lick the milk on the side of her breast that has escaped from her nipple. She doesn’t open her eyes. She’s too weak. I roll her over on top of me, her hair splayed over the back of her body. She releases a long breath and in seconds, she’s asleep on my chest. The weight of her body is so comforting atop mine that I don’t think I could count the breaths before I’m slumbering with her.


A/N: Eight more to go…

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

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

Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 74—Opening Up

Thanks, you guys for your reactions to the last chapter. I want to apologize if I brought back too many bad memories for other people like myself who have suffered something similar with a loved one, but I thank you guys too for sharing your experiences with me.

I am also asking that you guys please check out my GoFundMe link as I am trying to raise funds for a medical procedure that I need next month. My goal may seem small to some and ginormous to others (ginormous when you don’t have it), but thanks to the kindness of a group of people, so far I’m nearly there. No amount is too small to donate, so please help if you find it in your heart and you have the means. 

Don’t forget to add those crucial email addresses and let me know if you’re still not getting emails. I found that some emails transferred from the new list and others didn’t, while yet others are just not getting the emails even though my mailer says they have been sent. 

bg.holmes@butterflysaga.com
AND
bronzegoddess@butterflysaga.com

If you are not getting the email, please check your spam folder and if you have Gmail, check in the “promotions” folder.

NOTE!!! If you put in the comments below that you haven’t received an email from me, you have to include your email address or I don’t know how to look for you. The best way to let me know is the “contact me” link in the menu to the left.

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 74—Opening Up

ANASTASIA

It’s just after dawn when Al and I get to the hospital after having spent the night on the sofa in the entertainment room. I’ve had a quick shower and a change of clothes, but by no means do I feel refreshed. Al has changed into some jeans and a sweatshirt he left at the Crossing the last time he and James spent the night. James dropped us off and went home to shower and change.

Elliot is asleep in the chair next to Valerie, holding her hand, as usual. Christian is on the loveseat at the foot of the bed, slumped down with his legs stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles, his fingers intertwined on his stomach. His neck is going to be killing him when he wakes. Valerie is still in the same position she was when I last saw her. Al walks over to her and stands next to her bed. He sighs heavily as he looks down on her motionless frame, a small whimper escaping from his mouth.

“Hi, Ice Pussy,” he says, his voice cracking as he leans down and kisses her gently on the cheek. “This is really fucked up, you know that?” he whispers. “You don’t get to die, so you bring your irritable, disagreeable ass back here… do you hear me?” On the last word, he sinks down into the chair on the opposite side of Elliot and begins to weep.

I walk over to Christian and gently stroke his hair. His eyes open slowly and it takes him a moment to focus where he is and what he’s seeing.

“Hi,” he says softly.

“Hi,” I reply. “No change, huh?” He shakes his head.

“I needed to see him last night… to make sure he’s okay. I hope you didn’t mind.” I frown.

“Of course, I didn’t mind, Christian. Why would you think that?” I continue to stroke his hair as he attempts to sit up. He winces, and I know immediately that his neck is in pain. I climb on the back of the loveseat. “Sit up,” I instruct him. He painfully pulls himself into a sitting position and I begin to work the kinks out of his neck and shoulders. He moans in appreciation.

“God, that feels good,” he groans.

“Don’t change the subject,” I chide gently as I continue to massage his neck and shoulders, paying attention to areas of high tension and pressure points. “Why did you think I would mind?”

“Because you were in bad shape, too,” he says, “And I felt funny leaving you.”

“Oh… okay, I guess I can understand that. But he’s your brother, Christian. I would have to be a really selfish bitch to take issue with you wanting to be with your brother while he’s hurting.” He nods.

“That’s why I love you,” he says. “You were so broken up about Valerie that you and Al could hardly speak. Yet, as badly as you felt, you still understood that I had to be with my brother. He needed me. He still needs me.”

“I know,” I say. “Do whatever you need to do. I completely understand.” I look over at the motionless Valerie. “I would give anything right now for her to sit up and call me a fat cow, start cursing me out… anything.” I don’t want to cry again. There will be plenty of that to come if she doesn’t wake up soon. I love her so, so much. I can’t believe this is happening.

I take a moment to examine the room. It’s pretty sparse except for a beautiful bouquet of flowers, no doubt from Elliot. That’s very significant in light of things right now. Valerie is quite popular at her job—at least she was before the tumor. And there’s no way I would have let her go through this alone—none of us would have, no way in hell.

Elliot raises his head and shows signs of the same discomfort Christian did moments before. He has to focus on the crying figure on the other side of the bed before he clearly recognizes who it is.

“Al?” he says, his voice hoarse, barely there. Al turns to look at him.

“Hey, Elliot,” Al says, shakily. “Tell me what happened… please.” I can imagine that Elliot doesn’t really want to talk about it, but he does anyway, because he’s the only one who knows. I listen carefully because I don’t want him to have to repeat the story.

“I knew something was wrong when they asked her to take a leave of absence from her job,” he begins. “Actually, I knew something was wrong when she first fell out with Ana, but I didn’t think anything of it. I certainly didn’t think this.”

He rubs the back of his neck and stretched his head back. I take this opportunity to shift on the sofa a bit, drawing his attention to me so that he could know that Christian and I are there. I wave and he raises his head once to gesture acknowledgement. He twists his head some more to pop his neck and continues the story.

“She would have times when she would come back to herself and she would know what she did. You would even see remorse in her eyes. It could be a flash or maybe last for a few minutes, but I would see it and know that even if just for a moment, she was the same old Val again. She would get this sad look on her face like she couldn’t believe what was happening at that moment, but it wouldn’t last.

“She was losing all her friends. Nobody wanted to be around her. I tried to stick it out, I really tried. I moved out of my own apartment three times…” I didn’t know that. “… But I always just came right back. New Year’s Eve when I showed up at Christian’s, she thought I had moved out because I never stayed away all night until that night. I just didn’t feel like going back. I’m not sure that I would have had she not come looking for me. We argued that night because I couldn’t come and see my brother and sister without her giving me shit about it. She was actually making me choose between her and my family, and I was sick of it.

