My Dear Readers:
If you're a first-timer, you won't know the changes I speak of, so run along and enjoy the ride. To the rest of you, my loyal followers, I've done some moderate housekeeping with Forgotten, and consolidated it into four parts. Thank you to all the dedicated spelling and grammar perfectionists for catching the mistakes I didn't. The end-chapter authors' notes are no longer applicable and have been deleted. You are, as ever, a wonderful bunch. I love you all.
FIFTY SHADES FORGOTTEN
~ CHRISTIAN ~
Blue eyes peer at me from just over the edge of the bed, mere inches from my face. The loveliest eyes to wake up to in the morning, save his mother's. I bring my finger to my lips.
"Shh, Teddy, don't wake Mommy." I roll back, my right hand feeling across the sheets, but the other side of the bed is empty. Shit. In her even-more-clumsy-than-usual state, how does she manage to do that?
"Mommy say Daddy UP!" Ted informs me, pulling himself up on the bed by his dimpled elbows.
"Oh she did, did she?" I yank my little miniature into my arms, tickling him mercilessly. He squeals and wiggles, feet kicking out. Stopping before his face turns too pink, I clutch him to my chest, breathing in his baby scent. My son. My beautiful boy, the light of my life. "Good morning, baby boy."
Teddy pushes off my chest and glares at me, his eyebrows wrinkled. "I not baby! Big brudder!" He bounces up and down on my bladder on every word to drive the message home.
I laugh, which is no better for my full bladder than the bouncing. I lift my son about the waist and plop him down beside me, trying and ultimately failing to look contrite. "Yes, you're a big boy. And you'll be a big brother soon, we've talked about this, remember? Soon, not yet." I kiss his chubby cheek.
Ana has Ted in his chair at the breakfast bar. His face is smeared liberally with peanut butter, and squares of toast are strewn across his area of the counter. How he manages to miss his mouth is beyond me; the boy loves to eat. Ana is leaning, as best she can with her ever-expanding belly, over the counter, making faces at our son. She's so beautiful, hair twirled and pinned, a few stray tendrils framing her face, her curves hugged by her gray flannel dress. She must have a meeting this morning, I suppose. She's preoccupied and oblivious to my musings, and I snake my arms around her from behind, my hands coming to rest on our growing daughter.
"Oh!" Ana jumps a bit, then relaxes into my arms. "Good morning, Daddy."
I smile into her neck, placing a soft kiss against her warm skin. She smells heavenly. "Good morning to you, Mommy. How did you sleep?"
"Not as well as you did," she giggles, turning in my hold to wrap her arms about my neck. She rises on her toes, rounded belly pressing into me, and plants a lingering kiss on my lips. Her rounded breasts brush my chest, sending waves of need southward. I taste peanut butter and a hint of blueberry. Good, she's eaten, my mind changes gear. One less thing to worry over. Ana is so right to label me mercurial, as she does so often. It never ceases to shock me how I can go from carnal need to protector/provider mode in the blink of an eye. I'd never have paid mind to most of my tendencies without her. "You were so out," she says. "Did you enjoy your wake-up-call?"
"I did." I slide my hands downward to clutch her behind as my thoughts take their previous turn. She kisses me once more.
"No antics this morning, Mr. Grey," she chides me, bringing her hands down to my chest and fastening my top button. "I have to go, can you finish up with him? Gail called, she's going to be a little late."
I glance out our back window at the clouds rolling in over the sound. My stomach clenches briefly, and I bury the urge to insist she stay home today. We've had far too many squabbles about her safety and my control-freakishness, and at the end she's upset and I'm angry, and then she's angry and I'm upset. Never a pleasant way to start things, even on the occasion I get my way. Turning back to my wife, I nod, pressing a kiss to her forehead. "All right." I bend and kiss her belly as well. "Wear your jacket, it's looking nasty outside."
"I promise." She fingers my hair lovingly, then trundles off to brush her teeth.
My son had managed to gobble up the last of his toast, making my job that much easier. I dab a washcloth over his face and hands, eliminating the sticky mess. His shirt was another story entirely. The bib remained largely unspattered. Oh, little boys and their organized chaos. I tossed the bib onto the counter and managed to pull the shirt over his head without redressing his face with peanut butter; it joined the bib in a pile. Teddy raised his arms to me and I lifted him, settling him on my hip.
"Wish me luck!" Ana breathes, re-entering the kitchen. She plants a kiss on Teddy's cheek, and then pecks my lips. My free arm captures her, pulling her to me. Even in her rush to get out the door, she's breathtaking. Her eyes are wide, her face flushed with hurry, but she fits herself to my side and I lower my lips to hers, our tongues greeting one another. Her minty breath joins mine, and we lose ourselves in the moment.
"Mommy!" Ted gasps. The indignation on his face is comical, and Ana giggles, breaking us apart. It's one of the loveliest sounds in the world. She puckers her lips at him, Ted leans forward in my arms and gives her a loud, smacking peck.
"I love my boys," she tells us, adjusting the jacket over her arm.
"We love you, too," I say. God, I love her, so very much. "Good luck today, baby."
"Love, Mommy!" Ted bellows, and Ana blows him a kiss. Sawyer holds the front door for her, and they're off.
And I'm left with the task of dressing my son. Again. With any luck, he'll remain semi-clean until Gail arrives. I sigh... in two more months, there will be twice as many little clothes to change. And I'll love every minute of it.
~ ANA ~
"Sure thing, Boss." My assistant bows out, arms laden with folders.
Boss. A title I both love and hate, and love to hate. The past two years as CEO of Grey Publishing have been a whirlwind, a learning experience, and a train wreck, but a profitable one at that. Actually, everything runs quite smoothly, thanks in great part to the mix of veterans on my leadership team; it's me who's the closet train wreck. Most days I'd love to give it all up and play editor again, but there are some things that make this all worth doing, not the least of which is Christian's overwhelming pride and respect for me. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him, and a handful of overwhelmingly talented writers would likely be lost in "The Pile" if it weren't for my position, so the value of what I do outstrips my occasional disdain for all things Executive. Hannah sneaks me the occasional manuscript to mark up, bless her, so it makes the mundane business side of things a bit less stressful. I'm not sure what I'll do when she leaves to pursue her Master's Degree later this summer.
Post-meeting mental rant over, I sip my tea and log into my computer. There are four emails from editors, an event reminder from the ever-invaluable Jerry Roach, my right hand, and of course, an email from Christian. I smile.
IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII
From: Christian Grey
Subject: This Evening
Date: June 19 2014 10:27
To: Anastasia Grey
I thought of something after you left. I'd like to discuss it with you over dinner. Gail has graciously volunteered Sophie to entertain our son when she arrives this afternoon.
Is this agreeable?
Hope your meeting went well.
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.
IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII IIIII
His formality makes my eyebrows furrow. It was like he went straight for the point, and then did the hot coals dance around it. He probably thinks I won't like it, whatever it is. And he's arranged for Teddy to be away, so he either thinks he's going to seduce me into whatever it is he wants, or whatever it is, I'll be upset, and he doesn't like for Teddy to see either of us upset. We've quarreled about that last part several times, too. Outright fighting in front of a child is one thing entirely, but sheltering Teddy from negative emotions could confuse him later. I sense another long discussion over this differing of our opinions on the horizon.
My phone rings.
"Grey," I answer.
Now I'm jolted. "Christian," I try, and fail, to hide the surprise in my voice. "I just read your email."
He sighs. "I hope you're not overthinking it." He knows me too well, but if I know him equally, he's running his fingers through his hair.
"And... you're running your fingers through your hair."
He snorts. "Guilty." I hear the half-smile in his voice. "Please don't overthink it; if you say no, then that's that. I promise I won't push the issue. Just give it some thought, please."
The dance continues. I wish he'd just get to the point. "What issue is there to push?" I press him. "Come on, love. Out with it."
"Not now. Later." The command returns to his voice.
I sigh, exasperated. "Fine. But it's your fault if I don't get anything done today. I'll have it on my mind until you tell me, whatever it is."
"Duly noted." There's a pause.
"Can I get back to work now, Sir?"
He laughs. "Of course, Mrs. Grey. I'll see you at home."
I smirk. "I love you, Christian."
"I love you too, Ana."
There's another pause.
"Hang up, Christian," I order.
"I don't want to."
"Count of three?" I suggest.
"As you wish, Mrs. Grey."
I giggle. "One..."
We're such teenagers sometimes.
"Thank you Sawyer," I say as he helps me into the back seat. I don't think I'll ever be entirely used to having staff waiting on me every minute of the day, but I am grateful for Sawyer. At the very least, he makes climbing into vehicles far less awkward.
Sawyer nods, closes my door, and climbs into the front passenger seat. He's still uncomfortable with appreciation, but that doesn't stop me from expressing mine.
Ryan pulls out into traffic, and I slump back into the leather seat, rubbing the stretched-tight skin over my belly. It's hard to believe I'm going to get bigger, but I am. I was positively cetacean with Teddy. My head rolls to the right, and my eyes unfocus, objects passing in a blur, mingled with the raindrops clinging and streaking from the tinted window.
Just beyond, two bright lights pause.
I can't hear.
It doesn't hurt.
~ CHRISTIAN ~
"No." My steepled hands at my lips; the conference room falls silent. I take my time uprighting myself from the reclinable leather desk chair. My hands move to clasp one another in front of me, and I consider the state of my fingernails, my wedding band glinting off the recessed halogens. "Our position must remain that of observation. They want us, of that we can be certain. Argyle's board wants to stay together, and they have the best chance of that with us. They're astute and talented people. We have to be patient, let them come to us." I sit back again. "If there is no contact by close of business Wednesday next, we'll revisit."
Lois starts to open her mouth, but thinks better of it. She lowers her eyes, her blonde curls falling forward. I greatly value her stance on all GEH matters, it more often opposes my own, and strangely enough, I like that. Far greater options on various dealings have been presented since she came to join the board. But she knows when to shut the hell up, and I appreciate that ever more.
