Grey Continued: Episode 36—Word of Mouth

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

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

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

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

Season 5 Episode 36—Word of Mouth

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened to Kiley?” she asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

Of course, I have.

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

The baby. It’s the baby.

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

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

“What would make you think something like that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ANASTASIA

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

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

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

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

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

“With what again?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dome? What the…? Oh, the dorm!

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

“Yardley?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I should say not!” Yardley says indignantly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about me?” Yardley hisses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are we done now?” she says.

“Yeah,” I say, “we’re done.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy to be in Daddy’s arms…

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

“Hey, Grace, what’s up?” I answer.

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

“No,” I reply. “What?”

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

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

“What is it, Grace?” I ask.

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

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

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

“Susan Yardley.”

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

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

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

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

“Are they down there now?” I lament.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Butterfly…”

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

Everyone in the room falls silent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry, Ana,” Grace says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the pressure begins to cease.

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

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

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

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

My body shakes with sobs and with anger.

“I know,” he says softly. “I know.”

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

That doesn’t help my mood at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t take long.

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

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

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

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

Elaborate,” the reporter probes.

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

“And they threw you out?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Nobody’s saying that, Mrs. Handon…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the community room erupts with cheers.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 30

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

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

Season 5 Episode 30

ANASTASIA

“I never thought I’d be having dinner in a place like this,” Sarah says after dinner. We’re sitting at the dining table having coffee as she gets to know everyone.

“Well, you’re family now, so get used to it,” Christian says, garnering a smile from Sarah.

“A month ago, you never could have told me I’d be here,” she says, looking down into her coffee, “physically or figuratively. I was… hopeless,” she says, her voice cracking a bit. “I couldn’t… I couldn’t see no light… no light at all. Fletcher just kept getting worse and worse…”

“Fletcher—that’s your husband?” I say, squeezing her hand. She nods but never raises her gaze.

“I never could have children,” she says. “He has two from his first marriage—a son and a daughter. His son used my credit to get three new cars. He wrecked two of them and the third was repossessed. So much for my credit. His daughter is the mouthiest, most disrespectful, ungrateful, assuming little brat I’ve ever met. She moved in with us and treated me like pure hell for three years… and he let her! I think he had started seeing her mother again. If it wasn’t her, it was some other woman. I knew he didn’t want me.”

“You said he had been abusing you for years,” I begin. “May I ask why you stayed?”

“I didn’t have anything or anybody,” she replies. “Every time I tried to leave, I lost my nerve. The thought of being completely alone was just too scary. I know it’s a screwed-up way of thinking, but… when you’re in it, you feel like it’s all you got. It was all I had. I’ve been trying to find another job for six months. For three of those months, his insufferable daughter was living there. He paid the rent on the house while she was there, but I didn’t know that he had stopped paying the rent until they came to put me out. I should’ve known something was going on because he hadn’t been home in four days.” She shakes her head. “If they hadn’t put me out, I would still be with him.” Christian sighs.

“I saw Helping Hands on TV before. I even went down there once but didn’t have the nerve to go inside. I never put it together that it was you,” she says to Christian, “but then again, why would I? I remember that day like it was yesterday… big, strong man sitting at my console, crying. You didn’t even know that you were crying… You told him,” she says, pointing at Jason.

“Yes, ma’am, I did,” Jason replies, and Sarah nods.

“Once you told me what was going on, I didn’t even think twice about helping you. It was the human thing to do, but when my boss found out… apparently, I had broken some rule or something that could have left the company liable, I don’t know. I figured all’s well that ends well, and I couldn’t turn you down in good conscience.”

“My only regret is that we didn’t know about this sooner,” Christian says. “We could have saved you a lot of distress.”

“Everything in its time,” she says. “Like I said, I may not have left. Most likely, I wouldn’t have. Whatever you did for me or however you helped me, Fletcher and his kids would’ve sucked me dry. Nope. This happened right when it needed to. I’m confused about something, though,” she begins, pointing at Jason. “I thought you worked for him.” Jason laughs.

“I do,” he says.

“Everybody at this table besides you and my wife works for me, and you will be, soon, too,” Christian announces.

“You always bring your employees to dinner at your home?” Sarah asks, puzzled.

“Well, no,” he says. “Jason has been with me the longest. He’s my head of personal security… and my best friend. He took a bullet for me.” Sarah’s eyes widen.

“Really?” she asks, turning to Jason and he nods.

“Two years ago, yesterday, in fact,” he says. Christian’s brow furrows.

“That’s right,” Christian concurs, and Gail looks a little uncomfortable.

“The lovely woman to his left, as you know, is Gail Taylor,” Christian says, moving the conversation away from the shooting. “She started shortly after Jason and began working for me as my cook and housekeeper. As luck would have it, she and Jason fell in love and got married.”

“Are you… still the housekeeper?” Sarah asks Gail.

“Yes,” Gail begins.

“She’s more than that,” I say. “She’s our home manager—she runs this place. And she’s helping to raise my children while she’s raising her own stepdaughter. It’s hard to put a label on Gail. She’s… the ‘do everything’ lady. We’d be lost without her—and she’s part of the family.” Sarah smiles and nods, and Gail returns her warm smile.

“And what about this cute couple snuggling here next to me?” she asks, causing Keri to blush.

“Well, Chuck is my personal bodyguard. Like Jason did for Christian, he saved my life. So, he’s also my honorary brother.” Sarah frowns.

“I thought the lawyer was your brother,” she says.

“He kinda is,” I say. “The lawyer is my best friend and he has been for a very long time. It’s very easy for us to call each other siblings because he has no other family and before my Dad had his son, I was an only child. We’ve been friends for many years, since we were kids.”

“More than 10?” she asks. I nod.

“More than 15,” I tell her. “That’s why it’s easier to just call him my brother.” She nods.

“That makes sense. And what about this beauty here?” she says gesturing to Keri.

“That beauty there is an inheritance… and a goldmine!” I say. “Shortly after my kidnapping ordeal, Christian took me on vacation to Anguilla. There, we met Keri and had no idea that Chuck would be so sweet on her. Long story short, she came to America to be with him and with her experience with children, we hired her as our live-in nanny as well.”

“You guys have adopted quite the family, haven’t you?” Sarah says.

“Like I said, what comes around goes around,” Christian says. “I’m adopted.” Sarah’s brows rise.

“Really?” she asks, her interest piqued. Christian nods.

“My start in life was horrendous,” he says. “My mother adopted me when I was four. She saved me…”

“And you save others,” Sarah finishes. Christian smiles a small smile.

“They save me, too,” he says, looking around at all of us. “Everybody at this table has saved me in one way or another—lovingly raising my children, protecting me and my wife, protecting my heart… and even you, helping me to get her back.” Sarah purses her lips.

“I count it an honor… to be counted among such a wonderful group of people,” she says, her voice cracking. Christian squeezes her hand.

“You’re my fairy godmother,” he says. “I wouldn’t have her if it wasn’t for you…”

“And you’re my savior,” I concur, gently taking her other hand. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”

“Well, I must thank you both. For the first time, I…” she pauses and chokes up a little. I squeeze the hand that I’m holding. “I’ve never been so at peace… at least not for a long time. Thank you.”

We converse a little longer before Sarah declares that she’s tired. We give her the option to take one of the guest rooms or Ben could take her back to the Fairmont Olympic. She agrees to stay, and Gail retrieves something for her to wear to sleep. We bid her goodnight and she heads to the guest room to turn in. It’s still fairly early, but she’s tired from an emotional couple of days.

My baby time is interrupted when I get a call from Aaron. He’s preparing to fly to Lake Como in the morning to see the villa in person. Like me, he couldn’t get a feel for the space with the virtual walkthrough. He saw the plans, however, and wants to confirm what he thinks he sees in the layout before he commits to a design.

“This is what I need you to do while I’m checking this place out,” he says. “Google, Facebook, Pinterest, whatever. Start getting an idea of how you want this place to look. If you hit a brick wall, I’ll come up with some ideas myself, which I’m going to do anyway. We still have time to do some painting if you want, just no crazy texturing stuff. If you do it in one or two rooms, you’re going to have to do it in more and we don’t have time for that. Did you have anything in mind?”

“All I know for sure is that I don’t want a remake of this house in Italy,” I tell him. “When I go to Italy, I want to feel like I’m in an Italian villa, not like I’m in Grey Crossing… only in Italy.”

“Well, if there are already columns there, you’re not going to be able to avoid that,” he says.

“Yeah, I figured as much,” I reply, “but if any of the rooms have exposed beams, that’ll be a plus.” He’s quiet for a moment.

“In that case, I suggest you Google Tuscan or old-world Italian. I’ll let you know which style will work better in the space and we’ll go from there.”

“You know I’m totally out of my element here, right?” I sigh.

“I had a feeling that you would be, but just Google Italian Villa. I’ll make a Pinterest page and make you a contributor. Then you can upload anything that you see that you like.”

“Um, Aaron, what’s Pinterest?” I ask. He’s silent again.

“You’re joking, right?” he says.

“No,” I reply. I hear him scoff on the other end.

“Watch your email,” he says.

I come to find out that Pinterest is yet another social network, but it’s more like albums and boards to share ideas and interests. You gather these ideas from the internet or even from your own files and you upload them to the board. You can organize your page by different interests, then you pin pictures to the board related to the topic… hence the name Pinterest.

You can make the boards public so that the whole world can see them, or you can make them private, so that only the contributors can see them. Our board—Italian Villa Ideas—is private. He has put a couple of pictures on the board to get me started.

The first one is labeled European Modern. I twist my lips and examine it. It looks just like what I said I didn’t want—Grey Crossing, but in Italy. The next picture is labeled Classic Tuscan. It looks more promising, as does Old-World Italian. I type each of the styles into Google and Pinterest and see what I come up with.

After only a few minutes of browsing, I quickly come to learn that I have absolutely no interest in the European Modern, everyone seems to have classic Tuscan, and old world Italian is not what I thought it was, but of the three, it’s going to be my best bet.

During my browsing, I see one extremely expensive décor idea–square furniture, sheet covers, all white… everything was white. There wasn’t a splash of color anywhere. The only things that weren’t white were the hardwood floors and the black piano. The bedding, the walls, the sofas, the lamps, the tables, the chandeliers—everything was white. It actually hurt my eyes.

On almost every site that I visit that talks about any kind of old-world, vintage, or throwback design, for lack of a better word, I keep seeing the phrases Baroque and Rococo, so I decide to look them up.

They look the same to me. Even the descriptions are the same. Baroque came first and Rococo is like Baroque, Jr. only with less of the gold and gold-leaf flamboyance. Since the most important architecture of the time between the 16th and 18th Centuries was the churches and the aristocracy, each of these styles lends itself to one of these factions.

The Baroque style of furniture and architecture was used mostly for cathedrals and temples. Art, at the time, was either political or religious. In this case, religious of course. During our trip, we’re going to see some of the most decorative and theatrical cathedrals in the world, as the church paid for art that made a dramatic religious statement, and cathedrals and churches were all decked out to win souls and show mere mortals on earth what kind of heavenly riches awaited their immortal souls.

In slight—and only slight—contrast, the Rococo style of furniture toned down the Baroque just a bit by replacing its over-the-top gold décor with white and some pastel colors, muting the Baroque only in that way without taking away from the intricate stylings, curves, and swirls of the architecture.

So, which do I want?

I think a calmer version of Baroque but not quite Rococo. Rococo has a lot of white, and I’m not feeling that, but Baroque has a lot of gold and that seems too much. We need to meet somewhere in the middle. We need the air of aristocracy from the Rococo mixed with the majesty and romance of the Baroque. Do we have the time for all that?

“Planning on sleeping in, Mrs. Grey?” Christian’s voice breaks my concentration. I raise my head to see him standing in the doorway of my office, leaning on the frame with his arms crossed.

“That wasn’t my intention,” I say, “but Aaron’s headed to Italy tomorrow to check out the villa, and he told me to look at some styles and get some ideas for what I wanted to see in the house.”

“How’s that going?” he says, walking into the room.

“Oh, God, it’s so much more than I care to explain,” I lament. He frowns.

“Why?” he says. “Pick some furniture and let him do the rest.”

“You would say that,” I say, after twisting my lips. “Now I understand why you were so blasé when I freaked out about 14 bedrooms.” He shrugs.

“I’ve always just said, ‘This is what I want to see’ and set a decorator loose,” he says. “You picked a lot of what was happening in this house, remember?”

“I had a lot more time with this house,” I say, stretching and yawning.

“It can’t be that bad. Let me see what you’ve got.” He comes around the desk and I just sit back in my chair and let him see the Pinterest page covered in ideas and model rooms of both Baroque and Rococo as well as what I think an old world kitchen should look like, and a Tuscan room here and there. He pauses.

“Oh,” he says. “We’re going that route.” My brow furrows.

“What do you mean that route?” I ask. He looks at me, then back at the laptop.

“What you’re looking for is vintage stuff,” he says, “classic furnishings and things. It could take some time to pull that off.”

“Well, this is what I want,” I say, somewhat pouty. “If I wanted the whole clean, sleek lines thing, I could stay home.” Christian purses his lips.

“What does Aaron say?” he asks.

“I told you, he’s not going to Italy until tomorrow, but he told me to gather ideas for what I want, and I told him the same thing that I told you. I want to feel like I’m in Italy when we go to Italy… Jesus, what time is it?” I yawn and look down at the clock on my computer.

Three fourteen… Good Lord, I need to go to bed!

“Well, that’s it for me,” I say, locking my computer and standing.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Christian says, taking my hand and leading me out of the office.

*-*

“Well, how did this happen?” I ask when I enter my kitchen on Saturday morning.

“Well,” Ms. Solomon begins. “I found Sarah here snooping around in my refrigerator. When I asked what she was doing, she said that she wanted to make breakfast for everyone. Well, I wouldn’t hear of it, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, while we’re planning our menu, in walks Sophie begging to be part of the powwow. Since I knew you all weren’t due to emerge for at least another hour and a half, Sophie insisted on doing crepes and once I saw her technique… well, the rest is history.”

Sarah laughs, wearing my chef’s apron and taking a pan of fresh, homemade biscuits from the oven. Sophie happily adds another crepe to a mountain of cooked crepes and covers them with a teacloth, and Ms. Solomon continues to sauté what looks like mushrooms.

“It smells divine in here, ladies,” I say, taking a seat at the breakfast bar.

“Brunch will be ready in fifteen,” Sarah says while brushing melted butter onto the biscuits and causing my mouth to water.

“Sarah, I never asked, and I hope I don’t offend, but what exactly is your nationality? I can’t quite place it,” I say.

“You never would have, child,” she says sweetly. “I’m a mut. I’m a mixture of Asian, Polynesian, European, and African American.”

“Really?” I say. “You’re a walking melting pot.”

“That I am. My mother was Hawaiian, Asian, and European and my father was Samoan and African American. I’m told that there’s some Native American sprinkled in my bloodline somewhere, but I never traced it.”

“I knew the minute I saw her,” Ms. Solomon says. “My grandmother was Hawaiian—from Kauai, to be exact. She reminds me of her… when I was a kid.”

“Sophie’s cooking?” I hear my husband’s voice as he enters the kitchen from the dining room. “Whatcha cooking, Sophie?”

“It’s not just me, Uncle Christian. It’s all of us,” Sophie says with mirth.

“Sarah, this is very sweet, and totally unnecessary,” Christian says, sitting on the seat next to me.

“I tried to tell her,” Ms. Solomon says, pouring her sautéed vegetables into a small serving bowl.

“I wanted to,” she says, waving him off. “I haven’t been able to cook like this in years. I always dreamed of having grandkids all playing in my home while I baked their favorites in the kitchen. Even though I couldn’t have any children of my own, I was hopeful when I married Fletcher and he had children. Well… you know how that turned out.” Her voice falls a bit, but Sophie is quick to the rescue.

“What kind of baking do you do?” she asks. “Like traditional American? Cakes and stuff?” Sarah perks up a bit.

“Cakes, cookies, breads,” Sarah says. “I can cook just fine, but baking is my passion.”

“Then you should be here at Christmas,” Sophie says, her eyes large. “There’s all kinds of cakes and pies, but Aunt Ana bakes enough cookies to feed an army!” Sarah laughs and looks at me.

“You don’t say?” she asks. I shrug.

“It’s a tradition that I bake a lot of cookies and give some away. I know how to make the recipe bigger; I just don’t know how to make it smaller,” I tell her, spreading my hands apart from each other on bigger an bringing them closer together on smaller. Sarah laughs.

“You come from a big family?” she asks. I shake my head.

“Only child until a couple of years ago,” I reply.

“That’s right. You said that last night,” Sarah acknowledges. “Well, maybe we could share some secret recipes this year.”

“I would love that!” I reply.

“And that glutton is not getting a single cookie!” Christian declares, brooding. I scoff.

“Oh, my God, you’re still thinking about that?” I lament.

“I told you I wouldn’t forget,” Christian says, pouring a cup of coffee. My shoulders fall and I’m looking over at Sophie, pleading.

“I’m making a batch tonight, Uncle Christian,” Sophie says. “I’ll make sure you get your own.” My husband’s eyes sparkle for a moment, but then he remembers himself.

“Well… okay… I may let him have some cookies in that case,” he sulks. I almost expect his bottom lip to poke out in a full-on pout.

“Okay, I can’t take it anymore. I’m dying to know what this is about,” Sarah says. I chuckle quietly.

“Come, Ms. Sarah,” I say. “Let me help you ladies get breakfast on the table and I will bestow upon you the saga of the chocolate truffle…”

We sit down to a brunch of five different varieties of sweet or savory crepes, fried potatoes and onions, baby mushrooms sautéed in butter, fresh fruit and cream, scrambled eggs, and maple sausage as I tell Sarah the story about Sophie’s dinner and delectable chocolate truffles and two grown men behaving like toddlers over the remaining chocolates. Jason and Gail join us at breakfast at which time, Jason declares that Christian won’t get any if he sees them first. That’s when I tell him that I have “contracted” Sophie to make Christian his own batch of truffles. Christian then gives Jason that “game, set, match” look which elicits a grunt from Jason.

Marilyn joins us last, thanking Sarah for introducing her to a new method of meditating this morning and declaring that she had completely lost track of time. While noting that Sarah had been quite the busy little bee this morning, I also note that Marilyn eats a few more eggs than usual, some fruit, a bite or two of one of Sophie’s apple cinnamon crepes, and a healthy glass of orange juice. That’s the most I’ve seen her eat in months. Gary is absent from the table, but she informs us that he had to work today—some special event at City of Music.

“Well,” I say as we’re drinking our after-brunch coffees and beverages, “Sarah and I are going to do some shopping—just some necessities and maybe some fun stuff here and there. Anybody want to come with?” I look at Marilyn.

“You know it’s been a busy week for me, Bosslady,” she says. “I just want to kick back and relax a bit.” I nod. She’s right. We’ve been quite busy getting back into the swing of things, and her week has been full of doctor’s appointments and therapists and… Gary. She most like does need the rest. I turn to Sophie.

“That sounds like a lot of fun, Aunt Ana, but I gotta go see the egg donor today.” I flinch a bit when she says that. I look at Jason who simply shrugs. Shalane’s selfish behavior is destroying whatever relationship she could possibly have with Sophie and she doesn’t care. So, Sophie calls her the most spiteful thing that she can without cursing. Last weekend, she was, “a word I can’t say.” This weekend, she’s the egg donor.

“Be strong,” I say, squeezing her hand.

“Thanks, but I don’t need to be strong,” she says. “Second only to the whole drug-dealer thing, she’s doing the crummiest thing to me right now that she can ever do. So, I don’t need strength to deal with her. Patience, maybe, but not strength.” That’s confusing to me.

“Why would you need patience?” I ask, bemused.

“To sit through an entire hour-long visit with her, stare at her and not say a word,” Sophie responds. I form an “O” with my mouth.

“Do you know that’s what happens?” I ask Jason. He nods.

“Yeah, I can’t go in there alone,” Sophie continues. “Dad has to take me once or twice a month or something to prove to them that he’s not keeping me away from her. So, I just sit there and stare at her and wait until it’s over.”

That would rip my heart out if my kids felt that way about me.

“I don’t even know what to say about that,” I say.

“It’s a crummy way to spend a Saturday, so I’ll be glad to make the chocolate truffles when I get back,” she says. Jason sighs.

“It’s time to get ready, Baby Boo,” he says, regretfully. Sophie nods and stands from the table.

“Ms. Sarah, when you come over again, can you show me some of your baking recipes?” Sophie asks.

“I sure can, child,” she says, and Sophie smiles.

“Thank you. It was really nice meeting you. Bye, everybody,” and away she goes to prepare for her jail house visit with her mom.

“I won’t pry,” Sarah says, “but I see a tragic story there.”

“Very tragic,” I reply.

“She’s a good girl,” Jason says. “I’m trying to… undo some of the damage her mother did, for lack of a better word. She’s so grown up and she knows so much to be so young.”

“How old is she?” Sarah asks.

“She’ll be 14 in May,” Gail says. Sarah shakes her head.

“She’s seen too much to be so young,” she says. “It’s all in her face.” Jason twists his lips.

“Yes, she has,” he says, “but I’m blessed. When I say that she’s a good girl, she’s really a good girl.” He finishes his coffee and kisses his wife. “Sarah, Your Highness,” he says with a nod, then leaves the table. Sarah turns to me.

“He calls you Your Highness?” she asks incredulously. Oh, God… is that the first time she heard that?

“It started as a joke that I’m regretting to this day and I’ll probably be regretting it for the rest of my life.” I lament. “Let’s go shopping…”

Sarah and I head to Walmart where she chooses her toiletries and a few items of clothing and creature comforts to make her feel at home. She’s modest with her purchases, being mindful of what she has left on the prepaid card that we gave her. I don’t fuss since she’s staying in a hotel, but we’ll most likely furnish her apartment once she finds one. I try to convince her to move into Grey Crossing with us so that she won’t be alone at the Fairmont Olympic. She assures me that she’s grateful for the alone time. It helps her to sort out her thoughts and to wrap her mind around what’s going on.

We go to a few more stores for some other miscellaneous items before we stop to rest at Starbuck’s.

