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

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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

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~~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…

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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.

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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/

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Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 71—The Gatekeeper

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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—The Gatekeeper

ANASTASIA

Since I prepared to be in court for She-Thing all week, I won’t be going to Helping Hands, so I gave Marilyn the week off. Just after breakfast Thursday morning, I receive a call from the dreaded area code… 702.

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Grey?”

“Who’s calling?” I ask cautiously.

“This is Herbert Larson from the Nevada Attorney General’s office.” Oh… still haven’t gotten that subpoena.

“Yes?” I say. He pauses, no doubt noting my cold tone.

“I… just wanted to call you and tell you that Michael Underwood’s trial was set for Monday…”

Was?” I interrupt him.

“Yes, was. He saw the charges and the witnesses against him and he took a plea.” Another fucker gets to take a plea.

“Really? And what did he get?” I ask, stoically.

“He pled to second degree kidnapping, battery without a weapon, and involuntary manslaughter with a maximum of twenty five years on all counts. He got eighteen with a possibility of parole in fifteen.” Whoa!

“Oh.” I say, truly surprised. “Okay.” I couldn’t say much more.

“I’m calling because your subpoena was returned unserved,” he says. “We tried your last known address and your office. There was no contact at either location.”

“Why didn’t you try my attorney’s office?”

“He couldn’t be reached at his office either, Ma’am.”

“Geez, you have old addresses for everybody?” I lament.

“I’m afraid so,” he says. “We couldn’t legally serve anybody anywhere.” I nod.

“I’ll get you updated information today. I’m sorry about that, Mr. Larson,” I say.

“No apologies necessary. I just thought you might want to know that the first official sentence has been handed down in your case.” I sigh heavily, then frown.

“What about Carly Madison-Perry?” I ask. “I thought she had taken a plea, too.”

“Her plea is still pending,” he says. “It’s due to be finalized within the next week. Her keeping it is dependent on her testifying in court.”

“And what if everyone does what Underwood does and pleads to a lesser charge? Will she still get to walk even though she never had to testify in court?” There’s a pause.

“I can guarantee you that it’s not a ‘walk,’ Mrs. Grey,” he replies. “However, based on her willingness to testify, she would still get her plea bargain. Her pleading to a lesser sentence for the highest allowable charges means that it goes on the books that these crimes were actually committed and that anyone associated with the incident has to be associated with the commission of these crimes and not a lesser act, unless their specific action indicate a lesser act. This is why she got first degree kidnapping and Underwood got second.”  I nod as if he can see me.

“So, with Carly’s testimony, I need you to help me understand why you won’t just take all of these people to trial. It’s an open and shut case.” I hear him sigh.

“Under normal circumstances, you would be correct, Mrs. Grey. However, these circumstances are far from normal. We haven’t notified you of every development in this case, but so far, there have been seventeen arrests made with people rolling over on their friends. Some suspects have fled the state or are in hiding waiting to be apprehended. To be honest with you, every jurisdiction has a finite amount of resources that can be expended for all cases being investigated. To that end, if we can save the taxpayers some money and preserve our resources by still getting double-digit mandatory sentences on these pleas, I would consider that a win. Wouldn’t you?” 

The way he explains it makes perfect sense. I’ll just have to make sure that any of these monsters that do live long enough to see the outside of a prison don’t get to see their fortunes once they’re free. It’s the high living and the sense of entitlement that caused most of these bastards to participate in this shit in the first place. Others were just too busy following the leader.

“Am I allowed to know what Carly’s plea is?” I ask, certain that I won’t like the outcome. Larson pauses again.

“Mrs. Madison-Perry is being charged with conspiracy to kidnap in the first degree, kidnapping in the first degree, battery with a deadly weapon with substantial bodily harm, battery without a weapon with substantial bodily harm, manslaughter for the fetal homicide of your unborn baby, and attempted murder…” 

“So, they both got the kidnapping charges.” It’s a question that comes out as a statement.

“We’re hoping they’ll all get it,” he says.

“Well, Underwood got eighteen years. What kind of charges is she looking at?”

“Under normal circumstances, kidnapping carries a life sentence on its own. Like Underwood, she reviewed the odds against her and decided against taking her chances in court. If she delivers as promised, she’s looking at thirty years with no parole and a $35,000 fine.” Holy cow, Batman! I hiss into the line.

“She could have gotten life, huh?” I ask. There’s silence. “I think thirty years sounds fair. And she’ll never be able to come up with that $35,000.”

“Then she’ll most likely get more time for that,”  he says.

“Even better. I’ll email you to correct addresses for myself and my attorney. Thank you for explaining this to me, Mr. Larson.

“My pleasure.” I end the call after pleasantries and almost call Christian to tell him the news when I  see my father’s number in the call logs. I dial his number instead. It’s the middle of the morning, so his phone has to be on.

The caller you are trying to reach has chosen not to be disturbed at this time. Please try your call again later.

What. The. Fuck!

I look at the phone to make sure that I’ve dialed the right number. It says that’s Daddy’s phone. But it can’t be! That’s the blocked number message. I dial the number manually. Maybe there’s a technical reason for it.

That fucker’s voice is taunting me again.

I shake my head. Something is terribly wrong. I go in search of a landline in the house and dial my father’s number again.

The caller you are trying…

I hang up before the message completes. Panic stricken, I go in search of Gail. I find her in the kitchen going over the shopping list with Mrs. Solomon. I try to act calm.

“Gail, can I borrow your phone? Mine’s on the charger.”

“Sure, dear.” She puts her phone on the counter without hesitation and goes back off into the pantry.

I dial Daddy’s number hoping that I would get the same message from Gail’s phone that I received from my phone and the landline. I didn’t. It rings—three times, then he answers.

“Hello?”

“Daddy?” I say, uncertain. His answer is swift.

“Can’t talk now. Busy.” And the line goes dead. I’m stunned. He’s shutting me out. My father is shutting me out. In my whole life, my father has never, ever shut me out… but he’s shutting me out. I stand there for a moment. I’m lost. I don’t know what to do next. First Valerie, now this? The world is ending… the world must be ending! What kind of cruel joke it this?

My stomach burns. My chest aches like someone is beating me with a sledgehammer. Daddy is shutting me out. He blocked my phone numbers. He won’t accept my calls. Even Mandy won’t talk to me. I can’t get air. The walls feel like they’re closing in on me. My world is truly ending. How will I ever survive this? I’m going to die… I feel like I’m going to die… I can’t take it… I’m not strong enough…

This couldn’t be happening. This could not be happening! I look around for Gail, but she must have stepped into the pantry. I put her phone on the counter and head for the mudroom. I stand there lost for a moment, but see my keys on the hook next to the other keys for the other cars in the garage. I grab them and head out the door. I’m on autopilot. The windows are tinted, which is good, because when I drive to the gate, Ben just opens it and lets me out. I head towards the bridge. I don’t know where I’m going. I just… drive.


CHRISTIAN

“Boss… we got a problem.”

Boss… shit, what’s wrong? I get a sinking feeling when Jason comes into my office just past noon. He only calls me Boss when it’s something person.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“I just got a text from my wife… Her Highness is MIA.” I frown.

“I don’t get it. You got a text from your wife that Butterfly is MIA?” he nods.

“Just now. I’ve got the boys looking into it, but she’s definitely gone. She came into the kitchen about three hours ago asking Gail to use her phone. Gail thought nothing of it and just let her use it. She saw her phone on the counter as she was doing something with Ms. Solomon and thought nothing of it. Her Highness said her phone was dead.” I knew that wasn’t true because her phone was on the charger right next to mine when I left this morning. “When the babies awoke, Her Highness wasn’t there. Two-way communications says she’s not in the house.”

“She could be out by the fire-pit or something. Has anybody tried to call her?” I say. Jason rolls his eyes.

“You know we did, sir. Her phone is still in the bedroom… along with her purse,” he says somberly. “And her car is gone.” I bolt out of my seat.

“How do you know her car is gone?” I ask.

“Ben let her out of the gate. He assumed Chuck was with her. Chuck is not.”

“Shit!” I hiss, thrusting my hands into my hair. She left her purse, her phone, the babies. Was she kidnapped again?

“Did you activate the tracker on her car?” I ask. Jason scratches his chin. “What?”

“Her… car hasn’t been equipped with a tracker,” he says, meekly.

“What?” I roar. “That car is going to have the babies the goddamn most and it hasn’t been fitted with a goddamn tracker?”

“I think they were so preoccupied with getting the spec right that somebody forgo…” He pulls his phone out and frowns.

“What?” I ask.

“Gail just thought to call the last number dialed on her phone. It was Ray. He was more than a bit gruff with her. Is something up with Ray?” I roll my eyes.

“Yes,” I say, pulling my phone out call Ray. “Give me a minute.” Jason nods and leave my office.

“Hello?” Ray answers.

“Ray. It’s Christian. Have you seen Ana?”

“You gotta lotta nerve calling me!” he hisses. I’m taken aback.

“What?” I say, clearly shocked.

“She told me about that crap you two do, like I’m supposed to be okay with it. What the hell have you gotten my daughter into?” He’s livid, and I’m caught off guard. I don’t even know how to handle this Ray.

“Ray, I… it’s not like that…” I stammer.

“The hell it’s not!” he snaps. “I wasn’t born yesterday! I’ve seen that shit! I’ve been around more than you and even Annie knows! I’ve been everywhere from Amsterdam to Pattaya to the seedy areas of the states. I’ve seen all the sick shit that goes on in those clubs and at those parties and in those dungeons and you can’t pull the wool over my eyes!”

Whoa! So, Ray knows what he’s talking about, but he still only seems to have seen the worst part of it.

“Ray, those places you’ve been, you’ve only seen the most horrible stuff. It’s not like that with us, I assure you…”

“Don’t give me that shit! There’s no soft way to abuse a woman! Beating and caning and ropes and shit! And to think—my daughter is involved in this garbage!”

Was this what Butterfly heard? Is this how he spoke to her before he disappeared?

“Whatever you may think about my and my wife’s lifestyle, I can’t find her and I just want to know the last time you’ve seen her.”

“Good! I hope she’s left your ass! I hope she’s left this whole sick situation!” He can’t hear beyond his own hatred and anger and now, I’m sure this is why I can’t find Anastasia.

“Raymond!” I snap, my wick short. “My wife is missing.” My voice is short and curt, my words clipped. “She doesn’t have her phone or her purse. She hasn’t left me because our children are still at home. She could be in danger. Have you seen her?” He’s silent for a moment.

“No. I haven’t,” he says in the same clipped, angry tone he’s been using for the entire call. No concern for her whereabouts; no reaction to the ominous details I just gave him; nothing that I would expect from a father… much less a Marine. My heart sinks. This is who she met before she disappeared. She idolizes Ray. In her whole life, throughout everything, he’s been her one constant, and now this. What’s worse is that in hindsight, she may not have even had to tell him about the lifestyle since that blonde bitch never said anything in court and nothing’s come from my testimony on Monday except a few blurbs about the abuse. Oh, God. If anything has happened to Butterfly, this is all my fault… the breakdown of her relationship with Ray, the possible public humiliation, all of it… all my fault.

“Do you hate your daughter, now, Ray?” I ask him.

“No, but I hate you for what you’ve done to her!” he snaps without hesitation. Another closed mind. I should have seen this coming.

“Fine. Hate me, but don’t make her pay for it,” I say flatly.

“You’re the last person that can say anything to me about my daughter right now,” he hisses. “You should be glad I don’t get some of the guys from one of my sites to just come down there and beat your ass!”

“Do that if it makes you feel better, but don’t punish Anastasia because of how you feel about me.”

“Don’t you try to take that high road with me, Grey!” he snaps, angrier than I’ve ever seen or heard before. “You’re a sick fuck and I’ll never forgive you for what you’ve turned my daughter into!” I sigh heavily.

And another one bites the dust.

“I thought you knew,” I say softly, defeated. “I thought you knew how much I love her… that I would gladly lay down my life for her. I thought I proved it when I beat the hell out of your best friend and ended up in the hospital.”

He’s fallen silent on the other end of the line.

“I thought you knew that I could never, ever hurt her… that I would do anything for her. I thought I proved that when I turned the state upside down when she was kidnapped; when I flew to Green Valley and hunted down the fucker who raped her and the monsters who beat her and killed her baby; when I stood with you against her mother and that abomination that she married when they showed up at the hospital; when I sat by her side ready to fight you and anyone else who tried to take her away when she laid catatonic in my bed for three days.

“When I stood in that office ready to take that bullet if it meant that crazy bitch was not going to shoot my Butterfly; when I turned her into Cinderella and married her in a castle because she wanted to be a princess; when I signed her name to half of the company that I built on my back with my own blood, sweat and tears because I love and trust her that much… with my life!”

I don’t think he knew that last part.

