So, I’ve been a bit incommunicado because my birthday was this week. It was super hard without my mom, but I made it through and was able to do some celebrating this weekend.
As a result, the Muse has taken a bit of a hiatus. It happens sometimes, and I have some chapters that just need editing, so hopefully there won’t be any breaks from posting. Nonetheless, here’s the next chapter.
This is a work of creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.
I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues…
Season 5 Episode 20
I sit at the desk in the office portion of the suite trying to process the information that was just relayed to me a few seconds ago by a member of my security team. I don’t know if this is good news or bad news.
“How long?” I ask.
“About twenty minutes,” Lawrence says. “I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t just looked in the room.”
“What’s going on now?” I ask.
“Well, right now, she’s freaking out because she can’t walk,” he replies. “I don’t know if anybody called Her Highness yet or not, because nobody bothered to stop and tell me, knowing that I’m here for her safety.”
I don’t know what the atmosphere is at the hospital because I don’t go up there to see Carla. As many times as Butterfly has come home in tears, I imagine that it’s somewhat hostile. I run my hands through my hair. I have to make an executive decision here.
“Anastasia is on a field trip right now with Sophia Taylor,” I tell Lawrence. “She’s been looking forward to it and I’m not inclined to disturb her with this right now. I would say that if the hospital doesn’t contact her immediately to wait until they’re finished.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll keep you posted as much as I can,” he says, and we end the call.
Fuck. Carla’s awake.
Will Butterfly think this is good news or bad news? How will she take it? Should I tell Ray and Allen, or should I wait until she knows first? Fuck it, I think I’m going to need backup. I text Allen.
**Can you please grab Ray and come to my suite? I’m in need of your assistance. **
When they get to the door, I’m pacing around the suite trying to figure out what to do. I open the door and I must look a fright. Ray frowns deeply.
“What’s wrong, son?” he asks before he even enters. “Is Annie okay?”
“Yes, yes, sir, she’s fine. Please come in,” I reply, walking away from the door and allowing them to let themselves in. “Sit… or stand, whatever you prefer, but I’m going to stand.”
“What’s this about, Chris?” Allen asks, impatiently.
“Carla’s awake,” I blurt out. Both gentlemen’s brows rise.
“Oh,” Allen says ominously.
“Yeah,” I reply.
“Ooo,” Ray remarks just as ominously.
“Mm-hmm,” I counter.
“Does Annie know?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I don’t think so. The guard outside of Carla’s door told me that she was awake. He didn’t even call Jason. He said he wouldn’t have even known had he not looked in the room and seen Carla freaking out about not being able to walk. We don’t even know if they’ve called Butterfly yet.”
“Well, don’t you think we should?” Ray asks.
“Actually, no,” I reply, and he frowns at me. “She’s on a field trip with Sophie that she’s really been looking forward to. Waiting until they’re done is not going to change Carla’s condition, but it will definitely interrupt her day.” Ray twists his lips but says nothing. I look at Allen.
“You want us to know first in case she flips her lid when she gets back here,” he deduces.
“You are correct,” I admit. “I also want to know your honest opinion about not telling her yet.” Ray clears his throat.
“She stayed all this time to see what was going on with her mother. I think she should know,” he says.
“I don’t know, Ray,” Allen says. “I think Christian’s right with this one. Jewel’s been walking on the points of needles ever since she’s been here. She needs to decompress in the worst way every chance that she gets. I say let her have the day before she has to deal with this.”
We all turn to see Jason coming into the suite.
“What happened?” I ask.
“Dr. Whatever His Name Is called her while she was in the cooking class. She knows.”
“Shit!” I hiss, thrusting my hands in my hair again. “Is she on her way to the hospital?”
“No,” Jason replies. I raise a puzzled gaze to him.
“No?” I ask. Jason shakes his head.
“No,” he confirms. “The way I understand it, she got the call, looked at her phone, and immediately looked at Chuck, who did this…” He puts his hands next to his eyes and opens them wide. “She gathered that not only that her mother was awake, but also that Chuck knew before she did, which means that the doctor took his time calling her. Bearing that in mind, she’s now continuing her class with Sophie and my wife on Florentine chicken.” I look over at Ray.
“I guess the decision was made for me,” I say.
“Why did it take so long for the doctor to call her?” Ray asks.
“I have no doubt that she’s going to ask when she sees him,” I say. “I get the feeling that she’s not a favorite at the hospital.”
“Not a favorite?” Ray says. “What the hell?”
“We all know how Butterfly feels about Carla,” I tell him. “If she shows that same compassion at the hospital and they have no idea why, she’s actually the bad guy. That’s why she comes in here crying a lot of the time. Carla has built up a support system in her time of need that Butterfly never had in hers, and she’s very bitter about that. What’s more is that I don’t think the hospital staff is warm to her at all.”
“Well, why the hell don’t they pick up a newspaper or watch the news?” he asks angrily. “They would totally know why she’s behaving the way that she is.” I shake my head.
“I don’t think it would matter,” I tell him. “If you’ve had your mother with you all the time, you can’t imagine her being in this kind of state and you not caring about it. I certainly can’t imagine that with Grace.”
Ray must have had a fleeting thought of his own mother, because he deflates immediately. I’ve never heard either of them speak of his mother, so I’m assuming that she has passed on.
“Well, they’re all assholes, then,” he says dismissively. “Making assumptions is one of the worst things you can do when you’re dealing with a situation like this. It’s already hard for all parties involved. Annie doesn’t need to have to deal with their judgmental attitudes on top of everything else!” He’s becoming angry.
