The original characters are the property of E.L. James. I’m just having a lil’ fun. No copyright infringement intended.
Chapter 26 | Relatives
In the comfort of the TV room, with a tumbler of 12-year-old Johnnie Walker Black Label Deluxe Blend in my hand, I feel better. “Thank you Christian.”
“Certainly Everett.” He has a deep, pensive frown on his face.
“What’s wrong Christian?” I’ll let him take the lead here.
Quietly he asks, “What happened to Emmett while he was in jail?” Hmm…he starts with my father. Ok. I take it Dad breezed past that part. None of this is fun, but *that* subject is particularly painful.
“By his accounts, he spent the time fighting.” Christian’s frown deepens. “Face it, Christian, Dad’s a good-looking guy and twenty some odd years ago he looked even better. A good-looking guy, obviously far from home, in jail would have some difficulties.” I raise my eyebrow as I stress the word difficulties.
“He never told me exactly what did or didn’t happen to him. He only said he had to fight and keep his back against the wall. When he finally came home to us, he was a totally different man.” I can see him in my mind’s eye, thin, tired and terribly, terribly depressed.
“Dad…Hell, all of us, is demonstrative. We use our hands a lot when we speak, we pat each other on the back, shoulder, we punch and tackle, in and out of fun. Dad was the first one to hug you when you came in the door, pat your back in congratulations or pick you up by the back of the neck to get your attention.”
“After being in the States, he wouldn’t let any of us touch him, at all, not even by accident, without going batshit and lashing out at us. He went to several shrinks, but none of them seemed to help him. They diagnosed him with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as if it took a degree to put a label on his actions then they left him to his fate.”
“It was Ellie who brought him out of it.” I smile to myself remembering her blatant dismissal of Dad’s attempts to keep his distance from her. “She would simply remind him that he hadn’t hugged her on any given day or climb up in his lap for no reason, other than it was what she wanted to do. She was the first person to get close to him.”
“Nothing has stopped his nightmares.” Grey raises an eyebrow, a silent request for more information. “The things the later learned that happened here, while he was in the US, and the things he went through personally, while in the States, converge on him, even now…when he’s asleep. It usually happens when he’s stressed or even angry. I believe he was a little of both after the “Family Feud” the other evening.” I shake my head knowing the part I played in the may-lay then I sigh heavily and continued.
“Ellie was born while Dad was away. Edward had the nerve to question her paternity, which pissed me off. Granted Dad travelled, but it’s not like it takes a million tries to get pregnant. I heard the fights and Dad explained it to me later. As bad as it sounds, Dad is always upfront with me.”
“Mom got sick just before Dad got home. He was actually the one who found her when she passed out, almost minutes before he walked in the door. When he got home from the hospital after Mom’s first night there, he went straight to Ellie’s bedroom and held her for hours.”
“Following Mom’s death, little by little, Dad opened up and told me about searching for you and Aunt Ella, as well as…a little bit about his time in jail. I always thought the stuff you saw on TV was bullshit, but Dad told me how the inmates perceived you dictated how they treated you.”
“My Dad is a quiet storm. He stays to himself and thinks. He ponders a situation and strategizes an approach. Often times, his quietness and patience are taken for weakness and inability, that’s how outsiders perceive him.”
“If Dad’s given too much time to think, he comes up with rather creative measures to approach a situation. He turns those arrangements into business propositions, leading to some particularly nasty take overs.”
“After his experiences in the United States those scenarios became especially cunning. Talking with Ellie and I enabled him to hone them to the situation as it presented itself.” I shake my head at how clever my ole man can be. “He’s calmed down a great deal over the years.”
Christian frowns when he says, “He doesn’t seem like the calculating type.”
“No, he doesn’t. People believe my father is weak-willed, soft…nothing. Businessmen think Edward and I are reckoning forces, which is a joke. I yell, curse and have temper tantrums. I can also create and execute a business model better than anyone, but to systematically choreograph and bring to a complete end another company, no matter its size…that, dear boy…is my Dad.” I say proudly.
