Grey Continued: Episode 36—Word of Mouth

So, my friends, it has happened again. There has been yet another death in my family. I think I’m at the age now where I just can’t avoid it. We’re all getting older—even though he was younger than my husband and this was very sudden—but although the details are a little gray, I think it’s safe to say that the virus has claimed another victim.

I’m still waiting for arrangements and, as such, I will be flying back to that place that Christian and I hate so much. It’s looking like it may be close to this coming weekend, so I may not get another chapter up for a couple of weeks. Knowing that, I just wanted to make sure I got something posted before this weekend was over so that there’s not another complete MIA from me. Love you all and please, keep me and my family in your prayers.

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 36—Word of Mouth

CHRISTIAN

After that sex fest left us both heaving mounds of sweat on the bed, I realize that slipping into Dom mode means aftercare. So, I fill the jacuzzi tub with water and carry her tired ass into the bathroom.

“Mmmm,” she says as the jets soothe her body.

“You like?” I say, squeezing water from one of her freshwater sponges onto her body.

“Very much,” she says, snuggling into me. “It was a perfect night, Christian. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Butterfly,” I reply. We didn’t do anything for her first Mother’s Day last year with Valerie and Pops and everything. I couldn’t let another year go by without celebrating the mother of my children. Speaking of which…

“I’m remiss to bring this up after the wonderful night that we had, but with it being Mother’s Day, I can’t get it out of my head. Do you remember that couple at the inn on the Sonoma Coast—our babymoon?” She thinks for a moment.

“Sheila and CJ?” she asks. I shake my head.

“No, the Daniels,” I reply, “Kiley and Arthur.” She rolls her eyes.

“How can I forget them?” she says, and I’m sure that she means him. He was pretty fucking unforgettable.

“Yeah, well, for shits and giggles, Jason felt the need to keep up with them,” I reply. “Guess what we found out?”

“What?” she says in a tone that I can’t quite place. That tone that says she knows something, and she wants to know if I know what she knows.

“He’s about to do a bid for murder,” I reply. Her eyes sharpen.

“What?” she gasps. “What the hell?” My sentiments exactly.

“The baby was born biracial, a boy,” I tell her. “Daniels took one look at the boy and thrust him to the ground, still attached to his umbilical cord. The baby died of blunt force trauma before he was even two minutes old.” Butterfly gasps a long, horrified breath.

“Oh, dear God, no!” she exclaims in a harsh whisper. I sigh heavily and shrug.

“That guy really is a piece of shit, and he deserves to burn,” I reply.

“I guess Kiley got more than she bargained for,” Butterfly says, shaking her head.

“They could have talked about this,” I say. I know this means that she was unfaithful, of course, and that Arthur fuck is a real fucking piece of work, but he couldn’t hold anything against her. He was fucking around, too. “I don’t excuse infidelity of any kind, but this guy was a true asshole and I could truly understand why she wouldn’t lay next to him to save her life. But if she thought that there was a possibility that this baby wasn’t his—especially a totally different race, they should’ve talked about that before the baby was born.”

“Mmm,” Butterfly says as if she’s contemplating something. Yeah, she knows something.

“What is it?” I ask.

“I had thought many times to call Kiley and ask how things were going,” she says. “I agree that Arthur’s an asshole, but I should’ve known that this was going to end in disaster.” I frown.

“How could you possibly know?” I ask. She’s silent for a moment and then it hits me.

“Wait a minute. Are you telling me she already knew this wasn’t his baby?” Butterfly twists her lips and nods.

“She knew everything,” she says. “She’s pretty well-off and he was spending her money on other women. She put a chunk of it in another account, got a financial advisor and began investing. The advisor was black. She had pretty much replenished the money that Arthur spent plus some by the time they went to the babymoon, and her pot was still growing. She was going to go on and let him spend all the money that he thought she had because she had another stockpile… and because she had started seeing the financial advisor.

“She and Arthur weren’t even sleeping together. When she found out that she was pregnant, she got him drunk and made him think they had had sex, but they never did. She was sure that he was just going to leave once the money ran out, and her ultimate revenge was for him to be standing in the delivery room while she delivered a black baby. I know she had no idea that this was going to be the outcome.”

I’m completely appalled by this entire story. What kind of demon was inside this man to make him decide that he would kill a newborn baby? I totally get rage, but a newborn baby? And Kiley—I want to feel some kind of sympathy for her, losing her baby and the sheer fact that she had to deal with this asshole… but to plan this whole thing, to bring an innocent life into the middle of this mess—that’s unthinkable.

“What happened to Kiley?” she asks.

“She checked out for a few months. When she came back to herself, she didn’t remember anything—not her baby, not her husband, not her lover, nothing. She moved back with her family and filed for divorce from her loser husband since he was a stranger to her.” My wife twists her lips.

“So, she pretty much got a clean slate out of this,” she says.

“Yeah, pretty much,” I reply while gently scrubbing her back.

“It’s more than she deserves,” she says, and I stop scrubbing. “I know what you’re thinking. He’s an asshole, but she planned this whole thing and an innocent child died because her plan backfired. I wouldn’t want to be on that jury.” I twist my lips.

“I agree,” I say, “with all of it. And now, we’re going to change the subject. How is the decorating coming along?”

“The villa?” she asks and I nod. “Swimmingly. Sophie is really going at it with both hands now that she knows she’ll be able to see the finished product. She was always involved and eager to help, but now, she’s enthusiastic about it. She’s so excited about the styles and the textures. It’s like doing one of those home-improvement shows, and then being able to see the result in the big reveal.”

“I’m so glad she’s going to get to see Italy,” I say. “There’s so much for her to learn in that two weeks, even in Lake Como. I think Rome might be a bit much for her at her age.”

“Why?” she asks. “What’s wrong with Rome?”

“Nothing, it’s just a lot of history. There’s so much to absorb—the churches, the museums, the ruins, they’re all beautiful, but it’s a big meal to swallow.”

“Are you saying that I’m going to be overwhelmed when we get to Rome?” she asks.

“You could be,” I tell her, “but I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’m making sure that the learning has fun mixed in it so that you don’t feel like you’re in a college class every moment of the trip.” She lays her head on my chest.

“Well, I know you can’t expect to go to Rome and not be slammed with history. It’s Rome, for God’s sake,” she says.

“Yes, but it’s also a very beautiful city with a lot of excellent sights and very good food… very good food!” I emphasize.

“So, I’m hoping that the hotel where we’ll be staying will have a gym,” she chuckles.

“I thought they all had gyms,” I say, “but that is my intention.”

“Good,” she says, sinking into the comfort of the water.

*-*

The sun is rising over the sound and the orange sky looks beautiful bouncing off the water. I look over at my wife snuggled under the covers, naked, and purring like a kitten. Except for the small mishap with Wexton, our night was perfect. Even that discussion about the Daniels didn’t ruin our evening, although it did make me think.

How can you justify planning an act that can so hugely devastate another person without thinking about the consequences? All the possible outcomes? Arthur cheated on his wife mindlessly, obviously not caring what she thought because if he had been more careful, she never would have known. And her plan—knowing that he would be present while she birthed the baby and there he was, standing there in the delivery room full of doctors and nurses holding a black baby that’s obviously not his. He was an asshole and she knew it, and she let him hold her baby, a baby that they both would know wasn’t his…

The thought causes my mind to drift to nearly all of the horrible people I’ve met in my life who have done horrible things to others, including myself, without a thought or care for their feelings. I’ve been callous in my life, especially to businesses that I’ve taken over and submissives I’ve dismissed, but have I ever been intentionally cruel?

Of course, I have.

I’ve destroyed so many lives—blacklisted people for pissing me off or crossing me—and how quickly we forget Dodd and the hackers, and Ellison. Yet, I don’t feel badly about what happened to any of those people. So, what’s different now?

The baby. It’s the baby.

The baby is the one who paid for the sins of the father… and the mother… even though the father wasn’t his. My only consolation in this situation is that the baby seemingly didn’t suffer. Even though his death was cruel, he died quickly, and there’s no telling what his life would have been like being born into the turmoil in which he was conceived.

“Dear God, don’t let my children have to pay for any of my mistakes,” I say aloud.

“What would make you think something like that?”

Her soft voice startles me from my thoughts, and I look over to see her still in the same position with sleepy eyes looking at me.  God, she’s beautiful. She changed me. She changed my whole life and everything that I was and will be. I can’t wait to show her Rome.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” I say gazing at her.

“You didn’t,” she says. “I was admiring your naked silhouette against the sunrise.” I raise a brow at her.

“You trying to start something, Mrs. Grey?” I taunt, walking over to the bed. She chuckles.

“I beg your pardon, but I’m not the one standing naked in front of a picture window with the sun behind me,” she points out. “I bet the sailors on Elliot Bay are getting a real eyeful.” I sit on the bed and lean over to her.

“Luckily, there’s no one out there,” I tell her. “This view is for your eyes only.” I lean over and kiss her passionately. She wraps her arms around my neck and gently plays with my hair. It comforts me immediately and soothes my raging thoughts. I gently break the kiss and touch her nose with mine.

“You’ve changed me,” I confess as if she didn’t already know. “You’ve changed everything I ever though I was and everything I ever thought I knew… everything I could be. A father? Five years ago, that would have been unheard of. No place in my life for children with the subs and the BDSM clubs and the taking over of businesses and ruining lives. No, not a chance… but now? My life without you and the twins? It’s unthinkable. I could never go back to the man that I was.” She gently strokes my hair.

“You take such good care of us,” she says, her ocean blue eyes looking deeply into mine, “and it’s not the money—although, let’s be realistic, the money helps…” I chuckle at her attempt to add levity to the situation. “But I mean how you care for us, protect us, and provide for us how I know you would whether you had $2 or two million. You love us and I’m certain there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for us. We’re so lucky to have you.”

If she only knew how wrong she is. They’re not lucky to have me. I’m lucky to have them, and I’ll do anything to keep them… and to keep them happy and safe.

“This conversation has gotten so serious,” I tell her. “Let’s get dressed and have breakfast, my dear… and Happy Mother’s Day to the most beautiful mother in the world.”

7a6daf83d0edac2b642108b5d42b11f3 We get dressed and head down to the hotel restaurant, Six Seven. They have quite the menu for Mother’s Day brunch, and I and my wife take full advantage—stuffed French toast, a crab omelet, marionberry pancakes, brûléed goat cheese salad, and we split the fresh seafood variety platter and the Roquefort crusted filet mignon. Butterfly enjoys three prosecco mimosas with her meal and I have one Corpse Reviver #2, which is Bombay Sapphire gin, Lillet Blanc, Cointreau, lemon, and Pernod.

We enjoy the meal tremendously, talking about the opera and laughing at Wexton’s idea that he even had the slightest chance with my wife. We’re uninterrupted, but I notice that we’re getting more than one odd stare and whisper. I don’t bring it to my wife’s attention, though. She’s nice and mellowed by the mimosas during her Mother’s Day brunch and if the peasants want to gawk at her beauty, so be it.

A couple of hours later, we check out of the hotel and take our bags to the valet. One attendant heads off to get my car while the other does a double-take at us and then at something on the valet podium.

“Excuse me,” he says, humbly, walking over to us, “but do you mind signing this for me?”

Since when do I have to sign something to get my car from the valet?

I look down at what he’s holding, and it’s the local news section of this morning’s newspaper. Butterfly giggles when she sees the front headline.

The Paps have gotten a picture of us standing in front of the Opera House, sharing a kiss.


ANASTASIA

I remained happily cocooned in my Mother’s Day bliss for the entire day—delicious meals prepared for me, good company with Sarah, Luma, and Grace and the family joining us for dinner, and endless snuggles with my babies—but alas, we couldn’t hold Monday off or all of the problems it usually brings with it.

The day begins smooth enough, but just before lunch, Courtney comes to me to tell me that one of the children staying in the dorm is a horrible bully. He’s mean to the other children, taking their food at lunch, and a list of other things. They’ve tried to talk to him and even some of the parents have complained to his mother, I’m told, but to no avail.

This is one of the parts of the job that I don’t like. The child may be completely traumatized by the situation that he’s come from, and now, I have to talk to his most-likely traumatized mother to bring the situation under control.

“Susan, I want to talk to you about Ferrell’s behavior…”

“Oh, God, here we go with this again,” she laments. I frown.

“With what again?” I ask.

“What has he done now?” she asks impatiently. Oh, dear God. Is this what we’re dealing with?

“He’s bullying the other children in the program,” I reply. “He’s taking the smaller kids’ food at lunch, he doesn’t play well with others, and he’s downright rude to the staff. Something has to be done about his behavior.” She sighs.

“I’ve tried to talk to him I don’t know what to do,” she says all in one exasperated breath, and she doesn’t sound like she’s frustrated. She sounds like she’s irritated.

“Well, then, we need to come up with a solution, because his behavior is unacceptable,” I reply firmly, trying to keep my cool.

“Well, what do you want me to do?” she says, rolling her neck. Okay… stop… breathe… let’s try to approach this another way.

“Susan, families come here for sanctuary. It’s supposed to be a safe place. If the bigger kids bully the smaller kids, it’s not a safe place anymore. So, we definitely can’t have that. A lot of these parents are very protective of their children, and justifiably so, because a lot of you have come out of very bad, very violent situations. If the bigger kids bully the smaller kids, they’re back in that violent situation. He can’t take food from the other children and he has to obey the staff.”

“He’s a growing boy,” she defends. What the fuck? That boy is grown! He’s 12 years old and he weighs as much as I do if not more.

“Susan, is that your response to your son taking food from other children in the program?” I ask, nonplused.

“There should be more for the bigger kids,” she continues. “They barely give him enough. He’s obviously still hungry.” He’s still hungry because he looks like a 12-year-old linebacker!

“First of all, there’s plenty of food for everyone. If he wants more, all he has to do is ask for seconds. And secondly, how can you sit here and explain away your son taking food out of other children’s mouths because he’s not getting enough? What if someone does that to him?” She scoffs.

“I’d like to see ‘em try,” she says snottily.

“Do you hear yourself?” I ask incredulously. “I’m trying to tell you that your son’s behavior is unacceptable. He can’t keep behaving like this. It’s contradictory to our mission here and counterproductive to what we’re trying to accomplish. You need to handle this situation because his behavior is affecting a lot of people.”

“I have a lot on my plate right now!” she shoots. “I’m trying to keep him away from his no-good father who likes to use us as punching bags. I don’t have time to deal with Ferrell taking an extra cookie from a kid. Isn’t that why you’re here… to help guide troubled children? Why don’t you do something about it since he’s so unacceptable?”

Oh, I can do something about it, you contemptable shrew, but you definitely wouldn’t like it.

“We’re here to help you; we’re not here to raise your child,” I retort.

“Then, help me, dammit!” she snaps. That’s when I lose it.

“Hold it!” I counter, my eyes piercing. “I don’t know who you’re accustomed to speaking to in that tone, but you won’t speak to me that way!”

“Ana!” I turn around to see Grace marching into my office. “I won’t walk into this room and take sides, but we can hear you two down the hall. What seems to be the problem?”

“Somebody needs to remind Dr. Moneybags here that she needs a better bedside manner!” Susan barks. My mouth and eyes fly open in surprise. I’m utterly appalled. “You call this place a help center, but she doesn’t want to seem to help!”

I turn a horrified gaze to Grace. I don’t have words for this situation at the moment. If she came from a violent husband and her attitude is this bad, it’s no wonder the kid is so fucked up.

“Mrs. Yardley, can you tell me what happened?” Grace says after a deep sigh.

“Yeah! She’s trying to tell me how to raise my kid!” she retorts. I did no fucking such thing. I’m only trying to tell her to keep that little monster on a leash!

“Ana?” Grace says, waiting for an explanation. I cross my arms and face her.

“This is Ferrell’s mother,” I say, and pause for a moment. Realization passes over Grace’s face for a moment, but she quickly recovers. “I was telling her about his behavior, and that he’s making the staff’s job impossible by refusing to listen to instruction. I told her that he’s taking food from the younger children and her response was that he’s a growing boy.”

Once again, Grace tries to maintain her expression, not very well, though.

“That’s not all I said,” she interrupts haughtily.

“And I’m still talking,” I say, looking over my shoulder in her direction but not directly at her, “but you can feel to take over if you want.”

“No, you go right ahead, Dr. Moneybags,” she says sarcastically, and now I turn to look at her.

“I haven’t called you out of your name,” I tell her. “Now, unless you want me to give you an unattractive nickname, you call me Dr. Grey, or nothing at all.”

“Okay, Nothing At All,” she replies matter-of-factly. I turn back to Grace with raised eyebrows and twisted lips, gesturing at the disrespectful cow standing next to me like, “What the fuck do you expect me to do with this?” Grace gets that look in her eye like “somebody’s in trouble.”

“Mrs. Yardley, we are definitely here to help you, but that’s only if you want it, and there are conditions,” Grace says. “On more than one occasion, the staff and residents have come to us complaining about Ferrell’s behavior. This is why we’re coming to you—as his mother—to let you know that his behavior is not acceptable. It’s counterproductive to everything we’re trying to accomplish here with a facility full of at-risk families. We are more than happy to assist you with whatever counseling he may need and to help you in any way that is within our means, but we have guidelines—guidelines that we must follow, and guidelines that we expect our families to follow. If anyone in the Center is unable to follow those guidelines, we’re going to ask them to leave.” Oh, that was the wrong thing to say to this sow.

“You’re kickin’ me out?” she says, affronted.

“I repeat,” Grace says firmly, “if… anyone in the Center is unable to follow those guidelines, we’re going to ask them to leave. Are you saying that you’re unable to follow our guidelines?”

“I can follow ‘em just fine!” she barks at Grace.

“Good then one of the guidelines is that you’re not going to raise your voice at me or my staff anymore!” Grace retorts firmly all in one breath. “We can all hear just fine, and we’re going to speak to you with respect and you’re going to do the same thing to us!”

Yardley pauses for a moment as if she’s shocked, which she probably is.

“Next, we’re not in high school here,” Grace continues. “We’re all adults. We can address each other that way. Snazzy comebacks and unattractive nicknames will get us nowhere, and we might as well end this interaction now and go our separate ways. This is Dr. Grey; this is Mrs. Yardley. Those are the names you need to be using.”

Now, Yardley crosses her arms and shifts her weight to one leg. She’s clearly defensive, but I have no problem telling this woman to shape the fuck up or ship the fuck out.

“Now, we have a problem here. We have a child in the facility that’s making it difficult for other children to heal and move on with their own troubled lives. He’s also making it impossible for my staff to do their job. That child is your son. Now, we can address this problem like adults and see what solutions we can come up with, or we can call it a wash and part ways. The decision is yours, Mrs. Yardley.”

Grace doesn’t want to turn away anyone who needs help any more than I do, but we’re not going to put up with this shit. We’re here to help, and we’re not going to be antagonized by someone we’re trying to help in the process.

“I’ll talk to him,” she says after a pause. Grace nods once.

“Remember,” Grace says, “we’re here to help.” She looks at Grace, cuts her eyes at me, and then petulantly leaves the room. I roll my eyes and shake my head.

“You can’t yell at them, Ana,” she says calmly.

“They can’t yell at me, Grace,” I say pointedly. She gazes at me for a moment and then nods.

“Take a break,” she says, putting her arm around my shoulders. “We were blessed that we’ve only had one like her in several years, but that one is enough.”

I think she’s conveniently forgetting Monster Bitch, but she wasn’t a resident, so there’s that.

“I’m going to go and spend some time with my babies,” I say. Grace nods and gives my shoulders a squeeze.

Minnie is playing with alphabet blocks when I get to the day care room and Mikey is behind a child-sized car, pushing it around the room. There aren’t as many small children in day care, only a handful as most of the families lately have school-aged children. Keri is nearby my twins and Ebony is feeding one of the infants. The other girl employed in here is at the table reading a magazine as the rest of the children are asleep. I go over and give Keri a break while I sit on the floor and play with the blocks with Minnie. Mikey abandons his car and decides that the blocks are more interesting since Mommy’s watching. They play well together and then Mikey has a conversation with his sister that I swear she understands, because she replies to him in like gobbledygook and they continue playing with their blocks. I smile and shake my head.

Maxie has “Mommy and Me” classes with her friend Jade. Mindy is learning to interact and play with other children. There have never been many children in the Center that were the same age as Minnie and Mikey except when they were babies. Should I introduce them to something like “Mommy and Me?” I don’t want them to be those spoiled, entitled rich kids I’ve seen only too often. I don’t want them to feel sheltered or shut in, either. Their only interactions for the most part are Mindy and Harry…

I’m probably reading too much into this. Dr. Nahabedian has given them a clean bill of health, including their developing personalities and social skills. It’s just that, as a mom, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing everything I need—giving them everything they need—for their developmental success.

I take out my phone and snap some pictures of them building whatever edifice they’re building with the blocks. After a few pictures, I start the video and record my two little architects negotiating the plans for their construction project. After a while, Minnie tires of the blocks and decides that she wants Mommy time. While Mikey continues to work on their architectural masterpiece, Minnie walks over and crawls into my lap.

Her little eyes look heavy and either she has gotten extremely comfortable in her happy place or someone skipped a nap. I begin to sing their lullaby to her and watch her little lids begin to droop…

“Anah! Anah!” Keri comes rushing back into the day care and takes Minnie from my arms. I see black suits run past her and I’m immediately alarmed.

“Choonks ahn ‘is wey upstehs! Des a fight in da dome!”

The dome? What the…? Oh, the dorm!

“Oh, shit!” I say, finally letting go of Minnie. I’m running behind my security and as we bend the wall to the stairwell, Grace meets us at the door.

“Yardley?” I ask.

“I don’t know, but that’s where my money is,” she says.

We’re all lunging up the stairs following security, and the minute we open the door to the second floor, you can hear the rabblerousing in the hall. We follow the noise and sure enough, there are two women rolling on the floor like wrestling bears, and yes—one of them is Yardley.

“Break it up!” Grace screams at the two women. “I said break it up!”

When there’s no reaction from the women on the floor, Grace nods to security, and Chuck and his cohort separate the women.

“Get your hands off me!” Yardley demands, trying to swing at Chuck. “Let me go, you…” She looks up and sees me and Grace standing there.

“I want her arrested!” she demands pointing at the other resident. “She hit my son!”

“He hit my Mark!” the other resident says. “He’s twice his size! He’s been terrorizing my child ever since he’s been here—pushing him around and eating his lunch, and she doesn’t do anything about it!”

“They’re just being boys!” Yardley retorts. “You shouldn’t have hit him!” I’m so pissed off right now.

“Mrs. Handon, why didn’t you just tell Mrs. Yardley that Ferrell was antagonizing your son?” Grace asks.

“I told her plenty!” Mrs. Handon says. “The first time I told her, she apologized. The second and third time I told her, she just waved me off. The next time I tried to tell her, she put her hand up and told me that she didn’t want to hear it. That’s when I decided that if she couldn’t discipline her little monster, the next time he put his hands on my kid, he was gonna get it. He put his hands on my kid, so he got it! He slapped my Mark, so I slapped him!”

I look over at Ferrell, standing by the wall and crying like somebody beat the hell outta him. He’s easily between 110 and 120 pounds—at 12! Mark’s 10, and he’s lucky if he’s 70 pounds. Here’s this big ass boy bullying a smaller boy, and when he gets a taste of his own medicine, he turns into a sobbing little bitch. He’s going to grow up to be the perfect little narcissist!

Mark, on the other hand, is curled up and hiding in the corner, his arms wrapped around his legs and his face hiding behind his knees.

“Mrs. Yardley, I’ll be glad to call the police if that’s what you would like,” Grace says, “but know that if they come, they’re going to take both of you into custody and your boys will go to Family Services.”

Yardley suddenly calms down. I don’t know which bothers her more—going to jail or little Feral going to Family Services.

“Well, I want something done about this,” Yardley says indignantly. “She hit my son!”

“And what should we do about Feral hitting Mark?” I say. She glares at me.

“His name is Ferrell!” she shoots. Oh, shit, did I say that out loud? My face exhibits honest horror. I didn’t mean to say that.

“Oh!” I exclaim. “I’m sorry,” I say honestly, not sorry that I called the boy Feral, just sorry that I said it out loud.

“I’ll just bet you are!” she seethes. Grace sighs heavily, obviously exacerbated.

“I need to see you all in my office… now. Oscar, Chuck, please?” Grace turns around and marches away. Oh, shit, this is not going to end well.

“Ladies,” Chuck says as he and Oscar release Mrs. Yardley and Mrs. Handon. “If you please.” He gestures towards the stairs and the women both walk in that direction.

“What about my son?” Mrs. Handon says. “I don’t want him left up here with that creature!”

“I’ll bring the boys,” I say calmly. That seems to suffice for both parents and they all head to the stairwell. When they’re out of sight, I go over to Mark. This kid is terrified. I know their stories and he’s already been traumatized. I kneel down to him.

“Come on, Mark,” I tell him. “It’s okay.” He looks up and sees me and even though he didn’t make a show of it for everybody, he’s been crying. He stands without a word and never raises his head. I put my hand on his shoulder and lead him out of the corner.

“Ferrell,” I say, gesturing for him to come with us. When he gets within arm’s reach of Mark, he reaches to hit him. I catch his wrist and squeeze, just hard enough to show him how strong I am. He looks at me like he can’t believe I’m touching him and I glare at him like Satan.

“You behave yourself,” I say between my teeth, still squeezing his wrist. Kid, I’ll make what his mom did look like a walk in the park.

“You… you hit me!” he says, bringing attention to us. His mother has already cleared the floor, so I’ll make an example out of him.

“I did no such thing,” I say calmly still holding his wrist for everyone to see. “You were about to hit Mark again, and I stopped you. Now, if you like, I can call the police, your mom can go to jail, and you can go to juvie, because that is assault. Nobody’s just called you on it yet. Now, are you going to behave, or should I pull out my cell? Choice is yours.”

He stares at me a bit horrified but says nothing. I release his arm and he pretends to snatch it away, but he couldn’t get loose and he knows it. He walks ahead of me and Mark to the stairs. I look down at Mark who still hasn’t raised his head. He’s been bullied all his life by his father and now he has to deal with this. If we don’t break this cycle soon, he’s going to become a statistic—suicide, homicide, or both. I sigh and lead him towards the stairs.

“This is a very unfortunate situation,” Grace says once we’re all in her office. “You’ve both come to us because you need help. As much as we want to help you, this cannot be tolerated.”

“I should say not!” Yardley says indignantly.

“Mrs. Yardley!” Grace snaps. “Not two hours ago, we spoke to you about Ferrell’s behavior, and you said that you would talk to him. Is this the result of that discussion?”

Grace awaits Yardley’s response and when there is none, she continues.

“The families in this facility are already here because they’ve suffered some kind of traumatic experience. You should know better than anybody that these children have seen and been through some horrific things. They don’t come here to be exposed to more of it. I told you that this afternoon and it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. That’s unfortunate, because as much as we would like to help you both, we have a zero-tolerance policy here with fighting, and we’re going to have to ask you both to leave.” Yardley looks horrified.

“I was just protecting my son!” Yardley defends.

“And I was protecting mine,” Mrs. Handon retorts calmly. She’s resigned to her fate. If the situation repeated itself, she’d do the exact same thing. Yardley, on the other hand, wants to play the victim.

“With all due respect, Mrs. Yardley,” Grace interjects, “if you had followed instructions and gotten this situation under control like you promised you would, we wouldn’t be here. I’m not going to debate this issue with either of you. Security will escort you back to the dorm and you’ll have to leave.”

“This is bullshit,” Yardley says lowly, but just loud enough for us to hear her.

“Mrs. Handon,” I say, “I’ll get on the phone and see if I can find alternative placement for you this evening.” She nods and says nothing. She’s reserved, and probably tired and scared just like Mark.

“What about me?” Yardley hisses.

“I wish you luck,” I say, “but I’m going to give you a little advice before you leave.”

“I don’t need your advice!” she barks and stands.

“Well, you’re going to get it!” I tell her. “Because if you don’t, I’m going to call the police and have you both arrested just out of spite.” Mrs. Handon now raises her head, her eyes piercing.

“Sit your ass down,” she says, her voice low and satanic, “or I’m going to get up outta this seat and make sure that ride to jail is worth every motherfucking second!”

Yardley looks at her with narrowed eyes. Chuck and Oscar prepare themselves to detain the ladies and probably for another girlfight. Yardley assesses the situation quickly. Eventually, she decides that she doesn’t want to take the wrath of a woman who not only has to leave a safe haven because Yardley wouldn’t control her damn son, but now she’ll go to jail because you didn’t sit your ass down and listen. The possibility of Yardley herself going to jail as well probably doesn’t appeal to her, so she takes a seat.

“Your son,” I say, “will probably try to tell you that I hit him, too. I didn’t. He tried to hit Mark again on our way down here, and I caught his wrist and told him to stop. Luckily, he made a huge scene, and I have witnesses. He has a future ahead of him. Right now, that future is dotted with juvenile detention and prison, and quite possibly any other imaginable thing that can happen to a selfish little bully who has never been properly taught or disciplined.