“I’m right there with you, Ray,” I say, “but cooler heads must prevail in this setting. We’ve been here waiting for the outcome of this saga and here it is. What’s important now is being here for Butterfly during the difficult decisions she has to make in the coming weeks and months.”
“What’s difficult?” Allen says. “Put her ass in a nursing home.”
“Those are our feelings, Allen,” I reply. “They may not be Butterfly’s.” Ray cracks his neck and shakes his head.
“Now I know why my Sunflower hates this place,” he says. “No matter how I try to relax, get comfortable, or let loose here, I haven’t been able to do it. I’ve heard about people who move here with big dreams, gamble it all away and end up homeless. I’ve heard about people who come here on vacation and leave not even having enough money to get a taxi back to the airport. Even though it’s not my money, everything here is still expensive as hell. How can you possibly raise a family in this environment or hold down a job unless you’re a stripper or a blackjack dealer? I shudder to think what the housing market looks like.
“Everything here is brown. There’re no trees except those blasted palm trees, and they look phony. Their downtown is in the middle of a slum, their police look like they’re wearing boy scout uniforms, and my first and most significant encounter with this God-forsaken place was finding out that my daughter was damn near dead. I can’t wait to get out of here!”
I should explain to Ray how he’s only half-right about the many observations he has illustrated about Las Vegas, but why bother? I had a similar reaction during my first visit to this desert cesspool.
Arid, barren, lonely, dusty…
“We don’t have much longer to wait to wrap things up, Ray,” I tell him.
“I hate to tell you this, son, but there’s less time than even you think where I’m concerned.” He does a near-military about-face and leaves the suite. Allen rolls his eyes.
“It’s too much, Chris,” he says. “I don’t know how Jewel is doing it. This place is physically and emotionally draining. We come from a place where it rains or snows 90% of the time, and here we are in a city where there’s no precipitation and the humidity is minus twelve. It’s a wonder we’re not face down in our bed 16 hours a day. With all the crying poor Marilyn does, she should have just dried up by now.
“Then, the only moral support we get is from our group! Jewel is accosted in the lobby before she even gets to her room; she’s attacked in court; bombshell after bombshell falls in that damn trial. While she may have brought the Karaoke Confrontation on herself, she goes to a Japanese restaurant and is splashed with Haterade in the bathroom. The hospital is obviously treating her like shit. And poor Sophie goes on a food tour and gets hated on by the guide. A 13-year-old girl—who does that?
“Ray is right—this place is worse than Egypt for the slaves in the time of the Pharaohs. It’s fucking time to go!”
He turns around and storms out of the room the way Ray did. I thrust my hands into my hair again and sigh a huge frustrated sigh.
“Boss?” Jason says. I shake my head.
“Get the jet down here,” I tell him. “Make sure the pilot knows that he’s here for the duration and needs to be ready to fly at as short a notice as possible. We’re coming apart here; a few more days and we’ll be clawing at each other.”
“Will do, sir.”
We’ve entered Sur La Table and as far as Sophie is concerned, we might as well be in Wonderland! Her eyes are sparkling and she’s more than ready to peruse the wares of the store. We’ve intentionally come very early before our cooking class is to start so that Sophie can outfit her beginner’s chef kitchen. I’ve asked for the manager and requested one of his best kitchen techs to help Sophie choose what she wants.
“While we’re looking for quality items,” I tell him, “we don’t want to be sold on the most expensive items in the store that are going to draw the highest commission and be completely useless to our little aspiring chef or we will swiftly be returning them to the store in Kirkland, WA.” The manager nods.
“We only want your experience to be pleasant and memorable. Let me get Anaé for you. I believe she will be best suited to assist you today.”
Off he goes to retrieve Anaé and Gail also looks longingly at some of the kitchen utensils.
“You’re also going to be making some purchases for yourself, Mrs. Taylor?” I tease. Gail sighs and turns back to me.
“No,” she says firmly. “This is Sophie’s experience. I want her to get the most of it, especially after that cow we had to deal with yesterday.”
“Ladies, this is Anaé. She’s going to assist you with your purchases today.” The manager smiles and bows before leaving Anaé with us.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms…” She extends her hand to me. She’s young, like Justine. Let’s see if she’s just as stupid.
“Grey,” I say. “Mrs. Grey.” I take her proffered hand and she smiles widely, then turns to Gail.
“And Mrs.?” she says, proffering her hand to Gail.
“Taylor,” Gail says, flatly, taking her hand. Anaé pauses for a moment.
“You have chef’s hands,” Anaé observes. “You cook?” Gail raises her brow.
“I do,” she replies, a bit taken aback.
“Good. Then, you’ll be able to help with our choices,” Anaé replies and turns to Sophie. “So, you must be our aspiring chef. What’s your name?”
“Sophia,” she responds.
“Is it okay if I call you Chef Sophia?” Anaé asks. “If I’m honest, it makes me feel important while I’m doing my job.” A sincere smile spreads across Anaé’s face and is matched by Sophie’s.
“Sure,” Sophie says, fighting to retain her glee.
This is what I was looking for. Chef Sophia, I like the sound of that.
“If it’s okay, sometimes I’ll call you ‘Chef’ for short. Is that cool with you?” Sophie’s smile grows wider.
“That would be awesome!” Sophie exclaims in an excited whisper.
“Excellent! So, let’s get started. The first tool you should look for when you’re ready to build your kitchen is a chef’s knife.” Anaé tilts her head. “May I see your hands, Chef?”
Sophie gives both hands to Anaé and she examines them carefully.
