The original characters are the property of E.L. James.  I’m just having a lil’ fun.  No copyright infringement intended.

Chapter 25 | One Down

GREY

While I wasn’t expecting a call, I really wasn’t expecting this one. “Hey Lil Bro! How’s things Down Under…there?” I shake my head. Forever Elliott.

“Things are good Lelliott.” I love calling him that. I can hear him wince every time. Aside from knocking him on his ass, which I can do and have done, calling him Lelliott is a sure way of bringing him down a notch or two.

“Whatev Chris. Anywho, ‘I just called…to say…I love you…” I didn’t get the phone away from my ear fast enough. I had to hear him murder Stevie Wonder’s song. He sounds like a wolf baying at the Moon.

“DAMMIT LELLIOTT! Stop! You’re ruining a beautiful song and making my ears bleed!” He stops as suddenly as he started and now I get the mock boo hoos.

“WAAAHHH!” Sniffle, sniffle…he goes so far as to blow his fucking nose. REALLY Elliott? He must be in a particularly good mood to go this far. “You…you…you don’t like my…my…singing…WAAAHHH! I’m gonna tell Mom you made me cry Christian!” Sniffle…

Dom-time “Elliott,” I bark, “let it go. It’s obvious you’re either drunk or just got the fuck of your life to put you in this good of a mood. To what do I owe the dishonor of your singing?”

“Well,” he peps right up “actually, I was thinking I could come visit. Mia wants to come with, but I wanna go Babe-Hunting so I told her it would be a guy’s weekend, then she reminded me Ana was there so she told me to ask if she could come too.”

Cher Dieu, NON! There’s no fucking way in Hell they can come visit. I can barely keep my mind straight enough to work, there’s no way I can entertain them and I refuse to put Ana in that position. She’s been my rock through all of this. She has her hands full being my fiancée fuck the Brown Family bullshit. NO! NO FUCKING WAY!

“Elliott, that’s not a good idea, maybe sometime, but not right now.  Ana and I have been dealing with a lot and…”

“Nuff said Lil Bro. I was only half serious anyway. I figured this would be time for you and Ana to get your shit straight.” Whew…Merci Père céleste.

“Thanks Elliott. Really, thanks a lot.” The relief is more than clear, even to my own ears.

I know, he thinks he understands.

“Ok, so no sunny climes. How trix? Ana treating you ok? I’ll come down there and tickle the shit out of her if she’s not” always the ray of light.

“She’s good, better than I deserve really.” I mumble the last part to myself. “We’re getting along. No horrible fights or anything like that. I’ve asked her to marry me…”

“AGAIN? You already asked her dick-head. Are you trying to make guys all over the world look bad or did she give you what for when she got there and you had to ‘beg and plead for her sim-pa-thy…” there go my eardrums again.

“Elliott” he’s still humming “Elliott.” He’s got to be the only person alive who can’t sing Mary Had a Little Lamb.

“ELLIOTT!” Whew! Finally…silence.

“YYYeeesss Lil Bro.” You can hear the smile in his incapable of carrying a tune voice.

“There are laws against caterwauling, being a public nuances as well as disturbing the public you know. And if you check with Dad, I’m sure there’s a law or two about decimating songs. I’m sure The Temptations will be all too willing to swoop in from Motown and beat the shit out of you.”

“What? I like Ain’t Too Proud To Beg. I did a good job with that one…” I shake my head “…didn’t I?” NOPE!

“N…” He cuts me off in his stupid way.

“No doubt? Thanks Bro, I knew you loved my singing.” He gets quiet for a moment. So quiet I’m just about to check he’s still on the line when I hear, “All joking aside Bro, how are you? You sounded real down during that call you had with the family. Mom and Mia said you called for Dad a few days ago, but I was sure that was just an obligatory ‘Get Your Ass Handed To You’ call. I’ve had those before.” I can hear him cringe. We’ve both dealt with Dad’s brand of long distance discipline so I know he understands.

“Yeah, something like that.” I don’t want to lie to him, but I’m not exactly prepared to give him all the gory details yet.

“I figured as much. So…” Here we go, the real reason for his call. Mom and Mia put him up to this, bet. Miss Kavanaugh probably had a hand in it too, due to her concern about Ana. “When are you two lovebirds bringing your asses back here so we can get your marital situation secured? You know, so you can stop living in Sin, Mom’s expression not mine. Mia’s looked at every bridal magazine the state of Washington sells. She’s considering having a few French magazines sent here.”

