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 3

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 03

ANASTASIA

Like any relationship, the BDSM journey is just that—a journey. If you ever think that you have arrived at the place you need to be in that relationship, it’s time to re-evaluate. You are constantly changing and growing, constantly becoming more and exploring more. You don’t sprint through the lifestyle; you stroll, tasting the flavors of what you enjoy and enjoying the process of evolution through the experience.

One thing I’ve discovered in our sessions with Artemis and Savvina and from the soumises at the Munch is that there is no one way to practice the lifestyle. Now, even in my inexperience, I already knew that. However, more than once, I’ve seen or heard people—even at the Munch—who seemed to think that there was only one way to practice, and that if you didn’t follow a certain set of rules, then you were doing it all wrong. Your way of practicing the lifestyle was incorrect because they “would never do anything like that” to their sub, or their Dom “would never do anything like that” to them.

I was happy to hear the majority of the soumises form a consensus about the few elitists—their word, not mine—who seemed to think that they knew everything there was to know about BDSM:

“If you ever meet someone who tells you that the way that you choose to practice is wrong, or that there is only one set of rules and that if you don’t follow those rules, then you’re not practicing the right way, get as far away from them as you can. That’s not someone that you want to emulate. No one has the right to tell you what you or your Dominus wants in your relationship. You dictate that. It’s okay for someone to guide you, but feel free to ignore their guidance, especially if they’re trying to tell you that you’re wrong. Run, dear. Run far away.”

That bit of advice came from Emelda. I’m not sure if that’s her real name. Some people used aliases—as did Christian and I—and some people used their real names—as did Artemis and Savvina. Emelda was once in an S&M relationship where a coven of submissives told her that she not only had to accept whatever her sadistic Dom dished out, but also that she was not allowed to have her own desires, she wasn’t allowed to voice her opinion, and that what her Dominant says goes, no matter what. She was in a very unhappy S&M relationship and she felt that she had to stay there because this was the only way to go. It wasn’t until she ended her relationship with her dictatorial Dominant and ventured out on her own that she realized how many different variations of the lifestyle there really are.

Shantille was on the opposite end of the spectrum. She was afraid to explore what she really wanted in a Dominant because too many times, she was told that the intense play that she liked was abuse and the Dominants shouldn’t treat their submissives that way. Shantille likes extreme punishments; she feels that if there’s no bruising, it’s not kinky enough for her. Pain to the point of tears is cleansing and erotic to her and that’s what she wants. Once again, the elitists tried to tell her that she was being abused; that her Dominant wasn’t a real Dominant—he just wanted to beat her; that she should probably seek some therapy if that’s what she really wanted.

All and all, my sessions with my mentors and with like-minded individuals over the past weeks have taught me that BDSM is a buffet. There’s literally something at the table for everyone, from the very tame to what some would consider the grossly extreme. What one couple or group or person may get off on, another might find disgusting or abusive—or boring. To be welcomed into the various circles, as it were, you must be careful not to degrade someone else’s relationship or practice. That’s a quick way to get blackballed from certain clubs and parties.

Another thing I’ve learned is to respect the balance—or imbalance—of power. While the soumise has the power and control to halt play with a safeword, his or her Dominant will always be the Dominant, until—if—they switch. As such, there is going to be an imbalance of power, and for this reason, you must constantly communicate—in and out of Downtime.

This is very new to me because I always felt that as Christian is the Dominant, his word during playtime was law and I had to follow or be punished. We set the guidelines where as soumise, I must follow the rules. However, in a healthy BDSM relationship a soumise has needs, too, and must be able to communicate those needs.

When we’ve completed our mentoring session on Saturday, we’re always in the mood to play a bit. We only venture into kink so far, as we still feel that we have a lot to learn about the D/s relationship as it relates to us and our marriage. However, we don’t want to deprive ourselves of what we enjoy, either. So, I get to enjoy a light flogging—ten firm lashes with a cat—and a thorough fucking from behind while chained to the playroom bed… nothing too intense, but just something to take the edge off.

Bright and early Sunday morning, we arranged for a crew to meet us at the apartment that Gary and Marilyn once shared, and my PA tearfully tackled the task of packing her things and sorting through what she had brought from her apartment and what belonged to Gary in terms of furniture. There were things that I knew were touches of Marilyn in the apartment, but since she and Gary bought several of the things together, she refused to take them.

For good measure, she cleaned out the refrigerator, removed and tossed out expired food from the cabinets, and meticulously cleaned and vacuumed each room after she was certain that she had removed all her things from that room. The apartment was eerie when she was done—not empty, but a bit hollow. She took the door key and the mailbox key off her ring and left them both on the counter before walking out of the apartment without looking back. I couldn’t help taking a last look at the space that had once represented the love den for one of my closest friends and the woman who took his virginity—also my friend. I locked the doorknob and closed the door behind me.

I didn’t drive to the apartment, thinking that Marilyn might be too upset to drive her car back to the Crossing. I was right. She only had one request when we got into her car, that I call Gary as soon as possible to let him know that she had moved out so that he could go back and do whatever he planned to do with the apartment. Then she sat in stoic silence, tears burning a trek down her cheek for the entire ride back to Mercer.

She didn’t eat that night, and I didn’t force her to. I know Christian was just chomping at the bit to get her to eat something, but once I told him what our day entailed, he let it go for one night.

Val and Elliot are doing a little better. They’re still a bit sad about the loss, but not as melancholy as they were in the very beginning. They appear to be clinging to each other and loving each other through it, which is a good thing. I’ve sometimes seen with the loss of a baby that one spouse may tend to blame the other, causing a rift between them that is sometimes never mended. Marilyn and Gary are one such cautionary tale, although their situation was the result of a deliberate action.

This past week, Christian seemed to try to lighten up a bit when he came home from GEH, but now instead of being the big bad bear, he’s just exhausted when he gets home. He whined a bit about Claude beating his ass again on Saturday but took a little victory in the fact that Claude didn’t beat his ass as quickly and easily as he had before.

But he’s still really tired.

My husband doesn’t look like he’s finding any peace, except when we’re talking to our mentors or when we’re fucking. He’s been auditing and restructuring and re-evaluating the company for about a month now. He should definitely be seeing more progress than he has been. What the fuck is actually going on in that company?

There’s no way to begin to describe the amount of crap that he has on his plate. He put faith in me as 50% owner… and I backed away. I haven’t even been in the office again since Ros’ remark about Al and the nonchalant way the department heads behaved towards me. I own half of that company, and I let them chase me away…

… Because Daddy couldn’t get me the respect that I deserved…

… And I subsequently left my husband to handle things all on his own.

He has an executive team. What the fuck are they doing? What the fuck is anybody doing?

I ponder my situation only a few more moments before I make a decision. He’s trying to get to the bottom of things, but only a few heads have rolled… not enough, apparently. Moreover, apparently not the right ones. I screw up my resolve and open the folder that contains the GEH emails forwarded to me.

The first fifty or so are all useless drivel that followed Christian’s command that I be CC’ed on executive emails. Garbage. I get through those rather quickly. Very shortly thereafter, I get to some real meat and potatoes…

Requisition requests, memos, executive orders from the boss, status reports…

Executive orders from the boss…

I decide to filter out the messages that all came from Christian. Hundreds of them… in a very short period of time. How does he keep up with all this?

Just for shits and giggles, I filter out the messages from Ros and Finney. Exponentially less. Does Christian just have more to say? I read a handful of his emails and find that they’re not just the typical Christian Grey “What the fuck, get this shit done” emails that I thought I would see. There’s critical thinking, probing questions, analysis, detailed directives—yeah, there’s some commands and “get this shit done” in the emails, but there’s some serious meat in here, too. I see a bit of meat and vegetables here and there from Ros and Finney, but for the most part, I’m seeing the equivalent of electronic “uh-huh’s” and “okay’s.”

 As I scan through the emails, I see several emails going from Finney to Ros and Christian, from Christian to Ros and Finney, and from Ros to Finney and Christian. I see even more emails from Christian to departments and department heads asking about projects and deadlines and metrics and what have you. I see the emails coming back to me, to Finney, to Ros, and to Christian. But the responses coming from Ros and Finney to the department heads are very few and far between.

Am I missing something?

Do they not take part in the general operation of the corporation? Is there some kind of delegation of duties in the hierarchy that I just don’t see? Why does it appear that Christian’s doing all the damn work?

The more emails that I read, the more I get the feeling that I’m right. Christian’s pretty much holding the reins of this Clydesdale powerhouse all by himself, guiding it down the necessary paths and trying to keep it from swaying left or right or veering off in the wrong direction while Ros and Finney are pretty much riding along in the coach.

Well, they’re not that useless, but from what I’m seeing here, they might as well be.

So, in light of everything that’s been going on in our home, with our relationship and discussions, and the fact that I am, in fact, 50% owner of that company, I’ve decided that I do need to know what he’s dealing with in more detail in order to be a better wife, Domme, soumise, and partner—and to allow these fuckers who are under my employ to run me away from my company is not the way to do it. I can draw the line between Ana, Butterfly, Dr. Steele-Grey, That Bitch You Don’t Want to Fuck With, and anybody else that I need to be… but if you need That Bitch, then here she comes.

I spend the rest of the evening going through the remainder of the emails, categorizing them and making rules for various ones so that they go to specific folders as I need them to and getting a better idea of what I’m dealing with in terms of the framework and infrastructure of the company. Once I’ve gotten a pretty good idea, I bang out an outline of some key points that are causes for concern. That part takes a little longer than I expected since I didn’t want to burden Marilyn with working on the weekend so soon after her return. Things will become perfectly unbearable soon enough. I might as well allow her to get her bearings again.

Once I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of the direction that I would like to take, I scan Christian’s emails to me for a group that I know he had created, then copy it into my contacts:

I’ll find out soon enough what’s the difference between the members of the Management Team and the Department Heads and Executive Team, but no matter. I want them all in this meeting. I discover that the Executive Team is Ros, Finney, and me. I remove myself from the Executive Team group and compose my email.

To:      GEH Department Heads
GEH Management Team
GEH Executive Team
Bcc:   Christian Grey
Re:      Emergency Mandatory Leadership Meeting
Date: January 11, 2015 20:21
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

High Priority High Priority CommunicationHigh Priority

Good Morning Team,

This is your other boss, Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey.

Let me begin by saying that I appreciate being included in the emails. It has given me some very valuable insight on the inner workings of the organization—its strengths as well as its flaws.

In an effort to continue the mission and vision of GEH, I will be holding a mandatory meeting tomorrow at 1:00pm in the Executive Conference Room. The location is subject to change based on availability, so please keep an eye on your emails as you will be responsible for any information communicated and attendance is required unless you get specific permission from me not to attend.

Sincerely,
Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey…

Hmmm… I don’t really have a title with GEH and this is my company email.

Assistant Director was easy with Helping Hands.

We actually have executive and Senior VP’s and quite frankly, I’m not a VP.

Co-CEO? Abso-fucking-lutely not!

What is the hierarchy in this situation? Fuck it, never mind. I know what I’ll call myself.

Sincerely,
Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Executive Director, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

I’ll hear something about it if it’s the wrong title. I send an email to what I now call my Power Assistants Team, Marilyn and Andrea, to make sure that the room is available and to secure certain items needed for the meeting, including a podium and a preprinted sign-in sheet. I call up to Ms. Solomon to bring me an antipasto tray and a pitcher of cranberry spritzer and settle in to prepare my meeting.

Things are really sloppy and can be corrected with just the slightest push in the right direction, a little change in protocol and requirements, and a sledgehammer upside someone’s head. I understand why my husband had to become the iron fist. People had stopped taking him seriously.

What I don’t understand is why it looks like he’s doing it on his own. Not once do I see Ros or Finney drop the anvil on someone who has clearly dropped the ball or has shown mediocre effort in rectifying any errors or bringing a viable solution to fruition. My husband’s voice is the shot heard ‘round the company. However, even with all his power, he can only handle so many direct situations at once. Bearing this in mind, it’s time to shake things up, but I don’t want to show up and come off as a mom having a temper tantrum.