“It got to a point where we were arguing all the time about stupid shit at least once a week. When her job told her to take the leave of absence, she was home all the time, so it became every day. If the wind blew the wrong way, she turned into Mrs. Hyde and lashed out at me. I got to the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore. I told her that I was really leaving, because I couldn’t take her attitude anymore.

“She got better for a while and she was really trying, I know she was, but you know how you can tell something’s forced and unnatural. She made me feel like she didn’t want me; didn’t want to be nice to me. We weren’t even making love anymore. She started getting sick all the time… I thought she was pregnant. I could have dealt with that, but her erratic behavior would have made her at least six months pregnant, and she wasn’t showing. She took a pregnancy test to be sure, but it was negative, of course.”

He takes a break and rubs his eyes, breathing in deeply and letting it out heavily. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell that he’s getting to the hard part.

“Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I gave her an ultimatum. Go see a doctor, go see a shrink, or we’re over. I was done. She didn’t believe me because I had made the threat so many times before and never made good on it. Hell, I didn’t believe me, but I had to decide if I was going to live like this forever. I knew I couldn’t… I’d only end up hating her. So, I packed everything I owned. My apartment still looks like I’m moving because I haven’t unpacked. I began putting my things in storage and I let her see the receipt to the storage facility so that she could know that I wasn’t kidding. I meant it this time. I was leaving. She could have the apartment and I would just leave. I even let Christian know. I was going to ask if he would let me crash in one of his guest rooms until and if she left. If she didn’t leave, I was just going to find another place. I actually mentioned it to Christian before they went on vacation.”

I lean down and look at Christian over his shoulder. He nods.

“She begrudgingly decided to see a medical doctor first, to make sure that the situation wasn’t physical ailment. Once and if she got a clean bill of health, then she would throw herself face-first into therapy and medication, if necessary… but she never got that far.

“She had an appointment on Monday… the Monday before you guys went to Oregon. Remember, Christian? You called me to do some work—the week that guy died, the one that had to give Montana all his money…” Christian nods. “That’s why I couldn’t do the work and I sent the other guys to do it. How did it turn out, by the way? Manny said it was great and Jason signed off on it, but never saw it.”

“We haven’t seen it either,” Christian says. “We just haven’t had time. It’s been one thing after the other since we got back, but we can talk about that later.” Elliot nods and looks back at Valerie.

“Anyway, we went to the doctor. I insisted on going with her because I didn’t want her downplaying what was going on—which is exactly what she tried to do. I told her doctor every gory detail and he suggested the brain scans. He referred us to a neurologist and I know it takes forever for those guys to see you. They wanted to give us an appointment for three weeks later… that would have been tomorrow. That thing would have stayed in her head all this time. I asked if he could put a rush on it—get us in there sooner because she was about to lose everything she has left. I kind of said it jokingly, but not so jokingly. The doctor told the neurologist what was going on. He recognized the symptoms—even the fact that I was about to leave her—and got us in there in a couple of days.

“Well, when you go to the hospital for a CAT scan and an MRI and they find a tumor, they typically don’t let you leave—even more so when the tumor’s on your frontal lobe. Apparently, it affects your personality—your logic and reason. You can actually be a danger to yourself and others in extreme cases. I think she was well on her way to that if she wasn’t already there.

“When they told us what it was, we had decisions to make. The surgery…” he gestures to Val, “… as you can see, can be dangerous. He told us that there is a chance that she wouldn’t wake up; that they may not get the whole tumor; that she might wake up still the same person that she was before the surgery; that she could be a vegetable… it’s just… endless. The neurosurgeon that performed the surgery is one of the best in the country…”

“Dr. Hill?” I ask incredulously. Elliot nods.

“How did you know?” he asks. I point to the fuzzy patch on my head. He sinks in his chair a bit. “You’re shitting me…” I shake my head.

“Nope, I’m not. It’s true, though… he’s one of the best there is—in the world, actually. I don’t know how he ended up in Seattle, but I’m sure glad he did…” I look over at Valerie. “… For more reasons than one.” Elliot looks over at her.

“Well, we still had so many decisions to make,” he says. “She doesn’t talk to her family. Her father walked out when they were young. Her mother passed away. She only knows of her father because of her brother. They stayed in touch and he stayed in touch with their father. Now, she doesn’t speak to her brother because he’s a drug addict and each time he’s ever tried to contact her, it’s been for money. She says that the last time he contacted her, she told him not to call her anymore if he was only calling for money. She never heard from him again, so we don’t even know where he is. We think we know what state he’s in, but that’s it.”

“I can find her family if you want,” Christian says. Elliot shakes his head.

“She doesn’t want them to know,” he says. “She’s certain that her father wouldn’t care and her brother would only show up trying to lay claim to her personal items. I’ve violated her trust by telling you guys. She didn’t want anybody to know, and I couldn’t let her…” He chokes on his words. “… Die without you guys at least knowing what was going on. If she wakes up, she can curse me out then… but I couldn’t do it.”

“You couldn’t shoulder this by yourself either,” I protest. “Had she been in her right mind, she never would have asked you to do that.” He shrugs.

“We spent days talking and trying to decide what the best course of action was. She made me her power of attorney in case she…” He’s choking up again. “… Is unable to make decisions. I didn’t want that responsibility, but I knew I had to take it. There was nobody else. She wouldn’t let anybody near her. She… she signed a DNR…”

“Oh, my God,” I whisper and Al gasps. Christian just drops his head.

“Yeah… so, if she goes, she’s just gone… and… her advanced directive is two weeks.”

“Two weeks?!” I nearly shriek. “Two weeks is no time!”

“I know,” he says. “I had to negotiate for that. She wanted to have no heroic measures. I argued with her and told her ‘You’re going to have to have something when you come out of this or there was no use in even having the surgery,’ and I was right.” He’s talking about the tube in Valerie’s nose. “I was trying to get her to agree to sixty days. I couldn’t even get her to thirty. Two weeks was all she would acquiesce. I can’t ask for CPR. She doesn’t want to be a vegetable. She may or may not undergo the surgery again if it’s not completely successful… there was just a bunch of shit, and I couldn’t talk to anybody. She made me swear.”

Goddammit! Valerie Marshall, how could you not tell me this? How could you let me think that you were just being a jealous, hateful, spiteful bitch? Don’t you dare fucking die on me!