“I thought I proved it when I stayed by her side and cried for twelve days when she was in a coma and refused to leave her until they kicked me out and banned me from the room even after she didn’t remember who I was. I really thought you knew that she is my whole life and I could never abuse her or mistreat her or misuse her. I thought you knew me better than some sick motherfucker that would just tie her up and torment her for my own enjoyment!” I bite out—angry, hurt tears now burning a trek down my face.

“Most of all, I thought you knew her better,” I choke. “I thought you knew that the Anastasia Steele that I met would never stand to be abused, hurt, or deliberately mistreated by anybody, much less someone who claimed to love her! After all that she’s already been through, I was certain that you knew she was much stronger, much wiser than that! I’m so disappointed to find out that after all this time, you don’t know.”

I swallow back my trepidation for the fact that I’m talking to Ana’s father and continue.

“You want to judge me for the lifestyle that I came from, fine. You do that. I won’t lie—it hurts. I thought you knew me better. I thought you knew what she meant to me, but clearly, I was mistaken.” I hear my voice shaking and I can hardly believe how affected I am that not only has Ray bought into the crap that he’s seen and heard about the lifestyle, but that he doesn’t know me well enough or trust me well enough to believe that I wouldn’t do that deviant shit to Anastasia.

“I misjudged you,” I say through angry tears. “I knew the rest of the world would judge us, would jump to conclusions, but I didn’t think you would. In the end, I always thought we… or at least she… would have you. I guess I was wrong.”

My heart breaks for Butterfly. He’s never going to come around. He thinks I’ve soiled her… changed her. He doesn’t want anything else to do with us. I wipe my eyes with the backs of my hands and swallow hard.

“I won’t bother you again,” I say to the silent line before ending the call. I thought Butterfly may have been exaggerating when she told me about her father’s reaction to the news, but she wasn’t. It was just as bad as she said it was—worse, even, and I hurt for her right now. I won’t even tell her about this conversation. It would only make matters worse. Right now, I just have to find her.

I straighten my face and clothes as much as I can and kick myself for not knowing that something more was going on when I left the house this morning. Before I call Jason to tell him about Ana’s last contact, I call Al.

“Allen Forsythe,” he answers.

“Al, Ana’s MIA. I’m sure it has to do with Ray. Where would she go?” I just get straight to the point.

“Wait a minute. What?” I sigh heavily.

“Please don’t make me go through this,” I say, scrubbing my eyes, already weary. “Ana’s missing. I believe it’s because she fought with Ray. Where would she go?” The line is quiet for a long time. I can’t stand it. I end the call and call Jason.

“Yes, Sir?”

“It’s Ray,” I tell him. “It has to be. He was cold and cruel when I talked to him. If he was half as horrible when she spoke to him, I don’t know where she is.” Jason sighs.

“I really thought we put a tracker on her car,” Jason says.

“I thought we did, too. Whose job was that?” I ask. As I’m deciding whose head will roll for forgetting one of the fundamental things needed on every vehicle I have ever purchased, my second line is ringing. Al is calling me back.

“One second, Jason,” I say and I change lines to answer the call. “Yes?”

“Has anybody checked the aquarium?” he asks.

“She wouldn’t go to the aquarium,” I say, trying to remain calm.

“She went to the aquarium the day before your wedding day,” he retorts. “Has she ever fought with Ray while you’ve been together?” he asks. I’m silent. “Have you checked her condo?” I hadn’t thought of her condo.

“No, I hadn’t thought of that, either. Any other suggestions?”

“I’m assuming she’s not answering her phone and you’ve tried to track it?”

“She doesn’t have it… Or her purse. They’re both at the Crossing,” I say, trying to stamp down the same rising emotions I had when David kidnapped her. There’s a knock at my office door. “Come in.” The door opens and Al walks through ending his call with me.

“I’m going with you to find her.” I know it’s no use trying to stop him. My phone rings again and I’m hoping it’s Butterfly. It’s Jason.

“What?” I ask, a little impatiently.

“I’m still here,” he says, and I forgot he was on the backline. I sigh.

“Allen and I are going to her condo. Send someone to the Aquarium. Fire whoever was responsible for getting the tracker put in her car and I mean I really want somebody fired. We could have discovered this when something terrible has happened to her and if something has…” I trail off. “I want somebody fucking fired, today, Jason,” I repeat. “I want my pound of flesh and I fucking mean it.” I end the call and walk out of the office.

The ride to Butterfly’s condo on Elliot Bay is silent. I’m driving and Al is in the passenger seat of the Audi I’ve procured from the office—one with a goddamn tracker, no doubt. I try to drive the speed limit, but my rising anxiety along with the reminder of Ray’s ire when I spoke to him is making that task a little easier said than done. I don’t remember the key code when I get to the gate, so Al has to remind me. I can’t describe the flood of relief that I feel when I see Butterfly’s Audi parked in her spot in the garage. I’m immediately overcome with emotion and I feel so light-headed that I literally have to stop the car right where it is and lean my head on the steering wheel.

I feel the car change gears and hear the parking brake engage. Moments later, Al is opening the driver’s side door.

“Go to her, Chris,” he says sympathetically. “I’ll park the car.” I raise a heavy head and see sympathetic brown eyes looking down at me. I nod, then exit the car.

I’m almost afraid of what I’ll find when I get to the condo. Surprised that my key still works, I open the door to hear the last chords of a song playing over the sound system in her apartment, only to hear it start over again— “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.”

This is not good. I run through the apartment looking for her, afraid of what I’ll find. She’s in her bedroom, on the floor, sitting up with her back against the bed with boxes of various items strewn about—photo albums, pictures, mementos… There are pictures of her when she was younger with Carla and Ray; pictures of just her and Ray; pictures of Ray and Carla, her and Al; pictures of an old house with a swing; old cutouts of foreign lands; what looks like a box of toys and some swatches of material and some other nondescript items and knickknacks. There’s a half-finished bottle of wine on the nightstand and no glass, and Butterfly is weeping bitterly.

I come into view of her just so that she can see that I’m here, but she doesn’t raise her eyes. She cries and cries over some shirt she has in her hand—a very worn T-shirt and I can barely make out the letters on the front… USMC.

I want her to at least acknowledge my presence, but I realize now that she can’t. I push some of the items aside and make room for myself on the floor next to her. I don’t know how long she’s been crying, but I wish she would stop because she’s hoarse, now. She doesn’t react when I sit down. She just keeps crying. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her more broken except maybe the day she and Valerie broke up, for lack of a better word. My God… Valerie. All her constants are leaving her. Is it because of me? Is she losing everyone important to her because of me?

I gather her frail little frame onto my lap and hold her in my arms as she buries her face in what I can only assume is her father’s Marine Corps T-shirt and the tears starts anew. I vaguely hear Al come into the apartment and then hear him on the phone asking Ray what’s going on.

Don’t call him. He doesn’t care. All he cares about is that his little pristine image of his daughter has been shattered, and if she’s broken and falling apart, it doesn’t matter to him. She’s my responsibility now.

She cries and cries and cries and cries for I don’t know how long. I hold her and rock her, wrapped in a blanket after she starts shivering. My heart is broken for her and hearing her cry tears me into a million pieces. I can’t stop my own tears while hearing the anguish in her voice, so after a while, I just allow them to fall in her hair. She’s broken because of him and I’m broken because of her… so we just sit here, broken.

“Chris…” I hear his voice, but I don’t move. Butterfly still hasn’t stopped crying and I don’t know how to make her stop. “You guys need to eat.”

I think I smelled food earlier, but I can’t eat, not if she doesn’t—not right now, and she won’t stop crying. I don’t move. I just keep rocking her, hoping she’ll stop crying soon.

My own eyes hurt now and my throat is dry. My face is tight from tears falling and drying and falling again. My heart hurts for my beloved, for not being able to take away her pain… a pain so deep that I can’t imagine what it feels like. I cling to her again and kiss her forehead, trying to infuse her with the love I feel to give her strength and stop her tears. My phone has been buzzing incessantly in my pocket, but the world could explode and fall into the sea right now for all I care. My Butterfly is in pain, and I can’t stop it. I can’t do anything to stop it.

The sun has long since gone down and I just want her to go to sleep, now. I just want her to stop crying for a moment and sleep, but she won’t stop. I know that she’s exhausted—still clinging to that shirt—she can’t sleep… or won’t sleep. I’ve tried everything… rubbing her back, singing to her, nothing works. She’s been weeping for hours and I’ve cried with her for some of those—my eyes red and swollen, I know. The pain is a dead giveaway. I can only imagine how she feels.

“Christian…”

Fucking hell, he called my mother.

“Christian, you have to eat,” she says softly. Sorry, Mom, not now. I wrap my arms tighter around my wife, who now cries soundlessly since her voice is completely gone. I can tell that her tears have started anew and it rips me to shreds. I start to weep again.

“I can’t make her stop, Mom,” I say through my tears, without looking up at her. “I’ve tried for hours, but she won’t stop.”

“I can give her a sedative,” Mom says. I shake my head.

“I don’t want to do that without her permission. She’ll just wake up crying anyway.”  My voice is so weak that I barely recognize it.

“She’s exhausted, Christian.”

“I know,” I say, helplessly, “but she won’t go to sleep… and she won’t stop crying.” I sob. “I hate it when she hurts! I hate it! I can’t stand this!” My shoulders shake as I bury my face in her hair, weeping for her as she weeps for her loss. I pull her as close to me as I can, wishing that I could absorb some of her pain, but realizing that I may be transferring some of mine to her. I don’t know what to do. I hear the heavy footfall of male feet and know that Jason or Carrick is now coming to try to convince us to eat or go home. Convince her to stop crying, then maybe we can do something.

“Sunflower?”

Both our heads shoot up at the sound of Ray’s voice. We’re both stunned, both tearstained, both exhausted as we gaze into his face. Confused green eyes look down at both of us before he squats down to us and stares for a long time in utter silence. This is the first time in hours that Butterfly has stopped crying. I can’t be concerned that it wasn’t me that couldn’t make her stop—I’m just glad that she has, though I think it’s because she’s stunned. Nonetheless, she’s not crying.

Ray stares from Butterfly to me and back to Butterfly several times in what seems like several minutes, I don’t know, but after close examination, his gaze softens when he looks at his daughter. Her lip trembles. Oh, God… Please, no more crying, Butterfly.

“I’m sorry, Sunflower,” he says, his voice cracking.

“Daddy…” her lips move, but nothing comes out. She bolts into his arms and sobs silently, her voice gone from crying all day. She clings to her father like life itself and he buries his head in her shoulder. I drop my head from my own exhaustion, taking in deep breaths and trying to clear my thoughts, and craning my neck from side to side, hearing and feeling the audible popping from the stiffness. I grimace from the pain. I feel a hand on my shoulder and wearily raise my painful eyes to see that it’s Ray. He says nothing, just looking at me with sad eyes. I nod and drop my head again and he gives my shoulder a tight squeeze. We don’t need any more words right now.

I manage to get some soup into my wife before carrying her exhausted body to the rainwater shower to try to relax her. She gratefully and silently allows me to clean her from head to toe, putting her hair in the Pocahontas braids again. I find a warm sleep shirt for her to sleep in and I strip down to my T-shirt and boxers. I don’t bother looking at the time; we’re both wiped out. We sleep at her condo that night, curled up in her bed in waterlogged exhaustion.

*-*

I’m the first to wake in the morning. We haven’t moved from the position we started in all night. I don’t want to move right now, but nature calls. I roll out of bed and relieve myself quickly. I need coffee.

I open the door to Ana’s bedroom and I smell food and hear a woman’s soft laughter. Not knowing which woman it is, I make to close the door to find something more suitable than a T-shirt and boxers. I look down and see a carryall and a garment bag on the floor at the door. I pick them up and bring them into the room. Butterfly has clothes here, though I don’t know if she can wear any of them, so most of these are most likely for me.

Inside the carryall are casual things—jeans, sweats, underwear, a robe. A suit and accessories are in the garment bag. I look at the alarm clock on the nightstand next to Butterfly’s bed. It’s after ten in the morning. I hope nothing important is happening today. I don’t remember any appointments on the books. I look at my phone and there are texts and missed calls from Jason, my mom and dad, Ray—all from yesterday and last night. That was the buzzing in my pocket. I put on my sweat pants and the robe over my T-shirt and boxers and go to the kitchen to find sustenance.

I find Amanda and Ray in the kitchen cooing over little Harry in his highchair. They pause when I come into the room and at first, I don’t know how to react. I feel like hell, like I’ve slept for three days and I could sleep for three more. I probably look just as bad.

“Good morning, Christian,” Ray says. Olive branch, I think.

“Good morning,” I say, my throat scratchy, looking for coffee.

“Jason brought some groceries. I made breakfast,” Mandy says. “Would you like some? Eggs and sausage and some toast.” I pause at the coffee pot.