“Christian calls me his fairy godmother,” she says as we sit in the café, “but I really think it’s the other way around.” I sigh.

“I totally understand why you would feel that way,” I tell her. “My husband is very generous with his wealth. He doesn’t just hand it out, mind you, but he’s quite philanthropic. He also enjoys sharing his good fortune with the people that he loves, and he never forgets a debt. It’s important to him… to us… that you don’t see this as a handout, Sarah. There’s no dollar value that we could put on what you gave us, what you did for us with that seemingly small gesture that cost you your job.” I take a deep breath and steel myself for the story I’m about to tell her.

“The two men in the video who kidnapped me took me to a remote location and handcuffed me naked to a bed for several days,” I say, looking down into my coffee. “One of them wanted money; the other wanted me. His plan was to take me to an even more remote location and keep me prisoner there until I fell in love with him. Even then, he never intended to let me go.” Sarah gasps.

“What made him think that kidnapping you would make you fall in love with him?” she asks horrified.

“He was sick,” I reply. “He was an ex who couldn’t accept that I was moving on. We hadn’t dated for four years by the time this happened, so…” I push my hair behind my ears. “I’m a psychiatrist, Sarah, and I still can’t tell you what was going on in his screwed-up head.

“I wouldn’t eat while I was there—they had drugged me with propofol at the aquarium, and I was sure that he would put something in my food to subdue me again once he was ready to move me. I also thought that if I starved myself, then he would have to take me to the hospital unless he wanted to just let me die… either way, it would have been better than where I was.” Sarah’s brow furrows.

“Are you saying that you were trying to kill yourself?” she asks. I shake my head.

“No,” I say calmly. “I knew the bastard was unstable, but I knew he wouldn’t let me die. The thought had crossed my mind throughout the ordeal, though… not the thought of killing myself, but the thought of dying because my circumstances were so unbearable. I knew Christian would never stop looking for me, but I knew that David was crazy enough that it would be improbable that he would find me.

“When they identified David and his accomplice, it made him nervous. He gave me my phone and told me to call Christian and tell him that I had left, that David didn’t kidnap me. I didn’t know that Christian had seen the video of my abduction or how they knew that David and Harris had taken me. I heard the two of them fighting about it and that’s how I found out. When he gave me my phone, I was able to make an emergency call and fool David into talking about the kidnapping while a 911 dispatcher listened. I was only hoping that Christian was tracking my phone signal and would pick it up when my phone was turned on.”

“So, that’s how they found you?” she asks, “from your phone signal?” I nod.

“It was a chain reaction,” I tell her. “Seeing the video made it possible for them to identify what happened to me and who took me. As long as nobody knew who they were, they were safe. The minute their pictures and identities were released to the media—with and without their disguises—they weren’t safe anymore. This pushed David’s hand and he became desperate. They would either have to stay where they were or move me quickly. Harris was in it for the money. He was a disgruntled employee who got fired because of me, so he had a bone to pick, but he wasn’t going to sit still while the authorities closed in on him.

“He had beaten me several times while I was chained to the bed,” I continue. “He wanted the pin numbers to my credit and debit cards, and I gave them to him. I knew that Christian’s team would be watching my bank accounts, too. It all culminated in my rescue since we had current pictures of them with their disguises as well as pictures of their original appearances. They had to move fast, and they became sloppy, so…” I trail off.

“So, what became of them? Did they go to jail?” she asks.

“They’re both deceased now,” I tell her. “Harris died in a shoot-out with the police when they got to the house where they were holding me hostage. David was arrested, tried, and convicted. A few months later, they found him hanging in his jail cell.” There was no need to fill in the dirty little details of what led to David’s ultimate demise—or the fact that we’re still not totally sure it was a suicide.

“I didn’t know they beat you,” she says sadly. I purse my lips to force away the tears.

“It was pretty bad,” I reply. “I was hospitalized for a while. The bruises left me unrecognizable. Christian was so sweet,” I remember fondly. “He wouldn’t allow me to feel ugly or undesirable for one moment, even with my face all swollen and purple…” She covers her mouth at my description. I reach across the table and take her hand.

“Your actions saved me from that, Sarah,” I tell her. “This is why it’s imperative that you understand that this—none of this—is a handout. I was on the inside. I knew their plan; I heard it. If we had to wait for warrants to find out who had taken me or what had happened to me, I never would’ve seen Christian again. I’d be chained in some basement right now, going insane, being raped or beaten or God only knows what, assuming I had lived through the ordeal. You. Saved. Me, Sarah. I owe you my life, and I will spend the rest of my life showing you just how grateful I am.” She nods, wiping away a tear.

“It’s so hard to imagine one little action being a part of such a big thing,” she admits. “And I lost my job… I still wouldn’t have done anything different.” She raises her gaze and looks off into the distance at nothing in particular.

“That young man looked so distressed,” she says. “He was heartbroken and begging for my help. I tried to explain that to my boss, but it was no use. He couldn’t hear it. He was talking about how the guys in the video could have sued us. I never knew what happened in the end—I didn’t keep up with it, I’m sorry. There was so much going on in my life at the time…”

“I wish we had known,” I tell her. “We could have prevented so much of that.”

“Everything in its time, child,” she says, sipping her coffee. I take her hand again, just as I see Chuck gesturing out the window. I follow his gesture and see a very unwelcomed sight.

“Well,” I tell her. “We’re going to have to take our beverages to go. Being who I am and especially in light of the various events that have recently occurred in Nevada, I often find myself the object of unwanted attention. As such, the press is just outside.” She turns to look.

“I… don’t see anybody,” she says bemused.

“Black Celica two cars back across the street,” I tell her. “There’s a guy in the driver’s seat aiming a telephoto lens right at us. And the sandwich shop just over there,” I gesture with my head. “There are two of them in there sitting at different tables.”

“Don’t you find that intrusive?” she asks.

“Sometimes,” I reply. “As long as it’s not during a particularly rough time in my life or they’re not disrespectful, I don’t mind them getting a picture or two. Everybody has to stay employed. It’s when they make up stories or they’re vicious with their headlines that it bothers me.”

Chuck gathers our bags and leaves Starbucks. A few moments later, he pulls up in the Audi, and Sarah and I leave the coffee house without incident.


CHRISTIAN

“You don’t look happy,” I say when Jason comes into my office later Saturday evening. He shakes his head.

“Sophie’s making the truffles,” he says before he takes his seat.

“That’s what has you in a mood?” I ask. He’s silent for a moment.

“I can’t call her any more names,” he begins. “There are no words left to describe this person anymore. She’s never going to sign those papers. She sat there yammering and yammering for an entire hour like she and Sophie were having a wonderful visit, and Sophie never said a word. I don’t even think she blinked. It’s not going to happen, Christian. She’s not giving in. Sophie’s not going to Italy this year.”

“What are our other options?” I ask hopeful.

“Nothing that will be done by June,” he says. “Court orders, filing for sole custody… I’ve got Allen on filing court orders, but it probably won’t do us any good until next year. Sophie’s being so mature about it. She’s upset that she can’t go, but she’s not throwing any temper tantrums or anything—besides not speaking to her mother at the visits—but she’s resigned to her fate. She expects for anything involving her mother to be a disappointment and yes, we all know that life isn’t fair, and you have to take the good with the bad, but this is a lesson that she’s learning too soon. Some disappointments can be avoided, and this is one of them.

“So now she had to rise above the disappointment and try to function knowing that the family is going to Italy and she can’t go. Of course, this means that Gail can’t go either because one of us has to be here with Sophia.”

Wow, I hadn’t even thought of that.

“I offered to sign her up for cooking classes for the summer if she wanted them, but you’ve tasted her cooking. Her first meal… she’s a natural. She doesn’t need classes, but the experience would have been invaluable!”

“Don’t give up hope yet, Jason. There’s got to be something we can do,” I comfort. He shakes his head.

“Allen is looking into it, but trust me, I don’t think so. This is federal. This is beyond taking a kid across state lines—this is taking a kid out of the country. Either it’s done right, or it’s not done at all. If I do anything sideways with this, she’s got me by the balls even in jail.”

I know this, that’s why I have Allen making sure our twins are good to travel, but…

“If we need a court order, it’s only a matter of finding a sympathetic judge,” I point out.

“I know that, too, but it still has to be on the up-and-up, Christian, or this whole thing could blow up in my face.” I sigh.

“I wish there was something I could do,” I say.

“I wish there was, too,” he replies, “but this time, I don’t think so. Unless I’m looking to smuggle her out and smuggle her back in again, this isn’t happening.” He leans forward in his seat and I go over to the bar in the bookshelf. Retrieving two shot glasses, I pour us both a shot of bourbon. I hand him the shot and he throws it back like water. I offer him the bottle for another shot, but he shakes his head.

“It was a burn,” he says, looking out ahead of him. What was a burn? “All this time, she had me thinking it was a bike accident. It was a burn.”

He’s talking about the scar on Sophie’s hand. He’s still digesting that the terrible gash was a burn and not a cut.

“What child in the world deserves what this woman has put her through?” he asks. “She went on drug binges and left her alone for days. She had to hide money and things from that woman to keep her from taking them. She was in this house for three days before Shalane even knew she was gone! She could’ve been kidnapped, lost, hurt, dead, anything, and that woman didn’t even know she was gone.

“But then she takes my daughter on a drug drop, offers her as payment for a drug debt, then tells the police that I’m dead so that my daughter can end up in the system! What’s going on with this woman? I know that drugs fuck up your brain cells, but they can’t have her brain fried this badly!

“She’s systematically destroying this kid’s life! Sophie has done everything humanly possible to combat the things her mother has done to her, and she’s turned out to be a great kid in the process—a great kid! Even from jail, Shalane is reaching out to do whatever damage she possibly can. It’s killing me, man.”

He leans his elbows on his knees and shakes his head.

“You know what she said on the way back?” he asks, turning his gaze to me. “She said, ‘Thanks for not being anything she tried to say you were.’ She said that she already knew that her mother was lying, but she could never see for herself because she never spent enough time with me. Now that she could, she just thanked me for being a great dad. She told me that she would get over not going to Italy, and that she didn’t blame me, but that she’s never going to get over her mother doing this to her.

“So… her truffles are her way of dealing with the disappointment. She used cooking to escape when she was a kid… and she’s doing it now.”

I find interest in something on the bookshelf as my head of security and best friend chokes up a bit but quickly recovers.

“Sure you don’t want another drink?” I ask.

“I’m sure,” he says, clearing his throat. “Thanks for listening.”

“If there’s anything I can do…” I begin.

“I know, Boss,” he replies. He stands and I give his shoulder a firm squeeze before he leaves my office. I shoot over a text to Allen to beseech him to do everything legally possible to get this court order pushed through for Jason. I know that without calling in a favor or pushing someone’s hand that these things can take forever, and he’s right. This situation has to be completely clean and correct or he could end up in a really bad place because of it.

I realize that I’m a lucky ass bastard marrying the goddess that I married. She’s a wonderful woman, a fantastic mother, a brilliant doctor, a mind-blowing lover, an excellent cook… I can imagine that Jason must’ve felt most of those things for Shalane when they were together or he wouldn’t have married the cow. What on earth could make someone become so bitter and hateful to someone they claimed to love? I hope I never cross that threshold. I didn’t want to speak to my wife when I felt she betrayed me, but I didn’t hate her. I was hurt, but I could never hate her. These two clearly hate each other, and Sophia is becoming collateral damage.

With an unyielding urge to suddenly see my children, I take the elevator to the second floor to their nursery. I’m pleased to find that they’re alone in their room, fast asleep in their respective crib. I’ll take responsibility and tend to them if they wake up, but I have to hold them.

I scoop Minnie into my arms first since she’s closest to the door. She doesn’t even stir. It’s harder to get Mikey into my arm with his sister on my shoulder, but I manage it. He stirs a bit, but he settles once I sit in the rocker and get him in a comfortable position. I remember my wife sitting in this room, in that window, telling Minnie the story of Cinderella and how she didn’t like being Cinderella.

That will never do.

I don’t know any fairytales. I’ve seen them with my wife, and we’ve watched them with our children, but I can’t remember any of them… except the Gingerbread Man… and that one had a horrendous ending.

“I’m not as creative as your mother,” I tell them. “I don’t know what I’m going to do when you get older and you want me to tell you a story. The only one I remember is The Gingerbread Man, and he… heck if I’m going to be telling you that story.

“I can tell you this, though,” I say. “Monsters are real… and dragons are real… and bad guys are real… and there really are things that go bump in the night, but you know what? There really are knights in shining armor that save you from danger…”

Like bullets from a crazy blonde and cars used as missiles to destroy the one you love.

“And there really are fairy godmothers and princesses…”

Godmothers that risk everything to let you see a video to save your princess.

“And I’m still working on that ‘happily ever after’ thing, but I know for a fact that you can live a pretty darn happy life…”

Like living in a castle with a beautiful princess and two wonderful children and great friends with a king and a queen in the kingdom who saved you from the dragon that burned holes in your chest and back…

“I swear to God that I’ll never let anything bad happen to either of you,” I promise, and I feel a tear fall down my cheek. “I swear on my life that I’ll do everything I can to protect you from danger. I’ll slay every dragon and kill every bad guy…”

I can’t get any more words out of my mouth. I know that there may be something out there that I can’t protect them from. I can’t promise to keep them safe from everything because no human alive can do that, and the thought kills me. The thought that I can’t keep danger away from my children… dear God…

“I’ll fight with my last breath to keep you safe,” I sob quietly. “I swear that to you… I’ll kill anyone who tries to hurt you…”

What if I can’t? What if something gets to my precious babies and I can’t save them? What if I fail?

I hold my slumbering children close to me and cry about the monsters I may not be able to catch…

“Chteestin?”

I blink my eyes open at the sound of my name… or some version of it. I’m still holding my children and I’m leaning back in the rocking chair. The sun is peeking through the shades in their windows and Keri is looking down at me, gently rousing me awake.

“Keri,” I say sleepily. “What time is it?”

“Eight o’clock,” Gail says. “We came to check the children to see why they didn’t wake, and now we know why.”

I stretch as much as I can under my children to keep from waking them.

“Here, give them to us,” Gail says, reaching for Mikey.

“No,” I protest quietly, “don’t wake them.”

“Eet’s time, Chteestin,” Keri says. “Dey need dere bat an’ btekfest.”

Bat an btekfest? Oh, bath and breakfast!

“Oh,” I say stretching. “Oh, yes… of course.” I reluctantly hand my children to their nannies. “Is Butterfly awake yet?”

“Not that we noticed, but we came straight up here,” Gail says before carrying Mikey to the en suite. Jesus, I slept for a long time in the chair, and the children didn’t stir either… not once all night.

Still working the minor cricks out of my joints, I go to the owner’s suite to find that my wife is no longer in bed. She was here, but she’s started her day already. We headed in different directions last night after we came home from meeting with our mentors. Well, not immediately after.

Our training wasn’t intensive. We talked about our scene in Las Vegas, the first one that we’ve had since we started training. We confessed to not having as much Downtime as we should, vowing to correct that situation soon. Certain that we’ve garnered the most that we can at this point from our mentors, we agree to meet once a month, even if it happens to be a munch, just to stay on top of our relationship and lifestyle goals. Savvina and Artemis have helped us tremendously in redirecting our relationship as it relates to the Dominus/soumise dynamic, and I couldn’t be happier. I was never displeased when my wife took the reins and I don’t think I ever will be. I just hope she still chooses to do so since the focus has mainly been on her as the soumise.

When we got home, I showed her the pictures of our candle play from Las Vegas. I had them enlarged, printed in black and white and framed. Then I put them in the playroom. Butterfly agreed that they’re absolutely stunning… and hot! Good grief, they’re hot! They incited a fast, hard, and hot fuck in the playroom and then we went our separate ways, her to the shower and most likely to bed, and me to my study.

After a hot shower to loosen my muscles and bones, I go in search of my wife. I find her in the family playroom, doing yoga with Marilyn. It’s a welcome sight, and I watch for a moment, but decide not to disturb them. I go to the kitchen to find Ms. Solomon preparing breakfast.

“Good morning, Ms. Solomon,” I say as I pour a cup of coffee.

“Good morning, Mr. Grey,” she greets.

“Who’s awake?” I ask.

“I’ve seen everyone but the Taylors,” she says. I go to the refrigerator.

“Gail is with Keri and the twins,” I say. “Maybe Jason is still asleep.” I see Sophie’s truffles in the refrigerator and I take one.

“You’re not going to eat those now, are you?” Ms. Solomon scolds.

“Just one,” I say and pop it into my mouth before she can stop me. The confection is just as divine as it was the first night I tasted it. I take the bowl with the remaining chocolates and tuck it into a drawer in the refrigerator. These are not community chocolates and I won’t have a certain distressed glutton pilfering my treats.

“Can’t wait for breakfast, bro?” I hear off to my right. I lean back and see Elliot and Valerie walking into the kitchen holding hands.

“Mind your own business,” I say, closing the refrigerator. “Who invited you, anyway?” I add, throwing a glare at him. I walk over to Valerie and kiss her on the cheek.

“You’re in a good mood,” she says, smiling and maybe a bit surprised at the kiss.

“I spent the night with my children,” I say, sipping my coffee and heading to the dining table.

“Montana mad at you?” Elliot probes as he and Valerie follow me back to the dining room.

“No,” I say, “I just spent a little more time in the nursery with them than I intended and fell asleep.”

“Where did you sleep, in Mikey’s crib?” Valerie jests. I chuckle.

“No, I slept in the rocker while telling them a story.”

“Remind me not to let you tell me any stories,” Elliot says.

“Well, hey, look what the cat dragged in,” Butterfly says as she and Marilyn join us for breakfast. She kisses Valerie, then Elliot, and they exchange pleasantries.

“You didn’t come to bed. You okay?” she asks before kissing me on my forehead.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I assure her. “I went in to check on the ‘mini-me’s’ and our conversation was so riveting that I just fell asleep.” She twists her lips in disbelief.

“Seriously, Christian?” she accuses.

“Seriously,” I reply. “Ask Keri. She woke me.” Butterfly shakes her head and pulls out her phone as she takes her seat.

“Oh, well, this is just great,” my wife says as she swipes her screen.

“What?” I ask. She looks at the screen for a few more moments then hands it to me. There’s a picture of her and Sarah sitting in a Starbuck’s with the caption:

Anastasia Grey Enjoys Shopping Spree with Mother Figure While Bio-Mom Lies Paralyzed and Infirm in Las Vegas Hospital

“Are you kidding me?” I say.

“Tell me about it,” she replies.

“What is it?” Valerie asks and I hand her the phone.

“Hm,” she says. “Not enough going on in the news, I see.”

“Exactly,” Butterfly says, retrieving the phone from Valerie. “Carla Morton could not be reached for comment. Of course, she can’t. She’s infirm, you assholes.” She shakes her head. “Mother figure… They don’t even know who she is! She started out as an intake at Helping Hands. For all they know, they can be plastering her all over the news and endangering her life!”

“Okay, no more paparazzi at the table,” I scold. “They’ll always find something, Butterfly. You know that.”

“Or make it up if they don’t,” she says, swiping her screen and putting her phone away. “So, what brings you guys over today?” She puts her napkin in her lap and looks at Valerie.

“I needed the company,” she says. “It’s… Meg’s birthday.” Butterfly’s brow furrows.

“Meg’s birthday?” she says, bemused. “Oh! Meg!” she says, realization dawning. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she says. “It’s just unnerving any time Meg rears her ugly head—figuratively or physically.” I look at Elliot and he inconspicuously points at his head before scratching it. I nod just as inconspicuously, silently mouthing an “oh” at him.

“Was this… this was the day of the surgery, right?” Butterfly asks. Valerie nods. “You’re alright, aren’t you? There’s been no…” She trails off.

“Oh! Oh, no, I’m fine. There’s been no recurrences. I just… didn’t want to be… alone, you know? I was alone when I found out about it and when I went to surgery—except for El, of course… I just wanted to be around more friends and family, that’s all.”

“Of course,” Butterfly says, reaching out and grasping her friend’s hand. “I’m so glad you came over. We can hang out and talk all day like we used to before we had to start adulting.” She and Butterfly laugh.

“Yeah, I love El and George, but it’s hard to have a girl’s day with them,” Valerie says. Butterfly’s brow furrows.

“Um, who’s George?” Butterfly asks. Valerie scoffs.

“You didn’t tell them about George?” she says to Elliot.

“I told him,” Elliot says, pointing to me.

“George is only the most adorable mongrel you’ve ever seen!” Valerie proclaims. “We got him from the rescue a few weeks ago and he’s just too lovable.” She retrieves her phone, swipes the screen, and gives the phone to Butterfly.

“What kind of dog is this?” Butterfly says with mirth.

“We have no idea,” Elliot admits. “He’s a mutt—that’s all we know.”

“He looks like Benji,” Butterfly says, handing the phone to me. She’s right. He does kind of look like Benji.

“That’s what I said,” Valerie replies. “They didn’t know what kind of dog Benji was, either, but I did learn that a trainer once said that he was a mix between a Miniature Poodle, a Cocker Spaniel, and Schnauzer. So, that’s what we’re going with until someone tells us different.”

“Well, I think he’s adorable,” Butterfly says as Ms. Solomon begins to serve breakfast and I give Valerie back her phone. “How’s his temperament?”

“The most vicious thing on that dog is his tail,” Valerie replies. “He likes apples and he just wants to be loved. He licks everybody he meets than waits for treats.” She laughs.

“He sounds like the perfect little companion…”

We talk some more about Elliot and Valerie’s dog and the conversation wanders over to the Italian villa and the fact that Aaron has probably landed in Rome by now and will most likely get to the villa tomorrow. We shy away from the Gia Mateo as two people at the table would really rather not talk about her.

I look at my family sitting around the breakfast table and wonder why our story has to be so tragic. We’re all pretty much estranged from our original blood family—some by death; others because they’re just assholes. We all had to make a family—or were blessed with one—that’s not blood. And we all have a horrendous story or two to tell.

Branding…
Cigarette burns…
Cancer…
Miscarriages…

Is it true that the worst trials produce the best—and worst—people? I mean, look at Sophie. She’s striving and succeeding at being one of the best people I know at only 13 years old and look at the shit hand she’s been dealt so far. Seriously, who in God’s name deserves a mother like that?

