Still a little fuzzy with sleep, I stretch, extending my muscles to that point of deep pleasure. A lazy grin spreads over my features when I feel the tightness in all the places that were worked so hard with last night’s foray into the now aptly renamed Red Room of Bliss. And what bliss that rechristening was. I set out to exorcise some demons that still haunted us both, but what I got was so much more.
The stunning intimacy of letting go, of being ourselves – unapologetic and unashamed – has cemented our bond in a way that very little else could. Personally, I’m appreciating the emotional security that comes with the sure foundation we’re building for the preservation of our little family. It can only stand us in good stead with the choppy waves that are sure to come.
Strolling down the hall, I find my favorite guys in front of the piano, spending their father-and-son time in a ritual that I’m fast becoming happily used to. Leaning against the wall, I watch their matching heads bent over the keys, the same look of concentration painted on each of their faces, and Christian’s calm patience with Chris. It’s one of those sights that tugs so hard at the strings of your heart that you want to cry a river and whoop with joy – all at the same time.
I linger, watching them, reluctant to intrude on their special bonding time as contentment weaves a welcome faith in our longevity through my thoughts, but my presence is felt by both my boys. “Mommy, Mommy, listen to this,” Chris crows, immediately starting the cheerful riff that Christian just taught him.
I smile, enamored with my son, but my gaze is snared by my husband’s burning grays. Both of us feel our breaths catch with the burst of sentiment between us – intense and unexpected. If you asked me yesterday if it was possible for me to love him any more than I already did, I would have said no, but judging by this moment, right here, right now, I would have been wrong. I can almost feel my heart expanding, and by the awe that’s shining on his face, the feeling is entirely mutual.
As if drawn there, my feet walk me to them, the inexplicable urge to substantiate their presence suddenly the most important thing in my world. Only the reassurance of their warm, lively bodies can anchor the swell of emotions threatening to overwhelm me. In short, I need to hug my family.
With economical grace, Christian is up from his seat when I round the baby grand, his arms already reaching for me. Abandoning his tune, eyes bright, Chris is quick to follow suit, somehow sensing the intimacy. “That was so good, buddy,” I smile, slipping one arm around my son’s shoulders while the other curls around my husband’s back, pulling them close.
As though it was made to fit, my head slots into the nook of Christian’s neck. The smell of him is so familiar, and their forms pressed to my body, so comforting. He kisses the top of my head, tightens his hold, and buries his nose in my hair.
I relish being so near to them, feeling the flowing love that links us so indelibly. I can’t help wondering how the dynamic between us will change with the addition of a new little life.
Just as my thoughts turn to how Chris will take the news, he interrupts them with a muffled voice. “Can we make a Chris sandwich? Please?” he pleads, eliciting an indulgent chuckle from his dad.
“Sure we can,” Christian grins, scooping him up, and wedging him between us. Still grinning he catches my eye over Chris’s shoulder, giving me a wink, the signal that we should squeeze harder. Shuffling closer I hug tighter, giggling at Chris’s obvious delight. My mom and I started this game with him, squishing him like the filling from between two slices of bread, but Christian quickly became an eager participant, playing along with glee.
“Say it, Mommy,” he demands when I don’t immediately come up with the cheesy one-liner that has him beaming with pleasure every single time. I laugh, and when Christian adds his mock scowl, I give in, delivering the line that I’ve said a hundred times before. “You’re the jelly on our bread, baby boy,” I breathe, cupping the back of his neck and resting my forehead against his.
Only one day, when he has his own children, will he understand just how much we love him; how much those jesting words – playful to him – are loaded with the weight of our feelings for him. I see Christian kissing the back of his head, reiterating my thoughts, his eyes closed against the crush of emotions I know is storming inside him.
As expected, Chris beams his pleasure, looking thoroughly pleased before wriggling himself from our grip. In true toddler style, he’s already on to the next thing. “I’m hungry, Mommy,” he chirps, baby blues big and expectant while he rubs his belly.
“I bet you are,” I say, stifling my laugh because I can see what’s coming next. I also give my suddenly concerned husband a reassuring wink. He still worries about me not eating, but his hunger issues are, for obvious reasons, magnified ten-fold when it comes to his son – the thought of his own child going hungry one he finds just too hard to bear.
Wearing a look of pure innocence he clasps his hands behind his back, swinging his shoulders from side to side. “Mommy, can we pleeeease have pancakes?” he all but begs in a singsong voice, before quickly casting his pleading eyes in his daddy’s direction, already aware of the fact that he has a food-ally in Christian.