“Yes, please… thank you.” I fed Butterfly soup last night and foolishly didn’t eat myself. My stomach lining is eating itself. I take a swallow of the hot black coffee trying not to scorch my tongue and savor the flavor of it going down my throat. Amanda piles a plate full of scrambled eggs and sausage links and puts a couple of pieces of toast on it before placing it on the breakfast bar. I tear into it like a bear. I’m famished. She and Ray continue their conversation as if I’m not in the room and I’m fine with that. Just let me eat. It’s not like I know what to say anyway.

Before I know it, the plate is empty and a laughing Amanda is placing another full plate of breakfast in front of me. I raise my eyes to her, somewhat embarrassed that I’m eating in front of her like a caveman.

“I’m… sorry,” I mutter. “I haven’t eaten anything since… breakfast yesterday.” I actually had to think about it to remember when I last ate.

“Don’t worry about it,” she says with a kind smile. “There’s plenty.” She turns back to the stove and cracks more eggs into a frying pan. I look over at Harry, making a mess of his scrambled eggs on his portable highchair. Your mom’s pretty cool, kid, I think to myself. I turn back to my plate and tear in again. I don’t raise my eyes to Ray. My last words to him were biting and I meant every one of them, but the air between us now is tentative.

“How did you sleep?” he asks, his voice cutting through the silence like a bullhorn. I swallow the eggs in my mouth.

“Like the dead,” I say honestly. I can’t remember the last time I cried myself to exhaustion. Even when Butterfly was in a coma, I cried and cried and cried until there was no water left in my body, but couldn’t sleep. I think it had to be when she left me and went to Montana.

“And Annie?” he asks, his voice soft.

“The same, I think,” I say. “Neither of us moved the entire night.” I take a drink of my coffee before shoving a sausage link into my mouth. He takes a sip of his coffee before speaking again.

“She always sleeps hard when she’s upset,” he murmurs. I stop chewing and put my fork on my plate.

“Yes, she does,” I say, staring at my uneaten food. “It’s one of her defense mechanisms; her way of running… without actually running.” I sit there in silence for a moment.

“You can say it,” he says. I raise my eyes to him, asking the question without asking it. “I’m an asshole.”

I stare for a moment, but say nothing. I turn my attention back to my plate, filling my mouth with food to avoid telling him just that. I had said everything I wanted to say to him about his behavior yesterday. I had no desire to revisit the topic.

“Yeah, I know,” he says. “You’re a better man for not berating me any further.” He drinks his coffee and I keep eating. I’m reprieved when I hear the door to Butterfly’s bedroom open, but horrified when she bends the corner into the kitchen. She’s grasping her head in obvious discomfort, head down and not looking where she’s going… and she’s headed face first into the wall. My body moves faster than my mind and I’m in front of her seconds before she goes “splat” into the wall. She whimpers slightly at the jolt.

“Wall,” I say quietly. “Your head hurts?”

“Um-hmm,” she mutters, so quietly that you can barely hear her. She’s holding her scar and I know that the blood pumping through that localized spot must be murder right now. I guide her to the seat between me and Ray—a bit of a buffer I think—and help her lay her head on the cold countertop. She protests a bit, but buries her head in her arms. I go to her bathroom and quickly retrieve two Advil and two clean washcloths. Returning to the kitchen, I lament that there is no cranberry juice, but pour a large glass of orange juice instead. I place two pieces of toast on a small plate and bring everything to the breakfast bar.

“Butterfly,” I say softly, leaning down to her ear. She acknowledges with a groan. “Advil.”

She lifts her head like an anchor and I put the pills in her mouth. I put the straw between her lips and she takes a sip.

“More,” I coax, and she sips some more. “Butterfly…” I chide gently. She takes several drags from the straw and I’m duly satisfied. I push the toast in front of her.

“Eat.” She has already buried her head back in her arms and groans in protest. “Just toast… please?” She clumsily reaches for the toast and takes a bite. I sigh with relief and move behind her. I begin to massage her neck, my fingers applying slight pressure along either side of her spine up the nape of her neck to the bottom of her skull. She moans appreciatively and takes another bite of the toast. Good girl. I reward her with more massage and after a few moments, her body starts to come to life.

“I’m sorry…” she says, her voice still hoarse and scratchy. I try not to stop massaging.

“For what?” I ask.

“For running off like that,” she says. “I wasn’t myself. I didn’t know what I was doing…”

“Ssshh,” I silence her self-chastisement, “I know.” I continue my massage.

“I should have listened to you, Annie.” His voice actually causes us both to jump. If I’m honest, I forgot they were there. I was laser focused on my wife and her pain, and she hadn’t opened her eyes yet. She tries to raise her head quickly, but the pain slows her ascent.

“Daddy?” she asks.

“Yes, Annie?”

“How long have you been here?”

“We… stayed the night in the guest room,” he says.

“I’m here, too, Ana,” Amanda announces. Ana gestures towards the sound of her voice.

“Hi, Mandy,” she murmurs.

“Your brother is with us, too,” Amanda adds.

“Hey, Harry,” Butterfly says in a sweet, scratchy voice. Harry responds to the sound of his name with some indistinguishable cooing. Butterfly suddenly gasps.

“My babies!” she says. I put my hand on her back.

“Gail hasn’t called with any kind of emergency, so they’re fine, but I’ll call and check on them, okay?” I tell her. She nods.

“I’m a terrible mother,” she murmurs.

“That’s nonsense and I don’t want to hear you say that again,” I say softly. “You’re a wonderful mother. You can barely stand to be away from them. There’s been a lot going on lately.

“Yeah,” Ray laments, “and I didn’t make matters any better.” Neither of us deny what he says because it’s true… he didn’t. Butterfly is able to finally sit up

, and taste a few more bites of her toast.

“Would you like some eggs, Ana?” Amanda asks, and she shakes her head.

“Just a little?” I press. “Please?” She looks up at me and acquiesces, nodding to Amanda.

“Where were you when she was a kid?” Ray asks. Apparently, young Ana gave her parents a bit of trouble at mealtime. I take the washcloths to the sink and wet them with cold water.

“Why, Daddy?” Butterfly squeaks, and all activity in the kitchen stops for a moment. We all know what she’s asking, and it has nothing to do with his prior question. I continue with my task, wringing the excess water out of the cloths and bringing them back to Butterfly.

“Cold,” I say as I place one on the back of her neck. She jumps at the initial contact, then settles. I fold the other in fours and place it over her scar.

“Daddy… why?” Ray sighs and hesitates.

“You’re my little girl,” he says. “I couldn’t see you doing the things I saw those men and women doing in those clubs and on those sites. It disgusted me. It made me sick. My Annie. My beautiful little Sunflower—involved in this… debauchery! This abominable act!” He grimaces and sighs, shaking his head. “I couldn’t see anything else.”

“I tried to tell you that we didn’t do those things,” she squeaked. “There’s some really sick shit that goes on in the lifestyle. Hell, that’s why we’re in court now, because of a crazy, sick pedophile who brought children into it—children!” she says horrified. “I tried to tell you we are not into that crazy, sick stuff, Daddy!”

“I know, I know,” he says, chastised. “I couldn’t hear you. You’re my baby girl. Don’t you get it?” She shakes her head.

“No, I don’t,” she says. “I need you to trust me. I need you to trust that I know what I’m doing with my life—that I’m not weak and stupid, that I may need help, but I’m not stupid!

“Annie, I…”

“Listen to her, Raymond,” Amanda says, gently, but firmly. Ray settles immediately, the sentiment on his lips dying as quickly as it was born.

“Has my behavior ever been self-destructive, Daddy? Ever?” she demands, finding her voice. “Have I ever done anything to deliberately hurt myself? To deliberately jeopardize my well-being? Granted, there may have been some situations that some of you may not have liked, but just to be careless and self-loathing and deprecating—has that ever been me? Even when I was living in the depths of hell with my loser mother and her loser husband, was that ever me?” She finally pauses to give him a chance to answer.

“No, Annie,” he says softly. “No… that’s never been you.”

“Then why?” she wails, almost close to tears again. I want to hold her—to run to her and beg her not to cry anymore, I can’t take anymore, but I know she has to get this out… and she needs answers. “Why would you think so little of me, and then to make matters worse, you shut me out! Why?”

“Because I couldn’t understand!” he sobs. “I only saw horrible things! Heard horrible things! Knew horrible things! On leave in different areas as a young Marine, we watched those shows. We saw those shows. More than once, I wondered how these women could allow these men to do that to them. How they could subject themselves to the horrors that I saw! Things that you wouldn’t do to animals!” He wails as tears stream unrestrained down his face. “In some places, I found out that the women were forced to do this stuff because it was part of human trafficking! And here I find out that my daughter is doing it! What was I supposed to think?”

“You were supposed to listen to me!” Butterfly shrieks. “You were supposed to put aside your closed-minded, preconceived notions about what you heard and saw from others and listen to me! I’m a shrink, for God’s sake!” She’s losing control. I slide out of my seat and go to her. “You shut me out! After everybody who has deserted me in my life, you shut me out! How could you do that to me? How could you?”

I touch her shoulder and she spins around, thrusting herself into my arms and weeping bitterly. I envelop her immediately, wanting to shield her from the world and the pain. Little Harry is crying now, disturbed by all the screaming and commotion and Amanda has freed him from his high chair, attempting to soothe him. Ray sits in his chair, running his fingers through his hair and trying to find his words while he dries his eyes.

“I was hurt and confused, Annie,” he says, his voice still cracking. “We do dumb things when we’re hurt and confused; please understand. I don’t expect you to forgive me right away… you may never forgive me, but please… please, understand.”

Butterfly only cries harder and her knees start to buckle under her. I lift her into my arms and carry her to the sofa. The weeping has begun again. I just sit her on my lap and let her cry, ready to settle in for a long day. At least she got some toast, but she’ll never get rid of that headache.


ANASTASIA

My heart feels like it’s going to burst. I was so relieved to see my father last night—I thought I had lost him. It felt like somebody had died. If I could have driven back to my room in Montesano and sat on the swing or cried in my bed, I would have. I was losing my grip on my foundation; it was crumbling from under me. I was reaching for anything that could hold me together… pictures of Mom, him and Mom, me and him, me and Al, the old house, my many mental travels… Harry has Fuzzlewuzzers, so I couldn’t reach for that, but when I saw the Marine Corps T-Shirt that he gave me that I wore to sleep every night the first year we moved to Las Vegas and had to squirrel it away when Mom went rummaging through my things in an attempt to rid me of all things Ray, I lost it. I couldn’t hold it together anymore. My heart broke in a million pieces and bled through every pore of my skin—my eyes the most—and wouldn’t stop bleeding—until I saw him last night.

Yes, the bleeding stopped temporarily, and every cell in my body succumbed to utter exhaustion. I don’t remember much of anything after I launched myself into Daddy’s arms except waking up this morning in my old bed with Pocahontas braids and the headache from hell and knowing, once again, that my husband had taken care of me. Once he had gotten some food and some medicine into me and tenderly began to massage the throbbing from my head, the fog began to lift… and I wanted to know why…

Why, after all I had been through, would my father think that I would deliberately allow someone to arbitrarily abuse me? Why he didn’t just listen to me or ask me questions instead of jumping to conclusions based on his preconceived notions and biases? Why, when we already had to deal with the stigma of what others would think of us, he had to become one of those judgmental, narrow-minded, bigoted assholes that we would have to battle if and when this information ever became public? But most of all, why did he shut me down… turn his back on me and refuse to talk to me with no explanation, especially when he knew how I felt about being let down?

Mom? Edward? Nearly every authority figure from my childhood? Valerie? In some cases, the justice system? And now you?

And what’s his answer? That same narrow-minded bullshit. I’m supposed to understand that when I came to him and was honest with him so that he wouldn’t discover this shit in the media, he turned his back on me! Physically blocked my number from his phone so that I couldn’t speak to him. When I finally did get through to him, he didn’t say, “You have to give me some time; I can’t process this right now.” He didn’t even have the decency to yell and scream at me and ask me why and tell me that he didn’t want to talk about this; he would have to talk about it some other time. He just gave me that lame ass shit, “Can’t talk now, busy,” and hung up in my ear.

And I’m supposed to understand that my hero—my Daddy—shut me down because of this same petty, small-minded, Puritanical, uninformed, “it’s on the internet, so it must be true” thinking that I’ve already had to battle in so many aspects of my life. Yeah… okay… sure thing.

Christian holds me close to him, saying nothing, but rubbing soothing circles in my back. I want to stop crying. I’m tired of crying, but my heart is bleeding again and I don’t know how.