Oh merde.

“Elliott look…” but he’s quick to cover his tracks.

“Chris, man, if you all want to live together forever it’s fine by me. Your mother and sister have been on me about calling and putting some ‘brotherly pressure’ on you to ‘make an honest woman of Ana’, again, their words not mine.”

“Between you, me and the telephone company, like I was trying to tell you, I asked Ana to marry me right now…right here…in Townsville. She hasn’t given me an answer, but she agreed to start looking into wedding plans.” Again, the line is quiet for a minute, which turns into five then twenty-five. This has touched him somehow. “Elliott, are you still there?”

“Yeah I’m here Christian, just stunned I guess. I mean…I knew you wanted to marry Ana in a rush and we all thought she was pregnant, which she obviously isn’t. I’m wondering why you’re so stuck on Australia? When are you coming home? I mean to stay.” Point blank, not the Elliott Grey I grew up with that’s for sure.

“Mom and Mia miss you two like all Hell, I’m beginning to feel like chopped liver. Dad won’t come out and say it, but I can tell he’s worried about you. I’m at a loss.” He’s on a roll so I just listen. He needs to get this out.

“I mean, I want you and Ana both to be happy. If you tell me your happiness is in Australia then so be it. Just know, folks are falling apart around here Chris.” I sigh. I’d like nothing better than to be able to confide in my brother, but Elliott’s mouth runs faster than Niagara Falls, there’s no capping it.

I have to approach this topic with care. “Elliott, like I told Anastasia and Mom and Mia, I don’t know when or if I want to return to Seattle. I may have to be there for business and I’ll spend time with the family when I’m in town, but to move back…I can’t say when or if that will be.”

Before he can jump in I continue, “I made it clear, Ana isn’t my prisoner. She can come and go as she pleases and I’ve told her exactly that. She and I spoke with Ray and he knows she’s here and that I want to get married now. No offense, his is the only opinion that could affect our marriage, because he means so much to Ana.” Done. My stance is taken and out in the open…sort of.

I wait as Elliott mulls this over. Elliott’s not slow by any means, unless it’s for dramatic effect. He can be mindful of other people’s thoughts and feelings when he wants to, so, when it counts, he chooses his words very carefully before he speaks, unless it’s one of his stupid ass jokes, which materialize out of nowhere.

“Chris, what happened?” His voice has a tone I haven’t ever heard before. He sounds almost, hurt. “I know you keep things from us and since you’re an adult no one ever challenges you. I’m not trying to start an argument, I just want to know what happened to cause you to leave Seattle and not want to come back.” I’m shocked, truly shocked at his no nonsense approach. I’m not mad I just didn’t think he had it in him, at least not toward me.

My silence gives him cause to continue, “I’m thinking back to how things were after you dropped out of Harvard and took off for parts unknown. I told Ana a little about it to try and explain how serious it was for you to simply leave.”

“I know you Christian. You have temper tantrums, but not like this. You get bitchy and tear shit up, but you don’t just leave. What is it? I may surprise you and actually be able to help.” Again, I’m floored. I didn’t believe Elliott paid any more attention to me than a fruit fly. I never believe he noticed me unless I was in trouble or causing trouble because it took the spotlight off of him, for a while.

I clear my throat, stalling for time to settle my mind. I need to be just as thoughtful as he was. “Elliott, thank you for noticing and thank you for asking, but I’m not going to answer and I’m sure you knew that before you asked. I love all of you and I miss you. I’m not trying to hurt anyone, please believe me.” The last thing in the world I want him to take away from this conversation is sorrow.

“I will tell you this Lelliott, I feel stifled in Seattle. I’m ignored here, until I get into a business negotiation or a conference room full of suits, of course. No one and I mean no one here gives a shit who I am, not even to brown-nose me. I’m not trying to be arrogant, Elliott, but do you understand what that means to me?” If that were truly the only reason I came here, it’d be a believable one.

“I have to admit I understand the words you’re saying because I know how people are toward you, but I don’t understand wanting to blend in only because I’m not in your situation. I live a low-key life Bro, even with all the girls I live a low-key lifestyle so, no, I don’t understand where you’re coming from, but yes, I understand what you’re saying.”

“Keep in mind Christian, Mom and Mia don’t care about how many people hound you or how many women fall at your feet, they just want their son and brother back home.” He sighs into the phone sounding defeated.

