Raising Grey: Chapter 89—Still Minding the Monsters

I passed my CE. Now, I get to keep those 44 licenses!

One and a half months…
6 classes…
31 credit hours…
3 days of testing…
My scores: 96, 96, 92, 88, 84, 82

Thank you to all of you who encouraged and prayed for me. I couldn’t have done it without you and I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.

Thanks to my mommy who, even though she was sick, was encouraging and rooting for me the whole time.

Especially thank you to my Daddy, who catered to my every need while I studied and wouldn’t allow me to doubt myself for one moment!

We did it, y’all! ❤ 

FYI—four more chapters in book four after this one and a new era begins for our couple!

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

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

Chapter 89—Still Minding the Monsters


CHRISTIAN 

I awake in the middle of the night again and discover that Butterfly has left our bed. I go in search of her and find her in the yoga room, sitting on the floor and assembling her Lego model of the Sydney Opera House.

“Why are you awake?” I ask. She raises her gaze to me for a moment, then turns her attention back to the Lego model.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she admits. “I got up and journaled for a while, then I decided to meditate a bit, but I’m still not tired. So…” She gestures at her Lego model.

“What’s keeping you awake?” I ask. “Something on your mind?”

“The usual stuff,” she dismisses. “Nothing and everything.”

So, something’s on her mind but she doesn’t want to talk about it.

“Do you need some help?” I ask.

“No,” she says. “It’s therapeutic, but you can come and sit with me while I finish if you want to.” I graciously accept the invitation, sitting on the floor lotus-style in front of her and the Lego pieces. We had already talked about our day, so we just sit quietly—me watching while her dexterous fingers snap the little pieces into place. It’s not an exact replica, but it’s enough to remind her of our trip.

She put it on one of the shelves in the yoga room, and now I realize that she’s been quite busy in here. The shelves are neatly arranged with paraphernalia from different stages of our lives.

Seashells and souvenirs from our trip to Anguilla, including the dolphin globe…

A picture of me and Gail walking down the aisle on her wedding day…

The picture of us from our first press conference standing in front of the elevator at Grey House…

A picture of her and Marlow—I don’t know from where or when…

Many, many more pictures—Christmases, birthdays, wedding and bridal showers, weddings…

Her promise ring sealed in what looks like an acrylic box… I can’t be upset about it, considering the carats she has on her hand now.

A miniature Eiffel Tower and what looks like a map of some of the ruins from Greece…

A cork from one of the bottles of Screaming Eagle wine from Napa Valley…

A picture of her henna-ed hands over her henna-ed baby bump…

A picture of Minnie and Mikey only hours old in the bassinets in the hospital nursery…

Two dried roses and a few stray rose petals…

“What are these from?” I ask, pushing the dried rose petals around.

“Our engagement,” she says softly, and then I remember the incredible rose ceremony I engineered to propose to her. I turn to her and smile before turning back to examine the many mementos that she has assembled on the built-in shelves.

A picture of us singing at Mia’s wedding…

Her and Allen dancing at his wedding…

A captured shot of her and Valerie in the guest room, talking about God knows what right after Valerie and Elliot moved into the Crossing…

The first ultrasound pictures of our babies… the gender reveal. I take the picture off the shelf and examine it, creepily caressing the point where the technician pointed out Mikey’s penis.

“I was a real jerk when we first got this picture,” I say, looking down at the picture of the first ultrasound, when we found out the sex of our babies.

“I…” She trails off and I raise my head to look at her. “I… only vaguely remember.” I look down at the picture again.

“I hope you never remember,” I lament. “I was a real asshole, Butterfly. We were at odds and I robbed you of what should have been one of the most joyous moments of our lives because I was pissed.” I raise my gaze to her again. “When and if you do ever remember it, please also remember that I’m so, so sorry.” She takes the picture from my hand and put it back on the shelf.

“Sometimes, I feel like the accident may have been a blessing in disguise,” she says, adjusting the picture so that it’s straight. “That I know of, I haven’t lost any long-term memories, and God knows I’d love to shed some of those, but I seem to have shaken some of the short-term memories that I probably didn’t need anyway.” She turns to me.

“I remember you passing out,” she says. “I think it was when you found out that we were having twins, but… I don’t remember a bad reaction to the gender reveal.” I swallow hard and put my arms around her.

“Let’s hope it stays that way,” I pray, “but I am sorry.” She nods and ends the conversation. She smiles faintly and turns away, walking to the French doors and looking out. I don’t ask her what’s on her mind. I have a bit of a sinking feeling that she actually does remember the gender reveal. She’s just letting me off the hook. I move behind her and wrap my arms around her waist, and we watch the stars beyond the trees through the glass of the French doors.

*-*

Butterfly is still asleep when I get dressed. We were up late stargazing, so I don’t bother to wake her. I just quickly and quietly eat my breakfast and sneak out to go to Grey House.

I don’t even raise my gaze from my phone as I walk into the building with the usual “I don’t give a fuck” attitude I’ve been sporting all week. I hear the chatter cease as the crowd silences and in my peripheral, I can see it part like the Red Sea.

Yeah, that’s what I’ve been looking for.

I don’t need to be liked; I need reverence. If having these peasants like me means that my company is going to fail, they can hate me until eternity rolls as long as they respect me.

“You look like a man with his mind on his money and his money on his mind.”

I raise my head to see Josh standing at Andrea’s desk as I step off the elevator.

“Coffee, Mr. Grey?” Andrea asks.

“Black,” I say. I nod at Luma before I walk into my office. “You have information for me?”

“That smokescreen flew up faster than I ever thought it could’ve,” he says following me into the office.

“Details,” I say walking over to my desk and taking a seat while pressing the button to scramble the signals in my office. Jason enters and closes the door behind us.

“Sometimes you have to shake a cage to see what falls out,” Josh says, handing me his tablet. “Just a little bit of innuendo, you can cause a fucking avalanche.” I look at his tablet to see a Google search on Elena Lincoln autobiography. Harmless enough… but not.

“Wow! What the fuck?” I ask, scrolling down the headlines in the search. They range from thought-provoking questions like, “How far up does this go?” to the completely and utterly ludicrous… Lincoln Brings Children from Third World Countries to Staff Her Pedophile Sex Rings.

“Jesus, seriously?” I shoot. “Most of this shit is fucking nonsense.”

“Maybe so, but not to the reading audience,” Josh defends. “There hasn’t been this kind of buzz since the government wanted translation of Heidi Fleiss’ black books.” I frown. What the fuck is he talking about?

“That’s a bit before your time,” Josh says, “but let’s just say that one little woman had a whole bunch of powerful men by the balls, even though we never really found out who they all were. Nonetheless, a whole lotta twigs and berries were in a knot over the Hollywood Madam.”

There’s a knock on the door and Jason opens it to reveal Andrea standing there with my coffee. I gesture her in, and she places it on my desk in front of me.

“Careful, sir,” she says, “It’s fresh.”

“Thank you,” I say, and she turns and leaves the office. “We’re about the same age, Josh. How do you know about the Hollywood Madam?”

“It’s part of pop culture, believe it or not. It’s my job to know… just like the O.J. trial.” I shake my head.

“You wanted a smokescreen, by golly, you got one. My advice would be if you want to get to him first, you better move fast.”

“I don’t care who gets to him—or her or them—as long as this whole thing is shut the fuck down,” I say, scrolling through tagline after tagline of suggestive innuendo about Seattle’s Pedo-Madam and her rich and powerful clientele.

“This innuendo isn’t that discreet,” I say. “I can see myself and a whole bunch of other fucking people in this nonsense. Don’t you think this might be overkill?”

“Is it?” he asks. “Do you know every single person in the Seattle area that practices the BDSM lifestyle? I can guarantee they don’t all know about you. And the fact that there are so many in the smokescreen makes it even better for you, especially since so many people are already in an uproar ‘in the interest of the public good’ trying to find out what she knows.” He does the finger quotes around the public good comment, so I know that it’s a quote.

“But why shine a light on me?” I ask.

“Because not shining a light on you would be more obvious than shining a light on you,” he points out. “To be honest with you, sir, with the way this is being spun, you’re old news. You were splattered all over the headlines when she tried to kill you and Jason last year. They know your story. They want more chapters now—more players. That’s why her book can be so compelling and successful, and that’s why so many men in high places are squirming and demanding answers. Nobody knows just how deep this goes…”

“Very deep, Josh, believe me. Her pedophile activities go back more than a decade just that I know of, and the community… you’d be surprised how many people have something to lose if their involvement in that lifestyle is discovered. There’s a whole fucking lot of people that need this bitch to shut up.”

“And hence,” he says, bowing dramatically, “your smokescreen.”

“Excellent work, Josh,” I say. “Keep your ear to the ground and be as visible as possible in your freelance persona. We don’t want to give away your alter ego.” He nods and leaves my office. I look over at Jason.

“So, it begins,” he says. I nod.

“Apparently. What about Holstein and Lincoln?” I ask. “If the smokescreen is already up…” Jason nods and calls Alex on his cell.

“The boss wants an update on Alcatraz,” he says into the phone and ends the call a few seconds later.

Alcatraz?” I question. “You guys have code names for everything?”

“Yes, we do,” he says seriously, and I just shake my head.

“I guess I should expect it,” I reply. A few minutes later, Alex is in my office.

“So, now that the smokescreen is effectively in place, our friend is going to get a very expensive bottle of peroxide-laced champagne.” I frown.

“Peroxide?” I ask. “Can’t that kill him? I said start small.”

“This is small,” Alex says. “In high doses, it can be fatal. We’re not using that much—just enough to make him pretty damn uncomfortable.”

“What if he doesn’t drink it?” I ask.

“He’ll drink it because it’s odorless and tasteless,” he replies. “Since it’ll be his first… delivery, he’s not suspicious yet. He’s so cocky that he’ll probably think it comes from a secret admirer or something and down the whole damn thing. Once his stomach starts burning and his mouth starts bubbling like Alka Seltzer, he’ll take his ass to the hospital where they’ll most likely try to pump his stomach to see what the hell he ingested. He’ll put two and two together after a rough night.”

I nod. I’m accustomed to just going in and flattening shit like a steam roller. When it comes to the subtle art of revenge, yeah, I can’t do that. I’ll have to leave that to the experts.

“He’s going to receive an untraceable package at his home next week right around Christmas,” Alex continues. “It’ll be a dead fish with a rose in its mouth.” I roll my eyes.

“Oh, dear God, that is so cliché,” I lament.

“Exactly, which is why he’s not going to suspect that it came from you,” Jason says. I raise my brow.

“That’s so ridiculous that it’s genius,” I reply, shaking my head.

“During this time, he’ll get the standard phone calls, messages, little shit like tampering with his car. The real fun starts after the New Year. He’ll be tied up in a nice little bow and most likely out of commission in a month or less.”

“Sounds good. What about Lincoln?” I ask.

“Her punishments have already begun. She doesn’t know where they’re coming from, though,” Alex informs me.

“I thought she had Holstein’s protection,” I inquire. “If he hasn’t gotten any of his threats yet, isn’t he still protecting her?”

“Remember when I told you that it’s easier to get to someone in the pen than it is to get to them on the streets?” he says. “It’s easier to get to someone in the pen than it is to get to them in the streets.”

“So, humor me and tell me what’s going on,” I say, folding my arms and smiling.

“Well, yesterday, she got her hand slammed in a very large door—actually fractured a finger. This morning she took an accidental spill down a flight of stairs, clumsy thing that she is. Nothing fatal, but very uncomfortable. She’s got little mishaps, accidents, and bad luck as well as a beatdown or twelve lined up for her until you say the word that something different happens.” I chuckle deviously.

“Excellent. Let her stew in that for a while. What about Ms. Ellison?”

“Hers has to be very subtle,” Alex says. “For now, she gets to watch. She gets to enjoy her anonymity until we get all the information we need from her. Her apartment was bugged yesterday, but we didn’t get the chance to plant the trackers, keyloggers, and other hacking tools before…” He looks at his phone.

“Speak of the devil,” he says. “She just left her apartment dressed like a bald man, so no doubt, she’s on her way to see Holstein or Lincoln. She’ll find out that Lincoln’s in the infirmary when she gets there and can’t have visitors, so she may talk to Holstein. We’ll get the rest of the equipment into her apartment while she’s gone.”

“How do you know how much time you have?” I ask.

“Do you remember going to Walla Walla?” he asks. I shrug. “Do you remember how far away it is? Of course, you don’t, because we flew. She’s driving. Walla Walla is a five-hour drive. Once she hits the 90, she won’t be back until tomorrow.”

“How do we follow her that far without her catching on?” I ask.

“Drones,” he replies, typing into another phone he pulls from his pocket. “Remember, I have unlimited resources. Once we figure out her comings and goings, there’s nothing she can do to get away from us… especially after the Vashon Island disaster.”

Oh, dear God, I definitely don’t want to think about that. The rest of this situation is moving along rather nicely, however. It’s almost too easy.

“What about the receptionist?” Alex asks. “Do you want us to move on her yet?”

“No,” I say. “Not yet. Let her watch for a while, too. She’ll be wondering what the hell is going on and when her little payback comes, she’ll be pissing herself wondering just how bad it’s going to get.” There’s a light tap at the door.

“Come in,” I say. Andrea sticks her head in the door.

“Mr. Grey, I don’t mean to disturb you, but William Kavanaugh is on hold on line three. I told him that you were in a meeting, but he insists. You didn’t give me any specific instructions on what to do if he calls.”

“Thank you, Andrea,” I say. She turns to leave.

“Oh, and just FYI, Mr. Holstein’s secretary is on hold on line two.” I frown.

“His secretary?” I haven’t started anything on her yet. “Why is she calling me?”

“My guess is that Mr. Holstein has caught on to the fact that he’s going to be on hold indefinitely, so he makes her do it.” That fucker. He’s made a bed that he’s trying to make everybody else lie in but himself.

“Have fun with it,” I tell her with a shrug. “Leave her on hold and hang up at your discretion, every time she calls. He’ll get smart to it and he’ll start calling, then handing the phone off to her. You can do the same thing to him if you like.”

“Yes, sir.” She nods and leaves. I’m not sure why she didn’t use the intercom, but it’s a moot point.

“You gonna talk to Kavanaugh?” Jason asks.

“When I’m ready,” I say, leaning back in my chair. “Holstein is shitting his pants because I tried to contact him and then I went quiet. Now, the smokescreen is up and he’s slowly realizing that he’s about to make a whole lot of enemies if he hasn’t already, and he’s looking for an ally.”

“Do you seriously think he’s trying to find an ally in you?” he asks. “Hasn’t he been trying to reach you for days?”

“Yeah, but I went up there asking for a favor. I’ll bet my last dollar that he’s stupid enough to think that he gets to cash in since he did me a favor. Never mind the fact that he betrayed me, totally stabbed me in the back by siding with her and protecting her. If he were to talk to me now, his conversation would go along the lines of blowing the whistle about our little agreement. The only catch is that he can’t prove anything without throwing himself under the bus. If he’s protecting Lincoln—and anybody with half a brain knows that he is—the powers that be are going to be gunning for him very soon, so he needs a friend in the worst way.”

“Ellison just crossed the bridge headed to Mercer,” Alex says. Mercer… where I and my family live. That bitch might just drive by my house. She had better fucking not.

“You’ll make sure she’s sealed up tight?” I ask.

“As a drum,” he promises. I shake my head.

“Tighter,” I say with no mirth. “Airtight. A fucking submarine 50,000 fucking leagues under the sea tight.” His lips form a flat line.

“Do you really know what you’re asking?” Alex says.

“I know exactly what I’m asking,” I confirm. “It’s the same thing I asked for when we first started talking about this situation, and I’m asking for it again. Can you make it happen?” He looks at Jason who shrugs slightly.

“I can make anything happen that you need. I just want you to be 100% certain of what you’re asking for.”

“Have I ever asked you about those hacker fuckers?” I ask. His face immediately turns to stone.

“No, sir,” he says frostily.

“Have I ever heard from them again?” I ask matter-of-factly. He sucks his teeth.

“No, sir,” he says again, just ask frostily. I cross my arms.

“Do you still think I don’t know what I’m asking for?” I ask. “He just told me that Holstein was getting a dead fish with a rose in its mouth—cliché, but effective. I know what that means and I’m sure that he will, too. This situation needs to be handled delicately, but it needs to be airtight. All I’m asking for is untraceable creativity and I don’t give a fuck about plausible deniability.” Alex raises his brow.

“But you will still have it,” he says finitely, “for the safety of all parties involved.”

“Then once again I say make sure the situation is airtight,” I repeat.

“It will be, sir,” he says, coolly. I nod.

“Now, go on and let me talk to this asshole,” I say. “I need to deactivate the scramblers… unless there’s something else that we need to discuss.” Jason shakes his head.

“I got nothing at the moment,” he says. Alex stands.

“I don’t know if I’m concerned or if I like you better when you’re like this,” he says and heads for the door. “I’ll keep you posted.”

“Do that,” I say. He nods and leaves the office and Jason falls in step behind him. I deactivate the scrambler and push the button for line three putting Kavanaugh on speaker phone.

“Grey,” I say, infusing as much boredom into my voice as possible.

“So, first your new little flunky was chomping at the bit to get a bid in with me, and now he’s not returning my calls. You do all your business like this, Grey?” Kavanaugh barks.

“We don’t have business, Billy,” I say in a condescending tone. “You decided that you didn’t want to dance with me, and I obliged. So, why are you bugging me now?” I take a seat at my desk.