As such, I will need to call on The Bitch.
You rang?
I sure as hell did. We’ve got a job to do, sistah.
Bring it on.

“Good evening.”

I raise my head to see my husband standing in the doorway of my office wearing his glasses. I rarely see him wear them, but here he is.

“Busy?” he asks. He knows I am. I remove my glasses.

“I’m working on something,” I tell him, putting my glasses down and clasping my hands on the desk in front of me.

“You don’t usually work on Sunday,” he says, slowly breaching the doorway and approaching my desk. Sorry, not today, Sir.

“It’s time-sensitive and pretty detailed,” I tell him, not breaking my gaze with him. “Did you need something?” I ask. I need to get back to work. He raises a brow at me as he halts behind the chair in front of my desk.

“What are you working on?” And there it is. He’s never asked me that before. Very droll, Mr. Grey.

“I think you know,” I respond, still holding his gaze. He’s silent for a moment before he finally takes one of the seats in front of my desk.

“I was perusing my email and I’ve just discovered that there will be a meeting of the department heads tomorrow afternoon with the Executive Director,” he points out. I don’t respond. “Non-profit organizations have Executive Directors. We’re not a non-profit.”

“And Chief Executive Officers normally answer to the Chairman of the Board,” I point out. “We don’t have a board.” He purses his lips in thought.

“Duly noted,” he cedes. “We’ll leave it for now.”

“How kind of you,” I say sarcastically, especially since I didn’t ask your permission.

“There’s a problem though,” he says. “I have another meeting at that time, so you may have to reschedule.”

“No,” I say matter-of-factly, “that works out just fine, because this is not your meeting—it’s mine. And if Ros or Finney were going to be in the meeting with you, I need them, too.” He raises a brow at me.

“I like to know what’s going on in my company, Anastasia…” Anastasia. Perfect.

Our company,” I say, firmly, folding my arms. “And you will know. I wouldn’t dream of keeping anything from you. But this meeting is mine, and your presence is not required. In fact, it’ll be more effective if you weren’t there.” He purses his lips again.

“Very well,” he says, and I’m sure that he’s thinking that he’s going to have to undo whatever mess I may create tomorrow, but I’ve got news for you, Grey. You won’t be able to unfurl this one. And if you try, I’m going to walk away and leave it to you—50% and all… and you’re going to leave that damn asshole bear at the door when you come home or you’re going to have a much bigger problem to deal with.

*-*

I don’t go into Helping Hands in the morning. Instead, I work remotely with Keri, and we confer with the learning coordinator about the last things needed to put the curriculum in place for tutoring. We’ve already gotten our Head Start program going and two of the children in the daycare will be attending. Keri and Ebony are very excited about that. Courtney’s doing well with her teen support group—not counseling, just building on the idea of peer support. Our cleaning crew is moving right along with the transition from Clean It Up For You, and Mrs. Sherwood is unsuccessfully attempting to prove to us just how much we really need her. I’m aware that having an in-house staff is more expensive than having a service do the cleaning for us. However, the accountability of an in-house staff is worth the extra money.

After sitting with curlers in my hair all day, I fashion it in big, billowing curls and don a red sweater dress that falls sleekly over my body and ends mid-calf with an insanely long matching knit wrap that I wear backwards so that it falls nearly to the floor like a cape behind me. I finish the ensemble with a pair of sky-high black patent leather Louboutin classic red-bottom stilettos and an oversized black patent leather clutch bag. Light make-up and moisturizer assure that there’s no overkill, and I’m ready to make some waves.

“You mean business, huh, Bosslady?” Marilyn asks when I enter the kitchen.

“Kickin’ ass and taking names,” I reply. “You ready?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she says.

“Then let’s rock and roll.”

Marilyn carries my coat for me in case I need it, but I won’t. I go straight from the mudroom to the garage to the Audi, and from the Audi to the elevator in the parking structure on GEH’s ground floor straight to the top floor. I expect to see Christian holding a meeting in his office, but he’s not there. He better not be in this department head meeting. I specifically told him not to come and if he’s testing me…

I walk into the meeting with Alex, Chuck, Ben, and Marilyn behind me. I’m overjoyed to see that my husband has honored my request and stayed away from my meeting as I stroll in with purpose and head straight to the sign-in sheet. I see that several people that are probably in this room haven’t signed the sheet like I asked. So, I call them out.

“Pa Nou Yi?” I read out, knowing that I’ve pronounced her name perfectly. A pretty Asian woman raises her head and acknowledges her name.

“Did you forget to sign in?” I ask. She clears her throat.

“We never use sign-in sheets with Mr. Grey,” she announces matter-of-factly, other members of the management team cosigning her statement. I nod.

“I see.” I retrieve the ledger containing the sign-in sheet and deliberately snatch the attached pen with so much force that I break the ball chain holding it to the lectern. I stride purposefully over to Ms. Yi and place the sign-in sheet and pen in front of her.

“Do I look like Mr. Grey to you?” I ask, glaring at her. She purses her lips, then picks up the pen with the piece of ball chain still dangling from it and signs next to her name.

“Thank you,” I say. “Has anyone else forgotten to sign in?”

“I have,” someone says, raising her hand, and a few other people raise their hand as well.

“Pass that around, Ms. Yi,” I say, “so that the rest of your colleagues can sign it.” She doesn’t make eye-contact with me as she slides the sign-in sheet to the next person.

“Now we have to take attendance like toddlers?” someone comments from across the table. I slam my hands on the table with just enough force to get his attention, lean over it and glare into his face.

“If you’re going to behave like toddlers, yes, you do,” I retort sharply. He’s a bit taken aback, evidenced by his expression. “And the next time you have something to share, say it loud enough so that we can all hear you.” I glare at him next and he stares back at me. Like I said, I’m not Christian Grey. I don’t have time for the stare game. I’ve made my point.

I march purposefully to the head of the table and slam my large, patent-leather clutch down on the table, startling several of the meeting’s participants. I remove my backwards wrap and drape it over the back of the seat while I wait patiently for the sign-in sheet to make its way around the table.

“Thank you,” I say to the last person who hands the sign-in sheet back to me. I see that there are people who still haven’t signed in after the sheet has made its round. 

“Alex, let the four people who haven’t signed in on this list know that they have five minutes to get to this meeting that started ten minutes ago, or they can be escorted out of the building immediately.” I hand him the list.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says without pausing and pulls out his cell. I pull a Christian Grey move and pull out my cell phone while standing at the head of the conference table, making a note of the names that were blank on the sign in sheet.

“Mrs. Batma?” Alex says from across the room. “This is Alex Welch from GEH security. You received a memo that there would be a department head meeting at 10am today with Dr. Anastasia Grey. She indicates that you have five minutes to get to the meeting, which started ten minutes ago, or I’ll send my staff down to escort you from the building.”

He doesn’t pause. He ends the call and calls the next person on the list.

“Chuck, Ben, please pull the remaining four chairs over by the window.” You fuckers want attention, you’re going to get it. Once they get the chairs lined up, I tell Chuck to go outside and wait for them. Finney and Ros keep looking at each other, no doubt wondering what the hell I’m doing. Yeah, you guys are generally in the inner sanctum, but not today. Today, you’re in the same category with these fuckers who don’t know who the hell I am.

A few minutes later, Chuck escorts our four stragglers into the conference room.

“So nice of you to join us. The next time one of your employers calls a meeting, try not to be late!” I say sharply. “Alex has the sign-in sheet.” The ladies and one gentleman murmur apologies.

“Now, we can get down to business,” I say once they’ve signed in and taken a sheet.

“Shouldn’t we wait for Mr. Grey?” Ros asks.

“Mr. Grey didn’t call this meeting. I did. Do you have a problem with that?” Her eyes widen as she glares at me, but she quickly remembers where she is.

“None at all, Dr. Grey,” she replies.

“Good. Now, as I was about to say before I was interrupted, I know you haven’t seen me around for a few weeks and why should you? You hadn’t seen me around before then either. Well, that’s about to change. I realized that I’m sitting in my lovely home enjoying a wonderful life made possible by the fruits of the labors of this company. And now, for some reasons, the efforts have appeared to stray from the common goal, and the labors are all beginning to fall by the wayside. Now, I can’t just sit back on my laurels and watch that happen, especially since—like it or not—I own half of this company.”

I pause for a moment to let that sink in.

“I’ve given some serious thought to this situation before I called this meeting… how I was going to deal with the fact that I’m part owner of a multi-billion-dollar company, but I can’t even get the management staff to respect me as such. My first instinct was to just leave this alone and allow Christian to run his business. Then, I remembered a conversation that he had a while back when he told me that I would be half-owner of this company. He said he trusted me. He said that he knew that his company would be in good hands if anything happened to him—that whatever I didn’t know, he had an executive staff and a management staff that would assist me to help keep the company thriving.

“He had that talk with me before he knew that I had any business education whatsoever. I thought he was out of his mind, but the fact remains that he did entrust me with fifty percent of his company while he’s alive, the whole of it upon his demise. So, hate it or love it, boys and girls, I’m here to stay.

“Who are you?” I ask, pointing at the guy who made the toddler comment.

“Theodore Mosele,” he says after a pause, “head of…”

“I don’t need to know what you’re head of; I just need to know your name,” I cut him off, holding my hand up to halt his introduction. “Mr. Mosele brought up a very good point. Why do we have to take attendance like toddlers?” I look at the list. “Mr. Reiter, would you like to tell us why?”

I look around the room and a gentleman raises his gaze to me along with his brow as several other department heads in the room turn to him.

“Um… to make sure that we’re all here?” he says—a question, not a statement.

“Excellent!” I reply. “The four people who decided to join us fifteen minutes after the meeting started are evidence that the sign-in sheet is needed, at least until I get to know who you all are… and I will get to know who you all are.” I turn to the four stragglers.

“The fact that you were up here within five minutes upon the threat of unemployment proves to me that you weren’t doing anything that was so important that you couldn’t have your asses in here at one!” I glare at them all and allow those words to sink in.

“Consider this your only warning,” I caution the attendees of the meeting. “The next time any of you decide that you have something better to do than to attend an owner’s meeting—or you conveniently forget how to sign your name when you enter—you will be subject to immediate disciplinary action.” I hear a few gasps, but no one speaks.

“I now understand why my husband feels the need to go back to running his business with as little leniency and leeway as possible. It appears that if he gives an inch that people will take ten damn miles.” I bark.

“I was going to back away and let him handle GEH like he always has, and then I realized… We’re a team. We’re going to remain a team. And in order for us to be effective, I have to back him up and we must work together.

“I’m no Christian Grey. I’m never going to be Christian Grey, nor do I want to be Christian Grey. However, like it or not, I am still fifty percent owner of this company. Anybody who doesn’t like that or can’t respect that can get the fuck out right now!”

The room is silent for a moment, then various murmurings begin.

“I don’t recall giving anybody else the goddamn floor!” I say, looking directly into the eyes of every person that I see has begun to speak out of turn, glaring at them and waiting for them to see that I’m plotting their demise if they don’t shut the fuck up. The murmurings quickly dissipate.

“I don’t care if you see me as an extension of Christian Grey, because when it comes to me, he’s not your biggest concern—I am. From this point on, any one of you who has a problem treating me with the same respect that you would treat anyone else who signs your paychecks and can bounce you out of here on your high-paid asses will find out just how quickly I can do the latter.

“The sudden random fifty-percent drug testing? That was me, to weed out any initial weak links. The mid-year and year-end self-evaluations followed by subsequent leadership evaluations—that was me, too. This tells the company what you think you’re worth to the company and what you can offer. Then it requires that your leaders cosign those conclusions, and add some thoughts of their own. This way, we can see what talent we have available in our pool, but we can also see who’s not making the mark. This also puts responsibility on your supervisor to dispel or justify your analysis of your performance.

“If you say you’re doing great and your supervisor says that you’re doing great, then you better be doing great. If you say that you’re doing great and your supervisor says, ‘Not so much,’ then it might be time for a counseling. Automatic raises are a thing of the past—that includes cost-of-living raises. All GEH employees must prove through these mandatory evaluations that they are worth their raises. If you are still employed here when the fiscal year begins, you will get a raise. However, your evaluations will determine how much. GEH will no longer be paying for mediocre or substandard work. From now on, you earn your money here, or you can get out.

