As our conversation winds down I am relieved to find out that I am still allowed to go to work as long as Chris and I go with Christian or our entourage of security which will apparently soon also include a female guard especially for me. I can never accuse Christian of not considering every angle, but I’m grateful more for Chris’ sake than my own. He needs to be around friends and he loved the GEH day care. Christian walks me to Chris’ room where we find Gail and Chris playing his new favourite game. This iPad version of Tic-Tac-Toe, called Moo-Tac-Toe, features a cute cow and pig as opposed to the traditional O and X symbols, and Chris is fast becoming an expert.
“Mommy, daddy I beat Mrs Taylor!” he crows with excitement when he sees us standing in the doorway.
Gail grins, her smile bright with just a touch of pride, “He did too! Clever little Munchkin!” she exclaims before dragging him close for a tickle.
Her ready love and acceptance of him warms my heart. I can’t help wondering if there’s a story behind her childlessness. Maybe Taylor’s daughter is enough for her, but somehow I doubt it. She’s so good at this, so nurturing. She must’ve considered having a child of her own. Christian needs no invitation to join them on the carpet, making a show of wrenching him from Gail’s arms as though she’s a monster he has to save Chris from. They laugh hard when Chris is finally freed then hides behind Christian’s back. When Gail lunges at him, making a monster noise he runs to duck behind me.
“Save me mommy! Save me!” he squeals, panting from the thrills of fun.
Even Taylor grins when he comes to find Christian, but his undeniable edginess quickly wipes the smiles off our adult faces. Only Chris is oblivious as Christian gets up to sort out whatever crisis has brought him to interrupt such a precious family moment.
“I’ve got to go champ. Be a good boy and look after mommy and Mrs Taylor.” He ruffles Chris’ hair before striding down the passage, already engaging Taylor in a hushed conversation. With the men gone Gail and I share a look, the ever present uneasiness going unspoken between us before drawing Chris into another game. Not long after, Gail excuses herself and I settle Chris with his Lego, and the promise of a trip to the Playdate Café while I go see Flynn in the afternoon. I sit with him as he builds a creative looking thing he calls a rocket-castle while I go through more of Julie’s thorough notes, making the changes I don’t feel the need to argue about. Tomorrow, at the office, we’ll thrash out the way forward on the changes that I don’t feel is right to make. I love that I already have this kind of relationship with her – easy-going with open and honest communication. Concentrating on my book helps my mind not to wander into the study with Christian and Taylor. Hopefully I’ll find out about all the latest drama when we have lunch in an hour. As I e-mail my two revised chapters to Julie my Skype IM pings with a message from Kate.
We’re looking forward to catching up soon and meeting that little boy of yours. We’ll be arriving on Saturday morning but we’ll take the day to nap – time zones suck! Elliot mentioned that Christian has been in touch to make a sailing date. How does Sunday sound?*
Yay! I clap my hands excitedly, the sound drawing a curious Chris who scoots onto my lap to see what I’m doing.
“Hey baby boy,” I kiss the back of his head before nudging his head a little to the right so I can see the screen. “This is a letter from mommy’s friend Kate. She’s married to daddy’s brother Elliot and they’re coming to see us over the weekend.”
“Can I make a letter for your friend?” he asks but already his tiny fingers are tapping out an unintelligible note to her.
*Njdhslfjfopej ecadjcslck;asc.x,ms/f 4584itjf0 9uva34qncm zxmzsk;
“Sure buddy,” I smile, wondering what Kate will make of his hieroglyphics. “Well done honey. What does it say?”
Inclining his head to the side he tries to decipher his own scribbles, “Dear mommy’s friend. I like toys and chocolate and pizza. Mommy is happy. My name is Chris.”
I giggle, enveloping him in both my arms, “That’s a good message. It helps to share things about yourself when you want people to get to know you.”
The subtle hint for gifts is doubly precious because it’s so innocent. Turning his head he smiles at me then looks to the screen when it pings again.
*LOL! I guess that’s him now. Five bucks says his sitting on your lap, curious… How are you little man?*
“What does it say mommy?” he points to the screen running his fingers along Kate’s latest words.
“She says that she can see the message is from you and she wants to know how you’re doing,” I explain, taken aback by how touched I am by the interaction between the three of us.
“Oh! Oh mommy, tell her I have a rocket-castle!”
Slipping off my lap, he heads back to building his imaginative spaceship thingy – the world of IM conquered in his four year old mind. Smiling, I shake my head at his super short concentration span before returning to Kate.