“This is not news to you. You know he’s a problem. You knew he was a problem when I confronted you about him before I even had a chance to speak. You even had other parents tell you that he’s a problem, and you still didn’t do anything. He is incorrigible and you’re condoning his behavior. He’s a fire-starter, Mrs. Yardley, and I can guarantee you that if you don’t get him under control, one day he’s going to get burned and he might just take you with him.” She purses her lips.

“Are we done now?” she says.

“Yeah,” I say, “we’re done.”

“Come on, Ferrell,” she says and stands and marches to the door, facing off with Omar. He steps aside to let her and Ferrell pass and falls in step behind them. I turn to Mrs. Handon.

“You and Mark come to my office,” I tell her. “We’ll find somewhere for you to go.”

“Who’s going to take us and they know I got kicked out of here for fighting?” she laments.

“They don’t have to know that,” I say. “I’ll tell them we’re at capacity. I’m really sorry about this.”

“I understand,” she says. “I couldn’t let him keep hitting my son, though. Do you see how big that kid is? Mark didn’t stand a chance.” I nod and lead her down to my office. Chuck stands outside and waits while I go about the business of trying to find somewhere for the Handons to go. Unfortunately, the emergency shelters are full to capacity, and the intake departments are closed for the non-emergency shelters as it’s later than I thought.

“Dr. Grey,” she says, “if you can’t find someplace for us, call Family Services for Mark. I don’t want him to have to be on the street.” I’m getting more and more angry at Yardley by the second.

“That won’t happen,” I tell her. Not only will they take her son, but they’ll probably call his father, and he’ll be right back where he started from. I’ll put her up in a motel and post security at the door before I let that happen.

“If I could just get back to Palouse,” she laments. “My mom and dad don’t have much, but they have the house and the land in Palouse. If I could get to them, they would protect us. Dad would blow a hole in Carter’s ass so fast if he came out there…” she laughs tragically.

“All you need is to get to Palouse?” I ask. She raises her head.

“Dr. Grey, I didn’t… I wasn’t trying to…” I raise my hand to silence her.

“I know,” I say, “but are you telling me that you have a safe haven in Palouse?”

“I think so,” she says, dropping her head. “I’ve been ashamed to call… to tell them that…” She starts to cry. Mark rises from his perch and walks over to his mother. He puts his arm around her shoulders as she weeps and she turns to embrace him. I quickly get online and Google plane tickets to Palouse… $84 one way.

Two hundred measly dollars is standing between them and peace and freedom?

“Do you have Mark’s birth certificate?” I ask. Usually, when women run, they don’t leave with much, and I know she didn’t take much with her when she left. She nods.

“I always knew I would leave. I just didn’t have the guts and I never had the money,” she says. I turn the phone around to her.

“Call your parents,” I say to her. “Tell them you’re coming home.”

*-*

“Tough case?” Christian says when I fall down on the sofa in the family room. It’s nearly 9pm when I get home. I had Keri and Gail leave the children in the family room with us as I need a little more bonding time tonight.

“The worse,” I lament. “One kid was bullying another kid. We talked to his mother and she didn’t do anything. We ended up having to kick both families out because the mothers got into a physical altercation.”

“That hardly seems fair,” he says, sitting next to me and gathering Mikey up for snuggles. “Hey, little prince,” he says, tickling Mikey’s ribs as Mikey giggles feverishly.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy,” I tell him. “No fighting under any circumstances.” My head falls back on the sofa.

“Top! Top!” Mikey giggles and Christian ceases with the tickling.

“Okay, little man,” he says and Mikey continues to laugh in his arms. “Give Daddy a kiss.”

Mikey plants a slobbery kiss on his father’s cheek, and Christian puts him down to greet his daughter.

“How’s Daddy’s little princess?” he says, now scooping Minnie into his arms. She pats his cheeks like always. I don’t know what that means, but she always does that when you pick her up.

“Oh, shit!” Minnie exclaims as soon as she’s in her father’s arms. His eyes furrow.

“What the he… heck?” he demands. “Who’s been talking like that around her?” I sigh heavily.

“That would be me, I think,” I say without raising my head. “When the situation erupted at the Center, I reacted with her still in my arms. I only hope Mikey didn’t hear it because I can’t deal with two sailors today.” Christian shakes his head and turns to Minnie.

“Bad word,” he says, shaking his head. “Bad word, Minnie Mouse.” I don’t think she cares one bit what he’s saying. She’s just happy to be in Daddy’s arms.

Happy to be in Daddy’s arms…

What the hell turns these men from loving and caring fathers into monsters, I’ll never understand. Maybe they were never loving and caring fathers. Maybe it was an act to begin with. I don’t know… Carla was once a loving and caring mother and she turned into a raging bitch, so what’s her excuse?

I put one mother and son safely on a plane to Palouse this evening while effectively putting another mother and son out on the street to fend for themselves. In and of itself, it sounds horrible. It makes me a bad person… but I tried to help them all. I tried to give them a chance, but the Yardleys—Jesus. I wonder if anyone will help them with her behaving that way.

*-*

Sophie and I are in our favorite place as of late—in my office combing through emails, pictures, and ideas for the villa, vetoing some of Aaron’s outlandish ideas while giving him the go-ahead on some others. It’s Thursday evening, and Christian has informed me that we’ll be taking the boat to his parents’ place this weekend, at which time, all parties involved in the trip to Italy will be meeting to discuss final plans.

To be honest, it is that time. We’ll be leaving for our private portion of the trip in about three weeks. Everyone else will be on their way out the following month. It’s more than time to tie up loose ends.

Sophie and I are busy discussing some of the pieces for the living rooms and sitting rooms when my phone vibrates. It’s Grace. Oh, hell, what’s going on at the Center?

“Hey, Grace, what’s up?” I answer.

“Hello, dear. I hate to have to call you with this, but have you seen the news?” Grace asks me.

“No,” I reply. “What?”

“Are you anywhere that you can turn it on?”

“No, I’m in my office. There’s no television in here,” I reply. She sighs and then she’s silent for a while.

“What is it, Grace?” I ask.

“We’re famous,” she replies, “and not in a good way.” My brow furrows as I try to figure out what she’s talking about. Just as I’m about to ask her to elaborate, Marilyn comes walking—quickly—into my office with twisted lips.

“Do I want to know what this is about?” I ask them both, and they both start talking at the same time. Marilyn hands me her tablet, already open to one of the local news channels with a video paused, and hands it to me. I press play to see what the commotion is about.

“We’re here in front of the Helping Hands Community Center and Shelter with one of their former residents. And what’s your name, ma’am?”

“Susan Yardley.”

“Oh, shit,” I say as I sink into my seat.

“I… think I’ll… go to bed, now,” Sophie says, standing and heading towards the door.

“Thanks, Sophie… I’m sorry…” I mutter, trying to pay attention to what’s happening on the screen.

I watch the entire interview, which isn’t more than five minutes, as Susan Yardley and her very large son talk to the reporter about being “thrown out” of Helping Hands after they were assaulted by another resident. Of course, there’s no mention that Feral was antagonizing other children and stealing their lunches, or that the alleged assault came after he attacked a child nearly half his age and size. And they’re standing right in front of the damn Center!

“Are they down there now?” I lament.

“No,” she says, “I have no idea when this was taken.” I thrust my hand into my hair—my scar is beginning to hurt. This bitch even managed to muster up some tears as the reporter vows to find her and her “poor son” somewhere safe to go. If she’s so damn scared, why is she on television letting her supposedly psycho and violent husband know her plans? I wonder if what she’s saying is even true…

“Baby,” Christian is marching into my office. “Excuse me, Marilyn, I’m sorry to interrupt, but… that situation at Helping Hands is on the news? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I’m just now finding out. How did you find out?” He waves his phone at me.

“Mac is on the phone, and she’s not happy,” he says.

“I’m not happy, either,” I say, “but why is she not happy?”

“Somebody should have told me what was going on,” Mac says on speaker phone.

“There was an altercation between two residents at a homeless shelter. That’s hardly newsworthy,” I declare.

“Well, somebody thought it was because it’s on the news!” Mac declares. “It’s too late to get ahead of this, so we’ve got to come out with a statement.”

“No, we won’t!” Grace says at the same time that I declare, “The hell we will.”

“What the hell?” Christian says looking around the room for the phantom voice.

“That’s your mother,” I say, pointing to my phone on the desk, “and we will do no such thing.”

“Ana, anything that has to do with you can affect GEH…” Vee begins.

“This is not GEH!” I state emphatically. “This has nothing to do with GEH and I will not have you making a statement and feeding into this woman’s lies.”

“Butterfly…”

“No!” I nearly shout. “These are people’s lives we’re talking about here. The safety of every resident we have has been threatened simply by those assholes doing that interview in front of the damn Center! No goddamn statement, and I mean it! If you want to do something useful, find out everything you can on that lying, spiteful bitch and see if she’s really ‘hiding’ from a violent husband or if she’s just taking advantage of the system. I know if I were afraid for my life and the life of my son, I wouldn’t be plastering him in front of a television camera!”

Everyone in the room falls silent.

“Shit,” Grace says, “I hadn’t even considered that.”

“Why would you?” I say. “We’re here to help people in need. We trust them to be honest about their situations. If we were doing background checks on everybody, we wouldn’t help anybody… and that’s the truth.” I turn to Christian and speak loud enough for Vee to hear me. “You have your orders, but you have to use the information you saw on television. I can’t give you anything else.” Christian looks incredulously at me.

“After all this, you’re still going to protect her?” he asks, appalled.

“I have to, Christian!” I snap angrily, more angry that I have to protect this sneaky, conniving, lying bitch’s identity than anything. “I took an oath and I have to stick to it. Not only could giving you any information cost my license, but it could cost our accreditation—or did you forget all the trauma involved in that endeavor?”

Christian’s face falls, and I immediately regret bringing it up.  God, my scar is hurting.

“Besides,” I say, holding my head down and trying to massage the pain away, “nobody will ever trust us again if we do something like that. You’ll have to use what you got from the interview. I can’t help you… And get some more security down to Helping Hands as soon as possible. After this dumbass stunt, somebody’s estranged husband is going to come down there looking for his wife and kids.”

I see Christian turn away from me. He takes Vee off the speaker and begins to give her instructions.

“I’m sorry, Ana,” Grace says.

“There’s nothing for you to apologize for,” I reply. “None of us saw this coming and there’s no way that she could stay there.” Grace sighs.

“I know,” she replies, “I just feel like there has to be a better way to handle this.”

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow,” I say, “see if we can come up with some plan of action. We’ll have to make an announcement to the residents. They’re going to see more security and they’ll want to know why. They’ll need to know about the exposure this woman has brought to us and they’ll need to be careful when leaving the Center.”

This damn thing has so many far-reaching implications, this bitch has no idea what she’s done. I’m certain she doesn’t even care.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” Grace says with a sigh. “We’ll talk tomorrow, dear.”

We end the call and I swear my scalp feels like it’s going to crawl off my head and run out of the room screaming… and I want to cry.

“Marilyn, can you excuse us for a moment?” I hear Christian say. I hand Marilyn her tablet without raising my head. I don’t have strength or will to fight, so if he wants to argue he’s going to have to do it himself.

I hear Marilyn leave the room and then silence. I’m trying to muster every bit of my strength just to sit here and not lash out at him if he tries to convince me that we need to release a statement and not to crumble onto the floor from the implications of everything going on here. Helping Hands is supposed to be a safe haven, and this woman has jeopardized that all for personal gain. I’m certain of it. The more I think about it, the angrier I get… and the more helpless I feel.

I hear him move next to me. He turns my chair to face him and I can see that he’s crouching down to me. He gently clasps my wrists, causing me to raise my gaze to him as he moves my hands away from my face and head. He puts his hands on either side of my head, steadying my head with one hand and searching through my hair with his fingertips with the other. Without breaking our gaze, his fingertips find my scar, and he slowly begins to massage with just a little firmness…

And the pressure begins to cease.

As the pain starts to subside, I can get a clearer picture of him through my angry, helpless haze. His expression is one of helpless concern and sympathy. It destroys my resolve, and I begin to weep. He says nothing. He just continues to massage my scar. The more he massages, the better I feel and the heavier my heart feels. He’s never done this before. No one besides the doctors have ever touched my scar that I can remember except me. I don’t think he avoided it; I just don’t remember him ever touching it. Maybe he did, I don’t know, my mind is swirling… and my thoughts… and my emotions… and it really feels good.

“People are horrible!” I weep. “I do the best I can what else can I do!”

“That’s all you can do, baby,” he says, his voice soothing.

“These women come from horrible situations!” I sob. “I can’t imagine surviving through some of the things they’ve had to endure… and this selfish bitch…”

My body shakes with sobs and with anger.

“I know,” he says softly. “I know.”

He’s still massaging the pressure and pain out of my scar and my heart just crumbles at the kindness as well as in anguish for these women, some of whom are literally running for their lives, having their safety and what little peace of mind Helping Hands affords them ripped from their fingertips. It’s like when Daddy brought me to Montesano and that devil bitch Carla ripped me from my peace and dragged me back to Nevada.

That doesn’t help my mood at all.

I tip over onto my husband’s shoulder and continue to weep. One hand now gently strokes my back while the other continues to massage my pain and resolve away. The dam is flowing freely now and I couldn’t stop it if I tried. I see a figure come into my doorway, but my eyes are too watery to make out who it is. I’m too busy crying anyway to care or to entertain anybody’s company right now.

“We’ve got four more guys on the way to Helping Hands,” I hear Jason say. “Four more will replace them tomorrow, and we’ll have a steady rotation until we hear otherwise. Do you think that’ll be enough?”

I can’t respond. I don’t even know if he’s talking to me or Christian.

“We’ll leave it at that for now,” Christian says. “We’ll revisit in the morning.”

I see Jason’s form leave my office and my heart is so heavy and full at the same time that I think it’s going to explode.

I don’t know how much longer Christian literally allows me to cry on his shoulder, but once I stop, the pain and pressure are gone from my scar, but I’m waterlogged and exhausted. He gets me to our suite and draws me a bath. After a good soak and a cup of chamomile tea, I fall into a heavy slumber.

*-*

“Mrs. Grey, would you like to issue a rebuttal to Mrs. Yardley’s accusations?”

I can’t believe that I’m greeted by the fucking Paparazzi when I get to Helping Hands. Don’t these fuckers realize what they’re doing? Nobody’s going to come here for help while the press is camped out!

I stop, take a deep breath, and turn around.

“Yes, I would,” I say, and I can see Chuck stiffen.

“First of all, it’s Dr. Grey. Second, this place is a safe haven. We help remove people from dire circumstances and dangerous living conditions, and I refuse to allow one person—no matter who they are—to jeopardize the safety and well-being of these families in any way. With that in mind, I have absolutely no comment on the personal business or identities of anyone behind these walls—past or present. She wants to defame me, fine, just don’t endanger my residents. And by the way, that’s what you’re doing right now! These people depend on anonymity for their safety and you’re blasting us all over the news trying to get a story! You should be ashamed of yourselves!”

The crowd of reporters is mostly quiet as I walk into the center with the exception of two or three reporters still barking questions at me that I don’t really hear.

When I get inside, the new guards greet me and Oscar informs me that there is now a guard posted at the elevator and at each exit—even the locked ones. One of them will also do rounds every hour with a female guard doing the checks on the resident floors. That makes me feel a lot better.

Grace and I agree that we need to have a meeting to gauge the moods and hear the concerns of the residents. So, we schedule it for just after lunch even though Friday is normally my short day. It won’t be so, today. We’ve got to let these ladies know what’s happening and what steps we’re taking for their safety.

I don’t really know what to do with myself throughout the morning. Most of the press grew a conscience after my short statement and left the premises, but there are a few diehard reporters still out there. No one has left or showed up since I got here. I hope none of the women had job interviews today. I put a call in to Al to see if anything can be done about the press as they’re jeopardizing the safety of these women. He’s seeing if there’s anything he can do.

I make this announcement to the ladies when we begin the meeting, alerting them to the additional security which they had already seen. In general, most of them understand the circumstances and are more pissed at Yardley than they are concerned. They’re also very appreciative of the extra steps that we’re taking for their security.

“Why aren’t we watching television?” one of the residents asks in the middle of the meeting. “It’s going to start any minute.” Television? What the hell?

“Why would we be watching television?” Grace asks. “What’s going to start?”

“Penelope‘s interview,” she replies. “I’m sorry, I thought that’s why we were having the meeting.

“Nooooooohoohoohoohoooooooo,” I lament as I drop my head into my hands. No Christian to rub my scar today. What are these women trying to do, shut us down?

“Um, yeah… KOMO is supposed to be showing it live in just a few minutes,” she says a little timidly. Do I even want to see this shit? Grace makes the decision for me and retrieves the remote, bringing the television to life and turning it to KOMO for the after-lunch affair that is usually filled with soap operas and women’s talk shows. I can’t even find any more words. I just sit there and wait for the ax to fall.

It doesn’t take long.

I watch the screen as the narrator—whomever it is—describes the quiet, small, picturesque town of Palouse with its rolling hills and farmland and general store and two newly transplanted residents… Penelope Handon and her son, Mark.

“I’m the other resident that was asked to leave,” Penelope says, and I drop my head. Et tu, Bruté?

“What do you have to say about all of this?” the reporter says.

“If it weren’t for Dr. Trevelyan-Grey, Dr. Grey, and Helping Hands, I may be dead,” she replies. My head flies up in surprise. What did she just say?

Elaborate,” the reporter probes.

“I and my son were in a horribly violent and deadly situation. Helping Hands gave me a safe place to stay, food and clothing, and they were helping me to find a job until that night. I did get into a fight with that woman.”

“And they threw you out?”

“It’s not that simple,” she says. “I did what I had to do to protect my son, but the center has a strict, no-fighting policy and they should. These families have been through enough. We broke that.”

“So, how can you now speak so highly of a homeless center that threw you out?”

“They didn’t throw me out,” she corrects. “I broke the rules and I had to leave. Would you suggest they keep me there after I got into a physical altercation with another resident?”

“I wouldn’t suggest that they throw you out,” the reporter retorts.

“You’re stuck on that, aren’t you?” she replies. “You must live in a world without rules. I’d like that. I’d like to live in a world where there were no repercussions for my actions. That’s apparently where you live and where that awful woman thinks she lives, where you can do whatever you want without consequences.”

“Nobody’s saying that, Mrs. Handon…”

“Really?” she retorts. “You’re stuck on they threw you out, but you’re completely ignoring the fact that I and that woman you interviewed got into a physical altercation in a residential section that put other people in danger. She or I, our children, or someone else on that floor could’ve gotten hurt, and you’re still stuck on they threw you out. Let’s not forget that these people are already traumatized and now they have to be subjected to this? Where are your priorities?”

The reporter makes a motion to cut the filming, but the cameras keep rolling since they were live at the time. I can hear someone whisper that the station wants them to keep rolling.

“That woman was awful,” Penelope continues. “You saw her son. You saw how big he was. Look at my Mark—half his size and nearly half his age, and this kid is bullying him and taking his lunch. I thought we were all there for the same reason—to get help. The women and children that are still there, they’re not going to tell you anything about how that woman behaved and how her son terrorized the smaller kids and disobeyed the staff, how we went to that woman numerous times to tell her about it and she did nothing, how Dr. Trevelyan-Grey and Dr. Grey tried to talk to her about it and she still did nothing. They’re in hiding! They’re trying to put their lives back together, but I’m not in hiding anymore. For the time that I was there, Dr. Grey taught me self-defense, and now I’m in a place where if danger comes my way, we will fight it.

“She apologized for having to ask me to leave because she has children of her own and she understood. She tried to nip this in the bud before it even got to this point and the woman who came running to you like a victim was the cause of all of this. She’s gone now—she’s got her money and her moment in the spotlight and in the meantime, you’re going after a philanthropist and humanitarian, a woman who gives of herself and her time to help others so that you can get a story. Where’s the human interest in that? I hope you get what you’re looking for. I hope it makes you famous.” The reporter nervously clears his throat.

“Well… it looks like this interview is over.”

“Not quite,” Penelope says, looking at the camera. “If you’re in danger, if you’re in trouble, if you’re afraid, go to Helping Hands. They will go out of their way to help you. They will protect your privacy and anonymity and they will do everything they can to get you back on your feet… or at least to a place of safety. Just be sure that you behave like a human being and not a zoo animal when you get there and know how to obey the rules.” She turns back to the reporter. “Now, this interview is done.” She stands from her seat and walks out of the camera shot.

And the community room erupts with cheers.


A/N: “Choonks ahn ‘is wey upstehs! Des a fight in da dome!”—”Choonks on his way upstairs. There’s a fight in the dorm.”

It was brought to my attention that English is not a first language for many of my readers. So, when I do venture to write an accent, there will be translations in the author’s notes.

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

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

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

If you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, or you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu intitled “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

 

Grey Continued: Episode 35—She Rescues Him Right Back

I can’t remember who said it, but whoever it was that said the episodes needed titles and not just episode numbers, you were absolutely right. I’m in the process of giving the previous episodes titles, but they will be titled from here on out.

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 35—She Rescues Him Right Back

CHRISTIAN

“I can’t tell you what his motive was,” Alex says while sitting in my office later in the week with a very attentive Jason. “He’s married with two kids of his own, but they were recently separated. There’s a couple of domestic violence charges that were dropped. He’s got some petty theft, some traffic tickets, a DUI, but nothing on the books as serious as kidnapping. There is one thing…” He trails off.

“What one thing?” Jason says. Alex hands Jason a sheet of paper.

“Third from the bottom,” he says. Jason’s eyes travel down the page and his jaw tightens.

“Rape?” Jason says coolly.

“You missed it. Rape of a minor,” Alex corrects him. “Again, the charges were dropped, but…” And he trails off again.

“What else could he want with Sophie?” Jason says, his anger rising. “Is he connected to any human trafficking rings?”

“Not that I can see, but if he was, we wouldn’t see it on paper unless he’s been arrested… and they usually don’t get released.” Jason runs his hands through his hair.

“Where is he now?” Jason asks.

“He’s still in lockup,” Alex replies. “With his outstanding warrants, he’s going to be in there for a while and with the nature of this accusation, he’s not making bail.” Jason’s jaw tightens.

“I want every little piece of information you can find on him—where he works, who is friends are, and what he had for dinner last Friday. I want to know what time he takes a shit when he’s in the pen. Every. Little. Thing.” Alex nods.

“I’m on it,” he says, and leaves the room. There’s silence for a moment while Jason’s quiet fury fills my office.

“I know how you feel,” I begin, and he shoots a look of death at me. “All I’m saying is that I know that self-preservation goes out the window when someone hurts someone that you love. I’ll be with you every step of the way, whatever you decide to do, but please remember that people need you—your daughter, your wife… your friends.” I let that last one hang in the air for a moment before I continue. “Whatever you decide to do with the information, just keep your head about yourself. I could have killed David with my bare hands when he kidnapped Butterfly. I can’t imagine what I’d do to someone who took Mackenzie.”

His jaw twitches, but then slacks a bit after a moment. He’s gripping the back of a chair like a vice and the veins are throbbing in his temples.

“Sir, I’m bringing Ben in from the Crossing to be your detail for the rest of the day,” he says. “This information is too sudden and heavy… I can’t be effective at my job right now…”

“I understand,” I tell him. “Take the rest of the day off. Do whatever you need to do.” He nods once, takes a moment to compose himself, and leaves the room. I lean back in my seat and breathe deeply, pondering what I just said to Jason.

I can’t imagine what I’d do to someone who took Mackenzie…

I’ve got to watch this man. He’s a loaded cannon aimed right at Ruiz. I call Alex.

“Yes, sir,” he answers.

“Jason’s a pro and I know that there’s no way to put a covert detail on him, but he’s taken the rest of the day off. In essence, he says his emotions will affect his work. We need to keep an eye on him, Alex. This is his daughter. She’s already been through so much and so has he.”

“I know,” Alex says. “I’ll do what I can.”

“Make sure you keep a tight eye on Ruiz,” I add. “We need to know the very second that man makes it out of police custody.”

“Understood,” he replies, and I end the call. I desperately need to change my train of thought. I need to think of something happy.

Mother’s Day is Sunday.

We were so concerned about Val and Pops last year that we skipped right over Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and almost skipped over our anniversary. Well, not this year. It’s hard to know what to get the woman who has everything, but I think I made some good choices

She likes her car, but I’ve already ordered her a new one—same make, but next year’s model, newer feature, deeper blue… that blue…

I’ve created a fragrance for her—a mixture of the flowery, pleasant smells that remind me of her with a hint of the evocative flavors she likes that make me want to rip her clothes off, including cinnamon-vanilla. When I mixed them, the perfumer thought I had lost my mind, but when she mixed them, she took one whiff and her eyes widened. I sniffed the fragrance and imagined it intermingled with my wife’s natural scent and couldn’t resist.

“That’s it,” I had nearly growled, not realizing that I had unleashed the Dom voice until I heard it. Unfortunately, the perfumer heard it, too. She quickly applied a bit of the mixture to her wrist and held it out for me to sniff.

“Are you sure?” she said, provocatively, while holding her arm out for me to smell it, so I did. I knew exactly what was going to happen.

“Yes, I’m sure,” I said in the same voice. “Bottle it.”

She smiled sweetly at me and mixed the creation. Once I made sure that it was correct, I gave her the name to etch on the bottle.

Butterfly.

She was still all moony and simpering as she giftwrapped my order and handed it to me along with a personalized copy of the formula, and that’s when I dropped the bomb on her.

“Thank you,” I had said. “Do you always test the fragrances on yourself?”

“Only for special customers,” she had replied, suggestively.

“You probably shouldn’t do that,” I had told her. “My wife’s body chemistry is much, much different than yours. Each body releases its own pheromones and when the chemicals mix, the fragrance changes. As a professional, you should know that. You almost blew this sale. Think about that before you apply someone’s custom fragrance to your skin.”

How dare she violate my memory that way? That could have been catastrophic! Yes, she was crestfallen, but I wasn’t trying to blast her. I was giving her a bit of professional advice.

Okay, maybe I was trying to blast her, too.

I have Saturday all planned. I’ve found her the most beautiful and elegant Zac Posen Moda Operandi gown—navy blue silk… or I should say Victoria found it. I’ve convinced Butterfly to have her spa day on Saturday so that she can get her hair done. I’ve already given Franco specific instructions of what I want her hair to look like—and no fragrances in any of her treatments with the exception of a gentle vanilla if she requests it, so that it won’t clash with her custom perfume.

A limousine with a hired driver will take us to the Seattle Opera House for dinner and a showing of the critically acclaimed Ariadne auf Naxos. I’ve never taken my wife to the opera, but she always seems to appreciate the finer things. It’ll also remove the only comparison I’ve ever had to myself as Edward Lewis in Pretty Woman, and that was when I was dealing with that asshole in Madrid… being an asshole myself.

Now for the jewelry. I make that call.

“Thank you for calling Cartier. This is Marvin. How can I help you?”

“Marvin, it’s Christian Grey.”

“Mr. Grey,” he nearly purrs. “Always a pleasure. What can I do for you today?”

“What do you have in the vault that’s opera-ready? Or can you direct me to a store that does have something opera-ready?” He’s silent for a moment.

“Can I get you to hold on for a moment? I’m going to check the computer and the safe,” he says.

“Okay, that’s fine.”

I’m sure this man hit speed dial and called every Cartier in the tri-state area to see who had opera-ready jewelry. In three minutes, he was back on the phone.

“Do you still have the same mobile number?” he asks.

“I do.”

“I have a piece available. I can text it to you if you would like.”

“I would like,” I respond. In moments, I get a notification.

“What do we have here?” I ask as I swipe the screen and open the text.

“Diamond and platinum,” he says as I examine the exquisite creation. “Convertible—the first two tiers can be removed for a more conservative look. The center stone is 34.6 carats.” Jesus, this thing is screaming armored truck. Butterfly will never wear that.

“Anything nearly as exquisite for less than eight figures?” I ask. “I want something along the same lines, but when it comes to jewelry, my wife is somewhat modest. I nearly had to twist her arm to take an $80,000 set.”

“Ah,” he says. “Extravagant, but delicate.” My phone chimes again and I swipe the screen.

“What do we have here?” I ask.

“Smaller stone, white gold, 10-carat total weight,” he explains. It’s perfect. “What color is her dress?”

“Blue,” I reply. Of course. My phone chimes again, and there’s a pair of earrings.

“Talk to me,” I say.

“Diamonds and white gold, embellished with small sapphires and emeralds.” Yes, these will do nicely.

“How do we transport?” I ask.

“The usual. Escala?” he asks.

“No, I don’t own that property anymore. Just deliver to Grey House. You can have them here on Friday?”

“Yes, sir. What time would you like them?”

*-*

The Taylors don’t join us for dinner this evening and I’m more than a little concerned about Jason and Sophie. Her actual birthday is two days away, and this is a really fucked-up memory to bring it in on. When I go to my study for the evening, I can hear her in Butterfly’s office. They’re talking about designs and sofas; the fact that they love the Brynhurst coffee table but hate the Luca ivory wood dining table. I get caught in my work and tune out their conversation, and when I’m paying attention again, I hear Sophie say something that makes the hairs rise on my neck.

