Grey Continued: Episode 33—Planning to Go Abroad

I’m sorry I’ve been MIA. Lots of changes requiring my attention these days and the Muse took a bit of a beating. Let’s get the story rolling again, shall we?

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

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

Season 5 Episode 33—Planning to Go Abroad

Anastasia

My husband and I can’t keep our hands off each other on Saturday afternoon and it’s quite obvious. We’re not mauling each other to death or having inappropriate PDA’s since we have a yard full of people, but we are very touchy-feely, sitting close to each other and stealing little kisses as often as possible.

Why do we have a house full of people?

It’s a partly-sunny spring day topping off around the mid-60’s, and we’ve decided to have a family barbeque for Christian’s 32nd birthday. It’s late April and we feel that it’s high time to make an announcement to the family.

“So, as some of you know, I purchased a villa in Italy for my wife a couple of years ago and we have yet to visit it. We planned on going last year, but circumstances made that impossible. With everything that has happened and all the drama in our lives, we have decided that we’re going to take a second honeymoon trip to Italy this year.”

“Oh, how romantic!” Grace exclaims. “You’ve always loved Rome. Now, you get to show Ana it’s beauty and history.”

“I’m very excited to go,” I tell her. “Italy is one of the places that I’ve always wanted to see.”

“I’m telling you all this because we plan on leaving in early June and we’ll be gone for no less than six weeks. We plan to end the trip on Lake Como at the villa, and we want to invite our family to join us,” Christian says. The patio is silent now as everyone looks at everyone else.

“Seriously?” Mia is the first to speak. “Lake Como? That’s where your villa is?”

“Yes,” Christian replies, “Sala Comacina, to be exact.”

“Excellent!” Mia exclaims. “When do we leave?” Christian chuckles.

“We plan to be there no later than the 5th of July and we’ll be staying until the 18th,” he replies. Mia looks at Ethan.

“Can we go?” she asks.

“As if I would ever say ‘no’ to you,” Ethan says, kissing Mia’s nose. I can’t help but wonder if he accommodates Mia a bit too much. Hey, what can I say about it? I’m married to a billionaire.

Jason is busy turning the meat on the outside barbeque while Gail and Ms. Solomon complete the side dishes and Sophie helps by preparing the homemade coleslaw and several hors d’oeuvres.

“So, I don’t mean to put you on the spot, Bro,” Christian says, “but the villa is on a really beautiful piece of land on the lake. You and Valerie had a very touching ceremony here, but Lake Como would be the perfect place to renew your vows and take some scenic pictures.” Elliot makes a face like he’s pondering the idea.

“What do you think, Angel?” he asks Val, and her eyes light up.

“A wedding on Lake Como are you kidding?” she asks all in one breath. “Do you really have to ask?” Elliot laughs.

“I guess that’s a yes,” he says. “I don’t know anything about putting together a wedding, though.”

“Oh, please, let me,” Grace beseeches, “I promise I won’t go overboard, and I won’t do anything that you guys don’t want. Please?”

I know Elliot won’t be able to say no, so he volleys that ball over into Val’s court.

“Yes,” Val says with a smile. “I would love that.” Grace claps her hands happily.

“Good! How many people are we expecting? Just the family?” Grace asks.

“I would say yes. Just the usual people we’re accustomed to seeing, unless the happy couple wants something bigger.”

“No, no,” Val chimes in. “The usual is just fine by me.”

“Quaint and elegant,” Grace says. “Excellent! I’ll put together some ideas and touch bases with you later in the week. Is that okay, Valerie?”

“Yes, that’s fine,” Val replies, then looks over at me. “I’m excited already!” she adds with a giggle.

“These are really good. What are they?” Mandy says.

“I’m not sure,” I reply, tasting the crostino that Mandy is eating. “I can taste olives and mushrooms in the spread, but I can’t place everything else.”

“And who thought to put a smoked salmon salad on top of cucumber slices?” Val says. “This is really delicious.”

“Thank you,” Sophie says as she comes out to the patio with more hors d’oeuvres. “That’s actually trout and capers, Aunt Val,” she says as she places another tray of hors d’oeuvres on the table in front of us. “And the bruschetta has two different toppings—one mushroom with garlic and the other olives with herbs. They might have mixed a bit in the blender. I have to be more careful next time.” She looks slightly disappointed.

You made these?” Val says, eating the entire cucumber slice. “Thith ith deliciouth!” Sophie smiles.

“What’s this one, Sophie?” I ask, taking one of the small delights she just set on the table.

“This is an easy one. This is kind of a cheat. This is crab and avocado toast. It’s seasoned with a little cayenne pepper, chopped mint and lime juice on thin, toasted white bread rings.”

“Easy?” Mandy says after finishing her hors d’oeuvre. “I bet you I could mess it up. These are great, Sophie.”

“Thank you,” Sophie says as she heads back to the house.

“How old is she again?” Mandy asks.

“She’s about to be 14,” I reply.

“Does she always help out in the kitchen?” Mandy asks. I know what she’s getting at, and I know why.

“Only when she wants to,” I reply with no malice. “She’s fascinated with cooking, and she’s pretty damn good at it, which reminds me… Everybody?” I look over my shoulder to make sure Sophie’s not coming back out of the house.

“If you’re coming with us this summer, you’re going to want to get started applying for passports for yourself and your children if you don’t already have them,” I say when I have everyone’s attention.

“What on earth made you think about that just then?” Mandy asks. I look over at Jason.

“Because we’re having a hard time getting Sophie’s passport,” he says solemnly. Mandy’s brow furrows in horror.

“Is something wrong?” she asks.

“Yeah, her mother’s a bi… witch,” he corrects himself, noting all of the young ears around that can hear him. “I need her to sign a notarized document for Sophie to get a passport since she can’t physically come with me to apply for the passport and she’s giving me a hard time.” Daddy scoffs.

“Does Sophie know?” he asks.

“Unfortunately, she does,” he says. “I couldn’t keep it from her. I’m supposed to go to the prison this week to get her to sign it, but I know this woman. She’s selfish and manipulative and if she doesn’t sign the paper soon, Sophie won’t be able to go.”

“Well, that sucks,” Daddy says.

“You say both parents,” Luma says. “The girls…”

“You are their only guardian,” Christian says, “so you can sign alone.” Luma sighs heavily and nods.

“What about Harry?” Daddy asks. “He’s a baby. Will he need one?”

“Every United States citizen needs one to travel to another country and get back into the US,” I tell him. “Do you have one, Daddy?” He shakes his head.

“No,” he says. “I’ve never had a reason to leave the country… except when I was active duty.”

“Make that two of us,” Mandy says.

“Well, then you can all go together,” I say. “You’ve got enough time, but you don’t want to wait much longer.”

“Much longer for what?”

I hear the voice that is always welcome in our house, but I’m beginning to dread hearing it.

“Hey, Marlow,” Christian says, rising from his seat and shaking his hand. “We were just talking about passports. The family is going to Italy this summer, so everyone’s passports need to be in order. Do you have one?” He shrugs.

“I have to ask my mom,” he says. “We went to Jamaica once before my father lost his mind, so I might have one, but it’s probably expired.”

“Then, you just have to get it renewed…” Christian continues to talk to Marlow about the trip and needed a passport for him, Marcia, and Maggie, and I’m keeping an eye on the patio door to the kitchen looking for Sophie, noting that Marlow has brought yet another flavor of the month to our home. I don’t want to be rude, but these girls don’t last even to the next holiday. So, I’m not sure why he brings them around.

This one, today… dear God. If Sophie wants to poke at her, she’ll be spoiled for choice. She looks like Buffy the Vampire Slayer with way too much makeup on and not enough clothes. She’s wearing this spaghetti-string corset thing and it’s nowhere near warm enough for something like that. Her skirt is only long enough to cover her unmentionables and she’s wearing sky-high-heeled shoes… to a barbeque!

She’s hanging on Christian’s every word as he’s telling Marlow about the trip and I so desperately want to tell her that my husband isn’t interested in toddlers. I throw a look over at Val and she looks just as bemused back at me. I try very hard not to judge a book by its cover, but this girl has sure thing written all over her and I feel like I should be having the condom conversation again with Marlow right here and right now.

“I, uh, think I’m going to go check on the rest of the meat,” Jason says, rising from his perch next to Christian’s empty seat. “It should be about done, now.”

He heads off to the outdoor kitchen and Val scoots a little closer to Elliot. Grace makes a face like she needs to put something in her mouth before the wrong thing flies out of it and quickly takes a sip of her wine. This is ridiculous. This child is making the adults uncomfortable.

“Ana, this is Rochelle.” Why are you introducing me? It’s not like she’s ever coming back… and she has to know how she looks.

“Hi,” I say, half-heartedly.

“Hi,” she says with a small wave. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Thank you,” I say with a nod. “Have a seat…” before your ass pops out of that dress. She smiles and takes a seat at the table.

Oh, shit, not at the table.

Marlow takes a seat next to her, smiling in her face the whole time. A few minutes later, my fears are confirmed when Sophie walks out of the house. I can feel the animosity radiating off of her as she walks towards the table. She doesn’t speak to anyone or acknowledges anyone’s presence. She just let it rip.

“Aren’t you cold?” Sophie asks. Oh, dear God, here it comes.

“No,” Rochelle replies. “In fact, I’m quite hot.” She throws a look over at Marlow.

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Sophie says, her voice low as she puts the coleslaw on the table, but not low enough. Rochelle scoffs a condescending laugh and turns back to Marlow, who is only too happy to give her the attention she’s seeking. He’s nearly falling all over the girl as Sophie goes back into the house. Several minutes later, she comes back out with a tray and just can’t help herself.

“It probably takes forever for some girls to get dressed,” she says to no one in particular, putting the tray on the table, “and they probably don’t even look like their real selves when they’re done.”

Rochelle sits up in her seat and glares at Sophie, and I’m certain the battle is about to begin…

But Marlow’s going to end it.

“Is she the help?” Rochelle asks in the snottiest, most irritating voice I’ve ever heard. Oh, shit… that was… ouch.

“No,” Marlow says, his voice disgusted. “She’s my bratty little sister and she doesn’t know how to behave around company.”

I can almost feel the knife slowly searing into Sophie’s skin and piercing her little heart.

“Si…” she says, almost inaudibly.

“I thought you said your sister’s name was Marty,” Rochelle says.

“Maggie,” Marlow corrects, “but Sophia is kinda like a sister, too. She’s just a whole lot brattier than Maggie. Just ignore her. Don’t listen to anything she says and don’t feed into any of her little snide comments. Maybe she’ll go away!”

Marlow stands, takes Rochelle’s hand, and moves to the other side of the patio. To say that Sophie is crestfallen is an understatement. She looks like she’s been hit by an 18-wheeler.

“I… have to use the bathroom,” she says, and darts back into the house before I can stop her. As she’s clearing the door, Val comes over to me.

“So, this is how teenagers are dressing now?” she says, quickly glancing over at Rochelle before looking back to me.

“I certainly hope not,” I reply, sipping my Cabernet. “If it is, we’re screwed.”

“Why would he bring someone around the family dressed like that?” she presses.

“I don’t know,” I tell her. “It’s a different girl every time. I don’t even bother remembering their names because I know I’ll never see them again. I told Christian to talk to him about it, but I think Christian just has that boys will be boys thing going on, and if I say anything to him, it’s just like I’m busting his chops, so…” Val shakes her head.

“It’s no mistake she’s a good time,” she says, looking over at them again. “This is what he wants to bring around the people he considers family?” I shrug.

“He’s young,” I reply.

“He’s almost 18,” Val removes the excuse. “He should know better.”

“I guess he should, but are you going to tell him?” I ask, sipping my wine again. She twists her lips and sips her own.

“She pulls at that skirt every time she moves,” Val says. “If she doesn’t, she’s going to have a wardrobe malfunction.”

Val goes back over to Elliot and doesn’t leave his side for the rest of the party. Christian makes his way back to me and eventually, everyone is having a good time at the barbeque again.

Everyone, that is, except Sophie.

She’s got that green look that she had at Mia’s wedding when the first “Marlow Girl” made a comment about taking her clothes off is he didn’t like them. She truly looks like she’s going to hurl, and she subjects herself to this torture all afternoon while everyone else is conversing, eating, and enjoying the barbeque. I glance over at her often throughout the day and she’s often looking over at Marlow and his trashy dime-store date. They, however, don’t look in her direction once.

She’s crushed. It’s written all over her face.

As the party winds down and the sun is beginning to set, I begin to help Gail clear the dishes and the leftover food. I’ve lost track of Sophie, Marlow, and his dime-store date as I help to move the food back into the kitchen. None of them are on the patio when I make the next trip out to help clean up.

Just as I’m about to head back to the kitchen again, I see Sophie hastily walking across the back yard towards the jungle patio. I just watch her for a moment, and even with the darkening sky, I can see that she’s pale as a ghost.  As she gets closer to the jungle patio, I can see her face… and the tears.

She quickens her pace and stays in the shadows where she thinks no one can see her. At the last moment, she veers left and dashes into her apartment, closing the door behind her.

What the hell happened?

I dare not ask. If she’s crying, it had to be pretty bad. I don’t see Marlow running behind her or storming up to me to angrily tell me that he and his date are leaving. So, I have no idea what’s happened.

“Hey.”

Christian’s voice brings me out of my thoughts.

“You okay?” he asks. I wave him off.

“I was just daydreaming,” I say as I continue to clear the table.

“I’ve got that, Ana,” Gail says, taking the remaining and trays and trash from me.

“You’re sure?” I ask.

“I’m sure. Go on,” she says. I turn to Christian and we walk into the house.

“Has Marlow left?” I ask, trying to get a feel of what’s going on. Christian shrugs.

“He didn’t say anything to me,” he says. “He’s probably wandering around somewhere.” I purse my lips and nod.

“What is it, Butterfly?” he says, and I look up at him.

“Seriously, Christian?” I say finally. “This one? Seriously?” He furrows his brow.

“What one? What are you talking about?” I fold my arms and glare at him.

“Christian, he fucking brought a Wild Thing to my house! I’m surprised she didn’t hump him right there on the sofa and start giving all the guys lap dances!”

“You’re exaggerating,” he says. My head jerks back and I give him such a look…

“Okay, okay,” he says, putting his hands up in surrender. “I’ll talk to him.”

“You always say that!” I accuse, my hands flailing. “He keeps bringing these girls here—a new on every time—and this one? Oh, she’s a real keeper!” I say sarcastically.

“You’re taking this a bit personally,” he says. I shift my weight on my heels. He’s right, I am taking it personally. I want to know what’s wrong with Sophie, but this part is different.

“This girl came to my house with no consideration of the fact that she was going to be sitting in the company of other men—married men. None of the men at this gathering were single except the one that brought her, my baby brother, and my son. My father was here, your father was here, and I found myself looking across the patio most of the afternoon making sure that she didn’t have a slip of the snatch! What’s worse is that he brought her here looking like that. She completely looked like she was about to get on the pole…”

My husband begins making this shushing tsking sound to get my attention. I look in the direction that he’s looking, and I see Marlow and Barbarella approach the patio and head towards the door. Where the hell have they been?

They walk up to me and Christian quite casually and that’s when I notice that Babs’ way-to-heavy lipstick has been haphazardly freshened up and Marlow is loose as a noodle. I look knowingly—and displeased—over at Christian and back to the lovely couple.

“We’re going to head on out,” Marlow says with a contented smile. “I need to get Rochelle home.”

“Okay, well, thanks for coming,” Christian says, shaking Marlow’s hand. Marlow smiles and nods. I must be glaring at him because he would normally try to hug me, but this time he doesn’t.

“It was nice meeting you,” Babs says.

“Mmm,” I say pasting the phoniest smile on my face that I can muster. It’s not even a full smile. I don’t want this girl to feel like she’s welcome in my house ever again, dressed like she should be standing on the corner. She and Marlow both look at Christian, then make a hasty getaway. Once they’re out of my house, I turn to Christian.

You know what the hell they were doing, I say with my eyes.

“Okay—I will talk to him,” he promises again.

“Mm-hmm,” I say, turning on my heels and marching away from him.


CHRISTIAN

“What the hell was that you brought to my house this weekend?” I confront Marlow a couple of days later.

“Who, Rochelle?” he asks bemused.

“Yeah, Superhead!” I accuse. His eyes widen.

“How did you…”

“Are you serious?” I accuse. “Besides the fact that she had dick on her breath and no common sense to have a damn mint in her purse? Her lipstick was all fucked up and you didn’t have a smear of it on you, so I know where she must’ve left it.” He chuckles.

“She was gagging for it, man,” he brags.

“She almost got gagged,” I retort, “by several angry females! What the fuck is wrong with you bringing someone dressed and behaving like Janet Jack-Me around a house full of married men and women?”

“I… I’m sorry. I didn’t think it was that bad,” he excuses. I look at him like he’s lost his mind, because at this moment, he has!

“Okay, okay. She looked a little sexy…”

“A little sexy?” I accuse. He sighs heavily.

“Look,” I begin, “I usually don’t have a problem with you bringing girls around. Ana has asked me more than once to talk to you about it because it’s a different one every time. But this time, man… I should’ve put you out the minute you showed up with her, but I was giving you—and her—the benefit of the doubt. Not only did she have her goods on display for you and everybody at the party, but she gave you a blowjob in the woods. Are you that comfortable at my home that you feel like you can disrespect it that way?” His eyes widen.

“No!” he exclaims. “No, it was nothing like that…”

“It was just like that and don’t try to clean it up,” I tell him. “I’m not going to tell you who to fuck, but I’m definitely going to tell you to be more mindful of who you’re bringing to my house. I don’t know if you’re on a marathon to get all the ass you can or what. I don’t know what the purpose of the parade of twats is through my house, but if you ever pull something like that again, I’m going to throw you and your latest plaything off my property and then you won’t be able to bring any dates to my home. Knowing Ana the way you do, I have no idea what made you think that would be okay, but I will cut you off completely before I have to deal with an angry Anastasia Grey. Have I made myself clear?” He swallows hard.

“Ye… yes, sir,” he chokes. I shake my head.

“Get to school. I got things to do.” I end the conversation abruptly and look down at my desk. I have other things to be concerned about today. Jason and I are heading to the prison to see if this wretched piece of flesh is going to sign the paperwork for Sophie’s passport. Apparently, when you go to jail, they take your ID from you. So, they need a credible witness to identify you as you in order to have the necessary documents notarized. I don’t know that Marlow has left my office until I hear Jason’s voice.

“What did Marlow do wrong?” he asks. I raise my gaze.

“Why do you ask?” I say.

“His face looks like one of your department heads after you or Her Highness has chewed them out at one of those meetings,” he replies.

“That’s just about right,” I say, standing and locking my laptop. “Did you see that specimen he brought to my house this weekend?”

“Kind of hard to miss,” he replies. “Is this the stuff these kids are made of now? Is this what I have to look forward to with Sophie?”

“I would say not,” I reply, making sure that my wallet, keys, and phone are all in my pocket. “Sophie has a good head on her shoulders. You won’t be seeing that from her.” Jason shakes his head.

“I know you’re right, but damn, man. What was she—16, 17? She looked like she was ready to work Aurora Avenue!” I put my finger to my lips to silence him as we leave the office.

“I’ve got my cell, Andrea,” I tell her. “Emergencies only.”

“Yes, sir. Have a good day Mr. Grey, Mr. Taylor.” Jason nods.

“You, too. Bye, Luma,” I call out to my aunt.

“Bye, Christian. Have a good day.”

We board the elevator, and the conversation about Marlow’s sex doll resumes.

“I had to tell him that shit was unacceptable,” I say. “He’s being a bit careless as it is, and I had to remind him of all the things that could happen when you have that many sex partners. Hell, he’s ahead of me right now in volume, and we both know that I’m far from chaste!” Jason nearly chokes on his laughter.

“Yeah, it’s funny until he catches something,” I say, “or worse yet, he brings someone into the house that should have been vetted.”

Jason’s laughter fades.

“Butterfly’s been giving me hell about it for the last few days. I was trying to find the words to say to him. Hell if I know what to say to a teenager about sex—look at my track record.” Jason twists his lips. The elevator opens and we’re silent until we get to the Audi and get on our way.

“That’s why we had to come to the office first,” he says, once we’ve cleared the parking structure.

“That’s why we had to come to the office first,” I confirm. “She asked me more than once to talk to him about the number of girls he brings to the house. I’ll admit, I blew it off. He’s a young, attractive guy. As long as he’s using protection and not leading any of these girls on, why can’t he taste the flavors of the rainbow? But this one? This weekend? We all knew that flavor whether we wanted to or not! Butterfly was not pleased.”

“You don’t have to tell me. You almost didn’t get your meat! Gail took one look at that child with all her goods on display and banned me from the patio.” I chuckle.

“I wondered where you had gotten off to… and why Gail brought out the spareribs,” I say.

“Well, now you know,” he says. “I gladly had my wife bring me food and beer, and me, Ray, and Carrick watched the Mariners game.” I raise my brow.

“I didn’t know Ray and Dad disappeared, too.” Jason scoffs.

“I’m surprised you noticed anybody disappeared,” he says. “Did you even see what that girl was wearing before Ana told you?”

I try to remember if I noticed her apparel before Butterfly gave her the cold shoulder in the family room.

“I don’t know,” I shrug.

“You had your wife in your lap for most of the day,” he says, “and you were sporting the biggest sex grin I’ve ever seen. That’s why Ray came to watch the game. That’s still his little girl, you know.” I frown.

“Oh, please,” I say, a bit affronted. “We’re married, she has two of my children, and we’ve had the BDSM conversation with this man. That couldn’t be why he left. That’s what he told you.

“Yeah, maybe,” Jason laughs, “but you still didn’t see the girl until your wife brought her to your attention.”

“Okay, you’re right,” I cede, “but now you know why he was looking blue when he left this room. She literally served herself up at a family barbeque. A family barbeque! Notwithstanding all the husbands and fathers that were present, there were children in attendance! Even if this girl was completely oblivious to where she was coming, Marlow knew!”

“Well, I can pretty much guarantee that he won’t make that mistake again,” Jason says.