“Of course,” Christian tells him earnestly, instantly pandering to his manipulation, and making me laugh when he gives me a look that says get to it. Still chortling I shake my head, heading to the kitchen to do as I’m bid. It’s amazing how quickly kids root out their parents’ weak spots, and how adept they are at using them to their advantage. Chris has Christian exactly where he wants him, and my industrialist, master-of-the-universe husband is so oblivious that it’s endearing.
After breakfast, Christian and I loiter at the table while Chris plays with a model train that Christian set up for him on the coffee table. With little ears out of the way, we’re free to move to adult conversation, and I’m quick to take up the opportunity. “It’s been almost a week since the FHM blurb, what has the fallout been like?” I ask, playfully stroking his shin with my toes to drag his attention away from the e-news he’s catching up on.
“Hhhmmm,” he hums, and looks up to find my gaze, wearing a boyish grin that almost has me melting.
Boy, he’s good looking, I think to myself, always surprised at how taken aback I still am by his beauty. Right now, with his mussed hair, his dark stubble, and that sexy curve of his mouth, I could have him for breakfast all over again.
“Very little, actually,” he purrs, deepening his smile when he clocks my all-too-predictable reaction to him.
Gah! Arrogant beast!
Impossibly sexy, arrogant beast – and all ours, my inner goddess chips in with her two cent’s worth, unnecessarily reminding me again of my husband’s delicious appeal.
“And?” I drawl, widening my eyes in mock exasperation.
Chuckling, he runs a hand through his hair, giving me a deliberate eyeful of his flexing bicep straining under his t-shirt. “The press department is handling it, but it’s been mostly requests for further interviews, and because we offered the scoop to GQ as an exclusive, they’ve all been denied, but we’ll hand out a press kit after the mag hits the shelves.”
“That’s good, right?” I query, hope gleaming like a new coin in the fog of my concerns regarding our “outing.”
His sexy smile turns reassuring and his eyes soften, the dove-grays seeing straight past my bravado and into my soul. “Yes, baby, it’s good, great in fact. The less attention we get from it means the less people care about what it says.”
I nod my understanding, wondering if we’ll be so lucky when the whole skeleton comes crashing out of the closet. Four more sleeps until we’ll be baring all and fervently hoping for the best. Considering the drama we’ve been through, we’re certainly due a break. Inwardly I sigh. If only life worked that way.
On that ponderous note, I broach the subject of my pregnancy. “Mr. Grey, I think we should break the news about the baby to our son, sooner rather than later. What do you say?”
A fleeting look of angst shadows his features when his eyes dart to where Chris is playing. “You’re right,” he says in a way that speaks volumes of his hesitancy, but I don’t understand why. It may take some time for Chris to get used to the idea of not having us to himself anymore, especially sharing the attention of his new-found daddy, but overall, I think he’ll adapt just fine.
“Christian,” I prompt gently when he stays lost in the thought that is so obviously bothering him, “why the uncertainty?” For added support I thread my fingers through his, giving his hand a squeeze.
He holds my hand just for a second before he tugs at my arm and pulls me onto his lap. Willingly I go, only too happy to offer myself as comfort for him, and grateful that he’s prepared to share what’s bothering him. It may be a small thing, but it shows the huge strides we’ve made within ourselves and our relationship. I nestle into him, lacing my hands behind his neck, keen to be his snuggle rock.
As if it calms him to do so, he runs his fingers through my hair. “When Grace took me in, Elliot had a really hard time adjusting to my presence. He was an only child until I showed up, and because of what I’d been through, my parents spent a lot of time with me, painstakingly winning my trust. Not only did I take the lion’s share of parental attention away from him, but for a long time, I sensed that he was scared of me. I… I don’t want the same for Chris.”
His disquiet is clear in the eerie monotone of his voice, unsettling me. I sit up, cupping his face, spearing him with an earnest stare. “Christian, this is not the same at all. If anything, Chris is better off than he was, even with the addition of a new baby. He’s gained a whole extra parent in you, and though he might find the baby boring in the beginning, soon enough they’ll be friends.”
By the deep frown slashing his forehead I can see that he’s unconvinced. “What if he feels neglected because of all the time you’ll be spending with the baby? And what if he resents the baby, and ultimately me, for taking his mother’s time away from him?”
“Oh, Christian,” I breathe, my heart contracting with the pain of hearing him name one of his darkest fears. Clearly the possibility of losing the newly-won love of his son is something that plagues him deeply. “There will almost certainly be times when Chris feels some jealousy toward the new baby. In fact, I bet it would be abnormal if he didn’t, but those moments should be fleeting,” I say, speaking with an impassioned fervency, my mind scrambling desperately for concrete solutions to help him look past the blinkers of his dread. “We can include him, the extra care a baby requires doesn’t always have to shut him out, and of course, you and I will do everything in our power to make him feel secure.”