"Sir." Taylor's voice interrupts from the doorway. My eyes are still flitting among the nine other pairs seated at my table.
"We need to go, Sir. Now."
His tone is off. It's rare for Jason Taylor to interrupt a meeting, and unheard of for him to issue any hint of a command in my direction. My eyes fly to his. Taylor's face is tight, ashen.
"Take over, Ros." My voice remains even. My legs obey. My heart pounds unsteadily, and we're in the elevator. Taylor pushes the button labeled G. I see the wood-paneled doors slide closed, feel us drop. "Well?" My throat closes, every nerve ending on fire.
The pause is unbearable. "It's Mrs. Grey, Sir. There was an accident. She's pretty bad. Ryan just called from the ER... he said both she and Sawyer were taken to surgery.
Oh. Dear. God. No. "The baby?" I choke.
"I don't know, Sir."
Kill me. Kill me now. My legs give out and I slump against the mirrored elevator wall as the door opens on the garage level. I don't care that Taylor is supporting me as I stumble to the waiting SUV. I don't even care that he gets into the backseat with me. My heart hurts. It hurts.
"I want to drive," I struggle against him, but I'm weak and unsteady. I need to get to her.
"I can't let you, Sir. Owen knows the way."
I want to scream. My hands shake. Then my shoulders, my face is wet. No, she can't see me cry. I drag my fingers across my cheeks.
"Dr. Treveylan, I have him. We're on our way. Yes, ma'am. I understand." Taylor clicks his phone off. "Your mother will meet us at the rear entrance."
I'm only vaguely aware that Taylor is talking, much less talking to me. Ana. Hang on, baby, I'm coming. Just hold on. "My mother?"
"Yes, Sir. She was on duty when Mrs. Grey was brought in."
Ana. Oh God, please let her be okay. Let her live. Let the baby live. God please...
"Sir, we're here." Taylor grips my shoulder, and I stumble after him.
"Christian!" my mother's arm is around my waist, pulling me forward.
"Mom..." I can't form words. I just let her take me; take me to Ana, to the other half of my soul.
She pulls me into an elevator, but doesn't release me. We get out on some floor, and she pulls me along again. She hasn't said anything. Why hasn't she told me? Oh it's bad. It must be... God, please...
She stops briefly to sign something, and pulls me into a room. It's small, low-lit, there's an ugly vinyl sofa and chairs. I freeze. This is the room they take you to when they have to tell you someone died.
I was in a room like this once, long ago... and suddenly, a haze fills me, a numb, care-not fog. It's blissfully temperate, and I wonder why I'm here. Then everything crashes in again, the stabbing pain returns to my chest. "I've lost them," I whisper. My knees make contact with the sterile tile.
Mom grips my shoulders, hard. "Oh Christian," she chokes a sob. "Ana's still holding on. But..."
My Ana! She's... but that means... "My daughter..."
She pauses for an eternity, her hand over her mouth. "I'm so, so sorry, darling."
This can't be happening. It can't be... "No... no no no no nononononono..."
Mom holds me, but I just can't bear it any longer. I push her away as gently as I can manage, falling back, wrapping my arms around my knees. My wife may still die... my child, my poor, poor baby girl will never open her eyes upon the world. My family is falling apart...
"Teddy?" I blurt out, despair turning to panic.
"Gail has him, Sir. He's just fine. Carter is with them."
Taylor's still here. I hadn't noticed. I press my forehead to my bruised kneecaps, willing this all to be a terrible nightmare, and not the reality it surely is.
Time passes. My father is there, my brother, my sister, they sit by me in turn. I hear the word 'breakdown' uttered. I can't look at them, can't see them. Mom leaves, and my fists clench. She'd only leave for an update, and my aching heart rips open, fresh in the agony of waiting to hear my dear Ana's fate.
"She's still stable, Christian," her voice soothes me, and I choke on another sob, curling into myself once again.
That voice rattles my anguish briefly enough, and I look up. "John."
"I came as soon as I heard." Dr. John Flynn often sits cross-legged in his office chair, and now, here he is, in much the same fashion on the floor beside me. "Where are your thoughts, Christian?"
I know this exercise. I'm vaguely aware that everyone has left. I imagine my father called him. They must think Ana's going to... No. No! "She can't die, John, she can't..."
"Your mother told me Ana's doing a bit better. She'll be out of surgery soon. Let's focus on that, all right?" He lowers his face, looking up toward me, like trying to coax compliance from a child.
"My... my baby..."
"I heard. I'm so sorry."
The words... I struggle to string them together. "Ana... I can't... I can't lose her, John. I can't."
"She's still with us, Christian. You know how strong she is."
I nod, my aching head bobbing like a doll. "She's the strongest person I know. So much more than I am. She's my life..." I swallow another sob.
I suck in a ragged breath, and weary, sick relief floods my body. I hadn't noticed I was holding my breath. I haven't done that since I was a child... since I drove her away... since that fucker Hyde...
"Keep talking," he prods.
"I don't know what to do. I always know what to do, I always have a plan." I shudder. A new despair washes over me. "What am I going to tell her?"
Flynn shakes his head. He's at a loss, a reaction I'd never seen from the man before. "That you love her," he decides. "That it happened, that you're here for her, and that you'll get through it, together." He pauses. "I know, it's standard and clinical, but it's all I've got. There really is no easy answer sometimes."
My mother knocks lightly at the cracked door.
Flynn straightens, indicating for me to rise with him. My sore knees resist, but the rest of my body doesn't... I can't seem to make any decisions at the moment. He gestures me over to the vinyl couch, and then sits beside me. I put my head in my hands. I can feel Flynn looking at me. "Your mother would like to bring your daughter to you. It would be good... for you, and later for Ana... to be able to say goodbye to her." He pauses, and his voice softens further. "It might be your only chance before hospital procedures take over."
"She's..." I can't finish the thought.
"Christian," my mother says softly from the doorway. Her eyes are watery, filled with sorrow. "Would you like to see her?"
When I woke this morning, I saw my child's eyes. Laughing, gentle blue eyes. He was going to be a big brother. I could see him, envision him holding her hand, helping her learn to walk, to run, playing together. And now, I see him, alone in our meadow, picking flowers to place on her grave. I see Ana, sobbing beneath the great maple tree, a place she'd gone to daydream about our children. I see our family growing distant, isolated, lonely. And I see a little angel, my little Phoebe, a perfect miniature of her mother, with tears in her eyes. No. I won't let this tear us apart. I won't let her be forgotten. I want to remember my child.
"Yes, please Mom. I want to see her."
John stands and excuses himself. I hear him murmuring to my father in the hallway. My mother... I've never seen her this shaken, not since the Charlie Tango incident. She pulls the door closed behind her and approaches me, almost apprehensive, a white bundle tucked in her arms, tears glittering on her cheeks. She lowers herself to sit beside me.
"She's very small..." she murmurs, unable to go on, and gently passes the bundle into my arms.
I sniffle. "Thank you, Mom."
And she is small. I pull back the blanket. Her tiny body is dark pink in color, and covered by a light dusting of white, downy hair. I remember reading about this in one of Ana's pregnancy books... this is my daughter.
"Hello, Phoebe," I begin. "My beautiful baby girl. You were always wanted. Always loved. And always will be." I lift her and place a soft kiss on her tiny forehead. Her skin is cold, and that does me in. I bring her body to my chest and hold her, rocking her, rocking myself. My mother holds me. She must have been through this other times with other patients, but this is different. This was her granddaughter.
I feel as helpless as I did when she and I first met. I turn to the woman who saved my life, and her expression mirrors mine. "Is she in Heaven, Mom?"
My mother nods, absolute conviction in her eyes. "I know she is."
More time passes. I'm unsure how much time. I tearfully relinquished my daughter's body back to my mother, with her word that she'd be kept safe and sound. My father said something about taking care of arrangements, and not to worry. Flynn spoke in my general direction for a while longer. I missed much of what he said, and then he went home, saying something about being on call if I needed... whatever I needed. Mia and Ethan brought food, but it felt like an incendiary device had gone off in the pit of my stomach. Mia cried. For the first time in my life, I couldn't bear her to be near me.
My mother walked me up to Ana's room in intensive care, explaining her injuries and what to expect, but the whooshing in my ears from my racing heart was such that I heard about every seventh word. It didn't really hit me until I saw her.
It was worse than after Hyde's attack, so much worse. She was hooked up to a multitude of machines, beeping, clicking, whirring, all keeping her alive. Her entire right arm encased in plaster, head bandaged, her blanket covering any number of other injuries. Dark circles ringed her eyes. A tube taped to her mouth, her chest rising and falling to the sucking sound of a ventilator.
I feel my knees weakening again, and my mother takes my hand, squeezing my fingers. "She'll be asleep awhile. You should talk to her though," she says.
I settle into the chair by her bed and lean against the railing. She's so badly broken, I'm afraid to touch her, and after feeling how cold and lifeless our daughter had been, I'm terrified Ana will feel the same way to me. It's irrational, I know. "Tell me again, Mom. please. I'm sorry, I wasn't able to pay attention the first time." And I brace for the rundown.
My vigil is arduous. 'Awhile' turned to 'indefinitely' when her brain began to swell. On day six, as Ana lay comatose, I left her side for an hour to bury our daughter. I pray she won't hate me for doing this without her, but it was for our daughter's peace, not for mine or anyone else's, that I moved forward with her burial. We'll do a memorial when Ana wakes up, whatever she wants. Whatever will help her to forgive me.
If she wakes up. And this is becoming a bigger, graver if.
Gail brings Teddy by every day, and I see him in the waiting room. Children aren't permitted in the ICU. The hole in my heart rips open every time he asks about his little sister, and every time I soothe his 'I want Mommy' tears. I can't let him see his mother this way, even if he were allowed in. I know exactly how confusing and frightening it would be for him.