“He better not,” I reply. “Butterfly’s already not pleased with the number of girls that he brings to the house. If the quality deteriorates, she might ban him completely!” I roll my eyes and decide to change the subject.

“Wasn’t this the weekend you were supposed to take Sophie to see Shalane?” I ask. He nods.

“Supposed to,” he says, “but she gets two weekends a month. I can choose which two. I know Sophie’s not speaking to her until she signs those papers, so I decided that we wouldn’t go until after her appointment to sign. This way, when I take her up there this weekend, if Shalane decides to pull one of her tricks today, she can tell Sophie why she didn’t sign the papers.”

“I wouldn’t put it past her,” I say, “tell you that she’s going to sign the papers just to get Sophie to speak to her, then renege when the time comes.” Jason nods.

“That’s why I didn’t take her up there this weekend,” he says. “After everything she’s put that child through, it’s beyond me why she’s not bending over backwards for that kid now. She’s in jail. Even though it’s minimum security and she’s not doing hard time, she’s alone. She has no friends unless she has made some on the inside, nothing to look forward to when she gets out of there—no significant other; wherever her family is, they’re not coming around, no nothing. All she has to look forward to is Sophie’s visits every two weeks and when Sophie comes, she’s totally silent.

“This is torture for Sophie even if she doesn’t say so. The last time we visited, Sophie turned her back on her—for the whole visit! We’ve both just had enough. That’s why she said she’ll believe it when she sees it.’ She’s resolved. She expects her mother to disappoint her before she does anything kind.”

“So, what if we go through all of this and she still says that Sophie can’t go?” I ask.

“I’ll get notarized permission to take her to Italy just like I’ll get the notarized permission for the passport, but honestly, it’s just like when I took her to Vegas. Once I get the passport, as long as I let the court know where I’m taking her, it won’t be a problem,” he says.

“Well, here’s hoping,” I say. “That woman has been such a wretched mother to that child, this is the very least that she can do.”

“You would think,” he concurs, “but remember who we’re talking about her. The best thing that ever happened to my daughter was that drug bust or she could’ve ended up in a child sex ring. Can you even fucking imagine?”

A quick and deliberate flash of heat and rage runs through me, and I have to fight not to react. Imagine saying that the best thing that could happen to your 12-year-old daughter was a drug bust!

“No,” I say, summoning as much calm as I can, “no, I can’t.”

*-*

After being stripped of everything except our ID’s for the purposes of the meeting, we head to the security door to be taken in to see Jason’s ex-wife. I had forgotten what the inside of these facilities looked like. I could’ve gone my whole life without that little piece of knowledge. Geez, you deck one drunk driver…

Jason and I enter the meeting room and take a seat at the table. Neither of us says anything as Jason is convinced that every single room in a prison has recording devices—except the cells. A few minutes later, the prison notary comes into the room with a prison guard. He introduces himself and explains what the process will be to get the documents notarized, after which he takes my license and Jason’s license and records some information into a logbook that he brought with him. Not long after, another guard leads Shalane into the meeting room. She grimaces a bit when she sees me.

“Christian,” she says through her teeth.

“Shalane,” I respond with no malice. Her fight isn’t with me.

“Why is he here?” she seethes.

“Not happy to see me?” I reply. “Strange. You would have jumped my bones in front of my family and my pregnant wife on Thanksgiving Day two years ago.”

“Temporary insanity,” she hisses has she takes her seat. I turn to the prison notary.

“Is that enough for you?” I ask.

“That’s enough for me,” he says. “Do you swear or affirm that this person, Shalane Deleroy, is who she claims to be, so help you God?”

“I do,” I reply.

“Why did you need him to tell you that?” she says

“Because the documents have to be notarized and you’re a criminal with no ID,” Jason replies. She turns a hateful eye to him.

“Any of this lovely prison staff could’ve attested to my identity,” she sneers. “Well, now we’ve got it, so let’s get this over,” she adds. “I’m being blackmailed into doing this, so let’s get it done.”

“Blackmailed?” the notary says. Oh, shit… “What does she mean ‘blackmailed?’”

“I don’t know,” Jason says, his anger brewing. “What do you mean?”

“He’s turned my daughter against me,” she announces. “He won’t let her speak to me until I sign these papers.” Jason rolls his eyes.

“Is that true, Mr. Taylor?” the notary asks. This bitch…

“That most certainly is not!” he replies. “Sophia knows that she can’t go to Italy this summer without these papers. She also knows that her mother is refusing to sign them. For that reason, probably among many others, she will not speak to her mother.”

“That’s a lie,” Shalane retorts. “You told her not to speak to me until I sign the papers.” Jason drops his head in frustration.

“I can’t believe we’re going through this again,” he mumbles. The notary and I hear it and the notary looks at me. I shake my head in frustration as well.

“You have no idea what this man has been through with this woman,” I say. “He gained custody of his daughter when he had to pick her up from the police station to prevent her being taken by child services because this woman took her daughter on a drug drop where she was trying to trade her daughter for meth.”

“That is not true!” Shalane outbursts. “I was not trying to sell my daughter to that guy and there’s no proof of that!”

“That’s not what Sophie remembers,” I reply calmly.

“She was scared,” Shalane excuses. “She didn’t understand what was going on.”

“As well she should have been,” I retort. “She shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

“You know what?” Jason says, straightening his back. “I’m done with you. I’m done with this whole thing, and I’m done with you. You don’t need to convince me, Christian, the court or anybody else that you didn’t try to sell your daughter to a meth dealer. You know who you do need to convince? Your daughter! To this day, she maintains that you tried to give her to that guy, and she was only 12 years old!”

The notary gasps.

“There wasn’t enough proof to charge you with it but she has convicted you,” Jason continues. “Her opinion of you is the only one that counts. When are you going to understand that? You used her against me for years, and now she sees it. She sees it all, Shalane! Nobody’s turning Sophia against you but you and your selfish and insidious behavior!

“If you’ve never listened to me before, listen to me now. There’s nothing that I can’t give her, and I’m going to give her everything that she deserves, everything that you kept me from doing for her for the last several years. She’s a good kid, and she’s smart, and she’s talented, and she doesn’t give me or Gail a moment’s trouble. Everybody who ever meets her loves her. She’s wise beyond her years—way too much wisdom for her age, thanks to you. And by the way, I now know that horrible scar on her hand did not come from falling off a bike.”

Shalane gasps audibly and her eyes widen as the prison guards and notary watch the story unfold in silent disdain.

“She’ll be 14 in a few days,” he adds. “In two years, she’ll be 16 and able to say that she never wants to see you again. In four years, she’ll be 18 and able to jet set to anywhere any time her heart so desires and my wallet will allow. If we have to wait until then, we will, but you remember this. You’re preventing her from having the experience of a lifetime because you’re pissed at me, and you’re pissed that you’re in a situation of your own making and you’re taking it out on your daughter.

“You want to call me names and cast me into hell, fine. I can take it. But rest assured that your daughter will never forget this, among the many other things that your daughter will never forget, for the rest of her life. If you want to sign the papers, then sign the damn papers. If you don’t want to sign them, then don’t. She won’t be surprised if you don’t sign them. She’s expecting you to be the same selfish, manipulating, lying… female you’ve been all these years! If you want to surprise her, sign the papers. If not, we’re leaving, and this conversation is over.”

He steps back and allows the notary to step in front of him. Jason has taken “the stance” and I know that his end of this conversation is indeed over. Shalane looks at him, her expression unreadable, and I think she sees the same thing that I see when I look back at Jason. He’s not looking at her anymore. He’s looking through her. He doesn’t even see her. She could most likely rattle off a line of curses and condemnations right now and he would most likely not even remember the conversation. Shalane sighs, takes the pen from the notary, and signs the documents.

Fuck, yes! I almost want to dance a fucking jig in the middle of the room.

“Take me back to my cell,” she says quietly. She stands and the guard leads her out of the room. I turn around to Jason when the door closes and he visibly releases the breath that he was holding, closing his eyes in obvious relief.

“I didn’t think she would do it,” he says. “You know how she operates…”

“I know only too well,” I reply.

“I was prepared to go home and tell Baby Boo it was a false alarm, that she wasn’t going to be able to go to Italy until she was 18. She’s been so sad over the last couple of days and I don’t know why. I didn’t want to have to tell her that.” He opens his eyes, moist with tears, and looks at me.

“She can go,” he says, wistfully. “She can go to Italy… what did I say to that woman?” he says, his brow furrows.

“You don’t remember?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“Not all of it,” he admits. I nod.

“You told her to be a decent human being for once in her life—to stop thinking about herself, or even about you, and to only think about Sophie,” I tell him.

“I said that?” he asks, his voice cracking.

“Not in those exact words, but yeah,” I say, looking over at the notary who has finished signing and stamping the documents before placing them in an envelope and handing them to Jason.

“Yeah,” he says with a nod. Jason takes the envelope and purses his lips.

“Thank you, sir,” he says to the notary.

“You’re welcome,” he says, giving Jason’s shoulder a squeeze. “Have a good trip.” Jason nods without raising his head.

“Now, you probably want to pull yourself together because you wouldn’t want to walk through this place with tears in your eyes,” I tell him. He nods quickly, then retrieves his handkerchief and dries his eyes thoroughly. He squares his shoulders and pops his neck.

“I’m ready, sir,” he says. And he is.

The guard escorts the three of us from the room.


ANASTASIA

I spent the day going through the finances for Helping Hands. We had been spending quite a bit on the new staff and programs, and I needed to know exactly where we were in terms of cashflow and expenditures. As it turned out, we’ve been spending more than I thought we were—not much more, but more. However, our sources of cashflow have increased tremendously since we started.

The full story about the trial in Las Vegas has now been told, and it has strategically been leaked that I became part of the mental health field as a result of my own experiences as a child. It was also leaked that I and Grace provide our services for free as we donate our salaries back to the Center. That was better than another PSA in terms of boosting independent contributions. We even secured a couple of corporate contributions as well as a small percentage of wage-match contributions. I’m considering some kind of fundraiser or bizarre for next year as this summer is pretty much booked for the Grey family, but we really don’t need one with all of the sources we have right now.

We had been using money faster than we were bringing it in, so we didn’t have an opportunity to notice that we had a steady influx of cash from Miana’s. It was small at first, for several months, and that’s why we didn’t see it. However, just after Liamgate, the amounts from the salon chain became quite substantial. I don’t know what made the difference, because I slightly remember Christian saying just after he had seized the salons from Elena that his share of the profits would go to Helping Hands in hopes of helping other victims of abuse. I’ll make it a point to ask Mia what changed.

Along with our usual fund-raising activities and the continuous contributions and pledges that stemmed from my public appearances, we’re waiting to hear about our grant approvals, and we’ve got a tidy little sum from Tina’s jewelry auction. Seeing the entry from the auction prompted me to call Carl and see how he was coming along. He’s partially retired now as he’s only disposing of and assisting with the estates of his remaining clients before he completely closes up shop. He told me that Tina’s children have tried to get in touch with him on more than one occasion, but after he divided Tina’s assets among them, he threatened them with restraining orders if they didn’t stop contacting him—all except Harmony, of course.

I’ve been meaning to ask Harmony what ever happened with her siblings breaking and entering on the property and if any formal charges have been brought against them. I don’t know that I’ll ask until and if she brings it up to me. It might be a sore spot and we don’t want that.

When I get home, I have pictures and videos of Aaron’s progress so far with the villa. Not having to paint or renovate means that the decorating is moving along even more quickly than either of us thought it would, which is good as we are about six weeks away from leaving. It’s also costing a pretty tidy sum as all of the items must either be purchased locally in Rome, Milan, or the surrounding areas, or purchased online and shipped in. I’ve decided not to tell Christian about the amount I’m spending unless he asks. We’re rich anyway, and it serves him right. What would you expect for a 14-bedroom house? I’m extremely grateful, of course, but 14 bedrooms? Whoever heard of such a thing?

I call Sophie to my office so that we can see some of the results of our hard work. She seems a bit under-enthusiastic when she gets there.

“Hey, you okay?” I ask, concerned about her melancholy. She shrugs.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she replies, blandly. It then occurs to me that Jason and Christian were supposed to go to the prison today to get the papers for her passport signed. Maybe it was a bust, but I won’t ask.

“Would you… rather not look at the pictures?” I ask cautiously. “I’ll understand.” She comes to attention a bit.

“Oh! Oh, no, I’d really like to see the pictures,” she says. “It’s not you or… this or anything, Aunt Ana. I just… I’m not in a really good mood, that’s all. Maybe seeing the villa will help.”

I can’t help but wonder if something happened in school. Then, I remember this weekend and Marlow’s eager and underdressed date. She can’t still be sulking about that… well, actually, she can. Nonetheless, I greet her with a smile and get back to the matter at hand.

“Well, then, roll your chair on over here and let’s see what our decorator extraordinaire has for us.”

Sophie and I take several minutes to review the pictures that Aaron sent us. It appears that he felt no reason to wait on the bedrooms since they were the easiest to do. The children’s room was the simplest since we had sent him the exact beds that we wanted, but the rest of the bedrooms are a delicious and eclectic mix of old-world with a touch of modern mixed with the baroque and rococo styles.

One room has a large, overbearing deep chestnut platform bed—a mix of modern and vintage—paneled with dark marble inlays that look almost like leopard print and what appears to be bronze cherubs mounted on the footboard facing out to the room. It takes up nearly the entire room. I never would have thought to put a bed this big in a room this small, but its commanding presence makes a statement that it should be alone in this space.

The next picture that we see is a total contrast from the first! Dark wood ceiling in uneven cuts and tones… but walls covered in a floral cloth. It’s not a “oh-dear-Lord-gag-me-I-can’t-stand-this” type of floral pattern. It’s white with single flowers in even symmetrical lines. Again, not something that I would have chosen, but the wall covering is in such contrast to the dark wood ceiling that it actually works to capture the natural light and set the ceiling off as an accent. Now, I know that he didn’t alter any walls, so I’m assuming this is how it looked when he got there but tell me how he found a perfect match to that pattern in bedding and chair covers. I can’t say I’m really feeling this one, but maybe it’ll grow on me.

The rest of the bedrooms are all simple or elegant or both, and overall, Sophie and I are pleased with our work and Aaron’s interpretation. He has told us that he will now work on the sitting and common areas and apprise us of his progress in a week. Sophie seems in a better mood after we’ve looked at the pictures and we head upstairs to dinner.

Dinner conversation seems perfectly dull and I can’t help but wonder—again—if things didn’t go as planned with Shalane. I would have thought that if it were good news, Jason would be chomping at the bit to tell Sophie when he got back, but now we’re down to dessert and still nothing. Not able to stand the elephant in the room, I turn the attention to Sophie without mentioning Italy.

“Sophie tells me that her birthday is on the 5th,” I say. “I hope I’m not spoiling anything by asking if there’s something planned. It’ll should be a beautiful day and a great chance for a party.” Sophie frowns at the thought.

“Well, we hadn’t planned anything special,” Gail says. “We thought we’d leave it up to Sophie.”

“So, Baby Boo, did you want a party?” Jason asks. “You know it doesn’t take long to get the festivities planned,” he adds happily. Sophie shakes her head.

No, Dad, I don’t want a party,” Sophie protests. “No offense, Aunt Ana, but I really don’t want a party.” Jason frowns and I’m a bit taken aback. Since when does a teenage girl not want a party for her birthday.

“Why don’t you want a party, Pumpkin?” Gail asks, deflated.

“I just… I don’t remember ever having one and I really don’t want one now. Can we just go to Mexicantown like we did last year? Please?”

“Are you sure Baby Boo?” Jason asks. She nods.

“Yes, I’m sure. We had fun and that’s good enough for me. Momma Gail, you can come, too… and Aunt Ana and Uncle Christian, but that’s all. That would be great.”

She sounds sincere and I can’t figure out for the life of me why she wouldn’t want a party with all the trimmings. We could throw her a great party, one that she wouldn’t soon forget. She could invite her friends and…

That’s when it dawns on me.

A party means the gathering of people—family and friends, and that usually means Marlow and one of his girls, and I would venture to say that Sophie doesn’t want her party to be attended by Marlow and one of his girls, but how do you say that?

By declining a party altogether, she can avoid that eventuality… and suddenly, I’m angry with Marlow again. Did Christian ever talk to him about that little twat he brought to my house on Saturday?

“I think that sounds like a lot of fun,” I concur with Sophie, “but I reserve the right to buy you a present. You’ve worked so hard on the decorating with me. If I had to do it all by myself, it would have been a nightmare.”  Sophie smiles widely.

“It’s fun,” Sophie says. “It makes me feel like a grown-up.”

“Well, look out, Jason, because I’m telling you now that your daughter has exquisite taste. I’ll have you know that she chose the beds for the twins’ room.”

“You don’t say,” Christian says. I nod

“I do say, and they’re perfect,” I add.

“Speaking of presents, Baby Boo, can I give you one of your birthday presents early?” Jason asks. Sophie stops chewing for a moment, then puts her fork down.

“Sure, Dad,” she says after swallowing her food. “Who doesn’t like early presents?” she adds with a smile.

Jason reaches into his pocket and pulls out an envelope, then hands it to Sophie. She wipes her hands and dabs her lips with her napkin and takes the envelope. She withdraws the contents and unfolds the documents inside. Her eyes widen as she reads through them.

“No way!” she exclaims turning to her father. He nods.

“Yep,” he replies.

“Get outta town she signed ‘em!?” Sophie squeals all in one breath. I turn to Christian in amazement and he nods.

“She signed them,” Jason confirms. “We’re going to Italy, Baby Boo.”

Oh, thank God! This is fabulous news! Absolutely fabulous!

Sophie screams joyously, leaps from her seat and runs to her father’s arms. He catches her midleap and laughs a contagious laugh along with her.

“Aunt Ana, I’m gonna see the villa! And I’m going to cook in Italy!” She says the last part while shaking her hair wildly.

“That, you are, Ms. Sophia!” I confirm, gleefully.

Gail and Jason make plans to take Sophie to the post office tomorrow to get things moving on her passport. Christian and I had gotten the twins squared away back when we first decided that we would be taking the trip this summer. I’m hoping that all the other parents will have the passports ready for the other minors when the time comes. Once dinner is over, I pull Sophie aside to have a private chat with her before she turns in.

“So, you’re going to Italy. What do you think about that?” I ask.

“I think it’s great!” she says gleefully. “I really didn’t think I was going to be able to go. I’m so excited!”

“I just wanted to talk to you for a minute, because I don’t want a potentially wonderful trip to be completely spoiled for you,” I say. Her face falls.

“How?” she asks. I sigh heavily.

“Marlow,” I say, without hesitation. She rolls her eyes and sighs heavily.

“Oh, that,” she says, deflated.

“Yes, that,” I reply. “You know he’s going to be there, and I haven’t seen an encounter between the two of you in months that I would even consider civil. We’re going to be staying in the same villa—all of us—for two weeks. It’s a big villa, but you’re going to run into each other at some point. I want us all to have a good time, you and Marlow included, but if we need to set some ground rules for that to happen, maybe we can work something out.”

“Aunt Ana, I’m so happy that I get to go to Italy that I can’t even think about anything else. I’m going to go on the internet and see what things I can see while we’re there and then I’ll ask Dad or Momma Gail to take me. I’m going to study some authentic Italian dishes and then see if I can learn to cook them while I’m there. I’m going to be doing other things—lots of other things—and I won’t even be thinking about Marlow.”

Translation—she’s going to chock her time full of Italy stuff so that she won’t have to be concerned with Marlow. It sounds a lot like evading to me, but she’s young and she’s doing what she can not to concentrate on her little crush on him. Who am I kidding? Adults do that often. She’s way ahead of her time.

“Let’s talk about last Saturday,” I say, causing her to sigh again and roll her eyes in that petulant teenage girl way.

“Do we have to?” she whines.

“Yes, we have to,” I say. “It’s part of the problem. I usually feel like you should behave yourself better when company comes to the house… but this one!” My eyes widen and I shake my head. “She really was a character, wasn’t she?”

Sophie loosens up a bit, but only a bit.

“Yeah… she was,” she agrees. “Her skirt was so short…”

“And all that makeup!” I say, remember her comment about how long it takes for certain girls to get dressed and how the finished product almost always doesn’t look like the original person. Sophie sighs again.

“I thought that much makeup wasn’t good for your skin,” she says. “How does it even come off?” I chuckle.

“One day, you’ll find out,” I say. “You’ll be wearing makeup, too.”

“Not like that,” she says, pointedly. “You wear makeup. So does Momma Gail. And Auntie Val, Miss Grace, Miss Mandy… you guys don’t look like that!”

“Well, sweetheart, sometimes some people feel like more is better…” Case and point, my husband and the 14-bedroom villa!

“Sophie, you’re such a mature young lady. You baffle us all the time with your knowledge and your ability and sometimes, your ambition. Even though you were hurt about your mother and what she was doing—or not doing—you handled it in a such a mature way even though you were hurting and we all knew it. We were… are all very impressed, and we’re probably just as happy as you are that you’re going to Italy. But sweety, even things that are right there in our faces sometimes have to be ignored.”

Sophie’s wide blue eyes fix on mine.

“She was… extremely inappropriate. Val and I even had a few words between us when they went to the other side of the patio, but those words were between us. No one else heard what we were talking about. That’s not to say that it’s okay to talk about people behind their backs, but it’s even worse to outright insult them in front of everyone, even when they have it coming.”

“I know,” she says, almost a mumble.

“I know you do,” I reply, my voice understanding, “so can you tell me why you do that?”

“I don’t know,” she fibs. She knows, she just doesn’t want to tell me. “Whenever I see them, it just flies out! I just wonder why they show up for Christmas or something at somebody’s house they don’t even know.” She’s searching.

“Because they were invited,” I say. “Would you want someone to make you feel unwelcome where you were invited?”

“No,” she says, and she sounds a bit scolded.

“I’m only saying that even though someone may show up dressed like a thot, or is twirling her hair, or may be a little on the heavier side, that doesn’t give any of us the right to publicly point out their faults. It’s borders on bullying and honestly, Sophie, it’s unattractive. You’re so smart and mature most of the time. It’s not a good look at all for you to tear into his girlfriends every time they show up,” I tell her. She drops her head and sighs heavily.