Still with his face held in my palms, I search for a clue that I’m breaking through his trepidation. I watch him blink, his mind processing my words, and hopefully comprehending them. “I’ll do anything, for both of you, and for the new baby,” he whispers, still agitated. “I cannot stand the thought of losing even a smidgen of the love and the trust the two of you have given me.”
“And it’s not going to happen,” I add quickly, shaking my head decisively, eager for him to get off this dangerous mental path. “We would never allow our kids to compete with each other for our love and attention, and we have both our families, either one of which would be more than willing to step in to help us when we need it.”
Slowly I see him relax, the pinch of tension leaving his face. “Yes,” he murmurs, cutting his gaze from mine as he works though the problem, “giving them what they need is a choice we make, and I’m free to make that decision.” When those silver eyes swing back to me, they’re bright with conviction. “Hell, I could even cut back on work if I need to.”
I’m relieved to see him nodding his head at his own thoughts, making plans to be the great dad I already know he is. “Chris will love having a sibling,” I reassure him with my final arguments, hopefully purging any lingering anxieties, “and by then, we’ll be in the new house. There will be tons of new and exciting things to distract him.”
At last my husband smiles as he finds his peace. Overbearing as ever, he finds the next thing to worry about – Chris’s safety. “Hhmm, that meadow will be a wonderful place to play in, but we’ll have to watch him. He’s such a risk-taker.”
Beaming, I lean in to press a kiss to his cheek but he turns, lightning fast, to capture my mouth with his, giving me a loud, smacking kiss. When I giggle, he grins, his eyes suddenly sparkling with a wicked gleam. In the second it takes me to respond, he pins me to his chest, rendering me immobile, and tickles me.
Thrashing about, I cry with laughter. “No! Stop!” I howl, kicking my legs in an effort to buck away from his tormenting fingers. “Christian!” I plead through my giggle-fit, “Stop! No! Please!”
With his voice thick with humor he calmly purrs in my ear, “Mrs. Grey, how can you ask me to stop when you know how much I love hearing you giggle like that?”
A second later, Chris joins us, drawn by my squeals. “Daddy, Daddy, do me! Do me!” he whoops, excited to be included. Never one to pass up an opportunity to indulge his boy, Christian makes a grab for Chris with his free arm, and lets me go, before tickling him into a delighted shriek.
It doesn’t take me long to join their fun, starting a playful tug-of-war with Christian for our son in an effort to free him from those diabolical fingers. With a covert wink Christian lets me win, and Chris and I run a slow victory lap around the dining room table, arms up high, boasting our “triumph.”
Still chuckling and breathing hard, we join Christian back at the table. When he catches my eye he gives me a tiny nod, offering me the go-ahead to broach the baby. I wait for Chris to gulp down his glass of water before breaking the news. “Chris honey, we have something to tell you,” I start, taking his small hand into mine.
Bouncing in his chair, his eyes grow large. “Ooh, ooh, is it a supwise?”
“Yes,” I smile, “I guess it is. One that Mommy and Daddy are really excited about, and we hope you’ll be too.”
His face falls a little. “Is it a gwon up fing?”
I swallow my laugh. Kids are so honest. “It’s something for all of us, buddy. Do you want to know what it is?”
“Uh-huh,” he mumbles, a little less interested as his attention gets diverted to rearranging the loose things on the table.
Gently I tip his chin up, encouraging him to look at me. “Chris, Mommy is going to have a baby, a little brother or sister for you.”
He gasps, his busy hands pausing for a moment. “Will the baby be my fwiend?” he asks cautiously. “’Cause Ethan says all babies do is cwy!”
Ah yes, the ever-wise Ethan, toddler of five, going on fifty-five, and peddler of all things wise at the GEH day care. I’ve come up against his colorful wisdom on more than one occasion. Again I have to suppress the grin tugging at the corners of my mouth. Thinking that Christian will share my mirth, I look up to my husband, but instead I find him with a worried scowl.
Uh-oh, I had better turn that frown upside down, I muse, redirecting my attention back to my son. Injecting my voice with a sunny note, I try to draw some enthusiasm from my boy. “There might be a little bit of crying,” I concede, nodding my head, “and a lot of pooping!” I joke, poking out my tongue to make a silly face.
Giggling, he scrunches up his face. “Eeewwww!”