*Good guess! He’s doing so well. I can’t wait to see you either and Sunday sailing sounds perfect. I’ll run it by Christian and confirm. Where will you be staying?*
*We’ll be staying with Grace and Carrick’s. We may have some news… ;)*
*LOL! I take it you will be torturing me – withholding your news until we see you.*
*Thanks a bunch friend!*
*Consider it insurance so you don’t bail on us again. ;)*
Ouch! I think at first but then quickly realise that if she’s already joking about my spectacular stupidity we’re much closer to the forgiveness I so crave from her, well on our way to our old friendship. Trust Kate to smooth the way for our first meeting with a jibe that would be inappropriate and sarcastic from anyone but her.
*Consider me rooted.
Thank you Kate.*
My heart suffers a painful squeeze before swelling with love for my dear, dear friend. I’ve missed our friendship, that connection you have with someone who knows you well, someone you share a history with – more so because, apart from Flynn and maybe Taylor, she’s the only person who knows the details of Christian and my start.
I only need to do a little cajoling to get Chris to abandon his building project in lieu of lunch. On our way to the kitchen we pop into Christian’s home office to drag him away from his desk. I’m surprised when he joins us readily; snapping shut his laptop with a happy grin when he sees us.
“This makes for a nice change Mrs Grey,” he whispers in my ear as he snakes an arm around my waist.
Smiling down at my confused expression he teases, “You, eating without being prompted.”
Pfft! I dismiss his ludicrous claim. “I eat!”
My tartly retort is met with a sound smack on my behind that has me yelping and giggling, not to mention grateful that Chris has already run ahead to meet Gail.
The kitchen counter is bursting with colour. Gail has outdone herself with two delicious looking salads, fresh fruit skewers, a freshly baked wholegrain bread and her famous three bean dip. For her sake I bite back a joke about the lack of fat and sugars, clearly she’s only following orders from my overbearing, baby-ready husband.
Christian smirks at me when I cast a longing look at the fridge but at least he has the decency not to have wine himself. During the course of lunch I take a moment to appreciate the family time, enjoying Christian and Chris’ light banter.
“What’s the plan for this afternoon?” I ask, referring to my appointment time with Dr Flynn. “Chris is really looking forward to his outing.”
“We’ll take security, Collins can go with you and Carl and I will stay with Chris. You can meet us there when you’re done.”
I hide my smile by pursing my lips. The thought of Christian in an indoor playground is hilarious. I can already see the wild, shrieking toddlers running around while their frazzled moms hope to take a break by turning a blind eye to their naughty offspring. I’m almost sorry that I’m going to miss it.
“Are you sure?” I don’t think he has any idea what he’s about to let himself in for.
“Yeah, why not?” he turns to Chris, “Hey buddy, you wanna’ come with daddy to the playground?”
“Yay!” Chris beams.
Jumping off his chair he hugs Christian around the waist before bounding out of sight to play. I watch Christian smile after him, looking pleased. Oh boy, I hope for both their sakes that Christian will manage. I can only imagine him unleashing Carl on the playground bully. Christian will make for some interesting gossip amongst the mommies hanging around the Playdate Café. The stunningly handsome billionaire with the burly bodyguard is going to look so out of place they’re bound to attract some attention. Brushing aside my concerns, I reassure myself that a hotshot CEO like him will have no problem navigating the social pitfalls of children’s playgroups.
With Chris out of earshot I can bring up the sailing. “Kate sent me a message. They’re arriving on Saturday. They’re keen for sailing on Sunday. Do you still think we should go?”
His look darkens, “We’ll be fine with security. I might even get Taylor to follow us with the speed boat.” Pressing his lips together, he mulls it over. “Yes, I think we’ll do that,” he mutters, more to himself. “Let’s hope the weather stays fine, I would hate to let Chris down again.”
I link my fingers with his where they lay on the table, “I love that you’re excited about taking him. In fact I can see it becoming your father-son hobby, but he needs to learn to take life as it comes, the good with the bad.”
Looking up, he gives me a wistful smile, “I know. It’s just so hard to see him sad. Nothing makes me happier that seeing the two of you happy.”
He covers our linked digits with his free hand, the gesture sweet and tender but I sense his mood turning.
“It’s the same for me,” I confirm, looking down at our hand sandwich.
In an effort to lighten the mood I can’t resist doing something I haven’t done since I was maybe ten. With a loud smack I slap my free palm onto our hand stack, eliciting first a gasp, then a grin from him as he cottons on. He follows suit, pulling his hand from the bottom of the pile, the sparking glint in his eyes gleaming with wicked intent. He whacks it down onto mine – hard, the sound loud like a wet slap. I yelp at the sting, then laugh at his competitiveness as I take my turn, putting all my weight behind it. Faster and faster we go; the back of our hands red when we dissolve into a fit of giggles.