“I can appreciate that and I’ll see what I can do to lessen their anxiety, but I can’t lie by promising to come back to the US then not show up, they’d hate me for sure.” I won’t string them along.

“So, you’re not gonna tell me what’s going on.” It’s most definitely a statement, not a question.

I shake my head, forgetting he can’t see me. “I can’t Elliott.”

Just like that, good ole Lelliott is gone, “Oh you can, but you won’t because you don’t trust me.” Damn, now he’s offended. I think back, quickly, I don’t think I’ve ever offended Elliott.

Wouldn’t you be offended if you wanted to help him and he wouldn’t let you?

He can’t help with this. It’s ugly and painful and I won’t drag him into it.

He’s a big boy Grey. I have a feeling he can handle a lot.

He’s never been faced with this and you know it. I won’t taint his heart and mind like that. I won’t.

Having made up my mind to shut Elliott out I respond, “You’re wrong there Big Bro. This isn’t about trust, it’s…”

“BULLSHIT GREY! You’ve never trusted anyone enough to let them into that precious life of yours! Least of all your family…your brother. That’s fine though, fucking forget about it! I’ll let Mom and Mia know you said ‘hey’.” and he ends the call. DAMMIT!

“I wish I could tell you Big Bro. I really do”, I whisper to the empty room.

STOP!

Stop what? What the fuck are you going on about now?

I’m going on about, this is one of those situations you’d take to the Bitch-Troll that’s what I’m going on about now. That child-molesting whore is the reason your mind is in this condition.

No she’s not. She…

Go ahead, say it. Tell me how ‘she helped you’ then I want you to get ready for the worse nights of your life because I’ll leave you to the nightmare demons and monsters forever.

It’s time to get a few things straight. That bitch abused you. You were so used to being abused and didn’t recognize her actions for what they were. You wanted to fuck someone and her pussy was as good as anyone elses. You’ve said it yourself lots of times, had she been a whip-welding fifteen-year-old hottie you’d have let her tie you up and whip your ass for a good fuck. Lincoln just got to you first. She didn’t help you Grey, she made a bad situation worse and she solidified it by dangling her ass in your face; literally

Where is Steele? You need to take this shit to her.

I already know what she’ll say.

Do you? What will she say?

“She’ll agree with you in spades. She doesn’t understand my dark side. She sees the good in everyone and I love that about her. She can’t act as though I’m not dark or a monster forever…”

“Yes I do and yes I can because I know the truth.”

Huh? What the…shit! I said it out loud.

I guess the look on my face is giving away my thoughts because Ana says, “Yes Christian you said it out loud and yes Christian I heard you. Baby, have you hid anything from me? You’ve told me about your childhood abuse, your adolescent behaviors, your sexapades and the reason you chose the women you chose. What else is there Christian?”

I open my arms for her, but this time Ana doesn’t come to me. She shakes her head and slowly walks up to stand in front of my desk. “What else is there Christian? Why are you so Hell bent and bound to believe you’re some kind of monster?” Standing there, in front of my desk with her arms crossed and her brow furrowed, she looks like a fucking Domme.

“There’s nothing new Ana I just know me, the real me, and I don’t want to share that with my family, ever. I’m not proud to have shared it with you, but you have to know. It’s unfair for you not to have an idea about the man you care about. The man who wants to share his life with you. It doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy inside having that shit on your mind and I’m the one who put it there.” I rub my hands over my face.

I don’t understand why she’s here. I don’t understand why she wants me. I don’t understand how she can love an evil demon like myself. I must disgust her. I don’t see how I can’t.

“Christian, STOP IT DAMMIT!” I’m surprises by her outburst; that’s not my Ana.

“I’m a big girl. I can come and go as I please. I can love and not love as I see fit. Not you, Kate, Jose or anyone else can dictate who I love. Do you want me to leave Christian? Are you tired of me?” What the fuck? Has she lost her mind? My heart actually stops just hearing the words.

“Oh my God NO Anastasia! What in the fuck would make you say something like that? I love you Baby! I can’t live without you.” The fear in my voice can’t possibly match the fear in my heart. “Please don’t leave me Ana…please.” I’ll beg at her feet if she wants. Anything to keep her from leaving me.