“Please, Annie,” I hear Daddy’s voice across from me, beseeching. “Please stop crying. I can’t take it anymore… please…”

“You made me feel like nothing!” I sob. “Less than nothing! Like nobody! I wouldn’t do that to you. Even now, I wouldn’t do that to you. Even now, as angry as I am, I would not do that to you! I would never do that to you!”

“I know, Annie, and I feel horrible for that. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I couldn’t see or think straight and I’m sorry. Please, Sunflower… please…”

His voice is so broken that I can’t imagine causing him the type of pain that he’s causing me. I do my best to pull myself together even though my heart is still breaking. Christian smooths my hair off my face and uses his robe to wipe my tears, kissing my eyelids as my weeping subsides. He’s so good to me, so tender and sweet. He makes all the bad feel better. I don’t know what I would do without him here.

“So, what happened?” I say with shuddering breaths, turning on my husband’s lap to look at my father. “What great breakthrough occurred that you suddenly understand that my husband doesn’t use me as some random piece of meat for his sadistic entertainment when the doors are closed?” I couldn’t stop the venom that seeps into the words as I speak them. Daddy sighs.

“I… talked to some people, and some people talked to me.” He throws a glance at Christian, then drops his head. Mandy is sitting on the ottoman next to him, comforting Harry, who was also crying moments ago. Daddy puts his arm around her waist. “They helped me understand how much of a narrow-minded asshole I was being.”

“But you couldn’t listen to me…” I conclude.

“I couldn’t hear it from you, Annie,” he says, “any more than I could hear it from the girls that I saw years ago, in those clubs—even more so from you, because you’re my little girl. I know you don’t understand that right now. I know you can’t. All I can say is that in the future, if your daughter comes to you with some really hard news for you to stomach, remember this conversation.”

I hope to God that I never make Minnie feel like this.

“No offense, Dad, but I can’t see ever making my daughter feel like this,” I shoot. Christian gives me a squeeze. I know this is his way of telling me to give my father a break. I don’t know if I can. I know I have to, because if I don’t, I’ll be treating him the same way that he treated me. That’s no good.

“That’s because she’s a baby,” he says. “Wait until she grows up and the big bad world starts doing horrible things to her… things that you can save her from no matter how hard you try.” His voice cracks and his head falls. “You’d put yourself in harm’s way before you let anything happen to her, but things keep happening and happening… horrible things! Things you wouldn’t wish on your worse enemy! And you’re powerless… you’re powerless to stop them…”

He’s not talking about Minnie. He’s talking about me. Of course, he’s talking about me.

“One monster is killed and another monster is right behind it!” he bites through clenched teeth, his fists so tight that his knuckles are white. “They just keep coming and coming and she keeps slaying them—and just when you think she’s found her solace…”

He trails off mid-sentence and weeps so bitterly than the pain in my heart is replaced with sorrow and sympathy for him. I crawl out of Christian’s lap and onto the floor in front of my Daddy. I wrap my arms around his neck and will him to stop crying.

“I just… can’t keep… the Boogeyman away,” he sobs. “I promised… to keep him away… and I can’t!” His body shakes in my arms as he weeps from his soul, and I let him. He won’t be able to hear me until he gets this out… gets over this initial wave, so I just let him cry.

It takes several minutes. Christian has time to get us all some water. Mandy has put Little Harry down to sleep, and I comfort my father, stroking his hair like I do my husband when he’s inconsolable—how I’ll most likely do my children when they cry. When he’s finally had his cry out, my nightshirt soaked with his tears, I attempt to garner his attention.

“You did keep the Boogeyman away, Daddy,” I say softly. “You’re the only thing that did. That’s why it hurt so badly when you shut me out. My ultimate protector, my hero, shut me out… and I was lost.” He raises his head and tired, red, tear-filled green eyes meet my sympathetic blues. “The things that happen to me are not the Boogeyman, Daddy. They’re horrible, horrible facts of life that happen to people every day—maybe not all the same people, but they do. The Boogeyman is what happens here.” I point to my head.

“I help chase the Boogeyman away from other people. Although I have other people in my life that help chase the Boogeyman away for me, you’re the Gatekeeper. You always have been. Even when you weren’t physically there, you were still the Gatekeeper because even though I was taken away from you, I knew you would never leave me. This is the first time you have ever walked away from your post.” I hold his face in my hands and look him in the eyes, refusing to allow him to turn his gaze from me. “Don’t. Do it. Again.”

His lips tremble and the tears begin to fall once more.

“I won’t, Annie,” he says with a shaky voice. “I swear to God I won’t.”

I hug him again and allow him to cry a little longer on my shoulder. Superman wasn’t so super right now and just needed to be vulnerable for a while. I may not ever understand or fully get over him deserting me at one of the moments where I needed him the most, but I do have to understand that he’s only human and we’re all flawed in some way. Even if I want him to be perfect, even Superman has his Kryptonite.

*-*

I’m in my bedroom with my pillow shoved into my mouth, trying not to scream as Christian brings me to my second orgasm. He has licked, sucked, kissed, and fingered my pussy hard, deep, and fast, causing me to quickly explode—once nearly moments after he touched me and again twenty minutes later. I’m panting on my bed, shivering from my releases  and trying to catch my breath. He crawls up the bed and lies next to me, still in his T-shirt and sweats, kissing me on my cheek and neck.

“What…. brought that… on?” I ask between breaths. He kisses me a few more times, then hovers over my face.

“You’ve touched three products since you’ve been in this room,” he says softly while counting on his fingers. “Lotion, moisturizer, deodorant—you’ve dropped all three of them. You needed to relax.”

And relax I did!

“What about you?” I say, closing my eyes while his lips wander back over the skin of my neck.

“I’m fine, Mrs. Grey,” he says. “When I take you, I don’t want your father and your stepmother in the next room… because the pillow won’t do you any good.” He kisses me gently on the lips, but sensually on the lips. I sink into the delicious kiss, knowing that we both have to get up from here soon. That point was driven home when there’s a soft knock at the door. Christian groans into my mouth and after breaking the kiss and giving my bottom lip a little nip, pushes himself off of me to answer the door. I finally get a good grip on my moisturizer and pour some in my hand, spreading it evenly over my face. My hair has been in these braids all night, so I can either leave it there or take it down and let it flow into soft waves down my back. Did I have anything planned for today. As soon as I’m finished brushing my teeth, Christian comes into the en suite, his expression unreadable.

“What is it?” I ask.

“That was Amanda,” he begins, “Al called Ray because both our phones are dead.” Oh… yeah, I didn’t bring a charger with me. I assume he doesn’t have one either. Maybe I have one around her somewhere.

“What’s going on?” I ask.

“The verdict is in.”

*-*

I had less than an hour to get myself presentable so that we could get to the courthouse. Al had driven Christian over yesterday, so we would take my car and rendezvous with Jason and the rest of the security staff near the courthouse. Daddy wanted to be there with me, but we insisted that this was no place for Little Harry. Mandy was pacified to take Harry home and start dinner to allow Daddy to come to court with me on the condition that no matter what the verdict, we come to the house in Kent afterwards for dinner. I was sure that I would miss my appointment with Ace anyway, so I called to let him know what was going on and to tell him that there was a lot that we needed to talk about. He doesn’t usually make house calls, but agreed to come and see me tomorrow at the Crossing since doing so would be easier than opening his office. I agreed to his terms. Seems I was making deals all over the place today.

I also had to make a deal with my wardrobe.

Size four waistline, size I-don’t-even-know boobs and ass… in a size four closet. Hmmmm….

I did find an outfit that would make due, but it clung to every one of my curves, much like that dreaded dress I wore to the fundraising fiasco last year. A charcoal gray high-waisted pencil skirt with side ruching that, had it been made of any other material, would not give me much purchase to move and a black mock turtleneck. I did decide to take my hair down, of course, and wore big, chunky silver jewelry. Someone had brought my purse and phone when they brought Christian’s things—they must have thought I had more at the condo that I could fit. That wasn’t completely untrue, but only a few things that might have been presentable for court, and not many that I could find in the time allotted.

I was forced—not so begrudgingly, I might add—to wear one of my pairs of insanely high-heeled shoes. I chose a pair of Giuseppe Zanotti black leather back-zip stiletto sandals with toe band, S-shaped vamp strap, and ankle strap embellished with silver-tone curb chain to match my jewelry. With nearly a five-inch heel, I was towering over most of the people at the courthouse. My Gareth Pugh bolero insert woven coat had a shawl collar and an asymmetrical hem that draped all over, giving it a suit coat look rather than an overcoat. The same charcoal gray as my skirt with a belted waist, I decided to wear it as just that.

We were almost late getting to the courthouse as Christian freezes when he had comes back into the room, unable to take his eyes—or his hands—off my ass wrapped tight that pencil skirt. When I get a glimpse of him in the mirror, I’m fucking panting. Black on black Hugo Boss suit and the signature black Italian leather shoes… even his shirt and silk tie were black. He’s mouth-wateringly beautiful, and when I turn around to wrap him in my arms and kiss him deeply while he shamelessly gropes my ass, we almost forget that we have somewhere to be.

But alas, we did. So here we sit, in a courtroom packed to the walls with people, only a few seats remaining in the very back. Al had managed to have the front row cleared for us, and no one would dare argue with Chuck and Ben as they stood guard, saving the seats until we got there. I am flanked by my father and my husband, each holding one of my hands, when they bring the Pedo-bitch back into the courtroom. She looks matronly today in a color I never thought I’d ever see her wear.

White.

Well, it’s more of a cream… a sheath dress, very neat and professional. She still looks like a stank-ass, slutty, nasty, filthy, slimy, Pedo-Bitch She-Thing demon from hell to me.

“That can’t be the same woman,” Daddy says. “Is that the same woman?”

“Yeah, Daddy, that’s what she looks like without all the Botox, lypo, and chemical peels,” I say. Jason chokes back a laugh.

“She needed ‘em,” Daddy says. “She’s not very attractive.”

“She was once,” Christian admits, without looking in her direction, “but after you continuously do that shit, eventually it wreaks havoc on your body.” He has no malice when he says it; he’s just speaking the truth. Just like she’s done for the entire trial, she steals glances over her shoulder at Christian, this time, not bothering to scowl at me. That’s right, Bitch. Get a good look at him. Soon, you won’t be seeing him again for a long time, no matter what this verdict is.


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

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Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 72—Family Affairs

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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—Family Affairs

ANASTASIA

“So this is how the other half lives.”

Ace follows me down to my parlor where we will most likely have the most privacy. Ms. Solomon brings coffee down to us before we actually get started.

“Yes, I guess it is,” I say. I never aimed to have this kind of wealth in my life, but I have to admit, it’s very nice. There’s a nice fire burning in the fireplace and we have a view of Lake Washington out the large window. “There’s quite a bit to talk about. I don’t know if we’ll have enough time.”

“Time is money,” he says honestly, “but my afternoon is free.” I sigh.

“That’s good to hear, because I’m positive that we’re going to go over an hour. I don’t even know where to start.”

“Well, you’ve missed a couple of sessions. So, we can either go chronologically or in order of importance.” Oh, geez, that makes it even harder.

“That doesn’t help,” I tell him and just start talking. “Christian thinks I have a negative body image.” He looks at me skeptically.

“Do you?” he asks. I shrug.

“I could,” I reply.

“That’s not uncommon for a woman who has just had a baby, you know… although I have yet in my life to see a woman have a baby and look like you!” he admits.

“That’s what everybody says, but nobody’s carrying around these boobs and this ass!” I retort. He raises his eyebrows.

“Ana, your children are just seven weeks old. You can’t expect to go back to your prebaby weight and shape in that amount of time after a pregnancy, although you’re doing a pretty damn good job. But some women never lose their baby weight. They never fully get back to that size. Now, with hard work and exercise, you may achieve that goal, but you can’t beat yourself up if you don’t. You’re still a very physically fit, very shapely young woman…”

Ace and I talk for a while about my body image issues and he even helps me to set some realistic goals about how I want to look and what I want to tone. I promise him that I won’t do anything drastic or unhealthy and that I would be sure to follow up with my doctor to make sure that I’m on the right track. The hard part is going to be believing everyone when they say how good I look and not berating myself if I don’t reach the plateau that I’m hoping for and finally, accepting myself however I look and no longer looking down on my body. Embrace my curves as they will most likely be a part of me for the rest of my life.

Next comes Mr. David. I had told Ace about discovering that Edward’s business had been crooked, but not about turning the business over to the Feds or about the trip to Walla Walla, which I tell him now. Then, right in the middle of my weekend fuckfest with my husband, we get the news that this bastard has shed this earthly coil and made his transition to hell.

“How does that make you feel?” Ace asks.

“Relieved,” I answer honestly. “The fact that he was breathing the same air as me was troublesome. But if I’m honest, the fact that I was relieved that he was dead unnerves me. I drank champagne, for God’s sake!”