“I love that sound,” Christian says, his expression turning serious again, belying his happy words.
Quickly my smile melts away just as my heart picks up a concerned pace, “What’s the matter?”
Shaking his head he slides a hand through his hair, his agitated tell not boding well, “Some tenacious fucking hack followed up on the UN commission inauguration story, it broke today, in a national broadsheet.”
Oh! “But I thought the UN pulled all the footage from the net. How much could he possibly have found out?”
Christian lifts a brow at me, “The internet is a very difficult place to clean up. People download things; they store it on their hard drives. Once it’s out there it’s almost impossible to retrieve every single copy. The feed was cut so if he got hold of the footage it would have been the same part you saw, but for a good reporter that would be more than enough to see that the official press release was a very watered down version of the truth.”
“Okay,” I drawl, “where exactly does this leave us?”
“Well, apart from the pain of the press camping out on our doorstep for the foreseeable future they won’t just stick to the details of the original story. It pays them to keep a big one like this alive so anything, no matter how trivial, will get raised. I hate that our business and private lives will be splashed all over the headlines.”
Thinking back to the media circus that was our wedding announcement the first time we got married reminds me of how bad it could be. I hated moving through the throng of boisterous, bating reporters who would say almost anything to get a reaction from you. And they didn’t just stick to Christian and me – all our family and friends were fair game in their ruthless pursuit to drudge up any and all titbits they could find about us.
After pushing back my chair I close the distance between us, swinging a leg over his lap to straddle him. I get that, at the heart of this matter, lies his concern for us. Christian is used to the media scrutiny, and most of the time he couldn’t care less what they print, but as soon as it involves his loved ones his natural overprotectiveness goes into overdrive.
“I know you’ll handle this just as competently as you always do and whatever you need from me, you have it.”
He kisses my nose as he bands his arms around my waist, “I just need your patience baby, while we wait for this to blow over.”
“Okay,” I confirm before nuzzling in to him, my head under his chin.
Christian tightens our embrace, pressing me closer while his fingers sift through my hair.
It feels like a long while before he speaks again, bringing up something new, “I think I might’ve found a piano teacher for Chris.”
I push away from his warm chest, not at all surprised and smiling, “Really? That’s great. It will be so good for him. Is it someone you know?”
“It’s a friend of Mia’s. He’s classically trained – Juilliard no less,” he flashes me an impish grin on a wink, “but he plays in a rock band. The lessons are a sideline while they wait for fame and fortune. According to Mia he’s great with kids, so much so that he has a waiting list.”
I can’t help returning his grin, amazed at the doors money and influence can open. “Except of course for your child,” I tease playfully.
Completely unconcerned about jumping the queue he shrugs, “Mia put in a good word for us.”
I walk my fingers up his chest, peeking at him through my lashes, “So you’re going to be okay with a young, male rocker in your home with your son and your wife?”
Christian’s eyes turn to slits, his demeanour instantly guarded, “What are you trying to say Mrs Grey? Do I have something to be worried about?”
The burn of a flush flames my cheeks. Backtracking slightly I give him the understatement of the year, “No! Of course not but you’ve admitted it yourself. You can be a little jealous at times.”
Grumbling he waves my words off with a dismissive hand, “He’s too young for you and trust me, if he doesn’t know his place I’d be more than happy to show him.”
Mmhh, that’s exactly what I’m worried about, but I drop it. Maybe I’m not giving Christian enough credit. I am constantly around Taylor, Collins and Carl – often alone, and he handles that just fine – for the most part anyway.
The rest of the afternoon speeds by, and before I know, it’s time to go see Dr Flynn. Just as Christian predicted we encounter a smattering of reporters, already waiting like a pack of wolves, eager to feast on even the smallest smidgen of information. I point to something on the other side of the car to steal Chris’ attention away from them while Christian mutters some choice words under his annoyed breath. Collins steps on the gas, clearing them quickly then heads to the Playdate Café to drop the guys. Thinking about what could go wrong on this play date I suddenly feel compelled to dispense some useful advice. Careful not to hurt Christian’s pride I go through the rules with Chris on the drive over, hoping that Christian will pick-up on them in the process.
“Buddy, do you remember the rules for when we play with other kids?” I ask him, confident that my constant drilling will have him reciting them off by heart.
“Mommeeee!” he complains, only stopping when he saw my don’t-mess-with-me face.
He blows at his bangs, exasperated before rambling off the list with a sing-song voice, “Share, be nice, don’t grab and don’t eat too much junk food.”
Christian and I both laugh, “Well done baby!” I praise.