“You know why,” he says. “To be honest, I know that Grey Enterprises is going to be the best bed for this company. Yeah, I was giving you a hard time because I didn’t want to play ball, but GEH with a major media outlet? Think of the possibilities!”

“I did,” I say, leaning back in my seat, “and I’m no longer interested.”

“Come on, Grey, don’t play hard to get,” he presses. “You can name your price within reason.”

“Is that the same line you use on all these women spitting out your babies left and right?” I ask, growing weary of hearing him grovel. He’s silent for a moment. “What’s the deal, Kavanaugh, the media business not paying enough for you to pay off all these skanks you keep impregnating? I suggest you keep your business and build it back up because the way you’re laying seed all over the state, you’re going to need the income.”

“That’s none of your fucking business,” he says, his voice low, “and it has nothing to do with buying the company.” I scoff.

“I know the old saying is that men tend to think with their dicks, but did you shoot your brains outta your cock and into one of your baby mamas?” I ask incredulously. “It has every fucking thing to do with the business. You’re coming to me because everybody that you had your sights set on turned you down, and now you’re desperate. You know me well enough to know that normally I would jump on an opportunity like this. But there’s one problem, Billy.

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and GEH… well, she’s very sensitive. She doesn’t like the fact that you rejected her advances when she used her wiles on you, that you turned your back on her like she was one of those worthless whores that you fuck and make babies with… you know, those treacherous pieces of trash that don’t respect the sanctity of marriage that are now entrusted with the task of raising a child when they probably shouldn’t be trusted with a goddamn gerbil, but I digress.

“But, GEH… no, she’s not one of your whores. She’s a 20-carat diamond set in a split-shank halo thrice-polished platinum band—priceless, and you treated her like glass. So, no, Kavanaugh, she’s not just ‘playing hard to get.’ She doesn’t want to dance with you. She doesn’t want to be courted by you. She doesn’t want to fuck with you at all.

“And besides the fact that you insulted the lady, have you totally forgotten how media outlets make their money? Or did you just hope that I would be so starstruck with the acquisition that I wouldn’t remember? Your name is shit, Kavanaugh. Your company is shit. By the time I paid $1 for that sinking ship, I would have to pay the sponsors to advertise on any of your mediums before they would ever think to pay me.”

I can almost hear his temper brewing on the other end.

“You’re full of shit, Grey,” he hisses. “You say GEH is a woman, then she’s a fucking tease! She waves her little ass in your face and if you don’t bite immediately, then all of a sudden, she don’t want you, is that it?”

“Call it what you want,” I cede, “but I no longer want any part of your dying empire.”

“What’s the matter, Grey?” he taunts. “What’s the real problem here? You feeling a little inadequate because I can snag ‘em hot and young and you’re stuck with the same piece of pussy?”

He’s not serious, is he? Does he really think he’s some kind of stud dropping babies all over the state? These women are using you as a meal ticket! They don’t really want anything more to do with you once they’ve got the babies except your wallet.

Any other day, I would sit here and spar with this man about how delusional he is about his virility, but today, I don’t have time for it. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

“That’s the difference between me and you, Kavanaugh,” I say. “You’ve got big resources, but you think small. You built a legacy with your wife, and then you destroyed it with opportunistic whores. Katherine is cunning and intelligent, if she would only learn to use those resources properly. Ethan is a financial mastermind and surprisingly considerate, in spite of his bloodline. You were a corporate media giant, and you allowed the very thing that you had the reins of to destroy you—the media. Why? Because you couldn’t keep it in your pants.

“You have a slew of bastard children running around and what—you expect them to become great and somehow elevate you again? Are any of them even carrying your name or are they all living off hush money? And surprise, Kavanaugh, you’re not at your lowest point; you can still fall further, but even now, when you’re flailing and gasping for air, you’re still walking around like the king of the hill. You’re ridiculing me for being a happy and faithful husband while you’re out there being the epitome of the rolling stone, dropping your seed in any hole that’ll take it, including your daughter’s friend. You’re not even in my league anymore, Kavanaugh. At this point, I don’t think you ever were.”

“Don’t give me your high and mighty shit, Grey,” he seethes. “You’re one broken condom away from where I am right now, so don’t try to play me stupid. Do you want the company or don’t you?”

And apparently, he doesn’t know how far he can fall.

“No, Kavanaugh, I don’t want your company,” I say, honestly. “In fact, I’m dumping all your stock. I thought I was interested in the media, but I’m not. Moreover, I take failing companies and rebuild them—make them well again. I can’t do anything with a company that’s already dead in the water. Your stocks are dropping miserably, your name is being smeared over every media outlet except your own, and your business and reputation has been totally destroyed. Anybody with their eye on the market and even the slightest bit of common sense is dumping your stock as we speak. I’m sure someone can pull you out of this hole, but it won’t be me. I wish you luck.”

I end the call and shoot off an email to Lorenz, Ros, and the M&A research team that all communication with Kavanaugh Media and Kavanaugh himself will cease immediately. Then I send notice to my investment team to dump his stock as quickly as possible. He’s worse than a poison pill. He’s a festering bucket of disease and I’m certain that he’ll infect my company with an incurable ailment if I take him on. I’m already in the process of flushing out corporate cancer and suturing oozing wounds in GEH. The very last thing I need to do is introduce a new bacteria.

“Andrea, get me an appointment with Bastille…”


ANASTASIA

I didn’t mean to sleep this late. I mean, I did mean to sleep late, but not this late. I’m scrambling around trying to get dressed and trying to put my day together at the same time. We’ve decided on our new hires and the members of the cleaning crew are shadowing the maintenance supervisor as needed. Keri’s finalizing the preliminary curriculum and we’ll be presenting it to the teaching staff at the beginning of the year. She’s preparing to test for her American teaching credentials at the same time and…

God, do I miss Marilyn.

Half of the things that I’m scrambling to organize right now she would have had organized before I awoke this morning. Each day without her and without hearing from her is making me lose hope that she might be returning. No offense to Courtney—she’s a great help, but she’s no Marilyn.

No bad hair day today—I put it in a quick messy bun before I run down to the kitchen and grab a cream cheese and jelly bagel and coffee to go. Since I’m only going to be at the Center for an hour or so, I don’t bother taking the twins in with me. I usually never take them in with me on Fridays anyway since that’s the day that I go to see Ace.

Ace… hmm.

I’ve had more success texting and Facetiming with Laura than I have with standing appointments with Ace. And even when Pamela Whitmore called, I didn’t fall into the big, black abyss. She called and she scared me. I cried, it shook me up, but I didn’t fall apart. I pulled myself together and the Boogeyman didn’t show up.

There were no sightings of Chicken Little, Armageddon, or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The world didn’t end… and I don’t expect it to any time soon.

I haven’t seen Ace in six weeks. I think it’s time for a session.

“You’re not bringing the babies to the Center anymore?” Ebony asks as I pass by the day care sans Minnie and Mikey.

“I never bring them in on Friday,” I reply. “It’s a short day for me.” Her brows raise in acknowledgment.

“Oh,” she replies, walking along with me towards my office. “I just hadn’t seen them for a couple of days. They’re the only twins that come to daycare. I just like seeing how alike and different they are. I love babies at that age. I kinda wanted to have some of my own but…” I look over to her and her head is down.

“But what?” I say, she shrugs and smiles tragically.

“I have bad taste in men,” she says. “It’s kind of a blessing that I haven’t had any children. What kind of life would I give them? I’m on the run from a psycho gang member and his psycho ‘family…’” She does the finger quotes around the word family and I’m aching to do the finger quotes around the word gang member. I think he took her for a ride. We can’t even find the guy.

“When and if the time comes, Ebony,” I say, my voice softening, “you’ll meet the right guy and you’ll have babies.” She smiles weakly.

“Well, I’ve taken up enough of your time. I’ve got other munchkins to look after. I just wanted to see what happened to my two favorite Mouseketeers. I’ll see ya later.” She turns around with a wave and heads back towards the nursery. I feel so bad for her. I really think she’s running from a phantom, but when someone is that scared, you can’t un-scare them. They have to see it for themselves.

Believe me, I know.

*-*

“I thought you may have fallen prey to the shark’s tooth… or some other traumatic experience.” I narrow my eyes at Ace. Needless to say, he’s a bit surprised to see me in his office, but he sure as hell kept that appointment open and kept charging me for it.

“And yet, you never called once to see if I was okay, only to cancel our appointments. Oh, wait… you didn’t call. Amber did, that is, when I did get a call.”

“Well, you’re obviously fine, so there really was no need,” he retorts. I glare at him. “What’s wrong? Did you expect to come in here and I’d be falling over myself?”

I hired him for his straight-shooting and I stayed with him because he doesn’t pull any punches, but this is bordering on disrespect.

“I don’t need your bad attitude or your smart mouth right now,” I warn.

“Then why are you here?” he asks, matter-of-factly. I purse my lips and tilt my head.

“Good question,” I say, standing to my feet and grabbing my purse. With my latest discovery, I seriously don’t need this shit, you smug bastard, I think to myself as I head for the door.

“Ana!” he calls out forcefully, causing me to stop in my tracks without turning around. “I cancelled two appointments with you. You cancelled the rest.” Now, I turn around to face him.

“I have displeasure in enough places in my life,” I tell him. “I don’t need to experience rejection from my shrink.”

“Nobody was rejecting you,” he retorts. “Other people have things that happen in their lives, too, Ana. It’s not always about you…”

“Well, excuse me, Dr. Avery, but I couldn’t tell,” I say finitely. “You basically throw me out of your office the first week, which somewhat pissed me off, but I understood it. The second week, you have Amber call me an hour before my appointment to tell me not to come. The third one, you send me a text… a text, for Christ’s sake. Forgive me if I didn’t feel particularly welcome in your establishment!” He looks a little chastised standing in the middle of his office.

“I see your point,” he says, gesturing to the chair. “Can we try this again?”

I don’t even know if I want to try this again. I’ve had more success without you than I’ve had with you, which is kind of why I’m here.

I reluctantly move back to the chair and sit down.

“I’ve just come back from a week in Australia,” I say.

“I know. Amber showed me the picture of Christian with the snake around his body.” I twist my lips.

“Yeah, well…” I quickly change the topic. “Notwithstanding my husband’s fascination with deadly creatures, the trip was very enlightening in many ways, good and bad.”

“Elaborate,” he says, crossing his legs.

“My first night off the plane in Sydney, I was nearly attacked by bats.” I pause. “I exaggerate, they probably weren’t attacking me. They probably weren’t even concerned about me, but they were swarming around my head and I felt totally attacked. I even milked all over myself.” His brow furrows in confusion.

“I’m breastfeeding?” I say. His mouth forms and “o” and he nods. “That was a scare and kind of funny after the fact, not particularly traumatic.

“I found out that women in general don’t like me,” I continue, “at least the ones that just see the outside. I thought it was just Seattle and everyone who knew that I was one-half of AnaChris, but I’ve discovered that my looks, my shape, my face, the fact that they see my husband, something—I don’t know, but whatever it is, I bring out the bad in a lot of women. And they’re not ashamed to say so, often in public places. I could understand if I had harmed or offended them in some way, but these women just snap for no reason. I’ve decided that although I may bite back every now and then, I’m just going to take the high road, because I have other things to do than entertain petty jealousy.”

“That’s a very progressive and mature way of looking at things,” he comments.

“I’m working on it,” I admit. I’m not being mature at all about Ms. Deanna Bitch and my immediate plans for revenge, but that’s another topic. “My husband and I are taking a deeper look at our roles in our marriage as it pertains to our lifestyle…”

The lifestyle?” he asks. I nod.

“We’re meeting with trusted friends of his that have been in the lifestyle for many years to help us adapt a practice that’s more suitable to us.”

“I thought it already was suitable,” he presses. I shake my head.

“Most of the time, it’s really great, but there are times when he’s really intense and I think he needs a little more so I would push myself further—sometimes a little beyond my limits—and he noticed it on the trip.” His brows rise.

He noticed it?” he asks. “What happened? Were you hurt? If I may ask that…” he adds.

“I wasn’t hurt, per se, but I was really worn out—like if you do too much exercise, and that’s not how it’s supposed to be. There’s a certain amount of exhaustion that comes with the activity, the exertion, and the release, but it’s not supposed to be like that.”

“Help me understand,” he says, shifting in his chair, “You seem to understand so much about this, and yet you were pushed beyond your limits?”

“I pushed myself,” I tell him. “I have safewords when I’ve taken too much, but I won’t use them. My husband was a sadist when he was in the lifestyle before me. He liked to punish women and whip them and watch them squirm and fuck them hard then send them home. That’s how he was able to regain control of himself when he felt that he lost it. From the very beginning, our relationship was different—but even then, I felt like I needed to be more for him when he needed that control. I needed to give more of myself and I needed to take more, and he would give me whatever I would take. But on this trip—and one other time in Anguilla—it was too much for me. Only this time, he realized it before I did.” Ace shakes his head.

“I get the concept, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand the participation,” he says. I shrug.

“Most people don’t,” I say. “That’s why the lifestyle is so secretive, but that’s one of the many breakthroughs I had while I was away. We visited the MONA, a museum in Hobart that has some of the creepiest art exhibits that you’ve ever seen. It caused Christian to become quite reflective about his biological mother. But I think the most impactful visit was when we toured Port Arthur.” His brow furrows again.

“Port Arthur was a prison settlement and has now been turned into an open-air museum. Some of the buildings have been reconstructed. Port Arthur is also the site of a terrible massacre orchestrated by some asshole who went on a shooting spree throughout the town and killed several men, women, and children.

“The place is full of death,” I tell him. “It’s like the hundreds or thousands of people who have died there, the spirits don’t leave. They’re all still there on the island and they emotionally ambush you when you get there. Nothing but anguish and sadness and despair… I couldn’t wait to get away from that place.

“I had to cleanse myself of the demons that I took with me when I left Port Arthur, and in the process, I had to face my own head on.” I drop my head and smile a tragic smile. “It’s amazing how you sometimes don’t want to let go of your fears and sometimes, they have to be ripped from you like a favorite toy.” I shake my head before I raise my gaze back to Ace.

“I identified my Boogieman, and then I faced him. He’s a fairytale, just like he always has been, but he’s very real when he shows up. The rest of my trip was very pleasant and relaxing for the most part, and when I returned, Pamela Whitmore called me at the Center.”

“Who’s Pamela Whitmore?” he asks.

“Cody Whitmore’s fucking mother,” I reply. His eyes widen.

“Cody… why the fuck was she calling you?” he inquires.

“I found that out the next day. I’m going to Vegas at the beginning of the year. One of the fuckers who directly burned me is going on trial, and Whitshit’s girlfriend Madison-Pussy took a plea to testify against him, but of course, he’s been arrested, too. He’s been in there for quite some time. The upcoming case must have struck a sore nerve with her. So, once again, his jailtime and just desserts are my fault.” I shrug.

“How did the call go?” he asks. “I’m certain it had some kind of impact on you or you wouldn’t have brought it up.” I sigh. Here goes.

“I’ve had to hold people up and help them through their crises. I’ve had to battle ghosts and monsters—old and new. I’ve cried and I’ve been afraid and uncertain. I even quit my job—temporarily, maybe, but I still quit. People and things have challenged me, and you know what? I survived. I survived without running to a shrink every week and without having to cry on somebody’s shoulder every few minutes. I still have my journals, and I have my family to talk to if I need to, and I’ve even made a new friend with amazing insight, but I’m stronger now than I have been in a very long time.

“I did what you told me to do. I took responsibility for my own mental health. I took a really hard look at what I was really afraid of, and while some of those monsters are still very real and very scary, I was able to see that bad shit happens all the time. While some pretty fucked-up shit has happened to me, it’s still not the worst that could happen and even if fucked-up shit continues to happen, all the worst of it still won’t fall on me.

“I’ve been holding my friends and family together, being there through their tragedies, fighting for ‘truth, justice, and the American way,’ and the entire time, the only time I focused on my own issues was when it was time to come and see you. Outside of that, I think I may have done it three times. And then it struck me—like a boat out of the blue. If I can be strong for everybody else, why the hell can’t I be strong for myself?

“I’ve dealt with more tragedy than I want to, and if I’ve learned nothing else, I learned that trouble is not convenient. It doesn’t make an appointment to drop into your life—it just shows the fuck up. So, I can either watch the horizon and wait for it, or I can live my best life and work through it when it shows up. Guess which one I choose?

“So… Dr. Avery, if you’ve had some misfortune over the past weeks, I truly hope it has been or will be resolved in your favor. However, the time apart has helped me understand that I really do have to stand on my own two feet. I hope I can call on you in an emergency or if I find the need to speak to a professional, but I’m requesting an end to our weekly sessions.”

He’s quiet for a long time as he examines me. I don’t know what he’s looking for, but I give him a minute or two.

“So,” he finally says with a sigh, “it looks like in trying to take some time off to handle my personal issues, I’ve cut off my nose to spite my face.” I pause for a moment.

“No,” I say, “I would more say that by cutting the apron strings for a while, you made me stand on my own. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, you removed the training wheels, and I had to ride or fall… or maybe I removed the training wheels when I came in here and accused you of not doing your job. But you can rest assured that one way or another, you did your job. I’m standing on my own… for now. And this won’t be the last time you see me. Hell, I’m about to go to trial for the Green Valley cases—I’ll have you on fucking speed dial, but I think it’s time to disconnect the machines… Ace.” He twists his lips.

“Thanks.” I raise my brow at him. “If you had called me Dr. Avery one more time, I think I would have put you out of my office again.”