“Anyway, it took all this time just to get all the ducks in a row. It’s a nightmare possibly planning the end of somebody’s life—somebody you love more than anything in the world…” He looks longingly at Valerie and sighs. “So, I’m breaking all my promises and I’m calling everybody because I can’t go through this alone, and you guys need to know. If she doesn’t make it, then I’ll have you track down her father and brother. I think that’s best because she was vehement about them not knowing. I’ll call her job tomorrow and tell them what’s going on. I’ll call Mom and Mia…”

“I called Mom last night,” Christian interjects. “She said that she would tell Mia.” Elliot nods. “I activated the Contingency, too,” Christian says, looking at me. I frown. Al turns around.

“How did you do that?” Al says. He’s like the head man in charge when it comes to the Contingency, and he was with me last night.

“I called Marilyn,” he says. “She was with Garrett…”

“Ah,” Al nods acknowledgement. “Well, that’s one thing that I don’t have to do, thank God.” He turns back to Val.

“Contingency?” Elliot asks. How could he not know about this?

“Yeah,” I say. “I don’t know how you don’t know about this because you really need to. The Contingency is something that came about when Edward kidnapped me. Nobody knew that I was gone for a full 24 hours. Christian thought I was back at my condo brooding and crying on Al’s shoulder. Al thought I was with Christian. I could have been chopped up in a ditch somewhere and nobody would have known.”

“Babyyy…” Christian whines the last syllable. It’s a thought he doesn’t want to contemplate.

“Sorry,” I continue. “Anyway, when we realized that the lines of communication were so poor and no one knew that I was missing, we came up with the Contingency. This wasn’t an issue before I met Christian because I didn’t have a boyfriend, so I was always in touch with Val or Al. Gary always talked to one or all of us every day, and Maxie and Phil are a couple. So, somebody was always talking to somebody else.

“Right around the time that I started seeing Christian, I was the last person to get ‘hooked up.’ Well, actually, I wasn’t, but everyone else had been actively seeing someone on and off on a regular basis except for me. So, you know that new relationship thing… you might end up MIA for a while. That’s what happened, only I ended up really MIA and nobody knew. The Contingency is a phone tree. All of us and our significant others are supposed to be on that phone tree—you included,” I say to Elliot. “If someone is missing off the phone tree or if there’s an emergency and we need to tell each other, we activate the Contingency.”

“So… if significant others are supposed to be in the loop, why was Al so surprised just a minute ago that Christian had activated the Contingency?” Elliot asks.

“It’s just semantics,” I say. “The Contingency is set up such that Al and I are first point of contact. If Al gets the news first, he calls me and Val. Val calls Gary and Max. Max tells Phil because they’re together. You’re on the Contingency because you’re with Val and you get notified by association, like Phil does. Same thing with Christian and James. However, if there’s a link missing out of there, then the Contingency gets skewed. Whoever has the emergency or the information activates the Contingency up and down the tree like I just mentioned. If I’m incapacitated, Christian would contact Al, and he would activate the Contingency. If Al or Val is incapacitated, James or you would contact me or Christian or whoever wasn’t incapacitated in that trifecta and… you get the drill.

“Last night, the two people who would normally activate the Contingency were curled up into each other and pretty much basket cases. So, Christian just got the news to anyone that he could inside the Contingency. That’s how we stay informed.”

“Pretty elaborate set-up,” Elliot says, trying to make light of the situation, but unable to laugh.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I say, sympathetically. He sighs.

“Well, I guess I’ve pretty much brought you up to date,” he says solemnly. “If I can think of anything else, I let you guys know.”

We all sit there in contemplative silence for several moments. After a while—I don’t know how long—Grace walks into the room in her scrubs.

“Mommy…” Grace crosses the room to her eldest son and Elliot is immediately reduced to a toddler, weeping into Grace’s bosom as she holds him close to her… something I’ve never seen. Grace just strokes his blonde hair, whispering soft words of comfort to him as he sobs. Al is overcome by the emotion and can’t sit still. He excuses himself and leaves the room.

“Come on, Elliot,” Grace says, “let’s go get some coffee and you can bring me up to date.” Oh, boy. Christian stands.

“I’ll bring you up to date, Mom,” Christian says.

“Oh! Christian! I didn’t even see you there. Hello, Darling. Ana,” she says with as much warmth as she can muster under the circumstances. I smile warmly at her. “I’ve spoken to Dr. Hill,” she says to Elliot. “He says her condition hasn’t worsened. That’s good news.”

“But it… hasn’t gotten any better… either, Mom,” Elliot says between shuddering breaths.

“I know,” she acknowledges, “but in these situations, it’s good to know that it hasn’t deteriorated. That means she holding her own, and we just have to pray that she’ll get stronger.” Elliot nods. “Come on, coffee.”

“I don’t want to leave her,” he protests.

“I know exactly how you feel, man,” Christian says, putting his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “But just a few minutes not in these four walls, okay? Let’s go get a little fresh air and you can come right back.” Elliot nods reluctantly and looks at me.

“I’ll stay with her,” I reassure him. Christian helps him out of the seat he had been sitting in all night. As soon as Grace and Christian help him from the room. I sit in the chair assuming Elliot’s vigil position.

I stroke her hand and think about the many crazy times that we’ve had… and the not so crazy times…

“I thought you said you didn’t date.” Val drops her backpack on the floor and heads to the kitchen with the few grocery bags she was carrying.

“I didn’t say that I don’t date. I said I’m not interested. Val, this is Al. Al, Val. The best description I can give you is ‘brother.’” Al is studying for pre-law finals and writing his essays for law school while I’m doing the same muckity-muck work trying to decide what my major is going to be.

“Oh, stuck in the friend zone, are you?” Val says, placing beers and some fresh fruit in the refrigerator.

“Yeah,” Al retorts, “more like best friend zone.” His voice is protective and a bit catty, something that doesn’t get past Val. She pauses for a moment, then continues what she was doing.

“Hmm, best friend. I stand corrected. He’s graduating,” she quips sarcastically. Al throws an inquisitive look at me, and I just shrug. I don’t know what her motives are. Not to be outdone, Al turns his attention to Val.