With a big kiss and a hug we leave them at the entrance of the café while I keep my fingers firmly crossed.
Collins escorts me right to Flynn’s office door before leaving me in the good doctor’s hands. I half expected him to search John’s office but instead, finds a seat in the plush waiting area, settling in to wait for the end of my session.
“Ana!” John exclaims, giving my shoulders a quick squeeze before showing me a chair. “It’s wonderful to see you. You look so well. I much prefer the person to person contact to the Skype sessions we’ve been having.”
“Thank you Dr Flynn,” I smile, equally happy to see him if it meant I was going to get a handle on my nagging guilt and the undermining insecurity that keeps dragging me under in a current of self-doubt. “It’s good to see you too.”
Once he crosses his legs to make a resting place for his tablet, he turns to me, that genial smile together with his trademark, calming demeanour instantly setting me at ease.
“So Ana, what are we talking about today?”
After filling my lungs with a cleansing breath of air I tell him about Christian and my conversation this morning, concentrating on the part where I automatically assumed the worst.
“Ah yes,” he says, understanding sparking is his bright, compassionate gaze.
Thoughtfully he taps his stylus against his chin, “I’m glad you brought that up. It tells me that you see the trend surfacing in your behaviour.”
Snorting derisively I lift a brow at him, “If by trend you mean that I do impossibly stupid things because I can’t seem to see my own worth then yes, I do.”
My words sound harsher than I intend, the anger I harbor for myself obviously mooring deeper in the murky water of my subconsciousness than I realised. Dr Flynn head jerks back, clearly surprised at my outburst and my heart sinks. How screwed-up am I if I manage to shock my therapist?
“Yes, that is what I mean, though I wouldn’t have put it quite that way,” his mouth curves with a small smile, his eyes showing kindness. “But I am a little concerned about the anger you’re carrying with you Ana. A bright woman such as yourself must surely see how negatively it will impact on your feelings of guilt.”
Looking down I find non-existent pieces of fluff to pick off my skirt. “I do Doctor, I just don’t know what to do about it.”
My emotions are all over the place, skittering from point to point in a manic game of pinball. First the anger, and now I’m sniffing back those stupid tears.
“That’s why you’re here Ana, and let me assure you that recognising the problem is a large part of the battle won. Imagine trying to fix something in a patient that doesn’t see they have a problem to begin with.”
Consummate professional that he is, he has me feeling better in a flash. His subtle way of highlighting the good and softening the blows of the ugly things, offsets the pain from those negative emotions beautifully. It makes it so much easier to open up to him. Pressing my lips together I nod to tell him that I’m okay.
“I want to delve into why you have such a deleterious view about yourself. Let’s start by looking at what the world sees when they look at you. In the past, what complimentary things have the people around you, friends or strangers, told you about yourself?”
My cheeks heat into burning red spots, my gaze dropping like it’s weighted with lead.
“Uhm… I don’t know,” I mumble, shrugging my shoulders once.
Damn shrink! I think when my words are met with his patient silence. I can sense his will from where I sit. No way will he let this slide; he’ll wait until I give him something meaty. I clear my throat, annoyed at myself for leading us here.
“What Christian and my parents and friends say doesn’t really count. They love me. They have to say nice things about me.”
I wince hearing the sentence out loud. I sound nothing short of bat-shit crazy, insecure with a good dash of childishness for good measure. Mercifully Dr Flynn takes it in his stride. I am almost surprised when he doesn’t bash me over the head with an inflatable hammer.
“Regardless of whether you feel they felt compelled or not, let’s play the game anyway.”
It takes everything I have not to roll my eyes, “Pretty, smart. You know; that kind of thing.” Making a rolling motion with my hand I indicate the synonyms that would go with those terms.
Dr Flynn nods his head, pinning me with narrowed eyes, “Okay, let’s go with those examples, but don’t think I don’t know that they’re the very least in compliments you’ve been paid. And am I correct in assuming that the instances you’re referring to are only from Christian or family and friends?”
Wow, he doesn’t give me an inch. His precise pegging brings more hot heat to my face.
“Yes,” I confirm with a small voice, but then feeling indignant I explain, “Strangers don’t generally approach me with a shower of complements.”
“I hope you’re not being deliberately obtuse Ana. People use more than one way to communicate. A stranger might not come up to you and tell you that they find you attractive but there are other social cues that give us an idea of what other people think of us.” He holds up a hand to shush me when I open my mouth to protest. “Just so you know I’ve gotten permission from Christian to use the insights I’ve gleaned into your relationship from past sessions with him, here with you, and I know for a fact that there were, and still are, many male admirers hovering in the background. Surely you’re not completely oblivious?”