“Oh, I owed you a few with all the times you called me doctor during our sessions.” I stand. “I think that’s our time, doctor.” I extend my hand to him. He rises and takes my proffered hand.

“Try not to be a stranger,” he says. “And don’t wait to call me when you’re falling completely apart. Keep me up to date, okay?” I nod.

“If I don’t see you before then, make sure I get pictures of the baby.” I smile and release his hand and we head to the door.

“Oh, one more thing,” I say with my hand on the door handle. “I have two beautiful children and a wonderful life. In the midst of all my turmoil, I have no desire to kill myself. Don’t ever refer to me as a shark’s tooth again.”

I make eye-contact with him and wait for a response.

“Deal,” he replies.

*-*

I arrive at the Crossing with plenty of time to get some baby time before Christian gets home. I don’t want to face the bear, so I sleep late on mornings when he has to prepare to be the asshole, then take my chances on an early morning rendezvous after the bear has settled. Other than that, I opt to do what he does… work later, work out when I get home, have a later dinner once he’s a bit more docile, then go to bed early or escape to my office or the twins’ room. This usually means that I do nocturnal wanderings, which is a good time for extra meditations, planning for the next day, or journaling.

I remember lamenting that I would probably have to wait until the wee hours of the morning to get any quality time with my husband without having to worry about dealing with Mr. Asshole CEO, and it looks like that’s inadvertently exactly what I’m doing.

And I’ve effectively fired my shrink.

Was that the right thing to do? I really think that the good that he was doing was barely measurable. He pissed me off more often than not, then after he kicked me out of his office—with good reason—he just started cancelling my appointments without advanced notice or without telling me why. Even though he may have been going through something of which I was not aware, he made me feel unwelcome. He forced me to look at my problems through my own eyes or seek help from someone else. Where did he think that would leave him?

He made me feel like he didn’t want to be bothered, so I said, “Okay.”

I, of all people, can completely understand when real life gets in the way of helping other people. I was kidnapped, hospitalized, and jet-setting several times when I had my own practice. However, when I returned, I reached out to my clients to apprise them of what was happening, assuming they hadn’t already seen something on the news. Not only that, but I don’t remember once ever kicking someone out of my office except Melanie when I found out that she was the videographer of my attack. With our “relationship” being on tenterhooks after that, one would think that my therapist would have handled the next few meetings with a little more tact and consideration, even if it was necessary for him to cancel for personal reasons.

It’s a moot point anyway. I’ll now be using my Friday afternoons to spend more time with my children.

Speaking of which, Minnie and Mikey have just finished their afternoon snacks, and I’ve come to discover that Mikey likes the colorful snacks like strawberry and mushed up mangoes or pineapples. My strange little girl on the other hand likes anything green like kiwi or of all things, broccoli. She prefers the broccoli—can you believe that?

We’ve now cleaned up the colossal mess that my children always seem to make when they’re eating their finger snacks and now, we’re in the family room watching the end of, of all things, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse…

Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog
Now we got ears, it’s time for cheers
Hot dog, hot dog, the problem’s solved
Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog!

Mikey’s clapping in the Pack-n-Play and Minnie has pulled herself up on the sofa and is bouncing while bending her knees. I’ve decided that I’m going to buy or download all of the songs from the various kids’ shows that we watch because my kids absolutely love them.

Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog
It’s a brand-new day, whatcha waiting for?
Get up, stretch out, stomp on the floor
Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog!

Minnie has released the sofa and is now clapping and waving her hands in the air… completely oblivious to the fact that she’s standing on her own. I quickly whip out my phone before the final choruses of the Hot Dog Song finish playing and record my daughter bouncing on her little feet and attempting to mimic the words to the song.

That’s it. The Hot Dog Song is officially my favorite song now… although it’s going to be hard to decide between that and the Outside Song from Bubble Guppies.

“Hod hod hod hod…” and that’s all she’s saying, but it’s music to my ears. Mikey turns in his Pack-n-Play and says something to his sister, and I swear that she understands him, because she bursts out laughing. Then she turns to me and reaches her arms out to me, taking a few giggly and wobbly steps before I drop the phone and she falls into my arms.

“Minnie is a big girl!” I say, praising her accomplishment. I pick up the phone and turn it to us. “Say ‘bye-bye,’ Minnie Mouse!”

“Hod hod hod hod hod hod,” she repeats trying to reach for the phone. Mikey spits out a full sentence of baby gobbledygook, and I turn the camera to him.

“Say ‘bye-bye’ Mikey.” More babbledy-wabbledy and I end the video.

Time gets away from me while I’m spending time with the babies and I hear the mudroom door open and feel the chill of the bear breeze into the house. Shit, I intended to be in my office working or hiding or something when he got home. Instead, I’m sitting here hiding on the floor with Mikey asleep on my chest and Minnie knocked out on the sofa. I had slipped into the serenity of the moment and forgot my mission.

My husband doesn’t even come into the main part of the house. He sheds his outerwear and boots and turns straight towards the elevator. I don’t know whether to feel affronted or to breathe a sigh of relief. Jason comes in right behind him, looking like he’s more than ready to shed the burdens of the day. He comes through the family room and into the kitchen and kisses his wife.

“Hello, Love,” he says sweetly, and I feel a tiny twinge of jealousy at the sentiment. “I see the car—where’s Her Highness?” I don’t hear anything for a moment, but Jason’s purposeful stride tells me that Gail most likely pointed to the family room. Sure enough, Jason peers around the sofa.

“What are you doing hiding down there?” he accuses.

“I’m not hiding anywhere,” I lie. “I was tending to my children until they fell asleep.”

“They’re asleep?” Gail says as she comes into the family room. “Would you like some help taking them to the nursery or do you want them to stay here?”

“The nursery,” I say. She takes Mikey from me, allowing me to stand,  and walks to the elevator.

“What’s up with him?” I ask Jason. He sighs.

“It’s been a day,” he replies, “a… pretty full one.” Enough said. I nod and retrieve my daughter from the sofa, then follow Gail to the elevator. I’ll put the babies down first, then go and do some yoga.

*-*

“Enjoy it while you can, because he’s going to wake up one day and realize that he misses what he had…”

I’m standing at Grey Manor in the backyard by the gazebo. She’s standing there in her usual black funeral garb with that halo of bleached blonde hair and that blood red lipstick that looks like she’s been feeding all night. I know she’s not real. I know she’s locked in that cell in Walla Walla, so why is she coming to me now?

“This is just a phase for Christian. You’ll see…”

These are the same words she said to me that night two years ago on the back lawn of Christian’s parents’ house—the same words that she used to try to scare me away, only then she was frantic and trying to make her point. Now, she’s confident, standing there in a skintight catsuit with her arms crossed and her legs in that stupid Angelina Jolie Oscar pose. 

“You’re nothing long-term or even worthwhile. He’s wasting his time on you…”

She continues to taunt me as she closes the space between us, a sinister smile marring her face. I want to say something back to her, tell her that she’s wrong as usual, but my lips won’t move. I can only stand there as she comes closer, taunting me and exploiting my fears…

My fears…

“You’ll never be enough for him. Face it. You’re just a plaything. And when he’s done with you, you’ll be no more important to him than one of his ex-subs, Number 16…”  

Of all the things that I had to remember word for word like it was yesterday, I fucking had to remember this… now…

“Give it up, little girl,” she says as she stops in front of me. “Playtime is over—literally. You’ve had your fun, now move along. You’ll never be able to give him what he really needs and the more you pretend that you can, the harder it’s going to be on all of you, including your bratty little children.”

I want to swing on her, do anything to shut her up, especially since that last part is new and it’s all a manifestation of my fears, but she just laughs a hideous laugh and walks right through me…

I open my eyes slowly, not startled by the dream, but totally unnerved. It’s about two in the morning, and Christian still isn’t in bed as usual…

As usual…
Only not…

This isn’t usual. It’s only been this way since he’s gone back to being the ballbuster at work that he used to be… before us.

I throw my legs out of the bed and put my robe on. As always, I look in the nursery to see if the children are stirring. They’re not, but I go into the nursery anyway. I look into the cribs at my sleeping babies…

“… Including your bratty little children.”

Christian would never do anything to hurt our children… but why didn’t I first think that Christian would never do anything to hurt me?

I shake my head and curl up in the window seat in the twins room. This is another attempted manifestation of the Boogeyman, I know it. It’s a manifestation of my own fears that I must deal with.

The million-dollar question is… how?


A/N: Hollywood Madame—for those who may not know, Heidi Fleiss was an upscale madame who ran a high-priced call-girl ring in California. When she was arrested, they did everything they could to find out who her clients were in her infamous black book, but to my knowledge, they never did. There was a lot of rumor that Charlie Sheen was one of her clients, but I don’t know if it was circulated by her or by him, or if there was any truth to it.

Book IV will be coming to an end soon and I will have any announcement about how the story will proceed after that. I think many of you will be pleased.

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 75—Ship Shenanigans

Here comes some more of that horrible Australian accent, and a LOT of it, so…

ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: 

Please do not beat me over the head too badly for my bad imitation of an Australian accent. I’m doing the best I can.

I’ve seen a lot of death these past two weeks—a lot of friends losing friends and family. Please be kind to one another and don’t fail to let the ones you love know that you love them. 

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

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

Chapter 75—Ship Shenanigans

ANASTASIA

“Do you get people lashing out at you that way when Chuck is with you?” Christian asks as we dutifully follow Jason through the terminal. I shrug.

“I don’t know. Sometimes, I guess. There’s always a smart-ass somewhere,” I point out. “Then again, you’re not that prone to carrying me on your back.”

“It’s not that,” he says, looking around before pulling me closer to him. “When I’m with Jason or Jason is with us, people don’t fuck with us. From what I understand, when you’re with Chuck, people generally don’t fuck with you.” He looks around again then leans down to me. “But with Lawrence, it’s like he’s not even here. At the Opera House when that woman heckled you and just now with those guys standing behind us…”

“So, I did miss something,” I observe aloud.

“Not much,” he continues, “just a couple of jerks talking about your ass. But that’s the thing. They shouldn’t have even felt comfortable enough to say that shit—none of them! Granted, I’m not expecting Lawrence to clothesline somebody for talking about your ass, but I can guarantee that had Chuck or Jason been standing there, those fuckers would have kept their mouth shut, as would have that ‘tosser’ at Sydney Opera House. His presence should mean something, but apparently, it doesn’t.”

“Well, that’s the key word, Christian,” I say looking around to take note of Ben’s position and making sure that he can’t hear me. “Presence. Jason and Chuck have a presence all their own—even more so when they’re around us. Jason is the boss and he knows he is. He’s been running around Australia all day exchanging your money and arranging your shit…”

“Our money,” he corrects me.

“Whatever,” I reply. “The point is that he’s a mover and a shaker and he doesn’t need anybody to tell him that. Your power is transmitted through him through association and he knows that. Chuck has a power all his own. He’s responsible for me and he knows that there’s nowhere in the world—in heaven or hell or any dimension imaginable—that he can hide if something happens to me on his watch. He makes it no secret that I am his charge.

“Whatever combat experience Ben has, he hasn’t had Grey combat experience. I’m certain that he’s good at what he does and if Jason trusts him, I trust him. But Jason took a bullet for you; Chuck took a missile for me; what combat experience has Ben had?”

Christian twists his lips and looks over at Ben, who’s examining his surroundings very carefully and keeping people out of our general area while Jason leads the way. Christian rolls his eyes.

“Well, excuse me for saying it, but I’m glad he’s just backup,” Christian points out. “I’m just going to have to be on my toes a little more during this trip.”

“You most certainly will not!” I snap, louder than I intend. Jason and Ben both look at me. “As you were,” I say calmly, and after a short pause, we proceed down the corridor. I turn my attention back to my husband. “You’re going to relax, have fun, and enjoy yourself on this cruise, and let these men do their jobs, or we can summon the jet and go home now.”

My husband doesn’t respond. I give him a few more moments to acknowledge my statement. When there’s still no response, I stop in my tracks—right there in the middle of the priority boarding terminal. I don’t care if we’re in Sydney, the outback, or Death fucking Valley. I’ll summon that goddamn plane. He turns around and looks at me with a frown on his face.

“What?” he says. Jason and Ben have both stopped walking, too. I fold my arms and purse my lips. Don’t test me, Grey. My phone is already in my hand. He rolls his eyes a takes a step back to me.

“Okay, okay, you win, fine,” he says, grabbing my hand and pulling me along the terminal.

“I’m not kidding,” I threaten, walking double-steps to keep up with his long strides. “I’ll do it.”

“I know you will,” he says without stopping.

*-*

Now, I’ve never been on a cruise ship before, but I’ve seen them on television. This ain’t your average cruise ship. I have no idea where to start.

The moment we cross the gangplank and embark the ship, we’re greeted with a glass of pink champagne. Looking at all this opulence and grandeur, I have no idea how to behave. I’m a billionairess with money to burn who owns half of a billion-dollar company and got married in a castle, and I still don’t know how to act right now. The promenade deck looks like what I would expect the inside of an exclusive, high-end, multilevel shopping mall to look like. I definitely want to get lost in the beautiful splendor of this luxury cruise ship, but first, nature calls… in more ways than one.

With the threat of another milktastrophe, Jason hurries us to our cabins. We have to go to the upper deck and aaaaaaaaaaallllllll the way to the back of the ship to get to our staterooms. We have ginormous cabins that are next to each other, each cabin able to sleep five people. Maybe cabin is the wrong word. The correct word is suite. However, this suite is bigger than my first three apartments. It’s more than 1500 square feet—living room, dining room, study, two bedrooms with king-sized beds and two full bathrooms with marble tubs and Jacuzzis, one of which has been set up as a milking station.

Jason thought of everything.

Christian goes to the suite next door to talk to Jason and Ben, and I immediately take to emptying the food factory. You never know how full they are until you start to empty them—or until they start leaking.

Unable to leave the regular world behind for too long, I open my email to see what’s happening in the life I left behind for a week. Everyone tried to find Gary, but he’s quite incommunicado. Al used GEH’s resources to ascertain that he’s at least still alive and still in Seattle, still working at City of Lights and staying in a small studio near his job. What I hate the most is not being able to talk to him and see if he’s okay. He’s going through something, too, and he’s not talking to any of his closest friends. So, he’s effectively going through it alone. I tell Al to pop up on him at that little studio he’s living in and tell me how he’s doing. I realize that it’s a terrible invasion of privacy, but you can’t just cut your closest friends—your family—off like that without a word when we know that you’re hurting.

There’s nothing else from Marilyn, either. I can’t imagine the emotional torment she’s suffering right now. I know that she’s in love with Gary and that this is tearing her apart inside, but to be forced to endure this unbearable heartache coupled with the religious bullying of her parents… that’s more than anyone should be subjected to.

Courtney and Vickie had lunch with Addie and Fred yesterday. She admitted that it was awkward as she’s getting to know her grandparents all over again… and they’re getting to know her. She points out that Addie was astounded by her dedication to her career choice and seemed very interested in what she plans on doing with the future. Fred, on the other hand, still seemed quite skeptical and Courtney couldn’t blame him. I can only imagine how Christian would react to anyone putting me through the emotional warfare that Courtney inflicted on her grandmother. For that reason, she’s not sure if the rift between her and her grandfather will ever be completely mended, but she’s resolved to deal with whatever happens.

“I just don’t have the energy for the fight anymore,” she writes. “I just want to live my life and play whatever hand I’ve been dealt, but I’m not going to allow anybody to beat me over the head for past mistakes, not even my grandfather. Forgive me or don’t, but either way, move on. I certainly am.”

Very well said, Ms. Courtney.

Harmony’s mum right now and I respond to Courtney to make sure she checks on her. I change the pump to my other breast and check the time—2:30pm. I don’t know what time it is in Seattle, but I miss my babies.

“I know why you’re calling,” Gail says when she sees my face on the screen. “You’re right on time. We’ve just finished their baths and they’re getting ready for bed.” She flips the screen, and my chubby-cheeked baby girl is smiling back at me.

“Hi, Minnie Mouse!” I squeal, my heart warming immediately. She bounces happily at the sound of my voice. “Hey, baby girl. Do you miss Mommy? Mommy misses you!” I blow several kisses into the screen and coo at my baby, my milk flowing much easier out of my breast at the sight of her. We coo for several more moments before Keri brings my little prince to the screen.

“Hey, there Mikey!” I exclaim in the same sing-songy voice. “How’s my little man? Are you taking good care of the ladies? I love you, Mikey!” I blow more kisses into the phone at my little boy, my heart swelling with love, almost to the point of bursting at the sight of my beautiful babies.

“Hey!” Christian says, bursting into the bathroom. “You’re stealing baby time without me!” He crouches down next to me and looks at the screen. “Hey, Mikey,” he says in a sing-songy voice. “How’s my big guy? Daddy misses you!”

Mikey coos and laughs at the screen, reaching for the phone and babbling something inaudible.

“I don’t know how to take that,” I say, and Christian turns a bemused look at me. “He’s seems happier to see you than he was to see me.”

“It’s a guy thing, baby,” he says before turning back to the screen… and he’s completely serious! What the hell do you mean it’s a guy thing? I’m his mother! I carried him in my body for nine months! I’m the source of his food and life! What’s this guy thing bullshit?

Then, I realize that he’s probably right, because as much as Minnie loves her Daddy, she coddles and coos when he’s on video chat with her, but she went nuts when she saw me… so that must be a girl thing.

Still… I’m the food factory. Show me some respect.

We say goodbye to our children and I feel a bit melancholy with the parting.