“Don’t worry, Aunt Ana,” she says, her voice sad. “It won’t happen again.”

“I don’t want you to tell me that because you think it’s what I want to hear. I really want you to think about how it makes you appear…”

“No, Aunt Ana,” she says, looking up at me with glassy eyes and shaking her head. “It won’t happen again.” Well, this is the last thing I wanted to do.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”

“You didn’t,” she says, trying to hide her sniffles. “He did. He called me a brat… and he’s right. And you are, too. If I can’t say anything nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all, so I won’t… and it won’t happen again.”

A tear falls from her eye and she wipes it from her cheek. God, that first crush hurts so much, and I know she’ll get over it, but she doesn’t know it yet. I pull her into my arms and hug her close.

“Well, I certainly didn’t want this,” I say, hugging her tightly. She allows herself to cry for just a moment, but quickly composes herself.

“We’re going to have such fun in Italy,” I tell her. “I want to taste all the things that you learn to cook, and I want to take you to some of the places on Lake Como and see things through your eyes…” and that’s the truth. “We’re going to have such a good time.”

“I’m so glad I get to go,” she says, squeezing me hard around my waist, her voice cracking a bit. I gently stroke her soft blonde hair as she pulls herself together. As if their timing couldn’t be any worse, Jason and Christian come through the hallway near the mudroom and into the family room where Sophie and I are talking.

“There you are. It’s bedti…” Jason trails off as he sees his daughter crying in my arms. “Baby Boo… what’s wrong?” Christian looks at me with a furrowed brow as they both await my explanation. So, I give them one.

“We were just talking about Italy and Lake Como,” I say. “She’s a bit emotional.” I won’t tell them why. I stroke her hair once more and then pull her back from me, pushing her hair of her tearstained face.

“Cooking… and sightseeing… and shopping… and all the fun Lake Como has to offer… okay?” I say to her pained blue eyes. She nods and unceremoniously wipes her cheeks. She turns and takes a few steps towards Jason, but then turns back and runs into my arms once more. I stroke her hair to comfort her just a bit before she leaves.

“Thank you, Aunt Ana,” she says. I’m not really sure why she’s thanking me, but now isn’t the time to ask.

“You’re welcome, Sophie,” I say. She releases me and walks to her father, never raising her head. He looks up at me puzzled one last time before he guides Sophie down to her apartment. Christian walks over to me, his expression as puzzled as Jason’s.

“What was that all about?” he asks, his brow furrowed.

“She’s very emotional about this whole situation, and that’s all I can tell you,” I reply. He purses his lips.

“Okay, I get that,” he says, clasping his hands in front of him. “You and I need to talk. I call downtime.”

Downtime? Why is he calling downtime?

“Why are you so horrified?” he asks.

“I’m not,” I reply. “I’m… just surprised.” He nods.

“I understand. It’s been a while,” he pulls himself up to his height and gives me his final command.

“Wait five minutes and come to our bedroom.”

I swallow hard at the sound of his Dominus voice, and find my feet planted firmly in place as he leaves me standing in our family room.


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

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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 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/ 

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 26

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 26

CHRISTIAN

My wife dances herself into an exhausted frenzy. She looks stunning out there in that gorgeous blue dress, gracefully hugging her body and flowing beautifully with every move, and $100,000 worth of custom jewelry. I don’t know where Victoria found that treasure of a garment, but more, please.

She doesn’t speak to me for the rest of the evening. In fact, not many people have too much to say to me after the evening’s dramatic disaster. I sit sipping a single malt, double Scotch when Victoria makes her way over to me.

“Not quite the celebration you had in mind, huh?” she says, sipping her own drink.

“No, I would say not,” I reply.

“I think we’re all a bit protective of Marilyn under the circumstances, but Christian…” She looks at me and just shakes her head. Hindsight being 20/20, part of me knows that I went too far, but the biggest part of me doesn’t give a fuck.

“I know more details about this than I should, Victoria, and I didn’t reveal them all,” I defend. “That woman has been suffering… horribly. We were even more concerned about her physical well-being than I even let be known.”

“I know,” she says. “She had an abortion.” I turn my gaze to her and neither confirm nor deny her suspicions.

“I have my ways,” she says. “Somewhere around Thanksgiving. I know,” she adds. Well, no use in hiding it now.

“Who else knows?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I don’t know who else knows,” she says. Who the fuck else knows that Marilyn had a pregnancy terminated? Or was it mine and Gary’s outburst that let the cat out of the bag. No matter. It’s not the prevalent issue right now.

“I don’t know what she expected with him coming at me like that,” I say, looking out at the dancefloor and at my wife dancing with her gay boyfriend like she doesn’t have a care in the world.

“Like what, Christian?” she says. “I saw the whole exchange. Who really swung first?”

I’m trying to replay the conversation in my head, but all I can see is anger and resentment. All I can see is this poor, tormented girl wasting away for months and him walking in looking fit as a fiddle, even in that department store suit that he was wearing.

“He had to choose this forum to make his appearance. He was going for shock value.”

“He didn’t choose this forum, Christian, it just happened here.” I turn a disbelieving gaze to her.

“The fuck he didn’t!” I retort. “He knew she would be here. Why wouldn’t she be here? She’s one of the closest people to my wife and has been that way for years, even before they got together.”

“Did she come to personal functions before they got together?” Victoria points out, “because it’s my understanding that Gary certainly did.”

Hell, I really don’t know the answer to that question. I know they met at Escala when Butterfly was released from the hospital after the kidnapping. I know Marilyn was her assistant long before that and Garrett—well, hell, he’s part of the Scooby Gang, so that goes without saying. If Marilyn had been a part of the social circle before then, he would have met her before then.

“I know your feelings are personal,” Victoria says. “I know you’re very protective of her because of what you’ve seen and what you know. It’s hard not to be, but Christian? You’ve got to learn when to dial it back.”

I look over at her and back to my wife, taking another sip of my Scotch.

“Where did you find that creation?” I ask. “It’s exquisite.”

“I had nothing to do with that but the jewelry,” she says, taking a swallow of her drink. “My guess is that you’re responsible for the shoes, but that dress? Grandma.” I glare at her.

“That’s one of my grandmother’s dresses?” I ask, my eyes wide. She shrugs.

“What can I say. The women in your family have great taste.” She takes another drink and stands to her feet. “I’m going to go dance with my girl,” she says, patting me on the shoulder before walking away. I look at my wife again.

Grandma Ruby’s dress. Christ, she looks so beautiful.

Allen finally tuckers out after I don’t know how many dances and he and Butterfly return to the table. She’s careful to take any extra seat at the table except the one near me, and she keeps her revelry going. She has eaten several servings of the marble nut halvah either not knowing or not caring that I have one of the most intricate German chocolate cakes known to man waiting for her.

Not to be left alone or to interrupt Butterfly’s therapy dancing, James has a dance or three with Val and Maxie and boogies a bit with Keri.

Shit, this is just like her father’s wedding where I had to sit there and watch her congregate with everyone else and ignore me for the entire night. I sat still for it then, but hell if I’m going to sit still for it now. I shoot a text over to Jason and he raises a questioning gaze at me.

You saw what I sent you. Do what I said.

He purses his lips and dials his phone. A few minutes later, my brother’s voice interrupts my thoughts.

“Montana’s really pissed at you, Bro,” Elliot says, leaving the group and coming over to me.

“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” I say flatly. He chuckles.

“Well, you’d be the only one who didn’t,” he replies.

“How’s Val doing?” I ask, trying to take the conversation to another place.

“As well as can be expected,” he says. “I don’t think she’ll ever be over losing the baby, but she’s not against trying again. I won’t rush her, though. I’ll let her let me know when she’s ready.”

Never be over losing the baby…

“How are you?” I ask. He examines me for a moment.

“It’s hard for me, too, Bro,” he says. “I know it’s not as hard for me as it is for her, but it’s hard for me.” I twist my lips as Garrett’s words come back to me.

“Lose a baby, Christian! Then you can come and talk to me!”

“You’re a good man,” I tell him. “I wish there were more like you.”

“He left her because she lost his baby?” he questions. I look at him. “He said something about losing a baby.” I shake my head.

“It… wasn’t the same,” is all I can say. All the dimes are falling for everybody now and it’s not wholly because of what I said. I’m still wondering how Victoria knew, though.

“Oooh,” Elliot says knowingly. “Well… I can’t speak to that. Val and I both wanted the baby so badly… you know the story.”

“Yeah, I know,” I tell him. “She just looked so bad. Do you see how bad she looked? Even all cleaned up in chiffon and diamonds, she was just a shell of a woman in a pretty dress. There’s just some things I won’t be able to wrap my mind around.”

“I get it, Bro, but… a little less fire next time?” he says, holding his thumb and forefinger together in that way. My phone buzzes and Jason has texted me.

**Your chariot awaits. **

“Yeah,” I say, standing. “I’ve been working on ‘less fire’ for years. I don’t think I’ll get there anytime soon.” Elliot stands with me and frowns.

“Where’re you going?” he asks.

“I think I’ve had enough fun for one night,” I say, putting my phone in my pocket.

“You sure you wanna leave?” he asks. “That might piss her off even more.” I scoff.

“You’re kidding, right?” I ask. “She’s actively engaging the 10-foot-pole rule with me right now, as is just about everybody else in this room, and you’re actually concerned that she’s going to be more pissed that I left?” I put my hand on his shoulder.

“She won’t be concerned that I left,” I say. “She’s having a great time without me, and this is her night. I won’t spoil it any more for her, but I’m not going to sit here and be ostracized because I spoke my true feelings. Give Val my best.” I squeeze his shoulder, then turn and leave the ballroom.

*-*

It’s drizzling a bit when I get back to the Crossing. I’m glad that it hadn’t rained when Marilyn collapsed in the grass at the club. I only hope he got her inside before she caught a cold.

I take the stairs down to the lower level intent to go to my study and settle in for the night, maybe check to see if any of the breeders have contacted me back about puppies. When I look out onto the lower patio, I see the back of Garrett’s head sitting on the sofa out there and looking out at the lake. I’m still really angry about what happened with Marilyn, but Elliot’s words are playing in my head, too.

I go over to the bar and retrieve two beers, popping them both open and taking them out to the patio. He’s so lost in thought that he doesn’t hear me come outside. I walk around to the front of the sofa and hand him a beer. He looks up at me with venom in his eyes, but then he takes the beer and fixes his gaze back onto the lake. I take a seat next to him and take a swig of my beer.

“You’re right. I haven’t lost a baby, but I have watched Marilyn, and these past weeks have been brutal.”

“I don’t need you to tell me that,” he interrupts.

“But I am,” I reply. “I’m sure you two have had the first of what will be several long, deep, meaningful, and probing conversations and she’s told you all about how she felt without you. But no matter what she’s told you, you haven’t seen it all. The staff at Helping Hands thought she had cancer, because she was gone for a month, and she came back looking like that. As if it was possible, she lost even more weight in the months she’s been staying here. I’ve never seen someone suffer from a broken heart like that… ever.”

You did,” he says. I look at him like he’s crazy.

“When?” I ask.

“When Butterfly got pissed at you and didn’t speak to you for a week.”

Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.

“Well, let me rephrase,” I say. “I’ve never seen someone else suffer from a broken heart like that. And my suffering only lasted for a week. She’s been going through this for, what… three months?”

“Three months, two weeks, three days…” he says, his voice trailing off. I look at him again and he turns his gaze to me. “Even though you may not think so, I’ve been going through it, too.”

“Why didn’t you talk to her, then?” I ask. If they were both suffering, why didn’t he try to reach out to her.

“Why didn’t you talk to Ana?” he retorts.

“I tried! She wouldn’t listen to me!” I shoot back.

“I couldn’t. I was in too much pain,” he replies.

“Well, that makes two of you, then, because she was dying,” I interject.

“She still is,” he says. What does he mean? They didn’t patch things up? She’s still hurting? “I don’t know if she’s at the point of no return. She’s not refusing food because she doesn’t want to eat. She’s not eating because she can’t eat. Everything makes her sick, and now she won’t even do the shakes because she can’t stand the taste of them anymore.”

I stare at him in disbelief. I didn’t know that. I’ve been trying to shove food down her throat all this time. All week long, she’s been choking down food to satisfy us and now she’s mentally and physically miserable. Jesus H. Christ, when will the poor girl catch a break? I sigh heavily and run my hand through my hair. I’m at a loss, now, too. I don’t know what to do for her. Even if she and Garrett get back together and her broken heart begins to mend, what about her broken body?

“You really care about her, don’t you?”

His voice startles me. For a brief moment, I forgot he was still here. I look over at him and he’s examining me. It’s no use trying to hide it. Even Ray could see that it’s more than just a professional relationship.

“When my wife told me what was happening, I was angry… and a bit torn,” I admit. “She asked me how I would react under the same circumstances if I were you. I couldn’t answer her. Part of me totally supports her right to choose what she wants to do with her body. The father in me couldn’t imagine life without my children. So, I was torn.

“When she disappeared for a month and my wife was pulling her hair out—over you both, I might add—I began to take the situation more seriously. Not that I didn’t before, it’s just that it didn’t directly affect me, so I didn’t internalize it. I started wondering how if you claim to love someone, you could just leave them cold that way. I realized I was being a hypocrite, so I let it drop.”

“You were being a hypocrite?” he asks. “You left Ana?” I look over at him.

“I’m surprised she didn’t tell you,” I say. “She’ll have to give you the details if she hasn’t already, but yeah, I took a little hiatus. It devastated her. She didn’t stop eating, but I’m certain that it’s only because she had to feed our babies. Nonetheless, I was the pot calling the kettle black, so I just… dropped it.

“When Marilyn came back to Seattle and I saw her, all bets were off. My wife was broken when I returned, but she was nothing like this—and we weren’t incommunicado for as long as you two were. It was serious, don’t get me wrong, but…” I trail off.

“In all the time I’ve known of her, I’d never seen her like this. She was always healthy and vibrant and sassy. Once, I tried to run that ‘I am Christian Grey, Master of the Universe’ bullshit on her and she let me have it with both barrels and subsequently told my wife that if she had to take that shit from me that she was tendering her resignation.”

“I remember that,” he says. I just nod.

“She was a force to be reckoned with and we both know that, but when she came back from her parents’ place, I was certain that she had one foot in the grave. I hadn’t seen her yet when Butterfly told me that she was going to be staying with us. When I saw her, I was livid. I was angry with her; I was angry with you; I couldn’t understand for the life of me how anyone could let another person suffer like this. Even the hearts that I’ve left in my wake before Ana, I’ve never led any of those women to believe that I loved them. I have felt and seen love rip the heart out of someone. Before this, I had never seen it rip the soul out.”

Garrett swallows hard at the analogy and sighs deeply.

“Yes, Garrett, I care for her—as a person and a human being, as someone who’s important to my wife… so, yes, she’s important to me, and probably for more than just that reason at this point. I watched her firsthand slipping deeper and deeper into darkness and there was nothing that I could do about it. It’s not an easy thing for a man with my kind of power to feel helpless.

“All I could think was, ‘What the fuck is on Garrett’s mind? How could he let her suffer like this?’ But you probably didn’t know she was suffering like this. She was in Las Vegas for over a month and never left her room unless we told her to. Correction—she left once and stood at the Bellagio fountains, but that was it. I couldn’t even tempt her with the spa, I tried. So, you’ll just have to excuse me if when I finally saw you, I wanted to rip your throat out, because this is what I’ve been seeing constantly for the last two months.”

“I guess I should thank you for caring about her when I couldn’t,” he says. “I was really angry. I felt hurt and betrayed… but I never stopped loving her, not once. You may not believe that, but it’s true.”

I look over at him and he’s looking back out at the lake. I immediately think about how I felt when I ran off to Madrid—totally betrayed… and fucking pissed!

“I can believe it,” I say, realizing now why my mother tore into my ass when she finally got me to answer the phone. I mean, I knew then, but it’s even more clear now. I didn’t stop loving my wife; I just felt betrayed and pissed.

“I don’t want to intrude on your personal life because it’s kind of none of my business, but I’m gonna, because we’re vested in that girl now and I need to know what we’re going to be facing when she wakes up in the morning.” He sighs.

“I don’t really know, Christian,” he says honestly. “We both really fucked up and there are some serious trust issues going on. Yes, she has the right to choose, but I feel like she took my choice away, and I have the right to feel that way. It doesn’t matter if no one else thinks so. Then, I left her after she made an impossible decision before her body even had a chance to heal.

“She had an abortion that morning; that night, she was on a plane. I didn’t even know until I talked to her tonight. I didn’t know that she had left and gone to Spokane; I thought she was still at the apartment until the day that Ana told me she left. I never went back to see until I knew that she was gone. When I went back to the apartment and all her stuff was gone, I felt like hell. She didn’t even take the furniture we bought together. There were little trinkets that I bought for her that are still sitting on my dresser—she didn’t take those either.

“I never once thought all those hang-ups on my voice mail were her, not once. I kept wondering who in the hell was calling me in the middle of the night and wouldn’t leave a message. I wasn’t concerned about how she was feeling at all; I was only trying not to be angry anymore. Thing is, I was only angry for about a week, then I started mourning my loss—my woman and my baby.

“She stopped eating when she was grieving. I was eating everything in sight and working out like a madman to burn it off. Besides that, all I’ve done for three months is work, sleep, and watch Game of Thrones.”

He falls silent for a moment and I’m watching him examine his nearly empty beer bottle. He’s pondering something. What is he pondering? What’s there to think about? They were miserable without each other and now they’re back.

“I know what you must be thinking,” he says. “They’ll get back together and everything will be fine now.” That’s exactly what I was thinking. “But that’s not true. There’s so much unfinished business—so much that we have to settle and talk about. The fact that she hurt me, the fact that I hurt her, the fact that she nearly killed herself immediately after having an outpatient procedure because we broke up.

“I love her dearly, but her survival can’t be dependent on whether I’m there or not. Having a broken heart and grieving, that’s one thing. She wouldn’t have lasted much longer had she kept this up, and we are going to have to go back to the doctor soon to find out how to undo this. We’re going to have to take some drastic steps beyond Ensure and Pedialyte.

“I’m still mourning the loss of my baby. Will that affect our intimacy? Will she ever be able to truly open up to me again? Do we have a future, and will it ever involve children after this? Is love enough to fix us? Can we forgive each other for the pain we’ve caused? What if too much damage has been done and we can’t recover? We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, a whole lot of it!”

He finishes his beer and puts it on the patio floor. I pause for a few moments before I speak.

“Those are very valid questions that only you two can answer. Having previously been quite the outspoken tyrant against love I can tell you this. Love is able to accomplish anything. I’m not talking about the lustful, hearts and flowers, smoochie-huggy-kissy stuff that you feel when you begin a relationship and it keeps you on cloud nine. I’m talking about that ‘this cow is getting on my fucking nerves,’ panic because you haven’t heard from her and wonder if she’s okay, turn the world upside down to make her happy, can’t see your future without her, love her even when you hate her kind of love. If Marilyn was just infatuated, this whole thing would have passed in a few weeks. She definitely wouldn’t be in the state she is now, so I think it’s safe to say that she feels that kind of love for you. If you love her, and you really want this, you’ll find a way to make it work.” I finish my beer and stand.

“You guys can stay as long as you want. I’m sure my wife would feel better if she could at least see some progress with Marilyn’s health before she moves out, but let us know if you decide to leave.” He looks up at me, then nods and looks back at the lake. I walk back into the entertainment room and find my wife standing by her aquarium, looking out the doors at us. I look at her for a few moments, and when she says nothing, I go to the bar and dispose of my empty beer bottle in the trash. I pull out a snifter and pour myself a brandy. I look over at her once more, and she’s still silent. Deciding that I don’t want to defend my opinions or fight for amends at the moment, I head down the hall to my study.

*-*

I didn’t sleep at all last night. Still wound from the events of the party and the conversation with Garrett last night, I tried to work for a while, worked out a bit, even played my piano. Nothing. Not even a hint of sluggishness. This morning, I decide to go for a run. I don’t wake Jason to go with me. I foolishly run on my own, but I pretty much just lap the street and the area around the house. I discover when I get back to the Crossing that the run and the fresh air has done wonders for me, and after a shower and some breakfast, I may be able to settle into a nap.

The bedroom is unoccupied when I step in and after fetching a fresh pair of sweats from my dressing room, I’m actually relieved to just be able to get in the shower and let the hot water run over me. I do my best to rinse away my frustration from last night. So many people’s thoughts and feelings were on display and under consideration… except one. Granted, this isn’t my dilemma, but I’m very much involved. Emotions were running high all around last night and the only person who got scolded was me.

I’m not going to pout; I won’t sulk. I talked to Garrett because I felt I needed to, but I’m not willing to swallow the idea that my feelings, thoughts, and concerns don’t count. This was a very trying time for Marilyn and as I discovered last night, for Garrett as well, but they weren’t the only people involved. Their issue and breakup reached out like fingers and touched several other people. I’m one of those people, and I won’t be dismissed.

Feeling refreshed and relaxed after my shower, I step out and dry my hair vigorously. I brush my teeth and decide to leave the shave for Monday. I don’t have plans for the weekend as we don’t resume with our mentoring sessions with Artemis and Savvina until next weekend. In fact, for the first time in a long time, I plan to veg out today.

I find my wife standing next to the bed when I exit my en suite. Just like last night, she just stands there looking at me. I don’t know what she expects, but if she has no words, neither do I.

I don’t stand there and wait for a greeting. I go to my chest of drawers in the changing room and grab a fresh T-shirt. I pull it over my head as I leave my changing room.

“Don’t you think this situation requires some discussion?” she asks, her voice frank. I shrug.

“Sure,” I say, non-committal. Her head jerks a bit and she frowns.

“Not as passionate about it as you were last night, Christian?” she asks. I laugh inwardly. She’s picking a fight.

“If you wanted passion, you should have talked to me last night,” I say coldly. “That fuse is burned now.”

“That fuse,” she says, noting my emphasis. “Is that to denote that there’s another fuse alight?”