Of course he has, I think, irritation starting a slow simmer in the melting pot on my emotions. Not even at my shrink am I free from his influence.
I snort before stating my case, “Jose hardly counts as many and you know as well as I do that Christian sees every man as a potential threat where I’m concerned. Someone just has to look my way for his jealousy to bloom.”
With complete disregard to my statement he simply continues, “Tell me about Ethan.”
This time I don’t hold back, giving my eyes the roll they’ve been denied up to now. “Ethan is my best friend’s brother. I’ve known him since forever, certainly well enough to kiss and hug him when I see him. It’s only natural that he would reciprocate. I imagine that he thinks of me as a sister.”
“Okay then, let’s move to a more recent suitor. Dr Shawn O’Reily paid you a fair bit of attention. He bought you an expensive outfit, took you to a very lavish event – something most women would consider a date by the way – and then tried to kiss you. Do you deny that he was attracted to you?”
Inwardly I groan, oh boy, give me strength! I can’t believe Christian sent him a full report on our recent relationship history even though – clearly – I should’ve anticipated it.
The tenuous grip I have on my frustration falters, the staccato pitch of my voice betraying my incredulousness when I reply, “I don’t deny Dr Shawn being attracted to me, but what Christian failed to mention is that the good Doc was a pathological flirt, a man-whore I believe is the term these days.”
Dr Flynn doesn’t bat an eye, still thoroughly unmoved by my tirade before he drops the biggest bomb of all, “I see. What about your boss at SIP, Hyde was it?” his finger swipes over the screen of his tablet as he scans past files.
Seriously? Seriously?! “Hyde was a crazed lunatic!” I all but yell, “A one hundred precent, bona fide psycho! That’s akin to admitting the testimony of a drunken person in a court of law. His judgement was seriously impaired! You can’t expect me to give credence to that!”
Shrugging casually he taps the stylus against his tablet, “Hyde may be a criminal, his actions fuelled by hatred and jealousy, but insane, he is not. He knew exactly what he was doing, and is perfectly capable of feeling normal sexual attraction.”
“He was out to get Christian, and I was a means to an end. A way to hurt his enemy!” I counter, the distress bleeding into my voice as a squeak.
“If you think back carefully, can you honestly say that Hyde didn’t show any interest in you before he realised that you were with Christian?”
That shuts me up, my mouth snapping shut with a loud pop. Dr Flynn is watching me from below his lashes, taking note of my every micro expression as I work through my thoughts.
“Okay,” I blurt, almost tartly. It’s getting harder and harder to keep a good hold on my faculties. “That hardly proves that I’m Venus.”
In an exasperated strop I fold my arms across my chest, glaring at the doctor who’s gone from respected shrink to quack – at least in my view – over the last thirty minutes, but my dark look is stonewalled, his thick skin impervious to the staring daggers I’m throwing him.
“Now, do you still believe that Christian wouldn’t be interested in you if he wasn’t so “broken”?” With air quotes around the word broken he asks me the question with which I first revealed my vulnerability to him.
As if to prove to me that they’re unstable my emotions do their one-eighty turn once more. I go from angry to heartbreaking sad in under two seconds.
“I honestly don’t know,” I breathe, my voice reed thin and wavering. “I know he loves me, I just don’t know why. Lately though, with Chris in the picture, I think it’s because of him.”
“You say that in spite of knowing what Christian went through after you left, and before he ever knew he had a son with you.”
Okay, maybe quack was a bit harsh.
“I guess I don’t think I deserve his love after what I did so it’s hard to accept it.”
“Ah. Now we’ve circled right back to those feelings of guilt haven’t we?” The question is obviously rhetorical as he doesn’t wait for me to reply. “Can you see Ana, that if you’re guilty of anything, it’s loving too much. Don’t get me wrong,” he shakes his head, wagging the stylus like a finger, “what you did hurt both you and Christian, very much, but your motivation was rooted in your love for him. Was it misguided? Definitely, but it was still from love.”
He uncrosses his legs, leaning forward. It makes the space between us more intimate, more like a confessional.
“So, if that’s the case, the root cause here isn’t the guilt but the insecurity. The question you have to ask yourself is why you are so insecure? Why, with all the positive reinforcement around you, are you unable to see your worth?”
With the way he’s watching me I can see that he’s expecting an answer, that he thinks that I ought to be able to draw this conclusion myself, but I’ve got nothing. Instead I stare at him blankly. Half glad that guilt isn’t my problem, my other half entirely confused. If I knew I wouldn’t be here would I? I think sarcastically, skirting dangerously close to quack thoughts again.