“I know you love our babies,” Christian says. “I love them, too, but if you’re going to go into that mood each time you talk to them, I’m going to limit your talk time to only one more time this week. So, if you want to keep your ‘every day’ privileges…” He trails off and cocks his head at me. He’s right, of course.

“I know,” I say, only a bit heart-hurt. “Just give me a minute.” He raises his brow at me, but leaves me in the restroom. It’s just the separation anxiety, that’s all. I hate being without my babies… and for a whole damn week!

I remove the breast pump from my now-empty boob. Pouring the milk down the sink doesn’t do much to help my current state of mind. I let the tears fall as I clean and sanitize the pump and leave the parts out to dry. I splash some cold water on my face, then use a cool washcloth to minimize the swollen, puffy eyes. I apply some tinted moisturizer, a tiny bit of blusher and a hint of bronzer with a fresh coat of deep pink lip gloss before I exit the bathroom. Christian raises his gaze from his phone, takes one look at me and raises a brow at me.

“Yes, I cried,” I say unapologetically. “Leave me alone.”

He sighs and twists his lips. Rising from the bed, he takes me in his arms and folds me into a warm embrace.

“What am I going to do with you?” he asks.

“This helps,” I swallow and sigh. I miss my babies so much, but I want to have a good time, too.

“We’re going to have to start calling each other ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy,’” he says. I raise my gaze to his and frown.

“What? Why?”

“The babies are recognizing words, making little sounds. If we don’t change soon, they’ll be calling us ‘Christian’ and ‘Ana…’ or ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Sir…’ or ‘Boss’ and ‘Her Highness…’”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” I interject, “but I’m not having the staff call me ‘Mommy,’ and I’m certain that you don’t want Jason to slip up and call you ‘Daddy’ in the boardroom.”

“Well, we’ll have to work something out there, but my children won’t be calling me ‘Christian,’” he reinforces.

Okay, it’s time to explore this floating resort.

We still have an hour or so before we shove off and quite frankly, I’m starving. Breakfast was quite early and has long since been burned off through the Sydney Tower Eye, the Opera House, and the walks to get to both locations. One thing I would definitely suggest before you get on a cruise ship—decide what you want to eat before you go strolling around the ship, especially one this large with this many choices.

Buffet…
Steakhouse…
Italian…
Mexican…
Thai…
Pizza…
Burgers…
Chinese…
Sandwiches and wraps…
Gluten-free…
Vegetarian…
Vegan…
Sushi…

Hmm, sushi… we have a winner.

Somewhere during our walk, we wander upon a restaurant called Do You Like What Sushi. Apparently, this little joint has collected recipes for Sushi from all over the damn world and herded them in this one little place. I start with fresh oysters and a sashimi platter of tuna, salmon, and sturgeon caviar with fresh shredded and sliced cucumber and avocado slices.

And then the sushi roll parade begins!

No rice sushi, salmon roe battleship sushi, snow crab sushi, king crab battleship sushi, salmon dreams sushi, Alaskan avocado roll sushi, yo sushi wrapped in tobiko, tiger rolls, rainbow colored tempura rolls, California rolls, various assortments of nigiri, tamagoyaki, unagi, saba… I had to tap out, because it just kept coming! Oh, but wait…

What’s a good Beluga caviar without an accompanying Stoli? Two healthy double-shots of a sharp charcoal-filtered premium vodka with some of the finest caviar in the world and I’m floating before the ship sets sail.

We begin to float around the ship and take in what will be our home away from home. It’s a really big ship with lots to see, but damn near around every corner is somewhere else to eat! I’m full of vodka and caviar, and the buffet has so many damn food choices that it’s making me want to eat again! We walk through a tunnel that I’m sure I haven’t traveled before because it looks like it’s full of golden sculptures—I shall name it the Academy Award Hall—but somehow, we end up back in a part of the ship I somewhat remember, which is good because it’s now time for the muster drill.

Our meeting place was in one of the main dining rooms. There are a lot of people in the room and we’re just sitting where we can fit—not necessarily at the tables even though there are lots of people at tables, but more people are sitting on the benches, on the floors, on stairs, wherever we can fit. We watch this corny video explaining the safety procedures, the life jackets, the do’s and don’ts of emergency evacuation, and then we have to sit through a message from the captain before we can leave.

The boat whistles are blowing by the time we’ve heard the message from the captain, which—quite frankly—we could have heard from anywhere on the ship. Now, Christian and I are scrambling to get back to the Lido deck so that we don’t miss the sail away.

When we get there, it’s already an insane party underway. There’s a live band playing and there are people lined up around the banisters of the boat waving and watching as we pull out of Sydney Harbor. So, there are a few things that I discover up here in the sunlight while at the “sail away” party…

There’s a giant butterfly sculpture at the end of the pool. I’ll have to take a picture with that before we disembark.

Apparently, it’s an insult and a cardinal sin to be walking around this floating resort and not have a drink in your hand—and our tickets have alcohol included. So, even though I’m still buzzing from vodka and champagne, I now have the Drink of the Day in my hand, which is some fruit frozen cocktail in a souvenir glass. Bottoms up to me.

The operators of the ferries and some of the smaller boats in the harbor are very confident in the mechanical abilities and maneuverability of their vessels. The cruise ship is huge and it’s backing out of the harbor. It doesn’t stop. Once that monster starts moving, it can slow down to a float if it needs to or has to turn around or something, but there’s no “hit the brakes and the boat go screech.” No, ma’am! If you get clipped or caught behind, too close to, or underneath this monster, your little boat is toothpicks.

And yet… these smaller boats on the harbor will still play chicken with this cruise ship.

They cut around the back while the ship is turning; they race the ship and jump in front of it trying to get around it while the ship is picking up speed. It’s like watching a Vespa racing to cut off a 22-wheeler tractor-trailer! That mishap would surely be the swift and speedy end of this vacation. So, instead of focusing on the idiots playing chicken with the big boat, I turn my attention to a more pleasant view.

It’s not quite sunset, but Sydney has a bit of twilight glow right now. With the Opera House and the glorious Harbor Bridge plastered on this beautiful backdrop, I find myself mesmerized by the sight while looking over the railing with my husband’s arms firmly around my waist. I’m overcome with an immense feeling of gratefulness that I get to see this view right at this time from this particular vantage point as we pull out of Sydney Harbor. It’s stunning.

I can’t help but think about my many blessings—the fact that I’m seeing a view that many people will never get to see; that I enjoy the best of everything in life simply because I fell in love with a guy who sometimes has more money than sense; that I’ve gained a beautiful family, wonderful friends, and a fabulous life from marrying this man—and that I could never see myself without him.

It could be that the alcohol has me a bit maudlin or it could be the thoughts of my beautiful babies resurfacing, but I feel tears welling up in my eyes again and one escapes down my cheek as I enjoy the final views of the harbor. Christian doesn’t scold me. I think he knows that I’m overwhelmed with the view, and he simply snuggles me closer into him and presses a gentle kiss on my neck.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

I look over at the woman a few feet away from me. Her companion has one arm around her enjoying the view and she’s looking at me with a soft smile.

“I feel silly,” I say, wiping the tears from my cheek. Those are the only words I can form.

“Don’t,” she says. “It’s enchanting. I live here, and I never tire of that view.”

I look at her and try to hide my bemusement. I’ll admit that in the small time that I’ve been here, I’ve noticed that Australian accents cover an extremely wide range—from nearly indecipherable to almost no accent at all. She’s on the no accent at all end of the spectrum.

“My name’s Laura. Not a native Sydneysider. I’m American,” she says reading my thoughts. “Found the love of my life on the internet and moved here ten years ago. I never looked back.”

“On the internet…” I say, and my words trail off. Her companion looks over her shoulder and smiles at me, waving with his free hand. He has a kind and friendly face, someone you could easily strike up a conversation with if you saw him in a crowded bar or at a party…

… Or on a cruise.

“It’s true,” he says, his accent heavily Australian. “OI found Lahra hehr on a dayting soite. OI was thehr as a joke. Mah mates put me up to it. But one dahy OI was foolin’ around with the thing and OI saw Lahra. She had such sad oyes, but she was enchanting. OI was stricken immehdiately.”

“We talked online and on the phone for a few months, but I knew,” Laura continues. “I wasn’t happy in the states. My son was killed in a car accident a few years earlier and my husband never recovered from the loss. He blamed anybody and anything for the loss including me, and we ended up getting a divorce. It was two whole years before I even considered dating, then I get on this website. There were a lot of encounters with frogs before my prince showed up.”

I sip my delicious frozen drink while Laura and her beau tell us how she became a Sydneysider.

“When she agreed to meeyt, OI was on the fihrst bihrd headed east to Saynt Louis to see my guhl. OI stayed foh two weeks and didn’t want ta leeyve. OI came back and was without her for three months before OI lost ma moind. OI ahsked her and promised to move to the Staytes if she didn’t want ta live hehr.”

“So, let’s think,” she says. “Live in the States with all the heartache and the memories of my lost life and family or move to Sydney with a man that I adore and who adores me and start a new life… hmmm. Guess which one I chose.”

“Wow,” I say, “you seem really nice…” I pause and wait for him to give his name.

“Jaxon, with an ‘ehx’,” he replies. I nod.

“I’m Ana and this is my husband, Christian,” I say. He and Christian shake hands and exchange pleasantries.

“You seem really nice, Jaxon, but with all the crazies out here, I just can’t imagine flying back and forth across the world and then eventually moving to another country to be with someone you barely know. How could you be sure? I mean, what would you have done had this been… a scam… or something worse?” I address the question to them both.

“OI don’t know,” Jaxon answers honestly. “To tell yeh the truth, OI loved her from neahrly the vehry beginning. OI loved her so much, OI just knew OI couldn’t be without her. Nothin’ else mattehred.”

“Laura, you felt the same way?” my husband asks.

“Even more so,” Laura replies. “I hadn’t felt alive in years—I mean, literally dead inside. And then, Jaxon…” she trails off and looks at him. “He came back to the States and we were married almost immediately. Then we flew back here, and we were married here, too. My friends thought I was crazy, that I was just doing it because I was lonely—that I missed Devon and I wanted my husband Tom back, but that wasn’t it. I was not happy, and I found someone who made me happy. It was that simple. Live in misery or live in happiness. Where’s the dilemma there?” I nod and look over my shoulder at Christian.

“I’m curious,” I say, “what made you tell me your story? You had no idea who I was.” She smiles.

“You were crying at a sunset, dear,” she says. “And no offense, but you’re on an exclusive cruise line where even the inner cabins are more than the average person can afford. So, unless you’re wealthy serial killers, I don’t think we have too much to worry about. Not to mention that the way he’s holding you, either you’re newlyweds or you’ve got a similar story.”

“Well, we’re not exactly newlyweds,” I say. “I guess it depends on whose calendar you’re looking at. We’ve been married for 18 months and we have a set of twins at home. We’ve been together for two and a half years and it seems like a lifetime…”

“And our story is similar,” Christian says. I turn to him, bemused.

“In what way?” I asked. They fell in love at first sight—over the internet! I hated his ass… in person!

“In that way that when you know, you know,” he says finitely… and shut me right up.

“Aaah, thehr’s a story thehr, too,” Jaxon observes, pulling his wife closer to him. We share the short version of our story—meeting and hating each other, the accidental kiss, the longing from a distance, the denial, the crashed date and eventual consummation. We leave out the parts about the kidnapping, the pedophile, the BDSM lifestyle—you know, all the stuff that makes people run away screaming.

Christian and I talk to Laura and Jaxon a little while longer, then the live band starts to sing Pink Let’s Get This Party Started.

I’d love to chat, but I must dance!

“Come, Laura,” I say, grabbing her hand. “Let’s go dance!”

“What about me?” Christian asks in mock horror.

“You can watch,” I say with a wink before dragging Laura onto the floor. I need to dance the melancholy away. I still have residual feelings of all the shit going on at home and I don’t want any of it right now…

Feeling homesick for my babies…
Grace not respecting my opinion or concerns at Helping Hands…
Harmony’s current circumstance trying to wrap things up with her mom’s estate…
Marilyn and Gary’s breakup…
Val is pregnant… Good grief, Val is pregnant!
What the hell am I going to do if Marilyn doesn’t come back?
What the hell am I going to do if I don’t go back… to Helping Hands, that is?

I dance like a wild woman for three songs until my drink is empty, then we sit down with Laura and Jaxon and shoot the shit some more while Christian gets me another drink.

“You dance like a woman trying to escape,” Laura points out as we sip our drinks in a cabana off the main pool. I shake my head.

“I’m determined to have a good time,” I tell her. “There’s a lot going on at home and I miss my babies something awful.

“You mentioned twins. How old?” she asks.

“Ten months,” I confess and her mouth falls.

“You’re kidding,” she says. “If I may be so bold, have you had any work done?” I laugh.

“Everybody thinks that,” I say. “No, just clean living and a lot of exercise… oh, and belly binding right after the twins were born… and breast feeding.”

“You’ve done belly binding?” she asks. I nod.

“I also did very moderate, low grade yoga until my doctor gave me the ‘all clear’ to go back to exercising like I normally do.” She nods.

“Natural childbirth?” she asks. I nod. “Were you off work long?” I twist my lips.

“Not so much,” I tell her. “My job isn’t that strenuous. I decided to leave my practice to focus more on my family, and my job—such as it is—is more community service than anything.” She raises a brow.

“Practice? You’re a doctor?”

“I’m a shrink,” I inform her. She’s clearly surprised.

“I never would have placed you as a shrink,” she says. “I know therapy has its place, but all the shrinks I’ve met are very self-important and judgmental.”

“I know the type,” I say. “I never understood how anybody in a field that’s based on helping people could have that high-nosed attitude. In one way or another, someone’s life is in your hands. How can you consider that and be so callous about it?

“I guess it all depends on why you got into the field,” I continue. “If you got into it for the money, well then a God complex isn’t very far behind. If you’re good at what you do and you know the craft, then that haughty attitude is sure to follow if you’re already stuck on yourself. However, if you got into it to help people, then you can’t help but to be humble. You can’t empathize without humility.”

“You’re definitely not the typical shrink,” she says, taking a sip of her drink. “By the way, you look fantastic,” she adds. “I would never know you’re the mother of twins… and breastfeeding?” I nod. “Some of my members have expressed an interest in belly binding, but I had no real knowledge of it, so I couldn’t recommend or discourage it.”

“Members?” I ask, curious.

“For lack of a better description, I’m a Wisdom Woman,” she says. “I’m something like a guru in my community. We focus on holistic healing and spiritual enlightenment. I realize that might be a bit hokey to you, but it’s what I do.” I wave her off.

“Yes, we’re champions for the validity and effectiveness of modern medicine, but any doctor who doesn’t understand and recognize the power of spiritual health and stability is a quack,” I say finitely. I’ve surprised her again.

“There are many doctors in many fields who would say that you’re wrong and that I’m the quack,” she laughs mirthlessly. “I believe that the earth, nature, and the spirit can heal anything that ails you. However, I believe that the connection that would heal or erase fatal diseases is much more than most people would ever be able to achieve. To that end, I don’t expect people to sit there and chant their way through cancer. I do, however, expect for them to utilize a combination of holistic methods and remedies, spiritual and emotional balance, and chemotherapy or radiation or whatever modern medical advances they need to fight the disease. If you leave out any one of those elements, your body will not be able to overcome the ailment and it will win.

“I don’t appreciate that my methods and those of many other practitioners, spiritual guides, medicine men and women, shaman, gurus, whatever you choose to call them, are dismissed because they’re not practiced in a hospital and you can’t put several zeros on the end of the treatment and send someone into outrageous debt just for trying to live. Seriously, what do you charge per hour for a session?” I clear my throat. I made out like a bandit when I was practicing.

“I’d rather not say,” I admit, “but these days, my sessions are all free.”

“Free?” she asks bemused. “How do you manage that?”

“I’m the assistant director of a shelter and help center for at-risk women and children,” I tell her. “I offer counseling services to the residents and donate the salary that they pay me back to the Center. I married into a lot of those aforementioned zeros, and I did get into this to help people, so it was the right thing to do.”

“Jesus,” she says, sinking into her seat a bit, “you’re completely not what I expected when I first saw you.”

“What did you expect?” I ask, as if I don’t already know.

“Gorgeous, young, tiny little woman—size four on your worst day—hanging on the arm of an equally gorgeous man with two rugged bodyguards following you… not one, two. They’re both trying to look inconspicuous and not doing a good job of it. You’re happily and carelessly bouncing around on a ship where the cheapest suite is 300 square feet and costs about $1000 a night. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re screaming trophy wife.” I laugh.

“Oh, Laura, you’re not breaking anything to me,” I tell her. “I did have zeros in my hourly rate, and I lived a very good life before I met my wealthy husband—not $1000-a-night good, but I did well enough… better than most. You have no idea the names that I’ve been called and the things I’ve been accused of since we fell in love…”

“Oh, I can imagine,” she says. “I don’t know your story, but Jaxon has more than a few pennies to rub together as you can imagine.” She gestures at the opulence around us. “He flies to America and a few months later, he brings home an American bride who has no money and practices ‘witchcraft…’” She waves her fingers in that way when she says the word.

“I met his family,” she continues. “They didn’t know anything about me. They didn’t know that I had suddenly lost my son in that horrible accident. They didn’t know that my husband had left me because he was a selfish bastard unable to face and deal with his feelings, so he blamed me. They didn’t know that damn near every day for years, it took every bit of my molecular will to get out of bed, put on my clothes, and go through my day—minute by minute—and resist the urge to swallow a little too much of one of my remedies and end it all.”