“It seems like my whole life is one big close call. Do I feel okay about that—you know, that something bad could have happened but didn’t, or do I feel scared all the time?”

Why should a 14-year-old girl have to ask that question?

Immediately feeling like an interloper on what should probably be a very private conversation, I turn on the sound system that pipes through the intercom and allow the soft sounds of Keiko Matsui to pipe into my office—not too loud to arouse suspicion, but loud enough to drown out their conversation so that it may remain private.

And now, I want Ruiz’ blood, too.

Speaking of wanting blood, Sarah’s husband, Fletcher—or Fletch for short—is a mechanic with his own shop and he’s now living above the shop. He stopped paying the bills at the house as he made her responsible for the bills there since he always had a backup plan. Everything is in her name, so he could walk away with ease. He has no criminal record—he’s just a regular old wretch of a man. Fletch, the wretch.

I put her in with one of the financial advisors at Grey House to help her get her financial situation in order. With her permission to speak to her debtors, he’s helping to negotiate smaller lump sum payoffs in return for a paid in full status on her credit report, and less funds to pay back in the interest-free loan that I’m giving her, leaving more to live on and invest if she so chooses.

I offered to buy her a car—nothing flashy, just something useful to get her from point A to point B—but she flatly refused, indicating that the bus was just fine, and that she had her eye on an apartment that was actually walking distance from the office. I take a little comfort in that, but I’ll set her up with covert security for a while in case her husband decides to make an appearance. Her business mail will be delivered to the mailroom at GEH for now. I’m hoping the asshole gets brave and comes down there to harass her. I’ll rip him apart all by myself.

As she has no plans for Mother’s Day, I invited her to our house for dinner since my plans for the opera will be on Saturday.

“I’m not a mother, child,” she had protested.

“Yes, you are,” I retorted. “You’re a stepmother to two children that you helped when they needed it even though they were selfish, inconsiderate, and ungrateful, but more importantly, you’re a fairy godmother to me, my wife, and my children. Everything that you see in terms of me and my immediate family would not have been possible if it hadn’t been for you and a selfless act that you did three years ago that cost your livelihood. So, we’ll see you Sunday, Godmother.”

She was very happy to accept the invitation and the title.

Saturday has arrived and I’m happy to say that the week proceeded mostly without incident. Ruiz was indicted on attempted kidnapping charges and he’s being held without bail… another fucking trial, this time centered on Sophie. Shalane is going to have a field day with this.

“I’m not telling that bitch shit,” Jason says when he hears about the charges. “If she doesn’t find out on her own or Sophie doesn’t tell her, she’s not hearing shit from me. Have you listened to my daughter talk?”

Yes, Jason… yes, I have.

“She knows way more than she should know about life right now,” he continues. “As much as it scares the shit outta me, she should be giggling about boys with her friends right now, going shopping and trying makeup… I’ll take a million purple hairdos compared to the shit that she’s had to contend with! Who becomes a damn-near master chef at 14 from watching the damn cooking channel?”

He was furious the whole day, and I’m sure that it’s one of those days where Sophie could have asked him for anything. Instead, she asked to cooked Mother’s Day dinner for all the mothers with only a little help from Ms. Solomon.

“It’s her passion,” Jason had said. “It makes her happy.”

This kid is a strange animal and I can’t help but wonder what adulthood will be like for her. I don’t know how I feel about her mother not knowing about the attempted kidnapping, though. Granted, she’s a selfish cow and would probably use it to draw attention to herself in some way, or as some kind of ammo against Jason, but I’m still on the fence about her not knowing.

“Well, I’m not telling her,” Jason reinforces. “If it takes forever for that asshole to go to trial—like it usually does—she’ll be released, and she can see it for herself. Otherwise, she can kiss my ass.”

And that was the end of that. I don’t think I had ever seen him that animated before, even when he went to pick her up from the police station.

We’ve also heard that investigations have begun on the business dealings of one Attorney Asshole Blake. We’ll have to wait to see how that turns out.

81fb0a7c599c7f9a3cb86e62abdcbe56 Butterfly is at the salon as I instructed and I’m sitting in my office looking over some emails. Aggie has sent pictures of the two-week-old puppies. I have to admit, they’re kind of cute. We can still have our pick of a boy or a girl from this litter as the entire hoard survived and are all doing fine now. We’ve decided to hold off deciding if we wanted a boy or a girl from the red noses until the brindles are born, but if it takes too long, we’ve committed to a girl and we’re hoping for a healthy boy from the brood of brindles.

I’ve also gotten the list of reservations for the attractions for our trip to Italy. Looking at it, I wonder if Audrey is still interested in being my travel agent.

She has us spending two weeks in Rome, two weeks in Venice, and two weeks at the villa. She has clearly forgotten who she’s dealing with. I’ve been to Italy six times—two of those trips, she planned. Now, she’s trying to send me this bullshit itinerary with three places to visit when we’ve got six weeks in the country? Who the fuck does she think she’s fooling?

To: Audrey Law
Re: Italy Itinerary
Date: Saturday, May 9, 2015, 14:21
From: Christian Grey

Ms. Law,

Is this your idea of a joke? Is my business that worthless to you that you’re willing to literally hand it off to the next agent?

I’m sure that I’ve given you every impression that the first month of this trip is going to be a second honeymoon and you have us spending two weeks in Rome and two weeks in Venice. This sorry list of attractions that you have somehow managed to spread over two weeks in Rome, I can see in three days! An entire day at the Colosseum? Seriously?

And I’m sure that you remember me saying that I wanted to take my wife to see the David. In fact, I very distinctively remember her effectively shielding your attempts to disparage her for not seeing it. Yet, I don’t see Florence on this itinerary. And as much as I plan to take total advantage of the most romantic city in the world, exactly what do you expect us to do for two weeks in Venice?

Where the hell is Naples, Salerno, Capri, Milan? Do you really need suggestions for a six-week trip to Italy with carte blanche??

If you are incapable of doing what I’ve ask for, just let me know and stop wasting my time. You have three days to fix this or I’ll plan my own trip and book it through another agent. I’ll await your reply.

Christian Grey, CEO
Grey Enterprises Holdings. Inc

What the hell is wrong with this woman? She’s clearly pissed because I’ve never brought a woman with me to plan my trip and I brought Butterfly with no warning. But hell, she planned our shopping trip to Paris, our honeymoon in Greece, the babymoon, the Australian cruise… Did she think my wife was a figment of my imagination? The arrogance and stupidity of people truly never ceases to amaze me. Speaking of babymoon…

To: Christian Grey
Re: You’re Never Going to Believe This
Date: Friday, May 8, 2015, 16:42
From: Jason Taylor

Do you remember the sleaze Arthur Daniels from the babymoon? Guess where he is now?

Jason Taylor
Personal Security
Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc

There’s a link in the email and when I click it, there’s a very brief story about how Arthur Daniels has plead guilty to second degree murder charges.

“Murder?” I say, texting Jason to come to my study. “What the fuck?” He seemed like a wimp to me, just somebody trying to take a hit to get a buck. Granted, I knew he couldn’t take a beating, or so I thought. I had him pegged for maybe the guy who would take a good hit and go down, then sue for some insurmountable amount and take a payment out of court, but murder? What the hell?

“You need me, sir?” Jason says, walking into my office.

“I just saw your email from yesterday,” I tell him. “About Daniels? Murder? Is that right?” Jason nods.

“I did a little research on him,” he tells me. “I was just curious and had some time to kill—in an attempt not to put a hit out on Ruiz. Anyway, this guy left such a taste in my mouth that I ran a check and found this.”

“What the hell happened? Was it self-defense?” I ask.

“Not even close,” Jason replies. “It was a baby.” I glare at him.

“He murdered a fucking baby?” I bark. “Was it his baby?”

“Um… well… it was his wife’s baby,” Jason replies. I must be a little loopy because I thought his wife’s baby would be his baby, but of course I’m still stunned by the fact that he killed a baby.

“Okay, his wife’s baby. So, I’m assuming the baby wasn’t his,” I deduce.

“You’re assuming correctly.” Okay, that opens a whole new can of worms. He discovers that the kid isn’t his, so…

“So, he killed the baby?” I ask in disbelief. “What the fuck?” Jason sighs.

“As the story goes, Kiley Daniels had the kid and the moment he popped out black, Arthur Daniels grabbed the kid and slammed him on the ground. They hadn’t even cut the cord yet.”

Oh, fucking hell, I’m horrified.

“Jason, you’re not telling me that a man took a baby straight out of the pussy and killed it right there…” My voice is controlled. I can hardly believe what I’m hearing.

“That’s exactly what I’m telling you,” he says. “The same doctor that delivered the kid pronounced him dead right there before the wife even passed the afterbirth.

Fucking hell. I fall back in my chair in total disbelief of what I’m hearing. How can a human being have this much rage inside?

“Could it be that he just dropped the kid?” I ask, still trying to find some good in this bastard that I saw with my own eyes isn’t worth a $3-bill.

“He tried that defense,” Jason says, “that he dropped the baby in shock, but there were too many witnesses. No matter how his lawyer tried, he couldn’t get Daniels off, so he pled to second degree instead of first.

“Mrs. Daniels went into a catatonic state of shock and remained that way for months. When she came back to herself, she moved in with family. She didn’t remember being married, being pregnant, her affair, none of it. When they told her who Arthur was and what had happened, she didn’t even recognize him. Her mind had blocked the whole thing out.”

“What about the baby’s father?” I ask. Jason shakes his head.

“He never came forward,” he says. “Nobody knows how much he knew, but he just stayed in the background. I didn’t investigate enough to find out about him. I just wanted to know what happened to the asshole.”

“So, we know what’s happening with him. Where is she now?”

“Going on with her life like nothing ever happened from what sources say,” he replies. “Of course, she filed for divorce because she doesn’t know the guy, and from what she does know of him, he killed her baby. So, that’s that.” I shake my head.

“Talk about getting your comeuppance,” I say. “Damn, murder of a baby…”

“He’s been in protective solitary confinement,” Jason says. “Once they sentence him, if they put him in general population, he won’t last a day.”

“How much time do you think he’ll get?” I ask.

“I think they’ll throw the book at him. They can’t execute him because it’s second degree, but he sure won’t be shipping in pussy anytime soon.” I shake my head again.

“I could’ve gone my whole life without knowing this,” I say, closing my laptop. “By the way, don’t make any more travel arrangements through Audrey Law. Make sure GEH knows—no expensing through her. We’re going to be looking around for someone else to handle the company travel.”

“Okay… you’ve been with her for years. Can I ask what happened?” he says.

“She’s testing me,” I say. “I put her in charge of our trip to Italy and she’s coming back with bullshit. Ridiculous bullshit. She’s pissed because I’m married, and she’s trying to sabotage the trip.”

“She can’t be pissed that you’re married. She planned your honeymoon,” he protests.

“It’s one thing when you know there’s a wife,” I say. “It’s another thing altogether when you put a real face and a body to it. I took Butterfly with me—or I should say, we met at Ms. Law’s office—when I decided to start planning the trip. It was a huge pissing contest that my wife should never have had to be involved in. Law kept making snide remarks that could be camouflaged as valid questions and conversation, but Butterfly didn’t miss a swing. She kept hittin’ ‘em back at her like a pinch hitter in the bottom of the third.

“You would have thought that by the time we left, Law would’ve understood her place, but apparently, she hasn’t. She just sent me a six-week itinerary with two weeks in Rome, two weeks in Venice, and two weeks at Lake Como.” Jason frowns.

“That sounds odd,” he says.

“That sounds stupid!” I reply. “If you’re a tourist spending six weeks to see Italy, why would you want to spend two weeks in Venice and two weeks in Rome? You’ve got six weeks to see the country…”

“Hey, you don’t have to convince me. Like I said, it sounds odd. So… no more Audrey Law?” he asks.

“Nope,” I say. “I’m going to let her think that we’re not booking travel with her until she gets her act together. Then, assuming I let her fix her faux pas and get this trip right, when I get back from Italy, I’ll let her know that she’s fired. So, we need to start looking for someone to handle our travel arrangements from here on out.” He knows I want him to be part of the selection because most often, he’s the one that deals with the agent to arrange my travel.

“You got it,” he says.

“Good, I’m going to get ready for my date with my wife. You’ve reserved the room?”

“I have, and the car will be in the valet,” he replies.

“Excellent. Do you have anything special planned for Mrs. Jason?” I ask. He smiles devilishly.

“I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you,” he says, raising one brow at me.

*-*

My wife is a vision as she steps out of Miana’s. Her hair is beautifully coifed in a swooping chignon while tendrils of hair playfully brush her shoulders. The midnight blue, nearly black off-the-shoulder Zac Posen gown is so elegant and fashionable on her that she looks like she’s floating towards me. Her makeup is flawless as usual, her pouty red lips just dark enough to make them kissable, but not too dark for the occasion. My only regret is that I didn’t grace her wrist with diamonds to complement her elbow-long opera gloves, but the exquisite Cartier necklace and earrings stand out enough to accentuate the ensemble. A cuff may have been overkill.

“Mrs. Grey, you’re stunning,” I say as I kiss her hand.

“As are you, Mr. Grey,” she replies, coyly. I’m not modest. I know I’m an attractive man and I look damn good in a Brioni tux, but I always feel like a troll next to her. I open the door for her and help her inside the limo, careful of the flowing folds of her dress, and off we go to the Seattle.

The dress code is usually very relaxed at the Seattle Opera, but tonight is a special night as most attendees are coming to celebrate Mother’s Day. It’s actually more of a red-carpet affair this evening, complete with doormen to open the doors of our limousine. It’s not a Paparazzi sort of affair, but there are a few snapping pictures when my enchanting wife exits the limo. She smiles prettily for the cameras, nodding once in various directions as we make our way into the hall.

The opera is three hours long, so we have dinner at the restaurant inside McGraw Hill. I’ve reserved a cozy table in the corner so as not to be the center of attention in the restaurant, but of course there’s the odd person or three that steals a look in our direction. I opted not to bring security tonight, and I hope that was the right decision as some of the concert-goers look as if they can’t resist coming over to the table and saying, “Hi,” like they’re greeting an old friend.

Luckily, we’re able to enjoy our dinner without interruption—salt-crusted roasted leg of lamb with creamy polenta and choices from the harvest table along with Tuxedo Tiramisu, the richest confection I think I’ve ever tasted.

“I’ve never been to the opera,” Butterfly says as we sip our coffee, and again I feel like Edward Lewis.

“You know that I appreciate music,” I say, “especially classical music. Opera is a little different than classical, but it’s on the same level in that it requires a more sophisticated ear to enjoy it. The oldest operas aren’t written in English, but there are some English operas that date back to the 16th Century. That being said, whether the opera is performed in English or not, the music is usually so powerful that the performance becomes universal.

“There are screens in the auditorium that project subtitles in English, but I feel that takes away from the performance. Opera is always very emotional and generally, how you react to your first opera will determine if you ever truly love it.”

“Why does that sound familiar to me?” she asks as she finishes her cappuccino.

“Because you and I are inadvertently having a Pretty Woman evening,” I say with mirth. “This is your first time at the opera, much like Vivian Ward had never been to the opera in the movie. You’re wearing a beautiful dress, exquisite jewelry, and just like Julia Roberts in the movie, you’re a drop-dead bombshell.”

That elicits a giggle from her.

“And because Edward Lewis says something very similar to Vivian Ward when they’re sitting in their box seats, which is where we’ll be in a few moments. To this day, it’s still the best explanation of opera that I’ve ever heard. He tells her that ‘People’s reaction to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic. They either love it or hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.’”

“So… do you think this Motown girl is going to love the opera?” she asks.

“I sure hope so,” I tell her. “I very rarely get to go, but when I do…” I trail off. The experience is unexplainable, so why try?

“I will tell you that the opera that we’ll be seeing tonight is an opera in an opera, so you may—for lack of a better word—lose your place if you don’t keep up. It starts with a live orchestra and, of course, we have the best seats in the house. There are opera glasses in the box and, without telling you the story, I think it’s time we get to our seats.”

I stand and pull her chair back and we head to the auditorium. I’m stopped by a few business associates who have also brought their wives for an evening of opera, but we get to our seats without incident as once the opera starts, no one is allowed into the auditorium. If you leave, you have to watch the opera from monitors in the lobby until you are allowed back in.

I watch my Butterfly as carefully as I can throughout the performance. At first, she’s not able to follow the prologue, and without an English translation, it can be hard to follow. I move very close to her and whisper in her ear so that only she can hear me.

“That’s the composer,” I tell her, pointing to the young girl dressed like a man, who seems forlorn for most of the scene. “There are two sets of performers hired to perform after the rich man’s dinner. However, dinner has run past its time, so both performances have to go on simultaneously. The composer’s group is an opera and the other group is a comedy troupe.”

She nods and looks through her opera glasses. She points to a performer at the end of the stage without speaking and I lean in and whisper to her that he is the Music Master trying to convince the composer to make the necessary changes to his opera so that both shows can go on. She nods again and pays attention to the performance. She watches the performance with a curious eye, but not a captivated eye, and I’m concerned that she’s going to be one of the people who can appreciate opera, but not necessarily love it.

I will say that the voices in the prologue are… lacking, that’s the best way that I can put it. For her first opera, I may have wanted to introduce her to one of the shows in Italy. For some reason, this particular company is not capturing the richness in the tones that I’m accustomed to. Their voices are soft and tweeting instead of full and vibrant, and considering that the opera is in German, the audience really needs to be captured with the tones and power of the music since they can’t understand the words.

As such, Butterfly has turned her attention to the monitors that have the English subtitles. She doesn’t need me to explain the prologue to her now as she can read what’s actually going on. I’m a bit disappointed that she has opted to read the subtitles, but I can’t fault her. She tried.

The tedious prologue has finally ended and—to make a long story short—both companies have figured out how to merge the opera with the comedy show, much to the dismay of the composer who has stormed off the stage. Now, the opera portion of the performance begins, and our prima donna—Ariadne—is set on the stage, abandoned on the island of Naxos by her lover. There are three nymphs on stage who are supposed to be Ariadne’s only companions. However, the comedy troupe comes in and unsuccessfully tries to lift the spirits of the brokenhearted Ariadne.

Once Ariadne began singing, I now hear the rich, full tones that I’ve been waiting for. The prima donna’s face distorts in such anguish and despair, and her voice rings deep from her stomach and pulls you from your seat, so much so that Butterfly is now leaning on the rail of the opera box as close as she can get to the talented soprano from this far away from the stage.

This is the reaction I was hoping for.

Butterfly hangs on every word that comes from Ariadne’s lips, as if she can completely understand what she’s saying. Even when the thespians and comedic singers enter with their buffoonery trying to cheer the broken Ariadne, their voices portray the richness that I’m accustomed to. However, it’s not until Bacchus enters that I hear the booming tenor that touches even the deepest part of my black soul. Upon his entrance, his powerful voice causes my wife to gasp and if I didn’t know that she wasn’t privy to dramatics, I think she’d faint right there on the floor.

As such, the opera continues with my wife gasping and crying at various intervals, laughing when the comedic troupe vies for the affections of their saucy comedian Zerbinetta and weeping incessantly when Ariadne begs Bacchus to take her to the realm of death and end her suffering. As Bacchus falls in love with Ariadne, the opera ends with an extremely moving and powerful aria between the two, and my wife looks emotionally exhausted. As the rest of the opera goers file out of the boxes and auditorium, she just sits there with a bit of a catatonic expression on her tearstained face.

“Are you okay?” I ask cautiously. She waves me off as if to signify that she can’t talk at the moment. We sit silently in the box for about five minutes as the opera auditorium empties, and my wife has wrung my handkerchief until I’m certain that the threads are screaming for mercy.

“Okay,” she finally says, once the auditorium is almost empty. She rises from her seat and has to find her legs. I quickly put my arm around her waist, and she raises sad but grateful blue eyes to me.

“Ready?” I ask, and she nods. We leave the auditorium and stand out front with the other opera goers waiting for their cars in front of the opera house. I note that’s it’s chillier than I thought it would be and I remove my jacket and drape it over my wife’s shoulders.

“Thank you,” she says sweetly, shamelessly putting her arms into the sleeves. Even after she’s been crying, she looks lovely. I kiss her softly on the lips.

“You’re welcome,” I say, smiling at her.

“Grey!” I hear from somewhere off to my right. Seriously? I look up and see Steve Wexton walking over to me. Son of a bitch. I’ve got one of his companies on the hotplate right now for acquisition. He’s making his way over to me and I make a point of putting my arm around my wife, who now has a questioning expression on her face.

“Business associate,” I tell her.

“I figured as much,” she replies distasteful. His female companion—wife, girlfriend, I don’t know—is scurrying to catch up with him. She’s wearing a… nice dress.

“Jesus, Grey,” he says, examining me and my wife. “It’s not the Met.” I raise a brow at him. It’s not the office Christmas party either, I think to myself as I examine his off-the-rack suit and his companion’s equally off-the-rack dress.

“Maybe not, but it is a special night,” I point out, “and I like for my girl to look like the belle of the ball.” He raises a brow at my wife.

“She’s definitely stunning,” he says, suggestively, and Butterfly conspicuously grasps my arm.

“I agree,” I say. “That’s why I married her.” Down, you fucking canine. He turns to me and issues a veiled challenge.

“Easy, Grey,” he says. “It’s not like I’m going to take your girl or anything like you’re taking my company.”

“That’ll never happen,” Butterfly says, low enough that she thinks no one heard her, but Wexton’s gaze shoots to her.

“Not enough money, sweet cheeks?” he shoots. My wife is completely horrified and claps back before I can’t even stop her.

“Not enough anything, limp dick!” she retorts angrily. Oh, shit.

“Butterfly!” I scold gently.

“He called me ‘Sweet Cheeks,’” she says quickly. “How would he know?”

“How would you know my dick is limp?” he shoots back.

“Okay, that’s enough!” I snap, glaring at Wexton. “I didn’t deck you for that derogatory statement you made to my wife, so I suggest you stop now while you’re ahead.”

“No offense, Grey, but she started it,” he retorts.

“No offense, Wexton, but you’re delusional. You started it, and I’m going to finish it. By the way, you just lost your date.”

Wexton looks over his shoulder to see his date getting into the back of a taxi.

“If you hurry, you might be able to catch her,” I suggest.

“I’m having more fun here with you,” he smirks. “What do you say we let bygones be bygones and go grab a drink?” He can’t fucking be serious. Like a chariot from heaven, the limo arrives and our driver steps out and opens the door for my wife.

“No, thanks, Steve. I still got my date, and like I said, special night.” I wink at him as my wife gets into the limo, then I slide in beside her just in case this asshole gets any ideas. The chauffeur closes the door behind us and I quickly hit the lock.

“God, what a sleaze!” Butterfly exclaims when we’re safely inside the car.”

“Yeah, I can’t pick who I take a company from,” I say, fastening my seat belt and taking her hand. “I just pick the company. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she replies. “He’s a lightweight. I’ve dealt with much worse.”

“So, tell me,” I begin once we’re on our way, “what did you think?” I already know, but I want to hear her take on the performance.

“I’ll be honest and tell you that the first part moved very slowly for me, but once we got to the opera in the opera, I could feel the pain and emotion of the characters.”

“Could you tell what was happening once you stopped reading the monitors?” I ask.

“I could tell that the female lead was heartbroken,” she says. “I couldn’t really tell what the three angel-like ghostly women in the back were doing, but I knew that the four or five people in the forefront were comic relief of some kind.”

“Ariadne is the main character,” I tell her, “and she was abandoned on a deserted island by her lover. The three characters in the back are nymphs, very inconsequential.”

“Yeah, I figured as much,” she says.

“The comic relief was really the other opera being combined into the Ariadne opera. The comedic troupe were doing what they could to cheer up the forlorn Ariadne to no avail.”

“That’s odd… I thought there was one point where they were all kind of fighting for the girl among them,” she points out. Good eye, Butterfly.

“They were,” I say. “It was probably part of the original comedic routine, and it had to go somewhere.” She twists her lips.

“So… I’m assuming that the guy at the end was the lover that deserted her, but she didn’t look really happy to see him at first.”

“That’s because he wasn’t the lover that spurned her,” I say. “He was the god Bacchus, and he’s fleeing from a sorceress. He mistakes Ariadne for the sorceress and she mistakes him for the god Hermes. In the end, they go off together and that was the last duet that you saw.”

“It was quite powerful,” she says, sinking back into her seat. We have a short ride and I want to get something off my chest before we get to the hotel.

“I have another confession to make,” I say. She raises her gaze to me. “Although I wanted this to be the perfect evening for the perfect girl, there was an ulterior motive involved as well.”

“There’s always an ulterior motive, Christian,” she says with mirth.  I take her hand.

“Besides the fact that I got to see you all put together so beautifully which always warms my heart…”

She giggles.

“… And I got to take you to the opera and watch your wonderful reaction to your first time seeing it—which was just like Vivian Ward’s, by the way…”

She giggles and blushes.

“… I got to replace a pretty bad memory with a much better one.”

She’s silent now. I sigh.

“When I left for Madrid, I foolishly spent most of the night in the first-class private lounge at the airport having a liquid dinner.”

I don’t raise my eyes to her as I tell this story.

“I was pretty pickled by the time we were airborne. I’m sure you know that didn’t make for a very good trip.” I swallow before I continue. “I had ruined the only suit I brought with me—the one I was wearing. We had a layover at JFK and I had to wear a toga.”

My wife unsuccessfully tries to stifle a laugh. Trust me, baby, it looked even funnier than it sounds.

“When we got to Spain, I had to go shopping for clothes, so I had to wear some of Jason’s jogging pants and a T-shirt to the fashionable shops of Madrid. That, of course, went over like a lead balloon.”

Another unsuccessful attempt to hide a scoffing laugh from my wife.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody in a retail outlet treat me with such disdain. It was like a roach had walked into his establishment and asked for service… which, quite frankly, was too good a term for me at the time.”

That’s another story—we won’t go into that.

“My very fashionably-dressed bodyguard had to tell this snooty motherfucker behind the counter that I was richer than Julius Caesar by comparing me to Edward Lewis in the movie. At the time, I didn’t care—the tables turned, I treated the asshole like the scum of the earth and I got what I wanted—no big deal. But as time progressed, I realized that I was the asshole, as was Edward Lewis in the beginning of the movie, and just like Vivian transformed him, you have totally transformed me.

“I don’t know if we’re supposed to believe that after ‘she rescues him right back,’ their ‘happily ever after’ ever involved them running away and getting married or if Edward went back to being the asshole that expected women to be at his ‘beck and call’ like the beginning of the movie. All I know is that I’m glad you stuck around… even when I’m being an asshole.”

I finally raise my gaze to hers and those deep, guileless blue eyes are staring back at me.

“How do you know so much about that movie?” she asks.

“It’s always been one of my favorites,” I confess. “I could relate to the power Edward wielded. I thought it was amazing that the first company he ever acquired belonged to the philandering father that left his mother. I thought he was a sap for blowing that takeover. The whole idea of draping women in beautiful things and being done with them after a certain period of time—oh, yeah, well acquainted with that practice. I just… never thought I’d meet my Vivian.”

She stares at me for a moment before she undoes her seatbelt, leans over to me, and takes my face in her hands. She presses her lips against mine in a deep and searing kiss, setting me alight faster than I can get my thoughts together. I pull her into my lap and kiss her deeply, happy that I have indeed found my Vivian.

The limo drops us at the Edgewater Hotel, and I pick my key up at the front desk before taking my wife straight to our room.

I open the door and gesture her inside. I turn on one of the smaller desk lights and it casts a gentle yellow hue over the room. Damn, that couldn’t have worked out better had I planned it. The Edgewater is one of the higher priced hotels in Seattle, but the room is modest. The hotel is mainly famous because of the famous people who have stayed here. The Beatles stayed somewhere on the second floor and fished in Elliot Bay out of one of the windows. There’s a famous picture of it, but the room didn’t look like much to me for what they were charging. This will suit us just fine—close to the opera house and beautiful views of the Sound.

She walks to the window and takes in the view of the Sound. I drop the key on the nightstand and walk over to her. Standing behind her, I take my jacket off her shoulders and toss it onto the bed. Placing my hands gently on her arms, I caress her shoulders with my thumbs, then brush my lips over her neck, allowing warm breath to tickle her skin before I pepper kisses onto her back. Her breath quickens as she shivers. She holds her head down, giving me unfettered access to her smooth, alabaster skin.

I lick and kiss her neck and shoulders, tasting her skin as I slowly unzip her dress. I want to savor her, the feel of her skin on my fingertips and the smell of that sweet perfume I created for her. God, it’s intoxicating. I put my hands under the dress and slowly push it down her body, kissing down her back the entire way. I’m almost on my knees behind her when I push it off her hips and down to the floor, kissing her ass cheek, her thigh, and the backs of her knees and feeling her shiver again. She’s only wearing underwear under the dress, and that’s all I wanted… underwear, jewelry, and shoes. I slide those pretty little things off her hips and down her legs until she steps out of them, looking all sexy and edible in diamonds and Louboutins.