“For an adult, I would say an 8-inch knife would be best. Your hands are smaller, so I think a 6-inch would be better for you to start with. We’ll have you hold a couple of them and see how you like the weight. I recommend the Wüsthof classic.” She looks over at Gail for approval and Gail nods. So, it’s off to the chef’s knives we go.
Anaé is really good at her job. She tells Sophie about the weight of the knife and how it should feel in her hand. She also shows her the proper way to hold a chef’s knife and, watching her, I realize I’ve been holding it wrong for years. When she shows Sophie how to follow through and cut with the knife, I’m actually glad I decided to come along to see everything I’ve been doing wrong.
Next, we move to the All-Clad stainless steel 3-quart sauté pan and saucepan, both with lids, and the 10-inch skillet. Sophie immediately begins to balk about things sticking to the stainless steel and wanting to lean more to the non-stick options. Anaé assures her that non-stick has its place and that we’ll be moving to the T-Fal non-stick pans next, but that any kitchen would be incomplete without stainless steel, which is ideal for glazing to make sauces and gravies. Gail also suggests the stainless-steel stock pot and the Dutch oven, confirming Anaé’s information.
“We normally don’t carry T-Fal,” Anaé says, “but we just started stocking the T-Fal professional frying pans. This is really a great pan because you can use it in the oven up to 400 degrees. It’s a wonderful non-stick option, Chef, as I’m certain Mrs. Taylor can attest to. It has one of the most slippery cook surfaces on the market. You can probably cook eggs in it without oil.
“It also has this thermal spot indicator in the center that turns solid red when it’s preheated properly. Since stoves are different, this is a great tool for beginners to know when to adjust settings based on what you’re cooking. You don’t have a 12-inch in your arsenal yet, so I suggest that size in the T-Fal.”
Gail watches carefully and makes notes as Anaé suggests different items for Sophie’s kitchen, including a top-of-the-line meat thermometer, dishwasher-safe mixing bowls with pouring spouts, and a utility board.
Now, the utility board really got my attention. I can’t say how many times I’ve been unwaveringly frustrated with my cute little cutting boards that match my kitchen and are only big enough to cut a damn onion—and only barely! Anaé recommends a large cutting surface—15×21, to be exact. It’s an OXO Cool Grips utility and cutting board. Now, that’s a cutting board!
We’ll go shopping for spices and a proper spice rack when we get back to Seattle. Anaé recommends a proper pepper grinder and a pinch bowl for kosher salt. To be sure that she has her needed kitchen utensils—whisk, grater, spatulas, tongs, slotted spoons and the like—we’ve also secured the OXO kitchen utensils and essentials sets. Gail also picks out a set of bakeware, casserole dishes, and a roaster for when Sophie is ready to graduate to those items.
I personally think no kitchen is complete without a blender and a mixer—even a small one of each—and this leads Gail to also add a simple food processor. Sophie’s sole special request at this point is a waffle maker. Who are we to deny her that? And let’s not forget good potholders, cooling mats, and oven mitts.
Two hours and one extremely happy Chef Sophie later, we go to the rear of the store to the communal kitchen and our cooking class. Today’s lesson is homemade pasta, Florentine chicken under a brick, butternut squash ravioli with hazelnut and pecorino, and Modena flourless balsamic chocolate cake. The three of us and a fourth person who took the class alone break off into a group and begin to mix the pasta as instructed—sifted all-purpose flour and a pinch of salt on a butcher block counter. We make a well in the middle of the stack of dry ingredients, then pour six eggs and some olive oil into the well. We begin to whisk the eggs and olive oil together, mixing in the dry ingredients a little at a time until it’s time to knead the dough with our hands.
I’m elbow-deep in sticky pasta dough when my phone rings. I decide to ignore it, knowing that if it was anything important, like my children, my husband or Jason would call Chuck or even Gail. Neither of them reacts to a phone ringing, so I continue kneading my pasta dough. We get to the part where we’re pressing the dough to the thinness that we want before we cut it into pasta when my phone rings again.
“Dammit,” I say under my breath. No longer elbow deep in pasta dough, I dry my hands a bit with a nearby hand-towel and I look over at Chuck.
He’s on his phone. Shit.
I reach into my pocket and check Gail and Sophie. Neither has been alarmed, so I fish my phone out of my pocket.
702-233… Summerlin Hospital.
I raise my gaze to Chuck, who’s looking dead at me now, his expression unreadable. The phone is still ringing in my hand, and I know he knows something.
What the fuck is going on, Davenport?
His phone is now back in his pocket and I can’t read his expression. Next, he puts his fists on either side of his face and opens his hands and is eyes wide…
My mother is awake.
I look at the phone in my hand which has now started to ring a third time, send the call to voice mail, and go back to my pasta.
I never knew that chicken under a brick is actually cooked under a brick…
My mother looks like shit when I walk into the room. At first, her gaze is down and she’s still in the neck brace. She looks like she’s been crying for a month. When she raises her gaze to see me walk into the room, there’s no emotion in her face—nothing like glee or relief that the daughter you kicked by the wayside when she needed you stayed here and endured massive bullshit to stay near you when you needed her.
“I didn’t mean for this to happen,” she says the moment she raises her gaze to the door and sees me.
“Obviously,” I say, allowing the door to close behind me.
“I have health insurance,” she says, “and I’m awake now, so you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.”
I glare at her. Is she trying to be the fucking martyr? For Christ’s sake, cut it out! Apparently, everyone loves you except me, so I plan on getting you squared away and turning you over to the hands of your fan club as soon as I possibly can.