“It could be,” I say after pondering the question for a moment. “I’m just tired of everyone else’s feelings mattering more than mine,” I add matter-of-factly. She frowns.

“What do you mean?” she asks affronted. Okay, Butterfly, you asked for it…

“I mean that he just showed up out of nowhere after three months of letting this girl suffer and nearly die, and we’re all supposed to bow to his feelings, but he’s not supposed to be considerate of anybody else’s. I watched you worry about her for more than a month when she went to her parents. Then she came back, and I watched her deteriorate, so I worried with you. As much as I deplore anything to do with hunger and starvation, I watched it first hand for more than two months.

“I tried to temp that girl with anything available—‘Hey, we’re in hell for a few weeks, but it’s still the land of a million foods. Eat, drink, be merry! Hey, go take advantage of that free spa package! You can use it three times a day if you want.’ We went to buffets; we had food delivered; five-star, 24-hour room service; you took food tours and cooking classes; we went to world-renowned restaurants… She couldn’t even sit the whole night through Karaoke! She had me on such tender hooks worrying about her that for a fleeting moment, Ray suspected that something was going on between us. Did he ever tell you that?” My voice is rising and sharpening. Her eyes widen at the most recent revelation, but then she recovers.

“No,” she says, her voice low. “No, he didn’t tell me that.”

“Yeah, that happened,” I confirm. “I’ve spent all this time being concerned that she was going to collapse from malnutrition and organ failure and then out of the blue, he shows up like he’s coming to save the day… after three fucking months. If you hadn’t threatened her, she still wouldn’t be eating right now!

“Then you want to punish me for the rest of the night because I announced that you were about to have her committed. News flash, Anastasia—that’s not the big secret! Everybody within the visual radius of her could see that she became dangerously thin over a very short period of time. Some people even thought she had a fatal disease!

“No, the secret? The secret was exposed by your boy when he announced the he had lost a baby. That declaration had inquiring minds wondering if it was miscarriage or a termination. Logic leaned to termination as no one could fathom the thought of Gary leaving Marilyn because of a miscarriage. So, even though I may have let the cat out of the bag about something that really wasn’t so secret, the one who really broke a confidence here was Gary, but has anybody beheaded him and shit down his throat for that?”

My wife is silent, and I’m louder than I intend, but I don’t care. I may never get another chance to make this point, so I’m making it now.

“If you don’t expect me to become passionate about the people that you bring to this house who are in need, don’t bring them around me! We have plenty of resources and I have no problem helping someone in need, but if helping them means that I’m supposed to let them in my house, nurture them and bring them back to mental and physical health, but then turn my back and act like I don’t give a fuck when they’re hurting, then you’ve got the wrong guy.

“I’ve always been able to go from zero to 100 in 2.3 seconds and you knew that when you married me, but this empathetic fucker? This guy with all these feelings and concern for other people? This is the guy you created, and although I may become angry—I may get pissed off and say or do stupid shit, I can’t just turn that guy off at will!

“We had Harmony and Tina to worry about and I went gung-ho on that fucker Kenneth, that crook Roger, and Tina’s ungrateful children—at Tina’s fucking funeral, no less! Val was a total bitch, but when we found out that it was because she was sick, we gave her doctor a bulldozer full of what-for, and how… and brought her here to live with us! Even James was the center of my wrath when you were trying to save Thelma and Little Jimmy from starvation and a long, slow death in that condemned, mold and bacteria-infested house and what happened? After I gave him a huge piece of my mind and he lost his fucking family and his health deteriorated, I ended up helping him in the end. And let’s not forget that I almost fucking got arrested over Marlow’s father!

“If I care about you enough to get involved, then yes, I’m going to be passionate about you. I didn’t hold my tongue when any of those people were being hurt and I didn’t hold my tongue this time. The only difference this time was that both of the parties on both sides of the battlefield were your friends. So, when I did speak my mind against the party that I felt was wrong, I became the bad guy… again! So, in the future, should I distance myself from these situations so that I don’t make this mistake? Because from my standpoint, I wasn’t going to win either way.

“I care for her. She’s a good person; she’s important to you; and she’s grown on me. So, watching her suffer and not being able to do anything about it is not an easy thing to do. In fact, it was downright painful. Having him stroll in and announce that his suffering trumped everybody else’s was almost unbearable and enough to make my blood boil. But having you ostracize me for the rest of the night because I felt like what I felt and what I saw was just as important as what he was feeling, that is completely, utterly, and totally unacceptable. So, like I said, I’m tired of everyone else’s feelings mattering more than mine!”

Is that enough of an explanation for you, Dr. Grey?

“It’s not that your feelings don’t matter, Christian,” she says, her voice softening… and shaking a bit. “It’s just that certain situations have to be handled delicately. You can’t just charge into delicate scenarios like a bull in a China shop.”

“Well, once again, excuse me if I had no patience for the guy who I felt allowed Marilyn to suffer for three months, especially after he comes at me with that sarcastic, smug ass attitude. ‘What do you suggest I do, Christian?’” I say, mocking his tone.

“You snapped at him first,” she points out.

“And again, you’re taking his side. So, we’re having this conversation because…?” I trail off calmly, holding my hand out expectantly and waiting for her to finish the sentence. I’m under no misconception about her feelings—she made them quite clear. However, if she didn’t hear anything that I just said, then I have nothing else to say. She sighs and drops her head.

“This is a very worthy conversation,” she says, “and you are right. I did and I am seeing things from Gary’s point of view. If it’s okay with you, may I have a little time to consider your argument before I address it further?” She stands there silent, waiting for my response.

“I think that’s a very good idea,” I say calmly. She nods and leaves the room.

That’s the first time we’ve been passionate about anything and had a civil conversation. I don’t know if it’s because I stood my ground and refused to be sucked into any other discussion or argument, or if she really sees that I had a point and she wants to consider both sides of the coin. Either way, I’m not angry or aggravated and I’m still as relaxed as I was when I returned from my run… more, even.

I climb on the bed and grab the remote. I turn the television on and begin scrolling through the channels. I should really go and get some breakfast, but I’m truly beat. Maybe I’ll just close my eyes for a quick minute or two, then go down to breakfast…


ANASTASIA

Even when Christian is angry, it’s not like him to miss a meal, at least not deliberately. He didn’t seem angry after our talk this morning, but he didn’t come down to breakfast. His conversation was a bit deliberate, somewhat subdued in the end, but not angry. Why didn’t he come to breakfast?

“Is everyone avoiding us?” Marilyn asks, having come down and eaten a bit of eggs and drank some orange juice. Gary sits silently next to her, wearing his suit pants and a T-shirt. There’s no one else at the table, but us.

“I think they may be trying to avoid Christian,” I say, sipping my coffee.

“And who’s he trying to avoid?” Gary asks.

“Could be me,” I say with a shrug. Marilyn sighs.

“This is the very last thing I wanted,” she says, pushing her hair behind her ear. There’s silence at the table for a while.

“You’re not going to try to eat a little more?” Gary coaxes, noting that she only ate a forkful or two of eggs. Marilyn shakes her head.

“I can’t tolerate any more,” she says without looking at him. “My stomach just can’t take it.” Gary sighs and says nothing else. I look at them both staring at dishes, beverages, walls, anything but each other.

“So, what now?” I ask. I’m feeling a bit like Christian right now. After everything I’ve witnessed and the worry I’ve been through, I deserve some answers… something in the way of closure, or at least headed towards it.

“I don’t know,” they say simultaneously, then look sadly at one another. Well, enough of this shit. I’m not a relationship counselor, but I bet I’ll fucking be one right now.

“What do you want?” I ask the open-ended question to them both. Neither answers.

“Okay, that’s not a rhetorical question,” I say. “What. Do you want?”

Marilyn is still looking down at the uneaten portion of her eggs and Gary looks over at her.

“I want her to eat,” he says, examining the side of her head. Nope, too easy, Pope.

“And then what?” I ask. He turns his gaze to me.

“I don’t know,” he says, his voice a bit frustrated. “I don’t know where we’re going to go from here.”

“That’s not what I asked you,” I retort, “and dancing around the question isn’t going to make the answer any easier, nor is it going to make me stop asking it. I love you both; you’re very important to me, and this is destructive behavior. You stopped eating and you barely sleep; and you cut yourself off from people that you’ve interacted with nearly every damn weekend for years! Half the time, we didn’t know if you were dead or alive. I and everybody who care about you two who had to sit and witness that train wreck that was last night deserve to know. What. Now?”

I leave the floor open. They’re going to fucking answer me, or nobody’s leaving this table.

“I want my life back,” Gary says after several moments of silence, “and I want my girl back, but I don’t know if we can do it.”

“Why don’t you think so?” I ask.

“Look at us,” he replies. “I hurt her; she hurt me; we fucked up big. I know the fact that we hurt each other doesn’t make it even, but how do we recover from this? I still feel the same way that I feel and I’m sure she still feels the same way she does…” Marilyn is shaking her head while he’s talking. I hold up my hand to halt him.

“Why are you shaking your head?” I ask. She raises her gaze and there are those endless, silent tears that she’s been crying for weeks. Gary gazes at her with regret in his eyes.

“Everything I thought I knew has changed,” she says, her voice even. You would think she was sitting here having a normal old conversation, but her tears betray her heart. “I had never loved anybody else like this and I didn’t think anything could ever go wrong with this love, but when it did, I completely fell apart. I totally lost myself and I couldn’t find me for anything. Every day, I felt like I was just walking through a tunnel, and I knew it was a tunnel, but there was no light at the end.

“For three months, I just kind of wandered around. I second-guessed everything. For three months, every decision I made, I second-guessed it. I second-guessed being a mom, being ready, the termination, giving the baby up for adoption, going to my parents, coming back, waking up in the morning, everything! I never thought of suicide, but I can’t tell you how many times I just wanted to curl up and die.

“And now, he’s back,” she says, her voice cracking on the last word, “and I still don’t know how to find me. I still don’t have any faith in anything that I thought I knew. He says he still feels the same. Does that mean that he still hates me? He’s still hurt and angry that I aborted his baby? He wants his girl back, but he still can’t be in the same room with me? What does that mean?

“You want to know why I was shaking my head? Because nothing is like it was before—nothing. I don’t feel anything I felt before. He says he wants his girl back, but the girl I was before he left and I found myself all alone, I don’t even know where that girl is anymore.

“All of my realities have been completely shattered. This is my reality now—clawing and scratching and starving and trying to find out who I really am. If I knew then what I know now, if I had thought for one second that this is where I would end up, I’d be sitting here looking at you swollen right now. We’d be planning a baby shower and looking for a bigger place and sharing ultrasound pictures on Facebook!”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Gary says. “You would have made the same decision because you weren’t ready. Nothing, not even my broken heart, can make you ready if you’re not ready.”

“How can you understand that now if you didn’t understand that before?” Marilyn shoots through her tears. “I was healthy and fit and there would have been plenty of time for us to have children later. I just wasn’t ready now. Neither of us were ready. That’s why we were using protection and birth control. Now, you understand that I wasn’t ready and all it took was for me to go to the brink of hell!”

Gary sits silently, shamefaced, while Marilyn’s tears don’t cease. I hand her a napkin, but she shakes her head again.

“There has to be something wrong with not being able to function without another person,” she says, “with being unable to find a place of peace when I find myself on my own. I couldn’t eat; I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t laugh or relax. All the things that are supposed to rejuvenate the body and mind, I couldn’t do.” I sigh.

“It’s called love, Mare,” I tell her, “and it’s heartbreak. You don’t get to dictate the terms of your sorrow. It is what it is.”

“What if he dies, heaven forbid?” she says. “What if something happens and he’s just not here anymore? Does that mean I’ll never be able to function on my own again?”

“These are all very valid questions, Mare, that only you have the answers to,” I tell her. “Keep in mind that the circumstances of your breakup were… quite rough. You terminated a pregnancy; you came home, and he was packed. Just like that, this relationship that you cultivated for the last couple of years was over—and it wasn’t a sudden, tragic event that ripped him away from you. This was a conscious decision to leave the relationship—a man that was still very much alive, leaving you in a situation of anguish, despair, loneliness, uncertainty… and hope. There was always hope until you finally let it go. That’s one of the worst parts of a separation—hoping for a reconciliation.

“It’s good that you realize that your life, existence, and happiness can’t be totally dependent on another person. Granted, all of the people in our lives contribute to those things in some way, but I wholeheartedly agree that you completely fell apart very much to your detriment without Gary around you. It concerns me because you’ve always been a very independent person. It also concerns me because it says a lot about how you feel about yourself—your worth and who you are on your own.

“I would be completely devastated if something happened to Christian, or if heaven forbid our relationship fell apart and we had nothing left. However, I’d like to think that I have enough of a sense of self-preservation or even the knowledge that other people need me that I would be able to overcome the worst part of my grief to have my survival instincts kick in.”

Marilyn looks at me knowingly. She didn’t have all of the details when Christian ran away to Madrid, but she knew the gist of it. I did, however, get up and take care of my babies and go to work and eat and try to remain as normal as possible, with the exception of a drunken slip off a cliff.

But this isn’t about me.

“You two are going to have to find ways to reconnect again,” I say. “It’s the only way, and it’s going to be hard. We’ve been where you are, and it’s going to be all about rebuilding the trust that you lost, leaning on the love that you have, and forging a new relationship. You can’t go back to where you were. There’s an innocence and blissful ignorance that was attached to that relationship that you no longer have. You need to take the seed that is your love—right now—and plant it in fresh ground. You’re going to need some help and it’s not going to be easy or fast. I can give you advice, but I think you should both see a marriage counselor.” Gary raises his brow at me.

“Why can’t you do it?” Gary asks. I shake my head.

“If it comes to that, I will,” I tell him, “but I think you should first talk to someone with a fresh eye on things… someone that’s not so close. My therapist was of no use to me when Christian left. I don’t know what he was aiming at, but he kept hitting the rim of the target without hitting the bullseye. I’m thinking it’s because he knows me, and he knows that I’m a doctor and he expected me to heal myself. I wasn’t in a position where I could. Our friends tried to help us and they kind of shed some light on some things, but we were in so deep that it took strangers to help us—two different sets in two different specialties. So, you should talk to someone who’s not so close first and see what happens.

“I can point you in the right direction, but you two need a game plan, and you’re going to have to take the steps on your own. The first thing you need to do is figure out what you want to do. You know that you want your girl back.” I turn to Marilyn. “You don’t know which way is up and not quite sure which direction to go. That’s where you have to start. If you’re going to be stuck in ‘I don’t know,’ then you might as well go back to your corners and forget this semi-reconciliation ever happened.”

Gary raises his gaze to me, then looks over at Marilyn who’s still crying a waterfall. He puts his arm around her chair, and she jumps like she’s startled, but he doesn’t pull away. Instead, he leans in to her.

“I know what I want, baby, and that’s not it,” he says to her like she’s the only person in the room. “I want you back. I love you. I want what we had and if we can’t have that, then I want what we can become. Do you want me?”

Marilyn never raises her head. The tears are still flowing when she takes a huge stuttering breath and nods.

“I do want you, Gary,” she says, “but I want me, first.”

Gary pauses, not quite sure—I’m certain—what to make of that answer.

“Is that something that we can work on together, or do you need time to work on that alone?” he asks cautiously. She swallows.

“Both,” she says, her voice cracking again. “I know that I have to find me again and I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to do that or what it’s going to involve and you’re going to have to allow me to do that… but I don’t want to be without you anymore.”

Gary purses his lips, then embraces her gently.

“I’m scared to hug you,” he says honestly. “You’re so thin.” She shrugs.

“Battle scars,” she says sadly. I wish she hadn’t used that terminology. Christian and I use that same phrase for our kink bruises. Scratches and bites and whelps and hickeys and… Is it getting hot in here? What was I talking about?

“I broke the lease on the old place,” Gary confesses, “and all my things are in storage.”

Oh, yeah… Marilyn and Gary.

“Just as well,” Marilyn says, her face still wet with now partially dry tears. “I couldn’t go back there anyway.”

“Well, your current address is here anyway,” I interject. “No offense, Gary, but I have to see a significant improvement in her health before I‘m willing to let her out of my sight. I’ll have to talk to Christian about you coming and going…”

“Christian already offered us to stay for as long as we needed last night,” he says, bemused. “I thought he would have told you.” My brow rises.

“Well, I guess that’s that,” I say with a shrug, “although…”

“Although what?” Gary asks.

“You two are going to need time together to rebuild your relationship… and time apart.” Marilyn raises a questioning gaze to me. “Being apart and not thinking you would ever be together again is one thing. Being apart and building yourself knowing exactly when you’re going to see each other again is another. Once you set your plan in motion, each of you is going to need some ‘me’ time to rebuild and rejuvenate to help make the ‘us’ better.” I point to them both when stressing the word us.

“Gary, why don’t you go home and get some clean clothes. Plan to spend at least the weekend here. You guys have a lot to discuss.” He nods and stands.

“I won’t be long, I promise,” he says, kissing Marilyn’s hand. She nods and watches him as he leaves the dining room.

“How do you feel?” I ask once Gary leaves the room.

“I thought you said you were too close,” she says.

“No,” I say, “I said you should start by talking to someone who’s not so close, and I can still be a sounding board.” Her head drops back, and I see the tears begin again.

“Confused,” she says. “Scared… happy, sick, tired, cautious, anxious, elated, relieved, weak, restless, you name it, I feel it.”

“That’s a good place to start.” I cover her hand with mine. “You’re absolutely right. You need to find ‘you.’ Start working on that right now.” She closes her eyes and nods.

“I think I need to go meditate,” she says. She stands from the table and heads towards the family room.

“Marilyn?” she stops in the kitchen and turns around. “I want to ask you something. Your shirt is drenched. Why don’t you dry your tears when they’re falling?”

“I did at first,” she says, “but now, my skin is too tender from the tissue. So, I just let them fall until they’re done and then wash my face.” When I don’t answer, she turns and heads to the family room.

I don’t even know how to respond to that. I’ve never heard of anybody who cried so much that they wiped their face until their skin hurt. I have to say that I’m very glad that she and Gary have decided to start to put their relationship back together. I don’t know how she would have lasted without him.

*-*

I don’t think he’s sulking, but I haven’t seen Christian all day.

I spent the first part of the morning with Gary and Marilyn. He has retrieved enough clothes for at least a week and now, he and Marilyn have been holed up in her room for the last couple of hours. I have no problem with making up for lost time, but I hope they don’t think that sex is going to solve their problems.

Speaking of problems, I take this moment of solace to consider the conversation that I had with my husband this morning. I need to get him to understand how his actions were inappropriate without discounting his feelings. He’s raw from watching Marilyn suffer and waste away these past months and before this morning, I didn’t know just how raw he was. I’m constantly seeing the CEO Neanderthal who wants the world to bow to his will and yield to his omnipotence when that wasn’t what was happening here at all. If anything, the protector was baring his teeth and that’s who we were dealing with last night.

Daddy suspected an affair—that’s a news flash. I wonder what was said to dispel that suspicion.

Yes, I was feeling extremely protective of them both last night. I still am. That could very well have clouded my judgment when it came to seeing him attacking Gary. As is stands, he wasn’t really attacking Gary so much as he was defending Marilyn.

What’s sticking with me the most, however, is the statement that he made about being the bad guy again. Do I always make him out to be the bad guy? That’s certainly not my intention. And if after all this time, he truly thinks that he’s always under attack for voicing his feelings, something’s definitely wrong with the machinery here.

But I won’t approach him while he’s sulking. So, this worthy conversation will just have to wait.

I spend the early part of the afternoon with my babies on the floor of the family room. Mikey is thoroughly entertained by watching his sister bounce around like a madman, and Minnie has taken to forming full sentences with one or maybe two decipherable words. Mikey is verbose as well, but he sticks to his one word and makes his point.

I’ve finished a late lunch with the children and Gail and I have put them to sleep when we’re greeted with a groggy, bed-haired Christian Grey walking into the kitchen still in the jogging pants and T-shirt I left him in when I left the bedroom this morning.

He’s been asleep all this time?

“No coffee?” he asks, scanning the kitchen and noting the clean and empty coffee pot.

“We… usually don’t have it in the afternoon,” I point out. His expression is a mixture of horror, surprise, and disbelief.

“What time is it?” he asks, looking around the room, no doubt, for a timepiece. I push the display on the remote.

“Almost three,” I say, just as he spots the time on the microwave.

“Jesus!” he says. “That was one hell of a power nap!”

“That was supposed to be a power nap?” I ask. “I left you at nine. I thought you were coming to breakfast.”

“I thought I was, too!” he replies. “I planned on vegging out today. I didn’t know that I was going to sleep the day away.” Vegging out? Christian Grey doesn’t veg out!

“That’s new,” I say, nonplussed. “Since when do you veg out?” His face becomes impassive.

“I guess everybody needs to relax, relate, and release sometimes, huh?” he replies. He turns to the refrigerator and begins to remove the trimmings for a sandwich.

“Here, let me,” I say, coming over to the refrigerator and gesturing for him to move. I continue to remove items from the refrigerator and stack them onto the counter. I know my husband. He doesn’t want a sandwich. He wants a meal, but he wants it fast.

I slice a hero roll in half and cover the bottom half with mozzarella cheese and let it toast in the toaster oven. Once the cheese has melted, I remove the roll and stack it with hard salami, black forest ham, peppered turkey, sopressata, and bresaola. I take some shredded lettuce and whisk it in a bowl with red wine vinegar, avocado oil, oregano, and a touch of salt and pepper.

“Soda? Tea? Water? Beer?” I ask, going back to the refrigerator to retrieve a red onion.

“Spritzer,” he says matter-of-factly. I remove a tall glass from the cabinet and mix crushed ice, sparkling water and cranberry juice with a mint leaf and give it to my husband.

I return to the chopping board and slice tomatoes, red onions, and banana peppers. I place the top half of the hero bun in the toaster oven and finish the sandwich with provolone cheese, tomatoes, banana peppers, and the coated lettuce. I remove the other half of the bun with an oven glove and coat it with a nice helping of mayonnaise. Placing the freshly toasted bun on top, I put the sandwich on a plate, cut it in half and give it to him.