I turn her around to face me and lift her into my arms by her ass. She gasps in surprise but wraps her legs and arms around me. My lips are only breaths away from hers as I carry her to the desk. I hoist her up onto the desk and kiss her deeply. My body craves her and my soul aches for her. Her soft lips only slightly soothe the fire in me and I realize I want more… I need more… so much more…

I tear my lips from hers and kiss down her body, quickly nipping her nipples on the way. I have to taste her now. I’m fucking starving for her. Once I’m on my knees in front of her, I put one of her legs over my shoulder and dive into her core licking voraciously. She leans back on her hands and cries out, high-pitched breathless pants squeezing from her throat.

My tongue is relentless. She tastes so good that I find myself drooling on her. I want it hot; I want it wet, and I want it now. I reach up to pinch a nipple and grasp a breast while I work intently to bring her to that first orgasm. One of my arms is cradled under her ass and locked over her thigh as she pushes her pelvis into my mouth.

“Christian…” she mewls, her head back, and I know she’s close. That’s it, baby. Give it to me… I need it now.

Her first orgasm comes quick and hard, just like I wanted it. I leap from my knees and press my mouth into hers, spreading her own juices from my tongue to hers. I make quick work of my pants and boxer briefs, dropping them just enough to free my cock. Without moving my lips from hers, I quickly guide my head to her pussy. She’s so fucking wet that I slide right in and thrust deeply. She cries out in my mouth and wraps her legs around me. I wrap my arms around her, pull her closer to me, and thrust deeply into her over and over. God, this is so good…

Her head drops back and my lips once again have uninhibited access to her skin. My mouth waters as I kiss her shoulders, neck, chest, and breast, my orgasm building quick and hot. I hear at least one of her shoes dislodge from her feet and fall on the floor behind me as I’m pumping into her. She’s calling my name in that sexy way that she does, her hands thrust into my hair as her pussy throbs and pulls me in deeper and deeper and deeper…

“Fuck, baby!” I bite out quietly as my cock explodes into her so hard that my back is paralyzed and my legs lock into place.

“Fuck!” I hiss into her neck as her pussy wraps around me and drains me of every little bit of juice I can possibly render. I’m leaning my hands on the desk on either side of her, taking big breaths and trying to regain my strength. Her pussy is pulsing for more and so is my dick, but my lungs won’t cooperate!

After a minute or two, I’m finally able to breathe like a human being. I lift her from the desk and reluctantly pull out of her, laying her on the bed. She squirms in protest like the horny little nymph that she is, and it’s everything I can do to hurry up and get the fuck out of these clothes. I don’t want to do a faceplant on the floor trying to get back to that pussy, so I take my time getting out of my shoes and socks, and my pants and boxer briefs which are now down at my ankles. The shirt and tie are quickly disposed of and I crawl on the bed on top of her and settle between her legs.

“I love you,” I breathe as I intwine her fingers in mine and pin her hands to the bed.

“I love you,” she replies, her voice breathy and desperate. I rub the length of my hard cock against her clit and take large mouthfuls of her skin, intent on marking her as she comes.

“Ah… God…” she breathes, throwing her head back so that I can taste whatever skin I want. “Christian…” she mewls again as she opens her legs and plants her feet flat on the bed. She’s fucking hot and that clit is pebbling against me. She’s going to come again soon. I dare not stop now.

She’s raising her pelvis to meet my cock and I’m rubbing a fire against her nub. It feels so good that it threatens to unman me and I have to concentrate so as not to blow. Still gnawing on that same patch of skin, I stroke and stroke and stroke until…

A squealing sound comes from her throat. It’s not loud or piercing, but it’s shrill and helpless. Her thighs shake violently and she almost sounds like she’s crying. I keep stroking, her clit hard as a goddamn rock against my cock and turning me on so much that I can hardly see straight.

Yes, baby, come for me! Give it all to me!

When I’m certain that she’s plateaued but still feeling the throbbing sensation, I pull my hips back and thrust into her, locking my lips onto hers and boring my hands under her shoulders and up to the sides of her face. Holding her in place, I consume her whimpers and cries as I thrust into her, her core still pulsing around me.

“You feel so good,” I say against her lips as I grind into her, high-pitched breaths escaping her lips with every thrust. Yes… yes… this is what I want.

“God, I love you,” I say, thrusting into her and chasing my second orgasm. “You’re so fucking beautiful… and you’re mine!” I growl the last word as I thrust into her, harder and deeper, now realizing that although I want to come, I want her to come again. She whimpers and gasps as I push both our bodies up the bed over the covers, rolling my hips and grinding into her.

“Christian… please…” she beseeches me. You’ve got one more… I know you do. I know your body and I know you’ve got another one.

“Come on, Pussycat,” I coax, moving my hips from side to side and pushing into her. “Give me more.”

She whines a bit, then whimpers as I grind into her again and again. She looks and feels so divine and it’s delicious torment holding off my orgasm until she has hers. I lean slightly to one side, still grinding into her, my cock and balls absolutely burning for release. Holding her hands above the bed, I clamp down on one nipple and listen to her squeal and shiver. She loves that and I know it. I suck hard and bite a little, feeling her breath quicken as her nipple pebbles in my mouth. I release it and tease it mercilessly with my tongue, feeling her pelvis rising to meet me now. It’s only now that I realize I’ve slipped into Dom mode and I briefly recall calling her Pussycat.

“Hold on to the bed,” I say, so aroused that I can hardly breathe. She grabs the duvet wherever she can and squeezes tight. I grab the headboard again and thrust deep and hard into her, determined to get that third orgasm from her before we finish. I continue to grind hard, pinching, licking, and biting her nipples and her neck, gently squeezing her throat every so often, burning her lips with deep, passionate kisses. Just when I’m about to tap out and give into the wet, velvety heat that is her core, she opens her eyes and gazes helplessly at me…

And there it is, that deep royal blue that only comes at that time. I see that gaze and I almost fucking lose it. I wouldn’t be able to tell if the familiar sheen of sweat was there because we’re both dripping in it. I don’t take my eyes off hers. I keep pushing into her, deeper, this time grinding my pelvis against hers for more stimulation. I need it… I need you to give it to me…

“Gah…! Goooooood!” she cries, closing her eyes. She releases the duvet and grabs my shoulders, digging her nails into the meat as she comes violently around me.

“Fuuuuuuuck!” I growl through my teeth as the pain sets me off. I’m buried deep inside her, coming much harder than I came before, and she’s got her legs—and her pussy—locked around me, her head pushed back in the bed, and I’m certain that her nails are drawing blood. We’re both locked in such an animalistic orgasm that the pain doesn’t even matter. We can’t do anything but ride it out.


A/N: Edward Lewis and Christian Grey are absolutely correct about the opera. Either you love it or you don’t. Ana’s feelings are my feelings about the opera. I listened to three different versions of this opera, and the first two versions were like, “Why am I doing this to myself?” But the third one had me clutching my chest! At the beginning of the opera, it was hard to follow. Once it took off, it really took off. All I can say is if you decide to go to the opera, make sure you research the opera. An opera with a theme that you may not be able to follow is a snooze fest. But if you find an opera where the singers are magnificent, even if you can’t follow the language, you’ll get it.

By the way, snippets of the prima donna Ariadne singing her aria are on the Pinterest page. It is magnificent!!! I got chills even watching her rehearse.

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

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Grey Continued: Episode 34—Triumphs of the Village

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 34—Triumphs of the Village

CHRISTIAN

She’s been standoffish all week, mostly because of the incident with Marlow and the fact that she thinks I haven’t talked to him. I’ve done what she asked, but this standoffish shit is going to stop before she knows that I’ve done what she asked.

I remove everything but my pants and boxers. The shirt that I was wearing is now laying on the bed with a black thong that I bought for her. It has an orange tabby cat on the front along with the words, “Well, it’s not going to lick itself.” Maybe I’ll fuck her, maybe I won’t. I don’t know yet, but this silent treatment shit is going to end, even if I have to go Dom on her to end it.

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Still wearing my Hublot, I go to the sitting room and take a seat on the Chesterfield chair that we had moved here from Escala. There’s a pillow to the right of me on the floor. I gave her five minutes. Let see if she can obey orders.

She doesn’t disappoint.

Not long after she has entered our bedroom, she comes into the sitting room with the shirt wrapped around her body, but not buttoned.

“Button only the button at your breast,” I instruct her, and she does what she’s told.

“Come. Kneel on the pillow.”

She walks over to me and takes sub position two on the pillow. Nope, that’s not what I want.

“Knees together,” I tell her. “Hands together in your lap.”

She takes the position and I bring her hair from her back to cascade down both her shoulders before I sit back in the chair. I let her sit there for a few minutes before I address her.

“Look at me,” I say, and she raises large blue eyes to me.

“I don’t know what to say,” she says softly.

“Yes, you do,” I say. “Talk to me.”

“I…” she hesitates. “I really don’t know what to say.”

“What are you thinking?” I ask. She sighs softly.

“That it’s been a long time since we had Downtime,” she answers.

“Yes,” I reply after a pause, “too long. A situation I tend to rectify. Why aren’t you speaking to me?”

“I’m not not speaking to you…” she begins.

“Only when necessary,” I interrupt. “You’re using economy with your words. Why?”

She searches for an answer, but I already know.

“You don’t think I know?” I say, a bit firmly. “You’re letting something outside our house bring discord into our house.”

“With all due respect, Sir, you’re letting something outside of our house bring discord into our home,” she replies. “That girl made every woman in this house uncomfortable and some of the men, and I asked you to talk to him about this way before now.”

“I saw the same thing you did,” I reply flatly, “and I said that I would talk to him. Have you now decided that you’ll punish me until I do?”

“No,” she says almost immediately.

“Then what’s the meaning of this?” I inquire. She clears her throat.

“I’m sorry, he’s just behaving irresponsibly, and he is your protégé. You have a lot of influence on him and it won’t have the same impact coming from someone else,” she argues.

“Did I tell him to behave the way that he’s behaving?” I ask.

“No, not that I know of.” Fair answer.

“And that you know of, did I tell him to bring a scantily clad teenage girl to our home?” I ask.

“No,” she says with a sigh.

“Then don’t try to make me pay for it,” I caution in my Dom voice. “I said that I would talk to him. If I talk to him today or if I never talk to him, you don’t have the right to make me pay for his behavior. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Sir, it is,” she replies obediently, “but as his mentor, do I have the right to expect you to hold him accountable for his behavior?”

“No,” I retort, and she tries to hide her surprise. “You can ask me to counsel him on his behavior, but you can’t dictate the nature or terms of our relationship in any way, just like I can’t dictate the terms of yours with Sophia, Marilyn, Harmony, or anybody else.”

Less is more in this case, and the facts are cut and dried. I sit and wait for her response.

“I understand,” she responds.

“Good,” I reply. “Now, I’ve had that conversation with Marlow like I promised. I’ve pointed out his lack of prudence with the number of his sex partners and I made it clear that if he pulls that stunt again with whatever her name was this weekend that neither he nor his dates will be allowed in this house or at family gatherings again.” She swallows and raises her brow at me.

“Were you that formal?” she asks.

“He got the point,” I reply. She drops her gaze immediately to her hands. She got the point, too,

“Do you really understand why your reaction was unacceptable?” I ask. She nods without raising her gaze.

“Yes, Sir,” she says. I lean closer to her in my chair.

“Look at me, Pussycat,” I say, and she raises her gaze. “Do you really understand?” She sighs again.

“Like you, I have a right to my feelings,” she says, “and I have a right to be upset that he disrupted my home by bringing that girl here. And even though I don’t have a right to dictate your relationship with him, Sir, I feel I do have a right to expect you to hold him to a certain standard when he comes to our home. I’ve tried to talk to him and apparently it didn’t work. That’s why I asked you to talk to him. I asked you several times before this incident, and it’s frustrating that I’ve asked you to do something and it looks like you haven’t done it. In fact, it looked like you just blew it off until he brought what looked like a teenage hooker to my home. So while I wasn’t holding you responsible for his behavior, I was holding you responsible for your lack of action and your nonchalant attitude about the whole thing when I asked you to do something before it got to this point.”

“Which is why you should have talked to me,” I say without buckling. “Yes, you have a right to your feelings, Pussycat, but you didn’t have a right to make assumptions when you didn’t even know if I did what you asked me to do. I didn’t talk to Marlow until today, but you didn’t know that because you didn’t bother to ask. You just zipped up and waited for me to bring you John the Baptist’s head.”

She flinches a bit at the macabre Biblical reference, but it drives my point home. She drops her gaze again. She gets it.

“These assumptions are going to be the death of us if we don’t get this right,” I tell her. “I have no problem calling Downtime when necessary, but we should be able to talk things out under any circumstances.”

“I agree,” she says softly. “You’re right.”

Again, I let her sit there for a few moments.

“Stand up,” I tell her, satisfied that she understands the err of her ways. She stands and I move her to the front of me. I gently kiss her belly button. Moving her thong to the side, I slowly thrust my middle finger inside her while massaging her clit with my palm. Her breath quickens as my lips move from her naval across to her hip. Her breath catches when my free hand moves between her legs and under one of her knees, lifting it until it cradles in my elbow. She gasps now that her legs are open, falling forward and bracing her hands on my shoulders to steady herself.

That’s what I was looking for.

I quickly move my hand from her core and lift her other leg, grasping her ass and positioning her over my face as I lean back in the Chesterfield chair. Her thighs replace her hands on my shoulders which are now thrust into my hair. Her head falls back, and she cries out in ecstasy as I grip her ass, move the crotch of the thong aside with my mouth, and dive into her sweet core.

After all, it’s not going to lick itself.

*-*

Savvina and Artemis have invited us as guests to a munch being held in a private home in Kirkland. I’m not very comfortable going to Lincoln’s old stomping ground, but Artemis assures safety and discretion. Nonetheless, we make this trip with covert surveillance. You can’t be too safe, especially with the cops poking around and no word on the Ellison investigation.

We mingle around the room with our mentors until we find ourselves settling into a conversation with a group focusing on the varying experiences for the soumise. Considering the fact that I initially wanted to embark on this experience so that Pussycat can understand her role and the importance of her comfort in that role more clearly, I pay close attention to the direction of the conversation.

At first, it centers on the willingness to serve—varying levels of servitude from the Master/slave relationship to a sub or soumise who simply has certain tasks that he or she is required to perform in the perspective of their particular dynamic. I’ve never required that a submissive serve me except in the sense that her actions fulfill my needs. There has never been a specific task or list of tasks that a sub was ever required to fulfill besides the commands that I issue in terms of playtime and maybe to be able to cook every now and then.

It’s when the topic turns to subspace that Pussycat becomes more attentive.

The current leg of the conversation is being led by our hosts, Dom Triple X and his submissive Beautifully Bound. They chose to use their BDSM names because they’re in a 24/7 relationship.

“In its basic form, subspace is an overload of adrenaline or endorphins,” Beautifully Bound says. “It doesn’t happen for everyone and it may be easier for some submissives to achieve it than it is for others. It usually presents in a form of a natural high, but its results differ based on how your body processes the chemicals and how it reacts to stimulus.”

“Stimulus can be physical or mental,” Triple X continues. “I don’t think I need to tell any of you that you can feel a boost of adrenaline or endorphins from any number of pleasurable or even unpleasant experiences. These chemicals can result in an increase of feelings of energy, hyperactivity, anxiousness, bliss, relaxation. You may also zone out or become catatonic. You might feel like you’re floating—separating from the here and now. It can be as simple as a feeling of calm or as major as an out-of-body experience.”

“Have you experienced subspace, X?” Jade, another submissive in the group, asks.

“No, but of course, I’ve experienced that surge of adrenaline or endorphins from other experiences. I’m also very in tune to BB and when she may experience it. We’ve had conversations on when she feels she has reached subspace and what she was thinking, how she felt, if she felt anything at all…”

“But how would she know if she reached subspace if she didn’t feel anything at all?” The question comes from Topaz. She’s Jade’s Domme tonight, and she’s also a switch.

“Remember, one of the levels of extreme subspace can involve separating from yourself, being there and not being there at the same time,” BB explains.

“Adrenaline is meant to protect you,” she continues. “You’ll get a surge of energy, anxiety, or what have you in times of intense stress, anger, danger, pain, fear, excitement, fill in the blank. Endorphins release when you are feeling a natural high. Your body responds to pleasure or pain. It can increase your pain threshold, but it doesn’t only have to involve pain. It can cause a reaction to your body that’s a lot like morphine. It can have the same effect as a narcotic, only it’s internal and part of your body’s natural response.

“Subspace can take on many forms, from the release and overload of endorphins to a simple transition of headspace, of the happiness and bliss of being where you are at a particular moment. Subspace is not always attainable. Often, it creeps up on you, especially if you have a sudden release of adrenaline.”

“I’m very responsive to adrenaline, but not in a good way,” Pussycat interjects. “My most common experience with it is when I’m pushed to anger very quickly. The response is either crying or fainting. I can’t control it; it happens so quickly.” X frowns.

“Maybe you could work on ways to rechannel those emotions,” X says, “to find a way to redirect them when you identify them so that they don’t overwhelm you and you don’t have to worry about fainting or crying. I can’t imagine that it’s very comfortable or convenient when you find yourself in either of those positions.”

“Almost always at the worst possible moments,” Pussycat confirms… laments is more like it.

“Has this ever happened during playtime?” he asks.

“No,” she replies, “not with the crying or the fainting. However, I almost entered subspace once that I can remember.”

I try not to react. I’m trying to remember when this happened, and I can’t. She’s had various reactions to our playtime.

“Almost?” X asks. Pussycat nods and raises her gaze to me. Again, I don’t react, so she continues.

“I… don’t remember why or how we ended up in a scene, but I remember impact play of some sort. I drifted off for a moment—like you said, separating from myself—but Sir said something, and I came back.” X looks at me and I still don’t react.

“Do you remember what he said?” X asks. She shakes her head and he looks at me again.

“Do you mind if we talk about this?” he asks. I shake my head.

“No, I don’t mind,” I reply. He nods and turns to Pussycat.

“Do you mind?” he asks. She shrugs noncommittal.

“No, I don’t mind,” she replies. “We’re here to share and learn, right?” He nods again.

“That’s right,” he says. “If you don’t mind me asking, why don’t you remember? Was it a bad experience for you?” Oh, now I see what he’s getting at. Pussycat pauses.

“Well,” she says, “I know I was being punished for something, but I don’t remember what. I’m almost positive, though, that I don’t remember because of the accident. I’ve lost some of the finer details of my life due to an accident I had a couple of years ago.”

“I see. Okay,” X says, “but you remember thinking you might have hit subspace.”

“I think so,” she replies. X turns to me.

“Do you remember this?” he asks.

“Vaguely,” I reply. “I remember that she was being punished for something—that is the nature of the bondage and discipline portion of our relationship—and I remember that she was separating, and I wanted her in the here and now, not only because it was part of the act of discipline, but also because I didn’t want to go too far because she wasn’t responding.”

“That’s good. That’s smart,” X says. “It’s always a good idea to stop play if you see that your submissive is slipping too far into subspace. They may be unable to safeword or tell you that the play is going too far.”

Neither of us tells him that I didn’t stop the scene. I just brought her back from subspace. Hindsight being 20/20, I would do things differently now. I treated her like a faceless sub because I was angry, not a valued soumise. Every time I think we’ve traveled so far on this journey I realize that there’s still so far that we have to go.

I take her hand in mine and kiss the back of it gently, partially in ownership and partially in apology. Her cheeks flush a bright pink and she smiles a genuine smile at me. I can almost hear the silent cooing of the female submissives in the room.

The conversation continues, mostly about general vanilla stuff until it wanders into predicament bondage—not really my cup of tea. I know that there may be some predicaments that I might be willing to experiment with, like when she was hanging from the chains in my Playroom during one of our first scenes and she got those chain bruises on her wrists, but even then it wasn’t really intentional. It was just exhaustion from intense orgasms, and I got her down from there as soon as I realized that she was hanging from her wrists. I really can’t do anything like that to her now since her kidnapping and the cuffs cutting her the way that they did.

I spend the night holding her and thinking about the man that I used to be… and how I never want to be that man again.

I lay awake in bed for as long as I can stand it, then I head down to my study to be more productive. I’ve worked my way through several emails and sent instruction to my management team about lots of irons on the fire when I finally get to one sent yesterday.

To: Christian Grey
CC: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Marmalade Popped!
Date: Saturday, April 26, 2015, 18:18
From: Agatha Peppergill

Good news! Marmalade dropped her pups—a glorious healthy litter. You can have your pick. The soonest they’ll be ready for transport will be early July. I’ll keep you posted.

Aggie

Agatha Peppergill, Owner
Peppergill Farm and Breeding, Rochester, WA

I open the attachment to the email and see a litter of beautiful red-nosed pit bull puppies—ten of them, in fact, in varying shades. I must resist the urge to dash upstairs, wake Butterfly, and tell her that our puppies are born, but it’s way too early. It’s just after dawn on Sunday morning and I don’t want to wake her. Aggie says the pups will be ready for transport in July. We’ll still be in Italy. I’m sure she’ll board the pups for a couple of weeks until we get back, but I won’t say anything yet. I respond to her email that I’m glad the pups have been born and to keep us updated on their progress. I also ask for an update on the Brindles when she has a chance.

My mind wanders back to last night and the Munch. I think my wife has slipped into some form of subspace more than just once, but last night’s recollection was the only one she could slightly remember. To be honest, I’m a little fuzzy on that one, too. I remember that she displeased me, and I wanted her to be in the here and now for the punishment, but for the life of me, I can’t remember why.

Just a few days ago, I had imposed punishment on her again. I held her against my mouth and sucked three forced orgasms from her that I’m sure were agonizing. Then I bent her over the ottoman and fucked her hard, deep, and mercilessly from behind, bringing myself to two deeply satisfying climaxes and ripping a fourth from her until she begged me to stop. I never removed the shirt or the thong, and she sweated right through them both.

It was better than any spanking or lashing I could have administered.

We talked about predicament bondage and I said that it wasn’t really my forte, but come to think of it, those oral orgasms could be considered predicament bondage. I had my arms clamped over her thighs so that she couldn’t escape once her first orgasm hit. She fought to get away once her clit was engorged and I didn’t release, but I had her locked in tight. Any movement in any direction no doubt intensified her discomfort. So, she had the choice to continue to struggle, with each movement likely causing her more discomfort, or to sit still through the heightened sensation and wait until the tenderness turned to pleasure again. Her helpless cries of pleasure mixed with pain turned me on so much that I thought my dick would burst right out of my goddamn pants.

I guess predicament bondage is my thing after all.


ANASTASIA

“Mia, I happened to notice that the contributions to Helping Hands from Miana’s significantly increased about seven or eight months ago. Do you know what happened?” I ask her on Monday morning.

“Miana’s contributes to Helping Hands?” she asks. “I didn’t know that.” I frown.

“What do you mean you didn’t know that?” I ask. “You’re in a profit-sharing agreement.”

“Yeah, but it’s me and Franco and… Oh, that must be Christian’s share,” she says with realization.

“You didn’t know that Christian’s share was going to Helping Hands?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“I really didn’t need to know,” she shrugs. “I don’t ask my brother what he does with any of his other money.”

“Yeah, that makes sense,” I say. “So… what happened that caused the profits to increase?”

“Expenses went down,” she says. “We were nearly in the red for about 18 months. Some of Mrs. Lincoln’s debts followed the salons and they were pretty big. The owners had to put our money back into the salons to keep them afloat. We agreed that if we weren’t turning a profit in two years that we would let it go because it was a money pit. Luckily, at 18 months, she resuscitated and thus, profit!” She holds her hands out with a wide smile.

“Boy, that money is really going to help a lot,” I say. “I didn’t know if it was a temporary influx of cash or what may have happened, but this is doubly good news. If business stays as good as it has been, we’ll have a steady flow of funds. And by paying off her debts that were attached to the business, we’re finally rid of that woman!” Mia pauses.

“Yeah!” she says. “Finally! Forever!” She and I both share a relieved laugh.

Christian and I meet with Marilyn and Gary again that evening. They’ve made some very good progress, but it’s clear to see that Marilyn is not the person that she was before the termination. She’s been through some things and she wears the experience all over her, not just in weight loss and the new haircut, but in the way that she carries herself and even the way she talks. It’s not bad, really, but it’s different.

“You’re looking well, Marilyn,” Christian points out. I have to admit that he’s right. Her cheeks have regained their color and she’s put on some weight. The cloud of doom isn’t following her around anymore either.

“Thank you,” she replies. “I’m working hard to take better care of myself.”

“How about you, Gary?” I ask. “How have you been?”

“I’ve been well,” he replies sincerely. “I’m looking for a bigger place. The studio is just too small. Right now, it’s like sleeping in a matchbox.”

“I thought it was what you wanted,” I point out.

“It was, but it was a temporary fix,” he admits. “I’ve never wanted to be in a place that small, but I knew it wasn’t home when I moved there, nor was it ever intended to be. It was an escape—to get away from the situation. I refused to see the place; it was just somewhere to be. But when I opened my eyes, I hated it… and I need to get out of there. I need to build a home for myself again, and I’ll admit it. I want Mare to be comfortable when she comes over.”

“Comes over?” Christian says, looking at Marilyn. “You’ve decided not to move back in together?”

“Not yet,” Marilyn says firmly. “It’s still too soon.”

“You don’t feel like that might be taking a step backwards?” I ask.

“No, she’s right,” Gary interjects. “A lot has changed, and we need to get to know one another again… get to know ourselves.” He looks over at Marilyn. “I love her and I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be here as long as it takes, and apparently I’ve got some growing I need to do, too.”

“Well, you two sound like you’ve got this all locked down,” Christian says.

“Oh, no,” Gary corrects him. “There’s still some bumps and we’re still working them out. I’m new at this, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still working things out. We’re just taking it slow so that we each know and understand what we want and what to expect from the other.”

“There were a lot of assumptions made in our relationship,” Mare says looking at her hands. “That’s what got us to the brick wall we hit when we faced our first real obstacle. We don’t expect to get it perfect from here on out, but we’re working on getting it better.”

“Do you mind sharing what steps you’re taking to getting it better?” I ask.

For the next hour or so, Gary and Marilyn share what they’re doing to bring themselves back to a healthy and happy version of themselves, jointly and severally, emotionally and physically. The conversation is wrought with angst, but also with small—and some large—victories. If everything were perfect, I’d be concerned about the future health of their relationship. They appear to be right on track for a healthy reconciliation, and that’s my professional opinion.

*-*

I had decided quite some time ago that I wanted to get back into Krav Maga, but not with Klevnar. He was always spouting about how he was the best, and I put up with his shit for years without looking at any other instructors. I never even bothered to look around. Little did I know that there was an actual Krav Maga training center in Seattle, not just a trainer working for a gym. So, on Friday afternoon, I decide to grab my gear and head down there.

I opt for yoga pants and a sports bra since my usual Krav Maga gear seams to bring out the worst in people. It was a good choice.

Krav Maga Seattle is a sizable facility, with both men and women. The men all look like linebackers and the women are all ripped—and I do mean ripped—muscular veiny arms, rugged features, mostly in camouflage pants or yoga pants. They all look like GI Jane on steroids.

What the fuck have I gotten myself into?

“Hello. Welcome to KM Seattle.” A large wall of man approaches me—nothing but biceps, triceps, and deltoids. “I’m Jerry.”

“I’m Ana,” I say. He looks over my shoulder at Chuck. “He’s security.” Jerry nods once at Chuck and turns his attention back to me.

“You looking for a trainer?” Jerry asks.

“Maybe,” I reply. “I’m just trying to test the place out, see if it likes me.” He nods.

“I like your attitude,” he replies.

“I just… feel a bit out of my league, like I’ve stepping into the Land of the Giants.”

“Trust me, ma’am,” he says with a chuckle, “we all know that size has nothing to do with it. You should, too.” I nod.

“We’ll get along just fine if you promise not to call me ma’am.” He laughs.

“Agreed. Let me show you around.” I nod to Chuck and he takes a position where he can see me.

Jerry shows me around the gym where all the equipment is including the showers. Once he’s done, he guides me over to one of the trainers. She’s 5’10” easily, 160—maybe 170, and all muscle… absolutely zero percent body fat.

“Ana, this is Lisa,” he says, introducing me. “Ana says she wants to see if our facility likes her.”

“Good to meet you, Ana,” she says, smiling and proffering her hand to me. I take her shake. Her grip is firm and professional.

“Same, Lisa, thank you,” I say, returning her smile.

“I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” Jerry says and leaves me with Lisa.

“So, Ana,” she says, sizing me up, “you look very fit. What’s your experience?”

“Well, I’ve never tried out for any belts or levels,” I tell her. “I just… fight for fitness and self-defense.”

“So, you’re not new to Krav Maga.” It’s a statement, not a question. I shake my head.

“No. I’ve been on and off for about seven years,” I reply. She raises her brow.

“Well, there’s an accomplishment,” she says. “On and off for seven years means that you have a great foundation and your skills are most likely better than you’re letting on. Who did you train with?”

“Luc Klevnar,” I reply. Several people fall silent in the gym and turn to look at me. I feel like I’m in that old E.F. Hutton commercial.