She walks around the desk and opens her arms to me. I grab her around her waist and bury my face in her chest. She cradles my head then slowly and gently strokes her fingers through my hair. “I love you Christian,” she says after kissing to top of my head. “I will always love you. Please believe me.” I feel her kiss the top of my head again.

“I’m trying Baby,” I say as I lift my head. When I raise my eyes to meet hers I see her beautiful blues, filled with tears again. Tears I’ve caused her to shed. “Baby, please don’t cry especially not for me. I’m trying, it’s just hard. I’ve wanted someone to love me all my life. I wanted to love someone all my life and it just never happened. I’m afraid I’ll wake up and this will be some wonderful, horrible dream. I’m afraid I’ll wake up and that interview never happened. I never met you. I’ll go back to Escala to Gail and Taylor and…” I bury my face in her chest again, unable to finish my sentence.

“Your subs.” She states, matter-of-factly.

I squeeze her tightly and nod my head. I don’t want to go back there, ever. She knows my fears, she’s seen my nightmares and she’s still here.

She loves you putz.

I know that’s what she says, but it’s like saying e=mc2. It’s true because I’ve been told it’s true, but how do I really know.

“Baby, Everett’s here to talk with you. If you’d rather, I can ask him to do this some other time.” I shake my head, still safely buried between her breasts. I might as well get this shit over and done with. I’ve put it off all week. I guess it’s time to face some more music.

“No Baby. We both know this has to happen.” I look up at her like a lost child, “Doesn’t it?”, if she says it does then I’ll do it.

Those magnificent ocean blues gaze down at me as she confirms, “Yes Baby, it does, but only when you’re ready.” As she strokes my face, I lean into her touch and calm immediately.

I take a deep breath then tell her, “I’ll be out in a minute or two.”

“Would you be more comfortable in here?”

I look around my study. While this is where I conduct business, somehow it doesn’t feel right to discuss my personal life here. It’s too much like a home court advantage and I’m not looking for that with this subject. I look up into her baby blues again and tell her, “No, I’ll be out. Talking in here is tantamount to the Brown Family Home and I have no intention of darkening that doorway ever again.”

She nods her understanding then takes me by surprise, as only Anastasia can, “You do understand you’ll have to go back there when you talk with Edward, don’t you?” Huh? Who the fuck said I was going to talk with Edward? He had his chance at the Family Fiesta. He let Everett goad me and forced Emmett to bear his soul. What the fuck gives her the impression I’m going to talk with Edward?

“Christian, as much as I know you don’t want to talk with him, not only because it’s indelibly seared in your eyes, but also because of what occurred the last time, unless he agrees to come here, which I doubt he will or you’ll even consider inviting him, you’re going to have to speak with him. His home is a secure place to have a conversation like this. I’m sure of it.” Sensible, sensitive and sincere, that’s my Ana.

I stand, then lean down to kiss her forehead before telling her, “We’ll see Baby, first things first. Is Everett in the living room?”

“Yep” is all she says as she marches out of my office to lead the way.

“Well, here goes.”

EVERETT

Ok Ev, it’s now or never.

Why does never seem rather inviting right now?

Because you never thought this day would come and you aren’t prepared. Just remember what Grandmom told you about helping him and you’ll be fine.

Easy for you to say.

I’m caught off guard bickering with myself on the way to Christians’ when my phone rings. “Brown.”

“Hello Son, are you on your way? Remember him and punctuality.” I laugh. Dad keeps Edward waiting on purpose, just to piss him off. He always makes it look like an accident or carelessness. Now here he is, lecturing me about getting to my cousin’s place on time.

“Yeah Dad, I’m en route. To what do I owe this call? A little pep talk,” God knows I need one, or is this my preliminary reprimand?”

“A little of both Everett. I want you to tell him everything you remember, everything you know and how you know it.” He sounds desperate. Since the family mêlée Dad’s been fanatical about Christian knowing everything and that knowledge has to be the undiluted truth.

“Dad, are you sure about that? I mean, he seems to be very much like you and I remember how you felt when I finally opened up. Are you sure he can handle something like that?”

“He has Anastasia. He can handle anything the world brings to his doorstep as long as that wonderful woman is by his side. Be certain to offer her the opportunity to stay during your conversation. She’s a very gracious girl so she’ll probably decline your offer, but be sure to extend it nevertheless. If things get out of hand she’ll be there to help calm him down and she may have to take the lead from that point. Just don’t stop until your narrative is absolutely finished and don’t…leave…anything…out.”

