I am blissfully drifting in a calm sea. Clouds floating by, I am weightless and tranquil. This is contentment. This is serenity. This is happiness and security and warmth. This is love.
A warm weight is lifted from my arms, jolting me awake. As my eyes focus, I realize Christian has taken Teddy from my embrace. I’m in the glider in Teddy’s room. I must have dozed off while nursing. I watch Christian gently place Teddy, perfectly centered, in the crib. Christian examines the crib in what appears to be a cursory check of things, but I know better. It is a very well thought out checklist in his head. No foreign objects, no blankets or stuffed animals, sheets tucked taught. Once satisfied that Teddy is absolutely safe, Christian turns and walks back to me.
He is smiling, but there is sadness in it. He reaches for my face and strokes my cheek with his knuckle. “Mrs. Grey, let us get you back to bed.”
I let out a breath I didn’t even know I was holding. I guess I was waiting for chastisement for falling asleep with Teddy. I wonder what it means – that I was waiting to be reprimanded. And that Christian didn’t scold me. Is it progression? Changing priorities? Or just wearing down?
Christian reaches around me and frees my body from the nursing pillow. Wrapping his arm around my back, he moves to lift me. For some reason I want to get up on my own, maybe to show him that I do, in fact, have this under control. Even if I did just fall asleep holding my son. And not for the first time.
“I got it, babe,” I say as I quickly leap up. Too quickly. A sudden head rush hits me and I’m about to retreat back into the chair.
“It would appear not, Mrs. Grey,” and I am scooped up into my husband’s embrace. “Allow me, please.” There is something about the ‘please’ that makes my ears perk up, just as I let my head lay down against his shoulder.
Christian carries me down the hall to our room, lays me down in our bed, and climbs in behind me, pulling the sheet and duvet over me. His arm enfolds my waist as he nuzzles my hair inhaling deeply as he often does. A simple gesture that warms me from the inside out. And that’s the last I remember before sleep envelops me again.
I wake to cooing on the monitor as opposed to a demanding-to-be-fed scream. Stretching, I feel well rested. Comparatively. Of course, I fell into bed before nine, and the clock tells me it is six. Not counting the two feeding interruptions, it’s the most sleep I’ve had in a week. A good night’s sleep…better than an orgasm. Well, not quite, but I’ll take it.
Listening to the monitor, it doesn’t seem Teddy is hungry yet. Just having a little conversation with himself. As long as I’m awake, I make my way to the nursery. As expected, Teddy is wide eyed, looking around, and listening to the sound of his own voice. He smiles when he sees me…I think. It might be wishful thinking, but I see a flash of Christian in his smile. If he’s half as good looking as his father, little girls everywhere will be in trouble.
“Theodore Raymond, you are going to break hearts,” I tell my son as I lift him up. After getting him freshened up, I decide to do something a little different and I take him back to our room.
Christian is surprisingly still asleep. I prop up my pillows, toss the duvet aside, and situate myself sitting up with Teddy on my lap, propped up by my bent legs. He is wearing a baby blue sleep shirt with little teddy bears on it. Several of Grace’s friends gave clothing featuring a 'teddy bears for Teddy' theme – so much so that I ponder if they had some email chain about it. Either way, it’s a good look for him. He is stretching his legs out, pushing his little feet against my formerly flat stomach. Almost like standing.
I don’t know how, but without looking at over at him, I am aware Christian has woken and is watching us. He hasn’t moved, but I feel his eyes on me. Since he has not spoken, I make a concerted effort to keep my focus on Teddy, allowing Christian to observe us at his leisure. I tell myself I’m allowing Christian a private moment to wake up, since he hasn’t spoken. My disapproving subconscious reminds that I might, just might, be striving to prove myself after getting caught asleep at the wheel.
I run my hands up and down Teddy’s legs and arms, let my fingers crawl across his belly, and cascade feather light touches across his cheeks. Each action is rewarded with a heart lifting smile or coo, which further incites actions on my part. Continuing this way for several minutes, I almost forget I’m being observed. Then fifty lets out a pleasing sigh, officially informing me he has joined the conscious. I acknowledge him without turning my eyes.