“Buuuut,” I say, holding up my finger to keep his interest, “if you help Mommy make the baby grow big enough to walk, you’ll have a friend for life!”
He sucks in a lungful of air, surprise animating his face. “For life? That’s a long time,” he tells me, all serious.
I nod, mirroring his solemn expression. “It is a long time, and do you know what else?”
With rounded eyes he shakes his head, slowly indicating no.
“Not only will you have a friend for life, but you’ll be the baby’s big brother.”
His face turns awed. “Wow,” he breathes, “then he’ll always have to do what I say.” He pokes at his chest with his thumb before he looks to Christian, waiting for confirmation of this deal-clinching fact.
I’m so proud of my husband when he takes up the game, getting into the spirit of it now that he sees the potential crisis averted. Soberly he nods. “It’s true. Your Uncle Elliot is my big brother and he still tells me what to do,” for effect he sighs in mock dismay, “all the time.” The playful edge of exasperation is just enough to convince Chris.
“Woo-hoo!” he cries, excited now. “I’m a big bwover, I’m a big bwover,” comes his crowing song while he fist pumps the air. Jumping from the chair he waves over his shoulder as he jogs back to his toys. And just like that, our worries are shot to dust.
For a long minute we stare after him, silently offering thanks that the first chat about the baby with Chris was a positive one. “We’ve gotten some feedback from the lawyer about Chris’s name change,” Christian mentions quietly, interrupting our reveries.
Instantly my mind is on high alert. “Oh?” I blurt, sitting up, and directing my full attention to my husband.
“The judge has issued an order for José to surrender his paternal rights, and we know for a fact that he received that order and signed for it,” he explains calmly, but his measured baritone tells me that where this issue is concerned, he’s anything but calm.
Again I lace my fingers through his in a show of solidarity. “That’s good news. He’s obviously still out of the country, so how long does he have to comply?”
“We’ve set a thirty day period. After that I will go after him personally. He has no legal leg to stand on here. He is not the biological father, nor was he ever a father to Chris after his birth, and you were divorced by the time Chris was born. What he’s doing now is nothing short of fraudulent,” he spits, the bile of resentment obviously eating at him.
I nod, unable to voice the thousand things that race through me when I think of this particular sticky mess. I’m not keen to go down that road but Christian is right, and if José is foolish enough to take Christian on in a battle he can never win, then I will support my husband wholeheartedly. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Any conversation about José always leaves me feeling guilty, but I’m determined not to dwell on it. Taking Flynn’s advice, I remind myself that I am not responsible for the choices he makes now. I’m grateful when Christian accepts my offer for more coffee, affording me the opportunity to sort through my thoughts in the relative privacy of the kitchen.
On Monday my work week starts at a vigorous pace, matching the preggie Pilates session I had this morning, and probably will have again three other days of the week, all by order of my imperious husband. Julie has a stack of things for me to do, and Derek is in and out of my office with a constant supply of edited chapters for me to revise. Between it all I get a barrage of e-mails from Kate, updating me on her latest emotional high or low.
From: Kate Grey
Subject: Wacked emotions
Date: 28 November 2016 10:20
To: Anastasia Grey
Damn hormones! I was so mad at Elliot this morning, I almost flung a shoe at him, but just now, I got the most beautiful bouquet of flowers from him – the bastard! Now all I want to do is curl up on his lap and tell him how wonderful he is! Not that it matters, either way has me bawling my eyes out!
Damn, I sound like a madwoman! I need something to do. Maybe Grace will let me defrost the freezer. No, wait, I’m certain it’s frost free. Oh crumbs! Here come the tears again!
Oh BTW, I’ve attached a picture of us from the launch party on Saturday. It was published in the social pages of the Seattle Times. Do I look bloated to you?
Your deranged friend,
PS: Please tell me that I’ll survive this, and that it will all be worth it in the end when I hold that tiny baby in my arms.
Only Kate can make something so serious sound so comical. My heart aches for my friend and what she’s going through, but I have no idea how to help her other than simply being there for her.
While I’m pondering my reply I click on the attachment, opening the photo. Big brother, Elliot Grey, making a splash outside of his little brother’s huge shadow, the caption reads, along with a list of our names. Why do reporters always have to add that dash of bitchiness? I wonder, thinking about all the salacious captions we’ve garnered over time. At least it’s a great picture. Kate and I are in the middle with Christian and Elliot flanking us. We look so glamorous, so carefree with our smiling faces. You’d never guess the pain that’s touched us just by looking at the shot.