“Alright ole boy. You’re the boss on this one. Is Christian going to meet with Granddad at all? You know the ole man is chomping at the bit to get to him. He’s a tad offended you and I are speaking to Christian before him.” I say with a chuckle in my voice. Serves the old bastard right. Ellie tried to tell him not to assault Christian, to let her converse with him and Anastasia, once she got here.

Dad’s laughing now too, “Well, Edward’s feelings are of no consequence at this point. It’s all about Christian now. He decided to speak with us of his own volition. One day your dear Granddad will learn such a thing exists and honor it. Get going Lad. Give the Lovebirds my best will you?”

“Will do ole man.” He laughs again then ends the call.

Dear Dad, our father is stoic and loyal to family regardless of their proximity. Granddad is smooth and suave with his intimidation, but Dad…HA! People think because he’s quiet and not interested in being out in front of the pack that he’s weak and useless, quite the contrary.

Dad is sensitive, just like Grandmom. Ellie gets it from him. Dad was never more relieved in his life than when Ellie confirmed Christian Grey was our Christian. His elation was short lived due to Edward’s rather blatant faux pas at that damned Brunch, which I’m glad I missed. Edward seems to believe Grey is stupid because we didn’t raise him. Some things are innate. Some intuitions, gut instincts, don’t come from a nurturing environment, they come from your core and Grandmom is at his core.

Anyway, when Grey called last night I was ready to run to his house that second, of course I didn’t. I didn’t want to and I don’t intend to press him. I just want to get to know him. I’ve missed *so* much; we all have.

As I enter the property I am surprised he doesn’t have security around this place then I remember he told Ellie he didn’t feel it was necessary because no one seemed to care who he was. That is due to Dad’s security detail. Talk about a fanatic. Dad’s security team, unlike Granddad’s before them, has been impeccable for as long as I can remember. I know for a fact Dad wishes we had these guys when he was looking for Christian. I shake my head just thinking about it. I ring the doorbell, only to be greeted by the beautiful Anastasia Steele.

“Hello Anastasia. I would never have dreamed you would answer the door. Is everything alright with Christian’s staff?” She furrows her brow and looks at me as if I were speaking Dutch, then a spark of understanding appears in her eyes.

“Oh, no, everything is fine. We, I mean Christian, opted not to have staff here. He’s been taking care of this place on his own.” She smiles proudly. I have to remember Anastasia didn’t come from wealth and isn’t impressed by it. No doubt Grey tending his own needs is of far greater value in her eyes.

“That’s wonderful Anastasia, just make sure he gets the dust webs in the corners of these high ass ceilings.” I point and look up to see…there are none. “Oh, I guess you have him under control.”

“Christian pays close attention to detail all on his own. I don’t allow him in my kitchen though. He can’t cook to save his life.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Where is The Christian Grey anyway?” She cringes at my use of his title. “I apologize Anastasia, I meant no harm. I take it you’re not impressed by his title?”

She shakes her head, “No I’m not. It’s cold and callous and whoever came up with it should be fired. People who know Christian understand how horrible that title is. He doesn’t say it, but I believe it hurts his feelings every time he hears it.” She looks a bit sad as she tells me all of this. She’s rather instinctual herself; an impressive character trait.

“I’ll bear that in mind Anastasia. My goal is not to offend or hurt Christian in any way. I hope you believe me.” She nods her head.

“I do Everett, but I’m not the person who matters, Christian is.” She shows me through the foyer to the Great Room.

“On the contrary Anastasia, yes, Christian will hear what’s said to him, he’ll have to process the words and decipher his feelings, but ultimately you, the woman in his life, will have the final say, whether he or you know it or not.” She looks shocked. This is where nurture does outdo nature.

“You see Anastasia, in my family, a woman’s presence dictates the ambiance in the home. She interprets situations and makes them plain enough for the men in that home to understand. Without a woman, men are lost.”

“We males are very proud and very ignorant. Lots of times we can pass that ignorance off as stubbornness or even strength, but if you get a real man to admit it he’ll acknowledge true power is behind the throne and behind any good man is a better woman.” Anastasia blushes then excuses herself to retrieve Christian.

I sigh inwardly. This is a day I never believed would happen. I never thought I’d see Christian again, not alive at least. I would have nightmares about having to identify his body like Dad did Aunt Ellie. This is most defintely a bittersweet moment. I pray he’s open to this conversation.