“Good morning Mr. Grey. Did you sleep well?”
Christian sits himself up and slides closer to me, “I slept delightfully, Mrs. Grey. Save one patrol in the wee hours to ensure all family members were in their assigned bedchambers.” I cringe on the inside, and hope I’ve successfully repressed any outward view of anxiety. I’m holding my breath as I wait for it, keeping my eyes on the infant in my lap.
Christian leans into me, and kisses my temple, “I’m sorry.” He’s sorry? For what?
I turn my head to him, “What are you sorry about? I’m the one that fell asleep on the job.” I look down so I don’t have to meet his gaze.
Christian reaches over and lifts my chin, forcing me to meet his gaze, “Ana, it is my job to take care of you. To ensure your needs are met. And yet, my actions caused you to neglect sleep. This is on me.” There is genuine remorse in his tone, and for once I follow his train of thought. I don’t agree with it, but I can connect the dots. Lack of sleep caused by the fight triggered by the subpoena due to the lawsuit he didn’t tell me about. Convoluted logic.
“Christian, this is not on you. That is ridiculous. Besides, the situation is remedied. I think that was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in six months,” which is true. That’s about the time Teddy started tap dancing on my bladder.
“Delighted to hear that. And since I have an early meeting, I cannot spend the morning squabbling over culpability,” he springs up from his prone position, kisses me briefly but firmly, and leaps up off the bed bound for the bathroom. He pauses at the entryway, “Is it safe to have Teddy in the bed? I read in several books about”
“Argh, Christian!” I cut him off. “It is not safe to have Teddy sleep with us, but I am not sleeping.” I calm my tone and raise my right hand, “Scouts honor, I will not fall asleep with Teddy in the bed. Stow your safety monitor sash and get on with it.”
My husband cocks his head to the side, grinning, “Safety monitor sash? That has possibilities.” I’m puzzled and must look it. “School girl caught violating school safety rules gets confronted by the safety monitor…definite possibilities.” He turns, leaving my mouth hanging open, but my mind thinking I’m going to need a short plaid skirt.
Forty minutes later, Teddy is fed, and Christian has donned a custom made Italian charcoal gray suit accented by a light gray pinstripe paired with an aubergine tie with overlapping gray circles in various shades and shapes. I sigh, why does he always look like he walked off the cover of magazine? I have scary morning hair and am attired in Christian’s t-shirt. So lopsided, so unfair.
Christian sits on the edge of the bed next to me a kiss, “Have fun today. Show Teddy how to play nicely with the other kids at the playground.” He’s referring to my play date. It makes me happy that he is trying to feign acceptance, even if he’s exuding tension. He’s looking at me somewhat intently, “Ana, just out of curiosity, what name do you intend to give your friend? If it comes up, that is.”
“Grey!” I almost shout. Dialing back my reaction, “Of course, Grey. I am Ana Grey. And proud of it,” I lean forward and take his chin in one hand while steadying Teddy with the other. “Christian, I would never lie about who I am. I just wanted the chance to know someone before divulging our, er, significant resources.” Exhaling I add, “Do you think it is silly, what I’m doing?”
“I would never call you silly, Ana. But I cannot claim to fully understand your diffidence to reveal your name.”
“Well, on the surface it’s what I told you before, wanting to be liked for being a nice, fun person as opposed to being liked because our money or business could be leveraged. But there is a little more to it.” I’m struggling to explain this. “Perhaps if I had ever been the type of person able to cultivate friendships in quantity I’d feel differently. But I’ve only ever had one or two close friends at a time my whole life.” Geez, this is hard. It’s not like I’m trying to be the most popular kid at school. I just want a friend who could relate to my life. At least the baby part. I don’t believe anyone could relate to being married to fifty.
He’s staring at me trying to conceal impatience. Taking a deep breath, I try again to spit this out, “I only had a few friends in high school, but really they were more like lunch table companions. In college I had Kate and José, and everyone else was really Kate’s friend. I don’t want a lot of friends, just someone who may relate to me a little. Someone who won’t mind the diaper talk and stuff.” My voice trails off a bit, “someone to talk to who isn’t related to us or employed by us.”