Mom called Dr. Sluder in to take the lead on Ana's case. She's been subjected to MRIs and other various tests every afternoon, but the results are never conclusive and rarely encouraging. I can recite the contents of her chart by heart, and while I don't have a very firm grasp on this kind of medicine, the neutrality of the vitals and orders written on the page pick at my desperation to take action, though there is none to take. None that I can take, that is.
Ray arrived late evening on the first day. Carla arrived on the second day and neither has left except to sleep and clean up I booked them in the dual suite at the Fairmont. Maybe that was inappropriate on my part, putting them together, but I really didn't care at the time, much above and beyond seeing that everyone was taken care of. Sawyer went home on bed rest after surgery to remove a ruptured spleen and was back for light duty after the second week. Ryan, quickly recovered from a minor concussion and bruising, insisted upon taking shifts at the door to the ICU. We spoke briefly, he voiced his feelings of guilt over what part he could have played in driving the SUV, but as the police report concluded, it wasn't his fault. The other driver, a known repeat-offender of drug and alcohol abuse, got behind the wheel that afternoon to buy cigarettes. They found his mangled body across the street.
And Ana... there's been no change. Twenty-three days, and other than the bruises fading and staples removed, she hasn't moved, hasn't taken a breath on her own, her eyelids don't even flicker as she sleeps. Mom uses long clinical terms to describe her lack of progress in the most gentle way she can, but I know better. The longer she sleeps, the less likely she is to wake. Devastation doesn't even begin to describe my grief. The reality that Ana may never open her eyes seeps into my soul like the blackest ink, like slow, creeping poison.
Dad visits every morning and evening and makes me leave Ana to clean myself up, to change clothes at least once a day. I don't see the point, I'm not here to impress anyone, and I don't believe I smell. He visits for a while, mentioning things like DNR orders and living wills. I tune him out. Taylor takes orders from him in my stead; we haven't said more than five words to one another in days. Mia brings food and stays until I eat, though what she offers goes down like wood pulp. Next to me, Ana wastes away on a cocktail of intravenous fluids. Ros brought some paperwork by for my signature, but I said something harsh and she hasn't returned.
The nurses see fit to quarrel with me daily over Ana's treatment. Something about an electrode current therapy, which in layman's terms to me meant electric shocks. How barbaric. This is supposed to be a hospital, where people go to recover from things like car accidents. My mother had to leave a patient to explain the procedure to me and to convince me to let the staff do their jobs. My behavior has evidently become increasingly atrocious as each day passes, but I really don't care.
I feel Ana slipping away. John stops by every afternoon, but for the first time as my therapist, he's of no help. I think my father is paying him to be sympathetic. Elliot and Kate took Teddy to stay with them after I insisted Gail not bring him by the hospital anymore. I hate myself for whatever damage this will do to my relationship with my son, and I miss him terribly, but it's what's best for him.
The swelling in Ana's brain subsided in the third week, and they attempted to end her coma. Ana stubbornly refused. I was told that it isn't unheard of, considering the extent of the trauma she sustained. She now sleeps of her own free will. I hate and I love and I hate how stubborn she can be.
I rest my head against Ana's mattress, her uninjured hand in mine. I talk to her, read to her, though I'm sure she can't hear me. I have to do something... anything.
"Ana, baby... please, please come back to me," I whisper, pressing kisses to her fingers. "I miss you. I need you. I love you."
And on the thirtieth day, her fingers moved.
I startled. Perhaps it was my imagination. I brushed her knuckles lightly with my thumb, and waited, what seemed like forever. And she twitched again. An alarm goes off, one of her machines. An orange light on the ventilator... Christ, no! I furiously punch the alert button on the wall. Seconds later, two nurses scurry in.
"Don't be alarmed, Mr. Grey. Ana's just trying to breathe. The ventilator doesn't like it when patients try to breathe on their own," she says, almost cheerfully. Nurse Two... I never bothered to learn their names... is disconnecting the breathing tube, and I see Ana's fingers move again, curling into her palm.
Oh God, it's happening. My mind sails into a joyous, if ever possible, panic mode. She's actually waking up... what do I say? What do I tell her? Will she hate me? Why didn't I prepare what I'd say to her? I chastise myself for this most selfish stream of consciousness. She's waking up, that's what matters. That's all that matters.
Nurse One moves down to check the chart, and I pick up Ana's fisted hand. "Baby, I'm here," I say to her.
"Please stand aside, Mr. Grey," Nurse One bustles back over to Ana, and I practically leap away as she reaches toward my chest to urge me out of the way. I haven't reacted quite that violently to a stranger's attempted contact in years. They're checking her pulse, checking everything, when Dr. Sluder strides in.
"Trying to wake up today, are we, Mrs. Grey?" she drawls, briefly consulting the chart Two is holding up for her and then feeling Ana's pulse.
"What's happening?" I demand.
"Your wife is regaining consciousness, Mr. Grey," she says without looking at me. "Will you draw the shades for me, please." This isn't a question.
Dr. Sluder scurries around, adjusting machines and checking Ana's reflexes. "Waking coma patients don't like bright lights, Mr. Grey. Please, the shades."
Stunned, I do as I am told. I move cautiously toward the bed, but stop about halfway, disembodied with uncertainty.
"Come on, darlin'," Dr. Sluder encourages, her fingers gently prodding my wife's cheeks.
Ana's eyelashes flutter. I'm dimly aware that I'm holding my breath, and in the time it takes to remember how to exhale, she's blinking slowly, sleepily.
"Good to see you, Ana," Dr. Sluder says to her. "You're in the hospital. You were in an accident. There's a tube in your mouth that was helping you breathe, we'll take it out in a minute. If you understand, can you give my hand a squeeze?" She seems satisfied with Ana's minimal response and has a third nurse, who has exchanged places with Two, remove the tape from Ana's face.
"When you're ready, take a deep breath and then blow out, Ana." Dr. Sluder waits as Ana's chest rises, and then gently pulls the tube. Ana's cough is dry and weak. I'm glued to the spot, heart pounding, as One offers Ana water through a straw.
"Mr. Grey, come on over," Dr. Sluder waves toward my recently vacated bedside seat. Ana is so weak, so groggy, she doesn't... or can't... turn her head to look for me. I wonder sadly when she'll notice the flatness of her abdomen, and hear myself choke back a sob.
Ana closes her eyes, breathing somewhat laboredly, but the slow opening and closing of her pale, chapped lips tells me she's still awake.
Dr. Sluder and Three exchange acronyms and statistics for a minute, and then she tells me she'll be right back.
"Mrs. Grey, I'm going to make you a little more comfortable, all right?" One tells Ana. I see her name badge, Sharon. Anyone who makes my wife comfortable is worth remembering.
"Who..." Ana rasps, eyes opening, barely slits.
"What's that, Mrs. Grey?"
"Who's... Mrs. Grey..." Ana whispers.
The air leaves my lungs.
"That's you, honey," Nurse Sharon's cheerful demeanor replaced with instantaneous and dutiful concern. Her eyes flit to mine, gauging my reaction, or lack thereof.
What the fuck just happened?
"Ana, baby..." I say softly, leaning in toward her, picking up her good hand.
Her eyes take me in, brow furrowing a bit, lips parted in a small, confused 'O'. She pulls her hand weakly from mine.
My heart plummets.
"Mr. Grey, may I see you outside?"
My head turns mechanically. Dr. Sluder's hand is extended toward me. It appears she's been back long enough to assess the situation. I turn back to Ana. Her eyes... is that, no... fear? I shuffle slowly, swallowing the rising sawdust from whatever Mia has fed me this morning and back out from the room. Ana's eyes remain locked with mine only seconds more, and then she looks away. Nurse Sharon adjusts her pillows. I can't hear what she tells Ana, but she looks frightened. My Ana...
"Memory loss was always a possibility, Mr. Grey," Dr. Sluder tells me, but I'm at once distracted by the form of my mother jogging toward me up the hall.
"Awake?" my mother interrupts. "Yes, Taylor just paged me."
"No, listen... Mom, she's, she's..." I can't form the words. I don't want to. I can't accept it. I'll fall apart again. I've done that enough in the last thirty days to last ten lifetimes. I'm Christian Grey, CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation, I. Do. Not. Fucking. Lose. It. I clench my jaw, steeling my soul.
"Ana doesn't know me."
My effort holds for a moment suspended in time, but in the end, it's worthless. And again, in as many weeks, my world comes crashing down.
~ ANA ~
I was supposed to have a midterm today. I was supposed to get up, fight with Kate over who ate the last of the cereal and should go to the market, and then I was supposed to go to class, write a brilliant essay, meet with my academic advisor, and then come home in time to get ready for 'Merlot and a Movie' at the arts center. Jose's been excited about it all week. Now I have doctors hovering all around, asking me what day it is, what my name is, to follow the flash of a penlight when all it does is hurt my eyes. Why won't they tell me what's going on? My head hurts.
"I want my Dad."
My voice sounds awful. The one in pink scrubs, with 'Sharon' embroidered on the breast pocket, nods and walks away.
"Ana?" This doctor has light blue scrubs and sandy blonde hair. She looks kindly at me. "How are you feeling?"
"Tired... and confused," I whisper. Whispering is good, it hides the fact that my voice sounds so terrible.
"Are you feeling any pain?" she takes my left hand... ugh, what happened to my right arm? I'm never going to get any writing done with this thing. And it does hurt a bit, I realize. So does my pounding head.
"My arm hurts... my head a little more."
She nods, readjusting the bag of fluids dangling above me. The relief is almost instantaneous. My eyes roll back before closing.
"Thank you," I whisper.
"Whatever you need, we'll see that you get it," she tells me. "Can we talk for a bit?"
I open my eyes, and she's seated herself next to me. Where the copper-haired angel was... why was he so sad? Was he even real? He felt real…
"Ana, do I look at all familiar?"