“Thank you,” he says, looking at the large sandwich and trying to figure out how to attack it. He finally gets a bite into his mouth and groans his satisfaction. I nod, put the ingredients away and clean up my mess.

“I’d like to continue our conversation,” I tell him, but I’ll wait until you’ve finished your lunch. When you’re ready, I’ll be in our sitting room… unless you’d rather have the conversation somewhere else.” He pauses.

“No, the sitting room is fine,” he says. I nod and head towards the stairway.


A/N: In case you didn’t see it, there is a short one-shot of Gary and Marilyn’s point of view… mostly Gary’s. You can find it here: https://butterflysaga.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/gary-returns-after-the-breakup/ 

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 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

 

 

Gary Returns After the Breakup

This is a small bit of the story from Gary and Marilyn’s POV. I did this because many people said that they wanted to know what Gary was thinking throughout all this, and I thought it was a good idea to show how I felt Gary was feeling about the termination and the breakup.

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…

Gary Returns

GARY (Still too soon)

It’s been three months, one week, five days, and 13 hours since I last saw her. When I knew what she was going to do, I sat in the apartment and prayed that it wasn’t true—that she would change her mind and she wouldn’t go through with it. It didn’t do any good, though. I felt it the moment my baby died. I felt it as if someone was stabbing me in the chest and ripping my soul from me piece by piece. I reached for her to comfort me, but she wasn’t there. She was at that clinic, killing my child.

When she returned and told me that she had gone through with it and my baby was gone, I knew I couldn’t stay. I was so filled with hatred and rage. My baby was ripped away from me before I had the chance to stop her. It was like I didn’t have a say in the matter at all. She completely ignored my wishes and protests and just terminated my child like you would pop a pimple. I was furious.

That first week after I left, all I did was cry. I cried and cried for the loss of my child, the fact that I would never get to meet him, never get to hold him, never even knew if it was a “him.” I felt like she robbed me—like she made the decision and that was it. I felt betrayed and nauseated and angry and hateful. I wanted her to die, too—to see what it felt like… what she did to my baby…

By day eight, that all changed.

I had been horrible. I was so hurt for so long that I wouldn’t speak to her when she tried to call. I wouldn’t speak to any of my friends, least of all, Ana. I knew she was just going to try to convince me to talk to Mare and that was the last thing I wanted for several reasons. I moved into a studio a few blocks from my job and cut communication with everyone. It was the easiest thing to do at the moment.

I ate a lot… worked out even more; cried; tore shit up; hid from my feelings as much as possible. When I saw her number show up on the phone, it sickened me. It pissed me off that she would even try to get in touch with me.

On day eight, the calls stopped.

I was relieved and dismayed at the same time. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted her to stop calling me so that I could think straight, but if I’m honest, knowing that she was still there was strangely comforting, even though I didn’t want to admit it.

More crying, more eating, more working and working out, more avoiding the calls and attempts of contact from my friends. The calls from Ana start—about two a week for three weeks. At first, she would leave a message. By the second week with no response, she stopped leaving messages. She would just call and hang up if the call went to voice mail. By the third week, her calls stopped, too. I could see them all in my mind’s eye at Food and Libations talking about how tragic the whole thing is.

I’m coming out of my baby funk a bit when I get a text from Ana.

**She’s moved out of your apartment. You can go back now. **

Why would I want to go back? Why would I want to live in the place that I shared with the woman who killed my child? Then the words hit me:

She’s moved out…

Where did she go? Shit, why would I care?

Days turned to weeks, then to months, and I did everything I could not to think about her—who she was with, where she was living, what she was doing to get over me, if she even needed to get over me. Did she ever really love me at all? If she did, how could she just kill my baby? Just like that?

Some days, I was able to push her out of my mind—throw myself into my work or work out until my muscles burned so badly that I couldn’t think of anything else. I’d eat like a bear then I’d exercise like crazy to burn off the carbs. And that was the extent of my life.

When Allen ambushed me, I was kind of pissed. I wanted to know how he found me, then I remembered that he worked for Mr. I-Can-Find-Jimmy-Hoffa-If-I-Want. I felt like it was a horrible invasion of my privacy, but only because I was pissed about the baby. Had this been any other situation and no one could get in touch with me, I wouldn’t expect anything less. I knew they had activated the contingency because everybody tried to get in touch with me, even though nobody let on that they knew exactly what was going on… if they knew exactly what was going on.

There were times when I thought I might have been overreacting. Yes, it hurt that she killed the baby, but we could always have another one in the future when she was ready, right? But what if she was never ready? What if she got pregnant again and killed my baby again? Could I even look her in the face again after this?

More than once, I weakened and tried to call her, but I couldn’t bring myself to dial the numbers. More than once, I wanted to hear her voice, but didn’t know what to say. Many nights, I tried to sleep and couldn’t, because she wasn’t there. I’d be exhausted but sleep just wouldn’t come to me. It took her seven weeks to move out of my apartment—probably seven weeks of wondering if I was going to come back. I didn’t think it was over between us. I didn’t accept that it was over between us even though I was the one who left.

When I got back to that apartment, I knew it was over.

I couldn’t feel her presence at all. It was like she never existed. She scrubbed the place down like Single White Female. If I didn’t know for sure that she had been there, I would have thought I dreamed the whole thing. The refrigerator was completely empty. There were dry goods and food in the cupboards, but nothing that she would normally eat that I wouldn’t. I went to the closet, the bedroom, the en suite, looking for anything that she may have left behind—cosmetics, underwear, an earring back…

She left the trinkets… the special things I had bought for her, except the promise ring. I knew what that meant. It represented my promise to love her. She doesn’t need the money, so I know she’s not going to pawn it. So, if for no other reason, she’s keeping it to remind herself… of what we used to have.

She was gone. Completely gone. I left her… and then she left me.

I cried again.

After a month or so more, I had worked myself into a routine—work, eat, work out, watch Netflix reruns, go to sleep, wake up, repeat. There was nothing for me to look forward to and I didn’t torture myself by expecting anything. This was my life now and I didn’t want to be bothered.

And then, today happened.

I don’t know what made me order lunch from here today, but here I was. It was subconscious, I think. I hadn’t even considered that café across the street where she always got those muffins. I had just picked up my usual monstrous lunch, when something drew me to look at that door. It was nothing new. It wasn’t like I was really looking for her… was I?

There she is, standing in the doorway—at least I think that’s her. I blink a few times. It’s not impossible that I could be seeing things. That woman looks like her… a little bit… but…

Are my eyes playing tricks on me? That can’t be her. She’s… so thin… and her hair. It’s dull and it almost looks gray. She looks awful. What happened to her? She looks like she’s ill… like she’s dying. Is she on drugs?

Isn’t that what you wanted? You wanted her to die for killing your baby. It looks like you’re getting your wish.

She steps away from the coffee shop, takes a bite of the muffin or cupcake, then frowns. She looks like she’s going to hurl. She stops and removes the bite from her mouth with a napkin, tossing it and the entire confection into a nearby garbage can. She doesn’t go back into the coffee shop to complain or replace the sweet. She just turns away and begins to walk down the sidewalk.

Are you kidding? What the hell—is she sick? Did the abortion do something to her health? She should have eaten the damn pastry! She’s wasting away!

I begin walking behind her on the opposite side of the street. Her stride isn’t that of the beautiful, confident young woman that I walked away from three months ago. No, this is someone else. Her head is down, and she looks like death. She doesn’t notice that people veer away from her as she proceeds down the sidewalk, simply to avoid the gray cloud of doom that’s enveloping her, afraid that her dismay might rub off on them. If I were to guess, I would expect that this stranger is barely functioning and having to concentrate on every task just to get through the day.

I’m still not convinced that it’s her until after a few more steps, and she reaches a car that I recognize. I watch her unlock the door, get inside, start the car and drive off down Cherry street.

For the love of Pete! She looks terrible. And it’s not until this moment that my heart sinks and my chest begins to ache.

I still love her… so much. I hate the situation. I hate what she did, but I never stopped loving her. God, it hurt so much seeing her like that. I could pretend that it was all about me when I didn’t see her. That’s why I had to leave that day. Seeing her made everything so fucking real, so fucking in-my-face. Truthfully, it’s still about me. It still hurts. I lost a child and I couldn’t be with the woman who was the direct cause of my loss.

But seeing her today… shit.

I’m standing here in the middle of the sidewalk, looking at the empty spot that her car vacated moments ago. I don’t know what to do. I knew there was a possibility that we would run into each other, but not this soon.

It’s been three months. How do you figure that’s “soon?”

It’s still too soon for me.


MARILYN (Father, can You hear me?)

God, that muffin tasted like lead.

I tried. I really tried, but I just couldn’t eat it. Ana’s not going to get off me if I don’t start eating better. She’s worse than my mom… well, I’ll take that back. Nobody’s worse than my mom.

One minute, it’s, “Lyn, baby, you have to eat or you’re gonna die,” and the next minute, it’s, “I hope you’re praying and asking forgiveness for your eternal soul for what you did.”

I haven’t spoken to my parents since sometime in January and my visits will become even more few and far between if they can’t stop tossing me into hell every time I talk to them. It’s bad enough that I’ve lost the man I love over this. I’m not going to be subjected to the fire and brimstone talk every time I want to see my mom and dad.

And I told them as much the last time I spoke to them.

“Mom, Dad, you have made it perfectly clear how you feel about me terminating my pregnancy. I wish I had never told you what I did. I love you both dearly, but if you continue to psychotically condemn me to eternal damnation every time I talk to you, I’m going to stop calling and I’m going to stop coming home so that you no longer have to deal with the horrible sinner you created!”

I ended the call and haven’t spoken to either of them since.

That was two weeks ago. Mom calls incessantly, leaving messages that she loves me, and she’s only concerned about me. She doesn’t reference the abortion—directly—but I can still hear it in the tone of her conversations. So, I just avoid them altogether.

I haven’t really been able to eat solid food since this whole thing happened. It’s like my mouth and stomach are revolting and refuses to allow anything in since I ceremoniously kicked the baby out. It turned out to be the worst decision I ever made. I stand by my conviction that I wasn’t ready for a baby at all and putting my body through nine months of hell to hand the kid off to someone else was certainly not in the cards for me either. However, the emotional and physical turmoil that I’ve experienced wasn’t worth whatever benefit I’ve gotten from the termination.

I couldn’t wrap my head around carrying a baby, being a mother—I’m young and I’m just not ready for it. Now, I’ve given up my baby and I’ve lost Gary, too. It also appears that I’ve lost the ability to eat. I thought it was just emotional at first and it would pass when the grief passed. The grief hasn’t really passed, but I do have the desire to eat, just not the ability. I’ve been to the doctor a few times and she certain it’s a nervous stomach from all the stress. They’ve run so many tests on me—even tests to be sure everything was okay with the termination.

Nothing. My body just doesn’t want food.

I can only tolerate consommé, fruit juices, meal replacement shakes, and the occasional smoothie. I was already thin, but according to the doctor, I’ve lost over 20 pounds since the procedure. She has prescribed me things like Ensure and Pedialyte to make sure that I’m getting all of my nutrients and has threatened to put me in the hospital more than once. I’ve gone from an athletic 139 pounds to a waif-like 114 in just a few months.

I’m going to have to find a place soon before Christian adopts me! I’ve discovered that he has this thing with food and people going hungry. The first time I turned away a meal, I thought he was going to have a conniption! I opted to take meals—or the lack of them—in my room to keep from having to fall under that scrutiny, but then he sent Ana to be my food guard, so they knew that I still wasn’t eating.

She later told me about his childhood and how he was poor and starving before his mom and dad adopted him. Now, wasted food and people going hungry are two things that he completely abhors. They’ve been so kind to me that I didn’t want to offend them in any way, so I started coming down to dinner, asking for small portions and choking down what I could. Dinner is usually followed by going straight to bed because my stomach would feel like I’ve eaten the head of a sledgehammer and I just couldn’t tolerate it. I eventually had a talk with Christian about my hopefully temporary eating disorder, and he lightened up a bit—especially after he saw me drinking Ensure and Pedialyte or having a healthy spinach or fresh strawberry smoothie. I got points for trying.

But it was he who coerced me—to put it nicely—to go to the doctor and make sure nothing was wrong. Now that I have, he and Ana are keeping an eye on me like Mother Hen and Father Goose. It’s nice, though, that someone cares for me without trying to throw me into Dante’s Hell.

For the first week of our separation, I just wanted him to listen to me, to try to understand why I made the decision that I did, even though he all but begged me not to. After that, and several unanswered calls, I decided to leave him to his thoughts, incorrectly hoping that he would come around after he had some time to himself. After over a month of Mom and Dad’s “dance with the devil” lectures, I decided that it was time to get on with my life… without Gary.

It was the hardest decision I had ever made. Deciding on the termination wasn’t hard. It’s what I wanted. Living with that decision is an entirely different matter.

Letting go of Gary was… is impossible. I love him too much and I don’t think I’ll ever get over him, at least no time soon. The thought of someone else touching me sickens me about as much as eating does. So, as it stands, I’m doomed to be alone, haunted by the memories of the incredible love that I lost.

I spent one night in the apartment; tried to sleep in our bed, but that was impossible. After spending the night wide awake on the sofa, I knew I would have to leave. After asking Boss Lady not to make me work that weekend, I found myself agreeing to move into Grey Crossing immediately. I truly didn’t want to impose, but I was able to get some sleep that night not having to endure another damnation sermon or having to smell the sheets where Gary’s aroma still lingers in our bed—even after all that time.

So, as my body continues to revolt on me, I drink the Pedialyte on my way back to Helping Hands after picking up Ana’s lunch, trying to chase away the metal taste of my beloved blueberry muffin on my tongue. I contemplate what I could have done differently, short of not terminating the pregnancy. I do this often, and I guess it’s my way of punishing myself—repeatedly—for my ghastly mistake. How someone can be of two minds about this is a mystery to me, but I am. I still feel like I wasn’t ready for a baby, and no, I wasn’t willing to carry it to term to give it to someone else. Yet, when I think about the mystery with my health, disappointing my parents…

Losing Gary completely…

… I often wonder if I would have been okay having the baby and being a mom. I would be about six months pregnant right now, and I didn’t bother getting a due date. That’s a reminder I certainly don’t need. What kind of father would Gary have made? Would we have gotten married?

That familiar ache in my chest and the longing in my soul have become constant companions as I once again lament losing the greatest love of my life. As usual, the questions are too painful and after I swipe a tear from my cheek, I push them to the back of my head and continue my ride back to the Center before the proverbial water under the bridge reaches up to drown me.

*-*

“I can tell by your face you didn’t eat anything. Does the smell of food make you sick?” No, just the taste of it… most of it, anyway.

“I tried, Bosslady,” I excuse. “I got one of my favorite blueberry muffins from the coffee shop on Cherry St, and when I bit into it, it tasted like garbage.”

“You’ve been here for hours! What have you eaten?”

“Pedialyte,” I say, my voice low.

“That’s not eating,” she scolds, her voice crisp. “I know the doctor said that was okay as a meal replacement, but you can’t do that forever. You’re wasting away, Marilyn. Where are you now?” I drop my gaze.

“One-fourteen,” I reply. When I raise my eyes to her, her lips are forming a thin line.

“You’ve got five more pounds,” she says. “Five more pounds, Marilyn, and I’m checking you in. You can go willingly, or I’ll call your parents, and I have no problems with an ambush.”

“Okay, okay,” I cede. I guess it’ll be nights of choking down food and going to bed with an upset stomach in hopes of keeping it down.

“You are going to the victory celebration on Friday, right?” It’s a question, but I know it’s more like a demand from a parent. I have to say that I really don’t want to be around people these days, especially since they assume they know what’s going on in my life. That whole bulimia/anorexic conversation in Vegas still smarts.

“Who else is going to be there?” I ask cautiously.

“All my friends and family are invited,” she answers, “but to answer your unasked question, I don’t think Gary will be there. I haven’t heard from him in months.” My lips tighten. I hate that our failed relationship is obviously affecting her friendship with Gary, but if there’s anybody I can’t stand to see right now, it’s the man that makes my heart race so fast that it feels like it’s going to beat right out of my chest.

“Fine, I’ll go.” They’ll have to serve soup of some kind, and I can probably choke down a salad, and when no one is watching, I’ll excuse myself to the restroom and go walk around the putting greens. More time to reflect and torment myself.

For the next three days, I do exactly what I said I would—choke down my small helpings of dinner, then go straight to bed with the hopes of not regurgitating the entire meal. By the third day, Ana is on to me, but I tell her to take it or leave it. After I thoroughly convince her that I don’t barf-chow, I tell her frankly that it’s the only way food will stay down and the only way that I don’t lose those five pounds that she threatened me with.

On Friday morning, Victoria comes to the Crossing and drapes Ana in one of her magnificent Ana-Grey-only originals for the dinner tonight. She says that she happens to have this cute, white number for me as she noticed my frame is a bit petite and thought that maybe the things that I have might not fit for tonight.

Um-hmm, really subtle, ladies.

Nonetheless, the dress is really cute and fits me perfectly. It’s a beautiful white high-low formal and it’s every bit of a size two or zero. I can’t be angry, though. I know that everyone is concerned about me and she’s right. Nothing I have that’s appropriate for tonight fits. I sigh and thank her for the dress.

When Ana suggests going to the spa for treatments, however, that’s where I draw the line. When I say that I can’t stand for anybody to touch me, I mean anybody! I’ll wash my own damn hair, put it up in a messy chignon, and do my own damn make-up.

The wretched evening arrives, and I ride with Ana and Christian to Broadmoor to celebrate. I feel a little guilty being the wet blanket, but I’ll do the best that I can under the circumstances. I really want everyone to just leave me alone, but I know that left to my own devices, I’ll certainly just shrivel up and die. Ana and Christian know that, too, and I can’t be angry with them for being concerned. If anything, I’m angry and irritated with myself for not being able to pull out of this.

Even now, in this beautiful room with all of Ana’s family and friends, all I can do is think of him… wishing he was here so that we could dance together or make jokes about people. Various ones at the table try to engage me in whatever small talk they can think of, but it’s no use. I’m too busy thinking about Gary.

The last social “outing” I went to was karaoke in Vegas and as I gaze into my lemon-lime soda, I can’t help but wonder how many quiet conversations are going on right now about my bulimic appearance.

“Marilyn…”

I’m startled to hear my name and I look up to see Christian standing over me.

“Yeah?” I reply.

“I hate to put you to work, but Butterfly says there’s something going on with the cake. Would you mind popping back to the kitchen and making sure everything’s okay? If it’s not too much trouble…”

“Oh! Sure, no problem,” I say. Before I can move, I see something over his shoulder that snatches the breath out of my body.

Gary.

Am I seeing things? Am I wishing he was here so much that I’m seeing things?

“Marilyn?” My eyes are drawn to Christian’s. I can see the sympathy in his eyes, and I know immediately. There’s nothing wrong with the cake. He was trying to get me out of the room. He was trying to keep me from seeing Gary.

He’s here! Dammit, he’s here! I only came because I thought he wasn’t going to be here. Our eyes meet simultaneously, and I can’t take it. I can’t stand seeing him, not even for a second. My heart bursts into the most terrible inferno of molten hot lava and suddenly, the room is 150 degrees.

This is hell. This is really hell.

No…
No…
I can’t do this…

I spring from the table and dash out of the room as fast as my feet can take me. I need air. I need it now. I can’t breathe.

Jesus! Help me, please…

I’ve officially lost it. After all the hell and brimstone talk, now I’m praying. I’m on fire, I’m in hell, and I’m praying. As if in answer to my prayers, the door appears before me as if it wasn’t there the entire time. I burst through it and run, headed for the greens like I planned to in the first place. The sky is clear, and I can see just fine in the dark, but a clear night in March in Seattle means that it’s cold, and I forgot my coat.

It doesn’t matter—the burning in my chest will keep me warm and wild dogs couldn’t drag me back into that place right now. Maybe I’ll catch pneumonia and die, and this will all finally be over.

I run until the painful heat in my chest is replaced with painful cold, the cool air stabbing at my lungs as I heave and sob. I fall on my knees on the cold grass, welcoming any other feeling but these sharp pains of anguish and longing for the man that I love who can’t stand the sight of me. Somewhere during the run, I’ve lost the combs that held my chignon together, and strings of dull, listless blonde hair fall into my face and stick to my wet cheeks. I throw my head back a release a loud mournful cry, one that I hope would shake the foundations of the earth and crack through the heavens. My mother was right. God is punishing me.

“Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease!” I cry with all the breath I have. “God, Pleeeeease, forgive me! I’m sorry! Please, God, please…”

The only thing I know to do is pray. Nothing I’ve done to this point has helped. I can’t see my way clear to anything or anyone, not even the cold stabbing at my chest and knees…

… And now my soul.

“God, pleeeease,” I cry. “I can’t take it back. I would if I could, but I can’t. Please, make it stop! Please! I’ll do anything! I’ll do anything, God, just please make it stop! I can’t stand it! Please, God…”

I drop my face in my hands and weep, begging God to please take this pain away from me. I hear a song in my head that my mother played almost every day. I resented it then, but now, I’m just praying for Him to hear me. Send a bolt of lightning; put me out of my misery; give me amnesia; anything, just take this away… please, take this away…

Father! Can You hear me now?
Father! Can You hear me now?
Father! Can You hear me now?
Father! Can You hear me now?

I’m numb from the pain. It seems like it just won’t end. I’m stuck in it and I can’t get out. This is my punishment. This is my hell. This is what Mom and Dad were trying to tell me, what I was trying to ignore. Oh, dear God, please forgive me. I’ll do anything, just please forgive me…

The bolt of lightning that I was hoping for strikes through my arm, but it’s not enough. I jerk violently from the shock. It’s just a jolt—it doesn’t end me. Not the arm, aim for my head or my heart. That’s when I realize that it’s not a bolt of lightning. It’s something much worse.

Somebody’s touching me.


GARY

I said I wasn’t going, but I felt convicted in my heart. I haven’t been a very good friend to Ana throughout this trial. She’s always been there for me when I needed her… always. Now, at one of the most pivotal moments of her life, I can’t put my feelings aside and at least make an appearance?