She shakes her head as if she’s said too much, but she hasn’t revealed anything more than how I was feeling right after I broke up with Edward… except that I didn’t have the horrible experience of losing a child.

“Jaxon saved me,” she continues, “not with his money, but with his love. I thought I was infatuated—just so lonely that I needed somebody, but that wasn’t it. He rescued me. He’d tell you differently. He’d tell you that I rescued him. Maybe I did, I don’t know, but I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t have made it without him. I couldn’t see… I couldn’t see anything but darkness, death, hatred and pain. At the risk of sounding cliché, he came through the darkness like a candle in the midst, and suddenly, I could see again.

“When he left the states after his visit, I tried to go on without him. I was stronger, and I knew the world wouldn’t end, but I was so much happier when I was with him. He asked me to marry him, and I thought there was a catch. I thought he wanted American citizenship or something. I didn’t care. All I knew was that being with him made me happy, and that if the whole thing turned out to be a fluke, then I would be happy with him for as long as I could—to give me a little strength to go a little further in life.”

“It wasn’t a fluke, I take it,” I say. She smiles contentedly.

“Not in the least,” she replies. “I had no idea that he was rich until after we were married. He kept that part from me. I think he wanted to know—like I did—if it was real. It was very real for us… It was really fucked up for his family. They were awful. They were horrible and awful to me. One year at Christmas, he found out that they referred to me as the ‘fat American hippy witch.’ It was a private joke that the entire family shared. We discovered it because one of the children let the cat out of the bag.” She sighs heavily as she recalls the story.

“Could it have just been the family member of that kid?” I ask, trying to smooth things over like I always do. She shakes her head.

“It was all of them,” she says. “They admitted it. They weren’t ashamed of it. We left that Christmas. We left his mum’s house and we went back to our home. We packed our things, we called movers; he put the house on the market and a week later, we moved to Sydney. He hasn’t really spoken to them since.”

“Not even his mom?” I say with a frown. She drops her gaze and shakes her head.

“She was the worst. She called me horrible names to my face and never let him hear them, but he knew. He knew for sure that last year, and he just wasn’t going to take it anymore. They’ve tried to call a few times, but…” She shakes her head again.

“Three years later, his mum died,” she says. “The family never called him. He found out from a friend. We went to her viewing when none of them were there. He kissed her, he said ‘goodbye,’ he signed the guestbook and he left. He was sad, but he had said that he knew she lived a good life and that now she was at peace. He used that knowledge to help him get through his loss. He’s become quite the spiritual guide himself.”

We turn to look at Jaxon and Christian deep in conversation at the bar. I’m dying to be a fly on the wall for that tête-à-tête.

“His friends talk about how much he’s changed over the years—how much happier he seems. They keep asking me what I’ve done to him, what’s my secret…”

I look at her and Jaxon and I see a version of me and Christian in ten years, only we’ll no doubt still have the love and concern of our families.

“What about your family?” I ask. “Your siblings?”

“I still talk to them,” she says. “They thought I had lost every bit of my marbles to pull up and leave everything I’d ever loved and move to a foreign country with a man that I barely knew. Even my ex-husband found out and dared to try to tell me how crazy I was. How the hell did he think he was trying to tell me anything? He left me. He fucking left me to die…”

That’s the first time she’s cursed since we’ve been talking.

“I’m sorry,” she says, taking a deep breath and rubbing her chest. “I don’t normally curse anymore. It interferes with the flow of prana. Apparently, talking about my ex brings out the worst in me.”

I know the feeling.

“Then maybe we should stop talking about him,” I suggest. “Do you still see your family?” She nods.

“I bring them out here once a year—my brothers and sisters and my mom. If their families want to come, they have to make their own way. But it’s always so good to see them, and they love it here when they visit.” I smile.

“Aren’t we cruising through Melbourne?” I ask. “That’s one of our ports of call.” She nods.

“He’ll put flowers on his mum’s grave and get swiftly back on the boat.”

“How do you feel about that?” I ask. “Does it ever… bother you? I mean…” I trail off.

“You mean that he doesn’t have contact with his family because of me?” she finishes.

Yeah, that’s my question—I just didn’t want to say it aloud.

“At first, it bothered me a lot,” she admits. “I could see that he was hurt, and he had to work through the pain. I knew that there was nothing that I could do to rectify it. We decided that we wanted to be together and we couldn’t force them to accept me, but he wasn’t going to sit around while they treated me worse than they treated their dogs. He wouldn’t subject me to that and I definitely wouldn’t allow myself to be subjected to it. The only other option was to remove the unwanted element, which was me. So, what now—I leave, we’re both miserable, but his family is happy? Definitely not an option.

“So, he made the difficult choice between me and his family. I didn’t want him to make that choice, but they were unyielding in their insults and prejudices. The way Jax explains it to me is that he had found true and genuine happiness, but it came at a cost, and it was a price that he was willing to pay because he wasn’t going to let it go.”

“Maybe one day they’ll come around and see how foolish they were,” I encourage.

“Maybe,” she says, “but after nearly a decade, I would say not. They’re waiting and hoping for me to become ‘part of his past,’ and that’s not going to happen.” She sighs heavily then smiles.

Although the conversation only slightly veered in that direction, talking to Laura made me realize that I can’t leave Helping Hands just yet. There are too many people there who need me—who depend on me. I can’t stay, however, as long as Grace totally doesn’t respect me professionally, but I can’t leave right now. It would be irresponsible and selfish. I’ll have to wait at least until after the school year starts and learning programs are in place, after which I’ll help find a replacement for me. This talk has helped me to see what’s important—to put my personal feelings aside for the moment and not shirk my responsibilities, but it’s also shown me that life’s too damn short to be sniffin’ somebody’s bullshit.


CHRISTIAN

Butterfly has headed to the dance floor and subsequently to one of the cabanas on the deck to talk to Laura while Jaxon and I chat at the bar. He gets extremely comfortable extremely quickly in the conversation.

“Are ya swingahs?” Jaxon asks and I glare at him with a murderous stare. Is that what his wife is doing—grooming my wife for this shit? “OI’ll tayke that ahs a ‘no,’” he says, his voice full of mirth, and I don’t find the situation the least bit funny.

“Don’t tayke it tha wrong wy, mate,” he adds. “Tha woife and OI ahrn’t swingahs. She’s jest vehry spiritual and it’s rubbed off on meh. OI sense somethin’ from yah—taboo, unconventional. OI jest thought that was it.”

“You sensed that, huh?” I say sarcastically while taking a large swallow of my beer.

“Yeh,” he replies, ignoring my sarcasm. “She’s got a bit of it in ‘er, too,” he says, gesturing to my wife before turning back to me. “This is how OI knew Lahra was fa meh. When OI fihst met ‘er in the Staytes in pehrson, she introduced meh to moy spirit goide. I realoize it’s a bunch o’ mumbo-jumbo tah someone who doesn’t practice this koinda thing, but the spiritual awykening was ahll OI needed to know that OI had been wahking aroun’ in the dahk fah yeahs!” He takes a gulp of his beer before continuing.

“When OI cayme back to Australia without ‘er, it was loike somebody had cut mah ahm off. OI couldn’t function; OI couldn’t think… OI had to have ‘er with meh. When I cahlled ‘er bahk and ahsked ‘er tah marry meh, she thought OI had lost mah mahbles! Quoite frankly, OI thought OI had lost mah mahbles. The truth wahs… OI could jest see tha wohrld moh clearly. OI could see whaht wahs missing in mah loife… ehv’rythin’! Big, gayping holes of misery and emptiness. It wahs the sceriest thing OI’ve ehveh fayced in mah loife! Yah ehveh wayke up one daye an’ yah jest strugglin’ ta mayke sense of it ahll?” he asks, his voice betraying a slight desperation.

“As a matter of fact, I have,” I respond, looking at Butterfly and remembering how she bewitched me when absolutely no one else was able to reach me.

“When it’s roight, it’s jest roight, mate. Yah don’t ahsk, yah jest fahllow—especially when yah spihrit tells yah to. My spihrit led me to mah Lahrie. It’s been ten yeahs. OI haven’t regretted a moment of it.”

“Are you trying to tell me something, Jaxon?” I ask. He swallows his beer.

“Whahteveh yah into, yah kindred spihrits already know yah thehre. Yah weahr it loike a smock. OI maye not know whaht it is, but OI know it’s thehre. Don’t be suhproised if yah foind loike-moinded individuals on the ship. Don’t get offended—jest let ‘em know yah not int’rested… if yah not int’rested. Weh’re ahll here to have a good time, aye?” He shrugs.

He’s right. I can usually pick a Dominant or a submissive out of a crowd, but I haven’t had my “BDSM eye” out lately to be able to spot them. It hasn’t been a priority for quite some time. Now, a veritable civilian who appears to just be a really good profiler has been able to call me out and let me know that he can see it in me and my wife, even though he’s not sure exactly what it is.

“Thanks, Jaxon,” I cede. “That’s good information and I’ll keep it in mind.”

“Don’t mention it, mate,” he says, drinking more of his beer and turning to where the women are sitting. “She doesn’t have many femayle friends, does she?” I raise my brow.

“She has enough,” I say. He nods. “Why would you ask that?”

“She’s an alpha femayle,” he says. “Not a bully, but she can handle ‘erself. She doesn’t bahk down frahm a foight, bot she won’t foight whehre it’s not necessary. She doesn’t tayke shite from anyone, ahnd ‘er heart is biggah than that toiny little body of ‘ers. People undahestahmayte ‘er often ahnd she suhprises the foock out of ‘em. Let me know when OI’m wrong.”

So far, he’s dead on, so I let him continue.

“The only women around ‘er ahre family, fohllowehs, neutrals, or women who’ve known ‘er for a long time. Alpha femayles or wanna-be alpha femayles—they bump heads like bulls.

“She’s afrayd of somethin’, though,” he says. “OI’m not sure whaht it is, but it’s one thing—one little thing—and it’s scerin’ the shite out of ‘er. Whahtevah it is, she’ll get hold of it soon, but she’s gonna hafta look outside of ‘erself to do it. That’s whehre the ansah is, an’ befoh yah ahsk, yah cahn’t help ‘er, mate.”

“Where the hell did you come from?” I ask, perturbed that he’s reading me… us this well. He chuckles as he finishes his beer and gestures to the bartender.

“Give us a refill,” he says to the bartender who nods and goes off to get another draft beer. “Mayke that two!” Jaxon calls out to the bartender, and I realize that when he said, “Give us a refill,” he wasn’t talking about both of us.

“I shouldn’t drink too much,” I caution. I don’t like not having control.

“Ahnd yah won’t,” he says, pushing the empty glass away from him. “Even if yah did, yah got yah two bodygahrds ovah thehre… you’ll be foine.”

And once again, I forgot we had security.

“Do they stick out like sore thumbs?” I ask.

“Not anymoh than anyone else’s,” he says. “OI’ve seen about foive couples jest ahn this deck with security. Don’t give it a second thot.”

I nod at the bartender when he brings our drinks to us and look over at Butterfly who has escaped to one of the cabanas with Laura, still in my line of sight and that of our security.

“She fohlows the rules, but noht ahll the toime,” he deduces correctly. “It’s given you and the boys a bit of a run for yah money.”

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” I concur, drinking my beer.

“OI don’t need ta know yah secret,” he says. “Yah don’t hahve tah tell meh whaht it is, mate. It’s not that impohtant. Jest know thehre’s an energy that comes from yah both—stronger when yah tagetheh. It has a lotta power. If yah use it propahley, no one’ll be able ta come against yah.”

I don’t know why, but I’ve got a feeling that we’re going to need that in the coming months.

*-*

After dinner and more drinks at a premier steakhouse on board, I find that my lady is pickled once again when I carry her to our cabin, and I take full advantage of her inebriated, playful state. She gives my dick the sucking of its life and I give her the fucking of hers before we fall off into a contented sleep.

Tuesday is a day at sea. My wife has a bit of a hangover—again, so we order breakfast in the suite with a Bloody Mary on the side for a bit of the “hair of the dog.” I warn her to pace herself, because I can see that it’s very easy to get drunk very quickly on a cruise since the drinks flow so freely.

Since you hardly see anyone without a drink of some kind in their hand, particularly on the party decks, I suggest that she keeps some of her umbrellas and drink toys and put them in the glass with a soda, spritzer, or sparkling water if she wants to look like one of the cool kids without being three sheets to the wind for the entire trip. I also have to let the cat out of the bag that we’ll be spending the weekend in wine country, which won’t be as much fun if her insides are pickled throughout the week.

Our suite has direct access to the exclusive Bliss sundeck, pool, and bar as well as to the exclusive Bliss lounge. So, we have the option to mingle with the rest of the passengers, or keep it intimate with only other suite cruisers who have access to this area. Butterfly wants to mingle with the rest of the passengers, but I can see her spending some solitary time on this ship at some point. That’s just who she is.

She does a little detox in the Jacuzzi tub for a while before emerging from the closet in a stunning royal blue maxi dress. It’s sheer with a lining only long enough to hit her mid-thigh, and I’m convinced that she and Vickie are trying to kill me with this wardrobe. Of course, she completes the outfit with a sexy pair of stiletto slides.

“Baby, we’re on a cruise. We’re going to be here for another four days. Are you going to wear heels the entire time?” She raises a brow at me.

“Have we met?” she says before donning her Jackie-O’s and heading to the door.

We have indeed.

The ship is really impressive. Our exploration yesterday was mostly to find something to eat, so today, we’re paying more attention to what’s on deck on each floor. On the main deck in the middle of the ship is the Grand Plaza. It’s decked out with an extremely large Christmas tree and a white baby grand. Across from the baby grand is a martini bar. Having had breakfast and a bit of a detox, Butterfly indulges in one of the unusual martinis on the menu—a Blue Jean Martini. It’s a combination of vanilla vodka, chocolate liqueur, blue curaçao and smooth cream—and it’s very sweet. I have the Black-Tie Martini—made with gin, vodka and white wine—and guide her to the seats in the Grand Plaza area.

“I talked to Allen about setting up a will,” I begin after we’ve settled in our seats. She frowns.

“Where did this conversation come from?” she asks bemused. I twist my lips at her.

“You really have to ask?” I reply.

“No, obviously I know where it came from, just why right at this moment?” Yeah, I guess I did spring it on her a bit out of the blue.

“I don’t really know,” I say, my brow furrowed. “It just dawned on me, I guess. If we must have a conversation like this, we should be relaxed while we’re having it.” She purses her lips.

“Well, that’s true,” she says. “So, where do we start?” I sigh.

“I don’t even know,” I admit. “Of course, you know that you and the twins are my only heirs. So, the only reason I would really need a will is if something happened to us both at the same time. Of course, we would set up trust funds for the children, no matter what.”

“Well, I’ve only been to one will reading,” she points out, “and from what I saw, you need to itemize your assets. All I have is my condo.”

“God, woman, when are you going to get it through your brain that you’ve got more than that?”

“Okay, fine, let me rephrase,” she says after taking a sip of her martini. “My condo is all that I have in my name. You didn’t press for me to put your name on my condo, so it’s still in my name alone. Is that better, Mr. Grey?” She rolls her eyes at me.

“Keep it up, Mrs. Grey,” I warn.

“I thought we already established whose job that was,” she retorts. Oh, she’s testing me.

“Do you want to see Australia?” I caution firmly. Don’t push me, woman. I’ve fucked you every day since we left Seattle—twice! I’ll throw you over my shoulder, take you to that stateroom and they won’t see us again until this boat is back in Sydney. Fuck wine country!

Her skin flushes bright pink and she looks around to see if anyone has caught on to our conversation. Personally, I could care less. I only asked one question. I didn’t tell her what I was thinking, but she knew. I raise a single brow at her when she brings her gaze back to mine. I’m doing everything I can to be a good boy on this boat while you’re wearing transparent dresses and stiletto heels. Tempt me… please!

She swallows hard before taking a large gulp of her martini.

“Remember what I said,” my voice low, but still firm. “Pace yourself.”

She places her half-finished martini on the table and folds her hands in her lap. It’s clear that she feels scolded.

“That wasn’t my intention,” I say, immediately spotting the submission.

“No… it’s fine,” she says, still looking at her folded hands. “It’s sweeter than I like. I really don’t want anymore.”

“Do you want to try mine?” I ask, offering an olive branch. She shakes her head.

“Yours is most likely stronger. I think I’ll have some water instead. Excuse me for a minute.”

She stands without making eye contact with me and walks quickly back to the bar. Jeez, what just happened? Did I let the Dom out and didn’t know it? I watch my wife crack the bottle open and down half of it, refusing the glass of ice the bartender has prepared for her. I watch her pause for a moment and I wonder if she’s coming back to the seat. She finishes the bottle and asks for another one, this time taking the glass of ice. She strolls back to her seat with the glass in one hand and the bottle in the other.

“So, you were saying?” she says. “About the assets?”

I suddenly feel a bit uncomfortable, but I keep talking.

“You don’t have to put my name on your condo,” I tell her. “That’s not necessary. Just will it to me if something happens to you. We need to decide how our assets—including your condo—will be distributed if something happens to us both.”

“I always assumed that whomever took the twins would be the benefactors of yo… our fortune.” Nice catch, Mrs. Grey.

“You assume correctly, but who would take the twins?” I ask. “My parents are up in age and would definitely be pinch hitters if needed. Your dad and Mandy may be an option if that’s what he wants, but he already has Little Harry to think about. Their godparents are both married and either would provide stable homes for the twins, but there’s also the consideration that Valerie and Elliot have a child on the way. Have we talked to any of them about this?”