“I’ve only brought these points to light to show that some of the things that you have seen implemented at GEH have come directly from me. You don’t have to see me to know that I’m affecting your lives already. Having said that, let me make this clear.

“I will not, I repeat, I will not accept disrespect, side-eyed glances, push-back, second-guessing, or any other little passive-aggressive tactics that anyone wants to try to push off on me. You don’t need my husband’s go-ahead or second opinion to carry out a command that I give you and I don’t need my husband’s permission to fire your ass and have you ceremoniously escorted off my goddamn property. If you want to see how far I can go to prove what I can do, please try me—I welcome the challenge. I can be an ally, or I can be an enemy—it’s all up to you. What I won’t be is an afterthought. I’ll be, ‘Oh, shit, Dr. Grey,’ before I’ll ever be, ‘Oh, yeah, Dr. Grey.’ Is that understood?”

The room is silent.

“That is not a rhetorical question!” I shoot. Various yes, ma’am’s fill the room. This is the first time that ma’am doesn’t make my skin crawl. None of these people are my fucking friends with the exception of a handful. I’m not dealing with this bullshit from these people anymore.

“Excellent. Now, let’s go over some particulars that I saw in some of the emails that I read last night.” I gesture to Chuck who brings my briefcase. I open it and remove my iPad and a few documents.

“This is how this is going to go,” I begin. “I’m going to call on many of you as needed by department to expound upon various projects and initiatives that should be in progress or nearing completion. You are going to give me as much useful information as possible without withholding key components and without drowning me in a bunch of useless drivel in an attempt to lose me in lingo. I won’t pretend to know what each of you are talking about. However, I have enough knowledge and a solid level of intelligence to grasp a general synopsis of the information that I’m asking for. Is there anyone unclear about what I’m about to do?”

Various No ma’ams fill the room and I’m certain that if they were unclear, they would fake it until they knew exactly what I wanted. Ros and Finney do this thing that I often see Christian and Jason do—the look that says a thousand words—and they do it often. To me, it honestly feels like a “put a pin in what she just said, and we’ll discuss later.” Why the fuck do you need to discuss later? Why can’t you discuss it now? But I digress. Other things to handle at the moment.

“Good. The first thing I’d like to talk about is…”

I go through the outline that I made from the email last night, making notes on each initiative and alerting various department heads that I would like to revisit the directives they’ve been working on, gesturing to Marilyn to make note of those departments as I plan to visit them later in the week or next week, as I get the time. Helping Hands is truly running itself with Keri, Courtney, Grace, and the learning coordinator—although I can’t completely disappear, I don’t need to be around as much.

During the meeting, I make various demands of Chuck and Marilyn, sometimes Ben and Alex as well, addressing them all just as informal as I always have.

“As you can see,” I say once I’ve gotten all the information that I want from each department head, “I call many of the staff by their first names. That’s because I’ve developed a rapport with them. I can develop a rapport with anyone in this room, but you’re going to determine what that rapport is going to be—friendly, strictly business, you can’t stand my fucking ass, I don’t care. As long as you do your damn job and respect my position.

“And make no mistake, I don’t care what you want to call me behind my back—really, I don’t. Call me a ballbuster, call me a bitch, call me a wannabe, call me whatever the fuck you want. Just don’t let it get back to me and do what the fuck I say when I give you a command or send you an email. I most likely have some personal opinions about and colorful names for many of you, simply due to the fact that I had to rearrange my life to get to the bottom of what was going on here before the life that I’m enjoying falls out from under me.”

I place my iPad on the conference table and stand, spreading my fingers out so that my fingertips are the only part of my hands touching the table.

“This meeting is adjourned,” I say. “Those of you who will have appointments to discuss your directives with me, look for an email from my personal assistant, Marilyn Caldwell.” Everyone stands with as little murmurings or fanfare as possible, including my executive team.

“Ros, Lorenz, wait, please,” I say. Another 10,000-word glance passes between them and they sit.

“Alex, is there a smaller room where I can meet with Ros and Finney?” I ask. He looks at his phone before responding.

“Mr. Grey isn’t done with his meeting yet,” he says. “You can use his office.” Perfect. I nod.

“Chuck, please gather my things together here and you and Ben wait for me outside of Christian’s office. Marilyn, my notes should have synced with yours, so hopefully if gives you an idea of what I need and what to send to each department head about what I need and include meetings that won’t conflict with anything that I have scheduled now. Hopefully, Andrea can find a spot for you…”

“No problem, Bosslady, I’m on it.” I nod and turn to my executive staff.

“Ros, Finney,” I say marching past them with my shawl and clutch in hand.

Christian’s office is perfect for this task. His chairs are far enough away from the front of his desk to make sure you know that he knows he’s the boss. I sit my gorgeous ass in his seat of power as Ros and Finney initially hover over me for a moment or two before they finally take their seats. I pause for a moment before I begin, then I jump right in with no prelim.

“Are you concerned about your jobs at all?” I ask them. Ros’ eyes pierce.

“Excuse me?” she asks.

“I realize that you can leave this place today and have a job tomorrow, but my question is, and I’ll repeat it… Are you concerned about your jobs at all?” Ros stands and puts her hand on her hip.

“Are you threatening us, Ana?” she accuses, affronted. Bitch, what the fuck…?

“Well, I don’t know, Ros. Do you feel threatened?” I reply, taking the exact same tone that she’s taking with me. Ros is a powerful woman and she knows that she is, but I’m not going to back down to her or anybody else if I feel like they’re a hindrance to my husband. So, it behooves them to answer the goddamn question.

“Okay, ladies, please,” Finney says, standing as well and attempting to be the voice of reason. “We’re all on the same team here. Of course, we value our jobs, Ana,” he replies. I glare at Ros again and she glares right back. She’s testing me, I know, but I’ve got bigger fish to fry. I turn back to Finney.

“That’s not what I asked,” I tell him. “I asked if you’re concerned about your jobs at all. Is there some hierarchy here that I’m not aware of?” I inquire. “Some distribution of work that I’m just not privy to? I don’t pretend to know everything.” Finney frowns.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Finney says.

“Neither do I,” Ros shoots, folding her arms. I glare at her.

“Watch your tone with me, Ros, I’m not in the mood,” I caution.

“And you think I am?” she retorts. I suck my teeth trying not to lose my temper.

“Rosalind…” I begin.

“Anastasia?” she retorts, interrupting me.

That’s it.

I slam my hands so hard on Christian’s desk that it rattles, pushing myself out of his chair. She and Finney both leap back a step, and her stance has moved from offensive to how-close-is-the-nearest-door. I’m glaring at her, ready to fucking pounce if this is what she wants.

“You’ve got one more time,” I seethe, pointing and glaring at her from behind Christian’s desk, “just one more time to pull that passive-aggressive disrespectful bullshit on me, and you’re going to find out just who the head bitch in charge really is!”

She’s standing there gape-mouthed staring at me like she can’t believe what I just said and did. She’s been the high petticoat all these years and I understand that she feels like her toes are being stepped on right now, because dammit, they are!

Try me, cookie!

“Ros,” Finney says, his voice very low, “she’s right. You’re being insubordinate.” She throws a glare at him, then at my strawberry-red raging face. I can see in her eyes that she has a three-second funnel of her own and either she thinks better of what she says or what Finney said got through to her. Her stance changes again, and she’s immediately more approachable… and receptive.

I take three deep breaths to calm my anger… no, my rage and repeat myself.

“Is there some hierarchy here that I’m not aware of?” I repeat, “or some distribution of work that I’m just not privy to? Like I said, I don’t pretend to know everything. What I mean…” I say immediately, “… is that I took some time this weekend to review the emails that have been floating around the department heads and the executive team for the last several weeks, and it appears that all initiatives, directives, questions, answers, and guidance come from my husband.

“Now, maybe I’m just seeing things, or maybe I’m biased in my view of the emails. Maybe there are some emails that just aren’t getting to me, but from what I can see, there’s an uneven distribution of work among the executive team and it looks like one person is taking all the responsibility on himself. I would just like to know how the work is distributed so that one person doesn’t carry all the burden. It’s my understanding that Finney was hired because he didn’t want you to carry the burden all by yourself, but now, he appears to carry the lion’s share on his back. Am I mistaken? Did I miss something?”

“We all have different roles, Ana,” Finney says, and Ros still hasn’t found the words to address me yet.

“And does his role entail carrying the lion’s share of the work?” I ask again, since they seem not to be able to answer the question. I turn back to Ros.

“I’m not here to fight with you,” I say firmly. “I’m not even here to cunt-strut with you. I don’t have the business savvy that you do, the knowledge that you do or even the tenure that you do, but if my green, inexperienced ass can look at this setup and tell you that something’s wrong then dammit, something’s wrong—and it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in business management to see it.

“He’s got shit flying in every direction and it’s all coming from him. Now either you two are not following directions and are not CC’ing me on all executive email or for the umpteenth time, he’s doing the lion’s share of the work! Which one is it?”

Ros purses her lips, folds her arms, and drops her gaze—and I’m about three seconds from sending her ass on an administrative leave, but I won’t because I need answers.

“If GEH has a top-drawer, Grade-A executive team, why is he carrying this all by himself? And don’t tell me that he’s not! I live with that man. I have to watch him every day. He’s wound even tighter than he was when he was dealing with those fucking hackers. He has to gird up the asshole hours before he even leaves the house and he usually doesn’t shed it for hours after he gets home. Does Gwen have to deal with that?” I shoot at Ros. Her face softens infinitesimally.

“Does Mrs. Finney?” I say, turning to Finney. Their silence tells me everything I need to know.

“This is his baby,” I nearly seethe. “He suffers many sleepless nights wondering what’s going to happen with his creation—his life’s fucking work. He needs unwavering support, from you, from me, from everybody that values their job here, but he needs it most of all from the people who are closest to him! He and I are not the only ones who need to put up a unified front! You do, too. He doesn’t just need great minds pushing pencils, making calculations, and giving great ideas. He. Needs. Your. Support!

“You are not figureheads. You are each one-third of an executive team, but it looks like he’s carrying all the weight. You’re worried about drug tests and if my best friend’s department is going to be audited. Does legal fucking need to be audited? Because if it does, fucking audit it! Do it because there’s something going wrong in that department, but don’t do it to make a fucking bunch of sycophants happy who can’t even keep an eye on their own goddamn departments.

“That same silence that you observe when he walks through the hallways, they need to observe that same silence when you walk through the hallways—not because they’re afraid of you or because you’re being an asshole, but because you wield the same power that he does and they know it. And people should know that if they’re not doing what they need to do that the same hammer that he can bring down on them can come from you.

“If there needs to be a change of accountability around here, that’s fine. That’s why I came up with the mid-year and year-end evaluations. You didn’t need them before because everybody was scared shitless. Slowly but surely, that situation has faded, and now my husband has taken it totally upon himself to become the long arm of the law and get this place back in shape. But I refuse to believe that he has to take on the role of Big Angry Growling Daddy Bear 20 out of 24 hours a day while you’re fussing about drug tests and whether legal is going to be audited or not. He’s walking around barking at everybody he talks to and every time I see you two, you’re cool as a cucumber. What’s wrong with this picture?” They throw knowing glances at each other.

“And that,” I say, pointing to them, “if I see that, he does, too. That is a total indicator that you’re a team and he’s the odd man out. I’m a psychiatrist—I dare you to tell me that I’m wrong.”

I fold my arms and wait for a response. I feel like I’m talking to the enemy now. How many times has Christian had to justify something to them? How many battles has he had to fight where they’ve had these secret conversations with their eyes? Whose side are they on anyway? If they’ve built some kind of alliance that has my husband on the outside, what does that mean for GEH?

Ros wants to retort, but her facial expressions indicate that she doesn’t really know what to say. Finney, once again, speaks for them both.

“We’re definitely not against Christian, Ana,” Finney says. “We may not agree with every decision that he makes, but we’re not against him…”

“And it’s okay that you don’t agree with every decision,” I retort. “My husband can be very high-handed, but agree or disagree, he shouldn’t have to carry every burden on his back. And right now, he is.”