“Graduating in what way?” he asks. She throws a furtive smirk at him.

“You don’t know? Poor guy,” she chuckles, placing something in the cupboard.

“No, I don’t know,” he says, standing and crossing his arms, “so why don’t you enlighten me?” Apparently not one to back down from a challenge, Val turns her attention to Al.

“Oh, it’s just been my experience that guys stuck in the friend zone don’t mind hanging out there for a while so they can get all the juicy tidbits of her life, be the shoulder that she cries on, learn all of her deep, dark secrets so they can use the information to get in her pants one day.” Al scoffs at her. He’s finally taken all he’s going to take from this chick.

“Good God, who froze your clit?” he shoots, and I nearly choke on my cranberry juice and sparkling water. “Let me clarify something for you, princess. I’ve been in the friend zone—the best friend zone—for five years, and I do plan on staying there for the rest of her life. So, yes, you’re absolutely right. I do get all the juicy tidbits. I am the shoulder she cries on, and I fucking already know all her deep, dark secrets… more than you ever will. So whatever bug or contaminated semen has crawled up your ass or down your throat, you need to go take a douche and a gargle and leave a real one alone. And as far as getting in her pants is concerned, I don’t think my boyfriends would like that very much!” Al quickly stacks his many books, loads his messenger bag and shrugs into his coat. Gathering his things, he turns to face me. “We can hang out and study or whatever when Ice Pussy ain’t around!” he snaps as he brushes out the door, leaving it open as his hands are full.

Val is absolutely stunned. I don’t know if it was the dressing down that she just got or the fact that Al just revealed that he’s gay, but she’s speechless—gape-mouthed and all, and I’m furious!

“I don’t treat your company like that! Why did you talk to my friend that way?” I bark, while snatching my coat.

“I… didn’t know,” she excuses. “You know guys…”

“I. Said. Brother! That should have been a clue for you!” I shrug into my coat.

“Well, I didn’t say anything that bad. So I was mistaken; he was just being sensitive!” she defends.

“He wasn’t sensitive!” I retort. “You were RUDE! And if he was someone trying to get into my pants, that was still none of your goddamn business! Don’t you ever speak to my guests like that again—especially him, and if you have a problem with that demand, I’ll pack my shit and be out of here tomorrow!” I leave the apartment, slamming the door behind me to go and smooth things over with my best friend.

“You always had a way of making an impact on whoever you met,” I say, still gently stroking her hand. “I remember Al didn’t come around for the rest of the school year—not like he could. He got into law school the next semester and just didn’t have time.”

I want to see some kind of flicker… a twitch of her finger, her pupils move under her eyelids, some form of life—that she’s coming back to us, but I get nothing. Two days… twelve left… if she doesn’t wake up…

“It can’t end like this! It’s too soon! We’re just getting started. You haven’t even met the twins yet. We have to pick a new house for you and Elliot. There’s too much left to do…”

I’m startled by a gentle knock on the door and the nurse comes into the room.

“I’m sorry to disturb you. I just want to check her vital signs,” she says.

“Oh… yes, by all means. Should I move?” I say, making to stand.

“No, you’re fine. I can work around you,” she says with a gentle smile as she goes about the business of marking down Val’s vitals. “Are you her sister?” she asks.

“No,” I say. “She doesn’t have a sister.” She frowns.

“That’s odd,” she says, shaking her head and she makes a few notes in the chart. I look up at her.

“How so?”

“She was sure that she wouldn’t make it through the surgery,” the nurse says. “She’s doing much better than she thought she would, but she wouldn’t allow us to put her under until we promised to give her sister a message.” Now, I frown.

“Could it have been the meds? Or the tumor?” I ask. She shrugs.

“The tumor can cause many things—erratic behavior, even hallucinations, but it wouldn’t cause her to conjure up a sister she never had.” I shake my head, thoroughly confused, but more certain than ever that Val was certainly not herself for God only knows how long.

“What was the message… if you can tell me?” I ask. She twists her lips.

“You’re certain she doesn’t have a sister?” she asks again. I sigh.

“She has a brother that she hasn’t spoken to in years. We don’t even know where he is or if he’s still alive. I’m the closest thing to a sister Valerie will ever have, except for the last few months. It’s been kind of rough.” I sigh. “Who am I kidding? It was horrible. She… wasn’t herself. I’m sure you can imagine.” Realization dawns in her eyes and she walks closer to me, holding Val’s chart close to her chest.

“Then she probably meant you,” she says, her voice softening. I swallow hard. Val is about to go under—probably for good, or at least that’s what she thought—and she has a message for me? Maybe for me?

“What’s the message?” I ask again. She reaches in her pocket.

“She made me write it down,” she says, pulling out a piece of paper. “She made me swear to read it and not mail it or hand it to… her sister, so I sure hope it’s you. I’ve been carrying it around since the surgery hoping to run into her… you…” She opens the small piece of paper and begins to read.

“Tell her that I’m sorry. Tell her that I didn’t mean it. I don’t want her to remember me the way that I was. I’m so sorry. Thank you for Elliot and thank you for Brandon. You’ll never know how much I truly love you.”

My heart aches immediately, like someone struck me full force in the chest with a blunt ax. I grab my chest in an attempt to stop the pain and bleeding, but it’s no use. I hurt. I hurt bad!

“It’s me…” I choke, my voice barely above a whisper. Brandon was that fucker in college that put his hands on her and they found his ass in Green Lake Park somewhere—naked and fucking hysterical, just like I left him. As far as I know, though, he didn’t put his hands on another woman after that.

“Are you okay, Mrs. Grey? Do you need some water or something? To lie down?” she asks concerned.

“Some water, please,” I squeak. Please don’t die, Val. Please don’t die…

*-*

Al and I try to keep ourselves occupied throughout the week with work and the plans for the party. We’re both sick that Val still hasn’t come out of her semi-coma. The doctors say that it’s not a full coma like mine was, that she can most likely hear us when we come in the room. So, I’m at the hospital every day, talking to her and telling her about what’s going on with the Center, Al’s wedding plans… and her godchildren—the two beautiful blessings waiting for her to get better and introduce herself to them properly.