“I vaguely recall having some kind of conversation with somebody about this, but I don’t totally remember how it came out, so I think we should have the conversation again,” she admits.

“I think you’re right,” I concur. “Allen is looking into cataloging my assets for me so that we can know what we’re working with.” If I had been thinking about it, I would have told him to get with my accountant. Between the two of them, I’m certain they can lock this up.

“We’ll have a meeting with the godparents first when we get home,” I tell her. “I think they’ll most likely be the best candidates since we’re all around the same age. Then, we’ll talk to our parents and let them know what the plan is so that there’s no misunderstanding.”

“Okay,” she says. “That’s fine.” She’s looking at me momentarily, then diverts her gaze to her water, concentrating on the task of filling her glass as if she’s performing surgery.

Yeah, I let the Dom out.

“Come on,” I say, standing and taking her hand after she has emptied the bottle into the glass. “Let’s walk some more.” I take my martini and she takes her bottle of water and stands. I tuck her under my arm and we walk around to explore the ship some more.

The sun is bright in the sky and glistening off the water as we stroll along the promenade. There are portholes in the floor of the deck so that you can look down and see blue water. I don’t know how sturdy that is, but it’s pretty. Butterfly avoids them. She loves the view of the water, but she says they make her nervous. She would much rather deal with the view over the railing, particularly of the “white bubbly trail” left by the boat as we cut through the ocean. She has loosened up a bit as we stroll through the ship and make a mental note of the things we plan to do and the places we intend to eat. Looking to get some uninhibited sunshine, we head up to the Lido deck to see what’s afoot.

The party has truly started up here on the Lido deck. The drinks are flowing freely at the pool bar as usual and we’re just in time to claim two of the remaining in-pool loungers. As we strip down to our swimwear, my wife nearly causes me a heart attack again with a blue and orange two-piece—a bandana-type top and boy-short-type bottoms with drawstrings down the side. The material wraps so well around her ample breasts and juicy ass that I actually lament her getting into the pool.

Calm yourself, Grey. She could wear a burlap sack and you’d get a hard-on. Get over it.

Sure enough, she steps out of her shoes, retrieves a towel, and after placing her items on the in-pool chaise, she dives into the deep end. I make myself comfortable on the lounger next to hers and wait for her to emerge. As expected, when she does, she smooths her hair down and looks like a goddamn mermaid.

Consider yourself lucky, Grey. She’s all yours.

A reggae band is playing on the stage as I watch my wife do laps in the pool. I mentally tap my feet to the beat of the music as I let my mind wander. What brought the Dom out? I’ve almost always had him under control, only allowing him to emerge when I wanted him to. However, a little while ago, there he was—not in full force, but he was there. I’m pretty certain he’s been here for at least the last day and maybe more. I’m not sure which of many events lit the initial match.

Her smart mouth yesterday at the hotel and me vowing to fuck her senseless for the entire trip?
Her calling me her billionaire lover night before last in that hip-hop bar?
The animal fucking we did for nearly the entire 14-hour flight from the States?
Could it have been sparked by events completely outside, like those fuckers salivating over her ass at the Overseas Passenger Terminal?

Or Jaxon noticing the tendency and asking me if we were swingers? No, it was alive and well and showing by then. Whatever the cause, I have to be mindful that the Dom is present and try to keep him under control. My wife and I will have to address it though. We agreed to learn more about the dynamics of the Dom/sub relationship as it applies to marriage months ago, but of course, that was before the bottom nearly fell out from under our lives…

“’Ey, Christian!”

I open my eyes to see Jaxon waving at me from across the pool in a T-shirt and a pair of black shorts. His wife is standing next to him in a paisley halter maxi-dress. They both look more tanned than I remember, but it was sunset and evening when I last saw them. I wave them over to me and they begin to walk around the pool, hand in hand. After ten years, it’s still very clear that they love each other. Jaxon is a slender man, not very tall, with his hair cut short almost to the scalp. Laura is what today’s society would consider plus sized, but knowing what I know about women’s bodies, I would say that she’s somewhere between a size 10 and a size 12, very attractive with sun-bleached blonde hair.

“Whehe’s the woife?” he asks when they reach me. I point to the pool and the blue and orange mermaid gliding through the water.

“Ah, gettin’ ‘er exehcoise in, OI see,” Jaxon says as he squints at the water. “Now’s the best toime. A few blokes an’ sheilas out, but not too crohded.”

I find myself listening very carefully to understand what he’s saying. It’s no doubt that he was born and raised in the “Land Down Undah.” Butterfly comes to the edge of the pool and sees them standing by the loungers. She waves and lifts herself out of the pool just as I hear something that makes me cringe.


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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 74—Sydney Sidewinding

Before we start, I feel the need to point something out. I share a lot of things in my author’s notes—something that may be going on in my life (because several of you have agreed that we are friends), something that I may want to point out about the story or a previous chapter, translations, song titles, disclaimers, links, etc. You guys do know that you have the options to just skip the author’s notes and read the story, right? I just wanted to make sure that everyone knew that…

ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: I pointed out in the first “Down Undah” chapter that you most likely saw a “bad imitation of an Australian accent” and I asked not to be beaten over the head about it because I was doing my best. Then today, I see a comment about my bad imitation of an Australian accent… DIDN’T I SAY THAT?? ISN’T THAT WHAT I SAID??? So, as I am not trying to offend anyone, I’m going to say it again, and it will now be a disclaimer in every chapter that I post that involves the trip to Australia—not in the ending author’s notes like I did in the last chapter. It will be in the beginning author’s notes from now on:

Please do not beat me over the head too badly for my bad imitation of an Australian accent. I’m doing the best I can.

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

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

Chapter 74—Sydney Sidewinding

ANASTASIA

I’m drenched in milk and it takes me about 15 minutes or so just to dry my dress. Some of the girls look at me with raised brows as I’ve removed my dress and bra and I’m standing there in just Christian’s jacket and my panties and stilettos trying to dry my clothes.

“Did yah huhl, dahlin’?” one of the girls asks. I smile tragically.

“Not so glamorous,” I reply. “I’m breastfeeding, and the bats scared the milk out of me.” Her friend laughs unceremoniously, and my gaze goes to her. She stops immediately.

“Sorry,” her friend says sheepishly. I shrug.

“Actually, it is kind of funny,” I tell her. “Most people piss themselves when they’re frightened. I shoot milk.”

We all stand there and have a laugh at my expense, and the girls keep me company while I’m drying my dress. We talk about nothing for a while and they ask if the “bloke” outside the door is my sweetie. I tell them to describe him and deduce that it’s Ben that standing out there waiting for me, prompting me to wish that this dress would hurry up and dry. My bra was quick work. The dress, not so much.

When I finally get it to “just under damp,” I give up on totally dry and slip back into my clothes. I thank Ben for waiting so long when we exit the bathroom and head back out to the bar. He acknowledges me with a nod.

When I get back out to the bar, Li’l John is gleefully describing his perspiring testicles and I, along with my bathroom companions, break out into dance moves reminiscent of the days in the school gymnasium… if you had that kind of highschool life, that is. I high-five my recently acquired Aussie friends and head back to our table to explain the delay to my husband. I’m probably going to ditch this dress before we even leave Sydney. It’s been my experience that breast milk stains can be pretty stubborn, and this puppy is destroyed. I wasn’t that attached to it anyway.

I’m so glad to see food on the table when we get back—three mondo platters full of cured meats, fresh cheeses, mixed olives, figs, roasted red peppers, crustini, slices of various breads… Dear God, I am so ready to eat.

Round about 18 hours ago or so, I had a breakfast full of breakfast meats when what I really wanted was the classic mixture of breakfast and lunch that is “brunch.” During the course of that 18 hours—notwithstanding the vigorous workout involved therein—I was given a moderate dinner, just enough to keep my stomach lining from digesting itself on the flight over here. I’m now ready to gnaw my fucking arm off.

I’ve been taunted with unspoken and assumed promises of exclusive food in Beverly Hills; I’ve been terrified and nearly accosted by bats; and my boobs have mutinied on me to the degree that no one can see my really cute pink sheath dress because it’s drenched in milk and has to be covered by a way too big Tom Ford blazer…

Decorum.
And civility.
Have left.
The building.

I’m ready to rip off the leg of a zebra with my bare hands, sit down, and eat it in front of everybody in this room.

Also on the table is a respectable serving of Cabernet Sauvignon. Yeah, that’ll never do. I swallow the wine in nearly one gulp, then begin to make quick work of this antipasto tray. I learn quickly that the restaurant portion is famous for its cheeses, and good God, are they delicious! As I’m scarfing down the yumminess laid out in front of me, I hear the Macarena start to play. I resist the urge to stand up and start dancing, but I don’t let the opportunity to poke fun at Jason pass me by.

“Jason, they’re playing your song!” I exclaim gleefully. My husband looks bemused as I do the Macarena from my seat.

“That is not my song,” Jason says coolly, and I can’t suppress my giggle.

“Somebody care to let me in on this?” Christian asks. I wave him off with a smile.

“You had to be there,” I dismiss, chomping on more meat, cheese, bread and veggies.

“Not a good answer,” my husband says, and I realize how it could be construed that I know something about Jason and the Macarena that I’m not willing to share.

“Okay, do you remember a while back just after the accident when I was pregnant with the twins and we did a ‘reveal’ of the house?” I ask.

“Vaguely,” he says.

“You wouldn’t remember too much because you weren’t there, but let’s just say that Jason pissed the Boss off and as a result, Gail and I were treated to quite the display.” His brow furrows.

“The boss?” he says. “I’m the boss.”

“Careful,” Jason warns.

“No, not you,” I tell him. “The Boss.” He still frowns for a moment, then realization dawns.

“Oooohhh, the boss Boss,” he says, turning to Jason. “What the hell did you do?”

“I’d rather not discuss it,” he brushes off. I giggle again.

“He got a little mouthy,” I say, “and we were subsequently blessed to see his dance moves.”

“Just the Macarena?” my husband prods.

“No, there was…”

“Your Highness,” Jason interrupts. “Please.” It’s a request that sounds more like an order, but I’ll let him off the hook.

“Alright, alright, I’ll leave what’s left of your modesty intact,” I say as I wave down our server.

“Yeah, whadya hahve?” she says as she comes to the table. “Another Cab Sav?”

“No, I want something stronger, something with a little kick that won’t knock me completely on my ass.” She laughs.

“Well, let’s see,” she says as she pulls out her drink menu. “Hmm, fah you, I rehcommend the Tequila Me Softly. Got a noice little keek but it won’t lehve yah plastahed as long as yah don’t drink foive of ‘em.”

She shows me the menu. It’s tequila, sweet vermouth, Montenegro, lemon, pineapple syrup, and a pineapple paper curl on top. It sounds delicious.

“What will two do to me?” I ask.

“Leave yah with a noice buzz,” she says.

“Then Tequila Me Softly it is,” I say. She takes the menu.

“Shuh thing. Anything for you blokes?” Christian raises his barely-touched beer and Jason shakes his head while Ben waves his hand indicating “no.” I go back to munching on the appetizers.

“So, you said that we had more food coming,” I say. “I know you didn’t order this whole thing for me, did you?”

“No,” Christian says, “I’m just enjoying watching you eat.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure we’ve been together for the entire day. Unless you were treated to some food that I didn’t see, if I’m starving, you three are ready to resort to cannibalism. Eat, for crying out loud.”

Jason and Ben don’t need a second invitation. They tear into these trays like bears waking from hibernation. Christian just gazes at me.

“What?” I ask.

“I’m sorry our vacation started with a possible bat attack and a milk-ruined dress,” he says, his voice accommodating. I scoff a laugh.

“Actually, our vacation started with a somewhat anticlimactic brunch in Beverly Hills, but at least I can say that I’ve been to Beverly Hills now and it’s not the worst brunch I’ve had. And this—the bats and the milk—this will just be another funny story that we’ll tell people about our visit to Australia. I mean seriously, did you see those things? The damn things are huge. When their wings are spread, they look like fucking eagles! I thought they were going to swoop down, pick me up, and take me back to their goddamn nest! Are those things everywhere?”

“I don’t know,” I tell her. “I don’t think so. We didn’t see them until we got to the park. And they weren’t outside the bar when we got out of the cab.”

“Like most bats, they feed at night,” Ben says, scrolling through his phone. “They’re called gray-headed flying foxes, which is why the cabbie kept calling them ‘foxes.’ They’re looking for plants, fruit, and nectar. They may travel long distances, but they stay in the trees in packs and sleep during the day. You might see them moving at night, but that many at once, you usually only see at dusk, because that’s when they come out.” He raises his eye to me.

“They’re harmless,” Ben adds, comfortingly. “They’re endangered here and pretty important to the ecosystem. They pollinate over large areas. Just think of them as giant bees without the stinger.”

Not a very comforting visualization, there, Ben.

“Thanks, Ben,” I say with little enthusiasm and turn my attention back to the food. Where the hell is my drink?

The four of us have put a serious dent in the antipasto tray by the time the food starts to arrive. I use the term starts to arrive because there is a continuous flow of food to our table every few minutes for about a solid hour. When the first few dishes show up, I’m a little disappointed because the servings are so small, but then they just keep coming…

Porchetta with parsnip purée, roast Brussels sprouts and braised fennel…

Risotto-stuffed spatchcock with rainbow chard and a Parmesan biscuit…

Slow roasted lamb breast with an herb crust, white bean puree and chicory…

Jerusalem Artichokes pan tossed with broccolini, chives, chili, and shaved parmigiana…

Cacio de Pepe prepared in a cheese wheel right in front of you and then served hot…

And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the food brought to the table, and the flavor—divine! Decorum is tossed to the wind and the four of us just eat like Neanderthals. Now, I’m accustomed to being myself and feeling at ease when Chuck is with us because he knows me so well. Ben is our backup when one of our usual detail is unavailable. He’s seen some of me, but he probably hasn’t seen me in all my Ana glory. He better get used to it fast because I’m not going to change who I am, and I plan to let loose on this trip. It’s been a really fucked-up autumn. Now we’re coming into winter and it’s starting to look a little crabby, too. So, I plan to shake myself loose a little bit before I go back to the hell that is Seattle these days.

We’re well into our meal and I take note that every so often, Christian looks around the room in confusion.

“You look perplexed,” I say to my husband as the evil hunger monster begins to subside, tamed by delicious Australian food and a bit tranquilized by a smooth Tequila Me Softly.

“I am,” he admits. “The artwork has me mystified.”

“In what way?” I ask.

“I can’t figure out what the words have to do with the pictures.” I look around the room at the pieces of artwork.

“They don’t,” I tell him. “I don’t know what the concept is behind the classic art, but the words are lyrics.”

“What?” he asks bemused. “Lyrics to what?

“To the music you’ve been hearing,” I say matter-of-factly.

“’Oops there goes my skirt’ is a lyric?” he asks bemused. I nod.

Oops Oh My by Tweet,” I inform him.

“And what about that?” he asks, pointing to another picture.

“That’s a name of a song by Kendrick Lamar,” I say.

Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe is the name of a song.” It’s a statement, not a question. I nod. “So, what about that one?” I look up and to the right where he’s pointing.

“Jay-Z, Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” I tell him. “’The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice’ is Keep Ya Head Up by Tupac. That picture there that I’m assuming is Napoleon with ‘I call all the shots, rip all the spots,’ Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems by Big Poppa himself with Diddy and Mase.” My husband gazes at me.

“How do you know songs—old songs—just by the lyrics?” I laugh.

“I like a lot of music. Music has always been my escape. I mean, think about it—Al and I were misfits from day one, we just didn’t mind being misfits in our own town. Then I moved to Vegas and… boom.” I do the explosion gesture with my hands.

“Music and books, these are the things that didn’t judge me. I traveled a lot of places through pictures and books, and I escaped the horror of my current realities through music. I may not have retained a lot of knowledge about the places I ‘traveled’ because a lot of that was done when I was a kid, but music, it’s true what they say… it soothes the savage beast.

“So, I would close myself in my room or go off to some remote place and listen to my music for hours. At first, it was Motown, because that’s what Daddy listened to. Of course, that was the best music ever made, but then I was drawn to hip hop and more R&B because I really liked the music—great beats, fantastic hooks. The love songs had meat to them, words you could really sink your teeth into and feel. The hooks to a lot of the hip hop—you get it stuck in your head and it doesn’t let go. ‘H to the izzo, v to the izzae…”

I start singing the hook to Jay-Z’s H.O.V.A. It’s a perfect example of what music does to you. Although the beat and the music are addicting, in the words he was too close to comparing himself to God—Jehovah—which was a huge dilemma for me. Nonetheless, I still couldn’t stop singing the song because the hook was so catchy. The meaning of the song sticks in your head and you either love it or hate it for the meaning. But you can’t beat a good hook.

“So, to answer your question, when I saw the words, my brain immediately asks, ‘Where have I heard that before?’ So, I quickly play the words over in my head, and then I hear the music and identify the song. Once you know that one of the pictures is lyrics, then you know the rest of them are lyrics, too.”

“So… you’re telling me that there’s a song somewhere that says, ‘My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard?’” he asks perplexed. I laugh.

Milkshake by Kelis,” I inform him.

“And what about that?” he asks, pointing at another one. “’Stacking up cheese…’ who makes a song about stacking cheese up?”