My eyes are busy adjusting, but I'm pretty sure I've never seen her before. It feels... wrong, to let her down.
"I'm sorry," I say.
She nods, kindly, but looks saddened. "That's all right, dear. I'm Dr. Trevelyan, but you can call me Grace. Would you mind telling me the last thing you remember?"
I think, hard. It sends my thoughts out of focus, like the second-guessing I feel on multiple-choice tests. I hate those. "Um... I remember I'm supposed to have midterms today. Can I go soon? I need to make sure my professors know I'm not skipping class. I'm graduating in a couple months." I swallow, my throat now dry from the exertion of forced speech. Grace looks at me, sadly.
"Ana, you don't have to worry about that, all right?" she reassures me. I'm not the best at reading people, but I know when someone's holding back. What is it?
I look toward the cup of water at the side table. Dr. Grace expertly understands and retrieves the cup, bringing the straw to my lips. The water tastes stale and antiseptic, but it's thoroughly quenching. "We'll have something better brought to you soon, when your specialist clears you."
"Um... does my Dad know? He's my emergency contact. He lives in Montesano." I just want my Daddy. I need a familiar face. There's a sudden itch on my cheek, and my arm is too weak to lift my hand to scratch. It's terribly disarming.
Dr. Grace must sense my unease. "Your parents are both on their way up, they should be here in about ten minutes." she promises.
Mom too? How did she get here so fast? Unless... oh no. My bottom lip quivers. "How long did I sleep?"
"About a month," she tells me, her voice full of sympathy. "We're all very happy to see you awake, Ana. You sustained a terrible head injury, and we weren't sure you'd come back to us."
A month? Is she serious? Oh... graduation is so not happening now. I want to cry, but I don't think my body has the strength. "Why is it so hard to move?"
"Your muscles are in a state of pre-atrophy," she explains. "You didn't use them for a long time, so it's going to take a bit of therapy to get you back to where you were before." There's still something she's not telling me.
"There's more... isn't there," I ask. I don't want to know, but I need to know. But I don't want to. Shit, I'm scared. It must show on my face, because Dr. Grace picks up my hand again. I swallow, hard.
"Some time has passed from what you last remember. Quite a lot more than a month, actually," she explains, speaking slowly, carefully. "The head injury you sustained seems to have caused some memory loss. It's called retrograde amnesia, and it's incomplete, meaning you respond to your name and remember specific details, but there seems to be a period of about three years that you're missing."
What? I gasp, and my chest heaves in a fit of dry coughing. "You're kidding, right?" I say when I've recovered. I'm suddenly very tired, the spasms having drained all of my energy.
"Believe me, I wish we were having a very different conversation right now," she says knowingly.
I don't have much left in me, but I need to know something while I can still keep my eyes open. "The nurse... she called me Mrs. Grey..."
Dr. Grace nods. "That's because it's your name. Anastasia Rose Grey. You're married to my son, Christian."
What? That's impossible. Who? Oh…tThe copper-haired angel? That can't be... this can't be real. I'm going to wake up and it'll be some sick, twisted dream. It's the stress of exams. Yes, that's it. I can't be married, I've not even passed second base. No, this can't be real. My eyes unfocus, but whether from exhaustion or the overwhelming and unbelievable conversation I've just had, I have no idea. The ceiling spins and goes dark.
~ CHRISTIAN ~
"Can I get you anything, boss?"
Taylor has been standing over me for the last half hour. I'm not sure why. Probably because I pay him to, but I don't need a babysitter. "No." I swallow. But I feel something... remorse? This isn't his fault. I'm being an ass. I've been impossible, to everyone. Why is my sense of decorum rearing its fucking head now? "I'm sorry, Taylor. I know you're just doing your job."
He nods. "Sir."
My mother cautiously exits Ana's room. She folds her arms. "Well, she's back among the living, that's the important thing."
I nod to Taylor, and he moves away, but keeps within sight. "Tell me."
"She thinks she's supposed to take her midterms today. Senior year."
I squeeze my eyes shut, the blood rushes to my ears again. "Christ, she's lost it all." I want to hit something, put my fist through a wall. I've done worse. "How did this happen? Why these memories? Why not her whole life? Why not just the last couple of months? Why did she have to lose me?"
Mom shakes her head at me. "She's lost Ted, too."
Of course. And our daughter. I've got to be the most self-centered bastard in the universe. I swallow, hard. "I know, Mom. I just..."
"Oh Christian," she carefully wraps her arms around me. It's uncomfortable, but I bear it. This is my mother, I remind myself. She must feel my hesitation, because she releases me.
"I'm sorry, Mom... I'm so worked up."
"Don't apologize, darling. We all are."
"This is so..." I shake my head. "Hard."
"I know." She settles for clasping my hand. "We're going to take things slow. You should go home, get some sleep. See Teddy. Ana needs to rest."
"No... I need to stay. She needs me, whether she knows it or not. I can't leave her." I can't decide whether I sound desperate or unreasonable.
"You haven't seen your son in nearly three weeks. Go." She shoots a look at Taylor and physically walks me down the hall toward the elevator, continuing to talk at me. "I'm staying. She's familiar with me now. Her parents are on their way up, when she wakes again they'll be able to reassure her."
I feel the need to dig my heels in, but my mother's grip on my arm is much firmer than I ever recall. "But she'll think I don't care..."
"Nonsense, Christian. You're exhausted. Pick up Teddy, and get eight hours sleep, that's an order. I don't want to see you here before seven a.m."
I open my mouth to argue, then think better of it. I've gone fucking soft. I stop as she jabs the call button, and the doors open. "You'll call if anything happens. No matter the time."
"Of course. I promise." And she pushes me into the elevator. Taylor follows.
My son is focused intensely on his orange scribble. "Ted?" I call him, hoping offhandedly that it's a nontoxic crayon he's holding.
"Daddy!" he drops the crayon and launches himself at me. I scoop my boy up into my arms and swing him round, clutching him to my chest. I breathe in his hair, his baby scent so sweet and familiar and soothing.
"Did you miss Daddy?" I ask as enthusiastically as I can manage.
"No more bi-ness tips," my son insists in his two-year-old lisp. I flash a halfhearted glare at his aunt. I suppose it was a lie as the best form of defense, but evading the question may have been better, like we've been doing when he asks for Ana.
"Sorry," she mouths, balancing my niece, Ava, on her hip.
I nod. "Thank you, for looking after him. It means a great deal."
"We wouldn't have it any other way." Kate's very fond of Ted. "Your mom called to tell us the news. So... she's...?" Kate raises her eyebrows.
I return my attention to my son. "Teddy, go find Mr. Leo so he can come home with us," I set him down and his little toddler legs propel him from the room.
Kate waits patiently. I didn't know she had it in her, but she's mellowed quite a bit since becoming a mother; she's far less unbearable.
"She's... forgotten some things." I manage.
"Forgotten?" Kate asks, alarmed. "Like what... her shoe size? Her name? Is she okay?"
I sigh. "She thinks she's still in college."
Kate's mouth drops open. "Oh..."
I run my hand through my hair. "Yeah." I shake my head. I won't fall apart in front of Kate. I sniff, raising my eyes to the vaulted ceiling. "She didn't recognize me."
I nod. A silence stretches between us.
"It'll come back to her, Christian," Kate says, shaking her head. "She has to remember. You're far too memorable to forget for long." Kate, always resorting to sharp jokes to lighten the mood.
I scoff. "I hope you're right. For once."
"Daddy, go home now?" Ted has a raggedy, stuffed lion clutched under one arm and a soggy cookie in his free hand.
"Yes, we're going home. Say thank you to Auntie Kate."
Ted blows her a kiss with his cookie hand, and crumbs fly. I offer a smirk of apology.
"...good night stars, good night air. Good night noises everywhere." I close the book; my son is fast asleep. Leaning down, I press my lips to his forehead. "Good night, baby boy. I love you."
I leave his door cracked, night light on. He should be fine, but just in case, I set the baby monitor for good measure.
The open door across the hall causes me to falter. I quickly steel myself and pull that door closed before I see enough of the lilac-and-sage quilt draped over Ana's rocking chair. I'll have Gail deal with packing up those items tomorrow. We won't be needing them now.
My bed looms before me. My stomach tightens. I'm exhausted, but unprepared. The place I lay my head has never looked so unwelcome before. The last time I was here, the last time I truly slept, Ana was here. She was with me, we were together. She loved me then. We hadn't quarreled in a long while. We were having a daughter. Things were good. Really good. And now...
I turn on my heel, returning the way I came. My son, sprawled out near the edge of his big-boy-bed, looks damn peaceful, and I envy him. My eyes droop of their own accord, and I barely make it over the safety railing before passing out. I'm barely aware of my son curling up against my chest.
My phone angrily, albeit silently, wakes me. Shit. It's wedged painfully between my hipbone and the firm mattress of my son's sailboat-themed bed. Ted is still curled against me. Shit. I roll back slightly, my son's body twitching at the movement, and retrieve the offender. Caller ID flashes a picture of my mother. Shit.
"What's wrong?" I whisper harshly, attempting to extricate myself from the bed, pulling the covers over Ted and tiptoeing from the room. The door closes with a soft 'click'.
"Nothing at all, I was about to ask you the same." My mother sounds anxious.
"What do you mean?"
"It's... seven thirty."
Shit. "Ted and I, we uh... had a late night," I explain, rubbing my face. "How's Ana?"
"She had a good sleep. She woke for a while, and Ray and Carla got to talk with her. She's pretty upset, which is understandable, but they've explained some general things to her, nothing about the children, of course. It might be better to let her gradually absorb things."
I sigh. "Yes, that's probably best."
My mother pauses. This woman who raised me, cared for me, saved my life... I've not treated her so badly, not since I was a teenager... no, not even then. I've been horrendous to everyone, and she's been there for me, for Ana, more than the rest, and hardly looks the worse for it. I'm about to apologize when I hear her voice again. "She's asked to see you."