“What about Kate?”
“Kate is my closest friend, and I know with her that will always come first before the sister-in-law thing. But as close as we are, Kate’s understanding of people is bound by her perceptions.” I know this isn’t making sense. I try again, “I love Kate as I would a sister, but she doesn’t always attempt to see the world from another’s point of view.”
Christian is smirking at me, “If I didn’t know you better, I would think you just called your best friend self-centered.” I immediately start to object and he holds up a hand to stop me, “But I do know you better, and I believe I understand.” He gives me a tender kiss on the forehead, “Please follow Sawyer’s instructions. And call me when you are on your way home so I can stop worrying.”
His eyes show the concern he is struggling to keep in check, “I will, I promise. Do me a favor and stop worrying yourself into an early grave. Trust me, this will be fine. Trust the vault.”
I get a chuckle for that, “The vault. Where do you come up with these things?” He rises to leave, “Remember to call me, please.” Pausing at the foot of the bed he looks over his shoulder smiling, “By the way, do you even know what you said that makes me immeasurably happy?”
“Just now.” I shake my head. “You said ‘our’.” I shake my head again to show my confusion. “You said our significant resources, our money, our business.”
I did? I didn’t even notice, and just give a shrug as Christian exits with a smile.
Several hours later, Teddy and I are stretched out on a picnic blanket in a park about fifteen minutes from home. We’ve arrived early so everyone can be in position, and so we could practice the hand signals Sawyer had worked out. Teddy and I are in the shade of a maple tree that is way out in the open, not near any structures or bushes. About forty yards away, Harry is doing yoga on another blanket. She appears to have an IPod playing, but I know the earbuds are really part of the team’s communication system. Harry’s dressed the part and quite clearly knows what she is doing. I never would have guessed and am now thinking of talking to her about teaching me. Claude has been recommending yoga to me, but didn’t want me to start while pregnant. Turning behind me, there is a park bench about twenty-five yards away where Sawyer sits pretending to read a book. I know he’d much rather read the paper, but that could obstruct his view. He looks so awkward in shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers. He’s wearing a baseball cap that covers his buzz cut and also conceals his ear piece. But no matter how you dress him down, Sawyer does not look relaxed. Ever.
Ryan, fortunately, is back at the car. Or patrolling the perimeter. As long as he stays out of sight. Having two so close by is distracting enough.
Right on time I see Michelle approaching pushing Stephan in a stroller. For some reason I note that it is one of those trendy Bugaboo ones like the one we have, except hers is red and ours is blue. She has her diaper bag strung around the handles and gives me a wave. Her short brown hair appears to still be damp from a shower and she is wearing a gray tennis skirt and white t-shirt.
I have to smother a chuckle as an hour before I was struggling over what to wear for a park date. After trying on half my wardrobe, I caved and called Mia to find out what is the appropriate outfit for a play date. I don’t know what is more surprising; that I expected Mia to know the answer or that she in fact did know. I scoffed at her tennis skirt and t-shirt suggestion, but she swore that is what all the women with strollers are wearing. After twenty minutes on the phone, she had talked me into it. The third astonishment of the morning lay in that I actually own a navy blue tennis skirt, bought for me by Mia when she and Kate decided to teach me tennis last October. Two outfits, one racket, and two tennis lessons later and they thankfully had changed their minds. After that they instructed me to just wear the outfit to join them for lunch at the Grey’s club.
So Michelle and I are in matching outfits. A good sign, I think. I wave to her, then stand to help her as she arrives. “Sorry I’m late,” she huffs out, as she had been walking really briskly across the lawn, “Stephan was a slow eater this morning.” She takes in the blanket I’ve spread out, “I’m so glad you brought a blanket. I have one in the car, but I didn’t want to try to carry too much.” My subconscious sneers at me ‘you had your plethora of staff carry it’. Yeah, yeah…Sawyer did the heavy lifting.