“Well, Mother, unlike you, I am a human being with a human heart, and I’m not going to leave you here to rot. Although I would be completely within my rights to do so, I won’t do to you what you did to me. So, let’s cut the crap, okay?”
She falls silent.
“You’re right about one thing. You’re awake, so you can tell me what happened.” She raises a questioning eye to me then turns her gaze away.
“Isn’t it obvious?” she replies. “My car went over a damn overpass and I didn’t die!”
She sounds angry.
“Are you angry about the overpass or angry that you didn’t die?” I ask sarcastically. She scoffs tragically and rolls her eyes.
“I know I was horrible to you,” she says, her voice low. “There’s obviously nothing I can do to fix that. It hurts, I hate it, but I’ve accepted it. Now, I’m awake, and I’m going to make the point to you that I tried to make to your husband before the accident. If you’re only here to hurt me back, I’ve got that covered for us both. You can go now, and you can take that sentinel at the door with you.”
I’m actually appalled. How dare she talk to me that way! She should be thanking God that I’m here seeing to her care. What are you going to do, kick me out? You can’t even walk!
“And in case I’m reading your expression correctly,” she says, “I’ll call the nurse and tell her to tell the doctor that you’re not allowed to come back here. I’ll have them call Wendy and I’ll manage, one way or another!” My eyes widen.
“Well,” I say matter-of-factly, “I see you’ve found a reason to grow a backbone.” I fold my arms.
“Listen to me carefully, Mother. I have no will or desire to listen to your grandstanding or your ‘I’ve paid my debt to society’ type of conversation. I am not my husband. I’m the girl who sat there for years–part of that time in much of the same situation that you’re in right now—while you fucked me over… big time! I’ve been back and forth to this hospital waiting for you to wake up, making sure that you have the best care, following your prognosis, and finding out that you have an advanced directive, which is a whole lot more than you did for me by your own admission. So, cut. The fucking. Crap!”
She finally gets that appalled expression on her face that I’m accustomed to seeing.
“As a human being and your last living relative, I’m going to make sure that you have everything you need before I leave this God-forsaken place and make no mistake. This is not going to be a warm reunion where I suddenly have some epiphany that life is short and we have to cherish one another…” I mock a sympathetic voice on the last part. “I realized life was short nearly 15 years ago when I saw mine flash before my eyes, and you turned your back on me.
“This is no more than a transaction for which I am responsible, and I’m going to see it through like any of my other responsibilities. And unlike when I was laying in that bed, you know why I feel this way. And let me make something else clear. You don’t have to tell the doctors, the nurses, or anyone else that you don’t want me to be here. You don’t want my help? Fine. You just say the word and I will walk out that door, take my damn sentinel with me, and never look back!”
She’s hurt and shocked. I can see the tears forming in her eyes… and I really don’t care. When she takes too long to answer, I turn to the door to leave. I need this like I need another hole in my head.
“Ana!” she says, her voice cracking and I halt my exit without turning around.
“I would…” She clears her throat as her words are barely coming out. “I would really like your help, please,” she says. “I would appreciate it more than you know.”
I don’t respond to her sentiment. I simply come back into the room.
“You should call Wendy anyway,” I tell her. “She was here. She would want to know that you’re awake.”
“I will,” she says. “I’m just… not ready.” I raise my brow.
“You’re not ready to talk to your best friend?” I question. She shakes her head.
“No,” she says, “not yet.” I take a deep breath and remember what I just said… nothing more than a transaction for which I am responsible.
“What has the doctor told you?” I ask.
“About what?” Oh, dear God, give me strength.
“About your condition,” I say, my voice choppy.
“What? That I can’t walk? I didn’t need him to tell me that,” she retorts. “Something about a spinal injury, of course, and that the situation may or may not be permanent—there’s no way to tell. This lovely neck gear is due to the broken neck, which is probably going to take another month or so to heal completely. The remaining bruising on my body should be gone in a couple of weeks. I have a skull fracture, so I probably shouldn’t operate any heavy machinery.
“I’ve had a surgery on my pelvis that’s basically the same as a hip replacement, which is a bit of a waste since I can’t walk, but hey…” She trails off and shrugs.
“The slight discomfort I feel while I’m breathing is because of the collapsed lungs, but they should be back to normal in a day or two. That’s the least of my worries. I think I’ve covered it all now.”
She’s being extremely sarcastic, and I’m trying to find sympathy for her, but I can’t. I feel even more resentful with her being awake than I did when she was in a coma.
“Are you in any pain?” I ask in a purely professional tone.
“No,” she says, “not that I can tell.”
“Are you hungry at all?” I prod.
“No,” she says, flatly. I roll my eyes and leave the room, headed to the nurses’ station.
“I’m out of my element here,” I say to the nurse. The last time I had someone wake from a coma, it was Val, and Elliot took care of absolutely everything. “She’s not very forthcoming right now with her needs or feelings, so please provide her with whatever she needs to be comfortable.”
It’s obvious to anyone that we’re not the best of friends, but I’m not trying to see her suffer. The nurse stares at me for a moment.
“Yes, Mrs. Grey,” she says in a professional tone. I’ve never bothered to try to correct her that I’m Dr. Grey. In this setting, I don’t think it would matter.
I take a moment to get some coffee and check my emails. As quickly as I’ve been thrust into the Mother’s awake situation, I want to be snatched right back out of it. Waiting for sentencing for this asshole is the last thing I must do in Las Vegas and whatever my mother is going to need will be done from a distance. I’ll have her beloved Wendy be my liaison and she can bump me out of it completely if she wants to. I have too much animosity to give her the emotional care that she needs, so I might as well be removed from making any lifelong decisions for her if she can find someone that she trusts to do it for her—especially since she has such a fucking fan club here that hasn’t heard nor do they care about my suffering or my side of the story.