I feel the blood drain from my face.
"She still doesn't remember, if that's what you're trying to work out. I can hear your gears spinning, dear."
I sigh again. "You know me far too well, Mom."
"Sometimes," she acknowledges. "She only wants to re-familiarize herself with her life. Where most others would be in perpetual denial, she's chosen to face this head-on. You married a strong woman, Christian."
"I did." The thought reaffirms my commitment. "I'll be there soon."
"I love you, darling."
"You too, Mom."
The mirror over our vanity is on my shit list at the moment. I've never found myself particularly attractive, not the way women do, but I've steadfastly prided myself on maintaining my appearance. The figure looking back at me when I entered the bathroom was grandly repellent. I'd not realized how utterly the events of the past month had affected me outwardly.
Twenty minutes later I'm showered, shaved and dressed, teeth clean and hair tousled in a presentable manner. I had to tighten my belt a notch, but things being what they are, it could be worse.
Teddy isn't in his room. A moment of panic stabs my gut, but relief takes over when I see that Gail has him on the deck, sharing waffles with him at the picnic table. I retrieve a yogurt from the fridge and join them; some vitamin D might do us all some good.
"Good morning, Teddy," I kiss the top of his head and sit across from him. His mouth is stuffed with a sticky mixture of waffle and blackberry jam. "Good morning, Gail."
"Good morning, Mr. Grey," Gail flashes a kind smile. "Your mother called me yesterday evening with the news. I hope you're doing all right."
I nod, swallowing a spoonful of yogurt. For the first time in as long as I can remember, my food has flavor. "As well as can be expected." I pause, trying to recall. "It's Thursday, isn't it?"
"It is." She's making faces at my son. I nod, spooning more yogurt. It's delicious, actually. Scraping the remnants of the crushed fruit from the bottom, I scoop it into my mouth and stand.
"I need to get back. I'll be home this evening."
"Would you like anything in particular for dinner?"
I kiss my son's head again. His waffles are far too interesting and delicious to pay his father any mind. "I'll leave that for you and my son to discuss."
"That's fine." I hesitate on the threshold. "Gail... I want to apologize for my recent behavior. You should know that I appreciate everything you've done for us. I hope you can forgive my lapse."
Gail looks floored. It's rare that I speak out-of-character to the staff, and I normally wouldn't, but this is Gail. And furthermore, I need to start setting an example for my son, even if I think he's too young to understand. Ana would expect it of me.
"There's nothing to forgive, Mr. Grey," her eyes are sincere, understanding. "What should I say if he asks?" she cocks her head toward Ted.
"The same as before." I consider this, and come to the same conclusion. Our son is only two. The difference between 'Mommy isn't here right now' and 'Mommy isn't here right now' is negligible at his age, but I can't get his hopes up of seeing her when she isn't even aware of his existence. That reunion would shatter them both, I fear. He hasn't asked once since I picked him up yesterday, and I'm not sure whether to be relieved or worried. I settle for an unhealthy dose of both.
My knuckles rap lightly on the heavy door.
Her liquid blue eyes, unfocused and turned toward the window, snap to my face at the sudden noise.
"May I come in?"
Her lips part, breathing quickens. She looks so weak, and yet she responds to me, I think. Her casted arm is slung across her belly, and the other lies limply at her side. She's clean and dressed in soft cotton pajamas. The bandages have been removed from her head, and her hair has been brushed and braided over one shoulder. The irony isn't lost on me.
I take her silence as an affirmative and enter cautiously. She watches my every move.
"I've brought you breakfast," I say, holding up her thermal lunch tote. My mother said you haven't been hungry, but I thought you'd like your favorite." I've reached her bedside and pull out a cup of greek yogurt. I suspect the reason she hasn't eaten is that she's having trouble lifting her non-dominant hand to feed herself, even if it's broth through a straw, and is too proud to admit it.
"No, thank you," she declines softly.
I gulp, regrouping my tactics. She's going to be difficult. I settle myself in the overwhelmingly familiar bedside chair and pull her rolling table between us, setting the yogurt on it and pull out a spoon I took from our kitchen. "Ana, I have to insist," I tell her gently. "You're far too light for my liking."
I'm not sure if it's the sincerity of my knitted eyebrows or the audible grumble that emanates on cue from behind her cast, but she nods once. I peel back the foil cover. I have to consciously stop myself from blending the contents; my Ana eats hers from the top down. Dr. Sluder just finished telling me that sometimes the slightest action or familiar process can stir a repressed memory, and I have nothing to lose. Ana's eyes continue to grip onto me as I bring the spoon to her lips.
"It's good to see you eat," I tell her, remembering a similar conversation in a room not too far from this one. We continue in silence. I study the deep purple-gray rims beneath her eyes, the hollowness of her cheeks, and the pallid tint of her skin. The few, light freckles dusting her nose and cheeks stand out in stark contrast.
"No more... please," she resists. The cup is only half empty, barely breaking through the barrier between yogurt and fruit. I want to argue, but think better of it, setting down the spoon and pushing the table aside.
"Thank you," she whispers. She looks exhausted.
"Thank you, for letting me," I tell her.
A long silence stretches through the room. It's not uncomfortable exactly, just unfamiliar. I concentrate on the sound of her light breathing, and she keeps watching me. Looking for what, I don't know.
"Can I do anything? Bring you anything?" I offer.
She sighs, frowning. The 'v' between her eyebrows tempts me, oh what I'd give to kiss her there, for her to let me. I must resist; I refuse to frighten her.
"Tell me something," she decides.
The corners of my mouth twitch upward. She loves it when I tell her stories. "What would you like me to tell you?"
And in the following instant, she captures her bottom lip in her teeth. I inhale sharply. No. I mustn't react... it isn't appropriate. I close my eyes briefly, willing the autonomic, licentious reaction to cease. When my eyes open, Ana is still staring at me, but she looks frightened. Shit.
~ ANA ~
I can't imagine what I did.
I don't think he can bear to look at me. I haven't had the chance to look in a mirror yet, but Dad insisted I looked okay, so I can't imagine why he's... is he counting?
The copper-haired angel, my... husband, or so they tell me... his lips tremble with numbers. Nine... Ten... Eleven... oh no, he must be really angry to go past ten. And the way he's been looking at me since he arrived, almost... predatory.
There it is again, that wolfish gaze. But it's gentled a bit. Perhaps his counting worked.
"I'm sorry..." my voice is small.
He looks confused. "Whatever for?"
I gulp reflexively. "What I did to make you count past ten," I grasp. I really have no idea why I'm apologizing. And my voice still sounds awful.
"No, baby, I'm not angry, you misunderstood." Now he's uncomfortable. "You... biting your lip, it does things to me. Not your fault at all." His cheeks flush with embarrassment.
"So... what would you like me to tell you?" he continues.
I have no idea. My mind is supposedly empty, yet full of questions, none of which feel appropriate to ask. I have no experience with romantic relationships, and I can't imagine what I did to deserve this one. I must look confused, and that predatory gaze is back.
"Why do you look at me like that?" I venture.
"Like you want to... devour me." If I had the strength to shudder, I would have on the word 'devour'.
"Do I?" He looks around, as though the answer is written on the walls somewhere. "I suppose it's because... I love my wife. I want very badly to hold her hand, to help her through this." He hesitates, and his expression darkens. "But she doesn't know me. Every move I make dictates whether she'll learn to trust me again, and whether she'll ever remember... us."
Wow, we've cut to the quick. And his face has dropped from predatory to contritely sincere and sad in a millisecond. I'm not sure what makes me do it, but with what little muscle control I have, I push my left arm out from where it rests against my side, turning my palm up toward him. I can't lift it.
His gray eyes glitter, and he tentatively reaches out, brushing my palm with his fingers. He searches my face for permission, and in an instant my hand is clasped between both of his. His eyes are sincere and thankful.
"We met when your friend Kate fell ill and convinced you to interview me in her stead," he begins. "I took you for coffee; English Breakfast Tea is still your favorite. We chased the dawn together. You stood up to me, challenged me, angered me and loved me. You awakened parts of me I didn't know existed. Marrying you was the best decision I ever made. You're my best friend. And I won't let you go. Not now, not ever."
~ CHRISTIAN ~
"So? How did it go?" My mother stabs her cafeteria salad, waiting.
"I don't think she's sure what to make of me yet." I push the mashed sweet potato around my plate. "She let me hold her hand awhile though." I feel the corner of my mouth turn up in a disbelieving smirk, I'm still not sure whether she did it for her or for me, but I'm nonetheless grateful for that small contact. My expression isn't lost on my mother. Nothing gets past her. Well, almost nothing.
"That's a good sign," she tells me. "When we're done here, I want to introduce you to the physical therapist I'd recommend for her recovery. Have you talked to John yet?"
"Not yet." Mom wants a memory loss specialist to oversee Ana's mental evaluation and begin counseling her. I put my foot down. John's expertise is vast, though not specialized in amnesiac recovery, but he knows Ana, and I trust him. Mom couldn't argue with that. "I'll call him on my way home."
Mom takes a sip of her fluorescently colored and grotesquely artificial energy drink. "How's my grandson?"
"Helping Gail decide what to make for dinner, actually."
"Quite the little man of the house," Mom laughs. "Training him so early, you might be able to retire by the time he's six."
"Oh, I was hoping to have him take over by the time he's four. But there's no hurry."
She smiles at me, the first real smile in... so long. "I'm glad your sense of humor has returned." She reaches across to my hand and grasps it; I'm still holding my fork so it's a bit awkward, like she could be showing me how to feed myself.
"I missed my son."
I sniff. "I missed my wife. Still do, in fact."
"She'll be back. You're too good a catch for her to hide inside her head for long."
"I hope you're right."