Courtney has done a complete one-eighty. I don’t even recognize her. Some days, she comes in dressed in her jeans and sweatshirt so that she can interact with the kids—crawling on the floor and playing games and whatever the day or activity calls for. Other days, she’s in totally professional garb, all about business and very dedicated and focused on her tasks. She even gave the representatives from the licensing board the final tour of the facility before approval because Grace and I were at the hospital and couldn’t get back to the center soon enough. We’re hoping that this is the last round before the licenses are approved and we’ll be accredited and licensed as a learning facility and a day care center so that we’ll be able to hire the staff that we need and apply for federal funding.

Sophie is opening up to me more and becoming more accustomed to her surroundings. I want her to feel comfortable here since, if all goes as planned, this will be her new home. She’ll be a real-life Sabrina, only more a part of the family than the Fairchilds where with the Larabees. However, we had an extremely disturbing talk on Wednesday after she came home from school. Half-days at work finds me at the Crossing in the afternoons until we can find some more help for Gail, and I take this time to feel Sophie out and make her feel more at home. Jason has a temporary custody order and basically got all that he asked for until the official custody hearing, including suspension of child support pending the outcome of the custody case. Today’s conversation caused me to reach out for legal advice.

“Jewel?” he answers. “Val?”

“No,” I say, “no news yet. I’m calling you in an official capacity. I need some legal advice,” I say. “It’s a touchy topic.”

“Oh? What’s up?”

“I have a patient who has some information about the possible commission of a crime in relation to another crime. I know under normal circumstances, I need to report this to the police, but I’ve got a problem.”

“There’s no problem, here, Jewel,” Al interrupts. “When discussing the commission of a crime, a psychiatrist’s doctor/patient privilege dies…”

“Not when the proof is perspective and most likely circumstantial… and not when the patient is a minor,” I tell him. “A minor is not supposed to talk to the police or an authority figure without the presence of a parent or attorney in relation to the commission of a crime. So, she can’t collaborate what she’s heard without me talking to her father and I can’t talk to her father without breaking doctor/patient privilege.”

“Yeah, that’s a slippery slope. You actually could report the crime, but without the patient’s collaboration, it’s kind of useless… unless there’s other evidence like a body or something.”

“No, nothing like that, I think, but it could be pretty severe if an investigation is opened.”

“Then I think you should report it anyway.” I sigh heavily.

“I don’t think I can,” I say, “not without talking to the parents.”

“If you report what you know, Jewel, you’ve taken care of your legal obligation and responsibility. That’s all you have to do. Where’s the dilemma here?” My scar is beginning to throb.

“Attorney/client,” I tell him, in all seriousness. I hear some shuffling, then a door closes.

“Jewel, you don’t even have to say that and you know it. There’s no way in hell I’d ever betray your confidence.”

“Yeah, I thought I wouldn’t either, but that’s just what I’m about to do. That’s why I need this to be under attorney/client privilege because that way, I know it won’t go beyond us. When you hear what I’m about to tell you, you’re going to be tempted to spill the beans, and even though I’m bound by my oath to spill them, I know you’re bound by your oath not to—even if I told you that I murdered someone. So, I love you, Forsythe, but I’m talking to you as my lawyer and I need to hear the words.” I sighs and I can tell that he’s more than a little hurt by my mistrust.

“Fine, Jewel,” he acquiesces, “this call is under attorney/client privilege.” I swallow hard.

“I’ve been talking to Sophie, trying to help her deal with what’s going on with her mother and what she saw. Today, Sophie finally became comfortable enough to talk about the night her mother was arrested and the actual drop. Something she said didn’t ring well with me, so I kept her talking, asking the right questions and garnering details. I have a sinking feeling that if Shalane had not been arrested that night, if the cops didn’t just happen to be about to bust that place that night, we would have never seen Sophie again.” The line is quiet.

“Okay, that’s always the case in a dangerous situation, but I’m assuming you mean something else,” Al says.

“The way that Sophie explains Shalane’s conversation with four other men in the room, she was like one of the Price is Right girls, like she was displaying the merchandise, only she wasn’t talking about the coke. She was talking about Sophie.” Al gasps on the other line.

“Jewel, how can you be sure?” he asks. “That’s a really severe accusation.”

“I can’t,” I say, “but Sophie is. She felt like a piece of meat. She kept telling her mom to stop because—her words—‘I’m not staying with these guys; that’s gross!’ I don’t know if this was a one-time thing to pay off Shalane’s debts or if this is something that goes on constantly; if this was to be a temporary romp for a bunch of sick pedophiles or if we’re looking at a possible human trafficking or prostitution ring, but four kilos ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at. So, I would say that we’re probably looking at something bigger.”

“How does Sophie feel about this? About talking about it, I mean,” Al asks.

“I haven’t approached her with it yet,” I reply. “We were talking as friends, just a sounding board, as far as she knows. If I go all professional on her, I’m afraid she’ll shut down.”

“Goddammit, Jewel!” he hisses into the phone. “Why did you make me swear to attorney/client privilege? You know I hate this kind of shit!”

“That’s why,” I say. “I could see you in my mind’s eye hanging up from me and calling someone down at the precinct.”

“Somebody has to tell them!” he barks. “I could have even made an anonymous tip, something, but now—fucking hell, Jewel.” Something crashes on his end of the line, not loudly… like he knocked something off his desk. “Somebody else’s kid could be bartered off as we speak. Do you think Shalane is the only meth-head with a kid in northwest Washington? In Seattle?” He’s really not taking this news well.

“This is why I need help,” I tell him. “This situation is delicate in so many ways. Jason has to know. That woman doesn’t deserve to be within ten feet of Sophie and they should actually keep her ass in jail, but she just might make bail.” Al is huffing now.

“Talk to Sophia again,” he says, his voice controlled. He’s angry. “Tell her about how wrong what her mother did was and try to convince her to let you talk to Jason so you can go to the police. Use your many skills to convince her, but you have to convince her. You know the legal side—you knew it before you called me. You can’t tell Jason without her permission, but you have to go to the police. The minor situation is a slippery slope, without the permission of the parent, so there will be no collaboration. However, as a mental health professional, you have to alert the police of possible future crimes. Have I covered all of my bases?” He’s irritated with me, now. I need to just let him get off the phone so that he can go punch something or… something.