As I’m coming around the corner from the family pantry, I can just hear the nurses at the station talking about my mother’s condition. While everything else appears to be progressing quite nicely, her prognosis isn’t promising in terms of her being able to walk again. They’re talking about the physical therapy she’ll still have to endure to make sure that her bones heal correctly, but that it looks like she’s not going to be able to walk on her own.
And then the conversation swings over to me.
“She’s the perfect example of ‘money can’t buy happiness,’” one of the nurses says. “She’s always here alone—I don’t think I’ve seen her husband once. She’s cold and unfeeling to her mother. She’s so stylish, but she looks like she’s utterly miserable. God, if that’s what money does to you, I’ll work ‘til I’m dead.”
“Didn’t Dr. Lee say that she’s a doctor, too?” another one asks. “Shouldn’t she know how serious her mother’s condition is?”
“I don’t know, I think it must be honorary or something,” the first one says. “I’ve called her Mrs. Grey every time I’ve seen her, and real doctors correct you on that fast!”
“Well, I think we should call the patient advocate or something for Mrs. Morton,” the second one says. “I can’t see that cold broad doing what’s in her best interest no matter how much money she’s throwing around.”
Why do I put up with this? Why should I have to put on the happy face and pretend that I’m okay with all of this in order for people to treat me with some modicum of respect? If it’s not the nurses, it’s the doctor. If it’s not the doctor, it’s my mother’s fan club. What the fuck do these people want from me?
The tears are flowing—quietly but hard—while I stand behind the wall and listen to the continuing conversation about how horrible I am to my now-crippled mother. It goes on for a while, but for some reason, I’m unable to move. As if the Star Trek teleportation gods heard what they were saying, their conversation halts to the sound of approaching footsteps and a honey-smooth voice.
“Hello,” I hear one of the nurses say sweetly. “How can I help you?”
“Yes, I’m looking for room 2117. I’m going in circles.”
It’s Christian! That’s Christian’s voice!
I come barreling from behind the wall full speed as if I were already in motion instead of standing there and listening to these bitches talk about me, and nearly run smack into my husband.
“Whoa! Where’s the fire?” he says almost in jest before noticing that I’m sobbing.
“Butterfly!” he exclaims in concern as I take a step back. “What’s wrong?”
“I… I’m trying…” I stutter, “I’m trying…”
“Baby, c’mere, what is it?” He has that floundering tone in his voice as he moves to close the distance between us. I nearly run to his arms and he envelops me completely, squeezing my arms between our bodies as I cover my face and sob.
“Butterfly… what is it? Is she…?” I shake my head as much as I can.
“No… no…” I say from under my hands. I raise my gaze to him, and I know I look a fright.
“I want to… leave this place,” I tell him. “I want to… leave this place… and never come back… Nobody understands… what I went through… Nobody knows… what she put me through… and they don’t care!” I sob on his shoulder.
“You don’t have anything to prove to anybody, Butterfly,” he says, soothing. “Everyone who counts knows what you went through. We know she left you to die and we’ve all told you that you’re a very big person for even bothering to come here and see about her. You’ve got to stop breaking down like this, Baby. You’re going to frustrate yourself into an early grave and I won’t have it. I’ll set her up with the best home care money can buy and whisk you out of this place so fast, it’ll make your head spin! Is that what you want? Because I’ll get on it right now.”
This couldn’t have gone better if I had planned it. This entire conversation is transpiring not three feet from the nurses’ station with those same gossipy nurses listening in.
I look up and Jason is walking quickly towards us. I roll my eyes.
“I thought… we agreed… that you weren’t going to call me that,” I say in a stuttering, whining voice. He sighs and cocks his head at me.
“Ana,” he corrects himself. “What’s wrong? Is she…?”
“No, she’s not dead,” Christian says, “My wife is just having another one of her ‘why-do-I-have-to-be-nice-to-mommy-when-mommy-wasn’t-nice-to-me’ breakdowns. I’m ready to get her out of here.”
“No… no…” I say, my voice still stuttering. “I’m going… to see this through… I’m going… to make sure… that she’s okay… and then… we’ll get her… the best care money can buy… and we’ll get out of here.”
“Good… okay. Come on, now, stop this,” he says, taking his handkerchief from inside his coat and dabbing my face while still holding me around my waist. “You know I hate to see this.”
I’m sniffling like a blubbering baby, trying to compose myself.
“Haven’t you shed enough tears over this, baby?” he says. “Fifteen years…”
I look up at him and throw my arms around his neck.
“I love you more than you’ll ever know,” I sob. He embraces me warmly.
“I love you, too, Butterfly. You know that…” He pulls me back, looks me in the eyes, and takes my face in his hands. “And I do know.”
I close my eyes and he presses his forehead to mine. His words and gestures calm me right down, and I’m able to take a deep breath. He kisses my tearstained cheek gently, and then my lips just as softly.
“Come on, now,” he says. “Let’s go see about Carla.”
He tucks me protectively under his arm and we walk towards my mother’s room. I can see the nurses in my mind’s eye staring at us as he guides me, sniffling, down the hallway, and choking on the words that made me cry.
I don’t recall how bad Carla looked when I last saw her in this hospital room, but she looks horrendous now. Except for the places that still bear a bit of the bruising from the accident, her face is pale and peaked. Her torso is elevated, but both legs are in traction—why, I’m not sure. It’s not like she’s tempted to move them. She’s wearing a neck brace and she looks completely helpless.