“That’s cold, Ana,” he says, “and I’m glad you feel unnerved by it. You’d have to be so kind of cold-hearted bitch not to feel anything at the simple loss of life.” I shrug.

“Don’t give me too much credit, Doc,” I say, “I don’t so much feel this way because David died. I feel this way because I feel this way because David died.” Ace nodded.

“I get it,” he says. “To the laymen, that might have been a bit confusing, but I get it. You’re not pleased that you felt pleased… or relieved… that your ex, your captor, and the man who hurt you and broke your heart and later tried to saddle you with the legal responsibility of his illegal activities, had done the world a proverbial favor and taken his own life.” I nod feverishly.

“I couldn’t have explained it better myself,” I tell him. “You’ve hit every nail directly on the head. What kind of person is happy or feels any kind of relief when another person dies?”

“A human being who has suffered a lot at the hands of that person,” Ace says matter-of-factly. “I’m not saying this is a good thing; I’m just saying it means that you’re human. I’d be concerned if you felt any other way, even if you felt nothing at all about this situation. Now, you just have to find a healthy way to deal with these feelings.”

We talk more about David and hashed through the glee I felt when I told him that his company had been turned over to the Feds. We both agreed that there was nothing particularly unhealthy about that—that was just retribution and closure. Not a person alive would admit to not feeling at least a sliver of joy about that even if they can empathize with human suffering.

We had gone well past our hour by the time I had gotten to Elena’s trial and all the fallout from that—losing my cool when the video was shown; Daddy shutting me out when I tried to tell him about the lifestyle; the verdict…

The day before…

Dinner with Daddy and Mandy was tense at first. Nobody really knew what to say, how to broach any topic that plagued us this week. Emotions were still high after hearing the verdict this afternoon, and I still haven’t gotten a full answer why my father suddenly had a change of heart about me and Christian and the lifestyle. I didn’t want to beat a dead horse, but I didn’t want this to be a point of contention later, either.

“Well,” Daddy says after Mandy brings him and Christian a drink—Scotch, I think, “that was interesting. I’ve never seen that happen in real life, only on the news or on TV shows. I’m surprised that woman had no reaction to the verdict.”

“How could she?” I ask. “Either way, she wasn’t going to see the light of day for at least 25 years. I think this trial was just for show… a three-ring circus. No matter what happened, she would most likely be dead before she served the term for pedophilia. That’s why she looked like she did when she received the verdict—she was no better, she was no worse, and she knew it.”

“Yeah, but even then, after 25 she would be—what? Seventy-five when she was released?” Daddy says.

“If she lives!” I add. “How many 75-year-old prisoners do you know that get released?”

“Even if that was the case,” Christian interjects, “she’s released at 75—she has no children, no family to speak of except for her crazy German aunt. She doesn’t have her submissives anymore; she doesn’t have her money; she doesn’t even have her home. In her old age, her best bet—her closest hope of having someone to take care of her was…” He trails off and I immediately know what he was going to say.

“You,” I finish. “Her best hope was you, and that’s one thing she was counting on.” Christian shrugs.

“Well, it’s a moot point now,” he says. “Today’s verdict guarantees she’ll be a resident of the Washington Department of Corrections for the rest of her natural life.”

He’s right, of course. The jury saw right through her bullshit and found Elena Lincoln mentally competent and guilty of assault with a deadly weapon, attempted murder, and illegal possession of a firearm. She will never see this side of prison walls for the rest of her days. She had been completely stoic when the jury foreman had read the verdict. There were no outbursts, not even a whimper or a shoulder drop. It was like someone was reading the weather reports.

I think she knew the outcome after she had bungled her testimony on the stand. Her attorney most likely told her as much, and there won’t be an appeal. Why bother? The best that she could hope for is to be an old decrepit woman when she’s released and the attorney has no hope of being paid for his efforts. Her sentencing is scheduled for two weeks from Friday and Christian is already preparing his statement to read in court.

The conversation lulls for a moment as Mandy serves up some delicious roasted chicken and vegetables with braised potatoes. Daddy starts talking about some mundane thing to get us through dinner as only certain things should be discussed at the dinner table. Wine and drinks flow after dinner, but I stick to coffee as I have every intention of feeding my children when I get back to the Crossing… and of having this conversation that is an elephant in the room.

“What made you change your mind, Daddy?” I blurt out, no longer able to keep my curiosity at bay. Hell, it was more than curiosity. It was the need to know why he couldn’t believe me when I tried to talk to him about the lifestyle, but apparently, he could believe someone else.

Daddy sighs. He knows that I’m not going to let this go until I get a satisfactory answer—one that can explain the suffering I had to go through, even though it was thankfully only for one day. I’m like a dog gnawing on a bone and I won’t be sated until he makes me understand this level of betrayal that he subjected me to.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get you to understand, Sunflower,” he says with no malice after taking a swallow of his beer. He reaches over and takes Mandy’s hand. “There are a lot of people in my life that I love. You know beyond everything, I loved your mother. I loved your mother with a true, deep, longing love that would have lasted forever, but she couldn’t return that to me—not like I gave it to her. We were happy for many years, but she, too, was younger than me and needed something more. I was a consolation prize for her after she lost Harry, and although she eventually loved me and I eventually made her happy, it wasn’t enough. She wanted something that I couldn’t give her, and I wasn’t enough.”

Why is he telling me this? This has nothing to do why he couldn’t hear me when I tried to tell him about the lifestyle. I know all this already. I know that my mother is and was a selfish bitch. What does that have to do with the here and now?

“I always felt like Carla was my first true love,” he continues. “She was the first one that made me feel that longing in my heart, that crushing ache that makes you want to be part of someone else…” He pulls Mandy closer to him and she responds, gently stroking his cheek with the back of her hand—a tenderness that is so natural between them. “She was my first lust, my desire, my hunger, my first want and need…” He pauses, choked up a bit. “… But my first love, that was you, Annie.”

I’m gob smacked. Oh, my God… what a thing to say! I’m completely speechless.

“I’ve watched you grow from the tiniest little helpless thing, totally dependent on me and your mother. When we were a team, we were a great team, and you never wanted for anything no matter how she tried to later make it appear that your life was lacking. It was her life that was lacking, and when she ripped our family apart, you paid the worst price. I never forgave myself for not fighting harder of you.”

Mandy reaches up and gently wipes a tear from my father’s cheek.

“You went through that terrible, horrible thing in Vegas… and I couldn’t save you. I couldn’t save my Annie…” His voice cracks. “I didn’t even know you had gone through this until I drove down there and demanded answers. She was never going to tell me. That spiteful, hateful, selfish bitch was never going to tell me.” The tears fall harder and Mandy can only lay on Daddy’s shoulder.

“But you rose from all that,” he says, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “My First Love came out of all the drama and trauma victorious. I tried to rescue you… I was still unsuccessful, but in the end, you rose out of it and I got My Love back.”

My heart is breaking; tears flowing freely down my cheeks as I listen to Daddy describe this beautiful and painful relationship with this being that could have been anybody, but turned out to be me.

“And then, I hear this thing… this painful, horrible, terrible thing… and that one thing that I couldn’t save My Love from came flooding back to me, only… it appeared that she was walking into hell willingly.” He drops his head into his hands. “I couldn’t hear… I couldn’t see… I could only feel pain… anger… pure rage… and pain…” He tries to compose himself, but just allows his head to fall back onto his sofa, tears freely falling from his eyes as he speaks.

“I know you tried to talk to me, but I couldn’t hear you. I was hurting too much. I was trying to block it out so that I could just get from day to day.” He choked on a sob. “Then Christian called. He said that you were missing. Then he asked me if I hated you.” I looked over at Christian, who is examining his drink as if It might come alive or something. “I was hard on him—very hard, but he didn’t hear that. All he knew was that you were missing… somewhere most likely hurting because of me. He knew. I was still being an asshole, and he still knew. I said terrible things to him, and he retorted in a way that made me feel so small, so unreasonably stupid, but I didn’t feel it until after the fact.” He never raises his head. “If I haven’t said so, Christian, I’m sorry for how I spoke to you.”

Christian doesn’t raise his head. He simply nods, still looking down into his drink. Daddy looks at his hands.

“Al called next,” he says. “I almost didn’t answer my phone, but Christian said you were missing, so I couldn’t avoid the call. Anyway, Al had questions. He didn’t know what was going on. As the conversation progressed, Al became upset as well—told me that he had never been disappointed in me until this moment. I tried to explain to him what you were doing and why I felt the way that I felt and he said he already knew. I was horrified, but then he said the strangest thing to me… something I never would have expected to hear from someone that I consider a son. He told me that if I hold my wife down or restrain her in any way during sex, I participate in it, too. Then he told me that Annie had escaped to her condo and nobody knew that she was gone. He told me that she was in her room surrounded by memorabilia of me, Carla, and her and her childhood; that if I cared about her at all, I needed to get my ass over there before she had a psychotic break.

“I was still so confused,” he says. “So hurt and confused. The sick shit that I saw in those clubs and on those sites could not be the same as holding my wife’s hands while we make love—it couldn’t. So… I talked to Mandy.”

My tear-filled eyes turn to Mandy. I had asked her to talk to him. She said that she wouldn’t and I understood why.

“I… never practiced anything to do with BDSM, but I am acquainted with it,” she says. “I have a few friends who have practiced the lifestyle for many years. Some of them didn’t even know I knew. Three of them were at my baby shower. One of them left in a hurry and I think it was because her Dominant called, though she never admitted it.”

No, it was because her ex-Dominant was at the party and she had to make a quick getaway. We agreed that she would go back to the party even after seeing Christian, but I think it may have been too much for her and she left anyway.

“Anyway, I know I said I would stay out of it, but it was getting out of hand. I tried to explain to Ray that it happened more often than he thought, that even some of the most clean-cut and professional people he’s ever known are probably closet submissives or dominants. Ray couldn’t get past what he already knew about the lifestyle, so I took a very brave step… and showed him a video.”

“A video?” I exclaim. “Of what?”

“Of a consensual BDSM couple enjoying sensual activities and fulfilling sex in the lifestyle. I had to search for it, but it wasn’t that hard to find. He was reluctant, of course. We’re talking about his little girl here.”

“I’m not a little girl anymore, though, Daddy.” I protest.

“I know, I know,” he says. “That was the first thing I had to get past. My little girl… my first love… not so little anymore.”

“She’s my first love now, Ray,” Christian interrupts. Ray raises a skeptical eye to him. Christian meets his skepticism head on. “Why do you think that woman in the courtroom is so crazy?” he adds. “For years, that woman taught me not to love. She taught me to do that sick shit that you saw on those videos and in those clubs—maybe not to the degree that you saw it, but as far as women would let me go. I know women loved me before or thought they loved me and wanted me to love them back, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know how. Nobody could get in here.” He pounds on his chest.

“Nobody could break those walls. Nobody could even touch me. Restraining them meant they couldn’t even touch me. I could do whatever I wanted to them, but they couldn’t touch me. Did you know that because of her, my mother got her first hug ever from me only two years ago?”

Daddy’s mouth falls open and Mandy gasps.

“I’m 30 years old. My mother adopted me when I was four and I only started hugging my mom two years ago because of her.” He points at me. “Do you know that no one else in the world can do this…” He grabs my hand and slams it flat to his chest. “… But her? My baby sister can come close. She can lay her head on my chest, but she can’t do this. That’s why that woman in court is so crazy. She programmed me to love no one—no one—and to believe that no one could love me. Butterfly showed me different. She broke down all of my walls without lifting a finger. The cosmos drew us together against our will and I discovered that I did have the capacity to love. Before that, I loved no one. I was very fond of people—my family, even Elena—but I loved no one.

“Then she came along…” He drops his head. “… And I felt things for another human being that I didn’t think were possible. And yes, I’ll tell you honestly that my first thought was that I wanted her to be my submissive, but fate and my heart clearly had other plans for us…”

“But from what I understand,” Daddy interjects, “she is your submissive.”

“That’s right,” Christian confirms, “and I’m hers.” Both Daddy and Mandy gaze at us, thoroughly confused. “We meet each other’s needs in whatever ways are necessary. I demand control in many if not all of my daily functions. She helps me to maintain that. By the same token, there are some times when the opposite is needed to ground me—to ground us and our relationship. There are times when she has to exert dominance over me to kept our relationship on an even keel, and it works for us. Then there are times when our D/s relationship is purely sexual…”

“D/s?” Daddy asks.

“Dominant/submissive,” I clarify for him. Christian takes my hand from his chest and caresses my pulse point.

“There are times when I restrain her or she subdues me strictly for our mutual pleasure and enjoyment,” he says, his gray eyes piercing me.

“What do you get out of that?” Daddy asks. “I mean, Mandy showed me some videos that I thought were… kinky—still a little unnerving, I’ll admit, but kinky… not disgusting. I just don’t see what someone would get from that.”