“Let me ask you this Ana, and don’t think about it. Just say the first thing that comes to mind. Do you find it easier to believe a compliment from… say your mom or Christian?”
I don’t have to give it more than a second of thought, “My mom,” I say quickly; intrigued by the new line he’s taken.
“Let’s say Ray and your mom?”
“What about Kate and your mother?”
I pause, the answer not popping into my head like the previous two times, “Equally?”
It’s part answer, part question. I’m not sure if something other than yes or no is allowed, but Flynn nods, accepting my reply.
“It’s a small example Ana but can you see a pattern here?”
Now I feel a little intimidated, what if I get it wrong? “I trust my mother?”
John’s easy smile settles my nerves. “That too but I was thinking something more gender specific.”
I gasp at the realisation, even over Christian and Ray, the two most important men in my life, I believe kind words about myself more from the women in my life.
“Why?” I wonder out loud, my eyes wide with shock.
“Why do you think?” tilting his head to the side he bats the Psych 101 question back to me in top shrink form.
Slowly I shake my head, looking down as I process the tangle of thoughts and emotions in my head, trying to get it straight. The knowledge that there’s only one correct response here doesn’t make it any easier to admit.
“I guess I don’t trust men,” I mumble, shock and shame gluing my gaze to the floor.
“Very good Ana,” he encourages. “Now let’s see if we can tweak it, make it fit just a tiny bit better. What would you say if I said that you don’t trust that you’re worthy of the good opinions of men.”
The ring of truth in his words dings like a loud bell in my head. My inner goddess is circling a boxing ring, donning a bikini while she holds up a sign that reads applause. My subconscious is heading the sign, her clapping echoing like the ovation of a thousand spectators.
If you knew, why the hell didn’t you tell me? I want to scream at them.
My rounded eyes drill into him just as my jaw hits the floor. Dr Flynn nods, confirming my colossal insight.
“Let’s run with it, shall we? We’re on a roll.” He shifts in his chair, making a few notes before he finds my gaze just where it’s been for the last two minutes, rooted. “To recap, we have guilt from insecurity, insecurity from feelings of worthlessness that pertains to specifically, but not exclusively, to males. Where do you think your feelings of worthlessness stems from?”
I don’t even hear his words. Instead I’m watching the reel of my life in my head. The man that should’ve loved me but couldn’t because he died, the man that loved me like a daughter in spite of not being his flesh, but found it so hard to express that love, and the hard man that, albeit very briefly, stole my mother away in a time where, if I had her, I might have gotten over the loss of that father I never knew…. My father, or fathers – the male role models in my life. Oh my – I have daddy issues….
The scales slide away from my eyes as reality crashes its way into my private thoughts. First in the background but then more persistently, I hear the sing-song sound of my name as John calls me.
“Ana, Ana!… Ana?”
Blinking away the remnants of my mental images, I focus on him once more, “I have daddy issues,” I announce with all the stunned grace of a five year old.
Flynn chuckles, his eyes kind, “I don’t believe “daddy issues” is regarded as an official term in my field but we can go with that if you prefer.”
I blush – hard. Of all the times to have a brain-to-mouth filter malfunction I chose my epiphany moment, and in front of a doctor I know is a stickler for terms. His sincere smile is the only thing keeping me from crawling under the couch, but for the moment I don’t possess the courage to meet his benign gaze.
“Ana,” his voice is gentle, coaxing, willing me to look up, “I’m thrilled at the progress you’ve made today. You should be proud of yourself. You’re done remarkably well.”
I risk a peek, not missing the fact that he uses the term us when he refers to the dialogue between us but gives me the credit for the progressive insights even though he is the one leading me there. My heart contracts with a squeeze of gratitude. I can hardly believe that at times during this session I was mad at him enough to claw out his eyes.
“Did you know?” I ask suddenly, the question taking even me by surprise.
He shrugs, “I suspected. The fact that you chose to stay with Ray was extremely telling, especially during those difficult teen years when you make the transition from being a girl to becoming a woman. Fifteen, sixteen is a very impressionable age, and a time most girls want to spend with their moms, if only to argue with them.”
Again he smiles, but this time with a twinkle because of his joke.
Collins and I make our way back to the Playdate Café in silence, my world too rocked to make small talk. I haven’t even had a moment to think about how Christian managed with Chris, but Collins reminds me when his words penetrate my inner musings.
Startled from my daydream I meet his gaze in the rear view mirror, “Hmm?”
“Mr Grey said not to bother to go in, he’ll be meeting us outside. I’ve let him know that we’re on our way.”
“Okay,” I say easily. I’m not surprised. Sometimes just the noise in those places is enough to make you want to cut off your own ears.