Butterfly has pulled her hair back in a ponytail and washed the runny makeup from her face, so she looks a bit of a fright when she enters the room as evidenced by the obvious concern on Carla’s face when she first sees her—concern that immediately morphs into irritation when she sees me enter behind her. She sighs heavily and audibly and rolls her eyes as she can’t do much else.
“Carla,” I say as a means of greeting. She doesn’t respond. I raise a brow at her, and her expression doesn’t change. This is definitely not the same woman I encountered in Seattle a few years ago.
“We’d like to get to the bottom of the situation,” I say, moving to the foot of her bed.
“What situation?” she says, with her brow furrowed.
“Of the accident,” I reply in a professional tone, “of what happened.”
“What do you mean, ‘what happened?’” she asks confused. “Car, bridge, boom. What am I missing?” I resist the urge to roll my eyes this time. “If you think I did this to get my daughter’s attention, I’ve already told her that while I appreciate what she’s doing for me that she can leave whenever she wants.”
That possibility never occurred to me, but there’s no way she could have expected to survive a crash like that, so it’s highly unlikely… and I’m sure that Butterfly doesn’t need her permission to leave.
“That’s not what I meant,” I retort coolly. “We were just trying to find out if anything suspicious happened that you can remember. Did your brakes go out when you were heading towards the guardrail? Did you feel a bump or anything like someone hit you? What were you doing immediately before you got behind the wheel of the car? Did you feel woozy or dizzy?”
Carla looks even more confused than she did before. It’s like everything I’m saying is completely Greek to her. After a few moments, her brow rises as if she finally gets it.
“Does every event in your life involve a conspiracy theory?” she inquires with a frown.
“Most often, yes,” I reply. “Conspiracies are everywhere. I wouldn’t be alive without a healthy dose of skepticism and mistrust, and I certainly wouldn’t be a billionaire.” Carla twists her lips.
“That explains why you’re so paranoid,” she says. “That must be a terrible way to live.”
“So far, I haven’t been wrong. And if it keeps me alive, then it’s the only way to live,” I retort. She shakes her head.
“Well, I can assure you that there’s no conspiracy this time, Christian. Nobody hit me, nobody forced me off the road, nobody drugged me, and that I know of, my brakes didn’t malfunction. Unfortunately for your conspiracy theories, it was just me and the damn car, okay?”
“We’re not your enemies, here, Carla,” I chastise. “We’re only trying to get to the bottom of what happened and make sure that you’re not in any danger.”
“That’s not the impression you gave me,” she counters. “You made me feel like nothing would make you happier than if I just disappeared… died, even. I think your exact words were that you’ll bury my ass right next to my husband. I know how you feel about me and I know why. I’m not making any excuses for it anymore, but I didn’t seek you out. I didn’t present myself to you like, ‘Look what I did.’ I gave my testimony and I went home. You came to my house, shoving your money in my face and treating me like shit. So, you’ll just have to excuse me while I exercise my right to ‘a healthy dose of skepticism and mistrust!’”
Well, she hit that nail on the head, but fuck if I’m going to apologize to her. I meant what I said on her porch that day, every word of it. Any modicum of civility or kindness that I extend to her at this point is only to accommodate my wife.
She rolls her eyes and turns her gaze back to the tissue in her hand that she has now worried to sodden and crumpled shreds of useless tatters. I’m fighting to subdue the urge to present her with my handkerchief, but she relieves me of the responsibility by tossing the shredded mass into a small plastic bag on the tray table next to her and retrieving another handful of tissue to blow her nose.
“Okay, so you’re saying that no one sabotaged you or forced you off the road. You just somehow lost control of the car,” Butterfly concludes. “It’s not like we could find any evidence anyway. Your car was totaled. You’re lucky you’re alive.”
“Yeah, well,” Carla responds without lifting her head. “It’s not like I could drive it anyway. I’m perfectly fucking useless.” She says the last sentence under her breath, more to herself than anybody else. I can’t help but think about that old saying… how does it go?
The toes you step on today could be connected to the ass you will have to kiss tomorrow…
Or something like that.
“So, what’s the next step? What do you want to do?” Butterfly asks.
“Oh, I get a vote in this?” Carla retorts.
“Please cut it out with that ‘woe-me-my-life-is-over-and-I-don’t-have-anything-left-to-live-for’ shit. I don’t have time for it,” Butterfly chastises. “You have a long road of recovery and rehabilitation ahead of you whether you learn to walk again or not. You’re going to need to be strong and determined to overcome your limitations, but this doesn’t have to be the end for you.” Carla shakes her head and laughs tragically.
“You know what?” she says. “I think I want you to leave.” Butterfly’s brow rises as does mine.
“Oh?” Butterfly says.
“Yes, oh,” Carla retorts sarcastically. “Are you surprised? You asked what I wanted and I’m telling you. You can come back tomorrow… or don’t, but right now, I want you to leave.”
Butterfly is stunned into silence for a moment, but quickly recovers. She gathers her things and wordlessly walks out of the room. I don’t say a word. I simply stand and leave the room behind her. We head toward the elevator and we stop just as she gets to the nurses’ station.
“Do your homework!” she hisses to the two nurses behind the counter. “Google Anastasia Steele Green Valley. Find out why I’m so cold towards that woman before you attempt to judge me!”
She storms away from the counter and off towards the elevator. I watch her push the call button before I turn back to the nurses.