By Wednesday my nerves are frayed to the snapping point. With just one more day to go to the first day of December and the looming publication of the GQ article, I throw myself into work even harder than before, eager to escape the wait for the fallout. Even Christian has an edginess about him that can only be attributed to the weight of the worry bearing down onto his broad shoulders, but he’s super careful with me. My fantastic husband has taken this week to crank up the TLC in our relationship, taking extra special care of me, and making sure that I know he has eyes only for me.
Not even prepared to eat my lunch alone, I drag Derek into my office for a lunchtime meeting, all for the sake of occupying my whirring mind, but ten minutes into it, Cindy steps into my office. “Mrs. Grey, I’m sorry to interrupt, but Mr. Grey asks that you meet him in his office right away.”
For some reason her somber delivery leaves me a little uneasy. Excusing myself, I leave Derek behind and head for the top floor with Cindy in tow, easily keeping up with my quick stride. When I reach Christian’s office, Andrea waves me through with a professional smile while opening the automatic sliding doors for me.
Standing up, my husband gives me a joyous beam. “Mrs. Grey, I love seeing you in the middle of the day,” he coos, coming out from behind his desk to fold me into a hug.
“Hhhmm, the feeling is mutual, Mr. Grey,” I reply, grabbing a good snuggle before pulling away. “Where’s the fire?” I ask, looking around his office to try and figure out what was important enough to pull me from a meeting.
“There’s no fire, baby,” he quips casually. “It’s lunchtime, and I thought you’d want to help me select the stone tiles for the patio.”
“For the house on the sound?” I press, despite knowing full well that the answer is yes.
“Yes, come see.” His hand curls around my upper arm to steer me to the sectional before taking his seat next to mine.
My earlier worry melts away, but it’s quickly replaced with annoyance. “Christian, I was in a meeting,” I explain, hoping that the ugly thought rearing its head in mine is unwarranted.
“But it’s lunchtime,” he counters easily, his non-answer only making me more suspicious when he hands me a stack of square samples, studiously ignoring my narrowing eyes.
How does he find out? I wonder. If Cindy isn’t the one spying on me, how does Christian know when I’m alone with Derek, or I’m sure, any other man for that matter? Of course Cindy already had her suspicions when she told me to come up, that’s why she was so muted.
By some unspoken agreement we dawdle on Thursday morning, neither of us keen to leave the safe bubble of the apartment to face the rest of the world. Christian has diverted all communications to his press office with a full brief of what’s to come, just as eager as I am to postpone the inevitable.
Desperately I try to work, but my imagination keeps coming up with new scenarios just to torment me. Scenarios featuring hordes of women throwing themselves at Christian just to torment me, some of whom are coy about it, flirting and smiling, while others are blatant, literally wanting to eat him. Of course, all of them are drop dead gorgeous and couldn’t care one iota for the fact that he’s taken.
What have I done? I ask myself for the hundredth time. If I’m not divorced by the end of the week I’ll be insane. I growl at myself, lightly banging my head on my desk in frustration.
When Christian knocks on my door at 2:30 p.m., I’m more than ready to put an end to the mind-numbing wait and just get it over with. The sooner we start the process, the quicker I can plaster my behind to Flynn’s chair and start the long journey of rebuilding my self-confidence – again.
I’m infinitely grateful for the tinted, soundproof windows of the SUV when we pass the gaggle of reporters that seems to have become a fixture outside of Escala, and today they are out in full force, easily more than double the usual number. You have to wonder why they’re still here. We will never stop the car, never get out to talk to them, and day by day, all they ever get are pictures of our vehicle.
Without missing a beat, and without a single camera flash popping in our faces, our brilliant security team delivers us to the GEH main conference room where the head of Christian’s press department and Barney already wait.
After an uncomfortable round of greetings and introductions, Christian and I take up our places – as ready as we’ll ever be for the news. Nervously my eyes dart between the press executive, Diana Marks, and Barney. The tension alone is enough to be foreboding, but it’s their expressions that really have me worried. Both of them wear the news in pinched, tight-lipped masks.
Completely calm and in control, Christian addresses the two of them in a steady, measured voice, looking every inch the man in charge. “Not good news then,” he deduces for himself. “Let’s fix it. Tell me,” he commands curtly, looking to Barney first, and rolling up the sleeves of his shirt.
I see Barney’s chest expand with a steeling breath. He looks down at the report in his hands before lifting his gaze, zeroing in on Christian’s expectant one. “It’s much worse than we thought, sir. The GE mainframe is completely overrun with queries, and despite the various press releases, it doesn’t seem to be letting up.”
Be kind and review, please.