As if on cue Christian, with a smiling Chris in his arms, and Carl exit the doors just as Collins double parks to pick them up. I slide to the middle of the back seat to secure Chris in his booster seat while Christian rounds the SUV to climb in beside me.
“Hey baby…” he starts but Chris is already yakking at a hundred miles a minute.
“Mommy, mommy, I had a play and I made a friend and we played racing cars and I fell but I didn’t cry because I’m brave and daddy gave me junk! He said not to tell you so I won’t.”
Christian and I both laugh, him throwing his hands in the air in mock exasperation, “Champ, you just told her!”
Chris tamps a hand over his mouth, looking guilty but drops it quickly when he sees that his dad is joking.
Mid laugh Christian captures my chin, turning my head toward him, “No kiss Mrs Grey?”
Closing the gap between us I brush my lips against his full mouth, “I’m sorry Mr Grey, your son sort of took over that moment.”
He hmphs, but his eyes remain smiling.
“So what kind of junk did daddy get you?” I ask, quirking a questioning brow at Christian before turning my attention to Chris.
“Junk food!” he exclaims, clapping his hands together in true toddler sugar-rush glee.
“Ah I see. So let me guess,” tapping my finger on my chin I play at having a deep think. “Maybe ice-cream?”
“Yessss! With chocolate sauce! And somefing else!”
“Something else as well?” The note of mock dismay thrills him, making him grin and nod manically.
“Can it be French fries?”
“Yes! Yes!” he squeals. “And more!”
“More?” this time the horror in my voice is not so playful but edging towards worried.
“Uhm, let me see…”
I peek at Christian as he watches us with an indulgent smile. Who would have thought, Mr Über Healthy letting Chris indulge.
“Was it spaghetti?”
“Nooooo!” he laughs, delighted that I got it wrong, but at the same time beside himself with keeping the news to himself, almost bursting with it.
“A whole hotdog mommy! A whole one!” He moves his little hands apart indicating a grossly exaggerated hotdog size, about twenty or so inches.
‘Wow!” Rounding my eyes I go along with his excitement but inside I cringe. Oh boy! All of that after a full lunch? That’s a recipe for toddler tummy disasters.
Looking to my other side, I find my husband’s amused gaze, too warm and tender to shatter so I swallow my cautionary words, and hold my thumbs, placing all my hope in Chris’ gastric fortitude.
Chris’ recount of the afternoon is cute and animated, only marred by the tumble he took. By the squeeze my hand gets from Christian when Chris tells the story, I take it that my son weathered it much better than his father. I squeeze back, giving Christian a reassuring smile when Chris’ loud groan draws my attention back to him.
“My tummy hurts mommy.” Crossing both his arms over his little belly he moans as a spasm wracks his body. Christian sits forward in his seat, watching him with a panicked expression.
“Oh baby,” I soothe, not at all surprised, “we’ll be home in two minutes. Just hang in there buddy.”
“What’s wrong champ?” Christian enquires, genuinely oblivious.
I can’t be mad at him. The joy of seeing your child enjoy a treat is a wonderful gift to a parent, more so for Christian who has been denied the privilege for so long, but he needs to learn what Chris’ little body can and can’t take.
“He’ll be fine, it’s just some stomach cramps. I’ve got some antispasmodic medicine for him at home.”
Keeping a close eye on Chris I hear Christian’s hard intake of breath behind me, “It was too much wasn’t it?”
Still holding Chris’ hand I catch Christian’s concerned frown, “Don’t blame yourself. It’s happened to me too. Toddlers aren’t so good at knowing when to stop.” Smiling I reach for his hand, lacing our fingers. I can only imagine how bad he must feel, and as always, I’m more than eager to give him the comfort he needs right now.
Just then Chris whimpers again, deepening the worry lines on Christian’s face, “Shouldn’t we take him to the hospital?”
“If it doesn’t get any better then yes, but let’s just wait and see if the medicine helps.”
I know there’s no point in explaining this to him, he’s way too invested in Chris’ wellbeing to see clearly. Moreover I understand just how he feels, when Chris was a baby I used to be completely paranoid when he got sick or hurt, always thinking the worst, but as your children grow you develop a sense of when something is serious or not.
We arrive at Esacala and this time I don’t have to distract Chris from the hordes of reporters that seem to have grown in numbers. Mercifully Christian doesn’t notice them either, not even sparing them a glance as Collins drives into the parking garage.
Before the SUV has come to a complete stop Christian is out of the vehicle, making his way to Chris’ side of the car with a determined stride. With a tenderness that belies his tense expression he picks him up, cradling him to his chest like a baby. Chris nuzzles into Christian’s shirt as if the smell of his dad will bring him comfort. I watch Christian watch him as he grows more concerned for his pale son. He all but jogs to the elevator; impatient now to get him home. Leaving the security team to catch up we ride the car to the apartment with me, trying to curb my husband’s rising anxiety.