Ana is asleep when I return to her room before heading home. Feeling bold, I brush a few stray hairs from her face and press my lips to her forehead. She stirs, sighs, and drifts back to sleep.
From my jeans pocket, I retrieve something I'd meant to give her earlier, but had forgotten during our conversation. Her bracelet still bears all the original charms, but the ones I'd added when Ted was born and when she revealed she was pregnant with Phoebe, I've removed. They're tucked safely away in her jewelry box, waiting for her when she's ready to know about their significance. I slide her hospital ID band over and carefully clasp the bracelet about her wrist.
"Thank you John. I'll see you tomorrow."
Just enough time for one more call, and then I have all evening with my son.
"Ros, I need to see you in the morning."
"Christian, thank goodness. How's Ana?"
I'd hoped to keep this conversation professional, but then again, I'm dealing with Ros Bailey. She might as well be family at this point, at least where my mother and father are concerned. "She's... recovering."
"Good news. Eight fifteen all right with you?" I suppose she knows me well enough to know when I'm in no mood for pleasantries.
"See you then."
I wonder vaguely who else knows what. I've got to get this mush under control; I'm going fucking soft. Yes, my wife was in a horrible accident. Yes, it's going to take time for our family to return to normal. But I've always kept my personal and professional lives separate. Always, b without exception. So why am I suddenly fearful of the questions and sympathetic stares I may receive when I get back to the office? Get a fucking grip, Grey.
"Daddy! Daddy!" My son is galloping full speed toward me and crashes into my legs, and I'm barely through the front door. He must have been waiting. I swing him up into my arms.
"How's my favorite son?" I blow raspberries on his cheek, making him giggle like a maniac.
"Welcome home, Sir," Gail greets me from the kitchen alcove table. "Dinner's almost ready."
"Thanks, Gail." I bounce Ted in my arms. "Are you hungry?"
"No!" Ted bellows.
"Teddy," Gail calls from the kitchen. "Tell Daddy what your new word is."
I raise my eyebrows.
"That's it. In all its contrary glory." Gail sets out plates and a rather hefty bowl of spaghetti. "The little man is the inspiration for tonight's meal. Enjoy," she waves me toward the table.
"It's quite a lot of food," I observe. "Would you care to call Jason over and join us?"
"Are you sure? I don't want us to take away from your time with Teddy," she hesitates.
"I insist. Besides, I fear dinner conversation with the 'No'-monster may be a bit one-sided," I touch noses with my son, and he presses my cheeks with his palms, forcing my lips into a pucker.
"We'll be right over, then."
"What was the inspiration for this, if I might ask?" I ask. It's absolutely delicious; thin spaghetti with a bolognese sauce on the side, but there are also pieces of large, green macaroni noodles mixed into the spaghetti, along with sauteed baby mushroom caps, broccoli and ground bison.
"Well, I called your sister-in-law this morning, and she informed me that waffles and spaghetti were about all the little tyrant has been willing to eat lately," Gail looks fondly at Teddy. "He's been refusing the F-O-R-K, and using F-I-N-G-E-R-S," she spells, something we do to prevent him knowing he's the subject of conversation, as well as to keep him from getting excited over something he can't have yet. He tends to pout. Ana says he looks just like me when he pouts. "Ted, tell Daddy how you picked out the mushrooms and broccoli for dinner," Gail encourages.
When Ted ignores her, she continues in a proud, hushed voice. "He got out his picture books and pointed at rocks and trees. He was very insistent."
"Shhh! No whis-pring!" Ted declares, imperiously.
Ted proves his caretaker a genius, as he deftly plucks a mashed handful of meatball-macaroni-mushroom and shoves it into his mouth. Kate hadn't informed me he was becoming a picky eater. I suppose I can't blame him; I imagined worse behavior in rebellion to his mother's absence. I can see from Gail's and Taylor's expressions that we're all thinking relatively the same thing.
"Your motives and picture-book translations are brilliant and very much appreciated, and dinner's delicious, as always. Thank you, Gail."
"Happy to help, Mr. Grey. I only wish there were more we could do," she clasps Taylor's hand fondly. He nods in agreement.
"You both do more than enough. I don't show nearly the level of appreciation you're due." I file away a mental reminder to have a sizeable bonus added to their compensation packages for the year, well above previous years'.
Taylor retrieves his phone from his pocket. "It's Welch, sir," he hands it to me.
"Excuse me." I rise from the table and move toward the hallway. "Welch."
"Sir, the background checks are done."
"Patterson has an underage drinking charge from 1993, and Rhames is in custody proceedings with his ex-wife over their three children. Nothing specific to their occupation, Sir. Shall I email you their files?"
Has no one ever heard of keeping their record clean? Patterson is out. Rhames... well, he might bring up children in front of Ana, and I should be the one to tell her about Teddy. I sigh. My mother insists these are the two best choices for physical therapy in the Seattle area. I make a mental note to phone Rhames in the morning with instructions on my wife's handling. "Yes. And I'll need a copy of Rhames' transcripts, as well as three letters of recommendation. Whatever you can find in the hospital files from when he was hired. Wake people up if you have to."
I hang up and return to the table. In the two minutes I was away, Ted has made a glorious mess, spreading outward from his placemat and slopping noodles and mush onto the floor. He's frowning and has his arms folded.
"We're a bit T-I-R-E-D this evening," Gail tells me, indicating to my son.
"I think we all are," I acknowledge. "Ted, are you finished?"
"Hmmph," he grumbles, his scowl deepening. I roll my eyes and move to extricate him from his safety chair. "No! Mommy!"
My hands freeze at his sides, and I feel myself go pale. I swallow, ensuring that my voice remains even. "She isn't here right now, Ted. Let's get you into a bath."
"No! No! Nononononono!" Ted squawls. I continue to lift him from his chair, and he kicks out at me, connecting with my ribs before I'm able to pull him to my chest. I wince.
"Sir, I can..."
"Thank you, Gail. I'll handle it."
"Mommy! Nonononono Mommy!" Ted's squawls have turned to red-faced tears as he continues to worm in my grasp.
"She isn't here, Teddy, I'm here," I try to placate him, carrying him into the master bath. I should know better than to think I can placate a tantrum, especially because he's had so few up to now, and when he did, Ana expertly calmed him. God, I wish she were here.
It's rather difficult to carry a screaming child and run a bath at the same time. I manage to get him out of his clothes, not without a great deal of resistance on my son's part, but in doing so, he manages to get as much of his food-smeared fingers on my clothes and exposed skin as he is able. I strip down to my boxers as well and, pulling a crying Ted to my chest, we sit down in the warm water.
"Shh, baby boy. Daddy's here," I soothe him, rubbing his small back. His head drops to my shoulder, tears flowing, but the lashing out ceases. He clings to me as though his life depends on it.
"Muhmuhmuh," his pleas garble. This is utter despair if I've ever heard it.
"I know, sweet boy. I know," I hush him, my heart breaking. "I miss her, too."
Reaching out, I retrieve a folded washcloth and soap, and run it soothingly over my son. He allows me to release him, sniffling and shuddering, resting back against my legs. He watches me. "All better," I tell him, once he's clean.
Ted's face is still splotchy and red, but his expression is one of resigned uncertainty. He reaches out to my hand and pulls the washcloth from me, and I freeze, bewildered, as he clumsily drags it over my chest. He's washing me, as though he understands. My son is comforting me. The wetness on my cheeks comes unbidden, unhindered. But I cannot take my eyes from my son. His forehead crinkles a bit, and he reaches up, dragging the washcloth over my face. The soapy residue burns my eyes.
"Aww better," he mirrors me, his voice quivery.
"Thank you," I whisper.
Ted slept like the dead that night. I know, because I took his monitor into the home gym with me. I set the treadmill incline and ran four miles flat-out, my lungs heaving from lack of exercise. Not a peep came from Teddy's room. I checked the market trend for the first time in a month, started filtering through the hundreds of emails I'd neglected, and pored over a few reports. I drifted off for a while on the living room sofa and was up before first light, grateful for the three-or-so uninterrupted hours.
I stopped by the hospital briefly to wish Ana good morning, but she was sound asleep. I left her breakfast with the nurses, said hello to my mother, and returned to the car. Taylor deposited me at the door to Grey House at precisely eight o'clock. I ignored the mixture of shocked and sympathetic stares as I bypassed the front desk. Shit. It sours me that people know my personal business, no matter what little information they possess. The glances followed me from the elevator and onto the twentieth floor. Andrea's gaze is a touch frightened.
"Is Ros in yet?" I ask her.
"Ms. Bailey is waiting in your office, Sir," her voice trembles a bit.
"Something wrong, Andrea?" My voice remains cool and even.
"Good. Call the board, I want them assembled tomorrow at nine."
Ros rises gracefully from the leather couch. Even she appears unsure of me. "Mr. Grey." And so formal as well. She should know better... but then, the last time we spoke, I shouted at her.
"Ros, drop the formality, please." I move around the center table and motion for her to sit, and I settle myself adjacent to her. I take a breath. "First, allow me to apologize for my behavior when we last spoke. Things have been... difficult."
"I understand." And I know she does, Ros's sympathetic nature is one of the many reasons I partnered with her; she sees a lot of aspects to the business that my colder scrutiny misses. Her expression tells me that she wants to know more, but maintains a respectful distance.
"I appreciate you stepping up," I continue. "I hope I can count on you to continue. I intend to slowly transition back into the office, but I ultimately need to focus on my wife's recovery. You understand."
I test the waters. "Incidentally, what does the staff know of the situation?"
"Only what was reported in the papers about the accident. I issued a memo to all departments insisting that the circumstance not be discussed and that you not be disturbed." Ros takes a long breath and lowers her eyes. "How is Ana?"
I swallow. I might as well tell her. "She lost the baby."
"Oh, I'm so sorry."
"Thank you. So am I."
"Can I do anything?"