I only wait for a few moments before he arrives. “Hello Everett. Good to see you.” I stand as he enters the room holding Anastasia’s hand.

You say that now Cousin. We’ll see how you feel in a few minutes. He seems nervous and you can tell by the way he’s clutching Anastasia’s hand he doesn’t want to do this alone.

“Good to see you as well Cous…I mean Christian.”

Don’t call him that Everett. He’s not ready.

Dad called him Nephew why can’t I call him Cousin, that’s what he is to me.

Just follow my instructions and don’t do it.

Fine!

“Have a seat.” I take to the burgundy Chesterfield wingback chair adjacent to its matching couch.

Ever the gracious hostess, Anastasia offers, “Would you fellas like something to eat or drink.” I shake my head. I’m too nervous to eat.

“Do you drink Scotch Everett?” Christian asks with a hopeful tone in his voice. A man after my own heart.

“I do.” And I know he can hear my thankfulness. There’s no doubt in my mind it’ll come to good use…soon.

“We’re good Baby.” He kisses her hand and goes off to the bar. A few moments later he hands me my drink and takes a seat on the couch.

Anastasia makes a point to tell us, “Ok, but let me know if either of you change your mind.” We each nod like good little boys because that’s the expression on both of our faces right now.

Further demonstrating her understanding of the situation at hand, I’m not surprised when Anastasia says, “It will be fine. You each need this conversation. Just like Emmett did. Now, keep your hands to yourself.” She looks at each of us sternly as she states this first rule. “Do not destroy anything and be absolutely honest with each other. All is for naught if you aren’t.”

We look at each other, then back at Anastasia and say, “Ma’am, yes ma’am.” We look at each other again and smile the same million-megawatt smile before shaking hands.

Anastasia giggles as she turns to leave the room and says, “Boys will be boys.”

Oh shit, I almost forgot, “Anastasia.” She turns back around and looks at me expectantly. “You’re welcome to stay. You’re going to be family as well and I’m pretty sure Christian would like you by his side as we chat.” I look at Christian for confirmation and he nods to Anastasia.

“You’re welcome to stay Baby. You know that right?” Her expression softens and she comes back to embrace him warmly and stare into those funny colored eyes.

“All you have to do is yell and I’ll be here.” She looks at me and says, “That goes for you as well.” Without another word, she squeezes him once more then turns and leave us alone.

Once she’s gone I say, absent-mindedly, “Dad’s right, she’s a wonderful young lady.” Christian nods his agreement.

“So Everett, I’m not sure how much your father told you about our conversation or about my reaction to what he said.” I hold up my hand. Let’s get a few things straight right now.

“Dad didn’t tell me anything about your talk and I don’t want to know about it.” He looks surprised at my statement. “Christian, I wasn’t in his shoes. I can’t tell you how he felt or what happened when he was in the United States because I wasn’t there. I can tell you what happened here at the time, I can tell you how I felt about what I heard versus what I was told and I can tell you what Dad said to me when he finally came home, but as far as his portion of the situation goes I’m of no use to you. I’m not here to plead anyone’s case and I’m not here to try and win you over. I’m here because I want my cousin back and I want you to know that we all love you.”

“Being a Brown automatically means you don’t believe me and you want to know everything.  I know our family doesn’t have the lock on those types of feeling, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from you because you are a member of this family, like it or not.” He’s just like the rest of us, he demonstrated that during the meeting, so I know this preface is required.

“If I tell you something you don’t want to hear, something you feel contradicts what Dad has said to you or something you want to challenge, please remember this is from my point of view then please call me on anything you wish. Deal?”

He gives me Edward’s blank stare before absent-mindedly nodding his head as I speak then, softly, he says, “Deal.” He sounds resigned to his fate.

I lean forward and put my elbows on my knees. “Christian, the horrible part is over.” Quickly, he scoots back away from me, fear his distinct expression. Maybe it’s not over…not for him.

“Christian what is it? I’m not going to hurt you.” The fear in his eyes dissipates and his mask sets firmly in place.

It takes me a few minutes to understand what happened, but once I do I drop my head and shake it to rid myself of the memory then groan out loud, “Not you too.” He looks at me with confusion written all over his face. This conversation is over before it started.