I smile, stand up and greet her, “You’re not late, two minutes at most. And Teddy and I just got here.” Twenty minutes ago, following Sawyer’s orders.
We work astonishingly well as a team. I steady her stroller as she lifts Stephan out, since strollers are prone to tipping once the baby acting as a counterweight to the diaper bag is removed. Something I hope I’m not alone in finding out the hard way. After she disentangles the strap of the diaper bag, I park her stroller next to mine.
“So, how was that formal affair you bought the gown for?”
Such an innocuous question. “It was fabulous, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have.”
“Too worn out?”
I nod in agreement. “Last night my husband caught me asleep in the glider with Teddy in the middle of the night.”
Rather than chastise me, she laughs. “I’ve solved that one.”
She sighs, “Don’t criticize, but we’ve ditched our comforter and pillows off our bed and I nurse at night side-lying. And yes, I doze off, but not that deeply.”
“Is that safe?”
“Well, we are careful, and I would say no riskier than falling asleep sitting up holding him.” She shakes her head, not wanting to debate this, “Listen, we all do what works for us, and this works for me.”
I get it, but I don’t think it is something we’d try. I change the topic. “Teddy’s one month visit is next month. Any surprises happen at that for Stephan?” The conversation picks up from there. We talk about vaccinations, milestones, how we chose pediatricians. We talk about how she and her husband met in law school and Christian and I met on a college paper interview. We talk about how we get along with our in laws - she doesn’t click with her mother in law, Grace is more attentive than my own mother. We talk about going back to work, if we’ll keep nursing, balancing work baby and husband.
We even talk about sex, which I never talk about with anyone but Christian. “I have the long awaited six week check-up next week,” she says with a wink.
“I’m making my husband a countdown calendar. Twenty days left,” I add.
“Well, from what my online mommy friends say, think of it more as a process than an event.”
“Sex after childbirth. They said it may not be comfortable the first time. Like losing your virginity again.”
I blush at the memory, “Losing my virginity wasn’t that bad. Actually, it wasn’t bad at all.”
“Well, you’re lucky.” I’m then regaled with her tale of her first boyfriend from college. Sounds similar to Kate’s tale. “What about you?”
I blush again and wonder if I’ll ever outgrow turning pink at personal topics. Taking a deep breath, I fess up, “My husband was actually my first.”
She looks shocked, “You were a virgin when you got married?”
“No!” I shout a little too vehemently. “I just never dated much before him,” I mumble somewhat.
“Well, then the second loss of virginity might not be so bad for you either.”
“I hope not,” I intentionally sight audibly, “Twenty days.” We both erupt in a fit of giggles. “What do you mean by online Mommy friends?”
She promises to email me links to the online bulletin boards she reads and posts questions on. “It helps, plus since it is anonymous, I don’t feel so stupid with some of my questions. You know…can poop really look like that? Can he really taste it in breast milk if I eat garlic? You know.”
“Can he taste the garlic?”
“Everyone says yes, but evidently Stephan likes Italian food as much as his parents,” she laughs.
After a duo of diaper changes and a bout of comparing the roundness of Stephan and Teddy’s bellies, Michelle suddenly turns serious.
“Ana, I don’t want to sound paranoid, but there is a guy I’ve noticed who looks sort of not right.” I look to where her eyes were. Sawyer. “He’s been sitting there the whole time we’ve been here, but spends a lot of time looking around.”
I take another glance to Sawyer’s bench and when I turn back Michelle is reaching for her cell phone. “I just want to make a quick call, then perhaps we should move to another area of the park.”
Uh oh. I’m frozen for a second and not sure what to do. “Michelle, wait, I don’t think there’s a problem.”
She shakes her head at me, “Ana, better safe than sorry. I’m calling someone to help us.”
Shit! Is she calling the police? I have to stop this. “Michelle stop,” and I give Sawyer the hand signal to approach, but not an emergency signal. He gets up and starts walking briskly directly for us.
Michelle looks alarmed. “Michelle, I think I need to explain something.” Her eyes are fixed on Sawyer and I’m not sure she heard me. She raises her left arm as if she is waiving at someone.