“Hip-hop artists do,” I reply. “Lupe Fiasco, Hip Hop Saved My Life. And for the record, ‘stacking cheese’ is slang for making money. I’m surprised you didn’t make that connection because cultures all over have called money ‘cheddar’ forever, my billionaire lover.” I pop a square of some cheese, I don’t know which, into my mouth after the last statement and chase it with the rest of my Tequila Me Softly. My husband’s pupils dilate quickly.

“Well, that was hot,” he says. I furrow my brow. This man could get turned on by a stiff wind—what did I do?

“What?” I ask bemused.

“You calling me your billionaire lover—that did something to me.” Oh, that.

“It speaks to your virility and dominance,” I say matter-of-factly, sitting back in my seat and playing with my necklace. “One of the things I’ve learned about subliminal messaging.”

“And you need to cut that out,” he nearly growls, his voice changing. The liquor is making me a little bold and somehow, I’m hitting the right buttons without even trying. “You want to see Sydney tomorrow and we’ve got a boat to catch, so you’re going to need some sleep.”

“Yes, Sir,” I say coyly, looking at him through deliberately slithered eyes. He licks his lips, then sucks the bottom one in an attempt at restraint.

“Alright, I’ve warned you. Keep it up,” he cautions.

“That’s your job,” I remark, waggling my brows. He stares at me for a nanosecond and before I can protest, he has snatched me into his lap. I’m cradled in his arms—more like pinned—and he’s kissing me, licking so deliciously into my mouth that I want to gobble him up right here in this chair. My entire body is on fire from this kiss and I fucking feel like I’m floating. I don’t know how long it lasts, but after some unknown span of time, I can vaguely make out the sound of catcalls, whoops, and cheering through my alcohol-and-kiss-induced haze. I’m panting embarrassingly when his lips leave mine and his eyes are black and steely gray staring back at me, his pupils nearly as large as his irises.

“I will. Make you come. At this table. In front of our security and the world, if you don’t chill out.”

I’m trying unsuccessfully not to pant in his lap and my panties are now wetter than my dress was after the bat-dance. His semi-hard erection is poking me in the ass cheek and I’m certain that he’ll make good on the promise just for his own satisfaction. Don’t poke the damn bear.

“O… okay,” I breathe uselessly. He victoriously raises a brow at me, then releases me and helps me back to my seat. Once I’ve somewhat controlled myself, I bellow for the server.

“Carla! I’ll be needing that second drink now!”

*-*

I vaguely remember our Sydney cabbie, Noah, getting us back to the hotel, not only because I’m suddenly wiped out after the adrenaline from the near bat attack has finally worn off, but also because I actually had three Tequila Me Softly’s. They didn’t knock me on my ass, but they have me quite loopy. Christian carries me up to the room to be sure that I don’t take a spill on the way, and I’m too damn tired to pump, so I just take off my clothes and fall into bed.

Miraculously, I awake before my husband a few hours later, the sun blaring in my eyes from curtains that we forgot to close the night before—or I should say, in the early morning hours. Not so miraculously, I awake with a slight hangover. I crawl miserably out of bed and go to the mini bar. I take a bottle of water and down the entire thing, then grab another one and head to the bathroom.

I start the shower and as it’s getting hot, I thank God for the travel packs of Advil that I remembered to pack in my purse. I don’t know what kind of foresight I was having, but there it is. I take two more of them and head for the shower.

The water is scalding, and I couldn’t be happier. I feel like the milk from last night is still sticking to my skin and the steam will help to sweat out some of the alcohol from last night. I let the water massage my scalp and run through my hair while my overly full breasts begin leaking into the shower. They’re so heavy that they hurt, and I just stand there for several minutes, allowing them to leak into the shower while the water helps to rinse away my headache.

I have no idea how long I’ve stood here before the door opens and my husband steps into the bathroom. I don’t say anything while he relieves himself as I’m somewhat doing the same thing. He drops his boxer briefs on the floor without flushing—most likely since I’m in the shower—and slides the shower door open.

“You okay?” he asks. I nod slightly.

“A small hangover,” I admit. “My head is feeling better. My breasts, on the other hand, feel like boulders. I think I may have to pump.” He steps into the shower with me.

“Allow me,” he says and latches onto one of my aching breasts.

“Christian,” I protest. “You know what that does to me when you do that. I want to see Sydney!” He releases my breast.

“Then you’ll just have to control yourself,” he says, and latches on again, Apparently, the running water had relieved some of the fullness, and now the ache isn’t so bad, but the relief is immediate when he drains what’s left of the milk from one breast before latching onto the other. I’m trying to control my raging hormones as my husband relieving my swollen tits has always turned me on. When we’re having sex, I usually leak milk anyway and that’s when he latches on. So, of course, it feels erotic as fuck even though we’re not fucking.

Or at least we weren’t.

Once my breasts are empty, he lifts my leg, presses me against the wall and impales me. I want him so badly that when he lifts the other leg to hold me up, I’m bouncing on his dick in one of the most strenuous strength and cardio workouts I’ve ever done. My body turns to complete mush when, a few minutes later, I orgasm fantastically on his cock and he has to wrap his arms around me to keep me from sliding down the wall. A minute or so and more than a few strokes later, my husband explodes into me and we both have to catch our breath under the running water.

As I choose our clothes for the day, I toss the dress from last night into the trash. I have no intention on toting around a milk-soaked dress for an entire week, nor do I have any hope of salvaging it once I return to Seattle. I do, however, remember to pack my portable breast pump in case the girls get too heavy before I find myself in a comfortable and convenient place to relieve them properly.

I’ve convinced my husband to wear his Seahawks jersey and a pair of jeans, much to his bemusement, because I’m wearing a green Seahawks jersey with a pair of blue leggings with the matching green trim. When I step out of the bathroom after doing light makeup and adding a pair of Louboutin denim wedges, my husband’s mouth hits the floor.

“I’m going to kill that woman,” he says, examining my ensemble.

“What?” I ask.

“Is this what she meant when she referred to ‘buying from the rack?’” he asks, and he sounds perturbed.

“Uuuummm… could be. What’s the matter, Christian? It’s cute,” I say, my voice a bit whiny.

“That’s not cute,” he corrects me. “That’s hot! Your ass looks fantastic. Fuck bats, I’m going to have to beat Aussies off you with a goddamn club!” I giggle. I love when he makes me feel irresistible.

Christian's Ass, Chapter 74“Thank you, dear,” I reply. “That’s why I packed your jersey and those jeans that make your ass look so yummy. No use in you having all the eye candy.” I smile and head for the door.

We head down to the breakfast buffet, and I have worked up an appetite again after having spontaneously fucked in the shower. I also need something greasy to help curtail the remnants of my slight hangover and headache, which are mostly gone, but I don’t want them to make a reappearance.

Now this is brunch!

Veggies, salads, pastries, potatoes, eggs made to order, chicken congee, eggs benedict, Belgian waffles, veal, baked beans, avocado, smoked salmon, yogurt and superfruits… and that’s not everything! Who needs Beverly Hills?

Christian and I partake of our fill of the deliciousness and I have a couple of mimosas for a bit of the “hair of the dog” while we discuss what the day is going to look like. The mimosas are made with local wine and I must admit—they’re some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

“Our cruise leaves at four,” Christian says. “That doesn’t leave us much time to see Sydney. I know you’ll at least want to see the Opera House, but since the ship is leaving from Sydney Harbor, we can do that just before we sail. What would you like to do this morning?”

“I don’t know,” I admit, while sipping my mimosa. “You sprung this on me last minute. The only thing I know to look for is the Opera House.”

“Well, I thought about the petting zoo, but it’s over an hour away, so that’s a no go. Yes, I know we’re adults, but natural Australian habitat—koalas, kangaroos, Tasmania devils…”

“Oh. Yeah, that would have been fun,” I admit.

“Maybe next time,” he says. Next time? “They’ve got this thing where you can climb the bridge.”

“What bridge?” I ask.

“The Harbor Bridge,” he says, swiping through his phone before he hands it to me. I begin to read the description.

“’Absorb a 360-degree panorama of Sydney as you journey to the summit on our original climb experience. Like an exposed spine, the outer rim delivers you to the peak, as the sky remains just beyond your outstretched fingertips.’”

As I continue to examine the website and pictures, I realize that Christian isn’t talking about crossing the bridge. He’s talking about climbing the bridge—up and over the top! My husband has officially lost his fucking mind!

“Are you insane?” I exclaim loudly, unintentionally drawing the attention of the other diners in the restaurant. “I’m not scaling a bridge, Christian!”

He stares at me for a moment, then covers his mouth with his napkin, trying to stifle his laughter and not spew his food all over me. What the fuck is so goddamn funny?

“You…” he begins after swallowing his food while pointing at me. “You just lost all the color in your face,” he laughs.

I don’t know what color my face is now, but my ears are starting to burn.

“Would you like to wear this mimosa, Grey?” I threaten. He’s still laughing when he capitulates.

“Okay, okay, no bridge climb,” he says, still chuckling as he holds his hand out for his phone. I begrudgingly give it back to him. I almost want to drop it into my water glass just to spite him, but then I’m sure he’d find a way to summon the plane and we’d be on our way back home. He scrolls through the phone again. “There’s the Sydney Tower Eye, but it’s pretty much the same as the Space Needle…”

“It’s not the same as the Space Needle,” I protest. “It’s Sydney, not Seattle.” He does that back and forth nodding thing with his head.

“You’re right,” he says, poking his lip out contemplatively. “So, Tower Eye and then the Opera House? I’m told there’s quite a bit to see down at Circular Quay.”

“Where’s Circular Quay?”

“It’s pretty much the town square—the shopping and entertainment hub down at the harbor,” he says.

“Good,” I reply, finishing my mimosa and standing. “I’ll go get my purse and my portable pump and we can go.” I see Ben sitting a few tables over finishing his breakfast alone. “Where’s Jason?”

“He’s exchanging currency and securing transport for the day.”

“So, we have to wait for Jason to get back before we can go to the Tower Eye?” I ask.

“Not really. The Tower Eye is less than half a mile from here. We can walk if you feel up to it.” He looks at my shoes.

“We’ve had this conversation about me and high-heels, Grey,” I challenge.

“Stop calling me Grey,” he says, wiping his mouth before throwing his napkin down and rising to his feet. “And our stroll is going to take us close to Bat Park. Are you going to be okay?” he asks sarcastically.

“It’s daylight,” I point out just as sarcastically. “They don’t come out in the daytime, right?”

“For the most part, no,” he retorts.

“Then I guess I’ll be fine, won’t I?” I say, rolling my neck. He glares at me.

“Keep up that smart-ass attitude,” he warns. “You won’t see much of Australia because you won’t be able to walk or sit for the rest of the week.”

“Promise?” I say before snapping my head, turning on my heels, and walking away with a distinctive sway in my ass.


CHRISTIAN

Oh, she’s going to get it on this trip.

I’m going to fuck her every time she blinks, and as soon as she thinks she’s getting a break, I’m going to fuck her some more.

It’s a clear day outside and I’m really enjoying the fresh air. What’s more, I’m enjoying the view tremendously—not just the city and the sites, but my wife’s beautiful ass wrapped in spandex and rolling from left to right… beautiful round mounds of meat plumping and flattening with each step causing me to fight continuously to talk my dick down. I don’t know how the hell I’m going to get through this day.

I can’t expect men not to look at her ass. It’s too unrealistic. I see several of them doing double-takes as they pass, and I don’t bother looking behind me, because I’ll probably see a trail of horny fuckers following us and it’ll only serve to piss me off, so…

“Maybe I shouldn’t have worn this,” she says, noticing the eyes on her. Seriously, what did she expect?

“Yes, you should’ve,” I scold. “I know I can be possessive sometimes and yes, that ass is on lovely display, but you’re hot and you’re beautiful, and you shouldn’t feel bad about that. You’re not dressed inappropriately, and you’re with your husband. So, let ‘em look as long as they look from a distance. I have to say, though, that I get how you feel when women are gawking at me because good God almighty!”

She giggles and loosens up a bit as we continue our trek to the Sydney Tower Eye. She looks a little squeamish as she looks across at Hyde Park—the location of the Great Bat Encounter—but she’s easily distracted once we reach our destination.

We enter a glass building labelled Westfield. It turns out that the entrance is inside of a shopping center. We wait while Lawrence buys our tickets and we have to go through a security checkpoint like at the airport. After that, we proceed through an opening and pass a wall that says “Welcome” in at least twenty different languages.

Sydney Tower Eye, The "Welcome" Wall, Chapter 74

We enter a large room with pink and white walls that contains pictures of the Sydney cityscape and bits of information and trivia written on the walls. Some of them are purple as well with black and white vintage pictures of old Australia along with wide oval-shaped floor-to-ceiling beams with monitors that display more information about the continent and the tower.

On one of the walls, there’s a comparison of the heights of several similar towers in several countries and I can’t help but notice that the Space Needle is not among those towers.

How tall is the Space Needle anyway?

I think it’s only about 600 feet and the shortest among these is about 1000. I guess it wouldn’t stack up, huh?

“Thinking about the Space Needle, aren’t you?” my wife correctly deduces.

“Yeah,” I admit, “not nearly tall enough.”

“How tall is the Space Needle?” she asks.

“About 600 feet.” She looks at the comparison wall again.

“Yeah, no competition unfortunately.”

We continue our brief tour around the ground floor of the Sydney Tower Eye and we stumble on a guy taking pictures. They’re those pictures that you take where there’s nothing behind you, but they end up superimposing you onto some corny backdrop.  We take a couple of pictures and pose like he tells us just to be good sports before we head over to the tower elevators… and the elevator operators. They help to keep traffic moving along because, if they didn’t, I would imagine it would be mayhem to get to the observation deck.

The express elevator ride up the tower is a solid 42 seconds to the top. There’s a screen at the top of the car that shows our ascent and Butterfly watches it attentively.

“You alright?” I ask, slipping my arm around her waist.

“Uh-hmm,” she says quickly, still never taking her eye of the tiny screen. I don’t know if it’s the tiny box that we’re in that’s making her nervous or the fact that we’re inside this tube for nearly a full minute, but she’s definitely not alright, and I just stick close to her until the doors open.

She tries not to show her relief when the attendant appears outside of the elevator doors and instructs us to keep to the right. We walk onto the observation deck and it reminds you of a spacious conference room. It’s large with lots of room and there’s a clear view of the whole of Sydney. My girl visibly relaxes and walks over to the glass walls to get a look at the city. She becomes the view as she gazes out over the tops of the buildings in the Central Business District, or the CBD as the locals call it, and I take out my phone and snap a picture of the back of her gorgeous frame against the cityscape.

There are viewfinders and telescopes at nearly every window—very touristy. There are even screens with fun facts and info about Sydney. Each monitor shows the view through the window in front of you. You select your language, then a location or a landmark, and the monitor gives you detailed information about your selection. You can see everything, and I mean everything from up here from the entire span of the CBD to the Ferris wheel at Luna Park and the Harbor Bridge.

We can even see the Blue Mountains, the Sydney Cricket Ground and even the airport from up here. The view of the Opera House is a bit obstructed, however. It’s a spectacular view, extremely beautiful with incredible views of the water and the harbor. Nonetheless, I find myself comparing it to the beautiful simplicity that is the view from the Space Needle.

View from the Space Needle Chapter 74

I love to travel, but let’s face it… There’s no place like home.

Butterfly spends quite some time admiring the view of the city and reading the tidbits of information on the monitors around the observation deck. Although the Opera House is a bit obscured, we learn that there’s a gorgeous span of lawn and trees to the right and behind it known as the Royal Botanic Garden. Our stroll to the Opera House will take us through this beautiful trek of land, and I have a feeling that Circular Quay may have to wait for another trip.

I’m also wondering if those shoes my wife are wearing will stand the test of an entire day of walking and being a tourist. I see some carrying in my future.

There are vending areas and souvenir shops up here, complete with boomerangs, but nothing particularly catches my wife’s eye.

If you’re really brave, you can don a blue jumpsuit and harness and partake in the Skywalk, which is basically a glass-bottom ledge where you walk outside and get to see the aerial view of Sydney up close and personal. My wife wouldn’t even walk on the metal frame that is the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Nothing but a plate of glass between her and a three-hundred-meter drop? I didn’t even suggest it.

After we’ve seen all 360 degrees of the Tower Eye and garnered some very interesting information about Australia and Sydney, we decide that we want to head over to the Botanic Garden before time gets away from us since it’s on the way to the Opera House. My wife is just as attentive of that screen during our elevator descent as she was during the ride up to the observation deck. I won’t pester her about it. She’ll tell me if she wants me to know.

Another gift shop greets us once we exit the elevator. Still nothing catches my wife’s eye, not even those corny pictures we took before we went up to the observation deck.

It’s an illegally beautiful day outside and I immensely enjoy walking with my wife down Macquarie Street towards the Garden. She doesn’t even mind the shortcut we take through Bat Park to get to the main road. We pass the Parliament building and the State Library, but we just take note of what we’re seeing as we walk the short distance that brings us to the edge of the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Christian says that a tea tree in the Royal Botanic Garden reminds him of Home Tree from the movie Avatar in Chapter 74The walk is just what I expect it would be—a trip through a majestically beautiful stretch of land that leaves you somewhat speechless as you commune with nature. I allow my wife to lead me around through the variety of unbelievably tall trees, sculptures, and fountains as we admire the garden’s tranquility. We see this huge tea tree that looks like a cluster of trees entwined in one, and I couldn’t help but think of Home Tree from the movie Avatar.