I slowly raise my head and feel a tear roll down my cheek, “When Dad was released from jail and finally came back to us, he was a totally different man. He couldn’t stand to be too close to any of us, he would fight to the death if we touched him and when you asked him why he would put on the exact same impassive expression you’re donning right now.” I point at Christian. “I didn’t mean to invade your personal space Christian. I’ll go.” I rise quickly from my seat and actually sprint to the door.

I pass Anastasia, but I’m moving so fast I can’t see the expression on her face. As I grab the doorknob I hear him yell, “EVERETT! EVERETT DON’T! IT’S NOT YOU EVERETT IT’S ME! DON’T!” Too late Cousin, I recognize the signs and I’m not one to press the button.

I manage to get the door open and make it to my car. As I open the driver’s side door, a strong hand comes out of nowhere and pulls on my shoulder spinning me around.

What the fuck?

“Don’t leave him Ev. He hurts and he needs us to help him.”

“Dad” I whisper. “How did you know?” How did he know I would need his help?

“I know you Ev and I understand Christian better than any of you think. I didn’t think to mention it to you then I remembered how you approach family, we can’t address Christian that way. I remember how it affected you when I came home so I knew you’d need my help.” My father is holding me by both my shoulders, as if I were a child being scolded.

Of course, by now, Grey reaches us in time to get a birds-eye view of the spectacle, even Anastasia can see the show. I groan again and lower my head. Dad releases my arms and ruffles my hair like you would a little kid. “Don’t be embarrassed Lad, we’re all family here.” I look up at him and see the shit-eating grin I hate so much on his face.

Christian seems put out at how fast I got away from him. “DAMMIT Everett, did you fucking run track or something?”

Dad laughs, “My boy ran for the Melbourne University Athletics Club in almost every category.” Looking at me with that damned twinkle in his funny colored eyes he asks, “Shall I list them Son?”

“Since I’m legally an adult, when I tell you no will you do as I say?” He twists his mouth and taps his finger on his chin for a moment. Long enough to cause me misery at my possible embarrassment.

“Since Christian isn’t familiar with this type of treatment and in the interest of time…I’ll spare you. Just remember, you owe me.” I take note he didn’t say one, so I know I owe him *a lot*.

“Thanks Dad.” I mumble. When I see that fucking eyebrow go up, I straighten my stance and give him a proper thank you.

“Now, do I need to follow you Lads back into the house and mediate your discussion or can I trust you to face this situation head on?” He looks between us.

“This incident was my fault Dad. Christian didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t approach him correctly and he simply reacted to a perceived threat.” Dad nods his head at my description of the event then looks pensively at Christian.

“Nephew,” I notice Christian doesn’t wince at the address, “Everett must have startled you. Is that correct?” Christian simply nods. “Ok, simply put, Everett routinely expresses himself with hand gestures and arm punches. It takes some getting used to.”

Then Dad turns to me, “Everett, Christian is more reserved than you or I anticipated. Do you remember how I was when I returned from the US?” I nod. “Increase that 100-fold. Don’t expect an explanation, unless Christian deems it necessary. Just keep your distance.”

“Yes Dad.” What happened to my Cousin?

I look at Christian, “I apologize Christian.”

“Thank you Emmett. Thank you Everett.” He shakes Dad’s hand and looks at each of us as he states his appreciation.

Christian then focuses on me and with a gentleness you would show to a small child he says, “Everett, let’s go back inside and talk. Would that be alright with you?” I look at Dad first who tilts his head toward Christian as if to tell me ‘go on’.

I frown for a moment, considering all I wanted to say and all I wanted to accomplish. Somehow, it seems tainted. Somehow, if I were Christian, I wouldn’t trust me. I don’t know why I feel this way, I just do. In that instance the two men realize if I leave, I won’t come back.

“Everett, I’m not holding this against you. My fears aren’t your fault. We can discuss those as well. We’ll have to if we’re being honest with each other.” I nod to him and Dad slaps me hard on the back.

“Good afternoon Lads”, he says as he walks back to his car. He casually gets in and drives away.

Leading the way back into the house Grey says, “Come on Everett, let’s have that Scotch.”

Even I can hear the thankfulness in my voice as I state, “Best offer I’ve had all day.”


GREY

Merci Père céleste
Thank you Heavenly Father

Cher Dieu NON!
Dear God, NO!

ELLIOTT’S SERENADE

I Just Called To Say I Love You, by Stevie Wonder, 1984
Mary Had a Little Lamb, by Sarah Josepha Hale and John Roulstone , 1830
Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, by The Temptations, 1966