“You trained with Luc Klevnar?” she asks incredulously.

“Yes,” I reply. “He trained me very well for seven years, but he’s an asshole. He wanted me to go pro and when I didn’t, he kept pulling dirty shit on me. I’m not trying to go pro. Like I said, fitness and self-defense.” She smiles.

“Yeah, you’re better than you’re lettin’ on,” she says with a smile, her hands on her hips.

“May I ask for your… qualifications?” I say, choosing my words carefully.

“Certainly,” she says. “I’m a third level blackbelt.” I whistle.

“That’s pretty impressive,” I say.

“For a girl,” she chuckles, and I laugh with her. “Let’s spar a bit. You’ll be defense, so I can see what you got. Okay with you?”

“Sure,” I say, and we head to the mat.

Dear God in heaven, this woman gives me hell! She starts out slow and picks up the pace. By the time were at the height of sparring, I’m literally rolling over her back to keep from getting slammed onto the mat. I’m running on pure adrenaline when she finally calls an end to the sparring and I literally drop out on the matt in exhaustion.

“Don’t fall out now,” she says, offering her hand to help me up. I gladly take it. She gestures to someone outside of the ring while I’m fighting to catch my breath. I turn just in time to see someone come to the edge of the ring and toss her two waters, one at a time… and to see that we have accumulated an audience.

“On your toes,” she says as she cracks one of the seals on the waters. “Bounce. You know the drill. You can’t just stop.”

I bounce from foot to foot for a minute or two until I’m no longer choking on air. Although not as badly as me, I’m glad to see that Lisa is a bit out of breath, too, and just as sweaty.

“That was impressive!” Lisa says, handing me the unopened water. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody move like that. Are you sure you don’t want to at least test for your belt?” I throw her a death glare after I crack the seal on my water. She puts her hands up in defense.

“Okay, okay,” she says with mirth. “It was just a suggestion. So, you really don’t need a trainer. You just need somebody to spar with, huh?” I chug the bottle of water before I answer.

“Yeah,” I say a little out of breath, “but I left Klevnar’s gym because he put me up against his students—girls who were trying to prove their salt. I won’t put up with that shit. I’m in competition with nobody. I’m not the best of anything. Fitness and self-defense—that’s it.”

“I like your attitude,” she says as she hands me a towel.

“That’s the same thing Jerry said,” I reply.

“Have you given any thought to maybe being a trainer?” she asks. “You’re very good and it only requires a short course.”

“Thank you, I’m flattered,” I say, “but I’m so busy. I have two ‘jobs’ and I’m a mother to twins.” Her brows furrow.

“Twins? How old?” I count on my fingers.

“Just over a year,” I say, “15 months.”

“Fifteen months!  Twins? You must’ve worked like hell to get that body back.” I don’t bother to dispute her. I nod.

“Belly wraps, breastfeeding, yoga almost immediately, and I do train Krav Maga, but not formally. I train the women at the community center where I work—women hiding from domestic violence mostly.”

“That’s… quite admirable.”

“Thank you,” I reply, “but I think everyone should be able to defend themselves against a bully—especially if they married one.” She nods.

“Well, have we sold you on our facility?” she asks. “I’ll be glad to spar with you anytime you come. You’ll keep me on my toes. The next time you come, you can be offense.” I smile.

“You’ve got a deal, Lisa. Where do I sign up?”

*-*

After a good soak when I get back to the Crossing, I head down to my study for a little while before dinner. Since I’m not as fascinated with Roman history as I am with Greek history, I decide that I should take some time to get to know the place where we plan to spend six weeks of our summer vacation, maybe learn an Italian word or two. Granted, I know we’ll only spend three to five days in Rome, but the city is rich in history—fact and fiction—and the fact that I’ll be able to see things up close and in person like the Colosseum and the Parthenon actually gives me chills.

I don’t know where to start yet since I have no idea what our itinerary will look like. So, I just go to YouTube and start watching travel videos on Rome. I’m thinking maybe I picked the wrong series or subject matter because instead of getting the great stories of fabulous vacations and wonderful sights to see, all I keep getting is warnings of thieves and pickpockets. I’ve seen so many warnings against pickpockets that I’m just going to wear across-the-body money belts. I won’t even bring purses.

What’s more, all I keep stumbling on is what not to do when you’re in Rome!

Don’t wear spaghetti strings to the churches. Cover up when you visit them, specifically the Vatican.

Don’t order cappuccino after noon.

Don’t ask for tap water in a restaurant… That’s a strange one.

Don’t say ciao to everybody. That’s reserved for good friends. Buon giorno or buona sera is more polite.

Don’t splash in the fountains. Apparently, there are several of them in the Eternal City.

Don’t take pictures at the Sistine Chapel. It’s forbidden.

Don’t disrespect soccer. The Romans are obsessed with it. Oh, and the biggest way to diss the sport is to call it soccer. It’s football.

Don’t ask for Parmesan cheese. Your server will tell you when it’s appropriate by offering.

Don’t eat from the tourist menus. The food isn’t authentic. While you’re at it, avoid the food kiosks and vendor trucks.

Don’t take flowers or trinkets being shoved at you from the people on the street or pictures with the fake gladiators at the Colosseum… or wherever. It’s a scam and your denial to give them money will very likely become hostile.

Don’t take coins out of the fountains… They actually have to say that?

Jesus! I’m going on vacation! Where are the pointers about the beautiful sights and the ancient ruins? Don’t drive; take public transportation. Don’t buy water; there are lots of public fountains. Don’t take your eyes off of your stuff or someone’s going to snatch it from you.

That’s it. I’m learning a few Italian words and I’m leaving the rest to Christian. This endeavor is giving me a headache…


CHRISTIAN

“I’m in the process of making sure our weapons are registered with the Italian government, sir. Are we acquiring security abroad that speak the language?” Jason asks as we cross the bridge heading home.

“Don’t we always?” I ask.

“We didn’t do it in Madrid,” he counters.

“That was short notice,” I retort. “Besides, I didn’t need it in Madrid, I had you.”

“Which is exactly why I’m asking,” he says. “May I suggest that we bring Ben… Lawrence along with us. He speaks fluent Italian. Then we would only need to secure one additional Italian-speaking guard if you wish.” I nod.

“Okay. That’s fortuitous. Do we have someone on staff that speaks every major language?” I ask.

“Not every major language, but we’ve got most of them locked down,” he says.

“Let’s try not to have any ‘meathead’ situations this time,” I tell Jason. “Brief him however you need to, but if my wife doesn’t like him, he’s gone.”

“Understood,” he replies.

I can smell food when we enter the mudroom. I had to stay in the office a little later than usual to finish some things up and it’s right about dinnertime now. I’m so hungry, I can eat a horse!

“What smells so good?” I ask as I walk into the kitchen.

“Grilled pork chops and applesauce, roasted asparagus spears, and pearl baked cream onions,” Ms. Solomon informs me. Dear God, just hand me a fork and a knife and I’ll eat right out of the pots!

“I’m going to clean up a bit. How long before dinner’s served?”

“About 15 minutes,” she informs me. I nod and head up to our bedroom. I don’t expect to find Butterfly here, but I check the en suite anyway. As suspected, no Butterfly. I shed my suit jacket and tie and loosen the buttons at my collar. God, it feels good to be home, I think to myself as I wash my hands and splash some warm water on my face, just to get some of the city grit off my skin. I dry my face and hands, and when I feel a bit more human, I peek into the nursery.

The children aren’t here, so they must be downstairs in the dining room waiting for dinner. I descend the stairs and as I expected, everyone has congregated at the dining table including my children—everyone, that is, except my wife.

“Where’s Butterfly?” I ask. Everyone at the table looks up but no one responds. I immediately look at Chuck.

“Don’t look at me,” he shrugs. “I brought her home, so she’s gotta be here somewhere.”

“You haven’t seen her?” I ask, expectant.

“I’m sorry,” he says, somewhat affronted. “I didn’t realize that I was supposed to keep an eye on her after we got home.” Okay, I had that coming.

“Did anything happen today?” I ask.

“Besides that insane workout, no?” My brow furrows.

“What insane workout? Was she angry? Did somebody upset her?”

“No,” Chuck says, now noting my concern. “She went to that Krav Maga place on 8th. That woman really put her through her paces.” I twist my lips.

“Well, she was sparring with your wife and I swear I thought your wife was a Cirque de Soleil acrobat. The way she was dodging those hits makes me wonder sometimes why she even needs a bodyguard,” he replies. I ponder the thought.

“Another female trying to make an example of her,” I deduce.

“No, this was the trainer,” Chuck says. “She and Ana talked for a while, then they sparred like crazy—so much that the other people in the gym stopped working out and sparring to watch them. When it was done, Ana just dropped in the middle of the mat.”

I don’t like the sound of that.

“The trainer—I think I heard her name is Lisa—helped Ana up and told her to do some cool-down exercises while they drank water and talked. Then, they shook hands, went their separate ways, and Ana signed up for a membership.”

“Oh, so nothing bad,” I say.

“Not that I can tell,” he responds. “She told me that she was taking a bath, but I didn’t see her after that.”

Well, she’s not in her en suite. I checked.

“I’ll go check her office,” I say. “She’s probably down there.”

I leave the dining room with no word from anyone and take the elevator down to the ground floor. I move a bit more quickly than normal, just a tad bit anxious to see her and make sure that she’s okay. When I get to her study, there she is in one of those comfortable sweater minidresses that she has hiding—fast asleep on her laptop.

That must’ve been some workout.

I go over to my wife and gently touch her shoulder. She doesn’t stir. I begin to rub her back a little more firmly. She groans and sweetly mumble something inaudible. I think she said something about Parmesan cheese.

What?

I look at her laptop screen and it has gone to sleep, too, so no way to see what she was working on. I rub her back again.

“Butterfly, it’s time for dinner,” I say softly, but loud enough to get through the fog.

“Not hungry,” she mutters without lifting her head or opening her eyes.

“Butterfly, you have to eat,” I say, and there’s no response. It’s no use. If I take her to the table right now, she’s going to end up face down in her applesauce.

Getting her out of her chair without her falling flat on her face is going to be quite the task. I end up crawling under her—somewhat—and lobbing her over my shoulder like a drunk. She doesn’t budge.

Oh yeah, she’s gone.

I have to admit, I love when she’s like this, all soft and helpless. It wakes the protector/Neanderthal/Dominant in me. It doesn’t help that I’m currently carrying her over my shoulder like a caveman.

I gently lay her on her back when I get her to our bedroom. She looks absolutely angelic lying there with her hair sprawled over the pillow, both hands on the bed next to her head in surrender. I resist the urge to ravage her and leave the bedroom, my stomach reminding me that there are pork chops waiting for me downstairs.

*-*

“The villa is coming along very nicely,” Butterfly says the next day. “Sophie has a good eye for matching things up.”

Sophie’s birthday is on Cinco de Mayo, but since it falls on a Tuesday which is of course a school night, we’re heading to a Mexican taco festival on the weekend instead.

“I just pick what I like,” Sophie says. “I get a little confused with that whole baroque-rococo thing you were talking about. I can’t tell them apart.”

“Most of us can’t, dear,” Butterfly replies. “They’re very similar.”

“She asked me about it, and I couldn’t help her at all,” Gail says. “I felt like a bit of a dunce.”

“Don’t,” Butterfly replies. “You really wouldn’t know what it was unless you were into designing or decorating. I wouldn’t know if I wasn’t decorating the villa.”

The ladies chatter for the entire ride to Union Station. It’s isn’t that long, but Sophie is so elated to be able to go to Italy that she nearly can’t stop talking. When we arrive at our destination, I’m surprised that I never knew something like this happened in Seattle. Then again, why would I?

It’s called the Taco Libre Truck Showdown and what looks like 50 food trucks line 5th Avenue. They’re not all Mexican food, mind you…

And, oh my God, the food!

Sophie warns me not to stuff myself at the first food truck because there are, in fact, 35 to choose from. Each truck offers a taco dish for less than $5 and Sophie wants to try as many of them as she can. Luckily, the servings are small and we’ll be walking a lot.

The first taco we try is from a Native American vendor. It’s a chicken chile verde taco from a place called Off the Rez. Dear God, it’s fantastic. Butterfly and I agree to share a taco as do Gail and Sophie so that we don’t get full before we get to the end of the block. Jason just takes a nibble here and there from Sophie’s taco, then decides if he wants to buy one of his own.

The choices are endless—Thai, Indian, fried chicken, Mediterranean, Moroccan, traditional Mexican, Cajun and Creole, barbeque, just to name a few—and that doesn’t include the ice cream and dessert trucks. There’s live music and dancing in the street. Sophie is having a great time and I don’t fail to take an opportunity or three to sweep my lovely wife off her feet and spin to the music as she giggles endlessly.

Sophie heads to a nearby booth to get a drink while the adults enjoy the ambiance of the evening—the people mulling about, the lively live music being played, the delicious food. I wrap my arms around my beautiful wife and nuzzle her neck, causing her to giggle again. I’m just sinking into the comfort of doing nothing and just being normal when an awful sound rips through my ears.

“Daddaaaaaayy!”

We turn around to see that Sophie has disappeared, but her screaming is incessant. We tear through the crowd, following her screams and in moments, we find her in the clutches of some guy dragging her roughly through the crowd kicking and screaming for her father… and nobody’s trying to stop him!

“Come on, stop this!” he scolds, like he’s dragging his own child through the crowd. “It’s time to go!”

Oh, he’s done this before.

“Let me go!” Sophie screams, now sobbing. “Daddaaay!”

“Let her go!” Jason yells, but the guy doesn’t stop. He just keeps dragging her through the crowd. Jason and I are upon the man in seconds. Jason grabs his arm and I grab Sophie. She fights at first since she can’t see me.

“It’s Christian,” I say in her ear. “You’re going to be okay.”

She’s breathing heavily and sobbing, clearly confused.

“Let go of my daughter or lose this fucking arm!” Jason demands. The guy turns around and sees that he’s outnumbered. He releases Sophie’s arm and goes quickly into fight and flight mode, swinging on Jason to get him to release and trying to get away at the same time.

I don’t even think he saw it coming.

Still holding the guy’s wrist with his right hand, Jason hits him square and solid in the jaw with his left. You know how you see those hits in the movies and they look all dramatic? Blood flying and hair slinging… no. This wasn’t that at all. This guy dropped like a sack of potatoes and is lying in a useless mound on the ground in front of us.

The slightest struggle from Sophie signals me to release her and she runs straight to her father’s arms, clutching him tightly around the neck and sobbing as he squats down to her height. He holds her for a few moments as the crowd parts to see what’s going on. He pulls her back to look in her eyes.

“Are you okay, Baby Boo?” Jason asks. Sophie nods with tears in her eyes. Jason looks back at her would-be kidnapper, now lying unconscious on the ground.

“Go to Gail, baby,” he says. Without hesitation, Sophie sprints to Gail.

“Come on, Pumpkin,” Gail says embracing her as Sophie continues to weep. Jason stands over the unconscious assailant.

“Call the police,” he says, his voice too calm as he looks down at the would-be kidnapper. I pull my phone out and immediately dial 911. If this man wakes before the police get here, there’s no telling what Jason is going to do to him.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

I explain to the dispatcher that we’re at the taco truck festival and someone just tried to kidnap my niece. I explain the situation as quickly and thoroughly as I can and give her my best estimate of our location. When I see two security guards headed in our direction, I inform the dispatcher that Jason is my armed personal security and it’s his daughter that was nearly kidnapped. I ask her to tell the police to hurry since more security is on their way. She understands my request.

The two guards get conflicting stories from witnesses in about a two-minute segment of flash questioning, then they move to restrain Jason.

“This man just tried to kidnap my daughter touch me and I’ll shoot you both,” he says calmly and all in one sentence. Both guards look alarmed and take a step back without a word. Oh, dear God.

“The police are already on their way,” I tell the guards. “This man is my armed personal security…” and he’s serious about shooting your ass. They look from me to Jason and back at me.

“Witnesses say he just decked the guy,” one of the guards says.

“Did those same witnesses see this guy dragging that 14-year-old girl over there through the crowd screaming?” I reply matter-of-factly. They turn to see Sophie, who’s standing in Gail’s protective grasp, her hair and clothes ruffled… and she’s still crying. Both guards soften their gaze upon seeing her.

“You said you already called the police?” the other guard says.

“Yes, sir,” I reply. He nods.

“We’ll just wait for the police, then,” he says.

A few moments pass and the would-be kidnapper starts to stir. Jason moves to stand over him right at his head. When the guy gets his bearings a bit, he apparently remembers where he was and what he was doing, and quickly moves to get up.

“Move another muscle and you can say goodbye to your future bloodline,” Jason says calmly. The guy freezes.

“No hablo inglés,” he says in a perfect American accent. Didn’t we just hear him speaking English to Sophie a minute ago?

“Okay, let’s try this. Respira demasiado fuerte y te arrancaré las pelotas con mis manos desnudas!” Jason says his voice menacing. “Did you understand that?”

“Ooo!” Gail winces as the rattled would-be kidnapper turns pale in the face and nods.

“Um-hmm, Spanish and English, didn’t you?” Jason confirms angrily while still standing over the man, and he just swallows and doesn’t move.

“I take it you understood it, too,” I say to Gail. She raises her brow and purses her lips.

“Unless my Spanish is a little rusty, I think my husband just threatened to castrate the man,” she says.

“You think correctly,” Jason says, never taking his eyes off Sophie’s assailant.

“What the hell?” Butterfly asks incredulously. “Did he seriously just try to snatch Sophie in a crowd full of people?”

“We’re in a throng,” I reply, “so he thought he could easily pull her away and she wouldn’t be heard over the crowd.”

“Asshole!” Butterfly yells at the assailant.

And now we have two people ready to castrate this guy… well, at least two.

When the police arrive, Sophie wrenches herself from Gail’s grasp and runs to her father, tightly wrapping her arms around his waist. The two security guards move in to make sure the would-be kidnapper doesn’t move.

“Baby Boo, go to Gail. I have to talk to the police,” Jason says.

“No!” she sobs. “They might try to take you to jail.”

“They won’t take me to jail…”

“But they might!” she squeals, and it’s clear that she’s not letting go. If they take Jason, they’re going to have to take her, too.

The police approach the scene, introduce themselves, and ask what happen. Sophie’s mouth is moving a mile a minute before anyone can say anything.

“He grabbed me!” she yells frantically, pointing to the man on the ground. “He was pulling me and telling me to come on! I tried to get away, but he wouldn’t let me go! He kept telling me it was time to go and I screamed for my Dad! When Dad got here, he started hittin’ my Dad and Dad hit him back…!”

“Okay, sweetie, okay,” the lady cop soothes Sophie, holding her hands palms down. “Calm down. It’s okay now.” Sophie crashes into uncontrollable sobs.

“My… dad… told him… to let me… go… and he wouldn’t… let me… go…” She’s talking in that stuttering breath voice in an attempt to get her story out before they take her father away. The first cop turns to the other cop.

“Cuff him,” she says, pointing to the assailant. “She’s not going to calm down until he’s cuffed.”

“You’ve dealt with this before, haven’t you?” Butterfly asks the lady cop as the second cop cuffs the assailant. Sophie calms a bit immediately, but still won’t let go of Jason.

“Unfortunately, yes,” she says. “SVU. Someone called in the attempted kidnapping of a teenager.” Butterfly sighs. They get the assailant in a sitting position after the cuff him and he doesn’t raise his head.

“What’s your name?” the guy cop asks, and he doesn’t respond. “Do you have any ID on you?”

Still no answer.

“So, this is what’s going to happen,” he says. “You’re not under arrest, yet, but we do have probable cause to search you for ID, especially since you won’t tell me who you are.  Now, if I get cut or impaled while searching you, that’s going to be more charges on you. If I don’t find any ID, I’m going to assume that you’re illegal and after we book you, we’ll turn you over to ICE and let them sort it out.”

“I’m not illegal,” he says, still not raising his head. “I was born here.”

“No hablo inglés, huh, you lyin’ piece of shit?” Jason blurts out, forgetting that his daughter is clamped to his waist.

“Sorry, Baby Boo,” he says, but she’s too distraught to respond.

The cops drag him to his feet and search his pockets. Locating his wallet, they pull out an ID or driver’s license.

“Enrique Ruiz,” the lady cop says aloud. “Does that ring a bell to you at all? Do you know this guy?” she asks Jason.

“I don’t know anything about this piece of shit except for the fact that he just tried to take my daughter. I caught him in the act! I’m legally armed security. He’s lucky I didn’t shoot ‘im!” She shakes her head.

“God, it takes all kinds,” she says. “Take him to the squad car. Take his statement if he’ll give you one and run him for priors. I’m going to talk to these people.”

“You got it,” the guy cop says. Security walks with him as he leads Ruiz to the squad car. The lady cop turns to us and looks at a distraught Sophie.

“Can somebody bring her a bottle of water or something?” she asks.

“I’ll get it,” Gail says.

“Momma Gail!” Sophie screams and Gail freezes in her tracks, a bit startled.

“Okay, okay, Pumpkin, I’m not going anywhere,” she promises.

“I’ll go,” I say, moving towards one of the trucks.

“Uncle Christian!” She’s not going to let any of us leave.

“I’ll be right back,” the lady cop says. I watch her go to one of the trucks and ask for a bottle of water. The server in the truck hands her a water and asks, “Para la niña?”

“Sí,” she responds, and hands him some money.

“No, no,” he says, waving his hand. “De forma gratuita.”

“Gracias,” she says with a nod. I understood most of that, enough to know that he didn’t charge her for the water. She comes back and kneels in front of Sophie.

“Here you go, sweetie,” she says, handing her the water. “Will you drink this for me?” She looks at the cop.

“Are you going to take my dad?” she asks sadly. “He was only trying to make the man let me go.” The cop looks up at Jason and back down at Sophie.

“No, I’m not going to take your father,” she says. “Will you drink the water? I want to talk to you, and you can stay with your dad.” Sophie takes the water and drinks half the bottle down quickly.

“Thank you,” the cop says. “Do you feel a little better?” Sophie shrugs. “My name is Liza. Can you tell me your name?” Sophie looks up at her father and Jason nods.

“Sophia Taylor,” she says, her voice shaky.

“Okay, Sophia. Do you think you can talk to me?” Liza asks and Sophie nods.

“I know this is really scary,” Liza says, “and I’m sorry this happened to you, but I need you to tell me everything that happened, okay?”

Sophie story begins with her going to one of the trucks to get some horchata. After she paid for her drink, she turned around and the guy was standing behind her. She moved to her left and then to her right to try to go around him and he wouldn’t let her pass. Then he grabbed her and started dragging her away. She dropped her drink and yelled for him to let her go. She tried to get away, but he was too strong, so she called for her dad. She knew what was happening, but she couldn’t get away, so she kept screaming for her father. Of course, that’s when Jason and I stepped in.

“You’re a smart girl,” Liza says. “You did the right thing.” Her voice is caring and consoling, and it serves to soothe Sophie a little more. She asks Jason if anything happened differently, even though I’m sure they were supposed to question them separately. Jason just says that he yelled for Ruiz to let Sophie go before he got to him, that he heard Ruiz talking to her like he was her father, and he knows that’s a regular tactic when they’re trying to take children from a crowd. She takes a statement from me and from our wives before looking at her phone.

“Well, Ruiz won’t be going home tonight,” she says. “We’ve got enough to hold him on this.” She gives Jason her card. “Please call me if you have any other questions or if there’s anything you might want to add to your statement.”

“Thank you,” Jason says, taking her card. She bends down to Sophie again.

“And thank you, Sophia,” she says. “You were very helpful and very brave.”

“Your welcome,” Sophie says in a little mousy voice. She smiles and walks away, heading back to the truck where she got the water. Jason stands there for several moments, looking at her card.

“What is it?” I say.

“Nothing,” he says. “I’m just listening to her conversation with the truck.” He deliberately takes his wallet from his back pocket and slides her card into one of the slots. Then he takes out his phone.

“Anything interesting?” I ask since the entire conversation is in Spanish. He shakes his head as he looks at his phone.

“Nope,” he says. “They’re basically telling her the same thing we did.” He hugs Sophie, then reaches behind him to take her hand.

“Come on, Baby Boo, let’s get you home,” he says. Sophie nods and reaches for Gail’s hand with her free hand as we walk back to the car. I drive and Butterfly sits in the front seat with me, allowing Jason and Gail to sit in the back and comfort Sophie. What a fucked-up birthday dinner this turned out to be. There’s silence in the car for nearly the entire drive. We’re over the bridge and almost home when Sophie breaks the silence.

“I guess it’s true what I’ve heard,” she says softly.

“What’s that, Pumpkin?” Gail asks.

“It takes a village…” and she trails off. We all fall silent for a moment.

“Maybe that’s why Mom couldn’t do it,” she says. “She didn’t have a village.” We all look at each other, all wondering what to say. Butterfly has the correct response.

“Well, you do,” she says, taking Sophie’s hand and giving it a squeeze. Sophie nods.

“I do,” she says, without raising her head.

When we get home, we’re all silent and quickly make our way to our separate quarters. I think we’re all in a hurry to literally put this day to rest

I awake in the morning to a double batch of those delicious chocolate truffles and a note.

Thanks for being part of my village.


A/N: If you are unfamiliar with Christian’s Biblical reference, read Matthew 14:1-12.

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

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

Grey Continued: Episode 33—Planning to Go Abroad

I’m sorry I’ve been MIA. Lots of changes requiring my attention these days and the Muse took a bit of a beating. Let’s get the story rolling again, shall we?

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 33—Planning to Go Abroad

Anastasia

My husband and I can’t keep our hands off each other on Saturday afternoon and it’s quite obvious. We’re not mauling each other to death or having inappropriate PDA’s since we have a yard full of people, but we are very touchy-feely, sitting close to each other and stealing little kisses as often as possible.

Why do we have a house full of people?

It’s a partly-sunny spring day topping off around the mid-60’s, and we’ve decided to have a family barbeque for Christian’s 32nd birthday. It’s late April and we feel that it’s high time to make an announcement to the family.

“So, as some of you know, I purchased a villa in Italy for my wife a couple of years ago and we have yet to visit it. We planned on going last year, but circumstances made that impossible. With everything that has happened and all the drama in our lives, we have decided that we’re going to take a second honeymoon trip to Italy this year.”

“Oh, how romantic!” Grace exclaims. “You’ve always loved Rome. Now, you get to show Ana it’s beauty and history.”

“I’m very excited to go,” I tell her. “Italy is one of the places that I’ve always wanted to see.”

“I’m telling you all this because we plan on leaving in early June and we’ll be gone for no less than six weeks. We plan to end the trip on Lake Como at the villa, and we want to invite our family to join us,” Christian says. The patio is silent now as everyone looks at everyone else.

“Seriously?” Mia is the first to speak. “Lake Como? That’s where your villa is?”

“Yes,” Christian replies, “Sala Comacina, to be exact.”

“Excellent!” Mia exclaims. “When do we leave?” Christian chuckles.

“We plan to be there no later than the 5th of July and we’ll be staying until the 18th,” he replies. Mia looks at Ethan.

“Can we go?” she asks.

“As if I would ever say ‘no’ to you,” Ethan says, kissing Mia’s nose. I can’t help but wonder if he accommodates Mia a bit too much. Hey, what can I say about it? I’m married to a billionaire.

Jason is busy turning the meat on the outside barbeque while Gail and Ms. Solomon complete the side dishes and Sophie helps by preparing the homemade coleslaw and several hors d’oeuvres.

“So, I don’t mean to put you on the spot, Bro,” Christian says, “but the villa is on a really beautiful piece of land on the lake. You and Valerie had a very touching ceremony here, but Lake Como would be the perfect place to renew your vows and take some scenic pictures.” Elliot makes a face like he’s pondering the idea.

“What do you think, Angel?” he asks Val, and her eyes light up.

“A wedding on Lake Como are you kidding?” she asks all in one breath. “Do you really have to ask?” Elliot laughs.

“I guess that’s a yes,” he says. “I don’t know anything about putting together a wedding, though.”

“Oh, please, let me,” Grace beseeches, “I promise I won’t go overboard, and I won’t do anything that you guys don’t want. Please?”

I know Elliot won’t be able to say no, so he volleys that ball over into Val’s court.

“Yes,” Val says with a smile. “I would love that.” Grace claps her hands happily.

“Good! How many people are we expecting? Just the family?” Grace asks.

“I would say yes. Just the usual people we’re accustomed to seeing, unless the happy couple wants something bigger.”

“No, no,” Val chimes in. “The usual is just fine by me.”

“Quaint and elegant,” Grace says. “Excellent! I’ll put together some ideas and touch bases with you later in the week. Is that okay, Valerie?”

“Yes, that’s fine,” Val replies, then looks over at me. “I’m excited already!” she adds with a giggle.

“These are really good. What are they?” Mandy says.

“I’m not sure,” I reply, tasting the crostino that Mandy is eating. “I can taste olives and mushrooms in the spread, but I can’t place everything else.”

“And who thought to put a smoked salmon salad on top of cucumber slices?” Val says. “This is really delicious.”