She won’t be there. I know she won’t. She didn’t come to events before we got together, and she never went to anything that wasn’t work-related unless she was with me. She won’t be with me and this isn’t work-related, so she won’t be there. I quickly change into a formal black suit and head off to the Broadmoor Country Club.

There’s no way to see all the cars in the lot, but I can see most of them, and I don’t see her Sonata. I think I’m safe in my assumption that she didn’t come. I drive up to the door and give my keys to the valet. I enter the ballroom, packed full of Ana’s family and friends. I feel better being here, coming to support my friend and just not being in those four walls anymore, even though my heart still aches from the obvious. I scan the room and find Ana on the dancefloor with Christian. I make my way over to them just as the song that’s playing is ending.

“Hey… Ana,” I say softly. She turns around to see who’s talking and her face goes pale.

“Gary!” she says, in shock. “H… hi. I… didn’t know you were coming.” She embraces me hard and whispers in my ear. “It’s good to see you.” I wrap my arms around her.

“It’s good to see you, too,” I say. I’m looking at Christian over her shoulder and he’s glaring at me like I stole money from him. Ana releases me and immediately looks over her shoulder at Christian. I guess he’s possessive of his wife and I should let her go.

“Christian,” I say, by means of a greeting.

“Garrett,” he says, his voice crisp. He glares at me for a moment. “Excuse me,” he says before walking off the dancefloor. I look at Ana, who can barely make eye-contact with me herself.

“We didn’t think you were coming. I hadn’t heard from you…”

“I know,” I interrupt. “I’ve been a terrible friend, and I’m sorry. I’m glad at least some of those bastards are finally getting their just deserts.”

“Um, yeah… me, too.” She’s distracted. She keeps looking around the room. I frown.

“Ana… what’s wrong?” I ask. “Would you rather I not be here?” Have I completely destroyed our friendship along with my relationship? She sighs.

“It’s not that,” she says, finally. “Marilyn is here.”

My eyes sharpen. What the fuck? She never went to anything without me, and now she’s here? I whip around and the moment I turn, I see her eyes—blue and way too large for her face; horrified and staring back at me. Good God, she’s as skinny as a child. She’s even thinner than she looked on Monday!

“What the hell…?” Before I finish my thought, she’s out of her seat and out the door. I move to follow her, but Ana grabs my arm.

“Gary…” she cautions, “she’s not doing well.” I gesture wildly to the area Marilyn just vacated.

“Ya think?” I say louder than I intended. “Look at her! She’s wasting away to nothing! She looks like she’s dying!” I examine the door she just exited, and I see Christian walking purposefully towards us. I don’t have time for this. I head to the door.

“Gary…!” I hear Ana’s voice behind me, but I keep moving. Christian steps in front of me as if to block my path and before I know it, I push him out of my way with all the force in my body and dash out the door behind Marilyn.

When I get to the corridor, I can’t see her. Did she go to the ladies’ room? Just as I’m headed in that direction, completely intent on bursting in if I have to, I see her through the large paneled glass wall. She’s outside, running across the grass in the dark in a strapless dress and no coat!

“Shit!” I say, bursting out the doors behind her. She’s got such a head start and I don’t know if I’ll catch her. If I call her, she might run faster. She is hauling ass across this grass in those heels and it’s everything I can do just to keep pace with her. Suddenly, she stops like she hit the wall.

Thank God, I think to myself. But no, she falls into the cold, wet grass in this flimsy white dress that she’s wearing.

“Shit!” I find the strength to run faster. As soon as I’m within a few feet of her, she releases a blood-curdling noise that causes my stomach to do flip-flops. I look around to see who’s watching. Somebody might think I’m out here trying to murder the girl. I think I see a small crowd in front of the country club, so they know that I’m not killing her. I approach with caution…

And she’s praying.

Loud and hard and mournfully, praying for it to stop. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what it is. She’s lost so much weight that it looks like her health is failing. Her hair is thin and sticking to her tear-streaked face and I would guess that she’s shed a lot of it, too. She’s rocking back and forth like the old ladies in church, crying to the sky almost incoherently until she drops her face in her hands.

Jesus! This is awful.

I get on my knees in front of her, almost afraid to touch her as she continues to pray and cry for relief. I remove my jacket and move to put it around her bare shoulders, and she jerks like I burned her. What the hell?

“Mare?” I say, and she doesn’t stop her crying and praying. I put my arms around her, and she fights me like she’s fighting for her life.

“No! No! No!” she whimpers with every swing. What the hell is this? This is not Marilyn. I struggle through her clawing and swinging at me until I get her wrapped in my arms. Moments later, she hits that wall again and her fighting stops. Her head drops onto my shoulder and she continues to weep and rock, inconsolable. I let her weep for a few more moments, but I know we can’t stay here. We’ll both catch our death. I retrieve my jacket from the ground and wrap it around her shoulders again. Knowing that I have one hell of a walk ahead of me, I lift her into my arms and prepare to carry her across the long putting green.

She. Weighs. Nothing.

I kiss her forehead and start my walk.

I get about 100 feet and see salvation coming from the side of the country club—a golf cart driven by what looks like one of the service staff. I walk towards him, very happy to see him headed in our direction.

“Is she okay?” the guy asks, concerned.

“She’s cold,” I reply. “I need to get her inside. Do you have some private area anywhere that I can take her?” He nods.

“Yeah. Get in, let’s get her out of here.”

I climb into the golf cart and sit Mare on my lap. I’m so glad to be holding her, but not under these circumstances and not this light.

He leads me to a small changing room, and I lay Marilyn on a sofa. She’s laying there like a ragdoll and she hasn’t stopped sobbing. He goes to the linen closet and retrieves what looks like a bed sheet. He hands it to me and I drape it over her, removing her shoes and wrapping it around her feet.

“Can I get her anything?” he asks.

“A glass of water,” I tell him. “A cool compress and some hot tea with lemon.”

“There’s a bathroom through there with clean washcloths and some glasses for water. I’ll go get some tea.”

I nod as he leaves the room and I go to the restroom. When I return with the compress and water, she’s still shaking with sobs. I kneel next to her, set the water on the floor, and dab her face gently with the wet cloth moving her wet hair from her face. Her cheeks are fire-red, her eyes swollen, and she looks like she’s physically in pain.

“Please stop crying,” I say, trying to dry her tears as quickly as they fall. She’s like a faucet. She can’t turn off. I sigh and stand from the floor. I bend down and lift her from the sofa before taking a seat with her on my lap. She’s still sobbing, and I doubt that she’ll stop.

I put my arm around her and push her stringy, wet hair behind her ear. I kiss her head and cup her cheek, trying to soothe her, but she’s truly inconsolable. My heart broke—shattered when I knew what happened to my baby. But seeing her like this, knowing how long she’s been like this, what she had to be going through to be this thin, this frail, this unhealthy, this quickly, and watching her sob in my arms right now to the degree that she can’t hear anything? This is ripping my soul out.

She didn’t grab her coat and go hide in a car. She didn’t lock herself in the ladies’ room and refuse to come out. She ran outside and took off across the putting green in nothing but a strapless dress and high heels on a cold Seattle night where she fell into the grass and started screaming to God to make her pain stop.

This is worse than I ever could have imagined. Mare’s not an atheist, but it takes a lot for her to pray after growing up with fanatically Christian parents. To see her screaming to God for relief in the cold, wet grass… and to see her now, unable to stop crying…

“I love you,” I say softly. “I still love you so much… please stop crying…”

Her crying doesn’t cease, and it doesn’t falter. I realize that I just have to let her cry until she stops. So, I just hold her there close to me, rocking her, cupping her cheek and kissing her forehead, willing her to stop…

*-*

I don’t know how long we sit there. I know that the guy that brought us in here brought tea, and it has long since gone cold. She has finally stopped crying, though she still has that shuddering breath thing going on.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper when it seems that she’s coherent enough to hear me.

“I’m sorry, too,” she squeaks, and I know she’s talking about the baby. I hold her closer to me.

“We’re going to have to talk to someone,” I tell her. “This is big.” She nods but says nothing. I lift her chin so that I can look into her eyes.

“This hurt,” I tell her. “I hurt every day that my baby’s not here, but I love you and I need you, and not having you with me makes this worse.”

“I can’t take it back,” she weeps, her body shaking violently. She’s so fucking frail… “I’m sorry. I would if I could… I’m sorry…”

“Ssshhh,” I say, tucking her head under my chin. “It’s done now, we just have to figure out how to get through it.” She takes a deep breath and shivers.

“Still cold?” I ask. She nods. “What do you want to do?”

“I can’t go back out there,” she says. “Half of them already think I’m bulimic. Now the other half thinks I’m crazy.”

“Stay here. I’ll get your coat…”

Christian’s eyes are full of judgement when I come back to the ballroom. Quite frankly, I don’t care. He and Ana stand when they see me, and I walk over to them.

“How’s Mare?” Ana asks, concerned.

“She’s cold and exhausted and she wants to leave… and we need to talk,” I say to Ana.

“She’s staying with us now,” Christian points out, challenging. Who the fuck do you think you are?

“So, what do you suggest I do, Christian?” I say, squaring my shoulders. “Do I take her back to my place, or do we spend the night at yours?” Your choice, asshole. He narrows his eyes at me and just as he’s about to say something, Ana puts her hand on his chest.

“Whatever makes Marilyn more comfortable,” she says. I look at her, then at Christian who’s still seething, then back at Ana.

“Thank you,” I say before turning to leave.

“You and I will have words later,” Christian shoots.

“No, we won’t!” I retort turning back to him. “The intricacies of this situation are between me and Marilyn, and no one else!”

“That’s just it, Garrett, it’s not between you and Marilyn. We took care of her and watched her fall apart while you took off!” Ana is trying to calm him, but he’s already on a rant—and trust me, my friend, I can go right there with you.

“And while I appreciate that you took care of her, you have no idea what I was going through, and I have no inclination to explain it to you. So, you can’t put me in judgment.”

“The hell I can’t!” he roars. “Look at her! She’s deteriorating before our very eyes while you’re off hiding somewhere! My wife was a few days away from having her committed!”

“And what was I going through, Christian?” I yell. “Do you have any idea?”

“What the fuck does it matter?” he retorts, coldly. “You don’t look like you’ve lost 25 pounds!”

You arrogant son-of-a-bitch. How fucking dare you dismiss my suffering just because you weren’t there to witness it. I am so through with you, you rich, pompous, puffed-up, self-important asshole. I close the space between us and look right up into his cold, gray eyes.

“Lose a baby, Christian!” I retort, furious. “Then you can come and talk to me!” I don’t blink. I stare his ass down. My eyes are piercing, my heart is racing, and I swear to God, if he says another word, I’ll knock his teeth loose again.

An unknown emotion flashes over his face, but he doesn’t say anything. What—no smart-ass response, Uncle Moneybags?

I’m so angry that I’m shaking, so I think the best course of action is for me to get my girl the hell out of here before I end up spending the night in jail. Fuck his security, I’ll beat his pretty ass right now. I do a sharp about-face and walk the hell out the room, leaving all the inquiring minds behind.

“I need my girlfriend’s coat,” I say to the coat check attendant.

“Do you have a ticket?” she asks.

“Shit!” I say. I’m thinking quickly. She ran outside, she didn’t have her purse. The coat check ticket is probably in her purse, which is most likely in the ballroom. If I go back in there, I’m going to get arrested…

“Gary?”

I look up to see Val coming out the ballroom walking towards me. At first, I think she’s going to let me have it, but she opens her arms and closes the space between us. I return her embrace.

“It’s so good to see you,” she says. I close my eyes and sink into the hug.

“I’m sorry it wasn’t better circumstances,” I say. She pulls back and looks at me.

“None of us knew what happened,” she says. “Even now, it’s just speculation. But Gary, we’ve missed you. Don’t do that again.”

“Val…” I begin to protest.

“Elliot and I lost a baby in January,” she blurts out. I can’t stop my gasp. “I don’t know and I don’t care if it was the same for you or if it was different, but if you lost a baby, it was the same.” She pauses. “You need your friends.”

I hold my head down and nod, fighting back the tears. She embraces me again.

“We love you,” she says. “Don’t run from us again.” I clear my throat.

“I won’t,” I say, just above a whisper. She hands me a purse that I assume is Mare’s and kisses me on the cheek. She heads back to the door of the ballroom and I take a deep breath and wipe away a stray tear before I raise my gaze to her. Elliot is standing in the doorway when I raise my head. He puts his hand in the small of his wife’s back then makes eye-contact with me. He nods twice… and I return his nod. He walks back into the ballroom and my shoulders fall. This night has been way too much for me.

I open the small clutch which doesn’t have much in it and easily locate the coat check ticket. Once I retrieve Marilyn’s coat, I go back to the dressing room to retrieve my girl. She slowly rises from the sofa when I enter. She has removed the sheet and put her shoes back on. She hands me my jacket and I help her into her coat.

“Here.” We turn to see the guy who came out to the putting green standing there with something in his hand. “I only saw two. If there were more, I didn’t see them.” Mare smiles faintly and takes what looks like two blinged-out hair-combs from his hand.

“Thank you,” she says softly. “I thought they were gone forever.” He smiles and leaves, and I take her hand.

“Your ring is gone,” I observe, thinking it may have fallen out there in the green as well.

“It didn’t really make a lot of sense to keep wearing it,” she says sadly. “Besides, it doesn’t fit anymore anyway.” I purse my lips—happy that it’s not lost in the putting green, but not so happy that she stopped wearing it. What can I expect, though?

Getting into Ana’s house without Ana being present is a bit of a task. Whenever I showed up, Mare was with me, but security expected me—some gathering of some kind. Now, Mare’s in my car, she looks like hell, and the guy at the gate didn’t recognize her at first. I thought we would have to call Ana for clearance, but somehow, that crisis is avoided, and we’re able to get past the gate. I park on the far end of the circular driveway so as not to block the portico or the garages, and Mare and I go inside.

She’s sitting on the bed in one of the guest rooms, looking out the window and saying nothing. I’ve turned on one of the lamps by the nightstand and I’m waiting for her to speak. When she doesn’t, I walk over to her. She’s just sitting there, looking out of the window like she doesn’t know what to do with herself. Jesus, I barely recognize her. She jumps when I touch her, like it burns.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m not used to anyone touching me anymore.” I frown.

“Nobody touches you?” I ask. “Not even a hug?” She shrugs.

“Bossla… Ana,” she says. “Nobody else really knows what to do with me.”

Hell, I don’t know what to do with you, either. I sit down next to her and stare out of the window.

“I… didn’t want to be without you… I just couldn’t…”

“I know,” she interrupts me. I touch her arm and she jerks again, but I don’t move my hand.

“Let me finish,” I tell her. “I couldn’t handle what I was feeling… am feeling. I loved that kid and never even saw him. And then… he was gone.”

She doesn’t look at me. She only looks out the window.

“Did you know… if it was a boy or a girl?” I ask. She shakes her head, but says nothing. “I think it was a boy.”

Tears begin to fall from her eyes. I mean they’re running like a faucet and her expression doesn’t even change. It’s like she’s hemorrhaging water inside, but on the outside, she’s dead. All we need is the casket.

“I don’t know how to move on,” she says. She’s not even blinking. “I don’t know what to do next. I haven’t known for months. I’ve just been… here.” I can tell.

“I saw you on Monday.”

That gets her attention.

“Where?” she asks, turning flooded eyes to me.

“At Sugar’s on Cherry,” I reply. “I wasn’t following you. We just happened to be on the same street at the same time. Maybe I was following you,” I shrug. “It’s not like I don’t know you like their blueberry muffins.” She turns back to the window, her eyes still gushing water.

“It’s not like I could eat it,” she says, still not blinking.

“I know. I saw you when you threw it away. I wanted to chase you down the street and force feed you, but…” I try to wipe her cheeks, but more water falls as quickly as I try to wipe it away.

“It won’t help,” she says. “They’ll just keep falling.” I gaze at her.

“Why don’t you stop?” I ask.

“I don’t know how,” she replies. “The first month, my parents berated me for killing a child and taking a life and stealing one of God’s souls. They threw me in hell daily, for several hours every day. We don’t even speak anymore. I went to them for comfort and they tormented me the entire time. The crying had already started, but it became wailing by then.

“The second month, when I came back to Seattle, I spent one night in the apartment and realized that I couldn’t live there… so I left, and Ana brought me here. I took this room because it was the farthest from everyone else… and I could cry in peace.

“The third month, I was in Vegas. I expected it to be a geographical cure—get away from Seattle without the hell and damnation from my parents… it was not. The ladies that went with us—Ana’s stepmother and Christian’s PR lady—both thought I was anorexic or bulimic. Bosslady had to stand up for me.” She mentioned that earlier, but I thought she was being dramatic.

“They said that?” I ask frowning.

“I was away from the table. They didn’t think I heard them. I didn’t go out with them anymore after that.”

“You went out?” I ask, feeling an immediate twang of jealousy. I didn’t go out… not once. She nodded.

“We all went to Karaoke in Vegas. I was the only one there without a date… well, unless you count security.” Well, that must’ve sucked.

“Did you sing?” I ask. I’ve heard her singing around the apartment and in the shower when she thinks I’m not paying attention. She has an incredible voice.

She nods.

“What did you sing?”

She begins to sing. I can barely hear her. Even with her voice this low, she sounds amazing.

There’s a fire starting in my heart, reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out the dark…

I sit there and let her sing the song. Rolling in the Deep… that’s an angry song.

“The scars of your love remind me of us, they keep me thinkin’ that we almost had it all…”

She still doesn’t look at me as she’s singing. It’s like she’s having a conversation with the tree outside and it’s quite riveting.

“You had my heart inside of your hand, and you played it to the beat…”

She stops singing. I know it’s not the end of the song, but she stops anyway.

“Did you hate me?” I ask. She shakes her head unfazed by my question.

“I hated myself,” she answers, “for what I did, for what I lost, for what I felt, for who I was, for everything. I can’t undo what I did. I can’t bring the baby back, but if I had the chance to do it again…”

“You’d do the same thing,” I say. She looks at me in horror.

“Look at me,” she says, the first time since her breakdown on the green that I’ve heard any emotion in her voice. “I’m dying, here. I know I’m dying, and I can’t do anything about it. Ana said she would take me to the hospital if I got any thinner, and I would have let her. I drank so many of those damn shakes that I can’t stand the taste of them anymore, so I haven’t been drinking them anymore. I knew I would lose more weight, so I forced myself to eat what food I could at dinner to keep Christian from calling a state of emergency. I’ve never been sicker in my whole life… and I can’t do anything about it. Hindsight being 20/20, there’s no way in the world I’d want to go through this again. So, no, I wouldn’t do the same thing.”

“Well, then, you’d be trading this for a whole new set of problems,” I tell her. “You weren’t ready for a baby, clearly… and neither was I. We weren’t prepared. The next thing I knew, the baby was there, and I was all in. And then, the baby wasn’t there anymore… and I was crushed. So, what… you would have had the baby when neither of us were ready. At some point, you would have felt like you were forced into making that decision. You eventually would have resented me, or worse yet, the baby—at the very least, the situation. Yes, there were some wrong decisions made here, but I’m not so sure that was one of them.” She drops her head and sighs.

“I’m so tired,” she laments. “I’ve never been so tired in my life.”

I crawl off the bed to the floor and remove her shoes. I unzip her dress and help her step out of it. I pull the covers back and she climbs into the bed. I tuck her in and sit next to her.

“Go to sleep,” I tell her, pushing her hair out of her face. “I’ll still be here when you wake.”

She’s asleep in no time. I watch her there for a moment, missing being next to her and not knowing who this frail frame of a woman is lying next to me all at the same time. I lay behind her and look out the window, wondering what she was thinking, what she must have been going through all this time.

Was Christian exaggerating? Was it really 25 pounds? She wasn’t that big to begin with. She was 130… maybe. Now, she’s about 105? For Pete’s sake, a healthy teenager weighs more than that. She really is no bigger than a child. What the fuck have I done to this woman?

I don’t know how long she slept—maybe an hour, tops—but she sits up silently like she wasn’t sleeping at all. I know that she was, but she rises to a sitting position effortlessly. She scrubs her face and sighs deeply, mournfully, her bony shoulders falling so far that they nearly disappear.

“Do you need something?” I ask, simultaneously putting my hand on her shoulder. She gasps and moves away from me so far… She’s grasping her chest and staring at me like she’s seeing a ghost. Quite frankly, she scared the shit out of me, so I jumped back a few miles, too.

“What?” I ask, a bit horrified, waiting for her to tell me my latest transgression.

“I… I…” She’s panting like she’s out of breath. “I thought it was a dream.” Okay, now I’m horrified.

“You thought all that was a dream?” I ask incredulously. This was a very detailed, very traumatizing evening in and of itself, and she thought it was a dream? She takes two deep, seemingly painful breaths.

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” she says, her voice low.

Fuuuuuuck me. How many dreams as horrifying as tonight has she had over the last three months? I can tell she was genuinely startled by seeing me here and not in a good way.

“Oh, God,” I say, quickly gathering her in my arms and holding her close to me, leaning hard into her back. What have I done? Dear God, what have I done?

“Please…” she whimpers, “not so hard… you’re hurting me.” For the love of…

“I’m sorry,” I say as I release her a bit and gently kiss her shoulder. “Lay back down. You didn’t sleep long at all.”

“I never do,” she says, allowing me to pull her back to the bed. No food… no sleep… it’s truly a puzzle that she’s not a lot sicker than this. Maybe she is and we just can’t see it. It’s a wonder she’s alive.

“Do you want something to eat?” I ask as I rub her thin arms. She’s shakes her head.

“I’m suddenly really tired,” she confesses.

“You said that before and now you’re awake,” I reply. She nods. Without another word, she’s back off to sleep in moments.

Several minutes later, she appears to be in deep slumber, but my mind is going miles and miles per second, and I know that I’m not going to sleep. I slide out of bed easily, intent on going to get some fresh air, but I realize that she’s probably going to be traumatized if she wakes up again and I’m not here, doubly disappointed that she thought it wasn’t a dream only to think that it was again. I remove my wallet from my pocket and place it on the nightstand next to her bed.