They turn to each other for one of those secret-eye conversations again, but quickly divert their gaze. Hmm, something’s getting through.

“The reason I asked if you were concerned about your jobs is not because I was threatening you. It’s because GEH is at a precipice. The mistakes and the dismal performance that we’re seeing in some of our departments is dreadful. No, we’re not losing money, but we’re trying not to get there. And the safety and quality issues; the inventory mishap; the fact that I, a civilian, walked in here and found the flaw with the XRC90 transmitter and the responsibility subsequently still fell on Daddy Bear to get them to run some simple tests; the fact that SEEKNID, a software that basically saved this company from potentially losing millions and millions of dollars, didn’t get launched last year—those are all indications that too many balls are being dropped and we’re headed downhill. That’s a huge concern for my husband, and if it’s not a concern for you, the hell if I’m going to let him take that shit on all by himself. And if we can’t patch the holes in the framework, then I’m going to discuss with him taking this company public.”

“Public?” Ros has suddenly found her words.

“Yes, public,” I say. “Maybe a board of directors can have better luck than we are, and if they can’t, then we’re screwed anyway, aren’t we?”

“Ana…” and I’m Ana again, “… taking this company public could be the worst possible decision…”

“But having your CEO die from a stress-induced heart attack sounds like a better plan to you?” I ask, my arms folded. They involuntarily have one of those silent eye-conversations, then look back at me.

“At the risk of overstepping my boundaries,” Ros begins with no malice, “you said it yourself—this is Christian’s baby. He’s worked hard at it. He’s said many times that he already knows that a board will come in here and tear it apart. They would do everything for the profit and not for the company, the community, or the greater good, and he doesn’t want that. It would break his heart to do something like that. He’ll never take this company public. It’ll be like giving his baby up for adoption, then selling it to the devil. He’ll die at the helm before he does that.”

“That’s a very interesting analogy you just used,” I inform her. “I know very well that this is Christian’s baby, but guess what? Christian now has two very alive, very breathing children—not metaphorical babies… babies who are walking and breathing and growing and learning to call him ‘Daddy.’ GEH was his only baby, but it’s not anymore.

“Christian Grey never thought that he would be a husband and a father, but now he is. He never thought he would give away half his company to a woman, but he has. I birthed Minnie and Mikey and he birthed GEH. He trusts me to help raise his children, and I am. He trusted you to help cultivate GEH. Are you doing that? We have employees at the house just like we have employees here. If I drop the ball and everything has to go through Daddy Bear, why does he need me? I serve as wife, mother, confidant, partner, lover—if I can’t do those things, what good am I? If an outsider can walk in and see that I’m not doing those things, if they can’t see or feel my presence in my home… my children don’t reach for me when I walk in the door, nobody cares whether I’m there or not… what purpose am I serving?”

“I think you’re being a bit harsh, Ana,” she inserts, “no disrespect intended.”

“Am I, Ros?” I say. “How many times have you been to dinner at my home lately?” I ask. “How many times have you seen my husband not make it to the dinner table before his children have to be put to bed because he’s in the workout room working off the day? How many nights have you gone to bed early so that you can be awake in the wee hours of the morning because that’s the only time that you can have a normal conversation with your spouse? How much of GEH goes home on your backs and gets dumped on your families? How much time does it take for you to wind down from the pressures of the day and let go of the business so that you can have some kind of semblance of a normal life?

“I don’t see the same stress on you and Finney that I see on my husband, and when I went into those emails, I see why. My whole intention was to come in here, claim my half of the company, and start really putting my foot down on some shit so that he doesn’t have to take it all on himself, but he has an executive team. Why should I have to do that?

“You walk in first thing in the morning looking like a million bucks and you leave without a smudge on your lipstick, but he’s pulling his hair out.” I turn to Finney “You emit knowledge and power in your stride. You’re confident and it’s evident. He’s wearing a perpetual grimace. He’s constantly pondering something, and I know that he doesn’t smile here because he doesn’t smile at home.” I turn back to Ros.

“You’re always entitled to a vacation—anytime you need it and anytime it’s available—but you don’t think we know that you took a vacation at a very crucial time for this company because you had a bug up your butt?” I accuse. She stares at me, her expression a mixture of surprise and chastised.

“We drop what we’re doing, and we take international vacations at will,” I admit. “So, the very last thing I’m going to do is give you a hard time about taking some time off, but I won’t hesitate to call you out on your bullshit reason and timing. You made a statement and we heard it loud and clear and I don’t like it. He’ll never call you on it, because he can take the reins by himself… but he can’t do both. He can’t be the 24/7, ball-busting leader and still be a family man.

“He has changed,” I point out. “He’s my husband now. He’s the father of my children, and I am not going to lose him to this business… and that’s not a threat. That’s a bona-fide, genuine, signed, sealed, and delivered promise!”

There’s nothing else for me to say. I retrieve my wrap and my clutch and walk out of the office.

Chuck, Ben, and Marilyn silently and quickly fall in step behind me as I stride to the elevator. Chuck inserts a key into the panel and pushes the button for the first floor.

“I need one of those,” I tell him. Without blinking, he gets on his phone.

“Alex… please secure an express key for Her Highness.” He ends the call and looks straight ahead.

When we exit the elevator, I begin my stroll across GEH’s marble floors, commanding the silence that I said should befall the room when Ros and Finney enter as well as a glare here and there. I meet one of them head on since she doesn’t feel the need to break it… today’s sacrificial lamb, so to speak.

“Take a picture it lasts longer!” I shoot in one breath as I approach her. My firm voice cuts through the silence of the lobby, causing everyoneincluding those who weren’t even looking at meto turn their attention to the glaring bitch, who quickly drops her head and her gaze all before I even past her.

The car has been parked in the front of the building for my exit and although I’m dreading the cold without my coat, the statement being made as I march through the lobby with my entourage is much more effective and is bound to cause a buzz once I leave…

One that will ring loudly through the hallowed halls of GEH and, no doubt, directly to the ears of my husband.

CHRISTIAN

That red dress is screaming business and “fuck me” at the same time, demurely covering everything from her neck to her mid-calf with the exception of her dainty little hands. I’m more than a bit taken aback when she snatches that pen from the podium and slams it down in front of the head of procurement along with the sign-in sheet she got from God only knows where.

I see her getting a bit of kickback from some of the boys on the management team, but she’s giving it right back to them. I’m glad I was able to finish my meeting in time and now, I’m tucked in Jason’s office as he and I watch her meeting through the various eyes in the sky. Every time somebody tries to give her some shit, she chews them up, swallows them, and shits them out. Before anyone attempts to be insubordinate, she lets them know that she doesn’t need my permission to kick them out on their asses, and she’s right.

She reminds me of a female version of myself, and I can’t help but wonder what brought this on.

“She can really command a meeting,” Jason says, watching as she fires off detailed questions at members of the Boys’ Club that a few of them have a hard time answering. I would berate them for not having answers that I need, but not Madame Butterfly. Oh, no. She politely lets them know that they will be getting memos for later meetings in a few days or so where she expects to get the answers that she’s seeking without excuses.

Shit, the Butterfly Sword looks to be about as effective as the Iron Fist, if not more so in some cases.

She must have spent hours researching what these departments should be doing! I know that I know some of these projects off the top of my head and others I’m very familiar with…

And somebody tell me why Ros and Lorenz are looking at each other like deer caught in headlights!

I watch the management team and department heads scatter like rats when she dismisses the meeting, several of them crowding the stairwells and not even waiting for the elevator. She has struck the fear of God into these people and they’re off to do whatever is necessary to save their souls! And now, it’s time for the showdown with Ros and Lorenz. I only say showdown because the last time Butterfly was in the office at one of the department head meetings—when she swore that she would never be back—she had a bit of a head-to-head with Ros, who never apologized for her behavior, accusations, or disrespect, by the way. Now, she’s locked in the room with the Butterfly Sword and I’m anxious to see who’ll emerge victorious.

Butterfly doesn’t pull any punches. She goes straight for the jugular. Lorenz is confused, but Ros is ready to fight, and the dukes are raised.

“Oh, shit,” Jason hisses, covering his chin and mouth while shaking his head. He knows what’s coming. No sooner than Ros girds up her armor and prepares to show her weapon, Butterfly slams her hands on my desk shattering the silence and any expectation in the room as well as Ros’ resolve. Her next words and much of the conversation thereafter demonstrates who’s clearly in charge in this meeting.

She’s brought a few things to light that I never considered. I don’t care that I’m doing things on my own as long as they get done, but she’s right. If I have an executive team, why am I doing things on my own? My wife is trying to get a school started. We have to go to Green Valley in a few weeks and I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to go with her with things in the current condition they are, and she’s turning her focus from things that she should be focusing on to the inner workings of GEH and why things aren’t getting done here.

Maybe I should be coming down on Lorenz and Ros a little more. Why the hell did I hire him in the first place? Oh, yeah… I hired him to help take the load off Ros whenever I pulled up and left town and to allow her to take time off without it handicapping the company. Apparently, something got lost in translation with their duties. And I love that she points out that look that they give each other. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear to God that they were planning a mutiny.

And I love my wife dearly, but she knows that I’m never going to take my company public. I don’t even know why she mentioned that. Then again, I guess if there was an ultimatum on the table, we’d need to have a serious discussion about it—about what it would mean to take my company public and why she would think it was a last resort or even a resort at all. Then her final words play in my head as I watch her walk across the lobby…

“He has changed. He’s my husband now. He’s the father of my children, and I am not going to lose him to this business… and that’s not a threat. That’s a bona-fide, genuine, signed, sealed, and delivered promise!”

What makes her think she’s losing me to my business? For fuck’s sake, I’ve got a lot of thinking to do about all this myself. I turn my gaze back to my office and Ros and Lorenz are still standing there.

“Why are they still standing there?” I ask, pointing at the screen.

“They’re talking,” Jason says. I purse my lips.

“Turn it up,” I say, focusing on the screen again.

“Calm down, Ros,” Lorenz says, “Christian knows more than anybody what a disaster it would be to take this company public if for no other reason than that there are assholes out there who would love to take it on just to run it into the ground.”

“But she doesn’t know that,” Ros hisses. “She’s running around here throwing orders like she’s got a new toy, and she’s going to destroy the business in the process.” That’s not what I see at all.

“And may I ask where that theory is coming from?” Lorenz challenges. “What did she do in that meeting that leads you to believe that she didn’t have complete control over everything that she was doing? I would have had to be studying for months to get the kind of detailed intel she had on these departments and what they should be doing. She reviewed emails for a weekend and walked in here and rightfully handed a bunch of executives their asses. Then she turned around and held the departments responsible for not having the information that she needed. I don’t see anybody running around ‘with a new toy’ at all. I see somebody with a vested interest in this company wanting to know what the fuck is going on.”

“Oh, God, don’t tell me you’re under that spell, too,” Ros laments. “Christian I can understand. He’s married to her and he’s in love with her. Now, your vision is all clouded, too?” Careful, Ros.

“My vision is not clouded,” Lorenz says firmly but slowly, “and I don’t like the implication of what you’re trying to say.”

“Oh, keep your shirt on. I’m not trying to say anything. I’m just pointing out the fact that she has absolutely no business experience whatsoever besides her little minor degree…” She waves her hand around dismissively as she describes my wife’s education, “and she’s coming in here throwing orders around to the people who have been doing this for years. They’re not going to like it and we’re probably going to see quite a bit of pushback from it.”

“And whatever they’ve been doing for years, Ros, they haven’t been doing it right. That’s why she’s here. This is her company, too, and she has a right to call ‘bullshit’ when she sees it. Now, I see where you’re coming from, and had this been any other pampered wife running in here waving the ‘I’ve got the power’ flag without the correct information or intention, I would be the first person going to Christian and telling him that shit needs to stop. However, I can clearly see, that’s not what’s going on here and so could those other people in that room. What exactly is your problem?”

“My only problem is with someone who has no idea what the hell is going on marching in here trying to run things!” she snaps, folding her arms. Lorenz falls silent and just looks at her. Noting the silence, she raises her gaze to his.