“Edward isn’t even that good. He rules from afar, anymore. In his heyday, Edward was suave, sly and serial in his approach to business. He can still manipulate those who are foolish enough to try to engage him.” I reminisce about the fools Edward has left with nothing. Poor fuckers were luck to walk away with their manhood sometimes.
“Ellie thinks Dad learned his strategizing while he was in the military. He learned a lot of things there, but his more abrasive lessons were received during his residency in the Wayne County Correctional Facility.”
I take a long sip of my scotch. The smooth amber liquid helps wash down the emotions that bubble up whenever I consider all my father has endured. He’s the strongest man I know.
“Everett.” The tone in his voice brings me back to him. I look into those grey, sorrow-filled eyes. “Tell me about my mother, please.” He wants to know. Merci Dieu.
My voice shakes a bit as I begin. “Well, aside from those weird color eyes of yours, she looked just like you. I mean you’re her spitting image. You got those eyes from Great-Grandmom, Edward’s mother, I don’t know if Dad told you that or not.” He shakes his head.
“Aunt Ellie looked like her, thus you look like the two of them. No one knows where the blue eyes in our family came from. Edward always blames my mother for those, but he forgets Grandmom, his wife, had blue eyes too. Hers were just light enough that in the right light, they appeared to be grey.”
My physical description of Aunt Ellie matches what Dad told him at the family meeting. Dad is more eloquent than I am. I remember her as Dad described, but my verbal illustration can never hold a candle to his.
I tell Christian what I remember about Uncle Christian as well. Apparently Dad didn’t discuss him much at all, which is strange. They were pretty tight…still are as a matter of fact.
“Uncle Christian is treetop tall, still. You have his voice, that smooth, suave sound. I bet you can sing your ass off too can’t you?” He just blinks, a bit of a shocked look on his face. “I thought so. Your ole man is a fantastic singer. Dad and Granddad would get sour looks on their faces whenever Ryan even hummed or whistled, let a lone sang, around women.” I smile remembering the catty comments Dad and Edward would make about Ryan’s singing. I love my uncle very much. He’s been my only tie to Aunt Ellie for so long.
“He used to sing you to sleep.” The eyebrow raise causes me to explain. “Uncle Christian, or Ryan, Dad calls most men by their last name, would sing you to sleep.” He gives me a ’Yeah, right, sure he did’ look, but presses on.
“How old is everyone?” He sounds like we’re talking about a science experiment.
“Well, I’m the oldest, I’m 44, I’ll be 45 soon. Eran’s 43, Emerson’s 38 and Ella’s 24.” I smile at his interest.
“What about that Beckett character?” He snarls Liam’s name. Hmm. What doesn’t he like about Liam?
“Liam’s 30. He and Ellie were actually born on the same day, six years apart. Ellie’s had a crush on Liam from the time they were small. She always took the birthday thing as a sign they’d be together forever. Kind of girlie for my liking, but who am I to knock her theory. She tries to come off as gruff and hard nose, which she can be both and much more, but that’s not her natural persona. Ellie is a frilly little girl at heart. She just had the misfortune of growing up with a bunch of men. We kind of discolored her world so to speak. She managed to come into her own once she left for college.”
He frowns some more so I take this time to ask, “Why are you interested in Beckett? He’s no relation to us and he’s basically harmless.” My statement doesn’t seem to assuage his concern.
“He was abrupt with Ella at the Beach Party and I sensed it was because of me.”
“What did he say?” If that fucker hurt my sister I’ll kick his Yale ass all the way to Melbourne and back again.
“It was in Italian. I speak French so I don’t know exactly what he said. It was his demeanor and tone that caught my attention. When Ana and I introduced ourselves you would’ve thought I pissed in his face. Ella seemed heart-broken after he made his statement then stormed away.”
“Do you remember what he said? I understand it’s not your second language, but do you remember any of it?” Please let him remember this shit. I’ll break Beckett’s neck.