Every time I think of her or I think of Carla or the crack whore, I just want to be the best father that I can possibly be. I want to show my children that there’s nothing that they can’t have or can’t do, and not because they’re rich, but because they’re loved. I want to chase away their Boogeymen or at least help them fight them. I want to celebrate their victories and comfort them in times of sorrow. I want them to know that as long as I’m alive, I’ll be there for them to comfort and protect them.

I want them to know that my horror story will never be theirs.


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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 23

As promised, a little bit of salve for this corona quarantine…

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

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

Season 5 Episode 23

ANASTASIA

“If it’s not too much trouble, would you please meet me at the hospital?”

I’ve happily spent Saturday with me and Sophie happily introducing my babies to my love of aquariums, then taking pictures with the Wax figures at Madame Tussauds before coming home and having a junk food/romcom night with all the girls since Gail and Sophie will be leaving tomorrow. I thought about sending the twins back, too, but decided against it since I’d rather have my babies here with me.

I had decided to take a trip to the chocolate factory this morning, but I have Dr. Lee on the line smugly requesting my presence at Summerlin. You wanna go that route, Doc? Fine by me.

“Save the sarcasm, Dr. Lee,” I retort, “and you can shove that judgmental attitude right up your ass. I’ve taken all I’m going to take from you and that self-righteous gaggle of nurses you have up there.” He’s silent for a moment, then he clears his throat.

“I apologize,” he says stoically. Save it.

“What have you decided?” Get to the point. I’m not making a trip out to Summerlin for you to throw more bullshit at me. He pauses again.

“Will you please come to the hospital and sign the documents giving us permission for Mrs. Morton’s psychiatric evaluation?” he replies. It’s about fucking time.

“I’ll be there as soon as is convenient,” I reply. “And Dr. Lee?”

“Yes?” he replies, his voice sounding a bit petulant.

“Anastasia Rose Steele, date of birth 10/18/85. You have my permission to obtain my medical records from UMC from March 2001, and I know that you can. Take a good look at what happened to me. Share it with those sanctimonious, critical nurses that keep giving me the side-eye and disrespecting me when I show up on the ICU. And as you’re reading that stuff, calculate how old I was when this occurred. Consider the fact that I was a straight-A student who did nothing at all to deserve what happened to me except allow myself to get raped by the most popular boy in school. Maybe that’ll answer some of your questions, if it’s not too much trouble!” I disconnect the call.

When I raise my head, Christian is standing in front of me.

“Do you need me to go with you?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say. The hell if I’m going into the enemy camp alone. He nods.

“So, what’s the verdict?” he probes.

“He’s going to request the psychiatric evaluation,” I reply. “He needs me to sign some papers.”

“That’s what we wanted, right?” he asks.

“Yep, that’s what I wanted.”

It’s sometime in the afternoon when I get to the hospital. I don’t go to my mother’s room. Instead, I go to the nurses’ station on the main floor and have them page Dr. Lee. My hope is to have this meeting in his office and avoid as much confrontation as possible. However, he sends word back to have me meet him at the nurses’ station on the second floor. I give Christian a knowing look.

“It’s gonna be that type of day, I see,” he says. He places his hand in the small of my back and leads me to the elevator.

I’m still hoping that he’s going to escort me from the nurses’ station to the second floor. He does not. He doesn’t even suggest that we go to a private area in the hospital—the corner of a waiting room or even into my mother’s room, which I really didn’t want, but it would have been better than being out here in front of the whole world. No, he just starts rattling away right there at the nurses’ station. The only privacy that I’m afforded is that if someone even approaches who is not medical personnel, he stops talking.

“I talked to Mrs. Morton yesterday. She was extremely detached, which I would expect under the circumstances. When I tried to discuss the details of the accident with her, she was very evasive, to say the least. This could have been a result of her injuries and the brain’s protective measures to forget the trauma, but I don’t think that’s what this is.”

He stops speaking for a moment to allow someone to pass.

“It wasn’t like she didn’t remember. It was as if she was deliberately avoiding answering the question. When I mentioned speaking to someone, a therapist, perhaps while she’s in the hospital, she didn’t respond. I went further to tell her that we wanted to be sure that she wasn’t a danger to herself and she just shrugged and looked out of the window.”

Another pause.

“I’m still not completely convinced that she’s not a danger to herself. However, she didn’t protest enough when I alluded to the possibility of being committed. So, what we’re going to do is called a Legal 2000. Because she was first admitted to the hospital for medical treatment, we will have her evaluated and observed by a psychiatrist over the next 72 hours. If the psychiatrist finds that there is no underlying psychiatric condition, the…”

Another pause. This is ridiculous.

“… The mental health hold will be discontinued after that time and a safe discharge plan will be developed. It may turn out that Mrs. Morton was overwhelmed by sadness and depression at the time and just made a hasty but drastic decision. As a mental health professional, I’m sure you know that there are ways to deal with that as opposed to committing her long term for fear that she’s a constant threat to herself.”

“I do,” I acknowledge coolly.

“She won’t be able to have any visitors during that time. She will be on restrictive care. This means that your guard won’t be necessary…”

“My security is not leaving that door,” I interrupt him. “We live a life where our privacy is constantly invaded and violated and her relationship to me exposes her to the same inconvenience, not to mention that since she’s in a public hospital, she’s even more vulnerable than she would be if she were at home. She could be exploited for a headline simply by someone walking past her window and snapping a phone pic. My security detail has specific instructions that no one gets into that room without permission, so you should actually be glad that they’re posted there to be sure that no one breaches the perimeter.” He sighs heavily.

“Very well, Dr. Grey. She could have agreed to the treatment herself, but she was too impassive and didn’t consent, so we contacted you…”  which means he wouldn’t have called me had she consented to treatment on her own. He’s going to be a thorn in my side

He hands me the forms and I read them over quickly, noting all the wherefores and whatnots before I sign them.

“We’ll give you some time to talk to her before she’s on restrictive care. ‘No visitors for the next three days’ means you as well,” he says.

“Is there anything else?” I ask.

“Not at this time,” he says. I nod. Since you want a fucking audience, you got one, Doc.

“I won’t bother asking why we didn’t have this conversation behind closed doors, but I will say this. If I have to encounter that high-handed attitude of yours one more time because you don’t approve of my behavior because I’m not falling all over the floor in tears, I’m going to have my mother moved, and there’s nothing you can do about that without a court order proving that I’m abusive or negligent, and we both know that I’m neither.” I glare at him and await his response.

“Understood,” he replies.

“I can’t help but wonder if the hospitals treated her this way when I was in a coma and she clearly didn’t care,” I shoot. I watch his face blanch a bit. “I’m assuming you read my medical file.”

“I… did, yes,” he responds.

“Good,” I say, turning to the nurses. “Since you’re all so hell-bent on treating me like crap because I’m not falling out in dismay over my mother’s condition, I want all of you who have children to imagine that was your 15-year-old daughter lying in that bed in a coma mutilated that way. And if you don’t have children, do what you’ve been doing all this time and imagine that it’s your mother.” I turn back to Dr. Lee.

“My mother treated me like vermin for years—the worst when I was in that hospital bed. I’m giving her a whole hell of a lot more than she ever afforded me!”

Without another word, I turn around and walk back to my mother’s room with Christian behind me. Abe is standing outside her door when I get there.

“You’re committing her?” Abe accuses, his eyes like fire. “Are you punishing her for what she did to you as a child? Is that what this is?”

“Not at all,” I respond. “What my mother did to me when I was a child is over and done. We can’t go back and change it. And she’s not being committed; she’s being evaluated. And she’s not being evaluated because she sucked as a mother when I was 15. She’s being evaluated because she possibly drove her car off an overpass. When I talk to her, she still wants to die. She sees no reason for living, nobody that she’s useful to, and now, she can’t walk. She’s even more useless in her own eyes than she was before.

“She may have tried to kill herself, Abe. If she gets the chance again, she’s going to succeed. She needs to heal from her guilt; she needs to heal from loving a man that she’ll never have again; and she needs to come to grips with her new way of life. She’s worth nothing to you, herself, or anybody else in the condition she’s in now. She needs help. I have to make sure that she gets it.”

“Is it me?” he asks, desperation in his voice. “Is this a test for me? I love her, Ana. I truly do. I’m not going anywhere. I swear I’ll stay by her side until she’s over that man, until she’s over this. She has a beautiful heart and she doesn’t know it. I don’t know what’s happened to her in her life. I don’t know your terror besides what she’s told me and what came out in court. I just know that right now… right here, right now… she has a big beautiful heart, and I want it. I want to fill it with all the love it can hold. Please… if this is a test for me…”

“It’s not,” I interrupt his shaking voice. “Abe… Carla. Needs. Help. If you love her like you say you do, be there for her. She’s going to try to send you away. Don’t let her. She’s going to need someone once this is over, but this is not going to be a quick or easy process. If you have any other intentions besides the pure and unadulterated love of that woman, walk away now. Spare yourself and her any further frustration and heartache. If this is going to be too much for you, walk away. Carla is nearly 50 years old and we’re literally going to be trying to teach an old dog new tricks. This may not be what you want, and no one will hold it against you if…”

“I’m not. Going. Anywhere,” he says firmly. “I refuse to leave her. Do what you must, but I’ll be here.” His eyes pin me, implore me, but demand that I hear what he’s saying.

“How long… have you been seeing my mother?” I ask. He swallows.

“I’ve known her since before my daughter died, of course, but I’ve been seeing her intimately for about a year.” Intimately…

“Have you…?” How do you ask a grown man that you don’t know about your mother’s sex life?

“Only a handful of times,” he admits, without me having to ask the question. “She’s a very… private person. Our relationship, as it were, is not public knowledge.” I touch his arm.

“My life is not here,” I tell him. “My life is in Seattle. I’m going to need some eyes and ears here in Nevada, and some backup to help with her care and recovery. If you’re really serious…”

“I’m dead serious,” he interrupts.

“Let me finish,” I say. “If you’re really serious about wanting to be with my mother and wanting to help her through this, then I can really use you on my team. But understand this, Abe. I don’t hate that woman. I only want the best care for her, and I’m not trying to make or watch her suffer. She’s extremely vulnerable to the degree of being helpless. Know for a fact that I will not stand by and allow her to be mistreated or misused, especially right now when she really can’t fight for herself.” I pull out my business card and hand it to him.

“If you’re serious, you’re going to have dinner with me and my husband tonight. If you’re not, walk away. If you want to help with her recovery, we welcome your assistance. However, if your intention is to take advantage of her or abuse her in any way, there’s nowhere on earth you’ll be able to hide from me, and that is a promise.” He examines me carefully.

“You’re serious,” he says.

“I’m very serious,” I reply frankly without taking my eyes off him. He takes the business card.

“We’re staying at the Waldorf,” I add. “Six o’clock.”

He takes my hand with both of his and kisses it for a long moment, a tear falling on my skin.

“Thank you,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper. I nod once and he releases my hand and walks to the elevator. Christian has said nothing during this entire exchange. I look at the door to my mother’s room for a moment. Then I drop my head back, looking at the ceiling, and take a deep breath. I let it out, dropping my head and my shoulders dramatically, and closing my eyes. This is starting to become way too much, and I’m ready to wrap things up.

I raise my gaze and straighten my back. I look to my right at my husband standing next to me. I look to my left and do a double take when I see Dr. Lee still standing at the nurse’s station looking at me. His expression is unreadable, and I don’t know if he’s close enough to have heard my conversation with Abe, but so be it. I turn and go into my mother’s room.

*-*

Dinner has been delivered to our suite at the Waldorf. I thought we would meet in the restaurant downstairs, but Christian thought it would be better to meet in the suite where we could have privacy. Alex did a rush preliminary background check on Wendy and Abe for us in preparation for this meeting. I considered having Wendy present as well, but I think it best that we meet with them separately.

My husband has done most of the talking for us. I only interject if I have specific questions. Abe has been accommodating so far, declaring that his life is an open book and nothing spectacular. Christian has not let up on him, though, and Abe appears to be getting a bit defensive.

“I can’t imagine what you must think of me,” Abe says. “Yes, Carla is older than I am, but she’s very beautiful… a trait she has obviously passed down to her daughter.” He looks at me, but his gaze doesn’t linger. He immediately goes back to talking about my mother.

“There was concern that my affections for her were… displaced—transference or infatuation. I assure you, that’s not it. Yes, it’s very admirable how much of herself she chooses to give to others. She’s the reason I decided to become a caregiver myself.”

“Yes, I see that you decided to become a hospice caregiver shortly after your daughter died,” I say. “That must have been a very tough decision.”

“Losing my little girl was the hard part,” he says, “harder than you’ll ever imagine, but Carla was there to make her transition as smooth as possible. She was kind and caring and very attentive to my Amalia. She sat with her when I could not. She talked with her and put her heart at ease about death. She did not speak of heaven, but she spoke of peace and an end to her pain. I appreciated that more.

“She did not desert me when my Amalia died,” he continues. “She contacted me often to make sure that I was okay, that I would not slip into despair. One day, I asked her out for coffee. Then she allowed me to take her to dinner. I always thought that the responsibility was met once the patient healed… or died. Carla showed me that I was wrong.” He raises tear-filled eyes to me.

“I miss my Amalia,” he says, “every day. I miss my Amelda, too. She was my wife. Cancer took her from me just after Amalia was born… the same cancer that took my Amalia.”

He catches a tear that falls down his cheek.

“I know that Carla loves her Stephen,” he continues. “I know how that feels. It will never go away. I still love my Amelda, and I always will. This is why I am willing to wait. I know that the love will never leave, and I would never disgrace his memory that way… but I also thought I would never love anyone besides my Amelda and look what happened.

“She lost her husband… and her daughter, even though her circumstances are much different from mine, but same. We are two pilgrims on a journey to find purpose after losing everything. She has taken me on a journey for which I will always be eternally grateful—that of being able to care for others and give of myself, to provide the comfort to them that was given to me during one of the most difficult times in their lives, and mine. Now, her journey begins, to find love when you think there is none, to see that she is not useless even in the depths of her despair when she thinks she has nothing else to give.

“So, you see, Anastasia, I know that you and your husband are very powerful, but as long as I’m alive, I’m going to be here, and I’m not going away. You said that she would send me away. She’s done that many times before. She hasn’t been very successful. I don’t know or care what you can do to me, but know that you won’t be successful either if that’s your intention.”

“Our intention is to make sure that she’s taken care of and not advantage of,” Christian interjects firmly.

“Is that what you think I’m doing?” he asks.

“I don’t know you, Mr. Cicci, that’s why you’re here,” Christian retorts.

“That’s strange, I thought I was here in the best interest of Carla, not to be put under your microscope or to seek your approval,” Abe retorts fearlessly. Christian straightens in his chair.

“My biggest concern right now is this woman right here,” Christian warns. “Her concern at the moment is her mother, so by extension, she’s my concern as well.”

“Well, Mr. Grey, let me assure you that my biggest concern right now is not Anastasia. My biggest concern is Carla. My presence here tonight is only to assure her daughter that my intentions are pure and that I will not desert her in her time of need. I’m not here to interview for a position to be subjected to your scrutiny. I love that woman. I’m going to see her through this. I’m going to be there for that woman, and I’m not going to let anybody stop me.” He looks from Christian to me and back to Christian.

“And if you try to hide her from me, I’ll find her. That’s what you do when you love someone—you never give up. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve suddenly lost my appetite.”

He pushes back from the table and strides out of the suite without another word.

“Christian, I really think you were picking a fight with the wrong person,” I say.

“Well, we’ll find out, won’t we?” he says. “The last thing you need to be worried about is someone coming in exploiting your mother’s weaknesses. No matter how much you distance yourself from the situation, that’s still not going to make things any easier for you.”

No, it won’t.

“While I appreciate his situation, game time is fucking over. If he’s in it for the long haul, great. Nothing I said tonight will make any difference whatsoever. But if he’s bullshitting around, the sooner he gets his ass off this boat, the better!”

I sigh heavily. He’s right. Abe doesn’t have to love or even like us, but he does have to be there unendingly for Carla even when we’re not. So, if he’s full of shit, it’s better that he gets pissed and walks away now. And if he’s the real deal, it’s better that he gets pissed and digs his heels in now.

My conversation the next day with Wendy was nothing like the conversation with Abe. She gave me a little more insight on the relationship, that she knows that my mother is very fond of Abe, but she clearly feels guilty for having feelings for someone else besides Stephen. Maybe this is something they can help her overcome during her therapy.

Wendy cried often during our talk. She has three children and she’s divorced, a little older than my mother. They met on the job and hit it off immediately. Wendy’s phone is full of pictures of her and my mother throughout their friendship. My mother appears to be genuinely happy in several of the pictures. It’s clear that over a short period of time, they have formed quite the bond.

She even has a picture that she took of her and Abe. The adoration in his eyes towards her can’t be faked.

Wendy and I exchange numbers, addresses, and emails, and we discuss a lot of what will be needed for my mother’s care. This is what Wendy does for a living, so it’s quite fortuitous that she happens to be my mother’s best friend. I let her know that we will set it up so that she receives compensation for helping to take care of my mother. Though she assures me that it’s not necessary, I tell her that it is, because we would be paying someone else if we weren’t paying her. This way, she can give the best care possible to her best friend without having to worry about her livelihood.

She cries again.

Both Wendy’s and Abe’s preliminary background checks are unremarkable. Alex assures me that when it comes up with the basic stuff—credit reports, traffic tickets, education—it’s usually a good sign and a safe bet that they won’t find anything else. For me, that’s one less thing to worry about.

The next few days fly by with no Sophie to talk to and not having to go back and forth to the hospital to check on my mother. I spend the days recuperating from everything Las Vegas by spending every possible waking moment with my children and giving Keri and Chuck some time to enjoy Las Vegas before we leave.

It’s Wednesday now. Two big things happening today. First, I finally hear the sentence for Vincent Sullivan, and I can put that one thing behind me. One down, 15 or so to go. Second, I get the results of my mother’s psych evaluation and I can finally make some decisions about her care.

And then I can go home!

For now, it’s time to head to the battleground. I’ve known from the moment I knew that I was coming back to this place what I would be wearing should this day arrive. I’ve won now. I don’t know what kind of sentence Vincent Sullivan is going to get for his role in what happened to me, but someone has officially said that what he did was wrong. Someone convicted him, and I’ve won!

I’m wearing a plain tan mock neck cut-out fitted dress that hugs all of my curves from my Anastasia Steele days and a pair of nude Louboutins from my Anastasia Grey collection. I’ve accessorized with earrings, a necklace, a ring, and a bracelet from my Australian opal and white gold collection. A tan wool office lady style cloak with Batwing sleeves and faux fox fur collar and cuffs protects me from the elements. My hair is set in beautiful curls flowing down my back and I look every bit the Seattle socialite.

When I step out of the car with Christian, I hold my posture like I’m walking the red carpet. Donning my Jackie O’s, I take the stairs slowly and deliberately.

Print this, you bastards.

I don’t feel so defeated when I step into the courtroom. I see Larson do a double take when he sees me. I don’t know why because with his shenanigans during this trial. He could have been one of them instead of one of us as far as I’m concerned. Some of the courtroom murmuring ceases when I step in, and I’m tempted to stop in the middle of the aisle and take a bow. I immediately lock eyes with the bitch who asked how I could “do this” to Vincent in the hallway that day. I don’t stare. I just make note of where she’s sitting, intent on adding a little salt to my statement. I take my seat, my gaze fixed coolly on the bench and nowhere else as I wait for the proceedings to begin.

A few minutes later, the court is called to order and the defendant is led into the courtroom in shackles and his DOC navy blue scrubs… at least that’s what they look like. He’s not polished and cleaned up like he was during his trial. No, he looks like he’s resigned to his fate. Today, he marches in and takes a seat at the defense table, no remorse or anguish in his face and no anger—just another day in the life, it seems. He rests his hands in his lap and does the same thing that I do, concentrate on the bench.

The judge says a few words and explains what’s going to happen during the proceedings. When he opens the opportunity to make a statement, Larson first rises to illuminate the reasons why Vincent Sullivan should receive the maximum sentence allowable on all counts.

Having lost his case almost completely, Blake stands to ask for leniency as the defendant has had several years to ponder his actions and has become a valuable and productive member of society.

How fortunate that he has become a productive member of the society to which he has yet to repay his debt!

But that’s not all…

In lieu of Vincent making his own statement to the court, the defense presents a video. A video! This is Blake’s last trump card to try to get his client off.

The video is heart-wrenching. It looks to be professionally done. There are pictures of Vincent when he was a kid; him with his ailing mother before she passed away; current pictures of him doing volunteer work in the community, all set to the narration of several members of the community asking for leniency for this outstanding citizen who made a “horrible mistake” when he was a kid. There are tears and expressions of complete disbelief that Vincent will be required to do any jail time. There are even some people begging that the judge has mercy on the actions of a misguided teenager who has since seen the err of his ways. There’s even sad, emotional music playing in some portions of the video.

In his portion of the video, Vincent denies any personal vendetta when he participated in the incident, painting himself as a frightened and misguided child at the time. He still refuses to take responsibility for any wrong that he did during the attack, stating repeatedly that he maintains that he was afraid for his life and safety.

I didn’t even know that they were allowed to present videos like this, but apparently, they are. It doesn’t sway me, though. Whether it sways the judge or not, we’ll have to see, but I’ve got my statement ready.

When the judge asks if I want to make a statement, I nod and move to the podium. I’ve made some notes so that I don’t go off on a tangent, but I know exactly what I want to say…

“Had I known I could’ve done this by video, I would have saved myself the airfare,” I begin. “However, I believe my point will be driven home more adequately by speaking to you face to face, your honor.

“I’ve waited for this day for nearly fifteen years. I never thought it would come. I never thought I would see anything that even resembled justice for what happened to me… a young life destroyed, an innocent life ended before it even began… and a group of self-important, pumped-up, lethally-entitled rich kids running around like nothing happened, certain—just like I was—that they would never pay for their crimes. And now, here I am finally able to address the situation openly.