Three strides into the foyer I see Chris lurch then bring up the contents of his treat meal over the front of Christian’s $400 Armani, button down shirt. Christian freezes mid step, horrified. For a moment he looks bewildered, utterly helpless then, to his amazing credit, he drops to his knees, turning Chris around so he won’t choke on his vomit. The smell is overpowering, the pieces of unidentified food drips off his front but he rubs Chris back while the involuntary shudders rid him of every last thing in his belly.
Christian looks deeply concerned, not fazed at all by the fact that he’s surrounded by puke. His designer shirt and pants surely ruined by the bits of partially masticated hotdog and French fries and whatever else. The sight of him caring so intimately for our boy is deeply moving.
Looking up he catches my eye, “Baby, go draw him a bath,” he instructs, calm now that he’s taken charge. “Get his medicine ready and then please bring us something to clean up.”
Just then Gail shows up, hearing Christian’s instructions. Summing up the situation she jumps into action. “Ana,” she says in her brisk, efficient manner, “I’ll get the bucket and some rags, you get the bath ready.”
Turning on my heel, I race down the passage to fill the bath, hoping that the warm water will do his aching belly some good. A minute later I get the antispasmodic syrup from the child-proofed cabinet, measuring the dose carefully, then return to my guys. On my way I pick up a bin liner, certain that the stain on Christian’s shirt will never come out. When I join them Chris is already looking better, still pale but at least now standing on his own.
“Hey buddy, how are you feeling?”
He nods, looking at the mess around him, “I’m sorry mommy. I’m sorry daddy,” his bottom lips starts a telling quiver but Christian is quick to comfort him.
“Champ you were sick. You don’t have to be sorry. I’m sorry I gave you too much eat.”
Winking at Christian I hand him the bin bag while I help Chris get out of this soiled clothes. Christian shrugs out of his shirt then dumps it in the bag along with his shoes and socks. Strangely he keeps his pants on, as he normally wears boxers I assumed that the slacks would go in the liner as well, but I don’t give it another thought as Gail starts the clean up around us.
“Go,” I wave them away, “rinse him in the shower then put him in the bath. His medicine is on the bathroom counter.”
Once he’s wiped the worst off the front of his slacks he picks Chris up and heads to the shower. It’s strange to have someone other than my mom help me with such an unpleasant task but Gail insists on helping so we finish quickly, chatting quietly about how well Christian managed the situation. As always, my husband’s competency knows no bounds.
After the big clean-up and putting a much better albeit exhausted Chris to bed, Christian excuses himself for an hour’s work while I take the quiet moment to reflect on my day. Listening to Lifehouse’s All In, I draw inspiration from the lyrics for my future with Christian:
But you know it’s alright I came to my senses
Letting go, of my defences
There’s no way I’m giving up this time
Yeah, you know I’m right here
I’m not losing you this time
And I’m all in, nothing left to hide
I’m falling harder than a landslide
I spent a week away from you last night
And now I’m calling, calling out your name
Even if I lose the game I’m all in
I’m all in tonight
Yeah I’m all in
I’m all in for life…
I feel good, if not a little bewildered about the progress I made with Flynn today. I just have to keep reminding myself that the worst is over. I know what I’m dealing with, now. I just need to fix it.
Christian drags my thoughts away from my emotional growth as he strolls into the room, casual but unmistakably predatory. The informal jeans and t-shirt covering his flexing muscles adds a sexy layer of intrigue that I’m keen to peel off. Watching him move, especially with that hungry look in his half lidded eyes has me shivering in anticipation. My body responds naturally, inevitably to his masculine presence, the thin t-shirt I’m wearing quickly betraying my need, outlining the swelling tips of my breasts. His eyes drink in the sight, stoking the intensity of the desire I see there. Reaching for the iPod dock remote he selects a new song, all the while watching me, his frank and appreciative gaze heating me, making me squirm.
As Snow Patrol’s Open Your Eyes fills the electrified space he speaks, “Four more days Mrs Grey.
His words curl through me, weighted with the promise of a child’s conception. My lips part, accommodating the increased need for breath as I feel my pulse spike. I catch his devilish smirk, his deft fingers drawing my attention as he unbuttons his jeans before he drops it, sans underwear.
I hear my own startled gasp, “Going commando Mr Grey?”
At the sound of my giggle he launches himself at me. After this morning’s insecurities, intent – I’m sure – on showing me just how much he wants me.
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