“Yes,” I say quietly, “yes, you have.”

“Good. Call me if you have any other questions. No doubt, I’ll see you at the hospital later.” He ends the call on that note. He’s really upset and I can understand why, but I had to get his legal opinion and he’s just going to have to choke it down. I go back to the family room where I know I’ll find Sophie. She’s watching Frozen, one of the Disney movies I haven’t had a chance to see yet. I come in right at the part where Elsa is singing “Let It Go.” Sophie obviously loves this part and sings the entire song without stopping. When it’s over, she turns a smile to me, but it soon fades.

“Is something wrong, Miss Ana?” she asks. I sigh.

“Yeah, Sophie, something is wrong.” I cross my legs lotus-style on the sofa and face her. “I need you to help me,” I tell her. “I have a very important decision to make and I’m going to take your advice.” She turns to me and crosses her legs in the same position.

“Okay,” she says. “What is it?” I take a deep breath. How do you tell a child that you think her mother may have been trying to trade her into slavery or prostitution?

“You love your mom very much, don’t you?” I ask. Her face changes, then her head drops.

“Yeah, I do, but she needs help,” she says. “She was going to give me to those guys. I know she was,” she says flatly. I gulp.

“You do?” I ask in utter surprise. She nods.

“Yeah, like people traffic… I think that’s what it’s called.” My eyes widen and after a long silence, she raises her gaze to find me gaping at her.

“Sophie,” I ask in soft disbelief, “you’re not even 13 years old yet; how do you know about that?”

“We learned something in school—it wasn’t about people traffic; it was something else. I don’t even remember what it was now. I was looking up what we learned and one site led to something else and that site led to something else, and I ended up on people traffic. That’s what happens when you spend a lot of time by yourself… with the internet.” No wonder this young girl sounds so much wiser than her years, except when she’s scared to death.

“It’s called human trafficking,” I correct her.

“Yeah, that’s it,” she nods. “They sell people into all kinds of creepy stuff and I wasn’t going with those guys. I don’t care what Mom said.” I drop my head.

“Sophie, do you really think that’s what your mom was trying to do? Because that’s what it sounds like.”

“That’s what it felt like, too,” she says. “I don’t know for sure, Miss Ana, but that’s what it felt like.” I nod.

“You know I’m a shrink, right?” I say. She laughs.

“That’s what Daddy says, but he says I can’t call you that,” she giggles. I appreciate her introducing some levity into the situation.

“Well, yeah. But, I want you to know that I’m your friend first and a shrink second, and I want you to trust me to be your friend and keep your secrets, but…”

“But you have to tell somebody about the people traf… human trafficking,” she finishes for me. I sigh.

“We don’t know that’s what it really is, but it could be, and my oath means that I have to tell somebody because it’s illegal. Plus, if that’s really what’s going on, other kids might not have gotten away.” There’s silence between us for a moment, then her eyes grow large.

“Ooooooooohhhh!” she says just over a whisper, drawing the word out. “You mean, they could really be doing human traffic with other kids like me?” Her eyes are wide with disbelief.

“Kids, women, illegal aliens… anybody,” I confirm, “we don’t know for sure, but if what you say is true, then it’s possible.”

“God, Mom,” she says in disgust and disbelief, cursing her mother about as much as a twelve-year-old can curse her mother in the presence of another adult. “So, what do we do, now?” she asks.

“That’s what I need you to tell me,” I say, putting the ball back in her court. I need her to feel like she’s making the decision. I have to tell the police no matter what, but will I have a witness when I do? She ponders the situation carefully for several moments.

“Can we tell my dad?” she asks hopefully. “He’s smart and he knows a lot. He’ll know what to do.” I’m so relieved that she looks up to Jason so much, because that’s exactly what I was hoping for.

“Yes, Sophie,” the first word comes out breathy on the wind of a huge sigh of relief. “We can definitely tell your father. I’m sure he’ll have a solution for us…”

Later that evening, Jason, Sophie and I sit in my office with Jason fighting his rage as Sophie explains to him the same thing that she told me.

“You’re getting that pulsy vein on your forehead, Dad,” Sophie points out and Jason relaxes his face.

“Sorry, Baby Boo,” he says, “it was just the thought that if she had been successful…” and the pulsy vein is back.

“Don’t worry, Dad, I wasn’t going with those guys. I remember what you taught me,” she says. On some things, she’s wiser than her years. On others, she’s naïve and untarnished, as she should be. She shouldn’t know about human trafficking at all at her age, but from what she does know, she thinks that those sold into the ring must have at some point agreed to go with their captors.

It’s very late by the time I get to the hospital as the three of us had to stop and make a bit of a police report first. Al is there when I get there. He’s quietly reading some legal brief or something to Val while Elliot sleeps on the loveseat nearby. Her room is full of flowers now, as it should be, each person dropping off another gorgeous bouquet as they visit.

“Oh, my God, Al,” I lament, “the nurse says she can hear that stuff.”

“I know, that’s why I’m reading it,” he frowns.

“Read her something interesting. We want her to wake up, not be bored to tears. Read her a romance novel, even one of the classics. If it has to be law, read her the details of She-Thing’s trial. That’s entertainment!” I scold.

“I’m hoping she’ll wake up and tell me to shut the hell up,” he admits.

“So in the meantime, you torture her? That conducive!” I turn to her sleeping frame. “Please, wake up, Val and make him shut up.” And for a moment, only a moment, I see the corners of her mouth twitch, then raise slightly. I blink a few times, to make sure I’m not seeing things, but it’s there. It’s slight, but it’s there.

“Al?” I say, pointing to her face. He turns to look at her and gasps. “I’m not seeing things, am I? It’s there…”

“It’s there, Jewel,” he whispers, staring at the slight smile that we see on Val’s face. I don’t know if I have enough time to wake Elliot, so I take a quick picture with my phone. Just after I capture it, her face relaxes back to a resting state.

“Read that goddamn brief!” I whisper to Al. “I know you can hear me,” I say to Val as I lean into her ear. “I know you can, because I could hear some things when I was under. We love you. We all love you. You have to come back. Please… I’ve missed you more than I can stand. I can’t stand it anymore. You can’t leave me. You can’t. Please, come back…”


CHRISTIAN

“I have to give her supervised visitation, but if I have my way, that bitch won’t come anywhere near my child again.”