Suddenly I see a man out of the corner of my eye charging towards us. Then Sawyer is no longer walking but running. Harry is off her yoga mat in an all-out sprint. My heart starts racing and I’m confused. What is going on!
In my head I’m telling myself not to panic, but the alarm is rising. All of this happened in just a few short seconds. Now the man is next to the blanket and is reaching his jacket. I feel Sawyers leg on my back as he stands over me protectively, and through the frenzy in my head I hear his voice.
“Stand down, sir,” Sawyer commands firmly to the mystery man. The man doesn’t remove his hand from his jacket, but doesn’t proceed any further.
“Identify yourself,” mystery man says in his own authoritative tone.
“Personal security, like yourself.” The man still hasn’t moved. Harry has stopped about five yards away, noticing the fragile state of affairs. Sawyer looks to Michelle, “Ms. Ashville, my name is Luke Sawyer and I am part of Ana’s security detail. My associate over there,” he gestures at Harry, “is Heather Harrison.” Harry nods at Michelle. “Ms. Ashville, please instruct your security team to stand down.” Sawyer’s calm authoritative demeanor has me awed.
Michelle’s eyes are still wide as she processes the situation, looking from Sawyer, to Harry, to the mystery man, then back to me. “Ana…who are you?” Each word came out slow and deliberate. So much for a new friend.
“Ana Grey.” Her expression changes and, if it is even possible, her mouth is hanging open more than before. I notice uttering my name was enough for the mystery man to relax and withdraw his hands to his side. Harry has stepped up beside the picnic blanket. I recovery my senses slightly, “Michelle, who are you? I mean, I’ve never met anyone else with security.”
Michelle is still gaping at me. Then without warning she bursts into laughter. She is struggling to talk through it, but is howling too much to sputter out the words. Without warning she flops back on the blanket and lets her giddiness take over. I find myself chuckling along, but I’m not certain I comprehend the humor.
After two or three minutes, Michelle sits up, using the back of her hand to wipe tears from her cheeks. “I’m sorry,” she rasps between lingering guffaws. “This is just too…too, I don’t even know.”
“Uh, okay. Michelle, I need you to take a deep breath and tell me what is so funny before I become really self-conscious.”
Michelle looks at me and takes the directed deep breath. Reaching over she puts her hand on my arm, “Ana, I am so sorry. It just tickled my funny bone. See, my in-laws insist on security for Stephan in public, and I tried so hard to conceal them.” Realizing she isn’t yet making sense, “I thought you were a regular person, you know. Here I am trying to hide my in-laws wealth, and I’m sitting with Anastasia Grey, the social get of the decade.”
I still feel like the last person in whisper down the lane, not having a clue what everyone else seems to understand. “Michelle, I’m still lost. Who are you?”
“Oh, I thought, I mean,” she gestures at Sawyer, “your staff knew my name.”
Sighing, I fess up, “Yes, Sawyer ran a background check, but I didn’t look at it,” I shake my head. “I wanted to get to know you on my own,” my voice sounds more dejected than I meant.
Michelle springs up to her knees, “Sorry, I’m so thick. I guess I didn’t understand what was going on,” sitting back on her heals she takes a deep breath. “Allow me to introduce myself. Michelle Ashville, formerly of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Rutgers Undergrad, University of Pennsylvania Law. Wife of Gunnar Klaussen, mother of Stephan Klaussen.”
Klaussen, I know that name. “Is that Klaussen Engineering?” Christian had shared an article on the company as they were rebranding.
“Yes, but now it is KEC with the name change. But neither Gunnar nor I is involved in the company other than holding stock. Well, he holds stock, not me.”
“Pleased to meet you, Michelle Ashville, and Stephan Klaussen,” the formal words tumble out of me. The folly of the whole venture hits me. Looking at Harry in her yoga gear, Sawyer in his pitiful shorts, and Michelle’s security man in a matching pant and jacket track suit, I have to shake my head. “So, you were pretending to be...” what is the right word? “ordinary?” Just like I was. For a moment we stare at each other, then I catch the giggles with her.