“I’ve lived with the horror of what happened to me for over a decade. I’ve lived with the dismay that these monsters not only got away with what they did to me, but also that they are now raising children with the same sense of entitlement and disregard for human suffering in the same world where I’m now raising my twins. I’m living with the disillusionment that one crime can go unpunished forever while another goes unsolved for what feels like a lifetime… against a child… an honor student, a good kid who didn’t bother anybody, whose only crime was that she was a poor girl trying to survive in a rich world, put upon by one, lied on by another, and attacked by many.” I shake my head. “What am I supposed to tell my children about being good people when this is what happened to me?

“Most of all, I’m still horrified that such atrocities can come from children the same age that I was at the time. What kind of breeding must there have been for these kids to feel like this act was in any way justifiable? These were teenagers… teenagers who planned one of the worst hazing and assault rituals that I have ever seen in my personal and professional life, fact or fiction… and for a mental health MD to say something like that, believe me, it means a lot.

“I’ve had to study some of the most horrific things in my plight to understand the human mind and to this day, I still can’t fathom how teenagers could choose to utilize a method so unthinkable and inhumane that even though it was used as punishment for high crimes in the dark ages, it was banned in the early 19th Century as cruel and unusual.

“What must this child have been thinking?” I continue as I gesture to Vincent Sullivan. “He sits here before you now as an adult—they’re all adults now—parents and respected members of the community, mingling with you in your country clubs and PTA meetings, their children attending the same schools that yours attend, the same social functions, blending in just as cool as you please… monsters hiding in plain sight. What must they have been thinking all those years ago when they planned this whole thing—a simple hazing ritual that got out of hand, right? No—a premeditated assault on someone just because they were different. Premeditated… think about that. How premeditated must this act have been for someone to order custom brands and wait for delivery to spell out a word on another human being’s skin?”

There are audible gasps and murmurings in the courtroom when I bring this point of premeditation to the forefront. I’m hoping to give the prosecution a bit more firepower the next time they have to bring one of these monsters to trial.

“How much time did they have before their weapons of torture arrived in the mail—making UPS or FedEx an unwitting accessory to murder—to allow them to change their minds and rethink their plans? I mean, seriously think about that… did they wait for standard three-day shipping or did someone pay special express delivery so that the brands could get there sooner?”

I really want to drive home the extent of the atrocity that these people are getting away with. An entire community basically turned their heads on what happened to me, because I refuse to believe—even now—that someone else didn’t know what was going on. Melanie kept a recording for twelve years, revealing what happened during a death-bed confession. Sullivan knew the entire time that his brother was involved and no matter how well he hid the incident, there was forensic evidence, the location where I was found, the fact that the baby’s DNA could have been traced… There was too much stuff to hide; someone had to help him.

“Even now—today—there are people in this very room who accosted me in the hallway of this building and after seeing the vicious, brutal, stomach churning violence that he inflicted on me still accused me of ruining the defendant’s life.”

I turn around and look the woman in the eye who confronted me in the hallway the day that I fled the courtroom after the “Vincent’s So Great” parade. She shrinks a bit under my stare, but I don’t linger. Instead, I return to my statement.

“But I thank God that justice has prevailed and that this ungodly act will no longer go unacknowledged and unpunished. I thank God that someone looked at this behavior and said, ‘No, this is unacceptable, and something has to be done about it’ even though some people would have you think I deserved it. Nobody deserved what happened to me… nobody—not then, not now, not ever… not even the monsters who did it to me.

“These starry-eyed teenagers who should have been practicing for the big game, doing their homework, and planning for the Sadie Hawkins dance gathered somewhere and thought out this plan of torture—pondered it, waited for it, savored it, anticipated it, then put it into action. We’re going to cause irreparable physical and emotional damage on another person just as soon as our brands arrive. Those same someones accepted a plea for pointing out the other participants in their sadistic little ritual—rewarded with a lighter sentence for being tattletales when they were the ones who orchestrated the entire thing in the first place! And now he’s sitting here hoping that he’s not going to get the book thrown at him for executing two of the three horrific scars that I must live with for the rest of my life.” I sigh.

“Rest assured that I’ll be present at every trial for every one of these monsters who robbed me of my peace and innocence for several years. I’ll celebrate triumphs and I’ll lament defeats, and I’ll probably regurgitate every time I have to watch that damn video, but I won’t stop. I won’t rest until every person involved in my torture and the death of my unborn child is called to task for their actions.

“I’ll be honest and say that I’m glad that something will happen so that they won’t be walking the streets anymore, but I’ll also say that I hope the future is not so merciful on someone who premeditates a violent crime so thoroughly that they mail-order a murder weapon!”

When I’m finished with my dissertation, even the judge is taken aback by my explanation of the extent of the premeditation. I take my notes, turn from the lectern and return to my seat.

The silence is so thick that it sounds like white noise.

“Thank you all for your statements,” the judge says. “I must say that I have never seen anything so heinous before in my life as I have seen in this trial. To exercise objectivity throughout this case was a feat fit for Mr. Universe. And while I commend myself for being able to stick to my duty and maintain order throughout these proceedings, I must admit that I take great satisfaction in being able to now speak my mind freely as a human being, a father, a man, and a member of the judicial system.

“In my opinion, this is one of those times where the justice system worked exactly how it should have, even if nearly 15 years later. The bad guy was caught—one of them, anyway—and is now required to stand here and atone for his actions.

“However, this is a lose-lose situation as far as I’m concerned, because although Dr. Grey was able to pick up the remnants of her life, move on and become a successful doctor and businessperson, without doubt, her life was never the same after what happened to her. Her innocence was ripped from her; her peace was stolen. No one, and I mean no one came to her rescue. Simply as a member of the human race, that horrifies me. As a member of the judicial system, that befuddles me beyond belief. As a man and a father, that enrages me more than words can say.

“In addition to that, we have a young man here who has not yet reached the age of thirty and who is apparently a respected and productive member of society whose actions 15 years ago will forevermore shape what the rest of his life will look like. No just man can blindly swing a sword and not feel the cut of his blade on another man, and yet that’s what I must do today.

“Emotional evidence has a way of swaying a case, but not nearly as much as factual evidence and the facts speak for themselves. The sheer magnitude of the details of this case sends chills down my spine to consider that a group of adults could do something like this. It’s nearly unimaginable that a group of children did it. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and I’m still having a problem absorbing the fact that a group of teenagers committed this crime.

“Dr. Grey, let me begin by offering you a long overdue and heartfelt apology. The system failed you—miserably. For that, I am deeply, deeply sorry. There are no words that can express how appalled and disappointed I am that it took this long for you to see any kind of justice. It happens that some cases may slip through the cracks, but that’s not what happened here. I may not be able to speak on other open cases, but the right against self-incrimination does not excuse any of us from obeying, and in some cases, enforcing the law. This was a blatant disregard for the law—it’s malfeasance and mishandling in almost its worst form, second only in my eyes to law enforcement unjustly shooting or harming an unarmed person. To that end, hopefully, today, I can bring you some small, miniscule measure of closure for the injustices done to you.”

“Thank you, Your Honor,” I say quietly.

“I’m of the firm belief that shaking my finger at or scolding attorneys usually comes to no avail, but I will say this. Mr. Drake, I hope you don’t have any daughters, because the sins of the father have a way of coming back to bite the children. What’s more is that one day, you may find yourself in a position where you have to explain to them how you villainized a young girl who had already been victimized beyond reproach in one of the worst ways humanly imaginable. For that, I do not envy you, sir.

“I’ve often heard it said that with great power comes great responsibility. To me, that means that it’s important that someone in my position does not get so caught up in their power that they forget their duty and responsibility. Bearing that in mind, I have the responsibility to pass sentence on a situation here that will have a great impact on future cases similar to this one. That’s a mighty burden to bear and a heavy load to carry, knowing that if I make the wrong decision today, that it could impact similar cases in the future. Having said that, I thought long and hard on the facts involved in the case and the circumstances surrounding it as I pondered my decision.

“I must be mindful that not only is this man at my mercy, that I hold someone’s life in my hand, but also that nearly 15 years ago, he held someone’s life in his. He was responsible for what happened to her, and now I’m responsible for what happens to him.

“Mr. Sullivan, I, like the jury, do not feel that you were afraid for your life at all. There are many other motives that can be attached to why you did what you did to that 15-year-old girl, but your team failed to prove mortal fear in any way, shape, or form. Even with the bad lighting, I could see malice and intent in your expression and I’m certain the jury saw it, too, in the four times that they viewed the video. In you, I saw one of the kids on the edge—on the very edge—of the popular crowd. Your brother was working to take care of the home, but you had just enough to fit in with the affluent kids. Is that why you tortured a young girl for sport? To fit in? Only you know the answer to that, Mr. Sullivan, but know that I have no problem sending a message loud and clear that that type of behavior will not be tolerated in this jurisdiction.

“In addition, I feel that you would have grounds for appeal based on that production that your attorney just presented to the court in your defense. I saw nothing in that video that would sway me to be lenient on you in any way. All I saw was a theatrical production for the purpose of taking the court’s time. There was nothing in that video that hasn’t already been said during the proceedings by many of the same people. The only thing that video was missing was a walk off into the sunset and closing credits. The case against you is so strong that as far as I’m concerned, Mr. Blake’s coup was actually a Coup de grâce, and you would have done better to make a statement on your own.

“As such, having been found guilty by a jury of your peers, your sentence stands as follows.

“On count one, assault accompanied with acts of extreme cruelty and substantial bodily harm, I hereby sentence you to serve the maximum term of 10 years with a possibility of parole after seven years served.

“On count two, battery with a deadly weapon with substantial bodily harm, I hereby sentence you to serve the maximum term of 15 years with no possibility of parole, and a fine of $10,000.

“On count three, battery without a weapon with substantial bodily harm, I hereby sentence you to serve the maximum term of 5 years with a possibility of parole after 3 years served, and a fine of $10,000.

“On count six, manslaughter for fetal homicide, I hereby sentence you to serve the maximum term of 10 years with no possibility of parole, and a fine of $10,000.

“On count seven, attempted murder, I hereby sentence you to serve the term of 20 years with no possibility of parole. As indicated in the Nevada Revised Statutes, I am imposing an additional 10 years on this count for the use of a deadly weapon, also with no possibility of parole.

“These sentences are to be run consecutively and are to be executed forthwith.

“In case there’s any doubt about my judgments, let me make them clear. I’m sending a message to any defendant in this matter, any attorney who chooses to defend them, and any judge who sits on the bench. Take heed that when the justice system works the way that it should, no one group of people anywhere, anytime, or at any age is allowed to become judge, jury, and executioner. It doesn’t matter to me that we’re talking about a group of 15 and 16-year-old kids. What they did to this girl is reminiscent of the lynchings of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

“Anyone who can look at that video and see what happened to that girl and listen to her scream and somehow say that’s okay by any means or for any reason needs their head examined. And anyone who can participate in that kind of barbaric display deserves the highest sentence that can be imposed by law. So, Mr. Sullivan, be glad that you have been granted opportunities for parole on some of those sentences, because that means that you didn’t get the maximum. I doubt that you’ll ever see parole, however, considering that your sentences are to be served consecutively.

“At the end of sentencing, by rote I often say, ‘I wish you luck,’ or if it’s a death sentence, ‘May God have mercy on your soul.’ I do not wish you luck, Mr. Sullivan, not because I’m a bad person or because I wish any ill will upon you, but because I know that luck won’t help you. You have no hope of seeing daylight outside of prison walls for 65 years. Luck isn’t going to do a thing for you.

“I won’t say, ‘May God have mercy on your soul, because unless you acquire some horrible disease or some serious unfortunate event befalls you in prison, you’re very likely not to meet your maker for a very long time. I will, however, combine those two and wish you mercy.

“You’re going to a place where friendship has a cost, Mr. Sullivan, where if there is a smiling face, there’s a price behind it. You find opportunities for education and rehabilitation, but you’ll never find the friendships and freedoms that you’ve enjoyed on the outside. For that reason, I wish you the mercy that you did not grant Anastasia Steele. I hope it was worth it. This court is adjourned.”

I can only say that I’m glad that each time I’ve been in the courtroom that even though I felt that the trials were harrowing and the defense attorneys were rude, unfeeling, and utterly insane for thinking that they would be able to get their clients off, the court always came back with sentences that I felt these bastards deserved. Even though Vincent Sullivan wasn’t found guilty on all counts, they got him on most of them, and he’s going away for a long time.

His attorney is leaning over whispering something to him and he turns mournful eyes to me. We stare at each other for several moments as his attorney chatters away, and I’m waiting for whatever hateful gesture he’s going to hurl at me because of the situation that I put him in. His mouth forms the words…

“I’m sorry.”

His tearstained face is now full of remorse and regret—for his fate? For what he did to me? I don’t know which. I close my eyes briefly and take a deep breath. When I open them, he’s still looking at me. I nod once to acknowledge that I heard him, and moments later, he’s led away out a door on the side of the courtroom to serve his sentence.


CHRISTIAN

“Sir, I need to take a few days off.”

Shortly after we hear the sentencing for Vincent Sullivan, we’re in the car headed back to the hotel when I get a call from Alex.

“This is new,” I say.

“No, sir, it’s not,” he says. “You’ve just never known when I’ve done it before. I need to go to DC to secure a couple of my clearances.”

“When?” I ask.

“Immediately, sir.”

“Why so last minute?” I inquire.

“It’s not really last minute,” he replies. “I knew that the clearances had to be secured… again, but there are some details that I didn’t expect that I need to tend to personally and as soon as possible.”

“What type of details?” I ask.

“I think you already know that’s classified,” he replies. Of course, it is. What was I thinking?

“Do you need the jet?” I ask. He pauses.

“No, I’ll go commercial,” he replies. “It draws less attention.” He’s right about that, too.

“Will the fort be secure while you’re gone?” I ask.

“I’m never really gone, sir. I think you know that.”

“Jason knows?”

“Yes, he’s aware. I should have everything wrapped up by the weekend.” Why do I suddenly feel a wave of panic that my head of corporate security and one of the most important people on my team won’t be at the helm?

“Very well, safe journey,” I reply.

“Thank you, sir. Oh! And I’ve forwarded the background checks to you and Ana for Abramio Cicci and Wendy Scorcio. Easily traceable. Very much your average Joe and Jane,” he says.

“That’s good to know,” I reply. “I’m sure that Butterfly will be happy to hear that.” She raises her gaze to me from the seat next to me.

“I’ll let you know as soon as I return, sir,” and he ends the call.

“Glad to hear what?” Butterfly asks.

“That Alex has forwarded the background checks for Wendy and Carla’s beloved Abe to both our emails.” She examines me.

“You don’t like him,” she says.

“It’s not that I don’t like him, Butterfly. I just have a natural distrust of people that I’m not going to apologize for, and I don’t care who doesn’t like it. If he proves to be on the up and up, which Alex thinks they both will, then all is well. Like he said, he doesn’t have to satisfy me, but if he turned out to be a swindler, for your sanity, I would have made sure he didn’t get near Carla.”

My wife smiles and shakes her head. She looks at her phone and swipes the screen, opening windows and scrolling.

“He’s right,” she says, scrolling slowly through her screen. “Absolutely nothing remarkable—pretty boring except that he lost his wife and daughter. He got a payout from his wife’s life insurance policy, but he only paid for her final expenses from it. He’s pretty well off—not wealthy, but well off, enough to not have to work at that rehab center. So, that must be a total labor of love. He’s a Mason, but that’s about it.”

“Masons… wow, I haven’t heard of them in a while,” I observe.

“That’s because you don’t associate with any, honey,” my wife says, still scrolling through her phone. While she’s scrolling it vibrates. She swipes it again.

“Hello… This is she… Yes… oh… Okay, well, I’m just leaving the justice court, so I’ll be there as soon as I can… Thank you.” She ends the call.

“Dr. Lee?” I ask.

“No, a Dr. Hamlin,” she says. “He’s a psychiatrist. He examined my mother and oversaw her observation. He wants me to come to the hospital to meet with him.”

“Any indication on Carla’s diagnosis?” I ask.

“He wouldn’t tell me that over the phone, Christian. You know that.” She’s right. I forgot.

“Did you want to go now?” I ask.

“Food first,” she says. “I’m not going to deal with this on an empty stomach.”

*-*

“Dr. Grey?”

“Yes?” A gray-haired man is in Carla’s room when we get there. He proffers his hand to my wife when she enters.

“I’m Dr. Hamlin, ma’am. We spoke on the phone.” She shakes his hand.

“Dr. Hamlin, a pleasure to meet you, sir.” He turns to me.

“Mr. Grey?” he says, proffering his hand to me as well.

“Yes, doctor,” I reply, shaking his hand.

“Mrs. Morton, I’ll be discussing our meetings and my findings as I indicated to you. Who would you like to be present?” he asks.

“Just my daughter,” she says without raising her gaze. That’s my cue. I put my hand on my wife’s waist.

“I’ll be outside,” I say. She nods. I kiss her on the cheek and leave the room.

“Has she had any visitors?” I ask the detail at the door. “I know that no one can get in, but has anybody come?”

“A few have come from her job. They signed in, but of course, they couldn’t see her. Her two friends come every day and just sit in the waiting area over there for an hour or so.”

“Which two friends?” I ask.

“Wendy Scorcio and Abramio Cicci,” he says. I raise a brow.

“You know them by name without looking at the log?” I ask.

“They’re here every day,” he replies. “I think I should.” I nod. He’s right, he should. I take a seat in the waiting area and start going through my emails. After I’ve deleted more than a few, my phone rings.

“Hey, Elliot, what’s up?” I answer.

“Nothing much,” he answers matter-of-factly. “Did I call at a bad time?”

“No, we just got to the hospital and I got kicked out of the room so that Butterfly and the doctor and the mother could talk.”

“Yeah, that’s one of the reasons I called,” he says, “just checking up on Montana.”

“She’s doing as well as can be expected. This whole thing with her mother has been more of a trial than the trial, I think.”

“Well, that’s got to be pretty big, because that dude’s sentence has already made it to the Pacific Northwest.”

“It has?” I ask.

“Yeppers. Sixty-five years, Jesus! I bet he regrets the day he ever laid eyes—or brand—on Montana.”

“No shit,” I confirm. “He looked sick as fuck being led out of the courtroom, and he wasn’t even found guilty on all charges. The two that pled to all of the charges got less time than he did.”

“Speaking of which,” Elliot says, “the predictions on the court and news channels is that a lot of the people in custody are going to start taking pleas. The word is that they’re reviewing the evidence to see what they can be charged with and possibly convicted of, then they’re going to start taking pleas so that they don’t end up doing 65 like your boy.”

“I don’t know how Butterfly’s going to feel about that,” I say, looking at the door to Carla’s room.

“Honestly, if I were you, I would tell her so that she’s not blindsided. They’re expecting some pleas to be accepted by Friday.”

“Shit, that soon?” I lament. “Jesus, I don’t even know what they’re going to tell her about her mother! This shit never fucking ends.”

“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Bro,” he apologizes.

“It’s not your fault,” I tell him. “Inconvenience is never timely. That’s why it’s called inconvenience.”

“Well, let’s talk about something not so serious. You’re not going to believe this,” he says.

“Believe what?” I ask.

“I got a dog,” he says.

“No shit,” I say.

“Yep. Our therapist suggested it. She said that a pet will help us heal from losing the little nugget. Dogs are used like this all the time. It won’t replace a baby, of course, but it’s helping already. Angel loves him.”

“And you?” I ask.

“I like him, too,” he says. “He’s a rescue… a mutt, but he’s so damn lovable. I take him running with me on his leash in the mornings, and then he spends his days with Angel.”

“Wait a minute—how did you get a dog and you’re still living at my house?” Elliot laughs loudly.

“We went home, Christian,” he says. “Why would I bring a dog into your house with all the columns and marble?” My turn to laugh.

“It sounds like a good idea for you guys, and speaking of which, you’re not going to believe this.” There’s silence on the line.

“You got a dog, too?” he asks, and I think he’s being facetious. I shake my head as if he can see me.

“No, but we’re getting one,” I say, “with all the columns and marble.”

“A rescue?” he asks. I shake my head again.

“Butterfly has requested a pit bull puppy.” Silence again.

“A pit?” he says. “Those are dangerous dogs, Bro. Are you sure about that?”

“I felt the same way you do. I didn’t want any vicious dogs around my babies, but she assured me that they’re family dogs and only dangerous if they’re bred and raised that way. So, I agreed, but I did my research and she’s right. Pits have really gotten a bad rap. There are some really pretty ones in fact, and if you train them properly, they really are excellent family dogs. That’s why we’re getting a pup—thorough-bred—and we’re all going to be trained.”

“You’re all going to be trained?” he repeats.

“Yeah. I want to make sure that we know the right commands and that he respects us and the family, because if he steps wrong and attacks one of my kids or my wife, I’ll have to shoot him.”

“Thorough-bred? So, you’re buying one? Aren’t you concerned about getting flack for buying a dog instead of adopting one from the shelter?” he asks.

“Not at all,” I reply. “I’m not trying to be politically correct when it comes to a pit bull that’s going to be around my family. My wife says she wants a pit, so we’re getting one. But in all honesty, you’re right about the fact that pits can be vicious dogs—if they’re not raised properly. A rescue pit? Around my kids? I don’t know what that dog has been through, how he’s been raised, or who its parents are. And if it mauls one of my children, well then, I’m going to have to put it down. Nope, not taking that chance.”

“That’s a chance you’re taking with any dog, Bro,” he says.

“Well, then, maybe you should keep an eye on your dog,” I say. Silence.

“Point taken.”

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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 19

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

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

Season 5 Episode 19

ANASTASIA

It’s kind of hard to maneuver a field trip when one of the occupants of your party is all about gourmet food while another is barely eating.

Sophie is excited to go to the gourmet restaurants and food sites and even just to taste whatever local fares that Vegas has to offer, while Marilyn only sits at various tables picking at the smallest servings of the simplest foods, if she ventures to eat anything at all. She doesn’t look as sickly as she did when the trip began. Her coloring isn’t so pale, but her hair still looks very brittle and she hasn’t gained a pound. She hasn’t lost anymore that I can tell, thank God, but she’s downright skinny now, and she’s never been that way.