There are people with blankets spread out over the grass near the large fountain enjoying the late morning weather, and my wife removes her shoes to walk barefoot in the grass. Normally, this would concern me as Butterfly has made it clear that she can do anything in stilettos and the only time I’ve known her to falter was when we had that terrible spat years ago and I thought she was cheating on me with Elliot, which was absolutely ludicrous—but that’s another time entirely.

Right now, she’s smiling contently as the grass caresses her toes. I don’t dare remind her that we don’t have much time before we have to start boarding the ship, so if we want to see the Opera House, we should probably get going. She begins her trek across the grass in the direction of the Opera House without my prompting, her shoes hanging leisurely from her fingers…

And I take another picture.

Sydney is built on the world’s largest natural harbor and they make sure that everywhere you go as a tourist, you don’t forget that Sydney started as a penal colony. I guess they’re proud of that if for no other reason but how beautifully the city turned out.

There are public pools in several locations here and it’s during our walk from the Botanic Gardens around the harbor to the Opera House not far from Circular Quay that I learn that the most prominent swimwear here—or at least in my immediate eyesight—is the speedo, or as the Sydneysiders call them, “budgy smugglers.” Now, let’s be clear about this. There’s no discrimination in the budgy-smuggling department. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teeny-bopper or a senior citizen, if you’re 120 pounds or 520 pounds. Budgy smugglers are apparently for everybody… and you just can’t unsee that.

Also, apparently, the drink of choice is beer, even at 11am. Bottoms up, folks… literally.

Needless to say, we move a little faster around the harbor on the outside of the Botanic Gardens to the Opera House. Butterfly didn’t even bother to put her shoes back on.

Now… here we stand at the base of the Opera House, and I’m seeing lots—and lots—of stairs. Jesus, this is unreal. There are a million stairs—well, maybe not a million—but once again, I’m having flashbacks of another time, this time of the Arc De Triomphe and the spiral staircase that made me ask, “Is this trip really necessary?” I have no idea how many stairs there are to the front door, but there’s a whole fucking lot of them. Without a word, Butterfly puts her shoes back on and begins taking the stairs like a stair climber.

Goddammit!

I take a deep breath and follow that ass up the stairs, glad that she chose Chucks for me to wear today and wondering how she’s effortlessly taking these stairs in what has to be three-to-four-inch wedge heels while carrying a leather backpack purse. I hear Lawrence behind us sigh heavily and fall in step himself. I expect her to pause at the second landing, but she doesn’t. She keeps going all the way up to the main platform of the Monumental Steps. When I finally catch up with her, she’s standing in the middle of the platform slowly taking and releasing deep breaths. I watch her mesmerized as her beautiful breasts rise and fall and she hasn’t even broken a sweat. I’m a tiny bit winded, and Lawrence isn’t winded at all, but he has broken a sweat.

“Excuse me…”

We turn to the voice that has beckoned and there’s two young women standing next to Butterfly. They appear to be American.

“Yes?” she replies, turning her attention to the ladies.

“Just a cool, leisurely stroll up the stairs just now nearly took all the wind outta me. If you don’t mind me asking, what is your exercise regimen? How did you do that? In high heels, no less?”

Butterfly chuckles and explains her regimen to the ladies which consists of variating through Krav Maga, yoga, sparring with the heavy bag and any unlucky person who wants to wear the hand mats, and some occasional dancing. One of the ladies looks over her shoulder and asks suggestively, “What’s your regimen?”

“Sparring with her,” I say, sliding my arm around her waist and resting my hand on her hip. The woman raises an eyebrow, then diverts her gaze from me. We say a few parting words to the ladies and then proceed into the opera house.

We arrive with a few minutes to spare before our tour, and the inside is exactly as you would expect it to be—majestic vaulted ceilings everywhere. The architecture is unbelievably stunning—the symmetrical overhangs and hallways. The impact is difficult to explain; you have to see it. I’m a bit stricken by the general splendor when our tour guide interrupts my thoughts and begins our tour.

“The Sydney Opera House location is on Tubowgule, the land of the Gadigal Clan,” our guide informs us as we head to the lower Colonnade of the Opera House. Three of the theatres are down here—Playhouse, Studio and Drama—and he directs our attention to one of the large windows in the Colonnade set inside angled wells that make the windows appear larger as well as cuts down on glare. We’re able to visit the foyers of several of the theaters even though we can’t visit each theater, not that we have time to do that. Each foyer has slanted windows that give you surreal views of the harbor and can be used for intermission from a variety of shows or rented out for private affairs.

I thought the Sydney Opera House was strictly for operas—shows how much I know.

The landmark boasts extremely grand concert halls and theaters, the largest of which—I think—is the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. The stately concert hall boasts a capacity of 2700 people, 700 of which can fit onstage. With walls and seats made of white birch wood, the hall is built specifically for instrumental sound. Along with the acoustic precision offered by the birch wood, the lit glass saucers over the stage raise or lower to optimize sound. The pipe organ utilizes more than 10,000 pipes—only 138 of them are visible, though.

Locals and tourist will tell you the Opera House is famous for the sails. I beg to differ. The stairs leave more of an impression on you—lots and lots and lots of stairs. There are stairs everywhere—front side, back side, upside, ‘round the side… and not just outside. I wanted to know where the elevators and escalators were, but I didn’t want to be a punk.

Like I said, Arc De Triomphe, just not spiraled and all in one place.

We continue the tour admiring the impressive architecture, each portion of the structure built to precision and purpose from the acoustic wood and glass in the theaters to the angled windows and the fact that the dramatic overhangs and bulging wooden walls never touch the concrete of the outer frame. There’s even a Sydney Opera House store where you can buy the Lego Sydney Opera House and the model Sydney Opera House… my wife buys the Lego… and a magnet.

Finally comes the highlight of the tour for my wife, and if I’m honest, for me, too—a closer look at and description of the iconic roof of the structure. If you look at it from the sky, it’s actually three sails—two large ones and one small one. I seek out the aerial view on my phone when the guide brings it up, and it appears very unimposing compared to the remarkable reality of the “up close and personal” that we’re seeing right now. It’s made of over one million ceramic roof tiles of seven varieties, two different colors, and matte and shiny finishes—little squares like the kitchen or bathroom tiles you see, only… not.

The one million Sydney Opera House tiles that make up the iconic sails. Two colors and seven varieties of tiles, with both shiny and matte finishes, create the effect.

The seashell slices of dome that look like billowing sails on the harbor took fourteen years to build, the concept originating from taking four symmetrical slices from the same sphere and arranging the to form the structure.

Sydney Opera House - The Concept behind the sails

During the tour, we learn that there’s a “lighting of the sails” at sunset and at 9pm each night where a psychedelic light show is displayed on the sails of the Opera House roof. I’m told that it’s pretty damn spectacular and I’m sorry that we won’t be able to see it live, but our guide informs us that there are several places online where we can see the show. My wife isn’t willing to wait and pulls up YouTube on her phone while we’re looking at the massive and impressive network of tiles that composes the famous Sydney sails.

“How do you cover the entire roof that way?” Butterfly asks. “I can’t even begin to imagine how that would be done.”

“Projectors,” the guide says. “Lots and lots of projectors. Special software works in conjunction with several high-powered projectors that meticulously align and crop the images so that they fall perfectly into place next to and on top of each other to accurately cover the shape of the sails. The intricate network of projectors is actually controlled from the Overseas Passenger Terminal on the other side of the Quay.”

“It covers the sails so well,” Butterfly observes while looking at the pictures and presentation of the lighting of the sails, “from all the way over there?” The guide nods.

“Don’t try to understand it,” she shrugs. “I work here, and I still don’t get it.”

At 1:00pm, a fort in the middle of the harbor shoots a cannon. We discover that they do that every day, but today, it signals the end of our tour. We thank our tour guide and say some pleasantries to the other members of our tour group before we disperse. I look across the harbor and see a cruise ship docked at the terminal. Since it’s so close to the time for us to sail, I’m assuming it’s our ship. I check my texts and see that Jason has already exchanged cash for us, checked us out of our hotel, and is in the process of checking our bags on the ship. So, it’s safe to assume that is indeed our ship and we should get over there soon.

“We’re going to be shoving off soon, baby,” I say to my wife. She sighs.

“I know,” she says and puts her hands on her hips.

“Sad to leave?” I ask. She looks up at me.

“Truth?” she asks. I frown. No, lie to me. “Coming up is a lot easier than going down.” She looks in front of her.

Oh, the stairs.

“We can make it,” I tell her.

“I know,” she says, and begins the trek down the stairs. This trip isn’t nearly as effortless and graceful as the first one. Her footfalls are heavier and I’m almost afraid that she’ll tweak her ankle in those shoes. We finally make it to the bottom of the stairs and we have to walk all the way around the Quay to the other side of the harbor—there’s no other options. She’s obviously winded and she’s been on her feet all day since the early morning—in those shoes. I pull out my phone and call Jason.

“Yes, sir?” he answers.

“I see you’ve been busy,” I say into the phone.

“Yes, sir. I’m trying to ascertain the procedure for priority boarding at this time.”

“Good. Any idea where Noah is? Has he finally kicked off to get some sleep?”

“No, sir. He’s here with me. He decided to take a break here and see if you would need a ride.”

“That’s exactly why I’m calling. We’re at the Opera House. It’s a short walk, but Butterfly is tired. We’ve covered quite a bit of ground today.”

“He’s here in the terminal somewhere. Do you want me to find him or do you want to text him yourself?”

“You do it,” I tell him. “Just let me know where to meet him.”

“Will do, sir,” he says and ends the call.  

“Come on,” I say, stooping down with my back to her. She pauses.

“You’re not serious!” she exclaims.

“It’s either this or I throw you over my shoulder, now don’t argue with me.” I can almost see her shrug in my mind’s eye before she climbs onto me for a piggyback ride. I don’t think my wife understands just how light she is.

“Comfy?” I ask.

“I’m fine, are you?” she retorts.

“Don’t worry about it. We’ve got a boat to catch.”

My wife and I receive more than one sideways glance as I carry her on my back from the stairs of the Opera House back towards Circular Quay. I love the feel of her leaning on my back, her body warm and pressed against me. Almost on cue of my contentment, she presses her nose into my neck and takes a deep breath.

“I love the way you smell,” she says, kissing me on the neck.

“The feeling’s mutual, baby,” I say suggestively, “and I love the way you taste.”

“The feeling’s mutual, baby,” she says huskily, gently sinking her teeth into the skin of my neck.

“Butterfly,” I warn, “it’s going to be very hard to carry you with a raging woody.” She giggles.

“Okay, okay, I’ll behave,” she promises. I feel my phone buzz in my pocket, then realize my hands are full.

“Wrap your legs around me,” I instruct.

“Mr. Grey!” my wife scolds. “I thought you wanted me to behave!” I can’t help but laugh.

“I can’t reach my phone,” I excuse. “I don’t want to drop you.” She giggles again.

“Alright.” Her legs are a death grip around my waist and I swear to God, my dick is thumping in my boxer briefs. Settle the fuck down, Grey! I reach into my pocket and retrieve my phone. It’s a text from Jason. Noah says he’ll pick us up at Allen Lewis Fountain. I only see one fountain—it’s just beyond the entrance gates to the Opera House outside the wall of the Botanic Gardens. It’s only a few feet away. I hope that’s it.

“Noah wants us to meet him at the fountain. I don’t see anywhere for you to sit over there.”

“Sheh needs ta get ‘er loyzie ahs off your bahk and wawlk!” some female voice says from behind us.

“Piss off, ya tossah! Ya just mad it’s not yeeou!”

Now, I would have thought that comeback was from one of the locals, only I heard it from behind me in my wife’s voice. What’s more, I felt and heard her slap that juicy ass of hers right after she said it. Holy Mother of God…

… But wait…

“What did you just say?” I ask in amused horror. “Did you just call somebody a tosser?”

“I sure as hell did,” she says proudly. “If you want to give me a piggyback ride, chauffer me around on a bicycle, or pull me in a goddamn rickshaw, It’s none of her damn business!”

“I’ve been with you all day!” I laugh in disbelief. “Where did you hear that? I don’t remember hearing anything like that!”

“I don’t know, I just picked it up somewhere… and not a moment too soon.” I turn around with my wife still on my back to see who’s behind us. Nobody’s paying us any attention or looks particularly horrified, so I don’t even know who she was talking to.

“Did you scare her away?” I ask.

“I guess so,” she says. “Maybe she’ll shut the hell up from now on.” I laugh again just as I hear a horn and see a taxi coming around the fountain.

“Your chariot awaits, my dear,” I say as Noah pulls up. Lawrence gets in the front seat with Noah, and Butterfly and I get in the back. I had almost forgotten he was with us.

“My wife is offending the locals,” I say mirthfully to Noah once we’re on our way.

“I was not offending the locals—the locals were offending me!” she defends.

“What ‘appened?” Noah asks.

“You saw—my husband was giving me a piggyback because I’m tired from walking around all day. This is my husband and that’s our business—he carries me all the time. Some cow called me lazy and told me that I should get off his back. So, I called her a tosser and told her to piss off!” Noah laughs heartily.

“Spoken like a true Aussie!” he says joyfully. “Ahl ya needed was the accent!”

“She had it!” I tell him. “At least for the first part of the sentence! When she said, ‘Piss off, you tosser,’ I thought it was somebody else!” Noah laughs again.

“Ya moight pick up a little somethin’ as ya wawlkin’ ‘round,” he says. “Ya mahy not even know ya picked it up. Ya jus goin’ about cha bizness an the next thing ya know ya tawlkin’ like an Aussie… ‘appens ahl the toime.”

“Well, that must be what happened, because it just flew out of my mouth and I wasn’t even thinking about it!” Butterfly admits.

We take note of the shops and the various scents of the different foods available as we ride through Circular Quay. It’s been a few hours since breakfast and we could stand to eat, but we decide against it since we’re heading to the boat and there’s going to be more food aboard than we know what to do with.

Our trip will take us through New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia. I would love to see the Great Barrier Reefs and the Northern Territory, but we just don’t have the time to cover the whole continent. There are so many things to see in Australia that there’s absolutely no way we could possibly see it all. The exclusive sites that we want to see require that we abandon the cruise for the last two days and take a detour… which is not cheap, by the way. As it turns out, if you don’t finish the cruise and you disembark at one of the ports of call, you have to pay something of a fine, and the price could be as much as the cruise itself. That’s why when you take a cruise, they tell you not to miss the boat at any of the ports of call because getting back home is going to be the least of your problems.

Luckily, this is not an issue for the filthy rich.

A few short minutes later, Noah drops us at the Overseas Terminal. When I offer him something for his trouble, he assures me that Jason took very good care of him. So instead, I give him something for his honesty and Butterfly makes him promise to go and get some real rest. I think we just made his week.

From the outside, the Overseas Passenger Terminal, or OPT, looks like an older bus depot. Once you get inside, it’s like a bustling airport. I can’t help but wonder if all these people are going to be on our cruise. I’m so accustomed to our privacy that this is going to be quite the adjustment for me. As I planned this somewhat hurriedly and left the details to Jason, I’m not really sure where we should be right now. I text as much to Jason as we’re standing near the information area in a crowd of people masquerading as a line.

And then I remember why I’m so accustomed to my privacy.

“Ayyyye, mate, look at deh ahss on ‘er.”

Now, yes, I’m a jealous guy, and I think everybody wants my wife—boys, girls, puppies, komodo dragons, zygotes not yet formed into humans, everybody… everybody wants my Butterfly. But this time, I’m right.

Ana's Ass, Chapter 74I look over at my wife standing next to me and scrolling blissfully ignorant through her phone. Her weight is supported on one leg while the other is bent, and her ass is on glorious display—as it has been all day. I raise my gaze to the blokes standing behind us and their eyes are so trained on her ass that they don’t even see me glaring at them. I gently take my wife’s arm, coax her over in front of me and put my arms around her waist. One of the guys looks at me sheepishly and diverts his gaze. The other doesn’t show an ounce of shame.

“Won’t ‘elp, mate,” the guy says from behind me. “She’ll still ‘ave that ahss,” he chuckles. I turn around and look at him.

“And she’ll still be my wife,” I say, my voice low. Don’t make me get arrested before I even board the boat. The jerk just laughs at me, and my wife looks over her shoulder to see what’s going on, not having heard the comments about her ass. Like an angel from heaven, Jason makes his way through the crowd and over to us.

“Sir, your luggage is on board and priority boarding is this way,” he says. I’m glaring at the asshole who disrespected me and my wife while Jason and Lawrence close in.

“Sir?” he asks. “Is everything okay?” I’m still glaring at the two assholes who have now fallen silent at Jason’s appearance.

“Yeah,” I say, taking my wife’s hand without breaking eye contact with them, “everything’s fine.” I gently coax my wife to walk ahead of me with our security as I throw one last threatening glance at the uncouth buffoon. Make sure you keep your asses away from me on the boat, boys.

“Crikey, Max,” I hear one say as we’re walking away, “Yah nevah know when tah shut yah fayce, do yah? D’yah hafta be such a bogan all the time?”

Max had better learn soon.

“What did I miss?” Butterfly asks as we head toward priority boarding.

“Nothing, baby, trust me,” I say, keeping step behind her. This is the first commercial cruise I’ve ever taken, and now I remember why. It’s the same reason I own a private jet. I don’t like people—they’re too damn unpredictable and I can’t stand being in situations that I can’t control.


A/N: When the guide at the Sydney Opera House explains the projectors, you just have to imagine the Aussie accent. When I tried to put that explanation in an Aussie accent, I was like, “That’s hard for me to read,” so I didn’t do it. Conversation, maybe… Explanations? No.

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~~love and handcuffs