“It depends,” I interject. “Each aspect may have its own appeal. The blindfold deprives you of one sense so that the others are heightened. So, where a feather on your skin may be just a slight tickle, it becomes extremely intense when you’re blindfolded, particularly because you don’t know what it is or where it’s going to touch you. An erotic spanking or flogging brings the blood to the surface of your skin, also making you hypersensitive to touch and even causing your body to release pheromones.

“Restraints serve many purposes, the biggest I would say is power exchange. You have to trust someone completely with your body and your pleasure to allow them to restrain you. There’s a give-and-take involved in that and it goes both ways. It’s hard to explain, but I can tell you this. Being restrained usually means that in some way, you can’t move. So, you’re forced to sit there—or stand there or lie there—and absorb all the pleasure being bestowed on you. You normally can’t move or grind or rock or anything. You just have to be still because you’re either physically or mentally bound, and the outcome is often quite cosmic for both parties involved.”

“So why do people do that crazy stuff that I’ve seen online and in those clubs?” Daddy asks, and I can hardly believe that we’re sitting here having an open back-and-forth about our kinky sex life.

“For the same reason that we do what we do,” Christian says. “That’s what gets them off. I used to be one of those people. I couldn’t express love and emotion in the traditional way because I couldn’t make a connection. That was all I was taught, so that was all I knew. Of course, I knew how to satisfy a woman, but it usually came along with some pretty hardcore shit.”

“But why?” Daddy pressed. Christian undoes his ties and begins to unbutton his shirt.

“Because that’s what she taught me,” he says. “I didn’t know anything else. I couldn’t be touched; people couldn’t get close; and as far as I knew, love came with a price. So, if I wanted any kind of satisfaction, I had to pay the price.” He opened his shirt to reveal the scars there. Mandy gasps.

“Are those… cigarette burns, son?” Daddy asks. Christian nods. “How is that part of this lifestyle… part of this ‘satisfaction?’”

“It’s not,” Christian says, buttoning his shirt until only the top two buttons remain open. “I was terribly abused before Grace adopted me, and I was adopted at four years old. I was unbelievably emotionally scarred. I don’t have time to even explain to you how deep the damage goes and how it nearly ruined my life. What Elena did distracted me—redirected me, and yes, it did help me in some ways. But it was still wrong. She took an emotionally damaged kid and took advantage of him for own enjoyment. I’ll be honest and say that what she did bridged the gap between not being able to be touched at all and the loving relationship that I have with my wife, but the road I took to get there probably wasn’t the best one.”

“Okay, now I’m really lost,” Daddy says. “You’re contradicting yourself, here, Christian. On the one hand, she did this really great thing for you that helped you make a transition. On the other hand, she’s a horrible pedophile. Which is it?”

“Unfortunately, it’s a little of both,” Christian replies. “What Elena did to me should only have been done between consenting adults. Had she done this when I was 18, I might feel differently about it. Had she done this to truly help me gain control and not to get off on little boys, I definitely would feel differently about it. That’s what I thought it was all this time until I found out that she was recruiting others. She wasn’t doing any of this to help me gain control—that was a byproduct. It was an afterthought. The distraction helped to control my destructive behavior, so it clicked in her head that she could use the distraction to help control my destructive behavior.

“She wants everybody to believe that she set out to help me. She didn’t! It was an accident—a lucky and fortunate discovery. She wanted me, she wanted to control me, and I was a horny, damaged kid who couldn’t be touched. Fifteen years old and a virgin who couldn’t be touched and this is what I was exposed to? Of course, I went nuts! Of course, I wanted more! There was nothing she couldn’t do to me, nothing she couldn’t expect of me, and she exploited that power to the very end.

“At one point in my young life, I thought I loved her. She made it clear that was impossible, and she was right. I was attaching emotion to an orgasm and the anticipation of the next orgasm, and subsequently attaching that anticipation to the person. There was no emotion, no connection, no love between us. Even what she’s feeling right now and what she was feeling over the years was and is simply the fear of loss.”

Daddy is sitting there gaped-mouth, as is Mandy. This is more information than they ever knew about Christian and he just gave it all to them in one sitting. At least, I was somewhat spoon-fed.

“I had no idea you had endured so much,” Mandy comments.

“Well, I don’t advertise it. That’s why when she kept saying that she was trying to save me, I couldn’t understand it. If anything, Anastasia saved me from her without even knowing. Granted, I escaped her clutches before Ana and I started dating, but seeing what the love of a real woman could do for you—one that knows all of your dirty secrets and still loves you—will certainly ensure that you won’t go back down the path of destruction.”

“But if you say that that distraction helped to refocus you, wasn’t it a good thing for you? Disgusting in the eyes of society and any logical person, yes—because you were a minor, but still…” Mandy trails off.

“Cocaine is an immediate distraction from whatever it is that you’re doing. Is that a good thing?” Christian asks and allows the question to settle in. “It may be a drastic comparison, but it’s still the same. There are kids whose lives she has completely destroyed; others who are trying to put their lives back together. My situation is not ‘Oh wow, look how great Christian turned out because of what Elena did.’ My situation is ‘Good grief, she better be glad I didn’t go the other way.’ This situation had the possibility of ending with her staring down the barrel of a gun and me with my finger on the trigger.”

“I can see that,” Daddy says, and I think it’s the first thing he’s understood since we started this conversation.

“This is why this relationship is so important to me,” Christian continues, entwining his fingers with mine. “I could never hurt Ana and I trust that she could never hurt me. We both have horrendous tales and both came out on the better end of it. Yes, I practiced a taboo lifestyle before I met her and yes, it still excites me. When I talked to her about it in the interest of total honesty and full exposure, she told me that she already had experience with it from her college studies. She expressed a growing curiosity in the lifestyle and so far, we’ve just been testing our limits and enjoying ourselves. I’ll be honest and say that the most intense play excites me, makes my pleasure more enjoyable. However, my wife doesn’t go for it so much. A Dominant knows his or her submissive. While he or she may test or push those limits, they still have to honor those limits. A D/s relationship is still a relationship, based more on mutual trust and respect than most traditional relationships.”

Poor Daddy is still shaking his head, trying to comprehend what he’s hearing.

“I know this is a lot of information for you to digest, Daddy,” I say, “and now, I understand why you couldn’t get it when I was trying to tell you. I, of all people, know that this was a conversation that I shouldn’t have had with you over the phone, but like you said… I’m your little girl and you’re my Daddy. Face-to-face, this is hard. The main thing I need you to take from this conversation is that Christian and I love each other very much. We practice an alternative lifestyle in the privacy of our home that may one day become public knowledge. I wanted you to know before you heard it in the press, but he doesn’t hurt or abuse me. We don’t even do the extreme things that you’ve seen. With all that we’ve told you, I’m still sparing you the details of what we do, but honestly, it’s just exploring our sexuality and heightening our sensual experience. That’s all.” Daddy sighs and rubs his forehead.

“I never in a million years thought I would be openly discussing aspects of my daughter’s sex life with her,” Daddy admits, “especially never something so intense as this!”

“Join the club,” I tell him. “But Daddy, I’m so not a little girl anymore. I’m a Mom, now. I’m a woman. I know it’s hard for Dads to look at their daughters as sexual beings, but guess what? I’m a sexual being.” Daddy puts his hand up.

“I know… I know,” he says as Mandy rubs his back attempting to soothe him.

“If it’s any consolation, Daddy,” I tell him, “I had kind of the same reaction when Mandy first revealed that she was pregnant with Harry.” Daddy raises surprised eyes to me and after a few moments, Mandy’s face reddens.

“Oooohh, I can’t believe you brought that up!” she says, with nervous laughter.

“I didn’t give any details,” I say with mirth in my voice.

“Okay, what did I miss?” Daddy asks.

“Nothing, Ray. Nothing,” Mandy says covering her face, blushing and stifling her giggles while I laugh shamelessly at her distress. Daddy turns to her, gently pressing her for information. Christian does the same to me, leaning in to whisper, “Okay, what did I miss?” I lean in and whisper,

“Apparently, my dad’s a stud.”

Present

“Well, the bad guy gets it in the end—or girl in this matter—and your father now knows a whole lot more about your sex life than you intended to tell him,” Ace summarizes.

“No shit,” I say. “We won’t know what happens to Elena for a couple of weeks, but even if she only gets ten years for this, she’s not getting out of that place.”

“I can see that,” he says rising to his feet. “You have quite a bit of homework, Mrs. Grey. I expect full reports on progress each week.”

“I know,” I say rising and walking to the door to escort him back upstairs. “I’ve kept you for quite some time. Stay for dinner.” He shakes his head.

“Thank you, but no. Mrs. Ace will be expecting me.” We take the elevator to the main floor and I walk him to the door. Thanking him for a Saturday appointment. I’m almost attacked by the women when I get back to kitchen.

“That’s your therapist?” Gail asks, incredulously. I can’t help the laugh that escapes.

“Yes, that’s Ace,” I say.

Ace is right!” Ms. Solomon chimes in.

“I thought James was good-looking, but damn!” Gail comments. “Where do you find these hot men?” I laugh.

“Actually, he was a surprise,” I tell her. “I was looking for another therapist and he didn’t even have a picture attached. His credentials were stellar, so I made an appointment. Imagine my surprise!”

“Damn, Ana, do you attract man candy?” Gail asks. I just shake my head.

*-*

I try not to focus on my ass so much in an attempt to accept my curves. It’s so much bigger than it ever has been in my life and if I’m honest, I didn’t know that I could actually ever have an ass this round without enhancements.

Enhancements… hmm…

I guess I better just start embracing my ass.

I started the self-defense classes at the Center on Monday. It was a larger turnout than I expected. Even Jack and his son showed up for the classes. It was a good workout for us all and I’m happy that I decided to do it, but I really couldn’t wait to get home to my babies.

A lot had happened in the past week and it seemed like I was away from them more than I was with them. I didn’t like that. I knew there would be withdrawal from having to spend time outside of the house away from them, but until the fanfare and fascination with Edward’s death and Elena’s verdict dies down, I won’t risk taking them to the center. Luckily, there seemed to be no mention whatsoever in the press of the BDSM lifestyle in association with the Greys… yet. The PSA has been running again, and it looks to run for about another ten weeks, at least. But putting all these faces to abuse, it helps to take the focus so much off of us.

Throughout the course of all of this, James and Allen nearly postponed their wedding. The date is actually only two weeks away, and we haven’t solidified one single thing for the ceremony. I tell him that there’s no way in hell that we’re going to postpone this wedding date.

“I’ll tell you what,” I tell him. “Let’s just do this. Let’s plan a fabulous party, and in the midst of that party, there’ll be a wedding.” Al smiles widely.

“That’s why I love you, Jewel,” he says, kissing my cheek. “You know, I’d be fine with Food and Libations.”

“In essence, that’s really what it’s going to be, but it’ll be bigger, you know that,” I say with a smile. So, Marilyn and I quickly get to work on Operation Wedding-In-Two-Weeks. Determined not to lose my mind like we did with Mandy’s ceremony, we plan a fabulous indoor/outdoor spring party for my best friend’s wedding at Grey Crossing. I am taking full advantage of being Anastasia Grey and paying everybody to come in and do this work for me. It’s so much more fun to just sit back and let someone else do the work for a change.


CHRISTIAN

“Christian, can I talk to you for a minute?” Jason is standing in the doorway of my study looking quite maudlin on Wednesday. What’s happened?

“Come in,” I say, standing from my desk and gesturing to the chairs in front of it. He sits down and thrusts his hands into his hair, his forehead resting on his palms.

“Something has happened… something that may affect my future in your employment.” Oh, fuck, that’s serious. I try not to panic. Jason has been with me for years… many years. What could have possibly happened that means he would have to leave?

“What’s happened, Jason?” I ask, sitting in the seat across from him. He sighs heavily, the weight of the situation dragging his shoulders down.

“I don’t have all the details, yet,” he begins, “but it looks like Shalane has been arrested.” Shalane… arrested. Fuck! “I have to go get Sophie.”

“Where’s Sophie?” I ask.

“At headquarters right now. If I don’t get her, they’re going to send her to Spruce Street.”

“Spruce Street?” I ask horrified. “Why the hell would they send her to Spruce Street? Isn’t that a detention center for runaways?”

“Yeah, but it’s a residential center, too.”

“Oh, hell, no,” I say, sitting back in my seat. “So, what’s the problem? Go get her.”

“You know I’m suing my ex-wife for custody, but we didn’t expect for things to happen this quickly,” he says. “Like I said, I don’t have all the details, but I know that drugs are involved and that my daughter is at the police station. This means that either they were together or the police picked Sophie up from home. If they had picked her up from home, she would have called me when they got there…”

“So she must have been with Shalane when she was arrested.” Jason nods. “Fucking hell!”