“I remember what he said, I just don’t know what he meant. He said, ‘Parleremo più tardi il mio Amore. Questa conversazione non è finita’ then he stomped off like a little girl. Taken out of context I don’t believe the sentence meant anything, but his behavior angered me. Ella was obviously embarrassed by his performance. She claimed she was alright so I let the whole thing drop, but I’ve been meaning to ask one of you about him.”
“You’re right about the sentence. He said, ‘We’ll talk later my Love. This conversation is not over’ my question is what was the conversation about in the first place. I’ll find out.”
“You’ll let me know won’t you?” Huh, appears Ellie does have a friend.
I wave my hand at him dismissively, “I’ll take care of whatever it may be. No need to concern yourself.” I realize a fraction of a second too late how flippant that sounded.
“Look, you may think I don’t give a fuck about her and that’s my fault because of my behavior, but aside from Anastasia, Ella is my friend. She was the only person who showed me this fucking city and she dealt with my shitty attitude when it came to Anastasia not being here.” There’s no mistaking the strength in his voice or the conviction in his eyes when he talks about Anastasia…and Ella.
“Before this familial funny farm opened, Ella was the only person who cared. She was even gracious enough to steer clear of Ana and I once my fiancée arrived, so don’t treat my concern like it’s some obligatory sentiment. If that bastard means trouble for Ella then I want to know about it.” He seems to have worked himself into a bit of a tizzy.
I slowly raise my hands in surrender, “Down boy, down. Good grief Charlie Brown. I thought Emmett had a short fuse. What the fuck happened to you?” All that just slipped out. FUCK! I’m not trying to piss him off. It’s good to see he gives a fuck about Ella. He looks like he wants to leap out of his seat. He’s even white-knuckling the tumbler of scotch in his hand.
“Look Christian, you can’t blame me for wondering. As shitty as you can behave, it doesn’t make sense for you to get yourself into a huff about a guy you don’t know over a girl who basically lied to you. Don’t get me wrong, your concern is greatly appreciated, but it’s a bit of a surprise.” He sighs. Poor guy, he’s just as confused about this situation as I am.
The look of confusion and…dare I say…pain on his face makes me remember what Grandmom told me.
This is what she was talking about Ev.
“She was right.” I say absent-mindedly.
“She who?” He snaps.
I sound like I’m in awe. “Grandmom, she told me, when you were small, you’d need my help and I should always be there for you.”
“Oh really…” His sarcasm showing through clearly…that’s enough.
“Watch it Cousin, that old woman loved you more than anyone on this planet could ever dream. She always said you were special, but not invincible. I’ll blacken one of those funny-colored eyes for you.” I growl at him. He doesn’t take down though.
“Special? What’s that supposed to mean?” Pompous ass.
“Christian, Grandmom had an innate sense of right and wrong, good and bad. She followed her gut instinct on everything and she was always right. She took care of you from the second Aunt Ellie stepped in the door with her little blue bundle. You were fucking adorable too. Has Dad shown you the pictures?” Christian nods his head, but there’s no emotion. I remember the day Aunt Ellie brought Christian home. It was almost like Christmas. My cousin was home!
“Christian, I’m gonna be honest with you ok?”
“That’s what this is all about isn’t it?” Asshole!
Deep breath Ev. Your here to answer his questions and tell him about the family. He’s one of you, so be prepared for goading, sarcasm and histrionics to a certain degree. It’s all for the greater good. If Emmett can get through this, twice, then…
Emmett is a better man than me. I haven’t worked up to that level of adulthood. I get just as pissed just as quickly as this fucker does. He’s looking at me like I’m some weak-ass executive he’s about to fire. You really want a piece of me Grey? You’ll have to work for it.
“It was just like Dad told you. Aunt Ellie was the princess of our family and you were the crown prince. I had no problem with it. Eran and Emerson have always been in their own world so it didn’t matter to them if you were here or not. By the way, don’t let it bother you, they feel the same way about me. They dote on Ellie though and I can’t blame them, she’s a wonderful little sister so she deserves it.”