“I can only assume that you said or did something you probably shouldn’t have,” I say coolly. They both look at me gape-mouthed, eyes wide open like deer caught in headlights as I leave the station and join my wife.
I’m caressing her arm and she’s lying against me on the sofa as we sit in silence and watch the fire. I got the feeling that she just needed to sit and do nothing when we got back to the suite, so that’s what we’ve been doing for the last half hour. I’m sure that she’ll want to get up and go to the Romper Room suite soon to sit with the children, but right now, it’s just me, her, and the fire.
“Did you know that you can sing 99 Bottles of Beer from beginning to end almost 22 times from midnight to 6am if you repeat the last number without running right into the next one?” I frown. Where did that come from.
“What do you mean if you repeat the last number without running right into the next one?” I ask. She begins to sing.
“Some people say, ’99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer; you take one down and pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall, 98 bottles of beer; you take one down and pass it around, 97 bottles of beer on the wall, 97 bottles of beer…’ That way, the numbers just run right into the next one. I sing it where you start the verse over again when you get to the next number…
“99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer, you take one down and pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall…
“98 bottles of beer on the wall, 98 bottles of beer, you take one down and pass it around, 97 bottles of beer on the wall…
“97 bottles of beer on the wall, 97 bottles of beer…”
Where is she going with this?
“Okay,” I say, “I get it. How did you know that?”
“That’s what I used to do instead of counting sheep when I lived in Green Valley with my mother and Stephen,” she says flatly. I freeze for a moment, but then catch myself and continue to caress her arm.
“It never worked,” she continues. “That’s how I know how many times you can sing it in six hours. Some nights, I was afraid to close my eyes. Other nights, I wanted to close my eyes and not wake up. There were times when I would close my eyes and Cody was raping me, or that gang was beating me. Then there were times when I couldn’t wait to close my eyes to get rid of the day.
“You can sing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt 1,440 times,” she says. “You can sing the original version of Shortenin’ Bread with all the verses 144 times. You can sing When You Wish Upon a Star 230 times…”
I sit there and listen to my wife recount the songs that she had to sing to help her get through the night those years that she lived with her mother and her stepfather. She was 15… and 16… and even 17 for a few months, and she survived by singing childhood songs over and over again until she could get out…
Somewhere Over the Rainbow—166 times…
My Favorite Things—360 times…
Under the Sea—117 times…
Bare Necessities—149 times…
By the time my wife got through about 17 songs, I had heard enough. It’s no wonder she knows everything about Disney that there is to know.
“I want to know how you planned your escape,” I interrupt her. “You were only 17.” She closes her eyes and sighs.
“I was the only girl who wore jeans to graduation,” she said. “We had a dress code for graduation and at first, they weren’t going to let me walk across the stage. I convinced them that I was too poor to buy clothes, even told them that my parents weren’t there, but that I had a pair of dress shoes and I could hide my jeans, and no one would know. They felt sorry for me.
“I had taken some of my savings and bought a pair of stilettos. It was the first pair I had ever worn. I had never walked in high heels before and these were four inches. I rolled up my pant legs and walked in those heels like I had been wearing them my whole life. I walked up on that stage, got my diploma ledger, and walked back to my seat. I would have left then, but there was protocol and all.
“When we got back to the assembly room after the ceremony, I grabbed my duffel bag from its hiding place, changed back into my sneakers, stashed my cap and shoes into it and walked out of the auditorium. I took the Tropicana bus to Las Vegas Blvd and jumped on the Deuce one last time down the strip to the Greyhound bus station.
“There wasn’t a single bus that day going straight to Seattle. I had to catch the bus to L.A. first and connect from there to Seattle. The whole trip was 35 hours long, and I had never felt freer in my whole life. I had one of those pay-by-the-minute cell phones. I didn’t use it, but I only had one number in it—Daddy’s, and only in case of extreme emergency. Luckily, there were no extreme emergencies.
“I did my homework and started out at Sacred Heart. I told them my story, that I was abused in Las Vegas and couldn’t go back. I showed them my brands and they helped me apply for financial aid and… you know the rest.” I sigh and continue to caress her arm.
“They just took your word for who you were?” I ask.
“No, they took the word of my brands,” she replies. “They spoke for themselves and they were even more gruesome than they are now before they fully calloused over, which took about three years.”
“I can only imagine,” I reply.
“And then those catty bitches at the nurses station had the nerve to be talking about me,” she hisses softly.
“I knew it,” I say. “I knew that’s what it was. What did they say?”
“It doesn’t matter,” she replies. “I’m going to report them to their superiors if they say anything else about me, but God, do I get tired of being Mrs. I-Want-to-Speak-to-Your-Manager. It’s fucking exhausting! Why is it so hard for people to treat you with respect and common courtesy? It doesn’t matter that they don’t know my story! It’s none of their goddamn business! They have no right whatsoever to play judge and jury over my life.”
“I completely agree,” I tell her. “What would you like to do?”
“Oh, Christian, fucking nothing,” she says. “Get this wrapped up and go. Home. That’s what I’d like to do.”
We sit in silence for several more minutes until we’re interrupted by the doorbell of the suite.
“Hey, Jewel, how are you feeling?” Allen says, coming into the living area of the suite. Butterfly walks into his arms and sinks into his embrace. Ray is right behind him.
“I’m as well as can be expected,” she says, “trying to get things wrapped up as fast as I can and get the hell outta here.”
“That’s kinda why I’m here, Annie,” Ray interjects. “I’m heading on back to Seattle. I stayed to help you deal with things in case she died. She didn’t die, so I’m going home to my wife and son. I’m losing my mind without them and this place isn’t helping. I hope you understand.”