Jason is seething when we meet him at the Crossing after visiting Valerie. I came into the room right after the doctor and nurses had gone. Valerie had cracked a small smile and was responding to stimuli. She still has to wake up in about a week, or they have to take her off the machines. As her power of attorney, Elliot is trying to fight the advanced directive, denoting that she may have been incapacitated when she signed it due to the tumor. The fight itself would give her enough time to hopefully heal and wake up, even if he didn’t win. Nonetheless, the fact that she’s responsive has given us all a bit of hope.

I did take it upon myself to run a background check on her and locate her father and brother. Her brother’s in jail serving his third stretch for possession. Her father is small money with a chain of grocery stores. I’ll keep the information in case anyone wants it.

My current issue, however, is Jason and the fact that his ex-wife may have tried to trade his daughter as payment for a drug debt. Not only that, but we’ve got Lincoln’s sentencing hearing the day after tomorrow and I’ve been a bit preoccupied with the statement that I’m going to read.

“I can’t believe anybody would do that to a child, let alone a mother,” I tell him. He rubs his neck.

“Thank God Ana was there,” Jason says, relieved. “There’s no way I would have been able to pull that out of Sophie. Without it, there’s a possibility that her mother could get her back. Maybe even try it again. I don’t know how she did it, but your wife is a miracle worker. Sophie was itching to tell me—eager to do the right thing, and she looks like she’s taking it like a pro.” He shakes his head. “Ana promises to stay close and keep an eye on her.”

“That’s good,” I say. “This situation could have left her so much worse off in so many ways. I shudder to think what could have happened if…” He shakes his head. “I’m not letting her near Sophie. I don’t care what the court order says, I’m not letting her near my child.”

“Is that wise?” I ask. “You could get in trouble with the court.”

“There’s not a judge in the world that would blame me. The worst they could do it put me in jail for some stupid, trumped-up charge, so let them do it.”

“What about Sophie? What if she wants to see her mother?” I ask. He sighs.

“I doubt that’ll happen, but if Sophie wants it, I’ll allow it,” he says, begrudgingly.

“So what did the police say about the possible human trafficking?” I ask.

“Without more evidence, they can’t bring any charges against her for trying to sell my daughter. But they can investigate the dealers for human traffic. Shalane is already being brought up on charges of child endangerment for having Sophie in that place in the first place and get this! Her toxicology report was released and I needed it turned over to family court for part of the custody case. She tested positive for meth, coke, marijuana, ex, ruffies… ruffies, man! Ruffies don’t even stay in your system that long! And her blood alcohol… 1.9! It’s a wonder she was upright, let alone driving! They could have found her and my kid dead somewhere. I’m telling you, she’s not getting near Sophie again.”

“You’ll get no argument from me,” I tell him. “I just don’t want you to do anything that will blow your chances of getting custody.”

“This won’t blow my chances,” he says. “I have the best attorney in the world… better than money can buy.”

*-*

When we get to the courtroom Friday morning for Lincoln’s sentencing, I’m gobsmacked by what I see. Our front row has been reserved for us as usual, but the courtroom is full, even fuller than it was when the jury read the verdict. There are so many people here, but what shocks me the most is how many different versions of me there are in the room. I mean, nobody looks exactly like me, but they favor me—like my bevy of petite brunettes. As I scan the room, I see what could have been versions of me from what looks like the age of thirteen… until now.

“Oh, God,” I whisper, my stomach churning like raw acid and fire. The speech I prepared won’t scratch the surface of how this makes me feel—how sick this woman really must be in her soul, but she deserves no mercy for that sickness.

“Christian… baby, what is it?” my wife says sweetly, concerned.

“Look around,” I whisper, horrified. “Take a good look…” Butterfly scans the room, then again, then she gasps as realization sinks in.

“Oh, my God,” she whispers. Victims… more victims, and most likely, their parents. The trial was private, but anyone can watch the sentencing and make a statement. I figure we’ll be here all day. There’s way too many people here.

Butterfly and I nearly stagger to our seats with the new information we’re processing and I take time to locate my mother. She’s just as horrified as we are as she zeroes in on what Butterfly was examining. She tries to give me strength through her beautiful smile, but it does little to console me. She sees what I see—horrible representations of broken lives and stolen innocence, no matter if these people overcame their situation or not. I sit down and contemplate my situation… and my speech. They can’t say anything much because this isn’t the pedo-trial, and they didn’t get to speak before because she accepted a plea to the other charges and took the sentence that was handed to her. This is the only closure they can hope for.

I hear the shackles on her feet when she enters the courtroom, but I don’t raise my head to look at her. I’m disgusted and sick and trying to control the bile rising in the back of my throat. I just want this thing to be over—to turn my back and never think of her or speak of her again. I’m relieved when I hear the instruction to all rise. I so want this over and done. I wait… wait for Underwood to instruct the judge that Lincoln is already serving time on a prior offense and well on her way to rehabilitation; wait for him to try to convince His Honor that the maximum sentence would serve nothing as Mrs. Lincoln will already be incarcerated until she’s seventy-five; I listen as he continues to paint her as a victim with no consideration for the trauma that she only caused my family, not to mention these men and boys who line the walls of this room right now. If I’ve never seen a snake before, there’s one talking to the judge right now.

Skinner doesn’t say much. He reiterates that the evidence speaks for itself and that there’s no reason to rehash the facts. The jury has found her guilty and it’s up to the court to render just and sufficient sentence for her crimes. I wait for someone to stand or speak when Judge Burgess opens the floor for statements. No one does… so I do.

I walk solemnly to the lectern placed where the jury was seated and pull my speech from my pocket. I clear my throat and attempt to speak and the words seem to jumble on the page.

They won’t work. They’ll never describe the gravity of this situation.

“Mr. Grey?” the judge says. I clear my throat again… showtime.