You’re off topic Ev.
Oh yeah…um, what was the question again?
He asked ‘Special? What’s that supposed to mean?’ Get with it Everett.
Shut up, I’m busy.
“Grandmom saw something special in you…and me. I guess since we were each the first child…Hell, I don’t know. She would tell me how gifted and handsome you would be. She put emphasis on the pureness she saw in you. She stressed her sentiment that I must protect you in order for your pureness to be preserved. She felt an aura of goodness around you. She told me that one day you would need me and I should recognize the need because you would never ask anyone for help, not out of pride, it just isn’t in your nature. You don’t ask for help.”
“She said you were an old soul and would be very self-sufficient. She said you needed that to stay strong. She insisted you wouldn’t want to bother to anyone and you would always feel as though you could take on the world…alone.” He’s hanging on my every word.
“She would hold you for hours, Christian. Oftentimes she would cry, but she wouldn’t say why. I believe she missed you even though you were in her arms. She knew we would lose you. She never came out and said it, but if you looked, you could see it in her eyes. She mourned Aunt Ellie and she feared loosing you.” I have to take a deep breath before I can continue. I loved my grandmother deeply and I know it broke her spirit, not just her heart the last time Aunt Ellie left and took Christian with her.
“Grandmom would say things people thought were silly, especially Edward, but when I look back I can see exactly what she was talking about. She said you would struggle and at some point you would fight the world, even us. She told me something else Christian. It was very personal and if you don’t want to talk about it I’ll respect that.” His expression begins to change. He protecting himself, I can tell. Well, he definitely won’t like this.
“Grandmom said there would be people who would take advantage of you. They would cause you to doubt yourself, who you really are deep down. They might even turn you against yourself and it would be hard, but not impossible, to reach you, because you would want to be alone. You know, not ask for help. She didn’t say who would do this to you or how it would happen, she just said it would happen.”
“Was she right Christian? Aside from the customary business rivals, have you been used or manipulated?” He thinks for a long moment and I take another long sip of my drink. When he simply doesn’t respond, I take that as my cue to keep talking.
“Dad already told you about going back and forth to the United States. While he was gone, things here were an absolute shit-storm. Grandmom never forgave Edward for his behavior toward Uncle Christian or toward Dad for supporting Aunt Ellie’s decision to go to Harvard.”
“Grandmom believed if Edward had treated Ryan better then Aunt Ellie wouldn’t have left or at least she would’ve been more comfortable leaving you with us. Grandmom passed away before we received notice that Aunt Ellie’s body was found. My mother died just as Dad returned from the States. They say death comes in threes. It took three women from our home. So, Ellie was the new light in our family”
“Grandmom taught me, as I told Anastasia earlier, a woman’s presence dictates the light in a home. Good, strong women bring a vibrant light and animation with them. Weak women cause the light to haze until they find themselves then the light shines through. Evil women, however, cause light to dim and darken. They give off shades from grey to black and the murkiness of their soul dominates those within its reach.” He has a look of sincere understanding on his face and I know the answer to my prior question.
“What was Edward’s take on all of this? What about your brothers, they must have been hurt by the disappearance of their father, only to have their grandmother and mother taken from them. It must have caused some chaos for them as well.” Apparently he doesn’t know any truly self-absorbed individuals.
Not a bad thing.
“Well, Edward thrives on control. It’s his life’s blood. When Edward isn’t in control of a situation or when he’s wrong, God forbid, Edward lashes out, verbally and physically. He doesn’t fight first, but he will kick ass without taking names. Edward decided to have Dad declared an unfit parent; he took us away from him.” Christian nods he remembers this from Dad’s telling. Edward was trying to bring Dad to heel, but it didn’t work.
“Eran and Emerson don’t understand what happened with Aunt Ellie, Uncle Christian and you. All they know is one day you were all here and the next day you all were gone. They knew everyone was hurting, but rather than inquire about it or investigate it they brushed it off, became apathetic.”