Too subtle.

I remove my driver’s license and prop it up on the wallet and the lamp so that it’s the first thing she sees when she opens her eyes. It’s not a dream, baby. I was here, and I’ll be back.

I quietly slip out of the room and head downstairs. I want to go somewhere and think for a minute, just a moment or two to myself. I wander around this huge, never-ending house until I find my way back to the stairs. Getting to the dining room isn’t hard from here. There’s a patio just beyond the kitchen, but if Ana returns and sees me there, she’s going to want to have that deep, meaningful talk that I’m not ready for. I wander around a little more and find the stairs to the lower level.

A bar! No, no… the last thing I need to be right now is inebriated. There’s another patio, though. Yeah, this’ll do.

I sit on the sofa and look out at the moon and the lake, taking the first deep breath that I’ve taken all night since I walked into that ballroom. For the love of Pete, why didn’t I expect to see her there? What the fuck was I thinking?

I know exactly what I was thinking; that she killed my baby and that she’s out there living up the single life. Even though I saw how skinny she was at that donut shop, it still didn’t occur to me that she was suffering. I mean, it did, but it didn’t sink in. She was the woman who murdered my child, not the woman that I loved pining away for me for three months and hasn’t eaten or slept in just as long.

She looks horrible. She’s frail and sickly; her hair is thin and dull; her skin is ashy and hanging from her bones in certain places; her face is sunken in and she’s got bags under her eyes. She’s walking dead. She’s literally walking dead… and she’s a sight for sore eyes.

I never thought she would be reduced to this. I don’t know what I thought—I didn’t care. For the love of Pete, this is horrible. I drop my face in my hands and sit there forever, lamenting my situation.


A/N: Single White Female is a movie from 1992 where Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character was so obsessed with Bridgette Fonda’s character that she actually went crazy. At the point of the movie where Jennifer’s character knew it was time to make her getaway, she scrubbed the entire apartment so that none of her fingerprints were there.

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.

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Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 25

The quarantine continues, and it’s starting to take a bit of a toll on me. How is everyone else doing?

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 25

CHRISTIAN

For the first time in a long time, things are quiet at GEH. I almost don’t know what to do with myself. I’m of two minds with the serenity.

One, I can finally take a breath and relax for a moment. Everyone is doing what they should be doing, and my business looks exactly as it should. Time to zero in on some new acquisitions.

Two, it’s too damn quiet. Either someone is plotting something from the inside or there’s an attack brewing from the outside. Either way, I should be preparing myself for friendly or hostile fire, for some kind of Apocalypse—foreign or domestic.

Instead, I decide to use the downtime to do some research on the family dog.

I’m diligent in my study about pit bulls. Just because my wife wants one doesn’t mean that I’m blindly going to buy one if I find that it’s a bad idea, and I don’t care what she says. I have to be mindful of my children and anyone who comes to visit us for that matter.

I may have delved further than I needed, but I don’t care. I find myself sitting in my office on Wednesday morning reading an in-depth study on pit bull temperament from 2006. When given a series of test to determine general temperament and aggressiveness, pits were shown to have a better temperament and less aggressive tendencies than hound dogs, herdings, terriers, beagles, some mixed breeds, and even many toy breeds like Chihuahuas.

Pit bulls are loyal because they love humans. They’re eager to please, which makes them great family dogs. I would imagine that most dogs like humans, though, unless they’re feral, stray, or taught to be aggressive to humans. Nonetheless, it appears that they like working with humans and they make good police dogs because they’re pretty easy to train. That is a definite plus!

They’re affectionate and they’re snugglers. My wife and kids will love that.

They’re very athletic. I like that, because I can take him on a run with me.

They’re a very healthy breed and they don’t shed a lot. That’s good, too, because it’s going to be our responsibility to care for this dog and the lower the maintenance, the better. I’m glad she didn’t decide she wanted a husky or a retriever. I see that they’re great dogs, too, but my research shows they shed a whole fucking lot! And I don’t think I could deal with Shih Tzus or yorkies or Pomeranians—safe, maybe, but too damn small.

The more I read about pit bulls and the different breeds of dogs compared to them, I realize that my wife was right. Pit bulls are a good choice for a family dog and can even be protectors if trained correctly.

Once I’m satisfied that this decision won’t bite us in the butt—literally, I send out the all-points bulletin that our family will soon be adopting a pit bull puppy so that close family and friends who come to visit won’t be shocked when they see him. I plan to give the cleaning staff a raise for having to clean possible accidents.

I don’t know anything about adopting a puppy and I’ve decided not to delegate this task to either of our PAs. If we want a dog, we’ll have to find one ourselves. I begin a search for puppies in the area. I am having absolutely no luck. I’m finding dogs for sale, but they’re older dogs. There are backyard breeders everywhere, but I don’t trust them. They just take their dog and they breed it with someone else’s dog who says it’s pure bred and it’s a crap shoot. There’s even a pit pull puppy rescue here, but they don’t have any puppies. And even with the rescue, you’re still likely to get the puppies from those backyard breeders. It’s time to send a text to my wife.

**Where in the hell do you find pit bull puppies in Seattle? **

I’m scrolling through the internet still trying to find what I need when my phone rings. It’s Butterfly.

“Hey,” I answer.

“Are you looking for pit bull puppies right this second?” she asks. Duh, didn’t I just send you a text.

“Um, yeah,” I reply.

“That’s so strange because so am I,” she says, her voice full of mirth. Oh… okay.

“This seems like an impossible task, baby. Have you found anything in the Seattle area?”

“No, but I didn’t expect to,” she replies. “Breeders are most likely going to be in more rural areas. We may even have to look out of state.” I frown.

“How do you get a puppy from out of state?” I ask. “We have to go pick it up?”

“Yes, or have it shipped,” she replies.

“Shipped? You mean like Amazon?” I ask, horrified. She laughs.

“Something like that, yeah,” she replies, “but there are humane and professional methods to ship an animal, Christian. Don’t worry.”

I’m sure there are, I’m just not familiar with them.

“So, what do you suggest?” I ask.

“I’ve seen a couple of breeders so far that look promising. One is in California and one, I can’t see where they’re located from the site. They have great testimonials and genetic and health guarantees. They look like they care about their dogs because their warranty is void if you take the dogs to one of two major vet hospitals because they’ve seen overmedication, misdiagnosis, and overcharging. I figure we could do some research and see where this second one is located and see which one would best suit our needs.”

“How did you find them?” I ask.

“Probably doing the same thing you did. I searched for ‘pit bull puppies in Seattle’ and ‘pit bull breeders Seattle.’ I know people have a lot of things to say about puppy farms, but I can’t take any chances. I want to find a reputable breeder with traceable references that can get us a quality pedigreed dog.”

“Oh, you’ll get no argument from me,” I tell her. “Elliot was telling me about his dog and that he’s a rescue. He asked if we were planning to get a rescue, and that’s an unequivocal ‘no.’”

“Elliot has a dog?” she asks.

“Yeah. I can’t remember if he told me the breed—I think it’s a mix. It’s a therapy dog for him and Valerie. She hasn’t told you? He says she loves that dog.”

“It’s not her fault. It’s been wild since Vegas and we haven’t had a chance to talk. I’m going to call her. I’d like to meet the little guy.”

“I don’t know if he’s a ‘little guy,’ baby. I can’t remember the breed.”

“He’s smaller than me,” she says. I remain quiet. My woman is short and very petite.

“Watch it,” she says, noting my silence.

“I didn’t say anything!” I defend.

“Your silence speaks volumes,” she rightfully accuses.

“Well, maybe I should’ve just said the dog could be bigger than you,” I tease.

“Asshole,” she replies.

“I love you, too,” I laugh. She disconnects the call. I would normally scold her for hanging up on me, but I’ll give her this one. I chuckle and put the phone on my desk.

*-*

Various conversations are going on at dinner. Butterfly and I are further discussing our choices for a dog breeder. Gail chimes in with mirth about how Ms. Solomon thought all of Sophie’s kitchen wares were for her and was highly disappointed to find out that they weren’t. She subsequently performed an inventory of the kitchen with Ms. Solomon and realized that there was a utensil or three that could use replacing.

Marilyn sits quietly at the table as she has for the last three nights. She takes very small portions of food, then eats as much as she can. To say that I’m elated to see her eating at all is an understatement, but I must admit that it looks like quite the task for her. On the two previous nights, she ate about half her food, then excused herself from the table looking rather ill. Tonight is no exception, only this time, after she and Keri have finished feeding the children, Butterfly follows Marilyn to her room.

Sophie is visibly absent from the dinner table, and when everyone has left except me and Chuck, Jason tells us why.

“I had to tell Sophie that she may not be able to go to Italy this summer. She’s crushed,” he says. I frown.

“Why?” Chuck asks. “What did she do?”

She didn’t do anything,” Jason replies. “Both parents have to be present to sign for a minor to get a passport. If they’re not able to get to the passport office, then the absent parent has to sign a document that says it’s okay for Sophie to get a passport…”

“Let me guess,” I say, “Shalane won’t sign.”

“You got it,” he laments. I sigh, frustrated.

“But she’s in jail and you’ve got sole custody of Sophie,” I argue. “Doesn’t that mean something?”

“I have sole physical custody of Sophie,” Jason says. “We still have joint legal custody of her. Shalane being in jail doesn’t mean she gave up her parental rights.”            

“Jason, how did you ever fall in love with that woman?” Chuck asks. Jason shrugs.

“She wasn’t always that woman,” he says. “She used to be fun and vibrant and caring. I think my job changed all that. I don’t know what she was doing when I was overseas, but she seemed so supportive and loving. When I got back home from doing my tours, it was like a second honeymoon.

“When I started doing security, she started getting restless. I was floored, man. I had done years overseas for much less money and she never behaved like this. Now, she was complaining that I was never home and that she and Sophie never saw me. They saw me a hell of a lot more than they did when I was active duty!” He shrugs.

“Well, then the other guys started showing up and… the rest is history. She became a flaming bitch after our divorce. I don’t know when the drugs and the pure and utter resentment set in but, yeah, that’s our life now.” 

“Is there anything else we can do?” I ask. “We’re just taking her on a trip. We’re asking for a valid passport. We’re not smuggling her out of the country!”

“I can file for sole custody—you know how long that takes. I can ask for a court order to get a passport without her permission, but it’ll most likely be too late for Italy by the time I get it.”

“You should file for it anyway,” I tell him. “It’s worth a shot and I’m willing to plan another trip just to spite the bitch.” Jason scoffs.

“Maybe I will,” he says. “For now, Sophie’s angry and hurt, and I hate that. She’s a good girl. She doesn’t give us any trouble, and she deserves this trip. She doesn’t deserve for her mother to continue to try to use her as a pawn every chance she gets. Shalane doesn’t care or understand that all this is going to do is hurt her daughter and alienate Sophie from her. Nonetheless, Sophie wants to talk to her to see if she can convince her to sign the papers.”

“Do you really want to do that?” I ask. Jason looks down into his coffee cup.

“She has to see her twice a month anyway,” he replies. “They can talk about whatever they want. If she wants to talk to the bitch about her passport, there’s nothing I can do to stop her. Quite frankly, if Sophie can’t convince her to sign the papers, nobody can.” I shake my head.

“This is utterly ridiculous,” I declare. “When is the next visit?”

“Saturday, as luck would have it… good luck or bad luck, well, that remains to be seen.”

“Dude, I’ve heard that there’s a thin line between love and hate, but I’ve never understood it. I’ve seen people who have vowed to spend their lives together ‘til death do us part’ throw more venom and rocks at each other than the Capulets and the Montagues. I could never, ever imagine building a family with Keri and then behaving this way,” Chuck says.

“It’s hard work,” I tell him. “My wife and I have only been married for a couple of years—not even that yet—and we’ve already run the gauntlet. I know there are things that we haven’t experienced yet, but we’ve been through a lot. Hell, I left my whole family and ran away from home for nearly three weeks.” I thrust my hand into my hair. “All I can say is that you have to find that place of respect and stay there. No matter what happens, you always have to get back to that place of respect.”

“I thought it was love,” Chuck says. I raise my brow.

“Let’s ask the one gentleman among us who’s been through a divorce,” I say, turning to Jason. “Did you still love Shalane when you were going through your divorce?” I ask, already knowing the answer.

“I certainly did,” he says. “I loved the woman that she once was, the one that I married who wanted to build a family together… but she wasn’t that woman anymore.”

“Did you still respect her?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“Nope,” he says. “She had cheated on me and lied to me and all kinds of things.”

“Even though you still loved her, would you had taken her back if she decided that she didn’t want to get the divorce?” I ask. He has to think about that one. Love is very powerful.

“Knowing what I know now, hell no, but back then, it would have been more of a reluctant ‘no.’ I couldn’t trust her anymore, and she would have had to go through a hell of a lot to get my trust back. I wasn’t willing to go through all of that—wondering if she was partaking in midday rendezvous when I was working; being suspicious of every little thing she did; afraid to take assignments for fear that she’d be throwing orgies when I was away. I wouldn’t have been able to take the good jobs for the good pay because I wouldn’t be able to concentrate. You know we can’t have that with what we do. I would have ended up a mall cop,” he says to Chuck, who nods in agreement.

“Honestly, I think it’s a little more detailed than just ‘get back to that place of respect.’ I think it’s more than that, but I can say that if you can’t respect them, you can’t move on with them,” he concludes.

“So, here I am looking at three phases of a relationship—the beginning with me and Keri, in progress with Christian and Ana, and the crash-and-burn end with you and Shalane. What’s to make me feel like if I marry Keri, I won’t end up where you are?” Chuck asks.

“You don’t know that,” Jason says, “but if you’re planning to get married because you’re expecting everything to be perfect, don’t get married. I present exhibit A.” He gestures to me, and I purse my lips and raise my hand. He’s right.

“Everything is certainly not perfect in our relationship,” I tell him, “and I expect more obstacles in the decades to come, but I wouldn’t trade my wife for anything.”

“And then, you have to remember that there are success stories. Look at Grace and Carrick,” Jason points out. “You’re rolling the dice no matter what you do, Chuck, but you have to remember that while your feelings are very important and deserve to be recognized, there are two people in the relationship, and you must be ever mindful of that other person’s feelings, too.

“I think that’s where Shalane and I dropped the ball. I didn’t understand or get the fact that she resented me working all the time. I couldn’t reconcile the fact that if I was away on active duty for years and she was okay with that, what was the problem with me working long hours as long as I came home at night? She complained, but she never answered the question, and the next thing I knew, she was sleeping with other guys.

“I was doing what I felt I needed to do with no real consideration for her feelings because I didn’t know what they were, and she happily went gallivanting out in the street into the arms of other men with no consideration at all for mine. The only marriage that can survive that is one of convenience, and even then, it may not survive.”

“Well, no offense, but this is depressing. I’m going to find out if my woman is done with her duties. Then I’m going to do my best to forget this conversation,” Chuck says, finishing his coffee and standing up. “Goodnight, guys.”

We say Goodnight simultaneously and Chuck goes off in search of Keri.

“I’m going to go check on Soph,” he says. “She might be hungry now… unless she’s cried herself to sleep.”

I pat him on the arm and send him to go comfort his daughter. I climb the stairs, once again pondering the time I ran away from home. Get back to that place of respect. I’d like to think we’ve gotten there. Even though curiosity is killing me, I won’t dredge it up. She has enough to push out of her mind without having to worry about that.

I ascend the stairs and decide to go to my children’s room. My wife is in there with Keri, and the children appear to have just slipped off to sleep.

“Your boyfriend is looking for you,” I tell Keri just above a whisper.

“Ah knoh,” she says, placing a blanket over a sleeping Mikey. “Gudnight.”

“Goodnight,” I say as she leaves the room and closes the door behind her. I go over to my wife who’s sitting in the window seat, rubbing Minnie on the back.

“I try to give them equal time,” she says, kissing Minnie on the forehead. “I can’t keep up with who I held last. I love them both so much.”

“Who says you have to keep up?” I ask, sitting in the window seat next to her.

“I don’t want either of them to feel neglected,” she laments. I chuckle.

“Trust me, the last thing our children could ever feel is neglected,” I say. She rolls her eyes.

“I’m not talking about material things, Christian,” she says.

“Neither am I,” I reply. She shakes her head.

“You don’t understand,” she says. “You’re not a mom.”

The average person would be offended by that statement, but I know exactly what she’s saying.

“You’re right,” I say. “I’ll never know how it feels to be a mother, to feel life growing inside of you and then push it out of you and have two living little beings in your arms that you baked from scratch for nine months. But I know how it feels to be a father. I know how it feels to watch your body swell with our children inside, and to worry about you 24 hours a day the entire time that you were carrying them. I know how it feels to see those babies enter this world and take their first breaths. I know how it feels to look at my family—the three of you—in utter awe, knowing that love created this entire conglomerate and that nothing I ever do in my entire life will ever be as magnificent and glorious as this.

“Most of all, I know how it feels to look at you with our children and watch how you melt with love and compassion whenever they’re around, wishing that I had a mom like that when I was their age—one that was able to chase away my monsters. And when I see you with our children, I know for sure that one thing that they will never feel… is neglected.” She looks up at me with those guileless blue eyes.

“Thank you, Christian,” she says, softly. “That’s so sweet.”

I kiss her gently on her temple. It may have been sweet, but I meant every word.

“How’s Marilyn?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“Still not doing very well, I’m afraid,” she says. “She eats because she knows that she has to… and she’s kind of being forced to… and then she goes to bed because her stomach is in knots.”

“That can’t be good for her digestion,” I say.

“It’s the only way she can keep any food down,” she says. “She confessed to me that she tried to eat one of her favorite muffins on Monday and she couldn’t even choke it down. She’s trying, but I’m convinced that she’s going to need some more help.” I shake my head.

“How do you let somebody suffer like this that you once claimed to love?” I ask in disgust.

“If you’re talking about Gary, Christian, he probably doesn’t know she’s feeling this way,” Butterfly excuses.

“Of course, he doesn’t know!” I shoot. “He left her out to dry and didn’t look back. She’s falling apart and her friends have to pick up the pieces!”

“Sssh!” she scolds as Minnie stirs a bit but goes back to sleep. Apparently, my voice was louder than I intended. She puts Minnie in her crib and rubs her back a little to help her get back to sleep.

“Where’s Gail?” I ask, my voice soft again.

“Down with Sophie,” she says. “I can’t very well justify her taking care of my kids when her kid is having a crisis. Did you hear that spiteful cow won’t sign the papers for Sophie to get a passport?”

“I heard,” I say. “I wish there was something I could do to speed this process up, but this is federal. You can’t fu… mess with it.”

She looks up at me, then checks Minnie again before gesturing for us to leave. We exit the nursery and close the door behind us.

“There are some people in this world that I wish would just go straight to hell, and she’s one of them,” my wife says as we walk to our bedroom.

“Not before she signs the papers,” I say, closing the door behind us.

“Christian!” she scolds. I scoff at her.

“How is what I said any harsher than what you said?” I inquire honestly. She twists her lips.

“It’s not,” she cedes before pulling her shirt over her head. “I should have taken the high road before I said anything. It just pisses me off so much!”

“I know,” I say, unbuttoning my shirt and pulling it off my shoulders. “This is just one of those times where we’re going to have to hope that good prevails.”  

“Sometimes, you just want to be more proactive,” she says, stepping out of her pants and her panties and walking to her bathroom. Damn, that ass!

“I know how you feel,” I say, stripping out of the rest of my clothes and leaving my boxer briefs. “You know how helpless I feel right now.”

She’s quiet, so I know she must be brushing her teeth. I duck into my bathroom and quickly brush mine, managing to make it back to the bedroom before she does and sit on the side of the bed. A few minutes after I get back to the room, she comes out of her bathroom in a nightshirt brushing her extremely long hair.

“You would think she would want to do everything in her power right now to get into Sophie’s good graces, not piss her off,” Butterfly says as she vigorously brushes her hair over her shoulders and in front of her face.

“It’s never been about being in Sophie’s good graces,” I correct my wife. “Anything she ever did was never out of any consideration for Sophia. Even that Thanksgiving she allowed Sophie to spend here with Jason was because she was hoping to be invited, too. Sophie has always been a pawn, a tool, or a means to an end. I’m surprised that girl is as well-rounded as she is with the mother that she had to contend with all these years.”

“She’s about to be 14,” Butterfly says, still tackling her hair. “She’s coming up on a very delicate time in her life and her mother is not here. This is the time that her mother should influence her the most and she’s not here. She’s not going to be in there forever. She has no concern whatsoever what her relationship with Sophie is going to be like once she’s free?”

“Apparently not. The entire time I’ve known of her, it’s been ‘how could she hurt Jason?’ Sophie’s feelings never came into play—ever. I just didn’t know how bad it was until Sophie almost went to Spruce Street,” I tell her. She shakes her head and stops brushing her hair.

“She’s there for rehabilitation—to repay her debt to society—and she has no interest in rebuilding her relationship with her daughter… the daughter she tried to trade for drugs, I might add. That’s sad. That’s really fucking sad.”

“Well, that’s Shalane,” I tell her, “I really don’t expect her to change anytime soon. Now, at the risk of sounding extremely insensitive, I really don’t want to talk about Sophie anymore. I don’t know if you’re trying to be comfortable in that little night shirt, or if you’re trying to torment me, but I need you to bring that hot little ass over here right now before I combust.”

A coy smile creeps onto my wife’s face as she slowly walks over to me, places the brush on the nightstand, and crawls onto the bed and on top of me.

ANASTASIA

The guest list for my party is perfect. It’s all the usual suspects—the Scooby Gang, the Thanksgiving crowd, Courtney and Vicky, Harmony, Jason and Gail, Chuck and Keri. We decided to keep the crowd adult only, so there will be a sleepover at the Greys tonight with Luma’s girls and Sophie along with the twins and Marlow’s sister Maggie. Ms. Solomon and the staff have graciously agreed to oversee the slumber party festivities so that our nannies could join their significant others at the soiree.