“Of course, I do, Daddy,” she says, moving from Allen’s arms to her father, standing on her toes and hugging him. “Thank you for staying this long. You really didn’t have to, but I’m so glad you did. I’ll tell Christian to get the jet ready.”
“I’m already ahead of you,” I tell her, “but the jet won’t be ready until tomorrow morning. The pilot just got in and he needs some rest.”
“That’s fine,” Ray says. “I can wait another night. This place is just so draining. I have no idea how anybody lives here.”
“I think I’m going to have to hop that plane, too, Jewel,” Allen says. “We’re all in a bit of a holding pattern right now waiting for the sentencing and I, like Ray, wanted to be here for you in case your mother kicked the bucket… or in case you asked me if you should pull the plug.” She gasps and Ray raises a brow at him.
“It’s true,” he says unrepentant. “Ask Christian. Had you asked me from a legal standpoint about pulling the plug on that woman, I would have told you to do it. I offer no apologies. I have no love lost for that woman and I’m not evolved enough to be a bigger person when it comes to her. Hope you’ll forgive me.”
“I love you to pieces,” Butterfly says, giving him the same big hug that she gave her father. “I’ve got my babies here now to help me hold myself together. I have Mare and my husband and our wonderful staff who are more family than staff, but I couldn’t have made it this far without you guys, so thank you.”
They share a three-way hug and I watch my wife relax into the arms of her father and her best friend. I only hope I can hold her together this next week without them.
We spent the rest of the evening eating finger foods that, quite frankly, adults should not be eating, and if I had to hear Ilsa singing Let It Go one more time, I would have committed hari-kari. Thank God somewhere around the 150th time—yes, I’m exaggerating—my wife fell asleep on the floor with the twins. I left Gail and Keri to contend with our children and I carried my wife back to our suite and put her to bed.
It’s about 2am as I’m reading emails and working, and I see the email from Alex regarding Stoney Blake, Esquire… Vincent Sullivan’s attorney.
Jason’s words come to mind and I think about what he said about Blake only doing his job. As a businessman, I understand completely. However, as a loving and protective husband, I don’t give a fuck. He came after my wife with his claws bared and this is what happened.
He made Anastasia look like a 15-year-old harlot who deserved what those monsters did to her. And while Jason is correct and he did his job to the best of his ability, he didn’t put his effort into defending a young man whom he thought was in fear for his life, or in pointing the finger at the culprits of whom he was supposed to be afraid. Cody Whitmore came out spotless in his defense while my wife had to defend why she was vomiting. He needed reasonable doubt by any means necessary, and he got it on two of seven charges.
Now, he has to deal with the consequences of the means.
I begin combing through the information that Alex sent me. Typical lawyer information at first glance until I look at his financials. He has more than one offshore account with his name on it. That’s nothing suspicious for anyone who has more than a few coins to rub together, except that the sources of the funds to these accounts appear questionable, though not to the naked eye.
Money going into an offshore account, or any account for that matter, can come from anywhere. However, after a couple of hours of working my way backwards through the information Alex provided, I’ve discovered that the cash streams into these accounts are all coming from various other accounts all under three different holding companies of some Blakestone variety—Blakestone Holdings, Blakestone LTD, and Blakestone LLC.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with an attorney having holding companies as an umbrella for his money, but he’s moving some significant amounts. Is he the attorney to the rich and famous? Does he charge obscene amounts for his retainers? If it’s that innocent, why move the money through 10 separate banks for three different holding companies into three larger offshore accounts?
Because small amounts moving through random bank accounts don’t raise suspicion.
“For the love of God, must the crooked and wicked be so fucking obvious?” I ask aloud to no one.
Think about it… Robin Myrick played with me like a cat plays with a mouse, moving money around from account to account just to prove that he could before he started syphoning it out of my company. I nabbed his ass at the airport.
Holstein ends up getting pinned for cocaine and meth and all we were trying to get him for was the gun, and all because he was helping the Pedophile with that fucking book.
We won’t even discuss the Pedophile.
And Greta Ellison. For fuck’s sake, BD Simmons? Seriously? Could you be any more obvious? I let you go after I discovered that you were the one who stole the gun that could’ve killed me and my best friend and you decide to cross me again? Jesus H. Christ!
And now Blake. Unless my corporate, finance, billionaire mind is mistaken, this stinks of either money laundering or gross misappropriation of funds. The further back I go, I find no beginning trail for these funds. They just show up, and then they get split up, and then they come together again. Doesn’t he know that money in offshore accounts is not protected from the IRS or the feds? He’s an attorney—he has to know that.
“Do you ever sleep?” I ask Alex when he answers the phone.
“Apparently not when you need me,” he replies.
“I’m looking at Blake’s financials here,” I tell him. “Am I mistaken, or did you just give me a late Christmas gift?”
“You’re not mistaken,” he says. “Our young attorney is moving lots and lots of money from unknown sources. Either he’s creating a rainy-day fund for a whole lot of rich folks, or I’d say he’s washing some dollars. And if he’s laundering for the rich, they’re not going to own up to it. If I were to estimate, out of every 100 transactions, 80 – 95 of them are cash deposits. Nobody carries that type of cash around… nobody, not even you and your pocket full of C-notes.”
“So, how do we shine light on this little operation?” I ask.
“You have to ask? The IRS,” he replies, “with a little help from the feds. All I need from you is the word…”
“The word,” I say, before he even finishes his sentence.
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-misadventuresseason-v/
Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/
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