“Like Dad told you, apathy is detrimental to a relationship. That’s what’s happened to them. To keep from thinking about or being involved in a stressful or confusing situation, they belittle it, act as if it’s not worth their time or effort then it doesn’t exist. It’s their defense mechanism.”
He looks at me questioningly. I hold up my hands in surrender again. “It’s true. It’s their way to avoid being hurt. They steer clear of misunderstandings and avert the unknown. When you swim in familiar waters you know how to handle whatever situation might occur, physically and emotionally.”
“They have their uses. The ‘Bookends’, as I call them, are intelligent and knowledgeable about a lot of things and they can work a business deal without batting an eyelash. Stress doesn’t touch them because they don’t acknowledge stressful situations. Just their ‘depth perception’ is limited. They aren’t bad guys, believe it or not, and I have a good time with them, but that’s about the size of it. ”
“I want to apologize for not recognizing you right off. I heard the elusive Christian Grey was as a shrewd businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist. I don’t pay attention to what I unaffectionately call ‘rag magz’ so I had no idea what you looked like. When I got a glance at you the first thing I thought was that looks aren’t everything. Yeah, you looked like Dad and Edward, but that could simply be a coincidence.”
“What changed your mind?” He’s not going to like this either.
“Ellie did one of Dad’s jailhouse moves on you and apparently she drew blood. Our little Marine Biologist had the sample tested and compared with the Genetic Code Dad has on file. Later she told me about the background check too, but that was just a formality for Edward’s sake. She and Dad had conclusive evidence even before going to Edward.”
He’s white as a sheet, poor lad. “You people are…” I have to laugh.
“Ella told you about us didn’t she?” He shakes his head. “Oh come on, she had to tell you what she considers the Family Motto. She loves to freak people out with it.” He looks confused, but that’s just a symptom of information overload. “We really are a sneaky bunch.” He gives me an ‘oh yeah’ expression.
“So Ellie and Dad knew before anyone else. By the time she told me, I had already treated you like shit. I apologize for treating that way. Like you or not, I’ve had better home training than I let on at times. It’s all good in the business world, but not so good otherwise.”
“It’s no problem Everett. Anger is an emotion I understand perfectly and protecting Ella should be her brother’s number one priority. There’s nothing to forgive.”
“Good. Do you have any questions for me Christian? I feel like I’ve said a lot of nothing. I don’t know if I’m helping or just muddying the waters.”
“I’ll admit Everett, things aren’t as clear cut and dry as I would like them to be, but I have a pretty good understanding of what went on. Although we’re not married yet, I know Anastasia is my life. For Emmett to leave his home and family to look for my mother and me is really something. To find out what he lost, his sister, his children, his wife and his freedom for either of us doesn’t go unnoticed either.” I nod my head. At least he recognizes Dad’s sacrifices. It’s a start.
I look him square in the eyes and tell him, “Cousin, when you and Anastasia have children, please be careful what you say, even when you think the kids aren’t paying attention. Kids hear a lot and kids pick up on adult behaviors very well. Keep that in mind.” He looks stunned at me for giving parenting advice. I pray he heeds my suggestion. I’ve witnessed the aftermath far too many times.
We talked for a while, longer than I anticipated actually. I had lunch and dinner with he and Anastasia. It’s magical to see the two of them interact. Dad was absolutely right, she is his shield against the world and she doesn’t even know it. He does and I can tell, he’s not going to let her go…period.
“Thank you both for your hospitality.” I say to Anastasia and my cousin. “You must come to my place for dinner sometime. My son will be here soon and…”
Just as we clasp hands to shake he freezes and says, “Your son?” Oops, didn’t I mention Chris did I?
“Yes…” I say slowly, “my boy. He should be here for holiday. I’m trying to get full custody of him. He’s a good kid, you’d like him.”
I’m a bit puzzled at Christian’s reaction. “Anyway, the two of you should come by my place for dinner whether he’s here or not.” Christian hasn’t said a word and his expression is still one of disbelief.