I don’t want to send her back to Seattle because the last thing I want is for her to be alone and that far away. However, whenever we go on some kind of food excursion, she escapes to her room anyway. I wonder what she does in there all alone for hours. I know that she’s been meditating and doing some yoga, but that doesn’t take up an entire day. Does she just sit around and mope about Gary day in and day out?

“Have you checked on Gary at all?” I discreetly ask Al at brunch on Sunday. He shakes his head.

“I’ve been a bit distracted, Jewel,” he admits.

“I’m sorry,” I reply, “it’s just that since he responded to you faster than he spoke to anyone else, I thought…” I trail off. “If he’s doing half as badly as Marilyn, I’d be concerned.” Al looks across the room at Marilyn typing away on her phone.

“She’s still not eating?” he asks. I shake my head.

“Her shakes and supplements are packed full of nutrients,” I tell him. “She’s worked herself up to maybe a course per day, but it’s nowhere near enough. She supposed to be slowly introducing food back into her system, but I think she’s going too slowly.” Al shakes his head.

“I think you’re right. You might want to have one of your Jewel talks with her,” he says.

“I have been,” I say. “I’ve been keeping an eye on her as much as I can, but I know as well as anybody that when you’re in love with someone, it can take years to get over them.”

“She’s not going to survive for years at the rate that she’s going,” he says, pointing discretely at Marilyn.

“I know,” I lament. “I’ll call Philip and see if he can check in on Gary. I’d hate to know that he’s suffering a similar fate.”

“He looked fine when I saw him at Christmas, Jewel,” Al says, “just heartbroken.” I shrug.

“Heartbreak hits different people in different ways, I suppose,” I reply.

*-*

Dinner this evening is at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant, Hell’s Kitchen, in Caesar’s Palace, where you’re greeted with Satan’s flaming pitchforks at the door… I mean literally in flames! Burning! Unfortunately, Gordon’s not here, but there’s a video of him right at the door chastising someone for posting a picture of some unpalatable dish online. Further inside the restaurant, there is Gordon Ramsey and Hell’s Kitchen merchandise—cookbooks, mugs, T-shirts, etc.—and then there’s the restaurant consisting of a large bar and a huge dining room.

The chefs all cook in an open kitchen behind a large bar that’s marked red on one side and blue on the other. I don’t watch the cooking show itself, but Sophie tells me that this looks just like the set where the teams compete, and she is absolutely mesmerized. There are several screens around the restaurant displaying active flames. It’s different, but kind of exotic. The sun has gone down and the view out of the window is spectacular. We’re looking at the three lighted fountains in the courtyard and it’s absolutely gorgeous.

Needless to say, my husband has ordered everything on the menu, and with the size of our party—minus Mare, unfortunately—there won’t be a problem with the volume of food. Knowing that Sophie is our little aspiring chef, he wants to make sure she gets to taste everything that the restaurant has to offer and give her critique.

Sophie shies away from the raw seafood dishes and leaves them for the adults—mainly the adult men as Christian and Jason decimated the oysters on a half-shell while Daddy, Al, James, and Chuck all tear into the Hell’s Kitchen grand shellfish tower, shrimp cocktail, and caviar. I manage to snag some of the tuna tartare before they destroyed it.

Sophie is more attuned to the hot appetizers when they arrive and even more enthralled with the entrees. I scold the gentlemen, reminding them that this is Sophie’s experience as they can have it at any time, and they need to stop being barbarians and allow her to taste the food first. True, she didn’t want the raw fish, but of course, she’s going to want the other dishes. Christian raises his brow at me, and I raise my brow right back, while Jason puts his fork down and Daddy, James, and Al all snicker at the other end of the joined tables.

I take each dish and present it to Sophie. She smiles and takes a small serving of each, tasting each one like a seasoned professional food critic. She identifies the various flavors in each dish, mostly by watching the shows on the various food channels and paying attention to each texture as she allows the food to tantalize her tongue. The way that she describes the food, she has a table full of adults hanging on her every word the way that she did at the wedding…

“I didn’t expect for that combination of flavors to work so well together. The scallops aren’t seared too hard—just enough of a crust to compliment the puree and the apples…”

“I didn’t expect to like pumpkin soup, but the texture is so creamy, and the flavor coats your tongue…”

“I have to admit that I expected more from the Wagyu meatballs, but the polenta is delicious…”

Gail watches proudly as the adults wait for Sophie’s critique, then taste each dish, searching for the flavors and textures that she highlighted. Jason beams, showing all 32 of his pearly whites, his chest sticking out like a prized stallion, boasting that his Baby Boo is one day going to be a 5-star chef.

I have no idea why, but I can never say “no” to a Quinoa salad. However, it can be a bit filling, so I only eat a small bit of it and share with anyone at the table who wants some. When it came to the table, I almost didn’t share it. It’s red quinoa mixed with honeycrisp apples, dried apricots, goat cheese, toasted hazelnuts, and a honey vinaigrette dressing. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a quinoa salad this delicious, and Sophie concurs.

We had to order four of Gordon Ramsay’s famous Beef Wellingtons. The adults, again, allow Sophie to taste the signature dish first, and upon reading the food orgasm on her face before she praises the tenderness of the beef filet and the flakiness of the pastry, they tear into the dish leaving nearly clean plates behind in the melee.

The desserts are utterly divine. The salted caramel apple sponge cake and ice cream creation is delicious—smooth and creamy and indulgent. I’m not a fan of the peanut butter cheesecake, but Keri loves it! James and Daddy think it’s the bee’s knees, too. However, Sophie’s favorite—and mine—is the pineapple carpaccio… shaved pineapple, citrus foam, coconut sorbet, coriander, and passion fruit. It’s served in a large, clear-glass bowl with a plate-like rim and the server comes to your table and pours liquid nitrogen into the bowl in the center. If you’ve ever seen liquid nitrogen, it causes this smokiness to rise from the bowl and swirl in between the little pineapple and sorbet mountains and across the table. It makes the dessert not only delicious, but also visually aesthetically pleasing… and fun!

It’s still early when we leave Hell’s Kitchen and begin to head back to the Waldorf, but once we get to the valet at the hotel, Jason pulls me aside from the rest of the group.

“I thought you should know that Carol just left me a message,” he says. Carol… that’s Marilyn’s security detail. “She’s at the fountains at the Bellagio with Marilyn. She decided to take a walk and now she’s just sitting there by the water. She figured you might want to know.”

“She figured correctly,” I say, looking over at Christian. “I’m going to the Bellagio. Marilyn is there at the fountains. I just want to go check on her.” Christian’s brow furrows.

“You don’t think…” He trails off.

“I don’t think,” I say firmly, “but I don’t want her to be alone either.” I look at Chuck. “We’re going for a walk.”

“You’re walking?” Christian says, aghast.

“Yes, Christian, we’re walking,” I tell him. “Trust me, I’ll be more camouflaged in the crowd on the strip than I was with the entourage surrounding me on the courthouse steps.” He shakes his head.

“Chuck, take the car,” he says. Chuck gets into the driver’s seat of the car and waits for me.

“Christian, can you see the mall right there?” I ask, pointing to the Shops at Crystals. “The Bellagio is literally on the other side.”

“That’s great, and this is Vegas. There’s a whole fucking lot of people on the street and a whole lot of shit can happen. There’s the car. Take it or leave it. I mean it, Anastasia!”

I want to be mad, but Christian never really orders me to do anything. I’ll get a chiding, a gentle warning, his Dom voice… or something, but he never outright orders me to do anything. If he’s doing it now, he’s extremely concerned… and he’ll have Metro block the street off in five minutes.

I glare at him for a moment, kiss him on the cheek, and dutifully get in the car.

Chuck has to track Marilyn’s phone for us to find her by the fountain. She’s just standing there by the balustrade staring out at the water. Carol is nearby, but not too close—an attempt to give her some privacy, no doubt. I walk behind her and announce my presence so as not to startle her.

“Hey,” I say softly.

“Hey,” she responds without turning around. “Don’t worry, Bosslady, I’m not going to jump.”

“I didn’t think you would,” I say. She looks over at me.

“You didn’t?” she says with a mirthless smile. I shake my head.

“No,” I say. “I know you’re smarter than that. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” She turns back to the water.

“No,” she says with a heavy sigh, “I’m definitely not okay.” Her voice cracks with sadness and the hint of unshed tears. “I can’t see or feel anything but darkness and sadness and gloom and despair, and while I don’t want to die, I definitely want this to end.” And now she begins to cry.

“I miss him, Ana,” she says, looking out at the water, a steady stream of tears running down her cheeks. “I miss him so much that I can’t even breathe sometimes. It’s the worst at night. I still haven’t learned how to sleep without him. I’m lucky if I get an hour or two of sleep at a time and even when I do, I just dream about him. Then, I wake up alone and cry because he’s not there or because I’ve dreamed about him leaving me again.

“I got one of those weighted blankets to help with sleeping and when I wake up under the blanket, it’s painful—emotionally and physically. I think it’s too heavy for my body, because the part of my body that it’s laying on hurts like I’ve been working out all night… but even more so, it feels like he’s holding me. So, I turn around to hold him back and it’s this damn blanket, so it hurts even more.

“I can’t eat oatmeal,” she continues. “I can’t even see oatmeal. He ate it every day without fail except Sunday. We ate anything else for breakfast on Sunday—eggs benedict was his breakfast of choice on that day, but we ate whatever… but every other day, it was oatmeal. I would put butter and sugar and cinnamon in mine; he would put syrup in his.

“I can’t eat Chinese,” she says, “orange chicken to be exact. My Gary is a creature of habit. Every Wednesday, it was orange chicken…” She pauses. “Is… was… is… I don’t know anymore.

“That’s why it’s hard for me to eat, Ana,” she confesses. “Food makes me sick. Particular foods make me think of him, and then they turn my stomach, and no matter how hard I try to keep them down, I can’t. I want to vomit now just talking about food. You, of all people, should know that the mind is a powerful thing, and right now, mind over matter is working in his favor.” I frown.

“Why would you say this is in his favor?” I ask. “Do you think he would really want to see you this way?” She scoffs weakly.

“Ana, do you even think he cares?” she asks with disdain. “I know he doesn’t wish me dead—he’s not a horrible person, but I’d bet everything I have that he wouldn’t care that I’m going through this. He’d probably wish I’d suffer more for killing his baby.”

That statement makes her weep. She briefly cries into her hands a soulful, mournful sob, and then she stops just as quickly as she started. A few people stop to look at her and her horribly tear-stained face, but she just blankly stares in front of her and they eventually just move on.

“I wake up every morning filled with dread,” she says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just putter along during the day—second by second. I don’t see any relief. Yoga and meditation fill some of the many seconds of the day, and then somewhat help me get to the next second, but I can’t see beyond the next second.

“I can’t see my future. I don’t know where I’m going. Everything I saw had him in it. Even though I didn’t see kids immediately, I still saw him. I’ve never loved anybody in my life the way that I love him. I know women—and men—have often said that they’ll never love again, but I can truly say that I can’t see ever loving anybody else in my life the way that I love him. I can’t fathom how I’ll ever love anybody ever again. And I can truly say that had I known I would end up like this, I would have kept the baby.” I look over at her.

“That is so unhealthy, Mare,” I tell her. “Whatever you do, never have a child just to save your relationship. It’ll never work…”

“Tell it to my heart, Ana,” she says, turning her gaze to me, “I can’t hear you.” She turns back to the water. “Having a baby and loving and caring for Gary’s child would be worlds better than what I’m feeling right now, even if I had to care for it alone. I would have a purpose, a reason for living, for waking up every morning. Hindsight is 20/20 and I would have loved that baby with my whole soul had I known that this was the abyss I would be plunged into by giving it up.

“I know what I look like, I’m not blind or stupid—and I know what people think, but I don’t care. If they can’t help me get to the next second, I don’t care what they think. It doesn’t even bother me; it doesn’t hurt. Nothing hurts more than what I’m feeling right now.”

I want to say something so badly to make her feel better, to tell her that this pain won’t last forever, to convince her not to regret her decision because it cost her relationship, but I know that I can’t. I know that losing Edward made me want to curl up in a ball and die many nights; had me shying away from men and relationships for a long time; had me sobbing in the parking lot of my condo years after we were history because the rest of my friends had significant others and I didn’t—I was too afraid to step out and give someone else a chance because losing Edward hurt too much.

I link my arm in hers in a show of solidarity, just so that she knows that she’s not alone. We stand there for several minutes, leaning against the balustrade and saying nothing. After a while, we hear music, and the water comes alive. I had forgotten about the water shows at the Bellagio fountains. It’s some medley of some upbeat rock or pop song, and we watch the water and lights respond to the music and the beat, Marilyn silently wishing for “her Gary,” and me silently wishing I could somehow stop her pain.

*-*

I’m back at the hospital on Monday morning, being subjected to the cold, but professional demeanors of the nurses. My aloofness towards my possibly dying mother is now known among all of the nursing staff and they treat me with enough professionalism to grant all of my requests and make sure that my mother’s needs are tended to, but they don’t show me any warmth or concern that you would normally show to the family member of a patient.

I put on my armor and try not to let it bother me, but it does. It does bother me. I could do what she did and just not show up, just not come at all. I could hire someone to come in here and make sure that she’s okay, not even come back in here until the thirtieth day of her fucking directive to pull the plug, or just wait until she kicks the damn bucket to claim the body.

But no, I come in here nearly every day, asking about her condition and if there’s been any change, having the dying flowers cleared from her room and making sure that the fresh ones stay, even talking to some of her visitors and hearing from them about how much she loves me and how she regrets what she did to me as a teenager and what a wonderful person she is now.

Today, when I get here, she’s in a cozy tartan nightgown. Someone has washed and combed her hair and she actually looks a bit more content. I know the staff is waiting for me to storm out of the room, demanding to know who changed my mother’s clothes, but I’m not. Someone—maybe Wendy—brought her something that they felt she would be more comfortable in. I can’t deny her that.

I sit silently next to her bed and text Laura about how I’m feeling; about how unfair I think it is that she’s being looked upon as the poor little victim and I’m basically being pegged as the bad guy because I’m not all broken up about her condition. Laura gives it to me straight.

She tells me that as long as I’m on my mother’s turf, that’s how it’s going to be, and I just have to deal with it. She’s made a life for herself where she is and those who know her love her because of what they know about her. Those who don’t know can only go by what they see, and what they see is a stand-offish daughter who only does what’s necessary to keep her mother alive.

“They don’t care about your story,” she tells me in a chat. “Your details are not what’s important to them—hers are. Her well-being and waking up, her friends and those who love her, that’s what’s important. You need to get her squared away, whatever that means—physical therapy, the best home care, burying her, whatever it is—and then you need to go home! You’re not going to find any peace until you get out of that place. Some of our monsters, we don’t need to face. We just need to leave them buried. Get the sentencing, get your mom squared away, and get the hell out of Vegas. That’s it and that’s all.”

She’s right and I know she is. It’s just that getting to that point is hell. Most people here treat me like vermin, and I have to stay here until I get everything squared away. How do deal with that? How does anybody deal with that?

I’ve taken a little time to look at Sophie’s Facebook page. It’s highly monitored, so she’s very careful about what she posts, but she did post the meals that we ate at Hell’s Kitchen and that she’s having fun in Vegas. I know for certain that the Adventure Dome is Saturday, but Jason and Gail took her to the Shark’s Reef at the Mandalay Bay today and lunch at Border’s Grill. Her friends have commented on and liked her photos of the Beef Wellington and pineapple carpaccio, and I smile remembering how much we enjoyed the dessert.

I’ve lost track of time quietly surfing through Facebook videos and feeds and I hear someone enter the room.

“Oh! I’m sorry,” Wendy says. “I didn’t know you were visiting. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

I look at my watch. It’s much later than I intended to stay. I might as well let someone keep watch that wants to be here.

“No,” I say, rising from the seat.  “I really need to get going. I need to check on my children.” She raises a brow but says nothing.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Wendy says, removing some things from her bag and placing them around my mother’s room. “I brought some of her things from her home. I’m hoping the familiar might help to bring her out of this. I… was the one who brought her the gown.”

“I thought it might have been you,” I reply. “I’m sure that if she could speak right now, she would say ‘thank you.’ Those hospital gowns are awful.” I speak from experience.

“I’m sure she would,” Wendy replies, her voice cracking. She turns away from me and goes to the restroom. I think she’s going to compose herself, but she returns quickly with a small cup of water. She pours the water into a diffuser and adds a little oil to it—eucalyptus, I think. It’s not overbearing, so I think it should be fine. She looks adoringly, but sadly, at her best friend.

“I’m going to go and let you visit,” I tell her. “Thank you again for the gown.” She smiles softly at me.

“It was my pleasure,” Wendy says and turns back to my mother. “Hey there, old girl,” she says, taking the seat that I vacated next to my mother. “Shall we continue book three of Gideon Cross?” She pulls a book out of her purse and begins to read to my mother. I quietly leave the room and close the door behind me.

There’s no way to get to the elevators without passing the nurses’ station. I nod at Chuck, don my Jackie O’s, and walk past the judgmental cows at the station without looking left or right, headed for the elevator.

*-*

I spend the rest of the evening with my young friend Sophie and my babies. Christian is happily left to tend to all matters GEH while I tend to my mother, then he later joins us in the Romper Room/Disney suite where I completely escape from reality and play childish games and watch cartoons and Disney movies and eat finger foods with my babies… until I have to get up in the morning and adult again.

But not today.

It’s Tuesday, and the boys are on baby duty while Gail, Keri, and I take Sophie on the food tour. I couldn’t convince Marilyn to go, so she’s staying behind to help the guys with the twins. I beg Al to try to get in touch with Gary again. Marilyn has her good days and her bad days, and I can only imagine what Gary’s going through.

We decide to do a small group tour with just the four of us since the tour is mainly for Sophie and we want her to be the center of attention and not have to worry about what others are thinking about her as she proceeds through the various restaurants and sites.

We start at Mercato Della Pescheria, an Italian restaurant located in the Grand Canal Shoppes in the Venetian and Palazzo hotels in a portion of the combined locations called St. Mark’s Square. The tour includes a chef’s choice tasting of House-made Italian specialties. It’s set up like an outdoor Italian restaurant with the wrought iron tables and red and white tablecloths, and the ceiling of the Grand Canal Shoppes is painted to look like the sky while the hallways look like the streets of Italy complete with building-façade storefronts.

“This is good practice,” I say. “We’ll be going to Italy this summer for a few weeks.”

“You will?” Sophie asks. “You guys go a lot of places.” I nod.

“Christian bought me a house there,” I tell her. “I have to decorate it before we get there. Maybe you can help me.” Her brows rise.

“Really?” she asks, her excitement palpable. “I have no idea what to choose.”

“Really,” I reply with a laugh. “We’ll be learning together, because I have no idea what to choose, either.”

“I’d like to go to Italy one day,” she says. “I want to learn to make authentic Italian cuisine.”

“Well, I don’t know what the plan is for the summer, but maybe with your Dad and Gail’s permission, we may be able to work something out.” Her eyes widen further, but then drop.

“Now, you’re teasing,” she says.

“No, I’m not,” I reply. “You know I can’t make any promises because there’s a lot involved in being able to travel overseas, but it’s not impossible and I can at least see if it’s something that we can do. So, keep realistic expectations and since we can’t do spring break, we’ll see what we can do for summer vacation. Deal?” She makes the pondering face and nods.

“Sounds reasonable,” she says. “The idea that you’d like for me to go is really cool… even if it doesn’t get to happen.”

I keep forgetting that Sophie is so young sometimes with the things that come out of her mouth. She’s had quite the life to just barely be a teenager—she’s seen way too much in her young little life.

Let’s not forget the things you saw in your young little life.
This is nothing like that and we’re not going to compare them. So, if you don’t have anything constructive to say, shut the hell up!

The last person I need to hear from right now in this place in my fragile state of mind is the Bitch. She can only do more harm than good at this point.

Our tasting at Mercato Della Pescheria includes a Burrata board with aged balsamic, grilled bread and marinated vegetables, along with gnocchi pomodoro with fresh mozzarella and cacio e pepe alla ruota. I usually have a very scrutinizing tongue, but Sophie had me beat this time. All I tasted was spaghetti with Parmesan cheese, but not our little aspiring chef.

Let’s start with the fact that she had to explain to us how it was going to be served. They roll this huge wheel of cheese over to you on a cart where they’ve cut a bowl into the center of it. Then they place the hot pasta right from the pan into the “bowl.” They scrape the cheese from the inside of the bowl and mix it into the pasta, which Sophie informs me has already been tossed with olive oil and fresh cracked pepper. When they plate it for us, Sophie has a bit more pepper ground over her serving.

She tastes the pasta with every bit of the attitude of a food critic. She takes a small serving of the dish and puts it in her mouth. She chews purposefully, like she’s weighing the textures and flavors in her mouth. You can see her rolling the mixture around on her tongue and everyone at the table—including the server—is silent.

“Is the Bucatini domestic or imported?” she asks the server. He’s rightfully a bit taken aback.

“Imported, miss,” he says. “How did you know?”

“I didn’t,” she says. “I just want to be able to tell the difference.” Gail and I look at each other, obviously impressed. Our guide, Justine, not so much. She actually looks like she’s tasting something bad.

“Do you know the cheese, miss?” the server asks.

“Hmm,” she says, taking another forkful. “It’s either Parmesan or pecorino. I’ve never tasted pecorino before, but I know it’s close to Parmesan and this is close to Parmesan, not quite Parmesan.” He smiles.

“Very good, miss,” he says, almost proudly. “It’s pecorino.” Sophie smiles and claps her fingers together quickly, also proud that she identified the cheese. I had already said Parmesan.

“What’s Bucatini?” I ask anyone who’s listening. Sophie begins to answer.

“It’s…”

“It’s a heavy pasta like thick spaghetti, but it has a hole in the center,” Justine interrupts. I assume that she didn’t hear Sophie begin to explain the pasta to us. Sophie doesn’t pay her any attention. She just shrugs and finishes her pasta. I nod at Justine and wait for her to get distracted.

“What does she mean by ‘holes?’” I lean over and ask Sophie. “It just looks like spaghetti. I don’t see any ‘holes.’”

“Regular spaghetti is a solid noodle,” Sophie says conspiratorially, “Bucatini’s a long tube. Think ziti noodle, but long and skinny.” I open my mouth in realization, then look closer at the noodle and see exactly what she’s talking about.