When the hysteria subsides, I realize the three staff members are staring down at us.
“Mrs. Grey, I believe we are becoming quite noticeable. Would you consider relocating?” Sawyer gentle suggests.
I see at least one passerby openly staring with curiosity, and I admit we are a spectacle. “Michelle, would you like to join me for lunch at my house?” She nods and smiles in agreement. “Great.” I look around at everyone, “Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”
In no time at all the babies are in strollers, the diaper bags are packed and the blanket is folded. Sawyer confers with Michelle’s security man so they can follow us back to the house. Before I know it, Teddy and I are back in the Audi on our way home, with Michelle and Stephan following us. I decide to shoot off a quick email to Christian.
To: Christian Grey
From: Anastasia Grey
Date: June 5, 2012 11:34 am
Subject: Safe and sound
Just letting you know we are on our way home. You can breathe easy. Michelle and her baby are joining Teddy and me for lunch.
BTW – have you ever met Gunnar Klaussen?
I call Mrs. Taylor letting her know we will have guests for lunch. Just as I hang up, I’ve got a response.
To: Anastasia Grey
From: Christian Grey
Date: June 5, 2012 11:37 am
Subject: Breathing easy
I cannot tell you how relieved I am that you are heading home. I am also pleased that you are having a good time.
I knew Michael Klaussen in school, but I would not mention that connection. I may have been in a fistfight with him once or twice. If I recall correctly, I won. I surmise Gunnar is a sibling. If so, they are part of the family majority owners of KEC. Grace knows the parents.
Is Michelle related?
Now breathing easier CEO Grey Enterprise Holdings
Now breathing easier CEO Grey Enterprise Holdings
Oh. Well, that isn’t good.
To: Christian Grey
From: Anastasia Grey
Date: June 5, 2012 11:41 am
Gunnar is Michelle’s husband. I’ll share the story later. I don’t think she is informed of your prior altercation with her in-laws. Even so, I suspect it would give you vantage in her eyes.
To: Anastasia Grey
From: Christian Grey
Date: June 5, 2012 11:43 am
Subject: Wagging tongues
My my. Sounds like there is juicy gossip to be heard. Do tell!
The subject of my email is distracting me. I think there are better things to do with one’s mouth than gossip. Perhaps you could be persuaded to a nap this afternoon, freeing up the evening to explore said topic?
CEO Grey Enterprise Holdings
CEO Grey Enterprise Holdings
I smile the rest of the ride home. Leave it to fifty to flash from the verge of hyperventilation with worry to seduction in a matter of moments. Of course, it took all of three seconds for me to react, uncrossing and recrossing my legs in anticipation.
In short order, we are back home and have piled out of the vehicles. Mrs. Taylor is waiting in the foyer for us. “Mrs. Grey, will poached salmon be suitable for lunch.”
Her tone is very formal for the benefit of our guest. “That sounds fabulous, Mrs. Taylor. We’ll eat on the patio,” I turn to Ryan and Harry, “Could you help get the bouncy seat and the swing onto the patio?”
Michelle waits until Mrs. Taylor has retreated, Sawyer has escorted her security man to a waiting area, and Ryan and Harry set about their tasks. “Ana, this is…wow! Your house is amazing!”
I look around. “Well, it is a bit much, but we like it.” My subconscious yelps at me - A bit much? Remember your apartment as WSUV? Your bathroom is bigger! Michelle just looks at me wide eyed and shakes her head. Makes me wonder if, indeed, I have lost perspective. Picking up Teddy in his car seat I nod my head towards the glass doors on the other side of the spacious living room, “Follow me outside.”
I lead Michelle out the French doors to where Harry and Ryan are setting up the requested equipment. Before our bottoms even touch the chairs Mrs. Taylor brings out a tray offering iced tea and strawberry lemonade. The way she is carrying herself is unfamiliar.
“Please let Sawyer know that at any time Ms. Ashville or I may be nursing,” I tell Harry and Sawyer. Not so subtle code for turn off the security camera and be scarce, please.
As we settle in, I realize what was different about Mrs. Taylor. She was in full out staff mode, not the modified relaxed way she and I typically treat each other. I’m not used to seeing Gail behave so stringently and it makes me somewhat uncomfortable. We don’t often have guests save for family. Scratch that. We never have guests except family. Though Christian has hosted business dinners, it is done at the club. Before, no one ever expected a bachelor to host a dinner at his home. Now we live in a home well suited to entertaining, but the thought of inviting business associates into our home makes me cringe. I couldn’t imagine throwing an all-out affair like Grace and Carrick to every year.
Seeming to read my thoughts Michelle queries, “Any plans to throw a party? This place is seriously set up for it?”
“I think my hands are full right now. Plus, Christian and I aren’t really the socializing types.”
Michelle smiles, “I wish we had that option.” I look at her puzzled. “I mentioned my husband isn’t with the family business, right?” I nod. “He works for the family’s charitable foundation. Our entire lives are fundraisers, awards ceremonies, recognition events, appreciation luncheons. I’d be tempted to have another baby quickly just because it has given me a reprieve from attending for a short while.”
This I understand. “Christian and I only attend when we must. Events for the organization his parents founded, business association dinners, and a select others.” Michelle and I proceed to compare party lists from the past year and discover we’ve been at quite a few of the same events unbeknownst to us. We continue to chat while devouring Mrs. Taylor’s salmon served with cucumber dill sauce and chilled asparagus.
As we dive into the raspberries and blackberries Mrs. Taylor serves for dessert, the topic of our discussion in the Neiman’s nursing room comes up.
“Michelle, can I ask you a favor.” She nods her ascent, “I’m feeling a little awkward about our confessions to each other. About getting pregnant.”
“Ana, I would never repeat that! Do. Not Worry. You won’t be reading your personal business in the gossip columns from me.”
I sigh with relief, “Thanks. And I’m sorry. I know I should ignore the calumny, but it is hard. I’m just really sensitive to all the gold digger innuendo.”
“Does Christian’s family treat you that way?”
“No! Far from it. They were so thrilled that he finally brought a girl home.” I pause trying to maneuver around the minefield of Christian’s suspected homosexuality by his family and colleagues. “I brought them their first grandchild; I can do no wrong in Christian’s parents’ eyes.”
“You’re lucky then.” She pauses a bit, “And not repeating how we got pregnant – that goes for me, too.” She looks around to make sure no one is listening, casts her eyes down, “Gunnar told his parents we intended to get pregnant. If they knew it was an accident,” her voice trails off, “Well, let’s just say I’ll never win the contest for favorite daughter-in-law. I’m the one that came with more student loans than her parent’s house is worth. Sans social connections and affluence.” I make a mental note to call Grace and count my blessings.
When both babies are ready to be fed within ten minutes of each other, Michelle marvels at Mrs. Taylor delivering water unrequested to us both, forcing me to explain why all our staff feels compelled to act in loco parentis with me.
Struggling for what to say next, I go for forthrightness, “Michelle, what was so funny back in the park, after I told you who I was?”
“Both my sisters in law, that is, Gunnar’s sister and his brother’s wife, would kill to be in the social circle of the mysterious Anastasia Grey. I cannot begin to tell you how many tedious luncheons and charity balls at which I’ve been subjected to the ongoing speculation regarding where Anastasia Grey shops, who she is friends with, how she decorated her new mansion, when she will throw a party.”
I am dumbstruck. “People talk about me? Why?”
“Because none of the narcissistic, self-important socialites know anything about you. You’re an enigma.”
“But I’m not!”
“I know that now. And don’t worry, I won’t even mention you to any of them. Now when I’m forced to sit through another tiresome event and hear them gossiping, I can amuse myself even more than before with the absurdity.”
A short while later, we are saying our goodbyes at the door. “Ana, do you want to do this again? Next week?”
I only take a second to decide, “Absolutely!” A hug and wave later she’s gone. As soon as she’s out the door, I scoop up Teddy to go upstairs for our prescribed nap.