“What?” she demands.

“You know what? I hope you’ve got your asbestos pantyhose on because whether you like it or not, that little ball of fire is going to fly through here and make some changes and if you don’t watch your attitude and stay on your toes, you’re going to get your ass seared. So, what I suggest you do is pack up that little green-eyed monster and put it back in your pocket, because whether you agree or not, there’s nothing that she said in that room or this one that was. Not. True.

“If she has to deal with half the hellion at home that he is when he’s here, it’s a wonder she hasn’t packed up her babies and run to the hills. You and I both know that we don’t carry the burden that he does, and we definitely don’t take it home to our wives. That woman that walked into that meeting this morning was pissed! She was about the business of getting down to business and whether you want to admit it or not, that’s exactly what she did.

“I’ve watched you make little snide, dismissive comments around and about her like you don’t understand what side your bread is buttered on. Get used to it, Tootsie—she is the head bitch in charge. She could be sitting at home eating bonbons and watching soap operas and she would still be the head bitch in charge. You should be happy that he has a woman that’ll look at all this and see that something’s not right and try to find a solution for it instead of sitting back, spending all his money, and giving him a hard time about having to work so much!”

Damn, I never thought of any of that. Whatever Butterfly wants, I just make sure that she gets it, even if it’s a private meeting with my department heads… well, not so private since I watched from Jason’s office. I just didn’t interfere.

“I’ve worked for this company for years,” Ros says. “I have just as much blood, sweat, and tears in it as Christian. I’ve helped to build it up from a baby just like he did. I just don’t want to see all my hard work—our ­hard work—dismantled by a housewife, no matter how smart she is!”

Damn, Ros, petty much? I agree that she worked hard to get GEH where it is today and her contributions are invaluable, but why must she besmirch my wife so badly?

“Well, forgive me for not noticing,” Lorenz quips, “but what you just saw was goddamn intervention, or did you miss that whole thing? And if what you say is true, then tell me this—are you bleeding, sweating, and crying as much as he is right now? Will we see Gwen marching into the building any second telling us that this shit has got to change?”

Ros falls silent for a moment as if pondering Lorenz’s words, basically the same words that Butterfly said to them not twenty minutes ago.

“Make no mistake, she’s going to have a talk with Christian, and I can guarantee you that there’s going to be some ‘Come to Jesus’ in there. She looked at something somewhere that said that we’re not pulling the weight Christian is when we’re supposed to be a three-man team, and she’s about to make it a four-man team like it or not.”

“Christian likes to do things himself. You know how hands on he is,” she excuses.

“I know that’s bullshit and so do you,” he counters. “We do what we’re told. We do what’s needed. We’ve gotten comfortable in sitting back and not getting our hands too dirty because it’s easy to stay back and let him do that. What building do you need to fall on your head to realize that all of our jobs are in jeopardy right now? A month ago, she couldn’t tell you what the process was for SEEKNID from idea to completion, and now she can tell you that we can probably shave a day off our inefficient shipping processes just by streamlining and combining some of the tasks. Isn’t this the same woman who found a flaw in a product that was supposed to be one of the major selling points of one of our deals last year just by looking at the acquisition reports?

“You’re selling her short, and I have no idea why and I really don’t care, but you better get off that horse, because you’re on it by yourself, and we both better get our asses in gear or we may just find ourselves in the unemployment line!” He glares at her for a moment before he walks out of the office.


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 2

I didn’t mean to trigger so many people and so many bad experiences with last week’s episode. I’m sorry. 

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 2

ANASTASIA

Marilyn was truly a sight for sore eyes this morning… somewhat.

While I’m very glad to see her, I can’t get over how pale and frail she looks. She absolutely looks ill. Nobody’s saying it out loud, but it’s written all over everyone’s face as she greets them on Monday morning.

What the hell happened to Marilyn?

With her being away for so long and no one knowing why she was gone, the main whisper around the Center is that she has the big “C.” This is a perfect example of how the rumor mill gets started.

“She doesn’t have cancer, for Christ’s sake,” I scold some of the gossipy kitchen staff. “And it’s none of your business what’s happening with her unless she wants to tell you. So, stop drawing conclusions and spreading false rumors about something that you know absolutely nothing about!”

Duly chastised, the kitchen staff shut down their misguided conclusions and the rumors stopped just after lunch. At least, they stopped around me.

Marilyn quickly jumped right back into her work, exclaiming how awful my calendar and commitments looked and wondering how many of them I had missed while she was gone.

“Did you totally delete your appointments with Ace?” she asks horrified. “There’s none of them here. What’d you do, fire the guy?”

“Actually, yes,” I reply. She raises a questioning gaze to me. I sigh and remove my glasses. “He threw me out of his office during one of my sessions…”

“So, you fired him?” she asks confused.

“No, not yet,” I reply. “The next week, his wife called and cancelled my appointment, on the day of my appointment. The next week, he texted me and told me that my appointment was cancelled. After that, I skipped two weeks. I just didn’t feel like dealing with the rejection.

“The following week, we went to Australia, where I had several epiphanies and discovered after five weeks of no therapy that my therapist may not be helping me as much as I thought he was. I still journal; I still talk to people as needed; I still meditate and do my yoga; and I still have Ace on speed dial, but the weekly sessions are over. They’re not helping anymore.”

“How have you been doing since you stopped seeing him?” she asks.

“Overall, pretty good. I’ve had a few hiccups—I’d be worried if everything was peaches and cream after I fired my therapist, quite frankly, but all and all, things are okay with me. It was the right decision.” After a pause, I add, “Now, I’m going to ask the question that nobody wants to ask. Are you well?” Marilyn frowns.

“What do you mean, ‘Am I well?’” she asks.

“Physically,” I say. “Have you been to the doctor since the termination? Is something going on with your health?”

“No, I haven’t been to the doctor. It was an abortion, Ana, not open-heart surgery. There’s nothing wrong with my health. I feel fine.”

“Then why do you look like you’ve lost half your body weight?” I ask. She sighs and rolls her eyes.

“You’re being dramatic,” she says. “It’s just a few pounds. I’m depressed. I have the right to be a little thinner.”

“You’re using present tense,” I say. She rolls her eyes again and meets my gaze.

“What? What do you mean?” she asks.

“You’re saying that you’re depressed, that you have the right to be thinner. I take it that means that you’re not eating.” She sighs like a petulant child and drops her gaze back to her iPad.

“And you’re still depressed, that means you’re still not eating.”

She doesn’t raise her head or acknowledge my statement.

“Look at me, Marilyn!”

The petulant child raises her eyes to me again.

“You’re dangerously thin. You’ve lost a tremendous amount of weight in a short time and the ‘C’ word is already floating around the rumor mill. My God, how could your parents watch this and not be concerned?” Her demeanor changes immediately.

“Because they were more concerned about my immortal soul than my earthly coil!” she snaps, immediately dropping her gaze back to her iPad. I sit silently watching her and waiting for her response.

“It’s just a little weight,” she says without raising her gaze. “Trust me, it’ll be back in no time.” I don’t press the issue… for now. I just get back to the work at hand.

We’ve gone over some of the things that need to be done and Marilyn is frantically working to get her calendar—I should say my calendar—and notifications back to where they should be. I’ve noticed her daydreaming more than once and this time, she’s toying with her finger nervously, rubbing the spot as if it hurts. I’m only just remembering that she used to wear a promise ring there that Gary gave her last year. As if she’s suddenly conscious that she’s worrying her finger, she stops and turns her focus back to her iPad.

“Can you ever forgive him for leaving you?” I ask.

“I already have,” she says, her voice small as she concentrates on her iPad.

“Because you still love him?” She sighs.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s ever going to change, but no. I understand how he feels. I don’t think he could ever understand how I feel… but I get it. So… yes, I’ve already forgiven him.”

“Enough to take him back if he asks?” She pauses for a long moment.

“Can we please change the subject?” she beseeches. I sigh. She needs to talk this out, to come to grips with her raging emotions, but I guess now isn’t the time.

“I’d really like to not have to work at all this weekend,” she interjects. “I need to find a place to stay.” I frown.

“I can’t stay in that apartment,” she says, hugging her iPad close to her and looking at the ground. “It’s worse than being at my parents’ house. I can’t do it. And I don’t want to be alone. I thought I could handle it, but I can’t. I was fine at the hotel. There weren’t so many memories, but now I’m back and I feel like I’m going to die.

“It’s Gary’s apartment,” she continues. “He paid the lease and I can’t stay there… for obvious reasons. I’m calling movers to come and get my things and maybe I’ll put the bulk of them in storage while I try to find somewhere permanent, but it was hell sleeping in that apartment last night… or trying to sleep in it. When I’m gone, let him know that he can move back in. I’m surprised he didn’t move in while I was at my parents’.”

“I don’t think he knew that you were gone,” I reply. The truth is that nobody has seen Gary. We know that he’s working, but he hasn’t really spoken to us since the breakup. He called me once on Christmas, but that’s it. He probably thinks I’m going to harass him about Marilyn.

“You have any idea where you’re going? Have you looked at any places yet?” I ask.

“My old apartment is obviously gone, so that’s out,” she says. “I’ll find something.”

“And in the meantime?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I can’t stay with my parents. Even if they were close enough, they drive me crazy,” she says. “They haven’t ostracized me, but they’re acting like they have to cast demons out of me because I murdered this innocent child.” Her voice cracks as she says it. “I wish I hadn’t done it,” she confesses. “I would have kept the baby had I known it would be this bad.”

You feel bad?” I ask.

“Gary’s hurt and I’ve lost him forever. My heart aches and I can’t stop it. My parents are treating me like Satan’s spawn instead of their daughter. Nothing much would have changed if I had the baby…” I frown, horrified.

“Nothing much? Are you kidding? Your entire life would have changed!” She raises her eyes to me.

“You would have let me bring the baby to work,” she points out. “And Helping Hands has a nursery…”

“I’m a billionairess with a full-time assistant, full-time nannies, and full-time staff—and I had to choose between my practice, Helping Hands, and my babies. You really think your life wouldn’t have changed?” She drops her eyes back to her iPad. “You did what you felt you needed to do for yourself. Neither decision was going to be easy, and they would both be full of regrets no matter what you chose. You’re only tormenting yourself by second-guessing your decision because you can’t go back and undo it.” She sighs.

“Yet another reason to change the subject,” she says, with the same shaky voice. “Is it okay if I have the weekend off?” I twist my lips.

“Of course, it is,” I say softly. “We usually don’t work weekends unless there’s an emergency anyway.” A few moments pass and I say, “You know I’ve got the condo. Courtney’s staying there now, but there’s plenty of room.” She shakes her head.

“Me and Court are cool and all, but not cool enough to be roomies. You pay me well, Boss Lady. I’ll find a place.” I know you will, but I don’t want you to be alone. You don’t look well and you’re scaring me!

Here comes the Owie House again.

“I have eight bedrooms—pick one,” I say. She raises her eyes to me, then realization dawns.

“Oh, I’m sure Christian would just love that,” she says sarcastically. I twist my lips.

“Are you forgetting how many bedrooms I have?” I say. “As long as you don’t come out of those rooms in any state of undress, we’ll be fine. Besides, having my personal assistant truly at my beck and call would be a dream come true—even if it is only temporary.” She smiles weakly.

“You’re just trying to make me feel better,” she says. I lean forward on my desk.

“Do you have any idea how handicapped I was without you? Any clue?” I ask. She cocks her head at me.

“If you’re calendar’s any indication, yes, I do!” she declares.

“Courtney’s wonderful. She did the best she could, but she’s not you,” I reply. “Look at all the people that live here,” I add. “Val and Elliot are here, and some days, we never even see them! You could go for days in this joint and not bump into each other… and you work here! No commute. Put your furniture in storage—you can use the storage at my condo if it’s not much, I know that’s empty. Hide away in the furthest bedroom from humanity if you choose and take some time to regroup. That way, you don’t have to stay in the apartment, you don’t have to be subjected to the cathobapticostal condemnation and casting out of demons for choosing to terminate your pregnancy, and you can take your time and find a nice place on your schedule. No pressure.” She frowns.