“I don’t know why I was expecting to see holes straight down the noodle.” I shake my head at my ignorance and take a forkful of the pasta. Sophie giggles and continues with her tasting.

Our next stop is Royce Chocolates for truffles. As it turns out, Sophie’s no stranger to Royce’s Chocolates even though Justine tries to make it appear that these are the most exclusive chocolates in the world. The store looks a bit like a confectioner’s booth that just popped up and snagged the last little corner spot in the Canal Shoppes. No offense to Royce’s; the truffles are divine, but our tour guide is just droning on and on and on about the chocolates, and while the adults in the group are trying not to take the wind out of the poor girl’s sails, Sophie’s young truth filter is in full effect.

“They’re delicious,” she says, enjoying a chocolate and creamed caramel truffle, “I just expected them to be different, I guess.”

“Different than what?” Justine inquires.

“Than the ones at the store in Seattle,” she says. “It’s the same manufacturer, so I guess they would be the same.”

“There’s a store in Seattle?” Justine asks, and Sophie’s brow furrows.

“Bellevue,” the clerk says, nodding as we turn to look at her. Feeling a bit sheepish about her lack of knowledge, our tour guide quickly gestures us out of the chocolatier. I don’t mind that she likes her job; I just think she needs to be a bit more informed about the stops on the tour, or at the very least, curb her enthusiasm a bit.

We wander through St. Mark’s Square a little more, and we stop to watch as another server in another area makes a tiramisu tableside. Sophie watches in awe as the espresso-soaked ladyfingers are layered into the pan. I don’t know if the people at the table can actually eat the confection when it’s complete as the cream portion usually needs to chill overnight.

“She can’t have any of that on this tour,” Justine says haughtily. “The espresso mixture contains alcohol.” I just glare at her.

“And if the mascarpone cream mixture is done correctly, it has rum in it,” Sophie interjects like it’s obvious. “I know that!”

Sophie is clearly becoming irritated with Justine’s behavior, but she’s refined enough not to respond in kind. Although upon leaving the impromptu tiramisu presentation, she did ask, “What’s wrong with that lady?”

Our next stop is Cañonita, a location that prides itself on Mexico City soul food. Sophie is a bit reserved as the tour continues and I don’t like that. The foodie tour is for her enjoyment and I’m rather enjoying the benefit of her knowledge of the different ingredients even though I was well aware of the inclusion of Grand Marnier in the espresso mixture and rum in the mascarpone cream.

“Sophie, are you okay?” Gail asks, noticing her reservation.

“Am I allowed to say anything?” she asks matter-of-factly. I frown.

“Of course, you are,” I reply. “You can say whatever you like.” She rolls her eyes and sighs.

“Well, I was born on Cinco de Mayo,” she begins, “so every year that I can remember since I’ve been alive, I’ve had a Mexican meal on my birthday. Since we’re on this tour, I was wondering are we just going to eat the standard Mexican foods, or can I taste something different?”

“You can have what you like,” Gail says. “If you want something different, we’ll pay for it.” Sophie twists her lips.

“I’d really like to try the Pátzcuaro Duck Relleno,” she says. “I’ve never had it and I think it would be good.”

“We don’t have time for that,” Justine interjects.

“Wee’ll. Mek. Tyme!” Keri says slowly and deliberately, waiting for Justine to respond. I think her irritation is rubbing off on Keri. When Justine says nothing, Keri turns to Sophie.

“Come, Miss Sopheh,” she says, putting her arm around Sophie’s shoulder, “tell uhs aboht de duck.”

The corners of Sophie’s mouth rise in a small smile and she begins to tell us about Pátzcuaro Duck Relleno while it’s being prepared in the back. Justine sits at a separate table close by with her arms folded and her legs crossed. I have no idea what her problem is.

“The menu says that the Pátzcuaro Duck Relleno begins with duck confit, which is a French dish,” Sophie continues. “So, I wanted to see how a French dish could become a Mexican dish. I know the manchamantel sauce is clearly Mexican. I think the combined flavors would be very interesting.”

Sophie always amazes me talking about food, because the 13-year-old girl disappears, and we have this connoisseur in front of us.

“Hah do yah knoh so much abot fuud, Sopheh?” Keri asks. Sophie shrugs.

“I just really like learning about food,” she says, “where different dishes come from, what they mean, what spices they use, how it’s supposed to taste. I’m going to be a chef one day. I don’t know what my specialty will be, but I want to know about foods from all over the world.”

“Well, you’re off to a very good start,” I tell her. “Did she tell you that Ms. Solomon showed her how to make that delightful ham and pineapple sandwich and she got it right on the first try?” Gail turns to Sophie in honest surprise.

“No, she didn’t!” Gail says, with pride. “You should have told me. I’m proud of you.”

“It’s just a sandwich,” Justine says under her breath. No one else heard her, but I did. I’m trying not to feed into it. It’s beyond me why she feels threatened by this 13-year-old girl.

“Okay, what’s next?” I ask once we finished the delightful duck dish while Justine deliberately and slowly ate the crab cakes, enchiladas, and ceviche that was intended for the tour. She took more time to eat her food than we took to eat ours, but she said that we didn’t have time for the duck. Then she haughtily tells us…

“Well, we’ve only got an hour left and there are four more stops on the food tour, so we won’t make them all.” I try not to let loose on this woman, because I’m always letting loose on someone, and it could just be me being sensitive. Instead, I just ask, “What are the four remaining stops?”

“Well, first, there’s the Honolulu Cookie Company, where they have the exotic Hawaiian goodie bag that most likely has the best shortbread cookies you’ve ever tasted in your life. Then, there’s the William Carr Photo Gallery—he’s a well-known artist acclaimed for his ability to capture the beauty and perfection of creation…”

She sounds like she’s reading from a pamphlet. I look over at Sophie.

“I had truffles,” she says. “I don’t really have a taste for cookies.”

“These aren’t just any cookies,” Justine retorts. “These are Hawaiian shortbread…”

“No, thank you,” Sophie says calmly. “You said there’s an art gallery. Are there pictures of food or something?” Justine’s brow furrows.

“Why would you ask that?” she says.

“I’m just wondering what an art gallery has to do with a foodie tour,” Sophie replies. “I can understand if it was a museum tour, but…” Sophie shrugs.

“I was thinking that myself,” I say, my voice low.

“Well, generally, the more mature patrons appreciate the art, but if you don’t want to go…” Her tone is condescending.

“Well, you clearly said that we don’t have time for the other four stops, so what are the last two?” I shoot, trying not to bite this bitch’s head off. Noting my irritation, she quickly tells us that the last two stops are a bookstore and a Peruvian restaurant called Once, pronounced On-seh. We opt to skip to Once and see what Peru has to offer.

I’m so frustrated when we get to Once that I ask for a table for five. Justine proceeds to tell the host that we’re with the foodie tour. I quickly correct her.

She’s the foodie tour,” I tell the host. “We want a table for five.” I gesture at Gail, Sophie, Keri, Chuck, and myself. When the host nods, I turn to Justine. “You said we have an hour—we’re going to order.”

Justine’s eyes narrow at me, but I don’t watch her long enough to formulate a response. When we are seated, I ask Sophie which appetizers she thinks we should try and if she’s familiar with the cuisine.

“Some of it,” she says. “Ceviche is universal, but if you are going to get it, I would get it here since the dish is originally Peruvian. I think the braised fennel would be good, and I’d definitely like to try the Chicharron Karaage and the scallop and shrimp dumplings.” I nod.

“I’m going to eat whatever she’s eating,” Gail laughs, and I concur. Keri orders the oxtail Bibimbap and Chuck orders the prime New York Steak Anticucho. Justine is seething that no one is talking to her or paying any attention to her as we enjoy the last meal on the tour—not a tasting, a meal. She keeps looking at her watch and sighing impatiently.

When we finish our meal, I charge it separately to my Amex and we leave the restaurant. Justine is trying to wrap up the tour. I don’t know what she’s expecting—it was a bad experience for me. Sophie seems unmoved. She finally announces that the tour is at its end and turns to Sophie.

“How old are you, may I ask?” Justine asks Sophie.

“Thirteen,” she replies. “I’ll be 14 in June.”

“Mm,” Justine remarks unimpressed before turning to me. “You may want to introduce the concept of humility into her life a little more,” Justine says, then turns to walk away. I gasp, at a complete loss for words. Sophie is looking aghast, and Gail is furious.

“You hold it right there!” Gail announces in a voice that makes us all freeze. “How old are you?” Justine folds her arms again.

“I’m 26,” she says, matter-of-factly.

“Well, you have a lot of growing up to do!” Gail retorts. “That young lady is the picture of decorum. She was never rude to you once and you’re just upset that she knows more about your tour than you do! I saw your face when she told us about the tableside service at Mercato, and it’s not her fault that she knows that Royce has several locations and you didn’t.

“You announced that she couldn’t have the tiramisu when all she was doing was watching. I thought you were going to have a stroke over the duck. Then you tell us that we don’t have enough time to finish the tour, but you have a coronary when we ask to skip to the end! Is this your first day? Because you’re utterly terrible at this!”

Justine gasps, but doesn’t have a comeback for Gail’s chastisement.

“You remember that name, young lady—Sophia Taylor—because if you stay in the food industry at all and even if you don’t, I guarantee you’ll hear it again. Now, you get your act together or I’ll have your neck and your job, and that’s a guarantee!” Gail shoots.

Justine’s hand shoots to her chest in that clutches pearls way. She’s shocked that after no one really checked her on her attitude, she thought that she could take liberties with us and Gail let her have it.

“I… I’m sorry!” Justine says, aghast.

“Don’t apologize to me!” Gail says. “Apologize to her! You nearly ruined her day!” Justine turns to Sophie, but Sophie turns to Gail.

“She didn’t ruin my day, Momma Gail,” Sophie says succinctly. “The guy at Mercato was nice to me; I got to eat French duck made Mexican, and really good chicken, scallops, and shrimp. And we still have Sur La Table tomorrow. I’m fine, she doesn’t have to apologize. Can we please go now?”

Chuck stands a few feet away like he has all day, smiling widely as Sophie delivers her speech.

“Are you sure, Pumpkin?” Gail says. “She owes you an apology.”

“I’m sure, Momma Gail,” she says. “Let’s just go and find some gelato. I’d like that.” Gail smiles.

“I’d like that, too,” she says, turning to Justine. “You could learn a thing or two from that little girl, but I’m sure that you won’t.” She turns back to Sophie. “I love gelato,” she says. “Let’s go find some.”

I didn’t have to lift a finger.

I fall in step with Gail and Sophie. We walk all the way back to the other end of the Grand Canal Shoppes to a gelato stand called Cocolino. We each order our flavor, then take a seat and enjoy our treat. While we’re eating the gelato, I must ask the question that’s burning in my head.

“Sophie,” I ask, “she did owe you an apology. It’s not okay for anybody to treat someone that way, especially when she was being paid. Why didn’t you want her apology?”

“Because she didn’t want to apologize,” she says, matter-of-factly. “Do you remember when Marlow snitched on me at Christmas?” I glance over at Gail quickly. She raises her gaze to me, but turns back to her ice cream.

“Yes,” I say.

“If I had apologized to them, it would have been because they made me do it, not because I wanted to or because I was sorry, because I wasn’t… and that’s why I didn’t do it. This was kinda the same thing. She wasn’t sorry, and to be honest, what she was doing didn’t hurt me. She just looked kinda dumb. And Momma Gail was right. She was just mad ‘cuz I knew more than she did. They don’t pay me to know this stuff; I just like food channels. That makes her look real bad.”

I just had a 13-year-old girl explain a very adult philosophy in the most simplified terms I’ve ever seen.

If your apology is not sincere, I don’t want it—that’s one of my biggest mantras.
If my apology is not sincere, I’m not going to give it—see the first mantra.
I’m not going to let the fact that you don’t know what you’re saying or doing ruin my good time—in other words, “Sucks to be you… I’m bigger than this.”

I can’t remember the last time I was prouder to be Aunt Ana.

CHRISTIAN

“Dude, she left that woman’s face cracked and on the ground.”

Chuck is telling us about the ladies’ day out on the foodie tour. I was sure that it would be something harmless and fun, but it appears that the tour guide had a bug up her butt.

“Are you telling me that the person in charge of the tour got into it with Sophie?” I ask.

“No, Prince Gallant with your flaming sword, that’s not what I’m saying,” Chuck says. “Sophie knows a lot about food, more than I even think we know she knows…”

“That’s because Food Network and the Cooking Channel were her companions while her mother was binging,” Jason says. “She still watches them now. If we stocked her kitchen, she could make her own meals.”

“That might be a good idea, so that she can get some practice… but I digress,” Chuck says, getting himself back on track. “She knew what kind of cheese they were putting in the pasta. She knew the origin of a Mexican dish that really came from France. She knows the alcoholic content of tiramisu. She could have done a better job as a tour guide than the tour guide. Little Miss Raven Hair didn’t like that very much.”

“Did she insult my daughter?” Jason asks. Chuck twists his lips. “What did she say?” Chuck clears his throat.

“At first, she was just making little cracks about the food,” Chuck says, “talking over Sophie when she was trying to talk. In the end, the tour ended at Once, and the women all ignored her completely. That pissed her off. I think she thought Ana was Sophie’s mother, so she tells Ana that she needs to teach Sophie some humility. I could see the hairs rise on Gail’s neck from across the room.”

Jason immediately scoffs a laugh. I can imagine that he’s seen the hairs rise on Gail’s neck from across the room, too.

“Have you seen the Karate Kid?” he asks, doing the pose that Daniel does before his finishing move.

1ced433fc3e064e5d12646bd71f2bd84

“I have,” Jason says, still laughing.

“The minute her mouth opened, I could see Gail doing it in my mind’s eye. I thought that would be the end for that girl, but the finishing move came from Sophie. Gail demanded that the lady apologize to Sophie, but Sophie told Gail that she didn’t want the lady’s apology, that the lady didn’t ruin her day, and asked to go get gelato. Imagine having a 13-year-old girl tell you that your apology is beneath her.”

I hiss at the implication. That had to be painful. I’m convinced that Sophia Taylor is not of this world. Second only to my wife, she’s one of the most rounded people I’ve met for what her mother has put her through.

“Classic,” Jason says, “fucking classic. When you guys go to Sur La Table tomorrow, make sure she gets everything she wants.” Chuck laughs.

“Make sure you tell her that,” he says.

“No matter where we go, there’s always one,” I hear Butterfly say as she enters the Romper Room suite.

“Hello, dear,” I call out to her. She stops in her tracks and examines me for a moment.

“He already told you,” she says, coming further into the room.

“He did,” I say. She shakes her head.

“Well, for once I wasn’t the object of ire… but a child? Seriously?” she says, taking a seat among all the playthings.

“There’s just no accounting for taste, I guess,” I comment.

“Indeed!” Gail says, nearly storming into the suite. “The nerve of that child! Twenty-six indeed! She behaved like a toddler. Teach her some humility… teach yourself, you wretched little heathen! How dare she insult my stepdaughter that way! She doesn’t even know her. She’s guiding the tour and didn’t even know there was a Royce Chocolates in Seattle! She’s guiding the tour! Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?”

“We heard,” I reply. Why did I do that? Right at that moment, Sophie enters the room with an expression I can’t quite read.

“You okay, Baby Boo?” Jason asks.

“Mm-hmm,” she says in a manner that indicates that she’s not saying another word.

“I’m calling her boss!” Gail continues to rant. “We paid for that tour! We paid for Sophie to be treated that way. A grown woman—angry with a child on her tour. The very nerve! I’m going to go and call that place right now!” and out of the room she goes, off to make some tour guide’s life a little more difficult. Keri looks cautiously around the room before speaking.

“Wheh ah da tweens?” she says.

“They’re napping,” I reply. “They should probably wake soon.”

“Ah’ll goh chek on dem.” She kisses Chuck on the cheek and heads off towards the bedroom. We all look at Sophie, who purses her lips, then finally speaks.

“Momma Gail is mad!” she says, her eyes a little large and her face full of ill-suppressed mirth. “I thought she was going to rip that lady’s throat out!”

“What did she say?” Jason inquires.

“She didn’t say anything bad, it’s just how she said it,” Sophie says. “It was like… she wasn’t Momma Gail—she was somebody else.”

“Daniel-san,” Chuck says under his breath, and Butterfly looks at him bemused.

“She told the lady that she was terrible at her job and not to forget my name because she was going to hear it again someday. We were in the middle of the mall! People were staring at her; the lady was really embarrassed… it was awesome!”

Normally, I would advise a youngster that it’s not necessarily a good thing to take joy in someone else’s calamity, but I think the young lady had this one coming.

“Here’s the best part,” Butterfly says, turning to Sophie. “Why didn’t you want her to apologize to you?”

“Because she didn’t mean it,” Sophie replies. “She wasn’t sorry for what she said to me. She was sorry because Momma Gail got in her butt about it. If we had just huffed and puffed and left, she would have been fine. She reminds me of my mom… mad because Daddy did something for me or gave me something.” She scoffs in that irritated teenage way, rolls her eyes, and waves the situation off. “I just wanted to go have ice cream.”

Jason is quiet for a moment, but Butterfly correctly thinks to fill the dead air.

“Well, they had better not behave that way at Sur La Table tomorrow or that franchise is going to be Sophie La Table by the time we leave,” she says. Sophie giggles.

“That reminds me,” Jason says. “You have your own kitchen, and I think you’re old enough and responsible enough to start practicing your own dishes. So, when you go to Sur La Table tomorrow, you can get anything you want to outfit your kitchen.” Sophie’s eyes widen.

“Really?” she says in a high whisper. “Dad, are you serious?”

“I’m completely serious,” he says. “You can have whatever you want, and if it needs to be shipped, just have them ship it… and we’ll get a couple of extra fire extinguishers, too.”

“Daa-aa-aad,” Sophie whines, “I used to cook when I lived with Mom, just not gourmet stuff.” Jason’s face hardens.

“You did?” he asks. Sophie shrugs.

“Yeah,” she says. “If I didn’t, I’d starve… or I’d have to eat Pop-Tarts for life.”

“How long have you been cooking?” Jason asks. Sophie ponders her answers as Gail and Keri re-enter the room with the twins.

“About…” she ponders a moment more, “three or four years.”

That would fucking make her nine years old.

“What do you know how to cook, Sophie?” Butterfly asks, trying to get information and diffuse the situation at the same time.

“A lot of stuff,” she says. “I haven’t cooked all the stuff, but watching the TV shows and things on YouTube, I can probably follow any recipe you give me.”

“What have you already cooked?” Butterfly probes.

“I can cook breakfast,” she says. “I can make hamburgers and fried chicken. I tried to bake a chicken once, but it came out kinda dry. Then I learned I needed to take the innards out and turn the temperature down… and baste, so…” She ponders a little more. “I can do lots of Asian food—stir fry, pepper steak, shrimp fried rice… I know how to make sweet and sour sauce, too.”

“What’s the first thing you remember cooking by yourself?” Jason asks.

“Oh, that’s easy. Grilled cheese… I burned my hand,” she replies matter-of-factly.

“You burned your hand?” Butterfly interjects. “Badly?”

“Real bad,” she says. “I still got the scar. See?” She turns her hand over and shows us a straight scar from the bottom of her palm across the top of her wrist. It almost looks like the scar tissue from a knife slash. Jason frowns deeply.

“Shalane told me you fell off your bike and cut yourself on a piece of glass,” Jason counters. Sophie shakes her head.

“Nope. Grilled cheese,” she says, looking at her hand again and shrugging like it’s no big deal. I can see the steam rising from Jason’s head. “Don’t worry, Dad, I know how to make a great sandwich now. Ms. Solomon taught me.” Jason smiles tightly.

“She did?” he asks, trying to control his voice.

“Yeah, it’s ham and cheese and pineapple and it’s really good,” she boasts.

“Will you make one for me when we get home?” he asks. Sophie beams.

“Sure, Dad,” she says, proudly. “I’ll make you anything you want.”

“Pumpkin?” Gail says. “Will you please take Mikey for me and help Keri get them ready for snack time? I want to talk to your dad for a minute.”

“Sure, Momma Gail. C’mon Mikey, let’s go get treats.” Gail puts Mikey on the floor and he immediately takes Sophie’s hand and allows her to lead him to parts unknown.

“Jason, are you okay?” Gail asks once Sophie has left the room.

“Anything she wants,” he says to his wife. “I mean it. Anything that will allow her to create anything she wants…” He trails off.

“You’ll get no argument from me,” Gail says. “If anybody’s worth it, she is. And I really think we’ll be cultivating her dream, so why not get her started as soon as possible with the best utensils money can buy?”

“I don’t mean to get giddy over what is apparently a serious and very solemn moment, but this is going to be so much fun!!!” Butterfly declares gleefully while shaking her fists, adding the needed levity to the situation and causing Gail and Jason to snicker.

And just like that, crisis averted.

*-*

“Does Sophie have a passport?” Butterfly asks as we’re getting ready for bed.

“I don’t know,” I reply, nonplussed. “I don’t think there was ever a reason for her to have one before now, but I would have to ask Jason. Why do you ask?”

“I think it would be great if our trip to Italy was a family vacation,” she suggests, climbing into bed. “Not the entire trip, but maybe the last leg or so of it. I’d like for my babies to be there for a bit, and that would mean Keri and Gail, which would also mean Sophie. What do you think?” He shrugs.

“I don’t see why not,” he says. “It would definitely be a really good experience for her, and I’m certain that having the twins there for part of the trip would help you to relax. I’ll talk to Jason and see how he feels. This wouldn’t have anything to do with the whole Bad Taste Italian experience, would it?”

“It has everything to do with it,” she says shamelessly. “While we were at one of the restaurants, Sophie mentioned that she would like to go to Italy one day and taste authentic Italian cuisine. I told her that we would be going this summer and said that I would run it past you, Gail, and Jason to see how you all felt about it. I didn’t make any promises, though, because I don’t know if there’s any bureaucracy involved with her being able to leave the country or even if Jason would want that.” I chuckle.