“Thank you,” Sophie says as she comes out to the patio with more hors d’oeuvres. “That’s actually trout and capers, Aunt Val,” she says as she places another tray of hors d’oeuvres on the table in front of us. “And the bruschetta has two different toppings—one mushroom with garlic and the other olives with herbs. They might have mixed a bit in the blender. I have to be more careful next time.” She looks slightly disappointed.

You made these?” Val says, eating the entire cucumber slice. “Thith ith deliciouth!” Sophie smiles.

“What’s this one, Sophie?” I ask, taking one of the small delights she just set on the table.

“This is an easy one. This is kind of a cheat. This is crab and avocado toast. It’s seasoned with a little cayenne pepper, chopped mint and lime juice on thin, toasted white bread rings.”

“Easy?” Mandy says after finishing her hors d’oeuvre. “I bet you I could mess it up. These are great, Sophie.”

“Thank you,” Sophie says as she heads back to the house.

“How old is she again?” Mandy asks.

“She’s about to be 14,” I reply.

“Does she always help out in the kitchen?” Mandy asks. I know what she’s getting at, and I know why.

“Only when she wants to,” I reply with no malice. “She’s fascinated with cooking, and she’s pretty damn good at it, which reminds me… Everybody?” I look over my shoulder to make sure Sophie’s not coming back out of the house.

“If you’re coming with us this summer, you’re going to want to get started applying for passports for yourself and your children if you don’t already have them,” I say when I have everyone’s attention.

“What on earth made you think about that just then?” Mandy asks. I look over at Jason.

“Because we’re having a hard time getting Sophie’s passport,” he says solemnly. Mandy’s brow furrows in horror.

“Is something wrong?” she asks.

“Yeah, her mother’s a bi… witch,” he corrects himself, noting all of the young ears around that can hear him. “I need her to sign a notarized document for Sophie to get a passport since she can’t physically come with me to apply for the passport and she’s giving me a hard time.” Daddy scoffs.

“Does Sophie know?” he asks.

“Unfortunately, she does,” he says. “I couldn’t keep it from her. I’m supposed to go to the prison this week to get her to sign it, but I know this woman. She’s selfish and manipulative and if she doesn’t sign the paper soon, Sophie won’t be able to go.”

“Well, that sucks,” Daddy says.

“You say both parents,” Luma says. “The girls…”

“You are their only guardian,” Christian says, “so you can sign alone.” Luma sighs heavily and nods.

“What about Harry?” Daddy asks. “He’s a baby. Will he need one?”

“Every United States citizen needs one to travel to another country and get back into the US,” I tell him. “Do you have one, Daddy?” He shakes his head.

“No,” he says. “I’ve never had a reason to leave the country… except when I was active duty.”

“Make that two of us,” Mandy says.

“Well, then you can all go together,” I say. “You’ve got enough time, but you don’t want to wait much longer.”

“Much longer for what?”

I hear the voice that is always welcome in our house, but I’m beginning to dread hearing it.

“Hey, Marlow,” Christian says, rising from his seat and shaking his hand. “We were just talking about passports. The family is going to Italy this summer, so everyone’s passports need to be in order. Do you have one?” He shrugs.

“I have to ask my mom,” he says. “We went to Jamaica once before my father lost his mind, so I might have one, but it’s probably expired.”

“Then, you just have to get it renewed…” Christian continues to talk to Marlow about the trip and needed a passport for him, Marcia, and Maggie, and I’m keeping an eye on the patio door to the kitchen looking for Sophie, noting that Marlow has brought yet another flavor of the month to our home. I don’t want to be rude, but these girls don’t last even to the next holiday. So, I’m not sure why he brings them around.

This one, today… dear God. If Sophie wants to poke at her, she’ll be spoiled for choice. She looks like Buffy the Vampire Slayer with way too much makeup on and not enough clothes. She’s wearing this spaghetti-string corset thing and it’s nowhere near warm enough for something like that. Her skirt is only long enough to cover her unmentionables and she’s wearing sky-high-heeled shoes… to a barbeque!

She’s hanging on Christian’s every word as he’s telling Marlow about the trip and I so desperately want to tell her that my husband isn’t interested in toddlers. I throw a look over at Val and she looks just as bemused back at me. I try very hard not to judge a book by its cover, but this girl has sure thing written all over her and I feel like I should be having the condom conversation again with Marlow right here and right now.

“I, uh, think I’m going to go check on the rest of the meat,” Jason says, rising from his perch next to Christian’s empty seat. “It should be about done, now.”

He heads off to the outdoor kitchen and Val scoots a little closer to Elliot. Grace makes a face like she needs to put something in her mouth before the wrong thing flies out of it and quickly takes a sip of her wine. This is ridiculous. This child is making the adults uncomfortable.

“Ana, this is Rochelle.” Why are you introducing me? It’s not like she’s ever coming back… and she has to know how she looks.

“Hi,” I say, half-heartedly.

“Hi,” she says with a small wave. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Thank you,” I say with a nod. “Have a seat…” before your ass pops out of that dress. She smiles and takes a seat at the table.

Oh, shit, not at the table.

Marlow takes a seat next to her, smiling in her face the whole time. A few minutes later, my fears are confirmed when Sophie walks out of the house. I can feel the animosity radiating off of her as she walks towards the table. She doesn’t speak to anyone or acknowledges anyone’s presence. She just let it rip.

“Aren’t you cold?” Sophie asks. Oh, dear God, here it comes.

“No,” Rochelle replies. “In fact, I’m quite hot.” She throws a look over at Marlow.

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Sophie says, her voice low as she puts the coleslaw on the table, but not low enough. Rochelle scoffs a condescending laugh and turns back to Marlow, who is only too happy to give her the attention she’s seeking. He’s nearly falling all over the girl as Sophie goes back into the house. Several minutes later, she comes back out with a tray and just can’t help herself.

“It probably takes forever for some girls to get dressed,” she says to no one in particular, putting the tray on the table, “and they probably don’t even look like their real selves when they’re done.”

Rochelle sits up in her seat and glares at Sophie, and I’m certain the battle is about to begin…

But Marlow’s going to end it.

“Is she the help?” Rochelle asks in the snottiest, most irritating voice I’ve ever heard. Oh, shit… that was… ouch.

“No,” Marlow says, his voice disgusted. “She’s my bratty little sister and she doesn’t know how to behave around company.”

I can almost feel the knife slowly searing into Sophie’s skin and piercing her little heart.

“Si…” she says, almost inaudibly.

“I thought you said your sister’s name was Marty,” Rochelle says.

“Maggie,” Marlow corrects, “but Sophia is kinda like a sister, too. She’s just a whole lot brattier than Maggie. Just ignore her. Don’t listen to anything she says and don’t feed into any of her little snide comments. Maybe she’ll go away!”

Marlow stands, takes Rochelle’s hand, and moves to the other side of the patio. To say that Sophie is crestfallen is an understatement. She looks like she’s been hit by an 18-wheeler.

“I… have to use the bathroom,” she says, and darts back into the house before I can stop her. As she’s clearing the door, Val comes over to me.

“So, this is how teenagers are dressing now?” she says, quickly glancing over at Rochelle before looking back to me.

“I certainly hope not,” I reply, sipping my Cabernet. “If it is, we’re screwed.”

“Why would he bring someone around the family dressed like that?” she presses.

“I don’t know,” I tell her. “It’s a different girl every time. I don’t even bother remembering their names because I know I’ll never see them again. I told Christian to talk to him about it, but I think Christian just has that boys will be boys thing going on, and if I say anything to him, it’s just like I’m busting his chops, so…” Val shakes her head.

“It’s no mistake she’s a good time,” she says, looking over at them again. “This is what he wants to bring around the people he considers family?” I shrug.

“He’s young,” I reply.

“He’s almost 18,” Val removes the excuse. “He should know better.”

“I guess he should, but are you going to tell him?” I ask, sipping my wine again. She twists her lips and sips her own.

“She pulls at that skirt every time she moves,” Val says. “If she doesn’t, she’s going to have a wardrobe malfunction.”

Val goes back over to Elliot and doesn’t leave his side for the rest of the party. Christian makes his way back to me and eventually, everyone is having a good time at the barbeque again.

Everyone, that is, except Sophie.

She’s got that green look that she had at Mia’s wedding when the first “Marlow Girl” made a comment about taking her clothes off is he didn’t like them. She truly looks like she’s going to hurl, and she subjects herself to this torture all afternoon while everyone else is conversing, eating, and enjoying the barbeque. I glance over at her often throughout the day and she’s often looking over at Marlow and his trashy dime-store date. They, however, don’t look in her direction once.

She’s crushed. It’s written all over her face.

As the party winds down and the sun is beginning to set, I begin to help Gail clear the dishes and the leftover food. I’ve lost track of Sophie, Marlow, and his dime-store date as I help to move the food back into the kitchen. None of them are on the patio when I make the next trip out to help clean up.

Just as I’m about to head back to the kitchen again, I see Sophie hastily walking across the back yard towards the jungle patio. I just watch her for a moment, and even with the darkening sky, I can see that she’s pale as a ghost.  As she gets closer to the jungle patio, I can see her face… and the tears.

She quickens her pace and stays in the shadows where she thinks no one can see her. At the last moment, she veers left and dashes into her apartment, closing the door behind her.

What the hell happened?

I dare not ask. If she’s crying, it had to be pretty bad. I don’t see Marlow running behind her or storming up to me to angrily tell me that he and his date are leaving. So, I have no idea what’s happened.

“Hey.”

Christian’s voice brings me out of my thoughts.

“You okay?” he asks. I wave him off.

“I was just daydreaming,” I say as I continue to clear the table.

“I’ve got that, Ana,” Gail says, taking the remaining and trays and trash from me.

“You’re sure?” I ask.

“I’m sure. Go on,” she says. I turn to Christian and we walk into the house.

“Has Marlow left?” I ask, trying to get a feel of what’s going on. Christian shrugs.

“He didn’t say anything to me,” he says. “He’s probably wandering around somewhere.” I purse my lips and nod.

“What is it, Butterfly?” he says, and I look up at him.

“Seriously, Christian?” I say finally. “This one? Seriously?” He furrows his brow.

“What one? What are you talking about?” I fold my arms and glare at him.

“Christian, he fucking brought a Wild Thing to my house! I’m surprised she didn’t hump him right there on the sofa and start giving all the guys lap dances!”

“You’re exaggerating,” he says. My head jerks back and I give him such a look…

“Okay, okay,” he says, putting his hands up in surrender. “I’ll talk to him.”

“You always say that!” I accuse, my hands flailing. “He keeps bringing these girls here—a new on every time—and this one? Oh, she’s a real keeper!” I say sarcastically.

“You’re taking this a bit personally,” he says. I shift my weight on my heels. He’s right, I am taking it personally. I want to know what’s wrong with Sophie, but this part is different.

“This girl came to my house with no consideration of the fact that she was going to be sitting in the company of other men—married men. None of the men at this gathering were single except the one that brought her, my baby brother, and my son. My father was here, your father was here, and I found myself looking across the patio most of the afternoon making sure that she didn’t have a slip of the snatch! What’s worse is that he brought her here looking like that. She completely looked like she was about to get on the pole…”

My husband begins making this shushing tsking sound to get my attention. I look in the direction that he’s looking, and I see Marlow and Barbarella approach the patio and head towards the door. Where the hell have they been?

They walk up to me and Christian quite casually and that’s when I notice that Babs’ way-to-heavy lipstick has been haphazardly freshened up and Marlow is loose as a noodle. I look knowingly—and displeased—over at Christian and back to the lovely couple.

“We’re going to head on out,” Marlow says with a contented smile. “I need to get Rochelle home.”

“Okay, well, thanks for coming,” Christian says, shaking Marlow’s hand. Marlow smiles and nods. I must be glaring at him because he would normally try to hug me, but this time he doesn’t.

“It was nice meeting you,” Babs says.

“Mmm,” I say pasting the phoniest smile on my face that I can muster. It’s not even a full smile. I don’t want this girl to feel like she’s welcome in my house ever again, dressed like she should be standing on the corner. She and Marlow both look at Christian, then make a hasty getaway. Once they’re out of my house, I turn to Christian.

You know what the hell they were doing, I say with my eyes.

“Okay—I will talk to him,” he promises again.

“Mm-hmm,” I say, turning on my heels and marching away from him.


CHRISTIAN

“What the hell was that you brought to my house this weekend?” I confront Marlow a couple of days later.

“Who, Rochelle?” he asks bemused.

“Yeah, Superhead!” I accuse. His eyes widen.

“How did you…”

“Are you serious?” I accuse. “Besides the fact that she had dick on her breath and no common sense to have a damn mint in her purse? Her lipstick was all fucked up and you didn’t have a smear of it on you, so I know where she must’ve left it.” He chuckles.

“She was gagging for it, man,” he brags.

“She almost got gagged,” I retort, “by several angry females! What the fuck is wrong with you bringing someone dressed and behaving like Janet Jack-Me around a house full of married men and women?”

“I… I’m sorry. I didn’t think it was that bad,” he excuses. I look at him like he’s lost his mind, because at this moment, he has!

“Okay, okay. She looked a little sexy…”

“A little sexy?” I accuse. He sighs heavily.

“Look,” I begin, “I usually don’t have a problem with you bringing girls around. Ana has asked me more than once to talk to you about it because it’s a different one every time. But this time, man… I should’ve put you out the minute you showed up with her, but I was giving you—and her—the benefit of the doubt. Not only did she have her goods on display for you and everybody at the party, but she gave you a blowjob in the woods. Are you that comfortable at my home that you feel like you can disrespect it that way?” His eyes widen.

“No!” he exclaims. “No, it was nothing like that…”

“It was just like that and don’t try to clean it up,” I tell him. “I’m not going to tell you who to fuck, but I’m definitely going to tell you to be more mindful of who you’re bringing to my house. I don’t know if you’re on a marathon to get all the ass you can or what. I don’t know what the purpose of the parade of twats is through my house, but if you ever pull something like that again, I’m going to throw you and your latest plaything off my property and then you won’t be able to bring any dates to my home. Knowing Ana the way you do, I have no idea what made you think that would be okay, but I will cut you off completely before I have to deal with an angry Anastasia Grey. Have I made myself clear?” He swallows hard.

“Ye… yes, sir,” he chokes. I shake my head.

“Get to school. I got things to do.” I end the conversation abruptly and look down at my desk. I have other things to be concerned about today. Jason and I are heading to the prison to see if this wretched piece of flesh is going to sign the paperwork for Sophie’s passport. Apparently, when you go to jail, they take your ID from you. So, they need a credible witness to identify you as you in order to have the necessary documents notarized. I don’t know that Marlow has left my office until I hear Jason’s voice.

“What did Marlow do wrong?” he asks. I raise my gaze.

“Why do you ask?” I say.

“His face looks like one of your department heads after you or Her Highness has chewed them out at one of those meetings,” he replies.

“That’s just about right,” I say, standing and locking my laptop. “Did you see that specimen he brought to my house this weekend?”

“Kind of hard to miss,” he replies. “Is this the stuff these kids are made of now? Is this what I have to look forward to with Sophie?”

“I would say not,” I reply, making sure that my wallet, keys, and phone are all in my pocket. “Sophie has a good head on her shoulders. You won’t be seeing that from her.” Jason shakes his head.

“I know you’re right, but damn, man. What was she—16, 17? She looked like she was ready to work Aurora Avenue!” I put my finger to my lips to silence him as we leave the office.

“I’ve got my cell, Andrea,” I tell her. “Emergencies only.”

“Yes, sir. Have a good day Mr. Grey, Mr. Taylor.” Jason nods.

“You, too. Bye, Luma,” I call out to my aunt.

“Bye, Christian. Have a good day.”

We board the elevator, and the conversation about Marlow’s sex doll resumes.

“I had to tell him that shit was unacceptable,” I say. “He’s being a bit careless as it is, and I had to remind him of all the things that could happen when you have that many sex partners. Hell, he’s ahead of me right now in volume, and we both know that I’m far from chaste!” Jason nearly chokes on his laughter.

“Yeah, it’s funny until he catches something,” I say, “or worse yet, he brings someone into the house that should have been vetted.”

Jason’s laughter fades.

“Butterfly’s been giving me hell about it for the last few days. I was trying to find the words to say to him. Hell if I know what to say to a teenager about sex—look at my track record.” Jason twists his lips. The elevator opens and we’re silent until we get to the Audi and get on our way.

“That’s why we had to come to the office first,” he says, once we’ve cleared the parking structure.

“That’s why we had to come to the office first,” I confirm. “She asked me more than once to talk to him about the number of girls he brings to the house. I’ll admit, I blew it off. He’s a young, attractive guy. As long as he’s using protection and not leading any of these girls on, why can’t he taste the flavors of the rainbow? But this one? This weekend? We all knew that flavor whether we wanted to or not! Butterfly was not pleased.”

“You don’t have to tell me. You almost didn’t get your meat! Gail took one look at that child with all her goods on display and banned me from the patio.” I chuckle.

“I wondered where you had gotten off to… and why Gail brought out the spareribs,” I say.

“Well, now you know,” he says. “I gladly had my wife bring me food and beer, and me, Ray, and Carrick watched the Mariners game.” I raise my brow.

“I didn’t know Ray and Dad disappeared, too.” Jason scoffs.

“I’m surprised you noticed anybody disappeared,” he says. “Did you even see what that girl was wearing before Ana told you?”

I try to remember if I noticed her apparel before Butterfly gave her the cold shoulder in the family room.

“I don’t know,” I shrug.

“You had your wife in your lap for most of the day,” he says, “and you were sporting the biggest sex grin I’ve ever seen. That’s why Ray came to watch the game. That’s still his little girl, you know.” I frown.

“Oh, please,” I say, a bit affronted. “We’re married, she has two of my children, and we’ve had the BDSM conversation with this man. That couldn’t be why he left. That’s what he told you.

“Yeah, maybe,” Jason laughs, “but you still didn’t see the girl until your wife brought her to your attention.”

“Okay, you’re right,” I cede, “but now you know why he was looking blue when he left this room. She literally served herself up at a family barbeque. A family barbeque! Notwithstanding all the husbands and fathers that were present, there were children in attendance! Even if this girl was completely oblivious to where she was coming, Marlow knew!”

“Well, I can pretty much guarantee that he won’t make that mistake again,” Jason says.

“He better not,” I reply. “Butterfly’s already not pleased with the number of girls that he brings to the house. If the quality deteriorates, she might ban him completely!” I roll my eyes and decide to change the subject.

“Wasn’t this the weekend you were supposed to take Sophie to see Shalane?” I ask. He nods.

“Supposed to,” he says, “but she gets two weekends a month. I can choose which two. I know Sophie’s not speaking to her until she signs those papers, so I decided that we wouldn’t go until after her appointment to sign. This way, when I take her up there this weekend, if Shalane decides to pull one of her tricks today, she can tell Sophie why she didn’t sign the papers.”

“I wouldn’t put it past her,” I say, “tell you that she’s going to sign the papers just to get Sophie to speak to her, then renege when the time comes.” Jason nods.

“That’s why I didn’t take her up there this weekend,” he says. “After everything she’s put that child through, it’s beyond me why she’s not bending over backwards for that kid now. She’s in jail. Even though it’s minimum security and she’s not doing hard time, she’s alone. She has no friends unless she has made some on the inside, nothing to look forward to when she gets out of there—no significant other; wherever her family is, they’re not coming around, no nothing. All she has to look forward to is Sophie’s visits every two weeks and when Sophie comes, she’s totally silent.

“This is torture for Sophie even if she doesn’t say so. The last time we visited, Sophie turned her back on her—for the whole visit! We’ve both just had enough. That’s why she said she’ll believe it when she sees it.’ She’s resolved. She expects her mother to disappoint her before she does anything kind.”

“So, what if we go through all of this and she still says that Sophie can’t go?” I ask.

“I’ll get notarized permission to take her to Italy just like I’ll get the notarized permission for the passport, but honestly, it’s just like when I took her to Vegas. Once I get the passport, as long as I let the court know where I’m taking her, it won’t be a problem,” he says.

“Well, here’s hoping,” I say. “That woman has been such a wretched mother to that child, this is the very least that she can do.”

“You would think,” he concurs, “but remember who we’re talking about her. The best thing that ever happened to my daughter was that drug bust or she could’ve ended up in a child sex ring. Can you even fucking imagine?”

A quick and deliberate flash of heat and rage runs through me, and I have to fight not to react. Imagine saying that the best thing that could happen to your 12-year-old daughter was a drug bust!

“No,” I say, summoning as much calm as I can, “no, I can’t.”

*-*

After being stripped of everything except our ID’s for the purposes of the meeting, we head to the security door to be taken in to see Jason’s ex-wife. I had forgotten what the inside of these facilities looked like. I could’ve gone my whole life without that little piece of knowledge. Geez, you deck one drunk driver…

Jason and I enter the meeting room and take a seat at the table. Neither of us says anything as Jason is convinced that every single room in a prison has recording devices—except the cells. A few minutes later, the prison notary comes into the room with a prison guard. He introduces himself and explains what the process will be to get the documents notarized, after which he takes my license and Jason’s license and records some information into a logbook that he brought with him. Not long after, another guard leads Shalane into the meeting room. She grimaces a bit when she sees me.

“Christian,” she says through her teeth.

“Shalane,” I respond with no malice. Her fight isn’t with me.

“Why is he here?” she seethes.

“Not happy to see me?” I reply. “Strange. You would have jumped my bones in front of my family and my pregnant wife on Thanksgiving Day two years ago.”

“Temporary insanity,” she hisses has she takes her seat. I turn to the prison notary.

“Is that enough for you?” I ask.

“That’s enough for me,” he says. “Do you swear or affirm that this person, Shalane Deleroy, is who she claims to be, so help you God?”

“I do,” I reply.

“Why did you need him to tell you that?” she says

“Because the documents have to be notarized and you’re a criminal with no ID,” Jason replies. She turns a hateful eye to him.

“Any of this lovely prison staff could’ve attested to my identity,” she sneers. “Well, now we’ve got it, so let’s get this over,” she adds. “I’m being blackmailed into doing this, so let’s get it done.”

“Blackmailed?” the notary says. Oh, shit… “What does she mean ‘blackmailed?’”

“I don’t know,” Jason says, his anger brewing. “What do you mean?”

“He’s turned my daughter against me,” she announces. “He won’t let her speak to me until I sign these papers.” Jason rolls his eyes.

“Is that true, Mr. Taylor?” the notary asks. This bitch…

“That most certainly is not!” he replies. “Sophia knows that she can’t go to Italy this summer without these papers. She also knows that her mother is refusing to sign them. For that reason, probably among many others, she will not speak to her mother.”

“That’s a lie,” Shalane retorts. “You told her not to speak to me until I sign the papers.” Jason drops his head in frustration.

“I can’t believe we’re going through this again,” he mumbles. The notary and I hear it and the notary looks at me. I shake my head in frustration as well.

“You have no idea what this man has been through with this woman,” I say. “He gained custody of his daughter when he had to pick her up from the police station to prevent her being taken by child services because this woman took her daughter on a drug drop where she was trying to trade her daughter for meth.”

“That is not true!” Shalane outbursts. “I was not trying to sell my daughter to that guy and there’s no proof of that!”

“That’s not what Sophie remembers,” I reply calmly.

“She was scared,” Shalane excuses. “She didn’t understand what was going on.”

“As well she should have been,” I retort. “She shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

“You know what?” Jason says, straightening his back. “I’m done with you. I’m done with this whole thing, and I’m done with you. You don’t need to convince me, Christian, the court or anybody else that you didn’t try to sell your daughter to a meth dealer. You know who you do need to convince? Your daughter! To this day, she maintains that you tried to give her to that guy, and she was only 12 years old!”

The notary gasps.

“There wasn’t enough proof to charge you with it but she has convicted you,” Jason continues. “Her opinion of you is the only one that counts. When are you going to understand that? You used her against me for years, and now she sees it. She sees it all, Shalane! Nobody’s turning Sophia against you but you and your selfish and insidious behavior!

“If you’ve never listened to me before, listen to me now. There’s nothing that I can’t give her, and I’m going to give her everything that she deserves, everything that you kept me from doing for her for the last several years. She’s a good kid, and she’s smart, and she’s talented, and she doesn’t give me or Gail a moment’s trouble. Everybody who ever meets her loves her. She’s wise beyond her years—way too much wisdom for her age, thanks to you. And by the way, I now know that horrible scar on her hand did not come from falling off a bike.”

Shalane gasps audibly and her eyes widen as the prison guards and notary watch the story unfold in silent disdain.

“She’ll be 14 in a few days,” he adds. “In two years, she’ll be 16 and able to say that she never wants to see you again. In four years, she’ll be 18 and able to jet set to anywhere any time her heart so desires and my wallet will allow. If we have to wait until then, we will, but you remember this. You’re preventing her from having the experience of a lifetime because you’re pissed at me, and you’re pissed that you’re in a situation of your own making and you’re taking it out on your daughter.

“You want to call me names and cast me into hell, fine. I can take it. But rest assured that your daughter will never forget this, among the many other things that your daughter will never forget, for the rest of her life. If you want to sign the papers, then sign the damn papers. If you don’t want to sign them, then don’t. She won’t be surprised if you don’t sign them. She’s expecting you to be the same selfish, manipulating, lying… female you’ve been all these years! If you want to surprise her, sign the papers. If not, we’re leaving, and this conversation is over.”

He steps back and allows the notary to step in front of him. Jason has taken “the stance” and I know that his end of this conversation is indeed over. Shalane looks at him, her expression unreadable, and I think she sees the same thing that I see when I look back at Jason. He’s not looking at her anymore. He’s looking through her. He doesn’t even see her. She could most likely rattle off a line of curses and condemnations right now and he would most likely not even remember the conversation. Shalane sighs, takes the pen from the notary, and signs the documents.

Fuck, yes! I almost want to dance a fucking jig in the middle of the room.

“Take me back to my cell,” she says quietly. She stands and the guard leads her out of the room. I turn around to Jason when the door closes and he visibly releases the breath that he was holding, closing his eyes in obvious relief.

“I didn’t think she would do it,” he says. “You know how she operates…”

“I know only too well,” I reply.

“I was prepared to go home and tell Baby Boo it was a false alarm, that she wasn’t going to be able to go to Italy until she was 18. She’s been so sad over the last couple of days and I don’t know why. I didn’t want to have to tell her that.” He opens his eyes, moist with tears, and looks at me.

“She can go,” he says, wistfully. “She can go to Italy… what did I say to that woman?” he says, his brow furrows.

“You don’t remember?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“Not all of it,” he admits. I nod.

“You told her to be a decent human being for once in her life—to stop thinking about herself, or even about you, and to only think about Sophie,” I tell him.

“I said that?” he asks, his voice cracking.

“Not in those exact words, but yeah,” I say, looking over at the notary who has finished signing and stamping the documents before placing them in an envelope and handing them to Jason.

“Yeah,” he says with a nod. Jason takes the envelope and purses his lips.

“Thank you, sir,” he says to the notary.

“You’re welcome,” he says, giving Jason’s shoulder a squeeze. “Have a good trip.” Jason nods without raising his head.

“Now, you probably want to pull yourself together because you wouldn’t want to walk through this place with tears in your eyes,” I tell him. He nods quickly, then retrieves his handkerchief and dries his eyes thoroughly. He squares his shoulders and pops his neck.

“I’m ready, sir,” he says. And he is.

The guard escorts the three of us from the room.


ANASTASIA

I spent the day going through the finances for Helping Hands. We had been spending quite a bit on the new staff and programs, and I needed to know exactly where we were in terms of cashflow and expenditures. As it turned out, we’ve been spending more than I thought we were—not much more, but more. However, our sources of cashflow have increased tremendously since we started.

The full story about the trial in Las Vegas has now been told, and it has strategically been leaked that I became part of the mental health field as a result of my own experiences as a child. It was also leaked that I and Grace provide our services for free as we donate our salaries back to the Center. That was better than another PSA in terms of boosting independent contributions. We even secured a couple of corporate contributions as well as a small percentage of wage-match contributions. I’m considering some kind of fundraiser or bizarre for next year as this summer is pretty much booked for the Grey family, but we really don’t need one with all of the sources we have right now.

We had been using money faster than we were bringing it in, so we didn’t have an opportunity to notice that we had a steady influx of cash from Miana’s. It was small at first, for several months, and that’s why we didn’t see it. However, just after Liamgate, the amounts from the salon chain became quite substantial. I don’t know what made the difference, because I slightly remember Christian saying just after he had seized the salons from Elena that his share of the profits would go to Helping Hands in hopes of helping other victims of abuse. I’ll make it a point to ask Mia what changed.

Along with our usual fund-raising activities and the continuous contributions and pledges that stemmed from my public appearances, we’re waiting to hear about our grant approvals, and we’ve got a tidy little sum from Tina’s jewelry auction. Seeing the entry from the auction prompted me to call Carl and see how he was coming along. He’s partially retired now as he’s only disposing of and assisting with the estates of his remaining clients before he completely closes up shop. He told me that Tina’s children have tried to get in touch with him on more than one occasion, but after he divided Tina’s assets among them, he threatened them with restraining orders if they didn’t stop contacting him—all except Harmony, of course.