“Have you talked to Christian about this?” she asks. I pull out my phone and start texting.

“No,” I tell her, “but he’ll be fine with it.”

“I don’t want to make this decision until you talk to your husband,” she protests. I raise my eyes to her.

“Would you rather not stay there?” I ask. “I don’t want to pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do.” She shakes her head as my phone buzzes, and I continue to text.

“It’s not that,” she says. “I’m sure I’ll have privacy. I just don’t want to impose, seriously. Right now, the easiest thing for me to be is invisible…” which is why I don’t want you to be alone.

“That’s not healthy,” I reply, “but I guess it’s somewhat expected under the circumstances.” My phone buzzes again. “And I’ve talked to my husband,” I say, showing her the texts.

Ana: I’d like for Marilyn to stay with us for a while until she finds another place.

Christian: Okay.

Ana: She’s worried about being an imposition.

Christian: Eight bedrooms?? Almost 15,000 square feet?? We’ve already got a tribe living there. What’s one more?

Marilyn almost laughs after reading the text. That’s progress.

“Thank you,” she says, her voice soft and grateful. I’m glad I turned the phone around before the next text came in.

**Garrett’s being an asshole. **

**No, he’s not. He’s hurt and he has a right to be. I just wish this wasn’t so hard on either of them. **

**There you go with that PC-ness again. She needs him, and he deserted her. That’s all I see. **

**I understand. I won’t dispute you on that. But he’s still my friend, so what are you going to do when he comes around? **

**Don’t worry, I’ll behave. **

“What is it?” Marilyn asks, noting my constant texting.

“Oh, nothing. We’re just discussing that we have to keep our chandelier swinging and jungle noises to a minimum,” I jest. She laughs. “Honestly,” I interject, “he doesn’t agree with Gary’s handling of this situation.” She drops her head.

“Neither do I, but I understand.” she says sadly. “I might as well be dead to him. He was everything to me… still is—and I thought I was everything to him, but apparently, I’m not.”

I want to tell her that it’s just not that simple, but to her, it is.

“He was my heart and soul. I can’t even put into words what he meant to me… means to me. I want to hate him so badly, but I can’t. I swear to God, I would have kept the baby had I known it would turn out like this.”

Tears are falling down her cheek faster than she can catch them. I’m glad the door is already closed.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” I tell her, “but wouldn’t you have just been swapping one set of problems for another? You clearly said that you weren’t ready.” She shakes her head.

“I know,” she says weepily, “but this feels like it’s never going to end. It’s never going to stop hurting…” she trails off, weeping.

“It will, Mare,” I try to comfort her. “It doesn’t feel like it right now, but it will.” She does her best to pull herself together, but she’s still sniffling.

“You may want to put me in the room farthest away from you and Christian,” she chuckles sadly. “I still spend most of my nights crying and I don’t want to disturb you.

That’s it.

“Fuck finding a place of your own. You’ll store your things on our property, and you’ll stay as long as you need to.”

“I can’t…”

“Yes, you can,” I interrupt her. “I’m not ashamed to say that I’m very worried about you. You went straight from a horrible, traumatic breakup to living with your parents who subjected you to weeks of religious bullying and emotional warfare. You really haven’t had any time to heal and now, you’re trying to move back into your old apartment where all the wounds are ripped open again. You look like you’ve lost at least half of what little body fat you had and quite frankly, I’m scared. You’re going to come to my house where you can have good company whenever you want it and good food so we can fatten you up.” She laughs through her tears again.

“Good luck with that,” she says. “My mom may be a fundamental fanatic, but she’s the best cook on the planet! She couldn’t even get me to eat. I can’t keep anything down.” I frown.

“What are you eating lately in an average day?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I don’t know, I’m not keeping a diary,” she says.

“What did you eat yesterday?” I ask. Her eyes go skyward as she tries to think.

“I had a cup of tea and some toast before I left Spokane. Then, I had an orange in the afternoon. I had Chinese delivered to the apartment for dinner.” I caught that. She had it delivered…

“But did you eat it?” I ask. Her shoulders fall.

“Yes,” she answers suspiciously. My eyes narrow.

“And?” I press. She sighs and rolls her eyes.

“Boy, nothing gets past you, does it?”

“No, so spit it out,” I chastise.

“I did,” she replies.

“No, you didn’t. You’re holding something back…”

“No, I did,” she says, her turn to interrupt, “I spit it out—or up. I couldn’t hold it down.” I shake my head and close my laptop.

“Would you like for me to go with you so that you can pick up some things for the week? We can handle the heavy lifting on Saturday.”

“You’re already giving me a place to stay,” she protests. “I couldn’t ask for more.”

“You’re not asking, I’m offering,” I say. Rising from my seat, I swipe the screen on my cell phone and call Chuck.

“You okay?” he answers.

“Jesus, am I that bad?” I ask. He sighs.

“I just never know what to expect when you call before quitting time.” I shake my head.

“Well, keep your boxers on. All is well with me, but all is not well. I need you and Carol to bring the cars around. We need to go to Marilyn’s and pick up some things. Have Tate and Rebe get Keri and the twins back to the Crossing, unless Carol wants to switch with Tate for a while as there might be some heavy lifting…” Chuck scoffs.

“Are you kidding?” he asks. “Have you seen Carol?”

“Well, not without clothes, no,” I say matter-of-factly. He chuckles.

“She’ll be fine,” he says. “She has bigger biceps than Christian.” Egad, don’t tell him that!

“Don’t publicize that, okay?” I warn. There’s a moment of silence.

“Affirmative,” he says. “I’ll get the transportation ball rolling.”

“Thank you,” I say before ending the call.

“You don’t have to do this,” Marilyn says.

“Quiet, Little Orphan Annie,” I say, packing my things and grabbing my coat, handing Marilyn hers. “You’re wasting away in front of me. This situation requires an immediate intervention and I’m the one to do it.”

*-*

You can tell that no one’s been to the apartment since she left, not even to check on it. It has that stale, needs to be cleaned smell. She just stands in the door and looks around the room.

“It’s barren,” she says. “We had so many good times here, but you wouldn’t know it looking at it now. It’s gray in here—it looks like the death angel himself brushed through every room and left his aura behind.”

She hadn’t even unpacked. All there is to do is clear what’s left of her things out of the apartment and clean it.

“Please grab those two bags over there,” she says to Chuck and Carol, pointing to the luggage that I assumed she had taken to Spokane with her. She goes into the kitchen and returns with a large roll of black garbage bags.

“Ana, can you help me please?” she says. I frown and follow her into the closet.

“You’re going to pack your things in garbage bags?” I ask, horrified.

“Trust me,” she says. She removes a bag from the roll and tears a hole right in the bottom of it, rendering it basically useless… or so I thought. She takes a handful of clothes from the rack of the closet, still on the hangers, and hands them to me.

“Hold this,” she says. I take the handful of garments from her and she proceeds to put the bag over the garments, sticking the hooks from the hangers through the hole at the bottom of the bag. She takes the garments from me, hangs them back on the rack, and ties the bag closed at the bottom.

Instant garment bag.

“That’s kind of clever,” I tell her. She nods.

“Yep, and the clothes are still on the hangers. So, when I get to your house, I hang them in the closet and rip off the bags.” I nod. Work smart, not hard.

After about an hour, Marilyn had enough of being in Gary’s apartment. We had gathered most of her things and agreed to come back this weekend to situate the rest. She deduced that her car being here is what prevented Gary from coming to the apartment, so since she was going to be staying with us, she would leave it here until she packed and removed the rest of her things to eliminate the risk of running into Gary. Her relationship is over. She doesn’t like it, but she’s accepting it.


CHRISTIAN

I’m sitting at my desk thinking about the conversation that I and my wife had the day after Christmas about Management 101. My meeting this morning is with the human resources department along with Ros and Lorenz. Last week, I reviewed a sampling of our annual reviews and my wife is right—these reviews are shit. There appeared to be no measurable goals and feedback was shoddy, at best.

Further investigation showed that the managers in each department are responsible for the content and conducting of the annual reviews as well as the feedback and follow-up. There’s no accountability for leadership, and no useful feedback for employees to promote improvement. It’s just like Ana said—management isn’t motivating the people in the trenches and, as a result, we have shitty work coming from the trenches, and if there is any hidden talent down there, it’s hidden in the shit. Once again, my wife was right. I have no idea how my company hasn’t folded by now.

In an attempt to get everyone involved instead of just having another heads will roll meeting, I put Lorenz in charge of a brainstorming session where we put the ideas that my wife suggested to work. How do we create a system of reviews that holds each employee—management and subordinates—responsible for their performance on an ongoing basis, with continuous feedback and evaluation to identify weaknesses and opportunities before they become critical?

I was amazed how the room came alive. Many, if not all, of the people in my human resources department have degrees and some of them are in management. The whiteboard was full of ideas and poor Andrea had her hands full trying to keep up with the minutes of the meetings. Many of the ideas mirrored the suggestions of my wife, but in more detail…

Holding management accountable to levels below and above them will keep them on their toes and prevent them from doing the old soft-shoe when performance reviews come around.

Specific goals need to be set for all employees that are measurable and align with the goals of the organization.

Employees need to know that they are not only striving for excellence individually, but also as a team. If one employee is lacking, they bring the team down, in which case, the team will be able to motivate said employees to identify opportunities to improve and achieve their goals.

The meeting went on all morning. When it was complete, each attending had a task to bring back to the next meeting where they would work with Lorenz to construct a new method of reviews that would be more conducive to the company. Two really important points came out of this meeting besides the birth of the creation of a new system of performance reviews:

I was able to pass this ball off to Lorenz and the human resources team. Even though the initial idea came from me by way of my beautiful and intelligent wife, I don’t have to monitor the progress of the project. I could delegate the responsibility to one of my other executive team, leaving me to deal with other pressing matters. I’ve become so accustomed to handling things myself—and everyone letting me—that the concept of delegation is sometimes hard for me to grasp. I don’t know who can really do exactly what needs to be done unless someone steps forward and says, “Hey, I can handle this for you.”

The second thing… Ros contributed nothing to the meeting. She didn’t have a suggestion, she didn’t take any notes, and her expression barely changed at all for three hours. If I were to guess, she was just sitting there wondering when it was all going to end. She sat in the meeting the entire time like she was watching a movie at the drive-in. All she needed was the goddamn popcorn.

I don’t have time to ponder what the fuck is going on with her because the moment I get back to my office, Alex has left a message that he wants to meet with me, and I’m quite anxious to know what he has to say.

“Holstein is losing his mind trying to see who’s got it in for him,” Alex says when we settle in my office and I activate the scramblers. I’ve just been informed that besides the lovely Christmas inconveniences that he’s had so far, he received a box of live rats on his doorstep on Saturday. His wife and children were put up at a hotel while he contacted exterminators in hopes of getting the things out of his house.

How the hell do you deliver a box of live rats?

Alex informs me of the lovely things we have prepared for the weeks to come for our favorite little traitor, and I must admit that the finale warms my fucking heart. Elena’s small and gradually growing mishaps are a delayed Christmas present as well. She’s suffered everything from a black eye to a busted lip to a sprained ankle. Hers and Holstein’s comeuppance will culminate right at the same time.

I guess now would be the time to start terrorizing that smarmy-assed secretary, since she wants to mouth off with the big boys, let’s see if she likes how the big boys play.

The buzzing in my pocket informs me that I have a text message. I remove my phone and see that Butterfly is informing me that Marilyn will be staying with us for a while. I shrug inwardly. The more the merrier. Chuck’s parents left this morning after being assured that he would be okay, and Harmony will be moving into Escala at the end of the week. Even though Valerie and Elliot have moved back in for a while, they’re pretty much a staple at my house to the degree that they permanently have their own room.

Butterfly tells me that Marilyn is protesting, and I remind her that we have eight bedrooms, then express my displeasure with how Garrett handled this situation. I’m staying out of it for the most part, but I feel that if you love someone, you shouldn’t desert them even when they piss you off. Believe me, I’m still kicking myself for the Madrid excursion, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

Alex is still filling me in on the progress of Alcatraz and the plans to be put in place for one Ms. Greta Ellison when Ros bursts into the room without knocking or being invited. I glare at her.