“At this point, Jason would gift her the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and if there’s any bureaucracy involved with her being able to leave the country, he’ll get past that, too,” I say climbing into bed next to her. I turn the light off as she snuggles under the cover. I wrap my arm around her waist and pull her against me, pressing two kisses on her shoulder.

“You’re a really good Aunt Ana,” I say, as she snuggles into me and falls off to sleep.

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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 18

@Sweet Peach75, I have no idea why, but I happened to go to my website spam folder and there were like three posts in there from you! I’ve put them back on the site, but you guys, if you post a comment and you don’t see it after a day or so, hit me on that “contact me” link so I can check my spam. I’m going to check it more often just in case. I’m so sorry about that, Peach!!!

Thanks to all of you who like and retweet my links. Twitter and I just don’t seem to agree with one another. I get on there as often as I can and I try to follow it. If it weren’t for the sites (this one included) that automatically tweet my shit, I wouldn’t be there. So, again, I thank you! 

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

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

Season 5 Episode 18

CHRISTIAN

“I haven’t eaten anything yet, and I’m starving. Can you please order something from room service?”

“Of course, baby. How far away are you?” I hear her ask Chuck.

“About twenty minutes,” she says, her voice defeated.

“Will you need a drink?” I ask. She sighs.

“Just wine… and a cranberry spritzer.”

“I’m on it,” I tell her. “Come on back to the hotel and everything will be right as rain.”

“Yeah, sure,” she remarks. “Love you.”

“Love you, too,” I reply, and end the call. I dial Keri’s number.

“Yes, Chtistian?”

“Are the twins still asleep?” I ask.

“Noh, dey jess weke up,” she replies.

“Good. Butterfly is on her way. She’ll be here in twenty minutes. I’m having room service delivered down there for her.”

“Okeh, wee’ll be wehtin,” she says, and ends the call.

I order room service to the “baby suite,” then sit impatiently, waiting for my wife to return. I’m concerned about how she’ll feel about the babies being in Las Vegas. Will she be happy they’re here, like Allen said, or will she be pissed that I brought her children to this forbidden place—and without asking her first? Maybe she’ll be both—happy at first and then pissed, or vice-versa.

Well, I wanted to see them, too, and we probably won’t be going back to Seattle until her mother wakes or kicks the bucket—whichever comes first. So, there.

I get that nervous sinking feeling in my stomach when I hear her enter the suite. It turns to concern when I see her face.

“I thought Chuck was with you,” I say.

“He nearly bolted from the elevator saying he had to pee and took off in the other direction,” she says. No, he’s trying to get a few moments with his girl before we descend.

“You look like it’s been a rough day,” I say. She tosses her coat onto the big chair and sighs.

“Not so much,” she says. “I just… I don’t know how you can see someone in such a vulnerable position and not be concerned. I look at her and right, now, she’s completely at my mercy. I want to make sure that she’s taken care of, that she gets everything that she needs, but any time I think of feeling any emotion for her, it’s nothing but anger. I think about me being in that bed—no one caring about me—and her room is full of flowers. I think about no one coming into that room to see me, not even her, but her best friend came today and just sat with her for a long time. She even knew who I was.

“It seems so petty to compare her situation now with mine back then. It seems childish to say, ‘Well, you didn’t care about me, so I shouldn’t care about you.’ It seems so ridiculous to be jealous of her flowers and envious of her visitors and hateful that so many people appear to care for her, but I couldn’t get that! Not even from her!”

She puts one hand on her forehead and one on her hip, turning away from me and taking several deep breaths. I move in closer to her and gently grasp her arms.

“This hate is heavy,” she says, her voice thick and low. “I can’t keep carrying it, but I don’t know what else to feel. I feel like she doesn’t deserve the kindness that she’s getting, but that’s crazy.” She shakes her head. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“You’re human, Butterfly,” I tell her. “She hurt you. She left you all alone. You were just a kid. You can no sooner get over those feelings of helplessness and desertion than I can get over these burns on my chest and where they came from.”

She stiffens, but it’s true. We were both traumatized in our childhood, and the scars are a lot deeper than the ones left on our skin.

“My mother is dead,” I tell her. “I don’t have to worry about forgiving her or wondering why she did what she did, because she’s gone. Your mother is alive—she’s still able to account for her sins against you and deep down, that’s what you want. You want her to feel the loneliness and the seclusion that you felt at your weakest moment, but whether she wakes up or not, she’s not going to feel that. She has accumulated a support system here, and they’re concerned about her, and you have the right to feel the way that you feel, because you didn’t have that support system when you needed it the most. We’ve both healed the best we can from those scars, but they still run deep.”  She shakes her head.

“I have to deal with this somehow,” she says. “I can’t shed any more tears over this. I can’t let it take over my life. In a couple of weeks, one way or the other, this ordeal is going to be over for me. I’ll have some therapy with Ace or Laura in the meantime and deal with it however I must.”

“Laura?” I ask. “You’ve been having therapy with Laura?”

“The few conversations I’ve had with Laura have been more fruitful than the two years I’ve spent with Ace. Her conversations are not really therapy, they’re more organic. They’re geared more to helping you get well and deal with your issues than to keep you coming back for more sessions. I think I like her methods better. I’m going to have a talk with her about studying her methods and incorporating them into my practice with the families at Helping Hands.” I twist my lips and nod.

“That’s probably a good idea, Butterfly,” I say, “especially if you see the good in what they’re doing for you. I just don’t want you to discount the good that Ace did, too. His methods really helped you out in some of your hardest times.”

“Yes, he was very helpful in a lot of ways,” she says. “I think I’m just put off by the fact that he couldn’t seem to actively help me with the Boogeyman, and that seemed pretty important to me.” I nod. I understand where she’s coming from. However…

“Well, for now, I want you to put all of this stuff in a little box and come with me. I have a surprise for you.” I take her hand and lead her to the door.

“Christian, I really don’t feel like being around people right now,” she protests, “and where’s my food?”

“Humor me,” I say, retrieving the key from the sofa table as we head out the door.

 “Where are we going?” she asks as we pass the elevator.

“A few more steps, my love,” I tell her, and she sighs impatiently. When I knock on the door of the suite, Chuck opens it with a smile.

“I smell food,” she says. “The food is in here…?”

When Chuck clears the doorway, it looks like we’ve walked right into Romper Room. The entire suite has been transformed into a toddler-friendly play area, complete with wall decals, oversized blocks, playhouses, floor tiles with letters and numbers, the whole nine yards. Percy really went over the top making a home away from home for my children.

“What in the world?” Butterfly says as we step into the suite. “What is this? You want to play with toys?”

“No, but I figure you might want to play with those,” I say, pointing to the living room area. There Keri sits with a fidgety Minnie and Mikey standing next to her. Butterfly’s hands fly to her mouth and she gasps loudly, tears immediately springing to her eyes.

Keri says something to the twins, no doubt along the lines of “Go to Mommy” or something like that. Having gotten his land legs sooner than his sister, Mikey darts to his mother and she drops to her knees in just enough time to scoop him into her arms. A few moments later, Minnie joins the hugfest, and my wife is on her knees, holding her babies and sobbing. It’s a sight that would bring the toughest of us to tears.

Allen, Ray, and Marilyn have come to the suite while my wife is blubbering in the middle of the floor to her babies. When she pulls them back to say something to them that I can’t decipher through her tears, Minnie replies with something equally indecipherable while patting both hands on Butterfly’s cheeks and Mikey makes a vain attempt to wipe her tears from her eyes.

A protector even at one year old.

I kneel down next to her and rub her back, trying to calm her crying a bit. She releases the children and they immediately head to the colorful little table and the toys it carries.

“How could you bring my babies to this horrible place?” she sobs, turning to me while still on the floor.

Uh oh.

I turn to Allen, whose eyes have widened, his mouth falling open. She rises up on her knees and catches me in a fierce embrace.

“Thank you,” she sobs in my neck. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you…”

I slowly wrap my arms around her, still stunned by her earlier chastisement, but happy that we’ve averted a crisis. While we’re wrapped in our embrace, I catch my daughter out the corner of my eye standing next to her mother. When I look down, I see her patting Butterfly on the leg.

“Methinks the Lady Mackenzie wants your attention,” I say. She releases my neck and tries to compose herself. I hand her my handkerchief, and she wipes away what tears she can manage before turning her attention to Minnie.

“Yes, Minnie Mouse?” she says, her voice still shaking. Minnie points to something on the other side of the room and uses her usual indecipherable speech, to which my wife answers, “Show me.”

Minnie takes her hand and Butterfly doesn’t rise from her knees. She crawls behind Minnie in white slacks and Louboutin red-bottoms to whatever thing has captured my daughter’s attention. I sigh heavily and look over at Allen, who stretches his lips in that way that confirms, “Yes, we dodged a bullet!”

Butterfly spends the rest of the afternoon playing games with her children and completely forgetting about the late lunch I had ordered. After a couple of hours, we order dinner to the twins’ suite and everyone comes down again to have a family meal, which consists of cold smoked ahi tuna poke, lamb chops, beef tenderloin, rotisserie chicken, cedar plank salmon, day boat scallops, whipped mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, steamed broccoli, and foraged mushrooms with red velvet cake, vanilla bean crème brûlée, and lemon mousse cheesecake for dessert. Unfortunately, tiramisu is not on the menu, so my beloved wife settles for red velvet cake.

Our children enjoy chicken fingers and French fries with finger fruit for dessert. My picky daughter bypasses the finger fruit and opts for the broccoli instead… strange kid.

The children have had a very big day with their first trip in an airplane, walking into a toddler wonderland, and the excitement of seeing their parents again. The adrenaline of the day crashes down on them very quickly after they’ve had dinner and they both fall into a food-induced slumber, Minnie in her mother’s arms and Mikey in the highchair next to me. Allen and Ray have gone back to their rooms for the night and Marilyn is sitting next to Butterfly. They’re chatting about… whatever. Marilyn is sipping on her smoothie as usual, but I didn’t see her eat anything today at dinner.

I look at her carefully, and her hair is dull and stringy. She keeps it in a small bun most of the time, but right now, it’s in a ponytail. There’s no bounce to it. It looks like hair when it’s oily and limp, but it’s dry and visibly brittle. Her skin looks pale and her face is unhealthily narrow. Her clothes are hanging from her frame and even her eyes look dull. I remember clearly when her face was fuller and her skin had a glow, when she looked healthy and athletic instead of frail and sickly. It’s not that I watched her, but I saw her nearly every day. I wish I could say that she’s looking better, but she’s not.

“Did you invite Marilyn to the spa with you yesterday?” I ask discreetly.

“Yes, but she didn’t want to go,” Butterfly replies. Maybe a massage and a treatment will help Marilyn begin to feel like herself again.

“What’s the plan for tomorrow?” I ask, loud enough for the room to hear me.

“Well, I’m not going to see my mother tomorrow because I’ll be spending the entire day with my babies.” She kisses a sleeping Minnie on the forehead. “When I was carrying them in my belly, they gave me strength when I felt like I couldn’t make it. Now, I barely know how to function when I’m away from them. Isn’t that a sad state of affairs?”

“What about you, Marilyn?” I say. “Why don’t you and Keri kick back and take advantage of the free spa packages that come with these rooms?”

“Thank you, Christian,” Marilyn says. “Maybe I will some other time, but Keri, you and Gail can go, and I’ll stay here with Bosslady.” I nod and drop it, allowing Keri and Gail to coo over going to the spa. I really wish Marilyn would go. This situation actually appears to be aging her.

“Ana, I don’t mean to talk business with you, but I haven’t gotten a chance to see you alone all day. Carl sent the figures for the proceeds from Tina’s jewelry auction. It was quite the haul.”

“Really?” Butterfly asks with interest. “Did you see how much?”

“After auctioneer’s fees, 1.7 million,” she replies.

“Whoa! Really?” Butterfly exclaims. “Have you told Grace?”

“Not yet. I just saw the email before dinner,” Marilyn says.

“Do me a favor and forward it to Grace. She’s going to be thrilled. She was just telling me about the grant proposals that she and Courtney are working on.”

“Oh, yeah, speaking of Courtney,” Marilyn says, sitting back in her seat, “I talked to her today, too. Things seem to be going well overall. Her and Vick are doing great. She got her grades and she’s ecstatic…” She trails off.

“There’s a but in there, I hear it,” Butterfly says. I hear it, too. Marilyn sighs.

“She’s a bit depressed… and pissed,” Marilyn continues. “It appears that even though her relationship with Addie is flourishing, her grandfather committed a major faux pas. Just after we came to Nevada for the trial, he offered her $1 million in cash. He wasn’t convinced that she had turned her life around and he wanted her out of Addie’s life to spare Addie the heartbreak of discovering that her granddaughter was still the conniving little brat that she had previously proven to be.

“Courtney. Was. Livid. She told him that if her grandmother did give her something at this point, she would give it to Helping Hands because you guys were the only ones who gave her a chance and believed in her when she really was worthless. She told him that she completely understands how he feels and why he feels that way, but that she’s not going to allow him to torment her anymore, that she didn’t want his money, and that she never wants to see him again.”

Whoa! That’s severe.

“She really shouldn’t cut her grandfather off,” I interject. “He has a lot of contacts—in the business world, in society… He could really be helpful to her in the future.”

“He’s already cut her off, Christian,” Butterfly says. “Courtney’s right. I totally get why Fred feels the way that he does. Courtney was insufferable and incorrigible, but she didn’t come to them asking for forgiveness, to be accepted into the family, or for any money or support from them. In fact, she shunned it. She avoided all contact with them. Addie came to her. Even then, she had the condition that if they felt the same way that they felt when they sent her back to Hukatucky or whatever the name of that place was that she didn’t want to be bothered—she was fine without them.

“I don’t know what Fred is expecting from her, but if he feels that she’s still irredeemable, then he needs to separate himself from her. Stop being around her and stop antagonizing the girl.”

“He’s only doing the same thing I did with Carla, Butterfly,” I say. “I tried to hand her money to get out of your life and leave you alone if she was coming back into your life to cause you grief and she turned it down, too.”

“It’s completely different, Christian,” Butterfly says. “Courtney was a self-centered, irresponsible little brat and that hurt Addie and Fred a lot. My mother watched me be tormented—physically and emotionally—and then she contributed to that torment. Addie and Fred discovered over the course of a few months that Courtney was a seemingly unsalvageable bad apple. I suffered for years at the hands of my mother.

“Courtney turned her life around on her own terms and decided that what she did, she would do it while no one was looking. My mother gave a moving performance about how horrible she and Green Valley were to me, about how she wishes she could take it all back and that the money I gave her is in a trust fund for the children, but she had an audience—a very large one at that. She cut her own deal to give her testimony, and even if she was totally sincere about her change of heart, I am nearly 30 fucking years old. The pain that she put me through is completely immeasurable and its effects spanned decades. One courtroom testimony—though quite stirring—won’t make up for what she put me through.

“Courtney did nothing like that to Addie and Fred, nor has she tried to come back and get in their good graces. They came to her.”

I can’t argue with her. She’s right about all of it. I just can’t help but feel like…

“I wish there was some way that everybody could come out of this not so hurt,” I admit. “We all know that Courtney was a real piece of work, but she appears to have turned her life around. And Adelaide and Fred are old and dear friends of our family. I just wish it could be easier for everybody.”

“You’re sweet,” my wife says softly, “but sometimes, this is just the way it is, baby.”

“Yeah, I know. I just don’t like it.”

*-*

My wife is happily spending the entire day in Romper Room watching various Disney movies and playing with toys like she’s a toddler herself. She awoke this morning, took the fastest shower known to man, donned a pair of yoga pants and a sweatshirt, scoffed down her breakfast way too quickly to digest, and announced that she will be spending the day in the babies suite if I wanted to find her. With her permission, I take a few hours to catch up on all things GEH.

I’ve discovered that with the new system of employee reviews, we’ve had a few resignations—some of the workers in the trenches and a couple of people in middle management, nothing to be concerned about. When asked why they were resigning, many of them gave some form of the same answer—they felt like they shouldn’t have to justify why they deserved their raises.

My company is scraping its ass on the ground like an ailing dog, being dragged down by incompetent assholes, some of whom don’t have the leadership skills of a gerbil, and I’ve got people who feel they shouldn’t have to tell me that they deserve their raises simply because they’ve done everything they were told to do… no initiative, no latent leadership skills, no problem-solving, no nothing, not even speaking up to say, “I had an idea, but my opinion wasn’t respected.”

Well, if that’s how you feel, then goodbye—and good luck on your next STAR behavioral-based interview where you’ll have to explain why you quit your last job with a very lucrative company with endless opportunities for advancement and when and if you proved at any point that you could be a valuable member of the team.

My status report has come in on the Pedophile as well. I look over the pictures that were forwarded to Alex. They’re glorious! She’s sitting in a wheelchair and her skin is hanging off of what you can see of her face. Her blonde hair is once again growing out to its brown and gray roots, and she truly looks like she’s got one foot in the grave. It truly warms my heart.

After an email or twelve to various departments and my executive team, I head down to the Romper Room suite to see my babies… all of them.

*-*

“They’re playing all your songs tonight, Al,” Butterfly laughs.

“Looks that way,” Allen concurs.

James flew down to be with Allen for the weekend and a few of us take a chance again to get out of the hotel. Butterfly found a place online called Oddfellows. It’s north, just on the outside of the Freemont Street Experience near the courthouse. It’s an alternative-type dance club where I would suspect no one would know who we are or at least they wouldn’t expect us to be here. Each night has a theme, and tonight is 80’s night, apparently right up Butterfly’s and Al’s alley.

The order of the day is jeans and casual clothes, so I didn’t have to worry about my girl wearing some skimpy dress that would be the envy of all the women and the desire of all the men. There’s a skimpy dress here and there on the dancefloor—which has a small stage and a huge, wall-sized video screen as its backdrop—but not Butterfly. No, she wants to dance and gyrate, and that silk shirt, black jeans, and Louboutin stilettos are still enough to showcase that beautiful body and cause a few women to sneer and more than a few men to salivate.

My girl has had a Cosmo or two and is bouncing happily in her seat to the music, an eclectic mix of artists from what sounds like the 80’s and maybe a touch of the early 90’s.

“So, how do you distinguish between Allen’s songs and your songs?” I ask. “You’re both singing them all.”

“Well, Al was the quintessential white boy, so he introduced me to Billy Joel, Duran Duran, the B-52’s, A-ha, and Wham, to name a few. I was the reverse Oreo, so to speak, so I introduced him to Motown, Kool and the Gang, Bobby Brown, and Salt-n-Pepa. It appears that they are tapping into the 80’s white boy tonight.”

Just as she finishes that statement, the familiar twang of the beginning of Take On Me fills the air and my girl deliberately begins to wildly bob her head like a hand-banger, after which she leaps to her feet and begins to do that dance where the girls bounce back and forth on their toes from one foot to the other, her hands doing a calmer version of the swim, and all I can think to myself as she and Al pipe out the lyrics is, “Who is this girl?”

She went to the hospital briefly this afternoon and when she returned, I was informed that we were going out tonight. She disappeared into the bedroom for an hour or two and when she emerged, she was wearing the ensemble that she’s wearing now, quickly putting the kibosh on my more formal garb and instructing me to go and change. We’ve had a seafood dinner and my wife and her gay boyfriend are feasting on a dessert of Cosmos and 80’s music.

Once A-Ha has finished singing the last bars of the song and the lead singer bursts out of the cartoon world and into live color on the life-sized screen, Allen and Butterfly return to the table with me and James to quench their parched throats with a swallow or three of their Cosmos. Just as they’re catching their breath and reminiscing over yet another 80’s tune, an unfamiliar intro of horns begins to play. Butterfly looks up at Allen in acknowledgement and Allen raises a brow at her.

“Do you remember it?” Allen asks her.

“Of course, I remember it!” Butterfly replies.

“Well, what’re we waitin’ for?” Allen says, sliding out of the booth. Butterfly giggles as he takes her hand and they head off to the dancefloor. I look at Jason, who just shrugs. A few moments later, we watch as Allen and Butterfly break into a perfectly choreographed routine of what looks like a mixture between a foxtrot and a jive, and with all the spins and perfect steps they’re doing, you can’t really tell who’s leading. I look over at James, who’s as stunned as I am to see them dancing together like that. They actually look like they can compete professionally.

What’s more, I don’t think I’ve seen my wife smile this widely in weeks.

“Do you ever feel left out of their little club?” I ask James honestly. He shakes his head as he swallows his beer.

“No,” he says, “Allie makes sure that doesn’t happen. We have our own little club and everybody can’t be a part of that one.” He raises his brow and takes another drink of his beer. I remember Butterfly mentioning to me once that they dabbled a bit in the lifestyle. I don’t know if they’re still in it or how deeply they’ve gone, and I dare not ask without invitation, but he’s right—no one should be privy to the “marriage” club relationship unless you’re practicing Polyamory, and that’s a huge no-no for me and Butterfly. I don’t want anyone else’s hands—male or female—on my woman!

“I’ve never seen a friendship like theirs,” James continues. “Never. If I wasn’t certain of Allie’s love for me, I’d feel threatened. I’m a little jealous that I never had a friendship like that in my entire life.”

“I think we’re both lucky to have found them,” I tell him. “They’re in love with each other as much as two people can be in love and not share a sexual relationship. For her to have the capacity to love him unconditionally and then love me, too… yeah, I’m the luckiest man alive.”

“I might have to dispute you on that one, Chris,” he says, watching his husband finish a flawless dance with my wife. They were clearly in their own world and appear a bit surprised to discover that the dancers cleared a small hole in the dance floor for them to finish their routines while the spectators looked on, and they’re a bit taken aback when the room erupts into applause for them.

I discover later that the song that gave them dancing feet is called Mambo #5.

My girl returns to her seat and a Cosmo and a bottle of water later, she’s back on the dance floor, perfectly mimicking the steps—and adding a few of her own—to the Salt-n-Pepa, Push It and Janet Jackson Control videos.  

And now I know how my girl learned to dance. She probably spent quite a bit of time mimicking music videos.

I have to admit that concept behind the Tainted Love video, I can’t get with that. It looks too creepy to me. I’m surprised that I’ve never seen it before now. He’s singing to a little girl—he looks like a fucking pedophile. Jason notices my expression and leans over to me.

“You okay, Boss?” he asks.