I sigh. "Just your job. I need to know I can count on you."
I get the rundown on our current projects, successes and failures. The latter are few. In and likely due to my absence, we let the Argyle deal slip away, but I'm not prepared to dwell on could-haves. She's picked up a few accounts that I hadn't given a fair amount of thought to, and her quick action more than made up for the loss. We move onto other potentials, and I'm relieved at how well Ros has managed in spite of my sudden hiatus, but I can't help but feel alien in my own office.
Two and a half hours later, I've had about all the business I can stand. My thoughts are everywhere but here, and I'm late meeting Flynn at the hospital. "Nine o'clock," I remind Ros and excuse myself.
"Sir, I have Dr. Trevelyan for you," Andrea holds out my cell phone. My stomach clenches.
"Ana's all right, she's just upset," I hear my mother's digitized voice. "She's not very happy that John is here."
"I'm on my way. Has she eaten?"
"Yes, she woke up right after you left. I have a few patients to see before noon so I'm headed over to the practice, but I'll check in after that. Ray is sitting with her now."
"Thank you, Mom."
Ana shoots me a positively livid glare when I enter. Ray plants a kiss on her cheek and walks past me. "Good luck with that," he mutters.
She speaks slowly, but the ire in her voice is palpable. "When was anyone going to mention that memory loss warranted a psychological evaluation?"
Oh, her smart mouth.
"Was this your idea?" she continues.
"Yes, and no." Her jaw drops. I continue, trying to keep my voice soft. "Please, you misunderstand. The hospital's procedure is to do a formal evaluation to assess a plan for your recovery and to secure your release. It's rather impersonal, and Dr. Flynn is a friend. I asked him to talk to you because it would satisfy the requirement, and incidentally, John is familiar with you, with us. He may be able to help."
"I'm not crazy."
"No one thinks that." I drop into the chair next to her, shaking my head to drive the point home.
She's silent for a moment. "You could have told me."
"I was going to this morning, but you were still asleep. I didn't have the heart to wake you. I intended to be here when he arrived, and I'm sorry that I wasn't."
She seems to accept this, but is still distant. "I want to know when decisions are being made about me. I can't help that I can't remember, but I'm not a child. You want me to trust you... that's not working for me right now."
"I know. I'm sorry." Oh, I itch to hold her hand, but I fear she would be quite put out. She looks as though she's still not sure about me, but the anger has been exchanged for irritation. I think she's a little smug that she's 'gotten me back' for keeping that from her.
"Fine. I'll meet him."
"I'm glad." Oh, fuck it. I reach out and give her good hand a squeeze. She's still wearing the bracelet, but hasn't mentioned it. Perhaps she's upset about that, too, but as it's still there, I leave it be. I release her before she has a chance to pull away and nod toward the door.
"Ana, this is Dr. John Flynn," I say, as Flynn steps inside.
"Thank you, Christian. I think we'll get along fine." Flynn's trademark benign smile is directed at Ana, and that's my cue.
I rise from the chair. "I'm going to meet with your physical therapist and see the facility; if you'd like, I'll introduce you this afternoon."
Ana sighs. "Whatever."
I nod, deciding to stalk out before my own anger bubbles over.
~ ANA ~
I can't believe he's making me do this. "So... what do I have to tell you to get this over with?"
Dr. Flynn chuckles. "Whatever you'd like. As far as the hospital is concerned, you're clear."
"Then why do I have to do this?"
"Because Christian asked me to. He cares so deeply for you, Ana."
I swallow. Yeah, he supposedly cares, but he does everything behind the scenes and is rarely around.
"Care to voice what you're thinking about?"
"You're from Britain, aren't you?" I deflect.
"So... why are you in Seattle?"
"My wife is from here."
I gulp. I've got nothing else.
"Shall we get back on track?"
I sigh. "I suppose."
Damn right I am. "And you're an overpaid charlatan."
I don't have time to feel guilty over my acidic outburst because Flynn suddenly laughs.
"You've labeled me as such on more than one occasion."
This is news to me. "I don't remember that."
Flynn tames his expression, but still looks mildly entertained. "That's quite all right."
"Apology accepted. Though you've now actually made my day."
"Don't tell Christian."
"Everything you tell me is in confidence, Ana."
"I have a feeling Christian won't like that."
"He rarely does. But the fact that you've surmised this speaks volumes; he's more familiar to you than you're willing to admit."
"Why does he make me so mad?"
"Because the two of you are very passionate about one another." He pauses, shifting in the chair. "Let me ask you this. What do you hope to get out of talking with me, should you wish to continue after today?"
"I want my life back," I say immediately.
"In what way?"
I'm not sure how he senses how torn I am, but maybe he's not the quack I pegged him to be. "I guess... well part of me wants to go back to college and forget all this craziness, call the last three years a loss. But I have a feeling that would disappoint a lot of people. This life, it really isn't mine. I don't feel like I belong in it."
"So, you're more worried about what everyone thinks of you."
"I guess I didn't word that very nicely."
"Regardless, it's how you feel, and under the circumstances, it's understandable. If I may attempt to summarize, you're feeling pressured into a life that you percieve isn't yours, and it would be easier to take the more familiar path. Does that sound right?"
"Well, that's a good place to begin."
"So, let's begin."
"All right, then." Flynn pulls his feet up into the chair and sits cross-legged. It's childlike and unexpectedly reassuring. "Can you tell me about the last events you remember before waking up here?"
"Why would they matter?"
"Sometimes the connection between similar events can cause the mind to function in unexpected ways, and it could explain why your mind chose to blackout that time period. I can't say for certain why your mind chose to block out the time frame that it did, but it's like that particular file drawer was turned upside down and dropped through a shredder. It's all still there, just in mismatched pieces."
"Well, what about Christian? Supposedly I met him right after the last thing I remember, so could he be it?"
"Possibly. You took your midterms in March?"
"But you didn't meet Christian until May."
Flynn smiles kindly. "Sorry, we're all trying to play catch-up. You don't know what happened since, we're fuzzy on what happened before. Let's try to meet in the middle, hmm?"
I swallow. So this might not have to do with Christian. But I'm still so mad, I want to blame him for something.
"Something you want to voice?"
How does he know? "I'm just mad."
"At who or what?"
"Everything." Christian. "Everyone." Christian. "I don't know. I just want to be mad." And I hate that you're trying to make me admit it.
"Is it confusing?"
"The inner monologue."
My jaw drops. "I hate that you might know what you're doing."
"Sometimes I do. It's a matter of reading body language."
"But I can hardly move my body, what's there to see?" I challenge.
"Your face is quite expressive," he points out. "Ana, I'm not here to pressure you. If you're not comfortable saying it out loud yet, you don't have to. I'm here to help you get to the roots, and you can decide whether to dig them up, if you'll forgive the gardening pun."
"I'm mad at Christian."
Flynn raises his eyebrows. "Now we're getting somewhere."
~ CHRISTIAN ~
"I can't talk about it, Christian. You know that."
"Please, John. She's so angry. I hate it."
"Yes, she is, and understandably so. I can't say more without breaching confidentiality."
"What can I do?"
"Just be there as much as you can, and as be sensitive as you can. Her father told her you'd stayed the entire time she was asleep, and now that she's awake, you haven't been around much."
"You didn't tell her why, I hope."
"Not my place to, Christian. You know that."
I sigh. "Thank you, John. Thursday?"
"I'll be here."
Carla and my mother are sitting with Ana when I return to her room.
"Goodbye, sweetheart. I'll call every day, and you let me know what you need from me, all right?"
"Go, Mom. You'll miss your flight." Oh no, she's upset. And why is Carla leaving? I suddenly feel horrible again. I've barely spoken to Carla or Ray since... since it happened.
"You're leaving?" I practically accost her in the hallway.
Carla nods. "I don't want to, but I've used all the time off I had saved up. Ana actually insisted. She wants things as normal as they can be, and that means I should go home. Besides, I've neglected Bob long enough," she jokes.
"Carla, I'm appalled at my behavior over the last month. I hope I didn't play a part in your decision."
"Not at all, Christian. You've been through the wringer yourself. Have faith, she'll find herself again." She pats my cheek, then draws me in for a sincere hug. "Take care of our girl, all right? My love to Teddy."
The look on my mother's face when I approach the doorway again is positively conspiratorial.
"Do I smell plotting?" I joke, attempting to lighten the mood.
"Us? Never," she jokes back.
Ana just watches me warily. If she wants me to walk on eggshells, then I'm prepared to be a Olympic-class eggshell-walker.
"Ana, I know I mentioned it earlier, but is it still okay if I introduce you to the physical therapist I was telling you about? He's free in about twenty minutes, and it's an excuse to break you out of jail for a bit."
Ana furrows her eyebrows. I can tell the thought of escape is tempting, but that she's considering declining just to spite me. "Sure. Why not."
Neil Rhames is ruggedly athletic, but with a mild manner and a gentleness I would never have detected had I not took the time before meeting him to covertly watch him with one of his younger patients. Still, it's going to take a miracle for me to fully trust him with my wife.
"It's wonderful to meet you, Mrs. Grey. Your husband speaks the world of you." He doesn't move to shake her hand, fully aware she can barely lift it.
Ana blushes. "Please, it's Ana. Christian tells me you're one of the best."
He laughs. "I just love what I do. And if I'm any good at it, that's just a bonus. Why don't we do an evaluation, see where you are in your recovery?"
I watch them from the bench in the corner. Rhames has Ana manipulate a few objects and then push against him with her good hand and both feet. He's very encouraging and remarkably appropriate. He tests her joint reflexes and reactivity before he unexpectedly calls me over.
"Mr. Grey, if you would, help your wife onto the table."
I'm all too happy to oblige; Ana reluctantly allowed me to lift her from her bed and into the wheelchair earlier, but she didn't exactly radiate warm fuzzies over the experience and doesn't seem any happier at Rhames' request now. However, she doesn't resist. Thankful that there is no longer the IV to contend with, I gently lift her too-light frame, careful that I don't jostle her casted, sling-bound arm, relishing the fleeting contact, and place her on the padded recliner table.