“Excuse me, but when has it been acceptable to burst into my office without permission?” I ask. She just looks at me.

“We have a development on the Fraser account,” she says.

“That didn’t sound like an apology and you haven’t answered my question,” I bark. She rolls her eyes.

“I don’t have time for this,” she says, dropping the file on my desk. “Look at this.”

“Keep fucking with me, Rosalind, and you’re going to have a whole lot of goddamn time on your hands.” I declare coolly. She raises a surprised gaze to me. That got her attention. “Now, pick up your file, get the fuck out of my office, and try that shit again.”

She blinks a couple of times like she can’t believe what she’s hearing. I’m not going to repeat myself, so she had better move her ass. As if suddenly realizing that I’m not fucking playing with her, she retrieves the file and marches back out the way that she came in. At this point, I wouldn’t give a fuck if she didn’t come back.

As it appears that’s exactly what she decided, Alex and I resume our conversation. A few moments later, my intercom comes alive.

“Rosalind is here to see you, sir,” Andrea’s voice says uncertainly. I look over at Alex, who actually rolls his eyes in disbelief. My sentiments exactly! My first inclination is to make her ass wait for a few more moments, but I decide instead to let her in with the intention that if she brings any of that premenstrual I am woman hear me roar bullshit with her, she’s going to be roaring on the other side of that goddamn door.

“Send her in,” I say. I deactivate the office scrambler and clasp my hands in front of me while glaring at the door. She’s slightly more docile when she enters, and her temperament cools even more as she approaches my desk, no doubt noting the please fuck with me today expression on my face.

“We have an issue with the Fraser account,” she says, handing me the file. I stand and indignantly snatch the file from her hand, giving her a healthy dose of the attitude that she feels I should contend with from her.

“What am I looking for?” I say, my voice low and firm as I skim through the information.

“You should see it there in a minute,” she replies. Don’t test me, lady. Tell me what the fuck you want. I cut a sharp glare at her.

“What. Am I looking for?” I ask more firmly in case I didn’t make the question clear the first time. She sighs.

“On the first page…”

We go through the file and the areas for concern over the next few minutes. Alex excuses himself to “take care of some things” while we’re going through the information. After we decide on a course of action, I lean back in my chair.

“Tell me why you couldn’t solve this on your own,” I ask. “This is pretty elementary.”

“I don’t know where your mind is lately, Christian,” she retorts. “I may think one course of action is the best and you’re totally against it.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” I counter. “You’ve had autonomy in this company since the day you first came on staff. I don’t second guess your decisions. I may decide that there’s something that I don’t want to do, like I may shut down a merger, but I never second guess your decisions. You didn’t need me for this, and I had to take time out of my day to tell you what you already knew. Why?” She purses her lips.

“It’s like I said, I don’t know where your mind is. We used to be in sync, but lately, our thought processes have been extremely… polar.” I shake my head and cut right to the chase.

“You confuse me, Ros,” I admit. “You get all touchy because of my wording of something and because of my decision to perform random drug testing and we actually found several people who not only had traces of drugs in their system but were also high on the job. And for the life of you, you still can’t admit that I was onto something. You actually didn’t like my decision, and you still can’t admit that I was right. You act like I’m taking toys out of your little play box and I won’t let you come and play in mine. What the fuck is up with you?”

“I’ve already told you there’s nothing up with me,” she says, flatly. “If you insist on thinking otherwise, there’s nothing I can do about that.” My expression doesn’t change, although inside, I’m sick of her shit.

“You can go now,” I dismiss her, turning my attention back to my computer. She turns on her heels and marches out of the room, and I ponder my words.

You can go now…

Has Ros outlived her usefulness? She’s been a part of this company almost from the very beginning. It’s always been her and me with our noses to the grindstone. Good, bad, or ugly, we’ve always managed to pull this company through. Now, there are changes—lots of changes—occurring in our lives, personal and professional.

She and Gwen were engaged when she started here, but they married after she had been with GEH for a year.

Things went floating merrily along for a few years and then I met Anastasia. That’s when the ship started falling apart.

As soon as I turned my attention from the company for the slightest moment, balls began dropping all over the place. I would go out of town on business trips at the drop of a hat and there was never a problem, but as soon as I started taking trips with my girlfriend-then-wife, she started having problems and I had to hire Lorenz. Now, we’ve got help and she’s still behaving as if she’s having a problem pulling her weight. If I didn’t know for sure that she was gay, I’d think she was pregnant. And that brings up another point…

She’s getting to a point where she’s downright rude to Anastasia. She shows her absolutely no professional courtesy as an owner of this company, but she also acts as if she doesn’t even like her as a person. Once again, if it weren’t for the whole gay thing, I’d swear she was a spurned lover!

Has she outgrown GEH? Has GEH outgrown her? Is it time to suggest that she update her resume and review her professional options? I would give her nothing but a shining recommendation, but sometimes, people just don’t fit anymore, and I can’t have someone on my team that I feel is not on my team anymore.

I thrust my hands into my hair. I can’t deal with this right now, but can I afford to put it on the back burner until the situation becomes detrimental? I shake my head and call Allen.

“Allen Forsythe-Fleming,” he answers.

“Allen, when are we supposed to go to Nevada?” I ask.

“February 2nd,” he says. Jesus, I hope this shit is somewhat in order with the company by then. There’s no telling how long we’ll be in Vegas for this fucking circus.

“Do we have a final headcount?” I ask.

“For…?” he asks.

“How many people are going,” I say, as if it’s obvious. “Ana’s dad wants to go; you’re going; we have security. Do we have a final head count?”

“Oh… no, I didn’t think about that. I’ll call Jewel and see who all we’re expecting. Is everyone going to have security?”

“Liaise with Jason to see how much security will be needed for the amount of people traveling. He also usually makes my travel and lodging arrangements, too. Do we have any clue how long this thing might take?” I ask.

“I would say prepare to be there for at least a week, but quite possibly more than that. I remember Jewel watched most of the Double-Dicker’s trial stream live on some court channel. I don’t know if they’re going to do the same for this one. Part of me thinks they will and part of me hopes that they won’t.” My brow furrows.

“Explain,” I press.

“It’s much more sensational than the Edward David trial, so I would think they would want to stream it. On the other hand, Jewel’s been through enough. This was a terrible and, quick frankly, very personal time in her life. I wouldn’t want to see that splattered all over the news.” I nod as if he could see me.

“Hear, hear,” I concur.

*-*

I’m exhausted when I leave the office today. Ros tried my patience three more times before the day was over and I just don’t have time to deal with her attitude along with everything else happening with the company. She just came back from vacation and it’s done absolutely nothing to improve her sour ass mood. As such, I can’t very well send her off on another one, but something’s got to give because this female is working my last fucking nerve.

When I get home and we enter the garage, I’m expecting to see Marilyn’s car in the last bin, but there’s nothing. I leave my coat and boots in the mudroom and decide that I’m way too tired to work out. This day really wore me out.

I step into the family room to see Keri and Gail minding the twins as they watch some Disney cartoon on television.

“Where’s Butterfly?” I ask, wearily.

“Upstairs,” Gail replies.

“Marilyn’s not here?” Gail nods.

“That’s where Ana is,” she says. “They arrived not too long before you and they’re probably upstairs unpacking some of her things.” I nod and reach for my son.

“Hey, little prince,” I say, lifting him out of the Pack-n-Play. “I guess they had to confine you to make sure that you wouldn’t run amuck all over the house, huh?” Mikey babbles something incoherent as he pats both my cheeks.

“Hes seestah won beh too fah behahnd. Look!” Keri shows me that Minnie is standing and taking several steps on her own. I sigh heavily about how quickly it seems my children are growing.

“Gail, have we thought about childproofing at all?” I ask.

“I’m already on it,” she replies. “Ana actually beat you to it.” I smile softly.

“Of course, she did,” I say, looking back at Mikey. “Your mom thinks of everything.” I kiss him on the cheek, lean down and give my Minnie Mouse a kiss before I go in search of my wife.

I take the elevator to the upper level and I can hear women talking the moment the doors open. Good grief, did she stick the poor girl on the other end of the house? Sure enough, I follow the voices to the last bedroom and there they are. The door is open, but I knock anyway. Butterfly and Marilyn both raise their heads to me, and I’m not prepared for the sight that greets me.

“Hhi,” I say, with a little more emphasis on the “h.”

“Hey,” Butterfly says, somewhat surprised, but rising to greet me. She gives me a small peck on the lips, and I enter the room.

“Hi, Christian,” Marilyn says as she stands. I try not to allow my expressions to betray my thoughts, but I don’t think I’m doing very well.

“Hi, Marilyn… how are you?” I ask cautiously.

“As well as can be expected,” she says, with a shrug. You sure about that?

“What?” she says after I’m silent for a while.

“Forgive me if I misspeak, but… are you well?” I ask. She raises a brow at me.

“Yes,” she says, with no malice. “I…” She looks over at Ana, who shrugs one shoulder at her. “I’ve been a bit… depressed. It’s… a little hard to eat.”

“A little…?” I nearly gasp. “It hasn’t been that long. What’s it been, like a month? Two?” Marilyn drops her head.

“One month… one week… five days…” Her voice trails off as she whispers the last two words, and I suddenly feel so bad for her. I sigh heavily.

“Marilyn,” I say, my voice softening as I close the space between us, “I know you’re hurting, but you’ve got to eat. You’ve lost so much weight. There’s absolutely nothing healthy about the amount of weight you’ve lost since I’ve last seen you. You’re in a mansion now… with a cook… and a butler… please, eat.” She drops her eyes again and nods.

“I’ll do my best,” she promises. I take her hands.

“That’s all I can ask,” I say, giving them a squeeze.

“You can’t say I didn’t warn you,” Butterfly says to Marilyn.

Dammit, I wish she had warned me! This poor girl looks like she’s knocking on death’s door. She was thin to begin with—not skinny, but fit. Now, she looks downright frail, and her makeup is doing nothing for her skin. It’s ashy and her face is sunken, like it’s barely hanging onto her bones. She doesn’t look like the Grim Reaper, but compared to what she was, she’s pretty damn close!

As I’m pondering the situation with Marilyn and how to get her back to a healthy weight without force-feeding her, I catch a glimpse of black plastic in the closet.

“Um, why are there garbage bags hanging in the closet?” I ask, pointing to the bags.

“Oh.” Marilyn walks to the closet. Dear God, she looks even thinner from behind. She quickly rips away one of the trash bags to reveal several garments now hanging neatly in the closet.

“Garment bag in a pinch,” she says. “Easy packing and unpacking when you’re in a hurry.” I purse my lips and nod.

“That’s pretty smart,” I say. “There might be a market for something like that.”

“Well, take the idea, Mr. Mogul,” she says. “If anybody can sell it, you can.” I smile.

“Do you mind if I steal my wife for a minute or two?” I ask, looking over at Anastasia. Marilyn waves me off.

“Take her,” she says. “I think she’s babysitting me.”

“I’m not babysitting!” Butterfly protests.

“Then you won’t mind coming with me and letting Marilyn get settled, right?” I say, cupping her elbow and guiding her off the bed. She looks back at Marilyn as if she’s leaving her pet at the boarders for a week.

“You’ll be alright?” Butterfly asks like a protective mother.

“Go,” Marilyn says, shooing her off.

“I’m right down the hall if you need me,” Butterfly continues, trying to stall as I gently lead her away.

“Go-wah!” Marilyn says, a little more urgently. I put my arm around my wife’s waist and guide her out of the bedroom.

“Don’t miss dinner,” I say sternly to Marilyn and raise my brow at her. She nods noncommittal and rips another garbage bag from her clothes in the closet.

“Why did you stick her all the way down here?” I ask as I lead my wife away from Marilyn’s door.

“She wanted the farthest room,” she replies. “She still cries a lot.” I shake my head.

“Jesus, somebody should tell him what he’s doing to her. She looks like hell!”