“This song was popular back in the day, I remember it,” I tell him. “This was the concept behind it the whole time?” He looks at the video, then looks back at me.

“I… I don’t know,” he says. “But you know the eighties, Boss. There was a lot of artistic expression that didn’t necessarily make sense.”

“There’s nothing confusing about that,” I retort. “He’s singing to a child about tainted love. That’s disgusting! Who approved this message?”

“I wouldn’t get too upset about it, Boss,” Jason says. “The song is 35 years old and the guy singing it is probably twice as old…” and probably out molesting children if his video is any indication!

I purse my lips and shake my head. How jaded must my mind be to get this angry over a 35-year-old video whose director obviously adopted a very fucked up sense of creative license?

“You’re not off the mark on this one, Chris,” James says, bringing my attention back to him. “I think it’s weird, too, and that’s putting it nicely. It’s making me pretty fucking uncomfortable. That song was originally done in the 60’s by an artist named Gloria Jones—this is a cover. She made it very clear that it’s about a relationship gone sour and she’s singing to her lover about how she feels their love is one-sided and now putrid. Where the concept falls that he’s singing to a little girl is beyond me.”

“Thank you!” I say, throwing my hand in the air. “I’m not crazy! I still like the song, but that video sucks!” I bottom out my bear and search for the waitress to get another one. While I’m searching the room, my eyes land on Butterfly and her lifetime dance partner now dominating the floor to Paula Abdul’s Straight Up.

I’m mesmerized once again watching her mimic the moves in the music video with Allen as the perfectly in-sync backup dancer. I completely forget what I was bitching about watching her flawlessly execute that Butterfly thing that Paula Abdul does with her legs. She’s graceful and beautiful and if there’s conversation going on around me, I can’t even hear it anymore. I could watch her all day.

Next, another Paula Abdul song comes on accompanied by a video that would disturb me as much as the Tainted Love video… if it wasn’t so cute. It’s the video for Opposites Attract, and Paula’s love interest is—of all things—a cartoon cat. The entire video is a dance video and she and Allen never miss a step. They use whatever room the other dancers give them, whether it’s a few feet or the entire stage area of the dance floor. After watching her execute some of the rubber-band moves of Paula Abdul, many people usually just move out of the way. I’m totally blown away when she and Allen mimic the tap dancing scene near the end of the video.

Fuck, is there anything this woman can’t do?

They stroll back to the table like Paula and ScatCat strolls off the screen at the end of the video, smiling so hard that their faces should break. Amidst the thunderous applause and cheers, they’re cut off by one of the women that was dancing just before they get to the table.

“Are you guys a couple?” she asks. “You look great together!”

“Thank you,” Butterfly says sincerely. “No, we’re not. Actually, we’re both married. He’s my gay boyfriend.” She squeezes his hand and lays her head on his shoulder.

“And she’s my fag hag,” Allen replies, laying his head on hers.

“Wow, really?” the girl says, somewhat wistfully. “You’re kind of hot.” James reaches up and takes his husband’s free hand, guiding him to the seat next to him.

“I think so, too,” James says protectively.

“Wow,” she says, looking at Allen and his husband, “two hot guys. You can’t go anywhere in public, can you?”

James chuckles loudly and Allen laughs as the young lady’s eyes travel around the table and land—widely—on me. Butterfly slides into the booth next to me and latches onto my arm, smiling at the girl.

“Please tell me that’s another one of your gay boyfriends cuz I’ll turn him straight,” she says without taking her eyes off me. Butterfly shakes her head and flashes her rings.

“Nope. Husband,” she says with a smile.

“Shit!” she says. “Sorry,” she says to Butterfly, repentant and with pouty lips, then she rolls her eyes. “Three hot guys.” Her eyes wander to a lone Jason sitting on the opposite side of the table in a chair he commandeered and brought to the table. Before she can question, he holds up his finger and flashes his ring.

“Fuck!” she exclaims. “Four hot pieces of man-candy and they’re all taken! Figures!” She throws her hands up and marches, frustrated, away from the table, causing us to burst out in laughter while Jason just shakes his head.

“I had no idea you guys could tap dance!” I point out once our admirer has left.

“She can’t, I can,” Allen says, proudly.

“Well, she was doing a pretty good job up there,” James says.

“Only because he taught me that routine,” Butterfly says before taking a healthy chug of what must be room-temperature water.

“And she scares the shit outta me doing it in stilettos!” Allen chimes in. “The entire time, I was afraid that she would tweak her damn ankle!”

“But I didn’t, so keep your shirt on,” she says, waving down a waitress.

“My girl can do anything in stilettos,” I say, remembering what she said to me after our first night together. James’ brow furrows.

“Anything?” he asks, puzzled.

“Anything,” Butterfly confirms.

“Can you rock climb?” Jason asks, with a smirk.

“If it’s me or the rock, I’ll figure it out,” she replies.

The waitress has made her way to the table and Butterfly gets another round of drinks, lots of water, and soda for Jason. Once the waitress returns, I hand her a $100 bill and thank her for the drinks.

“I’m hungry again,” Butterfly announces after chugging an entire bottle of water.

“I can see why,” I say. “You’ve done a workout up there that would put Zumba to shame.”

“And I’m sweating like a pig,” she says, pulling the material of her shirt from her body repeatedly, using it to fan herself. “Give me your blazer,” she says.

“Why? Are you cold?” I ask.

“I will be in a minute if you don’t give me your blazer,” she says, and snatches her drenched silk shirt right over her head… in the middle of the damn club. I’m stunned just looking at those beautiful mounds held up by a stylish black sports bra.

“Shit!” Jason says, ripping off his suit jacket to cover Butterfly while she uses her 100% silk shirt to dry her sweat to a background of whooping onlookers.

“Your Highness!” Jason scolds over the music.

“Heeeeey! We agreed!” Butterfly protests.

“Your. Highness!” Jason reinforces, saying the second word so hard that Butterfly jumps in her seat. “Please! Don’t ever do that again!”

She stares at him like a child being scolded by her father. His words are a request. His tone is, “If you pull that shit again, you’re grounded for a month.”

“Okay, okay, sorry,” she says in a whiny, petulant, teenager voice. She buttons the suit jacket which is at least three sizes too big for her, her sports bra still peeking out from the neckline. She rolls the sleeves up to accommodate her hands, never raising her gaze to any of us while she’s doing it. I’m certain that she’s feeling chastised and a bit embarrassed. She had better be glad I was hypnotized by her tits or my reaction may have been a bit more… animated.

“Okay,” I say when she has fiddled with the sleeves a bit too long. “Back to the dancefloor.”

I push her out of the booth and slide out behind her. I’m dragging her to the dancefloor by her hand and she’s somewhat stomping behind me with her head down like I just told her to go to her room.

Geez, Butterfly, spoiled much?

I dance a little with her and she’s not into it at all, doing the obligatory two-step with minimal movements of her arms.

Well, this will never do.

“Okay. Fine. You don’t want to dance with me? I’ll dance by myself.”

I turn away from my wife and begin a series of crazy gyrations reminiscent of the final scene of Footloose. It’s not really bad, except if you take away the weird dresses and prom decorations, you’ve got one guy on the floor looking like he’s having a seizure.

When I turn back to my wife, she’s got one arm crossed over her chest and one hand covering her mouth, stifling a smile that she’s trying not to let show.

“No?” I say, shaking my head. “Okay, how about this?” For my next rendition, ladies and gentlemen…

I begin a really bad… and I do mean really bad rendition of Austin Powers’ fembots dance. Seriously, the dance was already bad on its own, but I made it worse. Now, both my wife’s hands are covering her mouth. And for my finale, folks…

I break into a flawless rendition of Napoleon Dynamite’s “Vote for Pedro” dance to Canned Heat… only I’m dancing to Break My Stride. And, well, flawless may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I must admit that Napoleon Dynamite was one of my guilty pleasures, so I know that routine very well. If it’s not flawless, it’s pretty damn close.

“Okay, okay, you’re making a fool of yourself!” my wife says, halting my exquisite execution through her laughter by putting her arms around my waist.

“Yeah, but I made you laugh, didn’t I?” I say victoriously.

“Heartily,” she says as I pull her against me and kiss her quickly.

“And he’s right,” I say, holding her over Jason’s way too big suit jacket. “What you did was worthy of a punishment. If you ever do it again, you’re going to get one, and you’re not going to like it. Understand?”

My voice is sober, but not harsh. It’s matter-of-fact. If you’re a bad little Pussycat, you’re going to get spanked. She nods and drops her head like a good little soumise.

“Yes, Sir,” she replies softly, and I hear it loud and clear as if she were speaking through a bullhorn. I put my finger under her chin and lift her head.

“Good girl,” I say, kissing her softly again on the lips. “Now, let’s go find something to eat.” I take her by the hand and lead her from the dancefloor.


ANASTASIA

Last night’s workout has turned out to be murder on my joints. I’m exhausted and sore, but not too tired to have breakfast with my children. I’m able to convince Marilyn to have a few pieces of fruit, but I’m certain that we’re going to have to graduate to more real food for her very soon. While Pedialyte, Ensure, and smoothies offer sufficient nutrition for her, she can’t survive off of those things indefinitely.

“Daddy, why do you call me ‘Sunflower?’” I ask when we are the last two people at the table. He raises his brow.

“I’ve… called you that almost since you were born,” he says. “Why do you ask?” I drop my gaze.

“My mother’s favorite flower is a sunflower,” I say. “It took me nearly 30 years to find that out and I found out from a stranger.” Daddy gasps.

“Oh,” he says, sadly. “I forgot all about that. Yeah, that might have been where it came from, come to think of it. I did love that woman once upon a time… very much. It wouldn’t have been too far fetched. I’ll stop if it bothers you…”

“Absolutely not!” I scold. “’Sunflower’ is something special between us that just happens to be her favorite flower.” Daddy nods and drops his head.

“I know why you didn’t tell me everything, but it hurts that you didn’t tell me everything.” I sigh heavily.

“I didn’t have the heart, Daddy,” I reply. “Those details are even hard for me to watch right now, and I remember everything vividly, like it happened yesterday. It was selfish of me not to prepare you guys for what was coming, but what could I do?”

“Nothing, Sunflower,” he says, his eyes filling with tears. “You couldn’t do anything. You couldn’t do anything then and you couldn’t do anything now.” He throws his gaze to the ceiling, trying to fight his tears.

“The only times I’ve ever cried was over you,” he admits. “I was broken when I lost Carla. I was destroyed when I lost you. It was the worst pain I had ever felt when you left me.” I cover my mouth and choke back a sob.

“I know, Daddy,” I say once I’m able to speak. “I felt the same way about you. All those horrible things she made me say to you…”

“I knew it wasn’t you, Annie,” he says. “The words weren’t yours and I could tell right away…” He trails off. “When I showed up at that hospital and you were all frail and weak, dear God, I wanted to burn this city down to find out what had happened to you. I was so angry with Carla. She couldn’t even tell me what was going on! She didn’t have any answers. She blamed you the entire time I talked to her, saying that she had no idea what you had gotten into. Your bruises were mostly healed, but you still looked broken. The pictures that I saw… I had seen men tortured in POW camps that didn’t look that bad.

“All these years, she just walked around like, ‘Shit happens,’” he says, his voice cracking. “Then, she had the nerve to show up at the hospital after you were kidnapped; all that shit she said in the press… Who the hell does she think she is?”

Daddy is getting angry and he’s crying freely now. Daddy’s right—I don’t remember ever seeing him cry. Marines don’t cry, but he’s crying now.

“How could she birth someone into the world and then treat her that way?” he sobs. “I wouldn’t treat a dog the way she treated you. And dear God in heaven, when she called me and told me that you were missing again…!”

Daddy is weeping now. His body is shaking violently with his sobs. I hold his hands tightly as he cries, my own dam bursting along with his. He’s been holding this in for a lot of years. He needs to get it out.

“I did everything I could to keep you,” he sobs. “This never would have happened if she had just let me keep you. I would have protected you… spared you all this agony…”

“I know, Daddy,” I weep. “I know you would.”

“Your capacity for kindness never ceases to amaze me, Annie,” my father says with tears streaming down his cheeks. “I’m not ashamed to say that after hearing her version of what happened, and what she felt, and knowing what you went through, I would have immediately pulled the plug on that woman!” He says the last part through gritted teeth.

“I’m angry and hurt for everything that she did to me,” I admit, “everything that she allowed to happen to me—from ripping me away from you to allowing her monster of a husband to mistreat me to the entire ordeal with Green Valley. I’m hurt and disappointed and enraged down to my very soul… but if I just let her die, then I’m no better than she is.

“At the end of the day, I have to live with my decision. That’s why I’m making sure that she’s getting the best care, but it’s not out of love or devotion. It’s out of human obligation. I’m her next of kin, and I will see her through to the end of her advanced directive or until she awakes, whichever comes first. Then, I’ll put her in a nursing home or the grave, whichever is necessary.”

“That’s still more kindness than she deserves as far as I’m concerned,” Daddy says, wiping his eyes. “I would either be donating her body to science or walking away and leaving her right where she lay! I guess the Man Upstairs has to work on my heart. I don’t think I’ve ever forgiven her for what she put you through.” I squeeze his hands.

“Forgive her, Daddy,” I say, through my sniffles. “I have. I can’t hold onto it anymore. I forgave her years ago when I gave her that money and told her to get out of my life. It still frustrates me that she did the things that she did, and that she was so heartless and cruel, hence my recent meltdown. That’s what happens when I dwell on it. That’s why I don’t dwell on it. You shouldn’t either.” He sighs heavily.

“You’re so wise, Annie, that it scares me sometimes,” he admits.

“Trust me, it can be a very heavy cross to bear,” I lament, wrapping my arms around my Daddy and hugging him with all my might.

Later that afternoon, I stop in at the hospital to collect more cards from more flowers and have some of the older arrangements removed. I told the nurse that she could decide what to do with them since some of them look like they may have been dying. I can still see the disapproval in her eyes when I give her instructions even though she doesn’t say anything to me about how she feels. It’s none of her business anyway. Henry, my mother’s guard today, shows me her visitors’ log.

Fourteen people have been here to see her since I said she could have visitors. What was that, like a couple of days ago?

I push down the anger, envy, and resentment that I feel each time I think about the number of visitors that this selfish adult grandmother has received in just the past few days that a 15-year-old girl wasn’t afforded in several weeks.

“Neti, neti,” I repeat to myself, standing in my mother’s room. “Neti, neti…”

Studying with Marilyn about meditation and restorative yoga, I came upon this simple Sanskrit chant. Neti, neti which simply means not this, not this. It’s used to push away bad omens, bad thoughts, bad situations. I use it to try to cleanse myself of the hateful feelings and energy that consume me when it comes to dealing with this woman. My negative energy can’t be conducive to her healing, and it’s certainly not conducive to mine.

“Neti, neti… neti, neti… neti, neti…”

I recite the damn thing all the way back to the hotel.

*-*

“Aunt Ana!”

Sophie gives me a big hug once she and Gail get to the hotel Saturday evening. She appears to be very happy to be here.

“Sophie!” I say, returning her embrace. “So… Vegas. How many of your friends can say this is where they’re spending their semester break?”

“None,” she giggles. “Most of them are talking about going to some exotic place for spring break, but I’m in Vegas now!” I laugh with her. There’s no use in spreading my hatred for this place. A lot of people like it here; I just don’t.

“I know that Gail and Jason have some things planned, but I’ve got a thing or two planned as well,” I tell her.

“It’s not all kiddie things, is it?” she laments. “I want to do some kiddie things, like I want to go to the Adventure Dome, but I don’t want to do all kiddie things. I want to do some grown-up things, too.”

“Like a Las Vegas food tour?” I ask, “Or dinner at one of the world-renowned chef’s restaurants?”

“Yeah!” she replies, starry-eyed.

“Well, that’s what I’ve got planned,” I tell her, and she hops in place and claps.

“Oh, yay!” she says. “When do we go?”

“The restaurant is tomorrow night, and the food tour is Tuesday. Is there anything else besides Adventure Dome that you want to do while we’re here?”

“I want to go to Sur La Table,” she says. “I’ve been to the one in Pike’s Place and I wasn’t really impressed. I want to see what the one here looks like.” I nod.

“Your wish is my command,” I tell her. “I’ll talk to Gail and Jason and see what they’ve got planned and we’ll fit it in among their plans, okay?” Sophie nods happily.

“Okay,” she says. I type into my phone memos to check out Sur La Table. The moment Google sees the name, it suggests the cooking classes that they have at the store in Summerlin. That would be fantastic! I’m glad my phone is on silent or Google would have blown my entire plan!

“Aunt Ana… I know why you’re here,” she says solemnly. I raise my gaze to her. I don’t really know how to respond. “It’s all over the news at home.”

I swallow hard. How do you explain something like this to a 13-year-old girl?

“I know about your mom, too,” she says, looking at her hands. “I just wanted to get that out.”

“Okay,” I reply.

“I don’t really understand this whole thing,” she says, her brow furrowed. “I really thought the police were supposed to help you.” I sigh heavily.

“Most of the time, they are,” I reply. “This guy… had a brother he wanted to protect more than me.”

“Well, that’s just… crappy,” she says. I know what she really wants to say, and crappy wasn’t it. “Everybody has somebody they want to protect. Does that mean that I have to worry about if the police are going to put somebody else’s well-being before me?”

I shake my head. I can’t tell her that this won’t happen. They very well might put someone else’s well-being before her for many reasons, including but not limited to protecting their own family.

“Let’s hope that’s not the case, Sophie,” I tell her. “I would think that overall, the police would want to do the right thing, which is to protect and serve the public. I feel that even though there may be a few bad apples, overall, the police are good people.”

“I hope you’re right,” she says, “but I still think I want Daddy to teach me how to shoot when I’m old enough.”

“Well, it’s not a bad skill to have,” I concur. She’s quiet for a moment.

“What they did to you,” she says, looking down at her hands, “it was horrible. It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever heard… even more horrible than my mom doing drugs… even more horrible than here trying to sell me to that guy…”

“That was pretty horrible,” I interrupt her with a furrowed brow.

“This was worse,” she said. “Somebody saved me… the police saved me. Nobody saved you… and I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

I’m doing my best not to get choked up. I know what she means, but that’s a huge responsibility for a little girl to take on about something that happened before she was even born.

“There’s nothing for you to be sorry about, baby,” I tell her, taking her hands. “These were horrible people and they did a horrible thing, and now they’re being punished.”

“I’m still sorry,” she says, now looking in my eyes, “I’m sorry that someone came to save me, and no one came to save you.” Oh, dear God.

I know what she’s feeling, and I can’t explain it away. I just take her in my arms and give her a really big hug.

“Thank you, Sophie,” I say, trying to keep my voice from cracking. “I think that’s the nicest thing anybody has ever said to me.”

*-*

Dinner tonight is at the Buffet at Aria, and poor Sophie wants to try everything on the menu. The food is spectacular, the dessert divine, and my honorary niece is eating herself into a stupor. Even my normally picky eater Mackenzie is shoveling different fruits and vegetables into her mouth.

Marilyn didn’t even bother to succumb to the pressure of a buffet, so she’s sitting this one out.

“We’re in Vegas,” Christian says to Chuck while Keri and Gail are off at the food stations. “Have you asked her?”

“Of course, I have,” Chuck replies. “I didn’t expect her to be here, so I left the ring at home, but I was prepared to buy another one if she had said, ‘yes.’”

“So, I take it that it was a ‘no,’” Christian replies. Chuck sighs.

“She’s afraid of something, but I don’t know what it is,” Chuck replies. “I adore her, and I’m certain that she loves me. I just don’t know why she won’t marry me.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want to be beholden to you,” I say. “I love Christian very much, but I wouldn’t want that either.”

“Well, first of all, I wouldn’t do that to her,” Chuck says, slightly affronted. “And second of all, she wouldn’t be. She’s here on her own visa and her job is with you, just like mine is. Granted, she got it because of her affiliation to me, but let’s face it. As much as I love her, if she was shit, you guys wouldn’t let her tend to your children. And now, she’s got her teaching certification, so she really doesn’t need me that way. I don’t think that’s it.”

I think it is. I think she doesn’t want to lose her independence and that she’s afraid that if she marries an American and she’s Anguillan, that’s just what might happen.

“I see those wheels spinning,” Chuck accuses. “You know something I don’t.”

“You’re right,” I confess. “I know how it feels as a woman making my own way and not wanting to lose that feeling. As much as I’ve become accustomed to the lifestyle that I enjoy with my husband, if something happened and I lost it all tomorrow…”

“Which is impossible,” Christian interjects.

“But if it did,” I retort, “I could still go out into the big, wide world and fend for myself. I’m just saying. I don’t know if that’s the problem, but maybe you should ask her what she needs in order to make that step. It may not be that she doesn’t want to spend her life with you. It may just be that you’re asking the wrong question.” He rolls his eyes.

“No offense, Ana, but I can’t hear the shrink right now. I love that girl, and if asking her to marry me is not the right question, then I don’t know what is. Excuse me.”

He stands and heads for the door, and I think he’s going to the restroom. I watch him leave, then crack my neck and finish my wine.

“I’m sorry I asked,” Christian says. I shake my head.

“It’s not your fault,” I reply. “I’m always trying to shrink someone else and I can’t even shrink myself. I’m all tied in knots in this place. I’m barely hanging on from day to day. You all had to bring my children down here to keep me grounded. Who am I to try to give someone advice on how to live?”

“A licensed psychiatrist and a damn good one,” he says, putting his arm around the back of my chair. “You do know what you’re talking about, and you’re right. He just doesn’t want to hear it. He’s raw from another let-down. And baby? When a doctor is ill, she doesn’t diagnose herself without tests. Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t have all the answers for all this crazy shit that’s going on in your life.”

I will not cry…
I will not cry…

“I thought I was supposed to be the shrink,” I say, laughing to fight my tears. He smiles widely and kisses me on the cheek.

“We both know I’m no shrink,” he replies. “I just love you and I want you to be happy.”

I smile and lean on his shoulder. I love Chuck and Keri, too, and I want them to be happy. I just wish I knew what was really holding up Keri’s decision


A/N: Freeds opened in Vegas—Henderson to be exact—in 2017, not 2015. Creative license.

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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs