When they arrive at the Ball, they see that they will need to walk a long distance of about fifty yards before they can enter the building. Christian cringes as he sees the amount of reporters and flashing cameras snapping away at the guests that are arriving for the benefit. Doctors and nurses that are employed at hospitals in the northwest are in attendance, as well as high profile and upper class citizens that have made contributions to make this Ball possible.
"Taylor, any chance there is a back entrance?" he asks his head of security.
"I'm afraid not, Sir."
Christian grimaces and then turns to look at his daughter and niece. "Okay, we're going to have to walk through that media trap. You are to walk with the two of us, don't stop to talk to anyone, don't answer any questions, just walk and smile. Do you think you can handle that?"
Phoebe and Ava just nod. They both could do well without the media attention, and they were taught from an early age how to behave whenever they are out in public and around reporters and paparazzi. Christian always feels the need to remind his kids anytime they need to go somewhere. Taylor and Gail leave them off and will park the car in a nearby parking garage. Christian and Elliot both climb out of the car sporting their expensive tuxedos and take their daughters' hands. Christian and Phoebe walk through the crowd arm in arm, followed by Elliot and Ava. Ava is just walking next to her father and clutching her purse with both hands, not holding his hand or his arm. Phoebe notices and finds it odd. Christian nudges her when he notices that she is looking behind them and she immediately turns her head toward the direction they are walking in. She smiles lightly at the crowd and politely waves a few times.
After they make their way into the building they follow the other patrons into the Ballroom. Phoebe's face lights up, her eyes and mouth both wide as she takes in the sight of the room. Big expensive chandeliers with beautiful crystal beads light up the room, tables with dark red table cloths, chairs with big red cushions, a stage with speakers, drums, guitars, a keyboard and microphones, a sizable dance floor in front of the stage, and the centerpieces on each table are huge expensive vases with beautiful displays of lilies.
Christian looks down at Phoebe and smiles. Her arm is still linked with his. "Nice, isn't it?"
"It's so beautiful" she says in awe. She continues to look around as Christian leads her through the Ballroom. They are greeted by many people that know Christian. One of the guests is another contributor to the benefit, Mr Brookes. He shakes hands with Christian and then his eyes light up when he sees Phoebe.
"Well, I can see why the press is always saying your wife is youthful. You, my dear, could pass for eighteen."
Christian is not amused, but he does his best to hide his scowl. He smiles as he puts his hand on the small of Phoebe's back and sets the record straight. "My wife is quite beautiful. She couldn't make it tonight. Mr Brookes, this is my daughter Phoebe. Phoebe, this is Mr Brookes."
"A pleasure" Mr Brookes says as he goes to shake her hand. Phoebe offers her hand but only allows his hand to make contact with her fingers. "Maybe you can save me a dance later."
Phoebe pulls her hand away in shock and discomfort. She is able to hide it in her face when she feels her father wrap his arm protectively around her waist. "I don't think so. Excuse us" he says as he leads Phoebe away. Elliot and Ava follow them to the table with the place cards. Christian looks down at Phoebe and notices that she is tense. "You okay?" he asks her. Phoebe nods quickly, which causes him more concern. "You're lying, what's wrong?"
He puts his hand on her back again which helps her relax. "That guy was creepy" she says softly so only he could hear. "I don't want to dance with him."
"You don't have to. That man was inappropriate" he says as his voice grows more stern, but he keeps it low so only she could hear. "If he or anyone else gives you a problem, you are to let me know about it."
Phoebe nods again and he leaves go of her to look through the place cards. He finds his and Elliot's. "We're at table ten with Mom and Dad" he tells him. They find their table and the men pull out chairs for their daughters to sit. "Phoebe, what would you like to drink?"
"Water please" she says.
Elliot looks at Ava. "Coke please" she says when their eyes meet.
Elliot doesn't look pleased, and Phoebe picks up on it. "Water it is" he says coldly and walks away with his brother.
Phoebe shivers and then looks at her cousin. "What's up with you and your Dad?"
"He's mad at me for having sex with Nathan" Ava says quietly only for her cousin to hear.
Phoebe's eyes grow wide and she leans into the table. "You had sex? Wh… when?"
Ava looks at Phoebe as though she doesn't understand the question, and then she glares at her. "Don't look at me like that Grey, it's not like you didn't have sex with your boyfriend."
Phoebe keeps her mouth open but her eyes find the table as she backs away slightly. "Actually, I didn't."
"No way" Ava says. "You went on a road trip for weeks and you didn't have sex?"
Phoebe shrugs her shoulders. "Well, we tried" she says sheepishly. "But I chickened out."
Ava leans in and all of a sudden her reporter hat is on. "Whoa, no way. Tell me everything that happened, and don't leave anything out."
"Well, we were alone, and we started kissing, and then we started taking off each other's clothes…."
"Yeah, yeah and then what happened?"
Phoebe smiles and keeps her eyes on the table. She starts to play with the hem of the table cover. "It felt really good, him kissing me and stuff, but then I got really scared and I stopped him."
"Oh" Ava says. "What did he say when you stopped him."
"He was really cool about it. He got that I wasn't ready and said he would wait."
"He said he would wait?" Ava asks with shock.
"Yeah" Phoebe says and loses the smile as she sits up straight in her chair. "So, your Dad is mad at you for having sex?" she asks hoping to change the subject.
"Yeah, that, and….. he's mad that I got drunk with Nathan and his friends on rum and coke."
Phoebe gasps. "You got drunk? Ava!"
Ava crosses her arms. "Oh please, not you too"
Phoebe sighs. "I'm sorry, I just can't believe you were drinking. No wonder your Dad was so cold just now. But, why are you mad at him?" Phoebe asks with confusion.
Ava rolls her eyes and sighs. "After I sobered up he paddled me. He's never done that before and…. it really hurt and just made me so angry."
Phoebe looks at her cousin as she grows weepy and wishes she could do or say something to help her, but the words don't come to her. She feels like she is the last person that should be giving advice on the subject.
Christian and Elliot are walking toward the bar when Christian starts to question him. "That was some glare you gave your daughter just now" he says smugly.
"I learn from the best, little bro."
"So what gives, did you finally realize that your princess is not so perfect?"
"Fuck off!" Elliot snaps, which causes some people to look in their direction.
Christian realizes that something must have happened to make his brother so angry with his niece, so he puts his hands up in an effort to calm him and takes a different approach. Elliot turns and starts to walk toward the bar again. "I apologize, that was out of line. Why don't you tell me what happened?"
Elliot stops walking and turns to face his brother again. Christian starts to see a side of him that he's never seen. He seems haunted and scared. "She's growing up too fast" he says softly and pained.
Christian can't help but smile. He knows that all too well. "They all do."
"She's still a kid. She shouldn't be out there having sex and drinking."
This takes Christian by surprise. He hasn't seen his brother since Teddy's birthday dinner, and even that night he was caught up in his own shit to notice that there was tension within his brother's family. He directs his brother to sit down at one of the tables. He sits in the chair next to him. "When did this start?"
"A few weeks ago, we found out she was having sex. Kate didn't think we should make a big deal since she was being safe about it, but I didn't agree. So Kate and I have been at odds about that. Then last week I had to pick her up, she was wasted. She'd been drinking with Nathan and his friends, his friend's parents came home and made everybody call their parents."
Christian sighs and runs his hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, I had no idea. What did you do?"
Elliot grows upset and has to work hard to control his emotions. He rubs the back of his neck, just like Christian does when he is stressed. "There was a lot of yelling when we got home, some swearing, I told her to watch her language but it only got worse. I know we both said things we didn't mean, but it still hurt. Kate had to intervene and told us to sleep it off. And then the next morning I tried to talk to her again, but I wound up paddling her." Elliot looks down, feeling shame for how he had handled things. He rubs his face with both of his hands and continues to struggle with his emotions. He feels Christians hand on his shoulder. "You've always said that Kate and I were too soft when it came to discipline. Maybe if we weren't, this wouldn't have happened."
"Yes, it would have" Christian says. "Look at what happened with my daughter, she went on a fucking road trip. I never thought she would do something like that. And I was always hard on her when it came to discipline."
"I'm so fucking angry with her, Christian" Elliot says as he tightens his fists in rage. "But no matter how angry I am I shouldn't have paddled her. I've never done that and I'm going to regret it for the rest of my life."
"That's a bit dramatic, don't you think?" Christian leans back in his chair and crosses his arms as he regards his brother. Elliot looks up and glares at him. "I'm just saying, Ava did something you didn't approve of, you punished her, she didn't like it, and I'd be worried if she did. Maybe she'll think twice before she drinks underage again."
"I don't know how to fix things with her, Christian. I'm angry with her and she's angry with me. Kate had this crazy idea that coming to this Ball together would fix things. But look. Does that look like the face of a girl that is having a good time?"
They both look in the direction of their daughters sitting at their table. They are talking and Ava is frowning.
Christian looks back at his distraught brother. "One night at a Ball is not going to fix things. You and I both know that. You both need time, just like Phoebe and I."
"You and Phoebe seem fine" Elliot says passively.
"Yeah well, looks can be deceiving" Christian shoots back. "I'm still angry with her but I'm trying to work through that, for her. So I don't lose her."
"You think I'm going to lose Ava?" Elliot asks with his voice cracking.
"If you don't work this out, then yeah. You just might."
Elliot nods and looks down again. Christian stands and pats his back. "Come, we need to get our girls drinks."
They arrive at the bar area to order drinks and run into their parents. They are also joined by Sawyer and Brooke. Both doctors rave to Christian about how helpful Phoebe has been as a volunteer, and how she is always on time and never complains.
"That reminds me, why is my daughter tending to a cancer patient?" he asks. He didn't actually think this through, so his tone is harsh and extremely insensitive.
Grace is the first to respond after they all exchange looks. "Christian, she's a volunteer. Sometimes we have volunteers sit with the younger patients to allow time for their parents to take a break."
This does nothing to placate Christian. "I don't want my daughter getting close to this kid."
"Mr Grey, if I may" Brooke jumps in. "Phoebe's has been so wonderful with Danny. She takes his mind off of the cancer just by spending those few hours with him."
"What if…. What if he dies? Okay, I don't mean to sound harsh, but I need to look out for my daughter. She is super sensitive, and if he dies it would break her."
Grace and Brooke look at each other as if they are deciding something. Grace moves closer to Christian. "The point is to keep him alive, and Brooke is doing everything she can to ensure that that happens."
Christian rubs the back of his neck. "And if it doesn't?"
"I think we should let Phoebe decide."
Christian and Elliot join the girls at the table again with their drinks in hand. They are also joined by Carrick, Grace, Taylor, Gail, Sawyer and Brooke. At this point everyone has started taking their seats and the waiters and waitresses have started taking their dinner orders. They are served their salads and the conversations are light as people start to eat. Elliot makes a few trips the bar and is on his fifth beer when the entrees are served, and that doesn't go unnoticed by Christian.
Christian had decided on a steak entrée while Phoebe chose the salmon. Christian starts to cut a few pieces of his and eats a few before he looks over at Phoebe. She has cut up a few pieces of her salmon but she is taking her time with eating. He brings his napkin to his lips as he finishes chewing, and then reaches for Phoebe's fork. "May I?" he asks her. Phoebe looks worried, like she's done something wrong. Why would he want my fork other than to cut my food for me or feed me? She cautiously nods and he lightly smiles. She watches him use her fork and her knife to cut a piece of his steak. "Here, I want you to try this." Phoebe cautiously takes her fork back and looks at the piece of steak. "Don't think about it, just try it."
Phoebe does as she's told and eats the piece of steak. She chews it slowly and nods with approval. She likes it. She continues to chew and offers a smile. "You like it?"
Phoebe swallows and continues to nod. "Yes, it's delicious."
"Good" he says and smiles back. He takes her fork again and cuts a chunk of his steak for her. He puts it on her plate and puts her fork back in her hand. "May I have some of your salmon?" Phoebe nods and watches him take a chunk of her salmon. She starts to work on cutting pieces of the steak and salmon and enjoys the variety of good food on her plate along with the vegetables. Elliot leaves during the meal for another beer. Phoebe looks at her cousin and feels sad for her. She notices that she is picking at her salmon, which is unusual for Ava. When Elliot returns he is ungraceful about the way he sits, almost missing his chair, which also doesn't go unnoticed by Christian. He looks over at his brother with a disapproving glare, but Elliot ignores him and proceeds to eat more of his dinner.
Dad and I shared our dinner. That was unexpected since he's never done that with me. I have to wonder if he did it so that he could have both steak and salmon, or if he wanted me to try steak since I never have, or if he did it to make me smile. Because it did make me smile. My Dad is so unpredictable. You never know what he's going to do or say. You never know if he's going to be happy or mad about something, or if he's going to yell or talk calmly. It's infuriating sometimes. He's full of surprises, and most of the time they are good ones. He looks at me and catches me smiling.
"What are you smiling about?" he asks me as he returns the smile.
I shrug my shoulders. "I liked my dinner" I say to him. Because it's true. I did like it, and I know that will please him.
After the dinner, a few of the patrons are called to the stage to make a speech. Dad goes first and waits for the long applause to stop. He begins his speech by thanking everyone that came out for the benefit and encourages them to dance, buy tickets for the auction and to drink, but not drive. He continues by saying that everyone either has or knows somebody that has been affected by cancer, and the proceeds from the benefit will go toward cancer research. I'm sure he's right. Until recently I didn't know somebody touched by cancer, but now I do. Danny. I wonder if my parents know someone that has or had cancer. I continue to listen and smile at the sound of my father's voice giving a speech. He is so cool and confident up there on that stage. I suppose he has to be since he's the CEO of his own company. I just never got to experience that until now. When he finishes he hands the microphone to another person on stage and the crowd applauds.
I clap my hands and then look over at Ava. She is clapping too but she is frowning. Where is Uncle Elliot? I didn't even notice him leave the table. My father joins us at the table again and doesn't look pleased when he looks over at Uncle Elliot's seat. He rests his arm on the back of my chair and turns his attention to the stage. I feel the need to ask Dad if he knows someone that had cancer.
"Dad?" I whisper and he leans his head closer. "Do you know someone with cancer?"
Dad slowly leans away and looks at my grandparents. I think they heard my question. I start to feel embarrassed. I see my grandmother nod at my father. "Yes, I do. And so do you. Your grandmother is a breast cancer survivor."
I am shocked. I look over at Grandma and she nods again. "Grandma?"
"It's true. I was diagnosed fifteen years ago and battled it for three years."
I want to cry, but I don't. I shake my head and then I feel Dad's hand on my back. "It's okay, she's not sick anymore" he says to me softly.
"That's right" Grandpa says. "Your grandmother is one tough cookie. She fought the battle and she won."
"How?" I ask her. My voice is cracking. I must not cry, I must not cry.
"I had surgery and chemotherapy. And I had your grandfather. He took excellent care of me."
I start to calm down when I see my grandparents smile at each other and hold hands. Uncle Elliot returns to the table with another beer. How many of those has he had? I don't think I've ever seen him or Dad drink that much.
"Elliot, why don't you slow down now" Grandpa says to him with authority. I look over at my Uncle for his reaction and watch him throw back his beer. Dad and Grandpa look angry.
I don't want to be around for this, and I think Ava can use a break from this too. "Ava and I are going to use the restroom" I announce and stand up. My father also stands. Oh no, he's going to insist on escorting us. I didn't think of that. I'm grateful when I see Brooke and Sawyer stand.
"I'll come with you" she says, and my father accepts that Sawyer will escort us.
Thanks for reading. The next chapter will feature more of the Ball. I apologize for not updating more often. I've been working a lot which takes a lot out of me. I plan on writing many more chapters for this story. Happy Reading!