“She wouldn’t even call me. They had to dig into the records to find out who the hell she was and that’s how they got me,” he sighs. “So this presents a bit of a problem for me, Sir. Immediately, I need to be concerned about Sophie’s living conditions. In the future, I may need to be concerned about my line of work… if I’m going to be a full-time father.”

“Okay, so I understand your long-run dilemma and we can cross that bridge when we get to it, but what’s the problem with the immediate?” He raises his eyes to me.

“Sir, I don’t own a home, yet, and this is not my house. I can’t make assumptions…” He’s joking, right?

“You’re kidding, right?” I verbalize my thought. “I mean, you’re not serious. You can’t be…” He says nothing. I frown. “Are you serious, Jason?” I ask, appalled. “Fourteen thousand square feet! More bedrooms than we know what to do with… you and your wife live here! Your daughter is about to go to a group home…!” Unless… “Do you not want her to live here? Is that it?”

“Of course not!” he hisses. “That’s not it at all!”

“Then what is it?” I ask, waiting for an answer. He just looks at me, eyes glassy and lost—and we’re wasting time.  “Goddammit, Jason. Activate two-way communications!” I’m about to blow a fucking gasket. “Locate Gail Taylor.”

“She doesn’t know yet!” he says, panicked.

“Well, she’s about to!” I shoot.

“Yes?” Gail’s voice comes over the intercom at my desk.

“Gail, where are you?” After a very pregnant pause,

“I’m in the nursery with Ana and the twins.”

“Good. Fetch some of that overpaid staff that we employ and have them sit with our children. I need to see the two of you in my den, double quick time! We have an emergency.”

“Christian, is everything alright?” I hear Ana ask.

“No, everything is not alright! Please, stop asking questions and get down here. Bring the kids if you have to.” I manually end communications and pass through the French doors to my den. Jason walks in behind me and sits on one of the sofas.

“How long since you spoke to the police?”

“Right before I came to you,” he says, broken.

“Well, get on the fucking phone and tell him that we’re on our way to get Sophie,” I say as I dial my mother’s number.

“Hello, Christian,” Mom says cheerfully.

“Hi, Mom. I hate to impose on you, but are you at home?”

“Yes, son. Is everything okay?” she asks, no doubt sensing the urgency in my voice.

“We’ve got an emergency, Mom. I promise to explain later, but I really need you to come and sit with the twins.” There’s a moment of silence on the phone. “Mom?”

“Yes, Christian. Of course, I’ll be right there.”

“Thanks, Mom. I really appreciate this. I’ll see you soon.”

Baby Mummy Wrap“Why does your mother need to come and sit with the twins?” I raise my head to the piercing blue questioning eyes of my wife. She didn’t leave our children in the nursery. One of them is in Gail’s arms and the other is snugly wrapped in a baby wrap around my wife. I turn to look at Jason who is looking out the window while talking on the phone.

“Ladies, sit down,” I say gesturing to the sofa.

“I’d rather stand,” my wife replies in a rebellious tone.

“Ana please!” I hiss between my teeth before I realize it. I don’t have time for this—sit your ass down! Her demeanor changes immediately and she and Gail take seats on opposite sofas facing me. Jason ends his call and turns around to face us.

“I had to leave a message with… the person in charge,” he says, noting that our wives are in the room. I take a deep breath and let it out.

“Gail, Jason has something that he needs to tell you,” I say, leaning on the desk. He sits down next to his wife and sighs, taking her hand.

“Love, I would never ask you to do anything that you didn’t want to do,” he begins, “but I have to make a major life change starting right now.” Ana looks up at me and I give nothing away.

“Jason, you’re scaring me,” Gail says, worry lacing her face. Jason quickly recounts what he knows about Shalane and Sophie while Gail listens wide-eyed and Ana covers her mouth, clearly horrified.

“Where is Sophie now?” Ana asks.

“She’s at the police station,” I reply.

“The police station?” she asks. “That’s no place for a child!”

“It gets worse,” Jason says. “If I don’t get down there to pick her up, they’re going to take her to Spruce Street.” Butterfly’s head does that delightful angry-bobble-head thing she does. She can’t believe what she’s hearing.

“Spruce Street!?” she nearly shrieks. She deals with troubled teens and broken families. She knows exactly what Spruce Street is. “Are they crazy?”

“Jason, we have to go and get her,” Gail says, her voice small. “We have to go now!”

“We are, Love,” he says. “We’re just waiting for…”

“I’m here,” my mom says, coming into the den with Mia in tow. “What’s going on?”

“Mom, I have to tell you later, we’re going to have to leave…” Jason’s phone rings and he answers it. “Thanks, Mia. I appreciate your help, too.”

“No problem, Christian. Mom says it’s an emer…”

“WHAT!??” Jason roars and I know everything just went from bad to worse. Both of my children begin to cry and Butterfly quickly begins to unwrap herself. Mom takes Mikey from Gail, who then assists Butterfly in undoing this baby mummy body wrap. Jason is still roaring into the phone as Mia takes Minnie from the wrap and Butterfly allows it to fall to the ground.

“Please, Grace, take them to the nursery,” Ana says. “We have to leave right now. I promise we’ll explain everything later. Gail, go. Get your purse. Meet us in the mudroom. Go, now!” Gail takes a moment to get her bearings, then takes off out of the den. Butterfly leaves with Mom and Mia and I have to calm Jason down.

“You’re fucking kidding me! I’ll kill that bitch!” he roars.

“Jason!” I yell. He glares at me. I don’t know what he heard, but he could rip me apart right now. “Sophie!” I say. He composes himself, but only infinitesimally.

“I’m on my way!” He hisses into the phone and marches out of my den. I fall in stride behind him and our efficient wives are at the mudroom door when we get there. We enter the garage and I hold my hand out to Jason, waiting for the keys.

“I’ll drive,” I say, and he doesn’t protest. He and Gail get in the backseat while Butterfly and I ride in the front. He’s silent for the first few minutes until we get on the I-90.

“The bitch told them I’m dead.” I almost hit the brakes.

“What?” I hiss.

“She was doing a drop, Christian,” he growls. “Cocaine.” Butterfly gasps. “Four fucking kilos with my kid in the car, and she tells them that Sophie’s father is dead!” He says the last part through his teeth. The car falls silent for a few moments, and I step on the gas.

We get to headquarters not a moment too soon. Just as we enter, two women and two officers are in the lobby with a hysterical Sophie. I can’t hear what she’s saying, but she’s obviously pleading with them. Jason’s voice barrels over all the voices in the room and causes a dead silence.

“Sophia!” All heads turn towards the bear loose in the lobby.

“Daddy!” she wails, her voice sounding helpless and terrified. Jason squats down and opens his arms.

“Come to Daddy, Baby Boo,” he says. Sophie wrenches away from the worker holding her and sprints to her father’s arms. He scoops her up and stands upright while she weeps bitterly on his shoulder.

“They’re going to take me away!” she sobs. “I don’t know where! Mom wouldn’t let me call you!”

“It’s okay, baby. It’s okay. Daddy’s here, now.” Gail steps closer to them.

“Ms. Gail,” she weeps, “they want to take me away!”

“Don’t you worry, Pumpkin,” Gail says, stroking Sophie’s hair over Jason’s shoulder. “If we have anything to say about it, you’re not going anywhere.” I stand by silently, holding Butterfly’s hand while Jason and Gail try to calm Sophie, and the workers and police look on.

“Are you Mr. Deleroy?” one lady asks. She looks like one of the workers.

“No,” Jason nearly hisses. I put my hand on his shoulder to calm him. “I’m Jason Taylor.” Her eyes pierce and she looks in the file. She raises her head.

“You’re Jason Taylor?” she says. “You’re Sophia Taylor’s biological father?” He just glares at her. “Ms. Deleroy said you were dead!” she exclaims.

“I know,” he growls. “She won’t have to worry, though. I’ll be dead to her after this.” Her eyes narrow. Cool it, Jason. “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t check into this before you tried to send my daughter to a group home. There’s an open custody case. She has a file with child services. Why didn’t you allow Sophie to call me?”

“We’re really sorry, Mr. Taylor. Under the circumstances, she wouldn’t be allowed to make any calls just yet…”

“So why didn’t you call me? Sophie knows my number by heart! I made sure of it—for just such an emergency!” He’s losing his patience again.

“Mr. Taylor, you have to know that there are protocols that we have to follow. Your wife…”

“My wife?!” he roars again. “She’s. Not. My. Wife! This is my wife!” He pulls Gail forward and she rubs Sophie’s back gently. The worker takes a deep breath.

“Mr. Taylor, I assure you, that we would have gotten to the bottom of all of this. All of this would have come out in the investigation and Sophia would have been placed with you as next of kin…”

“But not before you put her in a group home and traumatized her after whatever craziness has occurred with this batty ass woman!” he accuses.

“Your…” she catches herself before she says it again. “Ms. Deleroy is facing some very serious charges. She had a child in the car with her while she was transporting four kilograms of cocaine. We had to first get the child to safety, then interrogate Ms. Deleroy. She contended that you were dead and that if Sophia insisted that you weren’t, it was a fantasy of hers to help her cope with your untimely death.”

“I see,” he says. “So you’d take the word of a lying, drug-toting, cracked-out criminal over that of a frightened and terrified 12-year-girl. Real bang up fucking system you’ve got here!”

“Daddy… bad words.” Sophie’s muffled voice brings Jason right down. He embraces her warmly and rubs her back.

“I’m sorry, Baby Boo,” he says to her, and she nods on his shoulder. “So what happens now? You know that I’m Sophia’s biological father. She’s not going to any group home, so what do we need to do? She’s traumatized and she looks like she needs some rest and some food. This is no place for my daughter, let alone Spruce Street.”

“We’ll just have to ask you a few questions and then Sophia can be released to you,” the worker says.

“Well, let’s get on with it, then,” he says, never releasing Sophie.

“Hi Ms. Ana… Mr. Chris… you guys came to get me, too?” Her voice is small, frightened, and hopeful. Butterfly chokes back a sob.

“Yes, pretty girl,” Butterfly replies, “we came as soon as we heard. Everything will be alright soon, okay?” Butterfly kisses Sophie’s hand resting on Jason’s back. Sophie sniffles deeply.

“Okay,” she whimpers. It’s clear that she’s exhausted.

“Ana… Chri… Christian and Anastasia Grey?” One of the officers clarify. I sigh—here we go.

“Yes, sir,” I say, as humbly as I can. Oh, please, don’t let my presence ruin this for Jason.

“If you don’t mind, may I ask what your role in this is?” the officer asks.

“Yes, sir. Mr. Taylor is head of personal security for my family and my estate. Mr. and Mrs. Taylor are both in my employ.” The officer nods and writes something down.

“Doesn’t that mean that Mr. Taylor is away from home a lot?” the worker asks. She still hasn’t introduced herself.

“Ms…” Let me help you with that.

“Ironically, my name is Mrs. Taylor,” she says. Gail flinches.

“Mrs. Taylor, Jason lives and works on-site. Except for a normal workday for the most part, he’s not away from home. Additionally, Mrs. Taylor is manager of our estate. She’s there most of the day and night. She also serves as part-time nanny when my wife needs assistance caring for our twins.”

“And if Sophia goes home with you all tonight, where would she reside?”

“She would stay in one of the several spare bedrooms of our mansion or in the private suite with Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, whichever Jason prefers.” Mrs. Taylor turns to Jason.

“You all have a private suite?” she asks. He kisses Sophie on the cheek and puts her down. She immediately goes over to Gail and wraps her arms around Gail’s waist. Gail bends down and kisses her hair, paying attention only to Sophie at this moment.

“Yes,” Jason says, “we have a private apartment on the estate, but we spend most of our time in the main portion of the house.”

“Is that a requirement of your employment?” she asks without malice. Jason turns to me.

“May I answer that, Mrs. Taylor?” I ask, pushing the alpha male back with brute force so that Jason’s chances aren’t ruined by my aggression.

“Yes, sir, please do,” she says. She seems accommodating and professional. Let’s hope this goes well.

“Gail and Jason spend a lot of time in the main portion of the house not only as part of their employment, but also because they’re like family to us.” I have reverted to using first names to drive my point home. “Jason saved my life—literally saved my life. He found my wife when she was kidnapped. He’s my best friend. That’s not just an expression, he is my best friend and he was the best man at my wedding. I walked Gail down the aisle and gave her away at their wedding. She runs my household like a well-oiled machine. She helps to care for my children. She has nursed my wife back to health on more than one occasion, and she and Ana are very close. If Sophie came to stay with us, she would become part of that family. She would be well cared for, her schooling wouldn’t be interrupted, and she would be around familiar people who are very fond of her. I think that would be a much better option in the best interest of the child than going to a group home… don’t you?” My voice is hopeful and questioning. Mrs. Taylor nods.

“Yes, Mr. Grey, I would have to agree with you,” she says after a pause. “Mr. Taylor, Mrs. Taylor, I will have to speak with you in private.” Gail kisses Sophie’s hair and releases her hand. The second worker moves toward them after Gail releases her hand. Sophie turns glassy, frightened blue eyes to Butterfly.

“Ms. Ana?” she says, her voice desperate. Butterfly holds her hand out to Sophie, who runs to her and wraps her arms around Butterfly’s neck. At twelve, she’s only about half a foot shorter than my wife. Butterfly embraces her warmly, kissing her hair like everyone has done before.

“Don’t worry, Sophie,” she whispers, cradling Sophie’s head. “We’re not going to let them take you away.” Sophie nods and clings to Butterfly. I look at Mrs. Taylor.

“She can stay here with the Greys for now,” she says to her colleague. “She’ll be fine.” Her colleague nods and they escort Jason and Gail to the back. Butterfly guides Sophie to a seat and the shrink comes out.

“No one’s been unkind to you, have they, Sophie?” she asks. “Nobody’s hurt you or anything?”

“No,” Sophie says, calming a bit. “Mom told them Dad was dead, and they wouldn’t listen when I tried to tell them that he wasn’t. I don’t know why my mom’s such a bitch!” she hisses. I look up at the officer at the front desk who is eyeing us speculatively, but Butterfly and Sophie are in their own world, paying him no attention.

“It’s not nice to talk about your mother that way,” Butterfly scolds softly.

“But she is,” Sophie whines. “Why would she do this? Why would she do something stupid and then let them take me away instead of telling them about my father? How could you do something like that to a kid?”

“I don’t know, Sophie, and I’m not saying that it’s nice, but you still shouldn’t talk about her that way, okay?” Sophie nods. The officer rises from his desk and comes over to us.

“Listen, the lobby’s no place for a kid. All kinds come through here. Why don’t you guys let me take you to the back… to a private area… clean, more comfortable, no exposure to any riffraff?” I look at his badge… Sullivan.

Oy!

“What’s you first name?”

“Joseph,” he says.

Thank you, Joseph. That’s very nice of you. Yes, I think we’d like that.” He nods. He makes a quick call and then stands.

“Please, come with me.”

This is the first time that I’ve had a pleasant experience with the police. He leads us to a door where another officer opens and leads us inside. He silently takes us to a room with a table and chairs and two comfortable sofas.

“Can I get you something to drink?” he asks. “Coffee or soda? Water?” I shake my head and Butterfly replies, “No, thank you.” Then she adds, “Sophie, are you thirsty?”

“No,” Sophie says, softly. The poor child is exhausted. I take in my surroundings very carefully as the officer nods and leaves the room. I give Butterfly a quick kiss on the cheek as I whisper, “The room is probably bugged—audio definitely, visual maybe.” Like the pro that she is, she looks at me adoringly, smiles sweetly and nods.

“Come on, Sophie. Let’s get comfortable. Are you cold at all?” she says as she and Sophie take a seat on the sofa. Sophie shakes her head.

“Did they try to ask you any questions before we got here, Sophie?” I ask her in a non-threatening tone. I squat down in front of her so that she’s looking down at me instead of up at me to help her feel more comfortable. It works.

“Yeah,” she says with a nod. “They wanted to know if Mom went anywhere while I was in the car, but Daddy always told me not to answer questions for the police unless I was in trouble. In that case, I only needed to give them my parents’ name, address, and phone number. Well, my parent was there and they wouldn’t listen when I tried to tell them about Daddy because Mom already said that he was dead.”  She shakes her head. “It didn’t matter because I didn’t know what was going on anyway.” I nod at her.

“You did just right. We’ll get to the bottom of this,” I say with a smile before sitting on the sofa.

“Sophie, why don’t you lay down and rest for a while? I’m sure Jason won’t be too much longer and then we can go home, okay?” Sophie nods and lies down. Butterfly places one of the sofa throw pillows on her lap and Sophie lays her head on it. Butterfly strokes her hair like she does mine when I’m stressed about something, and Sophie is out cold in 30 seconds flat.

“I better keep my eye on you,” I tell her. “You’re too good at that.” She chuckles.

“She wasn’t going to rest any other way. She’s too worried,” Butterfly says, still stroking Sophie’s hair. “She’s an old soul still trying to be a little girl, stuck in this uncomfortable-turned-terrible situation and I don’t think she has the slightest clue how to handle it. Do you have any idea what’s happening?” Conscious that the room is bugged, I shake my head.

“Near as I can tell, it has something to do with drugs, but I don’t have any details. Jason was more concerned that he would have to quit.” She frowns.

“Quit? Why?” She’s horrified.

“He thought he would have to. He didn’t know how comfortable we would be with Sophie coming to live with us.” Her face falls.

“You’re not serious,” she says. I nod. “Oh, that’s ridiculous! That huge house with all those damn bedrooms, someone around 24-7…”

“I know, I know, I told him the same thing,” I say before she goes off on a rant. She sighs.

“She told them that he was dead,” she says. “That’s awful. That’s one really bitter woman. I would be afraid to even put something like that in the universe.”

“Tell me about it,” I concur. She lays her head back on the sofa.

“What I wouldn’t give for a nice long stretch of quiet and boring for a while,” she says mournfully. I wipe away the loan tear that falls from her eye with my thumb.

“We’ll have our day, Mrs. Grey,” I tell her. She looks longingly into my eyes and sighs. I keep stroking her hair and her eyes become heavy. In no time, she’s asleep with Sophie. I kiss her forehead, pull out my phone and begin to check my emails.

This short talk went on for quite some time, because I’m nearly done with emails and Butterfly is stretching and waking up now… and still no Gail and Jason. She cracks her neck and looks at me.

“How long have I been asleep?” she asks. I look at my watch.

“I don’t know, maybe an hour.”

“An hour!” she replies quietly, trying not to wake Sophie. “What’s going on in there, the Spanish Inquisition?” I stand and pop my neck.

“They’re just being thorough, baby. Her mother just took her on a drug drop from what I understand.” Butterfly shakes her head.

“Poor child,” she says, looking down at a still-sleeping Sophie. “She’s exhausted… probably hungry, too. A few months ago, she was at a Build-A-Bear with me! She built High School Musical bears of Troy and Vanessa and now we’re rescuing her from a drug drop and group home! This is insane!” She’s whisper-hissing, but her anger is palpable. “I swear to God, if I ever see that hideous woman again…”

“You, me, Jason, and Gail… get in line, baby.” She shakes her head vigorously and pulls out her phone.

“I need to call Grace,” she says. “We left with no explanation and I at least want to check in… and I want to check on my babies.” The phone is up to her ear in moments and she turns her head away from the door. “Grace, hi… No, I can’t talk about it over the phone, but hopefully we’ll be home really soon and we’ll explain everything… Yes, I know, Christian and I were just having the same discussion…” As she’s talking, the door opens quietly and in walks Jason, Gail, and Mrs. Taylor. I found it strange that they felt the need to keep quiet, further confirming my suspicion that the room is bugged. Butterfly keeps talking to Grace while I furrow my brow at Jason. In that manner that we’ve perfected for years now, he throws his eyes briefly up to the corner of the room, informing me that we have in fact been on Candid Camera for the last hour or so. I give a discreet nod and turn back to my phone while they observe Butterfly on the phone with my mother.

“How are my babies?” Perfect timing, Butterfly. Mom says something that makes her smile. “She knows it’s Mommy… Put the phone to her ear… Hi, Minnie!” she says in the sweetest little voice. “Mommy loves you, Minnie. I’ll be home as soon as I can, be good for Gammy. I love yooouuu…” she scoffs. “Oh, Grace!” Apparently, my mom took the phone back. “Where’s Mikey?… Oh, I shouldn’t be surprised. He needs his rest, he’s Mommy’s little hell-raiser… Well, hopefully we won’t be much longer… I know this is strange, but we’ll tell you everything when we get home… Thank you, you’re wonderful. Kiss my babies, tell them Mommy will be home soon… Bye, now.” She ends the call.

“Minnie’s fussing a bi… Oh!” She covers her mouth and stifles a startled scream when she sees the room is full of people, all smiling at her conversation with her daughter. “That was mean!” she whisper-hisses again.

“We didn’t want to interrupt your conversation with Minnie,” Jason chuckles. Butterfly sticks her tongue out at Jason.

“You’re fired… again!” she says as she gently tries to rouse Sophie. “Sophie?” She only whimpers and snuggles into Butterfly’s lap. Butterfly shrugs.

“Don’t,” Jason says. “Let me get her out of here, first.” Butterfly nods and Jason scoops Sophie into his arms bridal-style.

“Come on, Baby Boo, let’s get you home.” She nuzzles into her father’s chest and doesn’t wake.

“We’ll be in touch, Mr. Taylor,” Mrs. Taylor says. “Mrs. Taylor.” She proffers her hand to Gail who accepts the shake.

“Mrs. Taylor,” she says with a chuckle.

We emerge from the back of the station only to discover our troubles are just beginning.

“Fucking hell!” I breathe. Paparazzi… en masse, more than I’ve seen in quite some time, even at the hospital after the babies were born. I turn to Jason. “I’m sorry.”

“This is not your fault,” he says. “If anything, we all got pulled into this by the b…” he looks down at a sleeping Sophie. “…Cow that brought us here.” Butterfly springs into action. I take off my jacket and cover Sophie’s head and face.

“Can’t you help us?” She says to the officer behind the counter. “These people are just trying to get a story and there’s a child involved here… please…” The officer looks at her, then picks up the phone.

“One minute,” he says as he makes a call. I tuck Butterfly under my arm and we wait. A few minutes later, four uniformed officers come from the door behind the counter and walk to the front door. I turn back to the officer.

“Thank you, Joseph,” I mouth and he nods at me. When I get to the door, I hear the officers telling the press to move away from the stairs or risk being arrested. A black-and-white drives up with lights flashing. I look at Jason and smile.

“Your ride is here,” I say. He smiles at me and he walks out of the building with Sophie, Gail, and a police escort. We stand back and make sure that they’re in the car before we try to leave. I take my wife’s hand.

“Ready, Mrs. Grey?” She smiles.

“Ready.”

“No impromptu interviews this time.”

“Yes, sir,” she says. I squeeze her hand and we leave the station.

*-*

We make it home without incident as even the press is not dumb enough to follow the police with lights and sirens blaring in an obvious attempt to evade them. Jason and Gail get Sophie comfortably to bed and Butterfly goes to check on the twins. I later find her in the kitchen having coffee with Mom and Mia, explaining the evenings events when Jason comes in to join us.

“How’s Sophie?” Butterfly asks.

“Already traumatized,” he says, retrieving a soda from the refrigerator. “Can you talk to her, please?” he asks Butterfly. “I’ll pay you.”

“Jason!” Butterfly says in a scolding voice.

“I just didn’t want to assume…” he begins, and Butterfly throws a threatening look at him. That conversation falls dead in the water. He shrugs. “Gail is wiped out. She asks if you can handle the twins tonight.”

“Of course,” Butterfly says, sipping her coffee. “We have a new problem, now.”

“What’s that?” I ask with a furrowed brow.

“Gail’s a stepmom now. She can’t focus all her attention on our children and neglect hers. She’s going to need some help.” Oh, hell, I hadn’t thought of that.

“Another nanny?” I ask in despair.

“It doesn’t have to be live-in like Gail,” she says, “but she is going to need some help. Worse, who am I going to find that I can trust with my children?”

“I can ask around,” Grace says. “You know in my circles, there’s always a line on good—and bad—staff.”

“I’d appreciate that, Mom,” I say with a sigh.

“And you can ask some of the members at your country club,” Mia says.

“Oh, good God, we haven’t even been to the country club with everything going on,” Butterfly laments. “Wasn’t there supposed to be some kind of Meet-N-Greet?”

“Yeah,” I answer, uninterested. “I don’t remember when it was… or when it’s supposed to be.” I turn to Jason. “What took so long at the station? She said a little chat and it almost lasted two hours.”

“They had to change the records that I wasn’t dead, then get an emergency placement order for Sophie. I never did see Shalane and I really don’t want to. I bet I won’t have any problems getting custody now. But get this. I still have to pay her child support until that court changes the order, even though the kid is with me. Isn’t that rich?”

“Gotta love our system,” I say, sipping my coffee.

“That’s okay. It’s fine. I’ll do whatever they tell me to do, but she’s never getting her hands on Sophie again. Here’s a day she’ll mark in her calendar, if she hasn’t marked it already. God knows I have. Ironic.”

“How is it ironic?” Butterfly asks. My question exactly. I can see tragic, but I can’t see ironic. Jason scrubs his hands over his face.

“A year ago today, that blonde psychopath shot me.”


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

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Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X