Ana blows out the breath she was holding.
"Comfortable, Ana?" Rhames asks.
"Not uncomfortable," she replies.
Rhames chuckles. "At least you're honest." He turns to me. "Mr. Grey, I'm going to show you a massage technique I'd like you to use after her sessions. What we're going for here is total muscle stimulation, and the usage she regains is going to come with quite a bit of soreness. These techniques will provide her a world of relief."
What? Oh this is such a bad idea.
"Don't be afraid, Mr. Grey, it's really quite simple."
Did I look afraid? Shit. I can't... no, won't... can't allow my body to become reactive. It's far too inappropriate. My eyes flash to Ana's. She looks rather calm, I expected her to be alarmed at the prospect. Shit. I was hoping another angry glare would set my loins to rest. Instead I'm going to have to rely on sheer will. I swallow. "All right?"
She nods, reluctantly.
Rhames dictates a pattern of squeezing and pulling her arm and legs, and then helps Ana sit forward while I run my hands over her back and shoulders. "You're not new to this, are you Mr. Grey?"
"I've taken a class or two," I deflect. From a certain Mrs. Robinson. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I shrug off the passing thought before it can do any more damage.
"Well you certainly have the hang of it," he compliments. "Ana, would you like to set up a schedule? I can see you every afternoon if you'd like."
Ana looks to me, possibly for approval, and I nod. "That would be fine, thank you."
"How was that?" I ask her, seriously.
I nod. I'm going to get one-word answers today. It's nearing three o'clock, and I should be heading home to our son in a while, but I feel compelled to take John's advice.
Instead of steering toward the elevator, I turn and head down the corridor.
"Where are we going?" she chirps.
"It's a surprise." The corner of my mouth turns up in a smirk. I almost wish she could see it.
I swing her chair around and pull her backward down the ramp. I'm only moderately aware that Taylor and Sawyer are lurking nearby. Ryan is in the doorway, trying to placate one of the nurses who must not have received the memo earlier, the one that says 'Mr. Grey is a major benefactor of this hospital and may take his wife wherever he damn well pleases.'
"Maybe we should go back," Ana sounds nervous.
"Nonsense. It's a beautiful afternoon, and you haven't been outside in a while," I deflect. I push her through the grassy courtyard and over to a shade tree. Turning her chair so she faces the tree, I plop down in front of her, my back to the trunk.
"Is there a point to this?"
I sigh. "I want to spend time with you. I've been neglecting you since you woke up, and I want to make it right." I pull her right foot from the metal rest and drag her sock off, commanding my fingers to push and pull against her heel and arch. "And... I'd like to know why you've been so angry with me. The real reason."
She hesitates. "You really don't have to do that..."
"I do, actually. It elates me to look after you. I should know your needs before you have them."
"That's an impossible goal," she scoffs.
"Is it? I feel you relaxing already." She can't argue with that.
"That's because you're a master manipulator, Mr. Grey."
"And you're very beautiful when you're irate, Mrs. Grey." I smile fondly.
She sighs, hard. I can see the gears turning. My smile widens.
"Your wheels are spinning, Anastasia."
"Only because I can't be mad at you for what I was mad at you for earlier, so I'm trying to think of something else."
I barely contain my laughter.
Ana's eyes suddenly dart around. "There are suits watching us."
I look over my shoulder. "Security detail," I tell her, re-socking her right foot and moving onto the other. "Nothing to worry about."
"Why are they watching us?"
I smirk, concentrating on her left foot now. "Because I pay them to."
"What, they're yours?"
"Because, I need you safe," I say, as though it's the simplest concept in the world.
"What are we in danger from?"
"Anything and everything. In my line of work, one can never be too careful."
"But you're just a businessman," she points out.
"Oh, just?" I tease. "Ana, we're very wealthy, you and I. And recognized throughout the community. We have to be careful. There are quite a few unreasonable people out there."
She looks a bit taken-aback by this revelation. I realize I haven't actually mentioned the nature of our wealth to her before... it's difficult to comprehend that she knows nothing of us but what others tell her. She frowns. "You make it sound like there's been danger before."
"There have been... incidents, yes. Nothing for you to worry about."
"Not one of those incidents." I swallow, not knowing what else to say.
"Then what kind of... incidents?"
I draw a deep breath. I was hoping we wouldn't go here. I can't outright lie to her; she'll hate me later. "Threats, and attempts to make good on threats have been made in the past. Usually pertaining to economic or environmental interests. A few personal as well. I try to stay out of politics wherever possible."
"Why? Politics might suit you."
"Why do you say that?"
"Might I remind you of your powers of manipulation? Exhibit A, my right foot. Exhibit B, my left."
I laugh. "Good point, well made as ever, Mrs. Grey. I shall endeavor to manipulate you every chance I get."
"Threat or promise?"
Did she just? Why yes, she did. My insides stir. I lower my voice seductively. "Both, my lovely wife."
She's suddenly quiet. I inwardly thrust my fist in the air, victorious. I've stumped her. A half-second later, I feel extremely guilty. She looks a tad ashamed of her move in our game. She has enough to mull over, you shit. Change the subject.
"So have you decided?" I ask.
"What you're mad at me about now."
"Not yet. I'll let you know."
"You do that."
Oh, I love my wife, even when she's out of her mind. We're such teenagers sometimes.
"Evening, Gail," I drop my suit jacket over the back of the couch and loosen my tie. "Where's Teddy?"
"In his room, Mr. Grey. He isn't feeling very well today. I've been checking him every ten minutes and I have him on the video monitor in the kitchen."
"Is he sick?" I panic, taking the stairs two at a time and dash toward his bedroom.
"Your mother doesn't think so," Gail calls behind me. "He's just not himself today. She said to bring him in tomorrow if he doesn't work this off by morning."
Ted is absolutely pitiful. He's curled up in the center of his bed, in different pajamas than he had on this morning, fisting Mr. Leo in one hand and sucking the opposite thumb. My hands are gently upon him in an instant.
"Hey, baby boy," I croon to him. "Daddy's here." His forehead isn't particularly warm and he's a good color, but Gail is right, he isn't himself. "Has he eaten?"
"Waffles and macaroni again," Gail tells me.
"Not exactly balanced but he's eaten worse." I pull Ted into my lap and rock him. He doesn't feel weak, just off. I pat my pockets, then inwardly chastise myself for leaving my Blackberry in the car. "Would you get my mother on the phone, please," I request.
"Sure. Back in a sec." Gail scurries off, returning a moment later with the cordless. "Here he is," she speaks into the receiver, then hands it to me.
"Mom, Teddy's not well."
"I told Gail to bring him in tomorrow if he isn't better by morning, Christian. It sounds like he's just in a funk. He misses Ana. Coming home may have stressed him out."
"You didn't tell me," I accuse her softly, as not to upset the balled up two-year-old in my lap.
"Perhaps I should have, and I apologize. I think he just needs some TLC. If you're really worried, I can stop by after my shift."
"I'd appreciate it. Thanks, Mom." I press the 'end' button.
"I hope I did the right thing," Gail worries.
"You did fine," I say, offering her a half-smile. "You know I worry."
She nods. "Dinner is ready whenever you are."
"Only if you'll share. I have your husband on some errands this evening; you shouldn't have to eat alone," I insist.
Teddy stuffs his mouth with bite-size squares of tenderloin and peas that he's mashed under his fists. I start to believe that my mother is correct from the expression on his face; he's sulking. It's a relief to know that his mood doesn't affect his appetite.
Mom arrives as Gail is clearing the table and checks Teddy over. She can't find anything obviously wrong with him.
"I don't know what to tell you, Christian. He's a healthy little boy, he just wants... well, you know."
"It's not possible right now." I hand Ted over to Gail and she takes him out the rear sliding door. I know they're going stargazing on the deck; it's one of Teddy's favorite things. I hope it'll cheer him up.
"When are you going to tell her?"
"I don't know."
"She needs to know, Christian. She's handling things remarkably well thus far. She'll be even more angry and upset and hurt and God knows what else if you wait much longer. She needs to know she has a child."
"You think I don't know that?" my voice goes up an octave. "It's only been two days. She's only had that long to begin to absorb the time she's lost, and it's so different from the life she had then. And she's been so wary of me, I don't want to push her away or make her feel obligated to this life. Teddy is just a baby. He's my responsibility. I can't let him be hurt if she's cold toward him. If she never remembers, she may hate me, but worse, she may resent him. I can't allow that."
"You always fear the worst, darling," my mother places her hands on my arms. "Try not to be afraid. Trust Ana. You know how strong, capable and understanding she is."
"You know what? I am afraid," I feel myself falling apart. What composure I've held since I woke this morning is crumbling. My bottom lip quivers. Shit. "My family is falling apart."
"Oh Christian, no." My mother pulls me into her arms. They aren't the arms I want, the ones I need, but they're familiar and moreover, she needs to hold me. "Tell her tomorrow," she whispers. "Just do it. I'll be with you. I can call Ray to come too, if you want that. Please, just tell her. And she's going to be upset. But she'll get over it, and then she'll want to see him, I just know it. And imagine what that could do for her recovery."
I gulp, sniffling. I feel like a goddamned infant, crying to his mommy. But as usual, she's right. She sees the good in everything, the most likely path, where all I see is darkness and despair. I hold her tightly against me for a moment and then release her, letting her brush the tears from my cheeks.
"Tell me what's in your heart, darling," she encourages me.
I scrub my nose against my sleeve. It's juvenile, but I don't give a damn. "Ana and Ted. They need each other, you're right."
"Good," she places her right palm over my heart, and I find myself reaching up to anchor it there. "I'll go say good night to my grandson, and then I'll see you and Ana tomorrow."