In all honesty, as much as I love being around Sophie, it’s better if I don’t see her hissing at Marlow and his date all night. In the interest of fairness, he won’t be at the party either, since he’s not quite 18 for another few months.  

Friday morning, Vicky comes by to bring me a dress for the evening. I didn’t really need another dress, but Christian insisted. When I show her the dress that I planned on wearing to the celebration, she agrees that my choice is better.

She brought a striking blue high-low dress with a lace bodice and chiffon skirt. I agreed to keep it because it’s beautiful, but the dress that I present is more formal and, to be quite honest, much classier. It’s from Grandma Ruby’s collection and as luck would have it, also a high-low. It’s a weighted-matte satin with a sweetheart neckline. The bodice has a lace overlay that comes up in a scooping neckline over the sweetheart and creates a sleeveless top with matching lace appliques on the top of the skirt. I only needed to accessorize this masterpiece.

“I have the perfect accessory for that,” Vickie says, opening her accessory case. “I was going to go with a classic Chanel with the dress that I brought along, but something told me to pack this set, too. Now, I’m glad I did.”

Vickie removes a black velvet box from her accessory kit and opens it to reveal the most unique set of jewelry I’ve ever seen.

“Oh, Vickie… that’s breathtaking!” I exclaim.

“It’s the Brilldoor ‘Flirt’ jewelry set,” she says. “It’s not your husband’s precious platinum, but it’s polished white gold and it’s handmade. It’s very soft, so it’s delicate. It won’t bend with the wind, but if you treat it too roughly, it will lose its shape.”

That would be a true tragedy. The set is a necklace, bracelet, earrings and rings made of akoya pearls and diamonds precariously placed in narrow, delicate, swirling treks of decorated white gold. The pieces are almost indescribable… and exquisite.

“Where on earth did you find these?” I coo, fawning over the beautiful pieces that almost look like filigree.

“It was one of those ‘invitation only’ show that I attended once. You could watch step-by-step as the pieces are being created. Of course, they were creating more than one piece at a time so that you could see a different piece at each step of the process. But watching them sketch the design and then bring each piece to life… and the stuff that they make, I’ve never seen anything like it,” she admits.

“And you’ve been holding out on me?” I accuse.

“Ana, this is only the third set of this jewelry that I’ve acquired, and I probably should have given you the price of this before I showed it to you.” My brow furrows.

“Why?” I ask. “How much is it?” She raises her brow and pulls her earlobe.

“Ana,” she sighs, “this set is 73,400 euros.” I’m taken aback.

“Okay,” I say, “now, I don’t know the conversion rate, but even I know that the euro is worth more than the dollar…”

“It’s a little over 80 grand,” she says. “If you don’t want to buy it, I can let you borrow it. It’s good advertising for you to be seen in it, but Ana, you break it, you bought it.”

Eighty grand. Christian just put his Amex Black on file for my mother. I can’t ask him to be responsible for something like this.

“You need to ask Daddy Warbucks first?” she says.

“Yeah,” I sigh. “He just committed to taking care of my newly-handicapped mother, and I feel awful asking him for something so frivolous so soon after he has agreed to such a commitment.” My heart is broken. I know in the big scheme of things, $80,000 isn’t much when it comes down to our fortune, but for one set of jewelry…

As I’m lamenting saying goodbye to a custom set more timeless than Chanel as far as I’m concerned, Vickie takes a picture of it with her phone and begins typing away. I give no thought whatsoever to what she’s doing until her voice breaks my concentration.

“He said get the set,” she says, still typing on her phone.

What? What did she just say?

“Who… what?” I say, taken aback. She raises her gaze to me.

“He said get the set,” she says. “I sent him a picture; I told him you wanted it; I told him what it cost; he said get the set.” My eyes nearly bulge out of my head.

“He knows this single set is $80,000 and he told you to get it?” I ask horrified.

“Eighty-one-five, to be exact, and yes, he told me to get it.” She seems completely unfazed by this.

“Why did you do that?” I’m a mixture of horrified and elated. She raises her gaze to me.

“You weren’t going to ask him,” she replies. “You were looking at that set like you had just found buried treasure and you weren’t going to ask him. Besides, how do you think I dress you most of the time?” she adds, as if it’s obvious. “Most of the things that I put you in go past his eyes before they go past yours—except for the things you produce from ‘Grandma’s Hope Chest.’ I just don’t think he understands how clothes fit you and how I could buy something from the thrift store if I want and you would make it look like a million bucks.”

“Don’t knock the thrift store,” I say, “I’ve found some treasures in my day going junk shopping.”

“Hence, my point.” She types into her phone again. “He just cleared the purchase. The set is yours.”

“You’re kidding!” I whisper wistfully. I finger the pearls and diamonds on the necklace as if I’ve just been presented with the Hope Diamond. “Fucking Santa Claus,” I say under my breath, recalling the title I gave him when he presented me with the Holly Golightly tiara when we first started dating.

“What did you say?” Vickie asks.

“Nothing,” I say, closing the box and placing it on top of Grandma Ruby’s blue dress. I’ll match this ensemble with a pair of navy blue sky-high Louboutins and we have an outfit. As I admire my accessories, Vickie pulls me to the side to whisper in my ear.

“At the risk of overstepping my bounds, I watch women’s bodies,” she says, “and I’ve been watching hers. At best she’s a size 2, and maybe even smaller. I would venture to say that she doesn’t have a single dress in her wardrobe that’s country club ready that fits. So, I brought something for her, too.”

I look over at Marilyn, who is admiring the blingy hair combs in Vickie’s collection of accessories. I purse my lips on the best way to handle this. I know Vickie’s right, but I don’t want to offend Marilyn. I’ve already basically forced her to go, even though I later discovered that she helped to plan the whole thing.

“She has to agree to accept the dress,” I tell Vickie.

“Oh, of course,” she says. “That’s why I asked first. I don’t want to come off as pushy—or be offensive.” Good, we’re on the same page.

“Okay. Follow my lead.” I walk over to Marilyn admiring the hair combs.

“Those are pretty,” I say, touching the hair combs. Marilyn deflates a bit.

“Do you think they’ll work with your dress?” she asks, trying to hide her disappointment.

“I was talking about for you,” she says. “Consider it a gift for all the work that I know you did planning this party.” Her eyes light up.

“Really?” she asks, the first excitement that I’ve seen in her in months.

“Oh, for that reaction—Vickie!” I call Vickie over to us.

“I’ll take these, too,” I tell her. “Marilyn likes them.” Vickie examines the combs and nods.

“You got it,” she says. “If I may…” She goes over to her garment bag and takes out a beautiful white dress—also a high-low dress, more like a mini with an attached skirt. The thing is so small, it looks like a child can fit it.

“I brought this for you. I knew you were going to the party, but I didn’t know if you would need one, too, since you’re a bit petite. If you like it, you can have it.”

Marilyn looks from Vickie to me and then back at the dress. She smiles a soft, knowing smile and sighs as she examines the dress, running her hands over the delicate chiffon.

“It’s very pretty,” she says, “and it goes very well with the combs. Thank you.” Vickie smiles.

“Why don’t you try it on?” she says. “If it needs any altering, we can get that done quickly.”

“I doubt that it will, but I’ll try it on,” Marilyn says. The dress has a built-in bra, thank God. I don’t think we would have found something strapless on such short notice. It only takes her a moment to change into the dress, and once she does, it’s stunning. Even Marilyn herself couldn’t deny it.

“My work here is done,” Vickie says, zipping her garment bag and closing her accessory case. “We’ll see you for dinner at six.” We thank her again as she leaves.

“Okay, now,” I tell Marilyn. “It’s time for some pampering, trimming, waxing, and threading. What say you?”

“I say that I’ll call Miana’s and set it up for whatever time you like, but I’m going to pass,” she says.

“Maaaaaare,” I whine, “it’s gonna be a girlie day. When was the last time you’ve had a girlie day?”

“Bosslady,” she says, “I appreciate the combs, and I love the dress, but the laying on of hands I can’t do right now. I’m just now working my way into trying to eat. Baby steps, please.” I sigh and purse my lips.

“Okay,” I pout, “but what about your hair? I know you’re going to want it to look good.”

“I still know how to style my hair, Boss,” she says, “and I have two gorgeous new combs to help me.”

Knowing that I’m not going to convince her to partake in the spa afternoon, I don’t harass her further. She sets up the spa day for 1pm, and I send out the APB for anyone who wants to come over and get pampered. Val and Maxie quickly take me up on the offer. Mandy shows up later, and Gail and Keri were both front and center. Courtney and Harmony both have class, so they couldn’t make it. Marilyn opted for a peaceful soak at home and to pluck and shave herself. She’s going to need a spa day soon—if nothing else, a massage to release all the toxins that are her life… and a trim. I love her, but her hair looks hideous.

It’s showtime, and we all head to the Broadmoor Country Club for dinner. Promptly at 6:00pm, all of the partygoers from Grey Crossing arrive at the country club and our private room reserved for the occasion. It’s only now that I feel like I can breathe—that the trial is behind me, my mother’s drama is behind me, Las Vegas is behind me. The first thing I ask for the moment I take my seat is a Cosmo from the bar. Val takes the cue and asks for one, too, causing Christian’s and Elliot’s eyes to widen.

What’s with them? It’s not like we’ve never drank Cosmos before. In fact, Christian made perfect—and endless—Cosmos for us when we were on his bo…

Oooooooooh.

I pay no mind to my mental wandering and gleefully sip my Cosmo when it arrives.

Christian and Marilyn went right after my heart and chose a menu with Indian cuisine. Oh, heavenly Father, the food is divine, and there’s live music playing from the band all throughout dinner—maybe a little too chamber-musicish for me, but still nice. The meal starts with Mughlai tomato soup, falafel, baba ghanouj, tabbouleh, and hummus all with fresh pita bread. I don’t want Marilyn to get sick, but she seems to take the soup and the tabbouleh pretty well in small portions. That makes me happy.

Once we’ve munched happily on the appetizers, the main courses begin—Samosa, chicken and paneer pakora, chicken tikki, stuffed grape leaves, and cilantro and tamarind chutney. The food is paired with a fruity rosé that compliments the flavor nicely. At this point, my tummy is happy and I’m comfortable discussing the details of the trial with those who weren’t present to see the carnage. There’s only so much that’s being shown on television since there are still other defendants involved.

I tell my captive audience about my mother’s surprise testimony, followed by her Evel Knievel rocket launch off the freeway overpass and my subsequent experience with the catty nurses at the hospital. Then, of course, I let them in on George Sullivan throwing himself under the bus for his brother, which didn’t help the case at all. Whitmore’s sister’s testimony was a bit of a lowlight of the trial, and I’m saving the best—or worst—for last.

Conversation is moving along, and I brush over Whitshit’s useless testimony to focus on Vincent Sullivan and is entourage. Needless to say, there’s the same shock and awe when my listeners hear that Vincent was gay and that his involvement was most likely to win the affections of Whitshit.

Dinner is over and before I attempt any dessert, I have to dance off some of this food. I take my husband’s hand and drag him to the dancefloor.

“Marilyn didn’t eat much, but she did okay,” he says while we’re dancing. “She had a little soup and salad and a few bites of meat, and she doesn’t look like she’s headed for the bathroom to vomit.”

“You were watching her, too, huh?” I say as we move instinctively across the floor. “I think she’s probably on her way to doing better. She just had to introduce some food into her system. As long as she takes it slow, she may be moving in the right direction.”

“I hope so,” he adds and we both look over at her. She’s beautiful tonight, but frail… and sad… and lonely… and it’s written all over her. I just shake my head.

“I really hope things look up for her soon,” he says, falling back into step with me. “I don’t imagine that she can… shit!” He says the word so hard that it shocks me.

“What?” I ask, looking up at him.

“Hey… Ana,” I hear behind me. I know that voice. I turn around and I’m horrified by who’s standing there.

“Gary!” I breathe. Dear God, Gary’s here. “H… hi. I… didn’t know you were coming.” My thoughts are all jumbled for a moment and when they clear, all I can think is that I haven’t seen or heard from my friend for months, and I’m so glad that he’s here. I throw my arms around him and hug him firmly, relaxing a bit when he returns my embrace.

“It’s good to see you,” I say sincerely, trying not to cry. It’s been hard not knowing if he was okay.

“It’s good to see you, too,” he replies, softly, laying his head on my shoulder like a lost little brother… which to me, he was. However, I have to snap out of my own relief at his return to face an extremely stark reality.

I release him and look over at Christian who is glaring at Gary like he might pounce on him any minute. I quickly look over at Marilyn, who is unhappily lost in her own world and unaware that it may be about to come shattering down around her again.

Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck!

“Christian,” Gary says to my glaring husband.

“Garrett,” Christian responds coldly. There’s a brief standoff before Christian excuses himself and leaves. I don’t know if he’s aiming to do damage control with Marilyn, but it’s my job to do it with Gary.

“We didn’t think you were coming,” I say, trying to draw his attention away from the dinner table… and Marilyn. “I hadn’t heard from you…”

“I know,” he says, cutting me off. “I’ve been a terrible friend, and I’m sorry. I’m glad at least some of those bastards are finally getting their just deserts.”

“Um, yeah… me, too,” I reply occasionally looking back at the table. Christian has made it over to Marilyn, and whatever he’s saying to her, she’s standing and nodding. It looks like he’s given her a task, hopefully something to get her the hell out of the room. She’s too fragile to face him right now.

“Ana… what’s wrong? Would you rather I not be here?” Gary says, his voice cracking. Shit, I can’t let him feel that way. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Marilyn just spotted him, and I can see it in her eyes even from way across the room. She’s about to bolt.

“It’s not that,” I sigh. “Marilyn is here.”

At first, he looks like he’s angry. Then he pans the room and finds her immediately. His head jerks back in obvious surprise.

“What the hell…?” he begins. As soon as he says the words, Marilyn takes off out of the ballroom. He’s ready to be hot on her heels, but I think it’ll be too much for her and I catch his arm.

“Gary… she’s not doing well,” I warn. He points to the door.

“Ya think?” he yells, his voice reverberating through the ballroom and gaining everyone’s attention that wasn’t looking at him before.

“Look at her!” he shrieks. “She’s wasting away to nothing! She looks like she’s dying!”

He brushes me off his arm like a fly and sprints towards the door behind Marilyn.

“Gary!” I call after him, but he’s clearly a man on a mission. Christian is headed towards us and I think he was intent on stopping Gary. However, my small friend who’s easily half a foot shorter than my husband plows through Christian like a bulldozer and takes off behind Marilyn. Not to be outdone, Christian moves to follow him.

“Christian, stop!” My husband turns around and glares at me. I close the space between us quickly. I’ve seen that look; I know that look; nothing’s going to stop him from getting to Marilyn.

“If that were you, would anybody be able to stop you from getting to me?” I ask. Christian’s anger deflates immediately. My mostly timid friend just pushed my tree of a husband at least two feet out of his way to get to his woman. Anybody that gets in that man’s way right now is going to be crushed and left for dead.

“She’s not ready,” he says intently to me, ever the protector ready to shield her from whatever harm he can. “You and I both know that she’s not ready for this. You know how fragile she is. She’s not going to be able to handle this right now.”

She may not have a choice. The situation is right here in her face now and try though she might, she’s not going to be able to run from it. But he’s right, she is very fragile right now.

“Come on,” I say, taking my husband’s hand and walking out the door behind Marilyn and Gary. I scan the area quickly and see nothing, but when I look outside the glass walls, I see Marilyn running across the putting green coatless with Gary several feet behind her trying to catch her.

“Shit! She’s going to die out there!” I say and I dash out the door behind them. I stop on the putting green a few feet from the parking lot and watch Marilyn running with all her might like somebody’s trying to kill her. It’s now that I realize that I’ve left without my coat, and I’m extremely relieved when my husband steps behind me and drapes it over my shoulders.

“You’re going to die out here too,” he says.

“Oh, dear God, thank you,” I say to him as I close the coat around me. Knowing that we’ll never catch her right now, I stand helplessly in place, praying that in her weakened condition she doesn’t literally catch her death of cold. It’s not freezing out here tonight, but it’s too cold to be running around with a strapless dress and no jacket.

At this point, nearly everyone has abandoned the party and has joined us on the immaculately manicured lawn to watch the drama unfold. I wish will all my might that this didn’t have to take place in such a public forum, but under the circumstances, it couldn’t be avoided.

After covering as much territory as a track star in the first leg of a marathon, Marilyn collapses to the ground on her knees, releasing a cry so heart-wrenching that it causes me to shiver and induces Christian to wrap his arms around me from behind. I think he’s doing it as much for his comfort as he is for mine.

Marilyn is screaming something, but she’s too far away and I can’t hear what she’s saying. Gary drops to his knees in front of her. Dear Lord, this isn’t good.

“Get her off the fucking ground, man,” Christian hisses from behind me. I feel the same way, but I know Mare is raw, and it’s going to take some not so gentle coaxing to get her to cooperate. Gary reaches for her and it looks like they’re fighting. More than one man moves to assist including mine, but a few moments later, the fight has left her, and they sit rocking on the cold grass.

Now, I want him to get her off the fucking ground.

As if he heard me, he wraps his jacket around her shoulders, lifts her off the ground like a piece of paper and begins to walk towards us.

For the love of God, if that woman doesn’t eat…

He’s headed off by a golf cart heading across the green towards them. He speaks briefly to the occupant before getting on with Marilyn still in his arms. The golf cart heads back to the side of the club and disappears.

There’s nothing more here to see.

I look up at Christian and sigh before heading back into the club and what’s left of my party.

I’ve polished off two more Cosmos before there’s any word on Marilyn. After some time, I see Gary coming back into the ballroom in just his shirt sleeves. Christian stands as he approaches, so I stand as well, moving in front of Christian as a barrier between him and Gary.

“How’s Mare?” I ask as he closes the space between us.

“She’s cold and exhausted and she wants to leave… and we need to talk,” he replies. He sounds exhausted himself.

“She’s staying with us now,” Christian snaps. Oh, for the love of God…

“So, what do you suggest I do, Christian? Do I take her back to my place, or do we spend the night at yours?” Gary isn’t backing down from my husband in the slightest. If Christian wants a fight, he’s going to get it tonight, and his narrowing eyes say he’s looking for one.

“Whatever makes Marilyn more comfortable,” I reply, putting my hand on Christian’s chest. Back off, Killer. You’re overstepping your bounds, here. Gary examines us both.

“Thank you.” He turns and heads for the door. With the unending need to have the last word, my husband shoots to Gary’s retreating back, “You and I will have words later.”

“No, we won’t!” Gary replies. “The intricacies of this situation are between me and Marilyn, and no one else!”

Oh, shit. Fucking shit balls from hell. Christian, for God’s sake, leave it.

“That’s just it, Garrett, it’s not between you and Marilyn. We took care of her and watched her fall apart while you took off!”

“Christian, stop,” I say, trying to get his attention, but he’s looking right past me. His fuse is lit, but he doesn’t understand, so is Gary’s. And they’re having this fight right here in the middle of the ballroom in front of the whole fucking world… or with the sensitivity of the subject matter, it might as well be!

“And while I appreciate that you took care of her, you have no idea what I was going through, and I have no inclination to explain it to you. So, you can’t put me in judgment,” Gary rejoinders.

“Christian, please!” I say once more, trying to defuse the situation.

“The hell I can’t!” Christian roars. “Look at her! She’s deteriorating before our very eyes while you’re off hiding somewhere! My wife was a few days away from having her committed!”

That’s it. He’s gone. He just announced to a room full of people that I was about to forcibly put my assistant in the hospital. I walk away from them and take my seat, pick up my glass and bottom out my Cosmo.

“And what was I going through, Christian? Do you have any idea?” Gary retorts, his voice and temper rising.

“What the fuck does it matter? You don’t look like you’ve lost 25 pounds!” That’s it. My little friend is about to try to pummel my husband.

“Jason?” I say calmly, subsequently pointing behind me to indicate that there’s going to be a fight soon because my husband can’t keep his fucking mouth shut. Jason rises and walks over to Christian and I wave down a server.

“May I have a vodka rocks, please?” I ask while I await Gary’s response. If he ends up in jail, our money is going to bail him out and my lawyer is going to represent him in court. I hear Gary’s cool, angry voice just as my speedy vodka rocks makes it back to the table.

“Lose a baby, Christian! Then you can come and talk to me!” That was pretty harsh, but Christian drew first blood. I take a good gulp of my drink and await the flying fists.

Nothing.

My angry friend diffused the entire situation with that one statement.

I watch Gary whizz past me and out the door, no doubt to retrieve Marilyn and take her to whatever home she chooses. Christian returns to the table and I just shake my head.

“What?” he asks.

“Too far, Christian. Way too far,” I say, finishing my drink.

“What?” he repeats, and he has the nerve to look surprised.

“You always have to have the last word that you’re so busy shooting off your mouth without thinking. How does that feel right now?” He frowns deeply.

“What the fuck did I do?” Are you serious? Are you fucking serious?

“You mean besides the fact that you just outed Marilyn and all her personal business in front of a ballroom full of people? You just totally disrespected one of my best friends and completely trivialized his suffering because you only saw one half of the story! Thank you! Thank you very much!” I stand from my seat and storm over to the band.

“Hey!” I say to the guy who looks like the leader. He turns around and looks down at me. “This is my party and I need something I can dance to.” He raises his brow.

“What do you want?” he asks.

“Motown, old school hip hop, R&B, whatever you got.” He looks at me like I’ve just given him his big break.

“Your wish is my command,” he says, turning around to his band mates. I head back to the main table.

“Ana…” Christian says, trying to get my attention. I walk right past him and over to Al. Without a word, I grab his hand and begin to drag him from the table and his conversation with his husband and Val and Elliot towards the dancefloor. Just as we get to the edge of the dancefloor, the music starts playing for Michael Jackson, “Do You Remember.”

“Uh oh,” Al says. He removes his jacket and tosses it to a gaped-mouth Christian before joining me on the dance floor.

A/N:  So, apparently, my fonts are going batshit again, but I’m too tired to try to figure out what the hell is going on with them. Hopefully, it doesn’t bother you guys too much.

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.

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~~love and handcuffs