I’ve been meaning to ask Harmony what ever happened with her siblings breaking and entering on the property and if any formal charges have been brought against them. I don’t know that I’ll ask until and if she brings it up to me. It might be a sore spot and we don’t want that.

When I get home, I have pictures and videos of Aaron’s progress so far with the villa. Not having to paint or renovate means that the decorating is moving along even more quickly than either of us thought it would, which is good as we are about six weeks away from leaving. It’s also costing a pretty tidy sum as all of the items must either be purchased locally in Rome, Milan, or the surrounding areas, or purchased online and shipped in. I’ve decided not to tell Christian about the amount I’m spending unless he asks. We’re rich anyway, and it serves him right. What would you expect for a 14-bedroom house? I’m extremely grateful, of course, but 14 bedrooms? Whoever heard of such a thing?

I call Sophie to my office so that we can see some of the results of our hard work. She seems a bit under-enthusiastic when she gets there.

“Hey, you okay?” I ask, concerned about her melancholy. She shrugs.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she replies, blandly. It then occurs to me that Jason and Christian were supposed to go to the prison today to get the papers for her passport signed. Maybe it was a bust, but I won’t ask.

“Would you… rather not look at the pictures?” I ask cautiously. “I’ll understand.” She comes to attention a bit.

“Oh! Oh, no, I’d really like to see the pictures,” she says. “It’s not you or… this or anything, Aunt Ana. I just… I’m not in a really good mood, that’s all. Maybe seeing the villa will help.”

I can’t help but wonder if something happened in school. Then, I remember this weekend and Marlow’s eager and underdressed date. She can’t still be sulking about that… well, actually, she can. Nonetheless, I greet her with a smile and get back to the matter at hand.

“Well, then, roll your chair on over here and let’s see what our decorator extraordinaire has for us.”

Sophie and I take several minutes to review the pictures that Aaron sent us. It appears that he felt no reason to wait on the bedrooms since they were the easiest to do. The children’s room was the simplest since we had sent him the exact beds that we wanted, but the rest of the bedrooms are a delicious and eclectic mix of old-world with a touch of modern mixed with the baroque and rococo styles.

One room has a large, overbearing deep chestnut platform bed—a mix of modern and vintage—paneled with dark marble inlays that look almost like leopard print and what appears to be bronze cherubs mounted on the footboard facing out to the room. It takes up nearly the entire room. I never would have thought to put a bed this big in a room this small, but its commanding presence makes a statement that it should be alone in this space.

The next picture that we see is a total contrast from the first! Dark wood ceiling in uneven cuts and tones… but walls covered in a floral cloth. It’s not a “oh-dear-Lord-gag-me-I-can’t-stand-this” type of floral pattern. It’s white with single flowers in even symmetrical lines. Again, not something that I would have chosen, but the wall covering is in such contrast to the dark wood ceiling that it actually works to capture the natural light and set the ceiling off as an accent. Now, I know that he didn’t alter any walls, so I’m assuming this is how it looked when he got there but tell me how he found a perfect match to that pattern in bedding and chair covers. I can’t say I’m really feeling this one, but maybe it’ll grow on me.

The rest of the bedrooms are all simple or elegant or both, and overall, Sophie and I are pleased with our work and Aaron’s interpretation. He has told us that he will now work on the sitting and common areas and apprise us of his progress in a week. Sophie seems in a better mood after we’ve looked at the pictures and we head upstairs to dinner.

Dinner conversation seems perfectly dull and I can’t help but wonder—again—if things didn’t go as planned with Shalane. I would have thought that if it were good news, Jason would be chomping at the bit to tell Sophie when he got back, but now we’re down to dessert and still nothing. Not able to stand the elephant in the room, I turn the attention to Sophie without mentioning Italy.

“Sophie tells me that her birthday is on the 5th,” I say. “I hope I’m not spoiling anything by asking if there’s something planned. It’ll should be a beautiful day and a great chance for a party.” Sophie frowns at the thought.

“Well, we hadn’t planned anything special,” Gail says. “We thought we’d leave it up to Sophie.”

“So, Baby Boo, did you want a party?” Jason asks. “You know it doesn’t take long to get the festivities planned,” he adds happily. Sophie shakes her head.

No, Dad, I don’t want a party,” Sophie protests. “No offense, Aunt Ana, but I really don’t want a party.” Jason frowns and I’m a bit taken aback. Since when does a teenage girl not want a party for her birthday.

“Why don’t you want a party, Pumpkin?” Gail asks, deflated.

“I just… I don’t remember ever having one and I really don’t want one now. Can we just go to Mexicantown like we did last year? Please?”

“Are you sure Baby Boo?” Jason asks. She nods.

“Yes, I’m sure. We had fun and that’s good enough for me. Momma Gail, you can come, too… and Aunt Ana and Uncle Christian, but that’s all. That would be great.”

She sounds sincere and I can’t figure out for the life of me why she wouldn’t want a party with all the trimmings. We could throw her a great party, one that she wouldn’t soon forget. She could invite her friends and…

That’s when it dawns on me.

A party means the gathering of people—family and friends, and that usually means Marlow and one of his girls, and I would venture to say that Sophie doesn’t want her party to be attended by Marlow and one of his girls, but how do you say that?

By declining a party altogether, she can avoid that eventuality… and suddenly, I’m angry with Marlow again. Did Christian ever talk to him about that little twat he brought to my house on Saturday?

“I think that sounds like a lot of fun,” I concur with Sophie, “but I reserve the right to buy you a present. You’ve worked so hard on the decorating with me. If I had to do it all by myself, it would have been a nightmare.”  Sophie smiles widely.

“It’s fun,” Sophie says. “It makes me feel like a grown-up.”

“Well, look out, Jason, because I’m telling you now that your daughter has exquisite taste. I’ll have you know that she chose the beds for the twins’ room.”

“You don’t say,” Christian says. I nod

“I do say, and they’re perfect,” I add.

“Speaking of presents, Baby Boo, can I give you one of your birthday presents early?” Jason asks. Sophie stops chewing for a moment, then puts her fork down.

“Sure, Dad,” she says after swallowing her food. “Who doesn’t like early presents?” she adds with a smile.

Jason reaches into his pocket and pulls out an envelope, then hands it to Sophie. She wipes her hands and dabs her lips with her napkin and takes the envelope. She withdraws the contents and unfolds the documents inside. Her eyes widen as she reads through them.

“No way!” she exclaims turning to her father. He nods.

“Yep,” he replies.

“Get outta town she signed ‘em!?” Sophie squeals all in one breath. I turn to Christian in amazement and he nods.

“She signed them,” Jason confirms. “We’re going to Italy, Baby Boo.”

Oh, thank God! This is fabulous news! Absolutely fabulous!

Sophie screams joyously, leaps from her seat and runs to her father’s arms. He catches her midleap and laughs a contagious laugh along with her.

“Aunt Ana, I’m gonna see the villa! And I’m going to cook in Italy!” She says the last part while shaking her hair wildly.

“That, you are, Ms. Sophia!” I confirm, gleefully.

Gail and Jason make plans to take Sophie to the post office tomorrow to get things moving on her passport. Christian and I had gotten the twins squared away back when we first decided that we would be taking the trip this summer. I’m hoping that all the other parents will have the passports ready for the other minors when the time comes. Once dinner is over, I pull Sophie aside to have a private chat with her before she turns in.

“So, you’re going to Italy. What do you think about that?” I ask.

“I think it’s great!” she says gleefully. “I really didn’t think I was going to be able to go. I’m so excited!”

“I just wanted to talk to you for a minute, because I don’t want a potentially wonderful trip to be completely spoiled for you,” I say. Her face falls.

“How?” she asks. I sigh heavily.

“Marlow,” I say, without hesitation. She rolls her eyes and sighs heavily.

“Oh, that,” she says, deflated.

“Yes, that,” I reply. “You know he’s going to be there, and I haven’t seen an encounter between the two of you in months that I would even consider civil. We’re going to be staying in the same villa—all of us—for two weeks. It’s a big villa, but you’re going to run into each other at some point. I want us all to have a good time, you and Marlow included, but if we need to set some ground rules for that to happen, maybe we can work something out.”

“Aunt Ana, I’m so happy that I get to go to Italy that I can’t even think about anything else. I’m going to go on the internet and see what things I can see while we’re there and then I’ll ask Dad or Momma Gail to take me. I’m going to study some authentic Italian dishes and then see if I can learn to cook them while I’m there. I’m going to be doing other things—lots of other things—and I won’t even be thinking about Marlow.”

Translation—she’s going to chock her time full of Italy stuff so that she won’t have to be concerned with Marlow. It sounds a lot like evading to me, but she’s young and she’s doing what she can not to concentrate on her little crush on him. Who am I kidding? Adults do that often. She’s way ahead of her time.

“Let’s talk about last Saturday,” I say, causing her to sigh again and roll her eyes in that petulant teenage girl way.

“Do we have to?” she whines.

“Yes, we have to,” I say. “It’s part of the problem. I usually feel like you should behave yourself better when company comes to the house… but this one!” My eyes widen and I shake my head. “She really was a character, wasn’t she?”

Sophie loosens up a bit, but only a bit.

“Yeah… she was,” she agrees. “Her skirt was so short…”

“And all that makeup!” I say, remember her comment about how long it takes for certain girls to get dressed and how the finished product almost always doesn’t look like the original person. Sophie sighs again.

“I thought that much makeup wasn’t good for your skin,” she says. “How does it even come off?” I chuckle.

“One day, you’ll find out,” I say. “You’ll be wearing makeup, too.”

“Not like that,” she says, pointedly. “You wear makeup. So does Momma Gail. And Auntie Val, Miss Grace, Miss Mandy… you guys don’t look like that!”

“Well, sweetheart, sometimes some people feel like more is better…” Case and point, my husband and the 14-bedroom villa!

“Sophie, you’re such a mature young lady. You baffle us all the time with your knowledge and your ability and sometimes, your ambition. Even though you were hurt about your mother and what she was doing—or not doing—you handled it in a such a mature way even though you were hurting and we all knew it. We were… are all very impressed, and we’re probably just as happy as you are that you’re going to Italy. But sweety, even things that are right there in our faces sometimes have to be ignored.”

Sophie’s wide blue eyes fix on mine.

“She was… extremely inappropriate. Val and I even had a few words between us when they went to the other side of the patio, but those words were between us. No one else heard what we were talking about. That’s not to say that it’s okay to talk about people behind their backs, but it’s even worse to outright insult them in front of everyone, even when they have it coming.”

“I know,” she says, almost a mumble.

“I know you do,” I reply, my voice understanding, “so can you tell me why you do that?”

“I don’t know,” she fibs. She knows, she just doesn’t want to tell me. “Whenever I see them, it just flies out! I just wonder why they show up for Christmas or something at somebody’s house they don’t even know.” She’s searching.

“Because they were invited,” I say. “Would you want someone to make you feel unwelcome where you were invited?”

“No,” she says, and she sounds a bit scolded.

“I’m only saying that even though someone may show up dressed like a thot, or is twirling her hair, or may be a little on the heavier side, that doesn’t give any of us the right to publicly point out their faults. It’s borders on bullying and honestly, Sophie, it’s unattractive. You’re so smart and mature most of the time. It’s not a good look at all for you to tear into his girlfriends every time they show up,” I tell her. She drops her head and sighs heavily.

“Don’t worry, Aunt Ana,” she says, her voice sad. “It won’t happen again.”

“I don’t want you to tell me that because you think it’s what I want to hear. I really want you to think about how it makes you appear…”

“No, Aunt Ana,” she says, looking up at me with glassy eyes and shaking her head. “It won’t happen again.” Well, this is the last thing I wanted to do.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”

“You didn’t,” she says, trying to hide her sniffles. “He did. He called me a brat… and he’s right. And you are, too. If I can’t say anything nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all, so I won’t… and it won’t happen again.”

A tear falls from her eye and she wipes it from her cheek. God, that first crush hurts so much, and I know she’ll get over it, but she doesn’t know it yet. I pull her into my arms and hug her close.

“Well, I certainly didn’t want this,” I say, hugging her tightly. She allows herself to cry for just a moment, but quickly composes herself.

“We’re going to have such fun in Italy,” I tell her. “I want to taste all the things that you learn to cook, and I want to take you to some of the places on Lake Como and see things through your eyes…” and that’s the truth. “We’re going to have such a good time.”

“I’m so glad I get to go,” she says, squeezing me hard around my waist, her voice cracking a bit. I gently stroke her soft blonde hair as she pulls herself together. As if their timing couldn’t be any worse, Jason and Christian come through the hallway near the mudroom and into the family room where Sophie and I are talking.

“There you are. It’s bedti…” Jason trails off as he sees his daughter crying in my arms. “Baby Boo… what’s wrong?” Christian looks at me with a furrowed brow as they both await my explanation. So, I give them one.

“We were just talking about Italy and Lake Como,” I say. “She’s a bit emotional.” I won’t tell them why. I stroke her hair once more and then pull her back from me, pushing her hair of her tearstained face.

“Cooking… and sightseeing… and shopping… and all the fun Lake Como has to offer… okay?” I say to her pained blue eyes. She nods and unceremoniously wipes her cheeks. She turns and takes a few steps towards Jason, but then turns back and runs into my arms once more. I stroke her hair to comfort her just a bit before she leaves.

“Thank you, Aunt Ana,” she says. I’m not really sure why she’s thanking me, but now isn’t the time to ask.

“You’re welcome, Sophie,” I say. She releases me and walks to her father, never raising her head. He looks up at me puzzled one last time before he guides Sophie down to her apartment. Christian walks over to me, his expression as puzzled as Jason’s.

“What was that all about?” he asks, his brow furrowed.

“She’s very emotional about this whole situation, and that’s all I can tell you,” I reply. He purses his lips.

“Okay, I get that,” he says, clasping his hands in front of him. “You and I need to talk. I call downtime.”

Downtime? Why is he calling downtime?

“Why are you so horrified?” he asks.

“I’m not,” I reply. “I’m… just surprised.” He nods.

“I understand. It’s been a while,” he pulls himself up to his height and gives me his final command.

“Wait five minutes and come to our bedroom.”

I swallow hard at the sound of his Dominus voice, and find my feet planted firmly in place as he leaves me standing in our family room.


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

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 18

@Sweet Peach75, I have no idea why, but I happened to go to my website spam folder and there were like three posts in there from you! I’ve put them back on the site, but you guys, if you post a comment and you don’t see it after a day or so, hit me on that “contact me” link so I can check my spam. I’m going to check it more often just in case. I’m so sorry about that, Peach!!!

Thanks to all of you who like and retweet my links. Twitter and I just don’t seem to agree with one another. I get on there as often as I can and I try to follow it. If it weren’t for the sites (this one included) that automatically tweet my shit, I wouldn’t be there. So, again, I thank you! 

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 18

CHRISTIAN

“I haven’t eaten anything yet, and I’m starving. Can you please order something from room service?”

“Of course, baby. How far away are you?” I hear her ask Chuck.

“About twenty minutes,” she says, her voice defeated.

“Will you need a drink?” I ask. She sighs.

“Just wine… and a cranberry spritzer.”

“I’m on it,” I tell her. “Come on back to the hotel and everything will be right as rain.”

“Yeah, sure,” she remarks. “Love you.”

“Love you, too,” I reply, and end the call. I dial Keri’s number.

“Yes, Chtistian?”

“Are the twins still asleep?” I ask.

“Noh, dey jess weke up,” she replies.

“Good. Butterfly is on her way. She’ll be here in twenty minutes. I’m having room service delivered down there for her.”

“Okeh, wee’ll be wehtin,” she says, and ends the call.

I order room service to the “baby suite,” then sit impatiently, waiting for my wife to return. I’m concerned about how she’ll feel about the babies being in Las Vegas. Will she be happy they’re here, like Allen said, or will she be pissed that I brought her children to this forbidden place—and without asking her first? Maybe she’ll be both—happy at first and then pissed, or vice-versa.

Well, I wanted to see them, too, and we probably won’t be going back to Seattle until her mother wakes or kicks the bucket—whichever comes first. So, there.

I get that nervous sinking feeling in my stomach when I hear her enter the suite. It turns to concern when I see her face.

“I thought Chuck was with you,” I say.

“He nearly bolted from the elevator saying he had to pee and took off in the other direction,” she says. No, he’s trying to get a few moments with his girl before we descend.

“You look like it’s been a rough day,” I say. She tosses her coat onto the big chair and sighs.

“Not so much,” she says. “I just… I don’t know how you can see someone in such a vulnerable position and not be concerned. I look at her and right, now, she’s completely at my mercy. I want to make sure that she’s taken care of, that she gets everything that she needs, but any time I think of feeling any emotion for her, it’s nothing but anger. I think about me being in that bed—no one caring about me—and her room is full of flowers. I think about no one coming into that room to see me, not even her, but her best friend came today and just sat with her for a long time. She even knew who I was.

“It seems so petty to compare her situation now with mine back then. It seems childish to say, ‘Well, you didn’t care about me, so I shouldn’t care about you.’ It seems so ridiculous to be jealous of her flowers and envious of her visitors and hateful that so many people appear to care for her, but I couldn’t get that! Not even from her!”

She puts one hand on her forehead and one on her hip, turning away from me and taking several deep breaths. I move in closer to her and gently grasp her arms.

“This hate is heavy,” she says, her voice thick and low. “I can’t keep carrying it, but I don’t know what else to feel. I feel like she doesn’t deserve the kindness that she’s getting, but that’s crazy.” She shakes her head. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“You’re human, Butterfly,” I tell her. “She hurt you. She left you all alone. You were just a kid. You can no sooner get over those feelings of helplessness and desertion than I can get over these burns on my chest and where they came from.”

She stiffens, but it’s true. We were both traumatized in our childhood, and the scars are a lot deeper than the ones left on our skin.

“My mother is dead,” I tell her. “I don’t have to worry about forgiving her or wondering why she did what she did, because she’s gone. Your mother is alive—she’s still able to account for her sins against you and deep down, that’s what you want. You want her to feel the loneliness and the seclusion that you felt at your weakest moment, but whether she wakes up or not, she’s not going to feel that. She has accumulated a support system here, and they’re concerned about her, and you have the right to feel the way that you feel, because you didn’t have that support system when you needed it the most. We’ve both healed the best we can from those scars, but they still run deep.”  She shakes her head.

“I have to deal with this somehow,” she says. “I can’t shed any more tears over this. I can’t let it take over my life. In a couple of weeks, one way or the other, this ordeal is going to be over for me. I’ll have some therapy with Ace or Laura in the meantime and deal with it however I must.”

“Laura?” I ask. “You’ve been having therapy with Laura?”

“The few conversations I’ve had with Laura have been more fruitful than the two years I’ve spent with Ace. Her conversations are not really therapy, they’re more organic. They’re geared more to helping you get well and deal with your issues than to keep you coming back for more sessions. I think I like her methods better. I’m going to have a talk with her about studying her methods and incorporating them into my practice with the families at Helping Hands.” I twist my lips and nod.

“That’s probably a good idea, Butterfly,” I say, “especially if you see the good in what they’re doing for you. I just don’t want you to discount the good that Ace did, too. His methods really helped you out in some of your hardest times.”

“Yes, he was very helpful in a lot of ways,” she says. “I think I’m just put off by the fact that he couldn’t seem to actively help me with the Boogeyman, and that seemed pretty important to me.” I nod. I understand where she’s coming from. However…

“Well, for now, I want you to put all of this stuff in a little box and come with me. I have a surprise for you.” I take her hand and lead her to the door.

“Christian, I really don’t feel like being around people right now,” she protests, “and where’s my food?”

“Humor me,” I say, retrieving the key from the sofa table as we head out the door.

 “Where are we going?” she asks as we pass the elevator.

“A few more steps, my love,” I tell her, and she sighs impatiently. When I knock on the door of the suite, Chuck opens it with a smile.

“I smell food,” she says. “The food is in here…?”

When Chuck clears the doorway, it looks like we’ve walked right into Romper Room. The entire suite has been transformed into a toddler-friendly play area, complete with wall decals, oversized blocks, playhouses, floor tiles with letters and numbers, the whole nine yards. Percy really went over the top making a home away from home for my children.

“What in the world?” Butterfly says as we step into the suite. “What is this? You want to play with toys?”

“No, but I figure you might want to play with those,” I say, pointing to the living room area. There Keri sits with a fidgety Minnie and Mikey standing next to her. Butterfly’s hands fly to her mouth and she gasps loudly, tears immediately springing to her eyes.

Keri says something to the twins, no doubt along the lines of “Go to Mommy” or something like that. Having gotten his land legs sooner than his sister, Mikey darts to his mother and she drops to her knees in just enough time to scoop him into her arms. A few moments later, Minnie joins the hugfest, and my wife is on her knees, holding her babies and sobbing. It’s a sight that would bring the toughest of us to tears.

Allen, Ray, and Marilyn have come to the suite while my wife is blubbering in the middle of the floor to her babies. When she pulls them back to say something to them that I can’t decipher through her tears, Minnie replies with something equally indecipherable while patting both hands on Butterfly’s cheeks and Mikey makes a vain attempt to wipe her tears from her eyes.

A protector even at one year old.

I kneel down next to her and rub her back, trying to calm her crying a bit. She releases the children and they immediately head to the colorful little table and the toys it carries.

“How could you bring my babies to this horrible place?” she sobs, turning to me while still on the floor.

Uh oh.

I turn to Allen, whose eyes have widened, his mouth falling open. She rises up on her knees and catches me in a fierce embrace.

“Thank you,” she sobs in my neck. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you…”

I slowly wrap my arms around her, still stunned by her earlier chastisement, but happy that we’ve averted a crisis. While we’re wrapped in our embrace, I catch my daughter out the corner of my eye standing next to her mother. When I look down, I see her patting Butterfly on the leg.

“Methinks the Lady Mackenzie wants your attention,” I say. She releases my neck and tries to compose herself. I hand her my handkerchief, and she wipes away what tears she can manage before turning her attention to Minnie.

“Yes, Minnie Mouse?” she says, her voice still shaking. Minnie points to something on the other side of the room and uses her usual indecipherable speech, to which my wife answers, “Show me.”

Minnie takes her hand and Butterfly doesn’t rise from her knees. She crawls behind Minnie in white slacks and Louboutin red-bottoms to whatever thing has captured my daughter’s attention. I sigh heavily and look over at Allen, who stretches his lips in that way that confirms, “Yes, we dodged a bullet!”

Butterfly spends the rest of the afternoon playing games with her children and completely forgetting about the late lunch I had ordered. After a couple of hours, we order dinner to the twins’ suite and everyone comes down again to have a family meal, which consists of cold smoked ahi tuna poke, lamb chops, beef tenderloin, rotisserie chicken, cedar plank salmon, day boat scallops, whipped mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, steamed broccoli, and foraged mushrooms with red velvet cake, vanilla bean crème brûlée, and lemon mousse cheesecake for dessert. Unfortunately, tiramisu is not on the menu, so my beloved wife settles for red velvet cake.

Our children enjoy chicken fingers and French fries with finger fruit for dessert. My picky daughter bypasses the finger fruit and opts for the broccoli instead… strange kid.

The children have had a very big day with their first trip in an airplane, walking into a toddler wonderland, and the excitement of seeing their parents again. The adrenaline of the day crashes down on them very quickly after they’ve had dinner and they both fall into a food-induced slumber, Minnie in her mother’s arms and Mikey in the highchair next to me. Allen and Ray have gone back to their rooms for the night and Marilyn is sitting next to Butterfly. They’re chatting about… whatever. Marilyn is sipping on her smoothie as usual, but I didn’t see her eat anything today at dinner.

I look at her carefully, and her hair is dull and stringy. She keeps it in a small bun most of the time, but right now, it’s in a ponytail. There’s no bounce to it. It looks like hair when it’s oily and limp, but it’s dry and visibly brittle. Her skin looks pale and her face is unhealthily narrow. Her clothes are hanging from her frame and even her eyes look dull. I remember clearly when her face was fuller and her skin had a glow, when she looked healthy and athletic instead of frail and sickly. It’s not that I watched her, but I saw her nearly every day. I wish I could say that she’s looking better, but she’s not.

“Did you invite Marilyn to the spa with you yesterday?” I ask discreetly.

“Yes, but she didn’t want to go,” Butterfly replies. Maybe a massage and a treatment will help Marilyn begin to feel like herself again.

“What’s the plan for tomorrow?” I ask, loud enough for the room to hear me.

“Well, I’m not going to see my mother tomorrow because I’ll be spending the entire day with my babies.” She kisses a sleeping Minnie on the forehead. “When I was carrying them in my belly, they gave me strength when I felt like I couldn’t make it. Now, I barely know how to function when I’m away from them. Isn’t that a sad state of affairs?”

“What about you, Marilyn?” I say. “Why don’t you and Keri kick back and take advantage of the free spa packages that come with these rooms?”

“Thank you, Christian,” Marilyn says. “Maybe I will some other time, but Keri, you and Gail can go, and I’ll stay here with Bosslady.” I nod and drop it, allowing Keri and Gail to coo over going to the spa. I really wish Marilyn would go. This situation actually appears to be aging her.

“Ana, I don’t mean to talk business with you, but I haven’t gotten a chance to see you alone all day. Carl sent the figures for the proceeds from Tina’s jewelry auction. It was quite the haul.”

“Really?” Butterfly asks with interest. “Did you see how much?”

“After auctioneer’s fees, 1.7 million,” she replies.

“Whoa! Really?” Butterfly exclaims. “Have you told Grace?”

“Not yet. I just saw the email before dinner,” Marilyn says.

“Do me a favor and forward it to Grace. She’s going to be thrilled. She was just telling me about the grant proposals that she and Courtney are working on.”

“Oh, yeah, speaking of Courtney,” Marilyn says, sitting back in her seat, “I talked to her today, too. Things seem to be going well overall. Her and Vick are doing great. She got her grades and she’s ecstatic…” She trails off.

“There’s a but in there, I hear it,” Butterfly says. I hear it, too. Marilyn sighs.

“She’s a bit depressed… and pissed,” Marilyn continues. “It appears that even though her relationship with Addie is flourishing, her grandfather committed a major faux pas. Just after we came to Nevada for the trial, he offered her $1 million in cash. He wasn’t convinced that she had turned her life around and he wanted her out of Addie’s life to spare Addie the heartbreak of discovering that her granddaughter was still the conniving little brat that she had previously proven to be.

“Courtney. Was. Livid. She told him that if her grandmother did give her something at this point, she would give it to Helping Hands because you guys were the only ones who gave her a chance and believed in her when she really was worthless. She told him that she completely understands how he feels and why he feels that way, but that she’s not going to allow him to torment her anymore, that she didn’t want his money, and that she never wants to see him again.”

Whoa! That’s severe.

“She really shouldn’t cut her grandfather off,” I interject. “He has a lot of contacts—in the business world, in society… He could really be helpful to her in the future.”

“He’s already cut her off, Christian,” Butterfly says. “Courtney’s right. I totally get why Fred feels the way that he does. Courtney was insufferable and incorrigible, but she didn’t come to them asking for forgiveness, to be accepted into the family, or for any money or support from them. In fact, she shunned it. She avoided all contact with them. Addie came to her. Even then, she had the condition that if they felt the same way that they felt when they sent her back to Hukatucky or whatever the name of that place was that she didn’t want to be bothered—she was fine without them.

“I don’t know what Fred is expecting from her, but if he feels that she’s still irredeemable, then he needs to separate himself from her. Stop being around her and stop antagonizing the girl.”

“He’s only doing the same thing I did with Carla, Butterfly,” I say. “I tried to hand her money to get out of your life and leave you alone if she was coming back into your life to cause you grief and she turned it down, too.”

“It’s completely different, Christian,” Butterfly says. “Courtney was a self-centered, irresponsible little brat and that hurt Addie and Fred a lot. My mother watched me be tormented—physically and emotionally—and then she contributed to that torment. Addie and Fred discovered over the course of a few months that Courtney was a seemingly unsalvageable bad apple. I suffered for years at the hands of my mother.

“Courtney turned her life around on her own terms and decided that what she did, she would do it while no one was looking. My mother gave a moving performance about how horrible she and Green Valley were to me, about how she wishes she could take it all back and that the money I gave her is in a trust fund for the children, but she had an audience—a very large one at that. She cut her own deal to give her testimony, and even if she was totally sincere about her change of heart, I am nearly 30 fucking years old. The pain that she put me through is completely immeasurable and its effects spanned decades. One courtroom testimony—though quite stirring—won’t make up for what she put me through.

“Courtney did nothing like that to Addie and Fred, nor has she tried to come back and get in their good graces. They came to her.”

I can’t argue with her. She’s right about all of it. I just can’t help but feel like…

“I wish there was some way that everybody could come out of this not so hurt,” I admit. “We all know that Courtney was a real piece of work, but she appears to have turned her life around. And Adelaide and Fred are old and dear friends of our family. I just wish it could be easier for everybody.”

“You’re sweet,” my wife says softly, “but sometimes, this is just the way it is, baby.”

“Yeah, I know. I just don’t like it.”