“Justice won’t be served today,” I say, folding the paper that contains the speech I intended to give and shoving it back into my pocket. “Justice won’t be served in this courtroom. Elena Lincoln was found guilty of her crimes and justice still won’t be served.” Elena looks at me with hope in her eyes—poor, delusional woman—and Butterfly and my family eye me with confusion. I look down and sigh, then look back up and examine the courtroom.

“She took so much from so many people, then tried to come to this court—this forum of logical thinking, morally grounded, civically bound people—and tried to convince us that her behavior was acceptable because she said so. Wasn’t that the essence of her defense? ‘I’m superior; I’m special; I can ruin people’s lives and if they don’t do what I want, I can kill them?’ How could you or any living, breathing person—let alone a professional…” I glare at her attorney, “… possibly think that would fly among rational thinking human beings?” I glare at them both for a moment, then regroup.

“But I digress, because I said that justice would not be served. You’ve ruined so many lives,” I focus on Elena, “and in the end, your acts culminated with you trying to take mine. If there was ever any chance in the world that I could have ever loved you, you shattered that all to hell. All. By. Your. Self.” My words are dripping with venom as the truest pain rises in her tear-filled eyes. “Whatever the sentence, you can’t ever begin to repay the debt you owe to the people whose lives you have destroyed.

“People look at me and they see a billionaire and the first thing they want to say is, ‘Well, he didn’t turn out so bad.’ But know this—I am who I am in spite of my circumstances, not because of them. You don’t get to destroy my childhood and then take credit for my success! That’s not the way it works. You don’t get to take a bad matter and make it worse, then throw money at it and tout that you made me the man that I am.

“You think what you did for me made me stronger and you’re right, it did.” She holds her head up triumphantly. “I had to be stronger. I had to withstand what you were doing to me—what you were putting me through.” The same air that puffed her up is knocked violently out of her sails. “You constantly say that you gave me the money and the tools to start my business… you didn’t. You lent me the money to start my business; you were no more significant to my success than the local financial institution. I had the brains and the mental capacity and wherewithal to do the work myself. So, what exactly did you give me, Mrs. Lincoln?” Those sad eyes are back, but I feel nothing.

“Everyone seems to think that you gave me $100,000 to start my business, but nobody seems to know that was a loan, which I repaid with interest. What’s more, even less people seem to know that had it not been for me, you wouldn’t have had those salons as long as you did to afford you that lifestyle that allowed you to commit the crimes for which you are currently serving time! And yet… you want to sit there and spout about and believe that you’re the reason I’m the man I am today? That you did so much good for me? Well, tell me this, Mrs. Lincoln—if you were so good for me, if you fixed what was so broken in me, made me this great man, why was I still having those damn nightmares?”

Butterfly gulps as does my mother and the courtroom starts to murmur. Judge Burgess bangs his gavel.

“Order! Order!” he says. When the court quiets, he looks at me. “Are you finished, Mr. Grey?” he asks.

“I won’t get another chance, Your Honor,” I tell him, “I have one more issue to address.”

“Very well,” he says, replacing his gavel. I turn back to Elena.

“I couldn’t hug my mother until last year,” I begin. “I couldn’t show my family love, because you convinced me there was no such thing, that is until you found out I loved someone else. All of a sudden, love was this beautiful thing that I could share with you, and if I didn’t, then you had free me from the clutches of a woman who really does love me. Had it not been for the love of that woman, I wouldn’t be able to hug my mother and lean on her now that I need her more than ever; to tell my father and my siblings and my grandfather and my uncle exactly what they mean to me.

“I would never know the feeling of being one person—whole and healed—as part of someone else. I would never know how it feels to look down into the faces of two tiny little versions of myself and be filled with love and immeasurable pride when my infant children look back at me. Most of all, I would never know the feeling of waking up every morning with my arms and heart wrapped around my talisman after a good night’s sleep—nightmare-free.”

She’s gasps. She knew I was still having the nightmares. She never knew that they went away. Mom and Dad look gaped-mouth at me, then turn to Ana who looks at me with tear-filled loving eyes. I turn my gaze back to Elena.

“And you wanted to free me from that? I thank God and everything sacred that you didn’t.”

I hold my head down and take a deep breath to strike my last blow.

“Justice won’t be served because there’s no sentence severe enough for you to feel all the pain you’ve caused to all the people that you’ve hurt. But whatever the court decides to give you, whatever they feel is appropriate for your crime, I hope you rot! I hope that your evil festers in you and boils you from the inside out every day of your miserable life. I hope you live a long, long life of pain, suffering, and unhappiness. I hope your days from now on are filled with nothing but hopelessness, misery, and despair. And when your number finally comes and you draw your last breath, I hope the devil himself is there to greet you at the gates to escort you through all nine circles of Dante’s hell for the rest of eternity. Then, and only then, will justice be served.”

I stare unfeeling at her eyes. She stares broken-hearted into mine. I allow the venom and hatred to flow out of me and into the air towards her, into her. Let her carry it from now on. I’ve had enough of it. I drop my head back and inhale a deep, cleansing breath, releasing it along with every lie, every welt, every strike, every guilt trip she ever played on me. Every shackle she ever closed, every time she caned me, whipped me, flogged me, sodomized me, denied me orgasms for days, brainwashed me to believe that I couldn’t love and no one would love me—I gave them all back to her when I released that breath.

I’m free. I’m free of Elena Lincoln forever. I feel so light, I could fly.

“I’m done, Your Honor,” I say with no malice before leaving the lectern. I walk to m y wife and she bolts to my arms, kissing me deeply. We indulge for only a second before taking our seats on the benches behind the prosecutor.

“No…”

Her voice is so frail, I think I’m the only one who heard it.

“Christian… please… no…”  Lincoln begs, her voice soft and nearly inaudible. I cling to my wife, holding her close to me and feeling her warmth infuse into me—her love and her strength.

“I love you, Christian,” Elena whimpers. “Please don’t leave me… please don’t leave me alone…”

I hear her, but I don’t care. It only makes me pull my beautiful and precious wife closer to me, makes me want this whole thing to be over so that I can hurry home to my children…

“Are there… any more statements?” Judge Burgess is remiss to ask. What else could be said after that? I mean really, who else could say anything after that?


A/N: This is one of the ten final chapters of “Becoming Dr. Grey.” Stay tuned…

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

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

Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X