“What? I’m old enough to have a child. What’s the problem?” I’m no spring chicken even I know that. Guess I’m not the jet-setting playboy he thought I was.
“You never mentioned him, why not?” I didn’t think it mattered actually. This was about Christian, not Christopher.
Guess he’s more into family than you thought.
“You don’t seem the type to discuss children or child rearing so I didn’t bother. Do you have any questions about my boy? I’m not ashamed of him. I’ll answer you.” Christopher has brightened many a day for me. He’s brought Dad and I closer together as well.
Granddad Emmett is a sight to see.
As Christian is still stunned, Anastasia speaks up. She knows when to step in and take point for him. “Tell us about him Everett.”
“His name is Christopher, Christopher Ellis Brown. He’s an only child, the last time I checked at least.” I mumble the last part. “He’s my only child anyway. He’s fifteen, goes to Bellevue High School. He’s on the…”
Out of nowhere Christian bellows, “BELLEVUE HIGH SCHOOL?” I know my eyes are the size of the salad plates. My mouth immediately goes dry. I simply nod.
“As in Bellevue Washington, in the state of Washington? In the United States of America?” Now his eyes are wide.
“Yes.” I manage to rasp out. “Is there something wrong? It’s a good school and a great area to live. Dad’s security is different than Edward’s old fucked up bunch and they…”
He lowers his eyes and puts his hand to his forehead. “Security wouldn’t know about this. FUCK!” Then, all of a sudden, he stops breathing. The sound from his throat is almost a death rattle. “What’s his name?”
“Christopher. Do you know my son Christian?”
Anastasia looks up at him and with worry in her voice she asks, “What is it Christian?”
His mouth presses into a firm, straight line as he looks at Anastasia and utters one word…a name actually. “Elena.”
I look at Anastasia and see the color drain slowly and dramatically from her face. She looks at me with undiluted fear in her eyes. Now I’m pissed. “I would appreciate it if either , or better yet, both of you tell me what the fucking hell is wrong and don’t try to give me any shit about my question or my tone GREY!”
Christian combs his fingers through his hair and asks, “Do you have a picture of your son?”
I reach in my wallet and snatch out his most recent school photo. He’s wearing one of the suits I bought him. I toss it to Grey, “Here…Now what the fuck is this all about?”
“How involved are you in Christopher’s life Everett? How involved is his mother?”
“Well, I, unlike his mother who lives a stone throw from the school, am present for all of my boy’s firsts. I make it to Rugby matches, Fencing matches, even Track meets when he gave that a go.”
“His coaches and teachers know how to contact me directly. I got an American cellular phone service so no one has to worry about country codes and the like. They call me on all issues and I ask for at least 36 hours notice when it comes to conferences or official school business. Since the school publishes its calendar well in advance, it’s not difficult to arrange to be at any and everything. His mother is just a money-grubbing whore who sees my boy as her meal ticket.”
“In Washington State, children have no voice concerning which parent they prefer, that’s one of the reason’s his mother moved him there. I’ve promised Chris I would bring him home with me as soon as I can arrange it.”
“I’ve also told him to be ready for a fight because it won’t be pretty. He claims he understands and will help me any way he can, but I don’t want him involved in my mess. Security is watching him and his mother. They have plenty of dirt on her. I make surprise visits just to keep Chris on his toes. His mother is shoddy and doesn’t know that he skips school or that he only goes so he can participate in the sports matches.”
“He’s working with a community service group as a part-time errand boy for various people in their neighborhood so I’m hoping that will keep him out of trouble. Things were rocky for him when they first moved, but he’s straightening out fairly well. He’s a kid after all and I have to keep in mind how I was at his age.”
Neither Christian nor Anastasia look comforted by my information. “I have to tell you, I’m scared now. The look on your faces has me on high alert. Do I need to go get my boy? I’m a pro at enduring jet lag so if I need to leave right this second I will.”
A tear slips down Anastasia’s cheek and Christian looks at me through narrowed eyes filled with malice. His single word makes my blood run cold, “Yes.”
Merci Dieu. | Thank you God.