“We don’t know what this is doing to him,” Butterfly defends. I want to ask whose side she’s on, but Marilyn is her PA and friend and is now living here, so she’s obviously on Marilyn’s side; and Garett is her longtime friend, so I can see why she would be on his side, too. She’s stuck in a bad place, and I’m glad it’s not me!

“Where’s her car?” I ask.

“Still at Gary’s apartment,” she says. “She left it there in the parking garage while she was out of town. As such, Gary never came near the apartment, we’re thinking it’s because he thought she was there. Her logic is to leave it there until the end of the week until she gets all of her things from the apartment and avoid the chance of running into Gary.” I twist my lips again.

“If this is how you felt when I went to Madrid, I am so, so sorry,” I lament. She closes her eyes and shakes her head.

“It’s water under the bridge,” she says. “It’s over and done; let’s not bring it up.”

Her reaction lets me know that’s exactly how she felt. I pull her into my arms and kiss her forehead.

“Minnie’s going to be walking soon,” I say as we walk towards the stairs…

*-*

With a broken-hearted Marilyn, a mourning Valerie, and a soul-weary Elliot at the dinner table, we try to keep the conversation light, but try though we may, there wasn’t much participation from our latest house mates. Valerie dutifully ate her meal, mostly in silence, while Elliot devoured his food like the caveman that he is. I’m not insulting him; I’m always happy to see that someone has a healthy appetite, especially with the young lady to my right looking as if she needs to be holding a sign that says, “Will work for food.”

I try to keep the conversation going as much as I can by talking about Butterfly’s solid idea for revamping performance reviews and even Ros’ bad attitude throughout the day. Butterfly chimes in with discussion about the school year starting and Keri taking her tests for her American teaching certifications soon. We covered everything we could think of from the Christmas cookies to Freeman finally being out of the brothers’ hair, but nothing could ignite a table-wide conversation.

Marilyn dismally picks at her food and I’m certain that she hasn’t eaten two bites before excusing herself from the table. I watch her walk from the table with her head down, looking like she’s headed for the gallows. She’s so thin that I’m afraid if a good storm occurs, she would be whisked away to the Land of Oz. I want to demand that she come back to the table and finish her meal, but she’s a grown woman, not one of my children. When I look over at Butterfly, she’s watching Marilyn walk away with the same concern that I am. She finally just shakes her head and begins to pick at what’s left of her own food.

“She’s lost weight,” Valerie says finally, and I’m glad that she’s talking.

“Yeah,” Butterfly laments. “She’s not taking the breakup well at all.”

“That’s not a bad breakup,” Valerie protests. “We’ve seen bad breakups, Steele. We’ve been bad breakups. That’s more than a bad breakup.”

What can she say, that Marilyn is also in mourning for the loss of a baby that she wasn’t really sure that she wanted and that she willingly got rid of? Valerie’s mourning losing a baby that she and Elliot wanted more than anything. This would very likely put a rift between them.

“Yes, Val, it’s more than that, but I’m not at liberty to talk about it,” Butterfly says.

“Garett’s an ass,” I mumble before taking a mouthful of food.

“Christian,” my wife warns gently. I glance over at her and she’s scolding me with her look. I turn my attention back to my meal.

*-*

The apartment has been cleaned from top to bottom. The sunlight from the glass windows lights the entire space and the view of Elliot Bay is just as spectacular as it was when I first moved here. Escala was one of the first things I purchased when I began to make my fortune. It was a status symbol. It was me thumbing my nose at my father because he thought I was out of my mind to throw away the opportunity of a Harvard education to go out on some “half-cocked business endeavor.” When Fortune named me as one of the top twenty up-and-coming businessmen of the decade, I celebrated by buying my first sports car…

And this penthouse.

I remember personally choosing every piece of furniture that decorated this space—every dish, every lamp, every sculpture and vase, every piece of art. It’s empty now. I’ve just finished the closing and signed the papers transferring ownership to Harmony, and now the space is waiting for her to come in and make new memories.

Memories.

It’s not like I can pretend that the things that happened in this space didn’t happen. I was mostly happy here. My life went through many transitions, but for me, they were all good. Each transition was better than the last, even the time I spent with Lincoln.

Elena.

I haven’t said or even thought her first name in quite some time. She’s been The Pedophile or Lincoln or even that blonde bitch or just that bitch, but nothing more. Now, in this empty space, I remember a lot of our relationship, what she used to mean to me.

In those days, she was everything—a mentor, a friend, a trusted confidante, a lover. It was a relationship that I hadn’t shared with anyone else, ever. I didn’t know what it meant to have friends or people you confided in, only her. I only had my family—and John, and my life was so steeped in secrecy that I couldn’t even confide in my family.

I trusted no one. I thought everyone was out to get me, everyone. Submissives only wanted the gifts that I could give them or the pleasure I released on them. If they wanted more than that, I terminated our contract and didn’t look back. No one sought to really be my friend. They only wanted what they could get from me. I had learned to distance myself from people a long time ago, especially since I couldn’t stand to be touched.

Jesus, that seems like ages ago.

I still have a phobia of strangers touching me without permission, but things have certainly changed over the past several years.

I wander up to what used to be the playroom. The walls are now painted a calming ecru. The chains, tracks, and carabiners have all been removed from the ceiling. I had completely forgotten that there were windows in here. I had that entire wall covered with artificial soundproof walls that only showed a landscape from the outside.

All the equipment has been removed from the walls. It and the furniture from this room have been taken by Artemis to be sold on consignment with the proceeds going to my account for whatever other services I may need from him in the future—everything except the Chesterfield chair. Butterfly and I decided to keep the chair for Downtime and put it in our sitting room.

Downtime is a specific time for us to communicate while in character—me as Dominus and her as soumise. During the Munch, we learned that Downtime can be called by either of us when we need to discuss something, particularly about our relationship, but it could be anything at all. It’s another way for us to connect as Dominus and soumise in a non-sexual atmosphere unless we choose to transition into a sexual act. It can be used to reconnect after we’ve had a disagreement. Downtime can be very powerful in maintaining a strong, loving, and respectful BDSM relationship if utilized properly.

I’m not really certain why they call it Downtime, but its description may have something to do with it. Butterfly would present herself to me as soumise, in whatever garment I’ve chosen for her for the evening, and she would then become Pussycat. She would sit in whatever position I choose for her—kneeling in front of me, sitting in my lap, or her head in my lap. Whatever her position, her head would remain below mine, indicating her willingness to submit to me. We’ve procured a plush pillow for her for the times when she will be expected to kneel.

We will, of course, communicate at other times, but Downtime is specifically to assist in the transition from vanilla to D/s, even if there’s no sexual act involved. It’s not required every time we want to make a trip to the Blue Room, but it’s recommended for couples who plan to practice on a regular basis, particularly in a married D/s relationship. During the Munch, Artemis recommended Downtime at least once a week. Butterfly got the same recommendation from Savvina.

I couldn’t imagine having Downtime in this room with those women who used to be my submissives. I’m certain that I’ve spoken to them more than once in a Downtime position, with respect and consideration for their immediate concerns, but this is certainly different.

At first, I didn’t want to use the Chesterfield chair. I remember making her fuck me until she was completely exhausted in that chair. She remembers the encounter fondly and indicates that she would like to see me sitting in the chair in my Dom uniform. I can imagine the comfort and pleasure I would feel with Pussycat at my feet in one of her Victorian nightshirts with nothing underneath, or simply a pair of white thongs, her head resting on my lap while I caress her brown tresses and we calmly discuss whatever may be pertinent at the time. It’s important that we don’t allow heavy feelings or anger to prevent us from doing Downtime. No matter what the situation, I’m still her Dominus, and she will always be my soumise.

It’s strange and somewhat appropriate that I would think of our new relationship standing here in this room where I first explored my role, tastes, and preferences as a Dom. It now looks like any other bedroom in the penthouse, but it has experienced many transformations throughout my journey of discovery.

At first, it was black. I had taken my cues from Elena and leaned to the familiar—black equipment, black furniture, nearly black walls. That worked for a few months, but I began to feel like I was lost in the darkness when I entered the room. My soul was dark enough; my surroundings didn’t need to be black, too. That’s why my apartment was always decorated in stark white with contrasting accents. It may have seemed sterile to some, but to me, it was comforting. White would definitely not do for the playroom, though.

The only other colors that meant anything to me were red, yellow and green. I certainly wasn’t going to have a yellow or a green room, and although red is the customary safeword, it seemed appropriate to me…

And it worked out very well.

The rich wood tones of the furniture and the deep, dark browns of the Chesterfields blended very well with the Red Room. There were a few pieces with black cushions or accents with blonder tones in the wood, but nothing too bright. It was inviting and foreboding at the same time, and absolutely perfect for my purposes.

I’m experiencing nostalgia again as I recall picking the pieces for my room. Elena had helped outfit the Black Dungeon, but I found Artemis through connections I had made on my own. He listened to what I wanted and offered suggestions on what the Red Room should contain and look like. He was right. The playroom was exquisite. I could hardly wait to leave work some Fridays and get back here to this room—to the comfort and safety it afforded me; the control I wielded in these walls. There’s nowhere in the world that I was more powerful than I was in this room, not even at my desk in GEH or at the head of the conference table while simpering executives hung on my every word. No… here… this was my realm, my central station of Dominance. My power was absolute, and I knew it

I brought many women to their knees… broke their bodies, then broke their hearts. They ached for the pain, coldness and cruelty I was dishing out. They returned for it weekend after weekend, and when I turned them away, they cried for it. Some of them even went insane. One of them died trying to kill my wife.

I sigh heavily thinking of the women I abused and destroyed in this room. Granted, they signed up for the physical pain, but not for the emotional warfare that I subjected them to… some of them anyway.

I feel her presence behind me, and I don’t have to turn around to know that she’s in the room. I’m feeling guilty for all the memories that flooded me when I entered this room, some of them still refusing to be exorcised.

“I’m sorry,” I say, conviction in my voice for my unspoken mental transgression. Butterfly comes behind me and wraps her arms around my waist.

“Don’t be,” she says, laying her head on my back. “This room is who you were, and a lot of who you are right now. Good or bad, it helped to shape the man that you’ve become—my husband and the father of my children. I can’t be upset about that.”

I cover her hands with mine and sigh heavily. I always thought that we would get back to this room for one last hurrah. Maybe it’s good that we didn’t.

“We’ve had more than a few hot memories in here of our own,” I comment with mirth. I can feel her smiling on my back.

“That we did, Mr. Grey,” she says, and I squeeze her hand in an effort not to slip into my own submissive mode. Mistress can be merciless as a Domme, and I must admit that I like it. I like it a lot!

“Remember the first time you subbed for me?” I ask. “You knew just what I needed even though I tried to make you stay away that night. I was certain then that you would be perfect for me. I already knew, but that moment erased any lingering doubt.”

“I remember it well,” she says. “I was scared shitless.”

“I know,” I reply, “but you did very well, especially for your first time.”

“I’ll never forget it,” she says into my back. I drop my head and take a deep, cleansing breath.

“Can we make a promise?” I say, and her head rises from my back.

“What?” she asks.

“Can we please promise that our lifestyle—our roles—won’t become so practiced that we don’t find any enjoyment in it anymore? That if we find ourselves becoming too sterile or too routine that we’ll talk about it and find a way to keep things fresh?” She’s silent and when I turn around in her arms, she’s smiling at me.

“I thought that’s what we were doing now,” she says, her voice soft. “I thought that’s one of the reasons we sent the Chesterfield back to the Crossing… for our Downtime… and ideas.”

I smile back at my coy little wife. Things will never be sterile or routine with her. She’ll always find new ways to turn me on even without trying. I cup her face in my hands and kiss her softly, and again.

“I love you, my beautiful Butterfly,” I whisper with my eyes closed, my forehead touching hers.

“I love you, too, my love,” she whispers. I kiss her again and release her face, gesturing for us to leave. She smiles at me and walks out of what used to be the Red Room. I turn around and look at the ecru walls once more, then leave the room, closing the door behind me.


A/N: The sale of Escala is final, and one chapter of the Grey Saga is definitely closing. What does the future hold for our couple, especially with one of the Green Valley trials on the horizon?

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