*-*

My wife is happily spending the entire day in Romper Room watching various Disney movies and playing with toys like she’s a toddler herself. She awoke this morning, took the fastest shower known to man, donned a pair of yoga pants and a sweatshirt, scoffed down her breakfast way too quickly to digest, and announced that she will be spending the day in the babies suite if I wanted to find her. With her permission, I take a few hours to catch up on all things GEH.

I’ve discovered that with the new system of employee reviews, we’ve had a few resignations—some of the workers in the trenches and a couple of people in middle management, nothing to be concerned about. When asked why they were resigning, many of them gave some form of the same answer—they felt like they shouldn’t have to justify why they deserved their raises.

My company is scraping its ass on the ground like an ailing dog, being dragged down by incompetent assholes, some of whom don’t have the leadership skills of a gerbil, and I’ve got people who feel they shouldn’t have to tell me that they deserve their raises simply because they’ve done everything they were told to do… no initiative, no latent leadership skills, no problem-solving, no nothing, not even speaking up to say, “I had an idea, but my opinion wasn’t respected.”

Well, if that’s how you feel, then goodbye—and good luck on your next STAR behavioral-based interview where you’ll have to explain why you quit your last job with a very lucrative company with endless opportunities for advancement and when and if you proved at any point that you could be a valuable member of the team.

My status report has come in on the Pedophile as well. I look over the pictures that were forwarded to Alex. They’re glorious! She’s sitting in a wheelchair and her skin is hanging off of what you can see of her face. Her blonde hair is once again growing out to its brown and gray roots, and she truly looks like she’s got one foot in the grave. It truly warms my heart.

After an email or twelve to various departments and my executive team, I head down to the Romper Room suite to see my babies… all of them.

*-*

“They’re playing all your songs tonight, Al,” Butterfly laughs.

“Looks that way,” Allen concurs.

James flew down to be with Allen for the weekend and a few of us take a chance again to get out of the hotel. Butterfly found a place online called Oddfellows. It’s north, just on the outside of the Freemont Street Experience near the courthouse. It’s an alternative-type dance club where I would suspect no one would know who we are or at least they wouldn’t expect us to be here. Each night has a theme, and tonight is 80’s night, apparently right up Butterfly’s and Al’s alley.

The order of the day is jeans and casual clothes, so I didn’t have to worry about my girl wearing some skimpy dress that would be the envy of all the women and the desire of all the men. There’s a skimpy dress here and there on the dancefloor—which has a small stage and a huge, wall-sized video screen as its backdrop—but not Butterfly. No, she wants to dance and gyrate, and that silk shirt, black jeans, and Louboutin stilettos are still enough to showcase that beautiful body and cause a few women to sneer and more than a few men to salivate.

My girl has had a Cosmo or two and is bouncing happily in her seat to the music, an eclectic mix of artists from what sounds like the 80’s and maybe a touch of the early 90’s.

“So, how do you distinguish between Allen’s songs and your songs?” I ask. “You’re both singing them all.”

“Well, Al was the quintessential white boy, so he introduced me to Billy Joel, Duran Duran, the B-52’s, A-ha, and Wham, to name a few. I was the reverse Oreo, so to speak, so I introduced him to Motown, Kool and the Gang, Bobby Brown, and Salt-n-Pepa. It appears that they are tapping into the 80’s white boy tonight.”

Just as she finishes that statement, the familiar twang of the beginning of Take On Me fills the air and my girl deliberately begins to wildly bob her head like a hand-banger, after which she leaps to her feet and begins to do that dance where the girls bounce back and forth on their toes from one foot to the other, her hands doing a calmer version of the swim, and all I can think to myself as she and Al pipe out the lyrics is, “Who is this girl?”

She went to the hospital briefly this afternoon and when she returned, I was informed that we were going out tonight. She disappeared into the bedroom for an hour or two and when she emerged, she was wearing the ensemble that she’s wearing now, quickly putting the kibosh on my more formal garb and instructing me to go and change. We’ve had a seafood dinner and my wife and her gay boyfriend are feasting on a dessert of Cosmos and 80’s music.

Once A-Ha has finished singing the last bars of the song and the lead singer bursts out of the cartoon world and into live color on the life-sized screen, Allen and Butterfly return to the table with me and James to quench their parched throats with a swallow or three of their Cosmos. Just as they’re catching their breath and reminiscing over yet another 80’s tune, an unfamiliar intro of horns begins to play. Butterfly looks up at Allen in acknowledgement and Allen raises a brow at her.

“Do you remember it?” Allen asks her.

“Of course, I remember it!” Butterfly replies.

“Well, what’re we waitin’ for?” Allen says, sliding out of the booth. Butterfly giggles as he takes her hand and they head off to the dancefloor. I look at Jason, who just shrugs. A few moments later, we watch as Allen and Butterfly break into a perfectly choreographed routine of what looks like a mixture between a foxtrot and a jive, and with all the spins and perfect steps they’re doing, you can’t really tell who’s leading. I look over at James, who’s as stunned as I am to see them dancing together like that. They actually look like they can compete professionally.

What’s more, I don’t think I’ve seen my wife smile this widely in weeks.

“Do you ever feel left out of their little club?” I ask James honestly. He shakes his head as he swallows his beer.

“No,” he says, “Allie makes sure that doesn’t happen. We have our own little club and everybody can’t be a part of that one.” He raises his brow and takes another drink of his beer. I remember Butterfly mentioning to me once that they dabbled a bit in the lifestyle. I don’t know if they’re still in it or how deeply they’ve gone, and I dare not ask without invitation, but he’s right—no one should be privy to the “marriage” club relationship unless you’re practicing Polyamory, and that’s a huge no-no for me and Butterfly. I don’t want anyone else’s hands—male or female—on my woman!

“I’ve never seen a friendship like theirs,” James continues. “Never. If I wasn’t certain of Allie’s love for me, I’d feel threatened. I’m a little jealous that I never had a friendship like that in my entire life.”

“I think we’re both lucky to have found them,” I tell him. “They’re in love with each other as much as two people can be in love and not share a sexual relationship. For her to have the capacity to love him unconditionally and then love me, too… yeah, I’m the luckiest man alive.”

“I might have to dispute you on that one, Chris,” he says, watching his husband finish a flawless dance with my wife. They were clearly in their own world and appear a bit surprised to discover that the dancers cleared a small hole in the dance floor for them to finish their routines while the spectators looked on, and they’re a bit taken aback when the room erupts into applause for them.

I discover later that the song that gave them dancing feet is called Mambo #5.

My girl returns to her seat and a Cosmo and a bottle of water later, she’s back on the dance floor, perfectly mimicking the steps—and adding a few of her own—to the Salt-n-Pepa, Push It and Janet Jackson Control videos.  

And now I know how my girl learned to dance. She probably spent quite a bit of time mimicking music videos.

I have to admit that concept behind the Tainted Love video, I can’t get with that. It looks too creepy to me. I’m surprised that I’ve never seen it before now. He’s singing to a little girl—he looks like a fucking pedophile. Jason notices my expression and leans over to me.

“You okay, Boss?” he asks.

“This song was popular back in the day, I remember it,” I tell him. “This was the concept behind it the whole time?” He looks at the video, then looks back at me.

“I… I don’t know,” he says. “But you know the eighties, Boss. There was a lot of artistic expression that didn’t necessarily make sense.”

“There’s nothing confusing about that,” I retort. “He’s singing to a child about tainted love. That’s disgusting! Who approved this message?”

“I wouldn’t get too upset about it, Boss,” Jason says. “The song is 35 years old and the guy singing it is probably twice as old…” and probably out molesting children if his video is any indication!

I purse my lips and shake my head. How jaded must my mind be to get this angry over a 35-year-old video whose director obviously adopted a very fucked up sense of creative license?

“You’re not off the mark on this one, Chris,” James says, bringing my attention back to him. “I think it’s weird, too, and that’s putting it nicely. It’s making me pretty fucking uncomfortable. That song was originally done in the 60’s by an artist named Gloria Jones—this is a cover. She made it very clear that it’s about a relationship gone sour and she’s singing to her lover about how she feels their love is one-sided and now putrid. Where the concept falls that he’s singing to a little girl is beyond me.”

“Thank you!” I say, throwing my hand in the air. “I’m not crazy! I still like the song, but that video sucks!” I bottom out my bear and search for the waitress to get another one. While I’m searching the room, my eyes land on Butterfly and her lifetime dance partner now dominating the floor to Paula Abdul’s Straight Up.

I’m mesmerized once again watching her mimic the moves in the music video with Allen as the perfectly in-sync backup dancer. I completely forget what I was bitching about watching her flawlessly execute that Butterfly thing that Paula Abdul does with her legs. She’s graceful and beautiful and if there’s conversation going on around me, I can’t even hear it anymore. I could watch her all day.

Next, another Paula Abdul song comes on accompanied by a video that would disturb me as much as the Tainted Love video… if it wasn’t so cute. It’s the video for Opposites Attract, and Paula’s love interest is—of all things—a cartoon cat. The entire video is a dance video and she and Allen never miss a step. They use whatever room the other dancers give them, whether it’s a few feet or the entire stage area of the dance floor. After watching her execute some of the rubber-band moves of Paula Abdul, many people usually just move out of the way. I’m totally blown away when she and Allen mimic the tap dancing scene near the end of the video.

Fuck, is there anything this woman can’t do?

They stroll back to the table like Paula and ScatCat strolls off the screen at the end of the video, smiling so hard that their faces should break. Amidst the thunderous applause and cheers, they’re cut off by one of the women that was dancing just before they get to the table.

“Are you guys a couple?” she asks. “You look great together!”

“Thank you,” Butterfly says sincerely. “No, we’re not. Actually, we’re both married. He’s my gay boyfriend.” She squeezes his hand and lays her head on his shoulder.

“And she’s my fag hag,” Allen replies, laying his head on hers.

“Wow, really?” the girl says, somewhat wistfully. “You’re kind of hot.” James reaches up and takes his husband’s free hand, guiding him to the seat next to him.

“I think so, too,” James says protectively.

“Wow,” she says, looking at Allen and his husband, “two hot guys. You can’t go anywhere in public, can you?”

James chuckles loudly and Allen laughs as the young lady’s eyes travel around the table and land—widely—on me. Butterfly slides into the booth next to me and latches onto my arm, smiling at the girl.

“Please tell me that’s another one of your gay boyfriends cuz I’ll turn him straight,” she says without taking her eyes off me. Butterfly shakes her head and flashes her rings.

“Nope. Husband,” she says with a smile.

“Shit!” she says. “Sorry,” she says to Butterfly, repentant and with pouty lips, then she rolls her eyes. “Three hot guys.” Her eyes wander to a lone Jason sitting on the opposite side of the table in a chair he commandeered and brought to the table. Before she can question, he holds up his finger and flashes his ring.

“Fuck!” she exclaims. “Four hot pieces of man-candy and they’re all taken! Figures!” She throws her hands up and marches, frustrated, away from the table, causing us to burst out in laughter while Jason just shakes his head.

“I had no idea you guys could tap dance!” I point out once our admirer has left.

“She can’t, I can,” Allen says, proudly.

“Well, she was doing a pretty good job up there,” James says.

“Only because he taught me that routine,” Butterfly says before taking a healthy chug of what must be room-temperature water.

“And she scares the shit outta me doing it in stilettos!” Allen chimes in. “The entire time, I was afraid that she would tweak her damn ankle!”

“But I didn’t, so keep your shirt on,” she says, waving down a waitress.

“My girl can do anything in stilettos,” I say, remembering what she said to me after our first night together. James’ brow furrows.

“Anything?” he asks, puzzled.

“Anything,” Butterfly confirms.

“Can you rock climb?” Jason asks, with a smirk.

“If it’s me or the rock, I’ll figure it out,” she replies.

The waitress has made her way to the table and Butterfly gets another round of drinks, lots of water, and soda for Jason. Once the waitress returns, I hand her a $100 bill and thank her for the drinks.

“I’m hungry again,” Butterfly announces after chugging an entire bottle of water.

“I can see why,” I say. “You’ve done a workout up there that would put Zumba to shame.”

“And I’m sweating like a pig,” she says, pulling the material of her shirt from her body repeatedly, using it to fan herself. “Give me your blazer,” she says.

“Why? Are you cold?” I ask.

“I will be in a minute if you don’t give me your blazer,” she says, and snatches her drenched silk shirt right over her head… in the middle of the damn club. I’m stunned just looking at those beautiful mounds held up by a stylish black sports bra.

“Shit!” Jason says, ripping off his suit jacket to cover Butterfly while she uses her 100% silk shirt to dry her sweat to a background of whooping onlookers.

“Your Highness!” Jason scolds over the music.

“Heeeeey! We agreed!” Butterfly protests.

“Your. Highness!” Jason reinforces, saying the second word so hard that Butterfly jumps in her seat. “Please! Don’t ever do that again!”

She stares at him like a child being scolded by her father. His words are a request. His tone is, “If you pull that shit again, you’re grounded for a month.”

“Okay, okay, sorry,” she says in a whiny, petulant, teenager voice. She buttons the suit jacket which is at least three sizes too big for her, her sports bra still peeking out from the neckline. She rolls the sleeves up to accommodate her hands, never raising her gaze to any of us while she’s doing it. I’m certain that she’s feeling chastised and a bit embarrassed. She had better be glad I was hypnotized by her tits or my reaction may have been a bit more… animated.

“Okay,” I say when she has fiddled with the sleeves a bit too long. “Back to the dancefloor.”

I push her out of the booth and slide out behind her. I’m dragging her to the dancefloor by her hand and she’s somewhat stomping behind me with her head down like I just told her to go to her room.

Geez, Butterfly, spoiled much?

I dance a little with her and she’s not into it at all, doing the obligatory two-step with minimal movements of her arms.

Well, this will never do.

“Okay. Fine. You don’t want to dance with me? I’ll dance by myself.”

I turn away from my wife and begin a series of crazy gyrations reminiscent of the final scene of Footloose. It’s not really bad, except if you take away the weird dresses and prom decorations, you’ve got one guy on the floor looking like he’s having a seizure.

When I turn back to my wife, she’s got one arm crossed over her chest and one hand covering her mouth, stifling a smile that she’s trying not to let show.

“No?” I say, shaking my head. “Okay, how about this?” For my next rendition, ladies and gentlemen…

I begin a really bad… and I do mean really bad rendition of Austin Powers’ fembots dance. Seriously, the dance was already bad on its own, but I made it worse. Now, both my wife’s hands are covering her mouth. And for my finale, folks…

I break into a flawless rendition of Napoleon Dynamite’s “Vote for Pedro” dance to Canned Heat… only I’m dancing to Break My Stride. And, well, flawless may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I must admit that Napoleon Dynamite was one of my guilty pleasures, so I know that routine very well. If it’s not flawless, it’s pretty damn close.

“Okay, okay, you’re making a fool of yourself!” my wife says, halting my exquisite execution through her laughter by putting her arms around my waist.

“Yeah, but I made you laugh, didn’t I?” I say victoriously.

“Heartily,” she says as I pull her against me and kiss her quickly.

“And he’s right,” I say, holding her over Jason’s way too big suit jacket. “What you did was worthy of a punishment. If you ever do it again, you’re going to get one, and you’re not going to like it. Understand?”

My voice is sober, but not harsh. It’s matter-of-fact. If you’re a bad little Pussycat, you’re going to get spanked. She nods and drops her head like a good little soumise.

“Yes, Sir,” she replies softly, and I hear it loud and clear as if she were speaking through a bullhorn. I put my finger under her chin and lift her head.

“Good girl,” I say, kissing her softly again on the lips. “Now, let’s go find something to eat.” I take her by the hand and lead her from the dancefloor.


ANASTASIA

Last night’s workout has turned out to be murder on my joints. I’m exhausted and sore, but not too tired to have breakfast with my children. I’m able to convince Marilyn to have a few pieces of fruit, but I’m certain that we’re going to have to graduate to more real food for her very soon. While Pedialyte, Ensure, and smoothies offer sufficient nutrition for her, she can’t survive off of those things indefinitely.

“Daddy, why do you call me ‘Sunflower?’” I ask when we are the last two people at the table. He raises his brow.

“I’ve… called you that almost since you were born,” he says. “Why do you ask?” I drop my gaze.

“My mother’s favorite flower is a sunflower,” I say. “It took me nearly 30 years to find that out and I found out from a stranger.” Daddy gasps.

“Oh,” he says, sadly. “I forgot all about that. Yeah, that might have been where it came from, come to think of it. I did love that woman once upon a time… very much. It wouldn’t have been too far fetched. I’ll stop if it bothers you…”

“Absolutely not!” I scold. “’Sunflower’ is something special between us that just happens to be her favorite flower.” Daddy nods and drops his head.

“I know why you didn’t tell me everything, but it hurts that you didn’t tell me everything.” I sigh heavily.

“I didn’t have the heart, Daddy,” I reply. “Those details are even hard for me to watch right now, and I remember everything vividly, like it happened yesterday. It was selfish of me not to prepare you guys for what was coming, but what could I do?”

“Nothing, Sunflower,” he says, his eyes filling with tears. “You couldn’t do anything. You couldn’t do anything then and you couldn’t do anything now.” He throws his gaze to the ceiling, trying to fight his tears.

“The only times I’ve ever cried was over you,” he admits. “I was broken when I lost Carla. I was destroyed when I lost you. It was the worst pain I had ever felt when you left me.” I cover my mouth and choke back a sob.

“I know, Daddy,” I say once I’m able to speak. “I felt the same way about you. All those horrible things she made me say to you…”

“I knew it wasn’t you, Annie,” he says. “The words weren’t yours and I could tell right away…” He trails off. “When I showed up at that hospital and you were all frail and weak, dear God, I wanted to burn this city down to find out what had happened to you. I was so angry with Carla. She couldn’t even tell me what was going on! She didn’t have any answers. She blamed you the entire time I talked to her, saying that she had no idea what you had gotten into. Your bruises were mostly healed, but you still looked broken. The pictures that I saw… I had seen men tortured in POW camps that didn’t look that bad.

“All these years, she just walked around like, ‘Shit happens,’” he says, his voice cracking. “Then, she had the nerve to show up at the hospital after you were kidnapped; all that shit she said in the press… Who the hell does she think she is?”

Daddy is getting angry and he’s crying freely now. Daddy’s right—I don’t remember ever seeing him cry. Marines don’t cry, but he’s crying now.

“How could she birth someone into the world and then treat her that way?” he sobs. “I wouldn’t treat a dog the way she treated you. And dear God in heaven, when she called me and told me that you were missing again…!”

Daddy is weeping now. His body is shaking violently with his sobs. I hold his hands tightly as he cries, my own dam bursting along with his. He’s been holding this in for a lot of years. He needs to get it out.

“I did everything I could to keep you,” he sobs. “This never would have happened if she had just let me keep you. I would have protected you… spared you all this agony…”

“I know, Daddy,” I weep. “I know you would.”

“Your capacity for kindness never ceases to amaze me, Annie,” my father says with tears streaming down his cheeks. “I’m not ashamed to say that after hearing her version of what happened, and what she felt, and knowing what you went through, I would have immediately pulled the plug on that woman!” He says the last part through gritted teeth.

“I’m angry and hurt for everything that she did to me,” I admit, “everything that she allowed to happen to me—from ripping me away from you to allowing her monster of a husband to mistreat me to the entire ordeal with Green Valley. I’m hurt and disappointed and enraged down to my very soul… but if I just let her die, then I’m no better than she is.

“At the end of the day, I have to live with my decision. That’s why I’m making sure that she’s getting the best care, but it’s not out of love or devotion. It’s out of human obligation. I’m her next of kin, and I will see her through to the end of her advanced directive or until she awakes, whichever comes first. Then, I’ll put her in a nursing home or the grave, whichever is necessary.”

“That’s still more kindness than she deserves as far as I’m concerned,” Daddy says, wiping his eyes. “I would either be donating her body to science or walking away and leaving her right where she lay! I guess the Man Upstairs has to work on my heart. I don’t think I’ve ever forgiven her for what she put you through.” I squeeze his hands.

“Forgive her, Daddy,” I say, through my sniffles. “I have. I can’t hold onto it anymore. I forgave her years ago when I gave her that money and told her to get out of my life. It still frustrates me that she did the things that she did, and that she was so heartless and cruel, hence my recent meltdown. That’s what happens when I dwell on it. That’s why I don’t dwell on it. You shouldn’t either.” He sighs heavily.

“You’re so wise, Annie, that it scares me sometimes,” he admits.

“Trust me, it can be a very heavy cross to bear,” I lament, wrapping my arms around my Daddy and hugging him with all my might.

Later that afternoon, I stop in at the hospital to collect more cards from more flowers and have some of the older arrangements removed. I told the nurse that she could decide what to do with them since some of them look like they may have been dying. I can still see the disapproval in her eyes when I give her instructions even though she doesn’t say anything to me about how she feels. It’s none of her business anyway. Henry, my mother’s guard today, shows me her visitors’ log.

Fourteen people have been here to see her since I said she could have visitors. What was that, like a couple of days ago?

I push down the anger, envy, and resentment that I feel each time I think about the number of visitors that this selfish adult grandmother has received in just the past few days that a 15-year-old girl wasn’t afforded in several weeks.

“Neti, neti,” I repeat to myself, standing in my mother’s room. “Neti, neti…”

Studying with Marilyn about meditation and restorative yoga, I came upon this simple Sanskrit chant. Neti, neti which simply means not this, not this. It’s used to push away bad omens, bad thoughts, bad situations. I use it to try to cleanse myself of the hateful feelings and energy that consume me when it comes to dealing with this woman. My negative energy can’t be conducive to her healing, and it’s certainly not conducive to mine.

“Neti, neti… neti, neti… neti, neti…”

I recite the damn thing all the way back to the hotel.

*-*

“Aunt Ana!”

Sophie gives me a big hug once she and Gail get to the hotel Saturday evening. She appears to be very happy to be here.

“Sophie!” I say, returning her embrace. “So… Vegas. How many of your friends can say this is where they’re spending their semester break?”

“None,” she giggles. “Most of them are talking about going to some exotic place for spring break, but I’m in Vegas now!” I laugh with her. There’s no use in spreading my hatred for this place. A lot of people like it here; I just don’t.

“I know that Gail and Jason have some things planned, but I’ve got a thing or two planned as well,” I tell her.

“It’s not all kiddie things, is it?” she laments. “I want to do some kiddie things, like I want to go to the Adventure Dome, but I don’t want to do all kiddie things. I want to do some grown-up things, too.”

“Like a Las Vegas food tour?” I ask, “Or dinner at one of the world-renowned chef’s restaurants?”

“Yeah!” she replies, starry-eyed.

“Well, that’s what I’ve got planned,” I tell her, and she hops in place and claps.

“Oh, yay!” she says. “When do we go?”

“The restaurant is tomorrow night, and the food tour is Tuesday. Is there anything else besides Adventure Dome that you want to do while we’re here?”

“I want to go to Sur La Table,” she says. “I’ve been to the one in Pike’s Place and I wasn’t really impressed. I want to see what the one here looks like.” I nod.

“Your wish is my command,” I tell her. “I’ll talk to Gail and Jason and see what they’ve got planned and we’ll fit it in among their plans, okay?” Sophie nods happily.

“Okay,” she says. I type into my phone memos to check out Sur La Table. The moment Google sees the name, it suggests the cooking classes that they have at the store in Summerlin. That would be fantastic! I’m glad my phone is on silent or Google would have blown my entire plan!

“Aunt Ana… I know why you’re here,” she says solemnly. I raise my gaze to her. I don’t really know how to respond. “It’s all over the news at home.”

I swallow hard. How do you explain something like this to a 13-year-old girl?

“I know about your mom, too,” she says, looking at her hands. “I just wanted to get that out.”

“Okay,” I reply.

“I don’t really understand this whole thing,” she says, her brow furrowed. “I really thought the police were supposed to help you.” I sigh heavily.

“Most of the time, they are,” I reply. “This guy… had a brother he wanted to protect more than me.”

“Well, that’s just… crappy,” she says. I know what she really wants to say, and crappy wasn’t it. “Everybody has somebody they want to protect. Does that mean that I have to worry about if the police are going to put somebody else’s well-being before me?”

I shake my head. I can’t tell her that this won’t happen. They very well might put someone else’s well-being before her for many reasons, including but not limited to protecting their own family.

“Let’s hope that’s not the case, Sophie,” I tell her. “I would think that overall, the police would want to do the right thing, which is to protect and serve the public. I feel that even though there may be a few bad apples, overall, the police are good people.”

“I hope you’re right,” she says, “but I still think I want Daddy to teach me how to shoot when I’m old enough.”

“Well, it’s not a bad skill to have,” I concur. She’s quiet for a moment.

“What they did to you,” she says, looking down at her hands, “it was horrible. It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever heard… even more horrible than my mom doing drugs… even more horrible than here trying to sell me to that guy…”

“That was pretty horrible,” I interrupt her with a furrowed brow.

“This was worse,” she said. “Somebody saved me… the police saved me. Nobody saved you… and I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

I’m doing my best not to get choked up. I know what she means, but that’s a huge responsibility for a little girl to take on about something that happened before she was even born.

“There’s nothing for you to be sorry about, baby,” I tell her, taking her hands. “These were horrible people and they did a horrible thing, and now they’re being punished.”

“I’m still sorry,” she says, now looking in my eyes, “I’m sorry that someone came to save me, and no one came to save you.” Oh, dear God.

I know what she’s feeling, and I can’t explain it away. I just take her in my arms and give her a really big hug.

“Thank you, Sophie,” I say, trying to keep my voice from cracking. “I think that’s the nicest thing anybody has ever said to me.”

*-*

Dinner tonight is at the Buffet at Aria, and poor Sophie wants to try everything on the menu. The food is spectacular, the dessert divine, and my honorary niece is eating herself into a stupor. Even my normally picky eater Mackenzie is shoveling different fruits and vegetables into her mouth.

Marilyn didn’t even bother to succumb to the pressure of a buffet, so she’s sitting this one out.

“We’re in Vegas,” Christian says to Chuck while Keri and Gail are off at the food stations. “Have you asked her?”

“Of course, I have,” Chuck replies. “I didn’t expect her to be here, so I left the ring at home, but I was prepared to buy another one if she had said, ‘yes.’”

“So, I take it that it was a ‘no,’” Christian replies. Chuck sighs.

“She’s afraid of something, but I don’t know what it is,” Chuck replies. “I adore her, and I’m certain that she loves me. I just don’t know why she won’t marry me.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want to be beholden to you,” I say. “I love Christian very much, but I wouldn’t want that either.”

“Well, first of all, I wouldn’t do that to her,” Chuck says, slightly affronted. “And second of all, she wouldn’t be. She’s here on her own visa and her job is with you, just like mine is. Granted, she got it because of her affiliation to me, but let’s face it. As much as I love her, if she was shit, you guys wouldn’t let her tend to your children. And now, she’s got her teaching certification, so she really doesn’t need me that way. I don’t think that’s it.”

I think it is. I think she doesn’t want to lose her independence and that she’s afraid that if she marries an American and she’s Anguillan, that’s just what might happen.

“I see those wheels spinning,” Chuck accuses. “You know something I don’t.”

“You’re right,” I confess. “I know how it feels as a woman making my own way and not wanting to lose that feeling. As much as I’ve become accustomed to the lifestyle that I enjoy with my husband, if something happened and I lost it all tomorrow…”

“Which is impossible,” Christian interjects.

“But if it did,” I retort, “I could still go out into the big, wide world and fend for myself. I’m just saying. I don’t know if that’s the problem, but maybe you should ask her what she needs in order to make that step. It may not be that she doesn’t want to spend her life with you. It may just be that you’re asking the wrong question.” He rolls his eyes.

“No offense, Ana, but I can’t hear the shrink right now. I love that girl, and if asking her to marry me is not the right question, then I don’t know what is. Excuse me.”

He stands and heads for the door, and I think he’s going to the restroom. I watch him leave, then crack my neck and finish my wine.

“I’m sorry I asked,” Christian says. I shake my head.

“It’s not your fault,” I reply. “I’m always trying to shrink someone else and I can’t even shrink myself. I’m all tied in knots in this place. I’m barely hanging on from day to day. You all had to bring my children down here to keep me grounded. Who am I to try to give someone advice on how to live?”

“A licensed psychiatrist and a damn good one,” he says, putting his arm around the back of my chair. “You do know what you’re talking about, and you’re right. He just doesn’t want to hear it. He’s raw from another let-down. And baby? When a doctor is ill, she doesn’t diagnose herself without tests. Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t have all the answers for all this crazy shit that’s going on in your life.”

I will not cry…
I will not cry…

“I thought I was supposed to be the shrink,” I say, laughing to fight my tears. He smiles widely and kisses me on the cheek.

“We both know I’m no shrink,” he replies. “I just love you and I want you to be happy.”

I smile and lean on his shoulder. I love Chuck and Keri, too, and I want them to be happy. I just wish I knew what was really holding up Keri’s decision


A/N: Freeds opened in Vegas—Henderson to be exact—in 2017, not 2015. Creative license.

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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~~love and handcuffs