You sing, I’m killed, I’m just not the same
As I was a year ago and each minute since then
My jumper tears as we take it off
You say you’ll sew me good as new and I know you will
And I’m shaken then I’m still
When your eyes meet mine
I lose simple skills
Like to tell you all I want is now
Snow Patrol – Set Down Your Glass
Seattle May 2014
Our eyes meet across the room; his clear, bright, beautiful, breathtaking. The suit hugs his body in all the right places, and between he and his brother, I can scent every little co-ed creaming themselves. There are a few lusting glances, a slurry of batting eyelashes and a few flashes of thigh. They don’t see a thing caught up as they are in an intense conversation with their father, who is equally as breathtaking if Grace’s face, and those of the dozen or so female faculty are anything to go by. Before too long John Sharp comes through and gathers Christian and Elliot up, ushering them out to the bowels of the auditorium. As Carrick turns to Grace an arm wraps around me from behind.
“How are you feeling, babe?” Ana slips in close to me, or as close to me as her very prominent belly will allow and I lean my head against hers as we watch our men disappear.
“Yeah, good. You?”
“Tired but good. My feet are killing me.”
“You probably should have worn sensible shoes.” She scowls as I sneak a quick look at my phone. No messages from Gail means that the kids are probably fine.
“You’re unbelievable. Worse than Christian. ” She laughs, shaking her head.
“What?” I know exactly what she means but my baby is two months old. I’m a nervous mother. Ana hugs me with a chuckle.
“They’re both okay. I’ve already checked in.” Ana gives me a squeeze. Ava and Teddy are just a bit small to be here today so we’ve left them at the treehouse with enough security to take down a small army. My eyes automatically seek out Mattie who clings to Grace’s hand, his big eyes scanning the room for me. I wave and he responds with a tight smile. Although he has adjusted to this life reasonably well, he doesn’t like being out of Elliot’s sight for long. He’s a real Daddy’s boy and I love him all the more for that.
Half an hour of polite but boring small-talk later, John’s associate comes to take us into the auditorium. A special VIP seating area has been sectioned off for us and Jason and Luke take up their stations on guard. Threats to the family are low level now but nobody is willing to take any chances at highly public events, least of all Christian. Too much water under the bridge. I used to hate it but now I simply accept it as part of going Grey.
The gowned graduates start to file into the auditorium taking their place in the main seating area directly in front of the stage. Once they are seated, the faculty and postgraduate students enter, leading in the bigwigs of the university in their assorted gowns and silly hats. This is only the second year of the new doctoral robes and the sea of crimson red is quite spectacular and strangely haunting. A vision of a body dragged from a dark stained sea flashes before me and I shut it down quickly. Not today. I summon up a picture of Ava instead which is also a mistake as my breasts start to swell and ache. I wonder if there is time to express before this shindig starts.
The main commencement speech is given by the state governor. He is announced as a strong leader in difficult and challenging times. Seems to me that all the hard work was done by the former governor, a woman, but we’ll just ignore that moment in history. Funny how the GFC has touched so many yet Christian keeps riding a wave of financial success. He really ought to run for congress. If he ever decided to go that route, I would rethink his annual job offer.
Some hours later, the undergraduate and postgraduate conferrals are all complete with the exception of one. Professor John Sharp, recently appointed Chair of Architecture walks to the podium and announces Christian. Nods of approval come from those on the faculty who were present three years ago when Christian gave the Vancouver campus commencement speech. My, we have come a long way since then.
“Great minds come in all forms but we are often limited by the constraints of how we believe society perceives us. It is no secret that I cut my own education short to seek out broader horizons. While I have no regrets about that decision for myself, I will always be concerned at the message it might send out to others, including my own children. Working hard and continuing to learn and develop your mind, body and soul are important endeavors, not to be wasted. That is why I continue to fund the extraordinary body of research that emerges from Washington State University. That is why I stand here before you today and urge you to listen very carefully to the story I am about to share.
“Years ago a young man was struggling with his own learning journey as a result of battles with dyslexia. At that time, life and circumstances compelled him to give up his dream of sitting where you are now. Even though education has come a long way and conditions such as his are no longer seen as limiting factors in a successful learning journey, his educational choice was to steer himself away from academia and to move through an apprenticeship pathway that set him up nicely for a successful and fulfilling life and career. However, his learning journey did not end there.
“He had a passion and a need to do things differently. He traveled the world in pursuit of the latest innovations in an area of his industry with which he held some very strong beliefs. He developed his own way of learning and applied his new knowledge to his every day projects, often giving back to disadvantaged communities through this applied research. Before long, his work came to the attention of others in his industry and those who were at the forefront of academic research in the area, including noted scholars such as Professor John Sharp, who introduced me today. These respected practitioners and theorists began to seek him out, asking him to speak and to publish in the field so that he could share his knowledge and innovations with a broader audience. None of this work was hampered in any way by his dyslexia and the innovative approaches he had to his own learning filtered through to the innovative practices he was able to demonstrate in his work. Now he is published in some of the top academic and professional journals in his field, his opinion is sought by academic researchers, industry professionals and policy specialists around the world. His philanthropy and generosity in sharing his unique vision has enabled many communities struggling in the wake of great tragedy as a result of natural disasters or economic disadvantage, to rebuild and regenerate in ways that are both contextually thoughtful and economically sustainable.
“My own solution to his learning issues, all those years ago, was to assist him in masking and avoidance. This is not uncommon with learners who struggle to succeed in our mainstream education system. And while there is no doubt that he has flourished in adversity, I would not make the same mistake again in underestimating the learning potential of a young person. However, in educating himself, he has educated others and changed in small but significant ways, the way the industry both here and abroad now think about eco-friendly design, engineering and construction. So it is with some humility and great pride that I stand before you today to assist the School of Architectural Design and Engineering at Washington State University to confer an honorary doctorate on my brother, Elliot Grey, for his extensive contribution to ecologically sustainable building design and practices in disaster-ravaged and disadvantaged communities.”
The auditorium erupts with applause as Elliot crosses the stage to join Christian. Ana grasps my hand in hers as we take in the handshake that becomes an embrace, as natural and as heartfelt as any other but which brings tears to all of the Grey family. So much has changed for our men and we have been significant in making that happen. James leans forward from behind me and places a hand on my shoulder. I resist glancing across to Grace and Carrick who sit on the other side of Mattie. I know they will be crying. It’s a given.
Back at the treehouse Jen and Gail have outdone themselves on the catering. The fantastic spread keeps everyone busy while Jose gets portrait shots of Elliot with the family. The formal photos taken at the university will be nothing compared to those that Jose will capture. It is so nice that someone with his reputation is still willing to do favors for friends. Once more my eyes meet Elliot and my knees go week. His happiness is writ large all over his face as Katya, brings Ava out to her father. He takes his baby girl in his arms and kisses her forehead before showing her off to her uncle.
Carrick hands me a fresh glass of mineral water and wraps an arm around my waist kissing my hair. Like father, like son.
“Thank you again, Kate.” With the sheer number and breadth of discussions that he and I have had about this over the past few years, there is no need to thank me. We set this in motion a long time ago, it was all up to Elliot to take it over the line. I’m just not sure it would have been this rapid if Elliot hadn’t been somewhat confined by his rehabilitation. John Sharp, now a fixture in our lives, is standing beside us.
“Well, we couldn’t have done it without John.”
“I just told you how. The rest was all Elliot. And you, of course.” He raises his glass to mine. Carrick clasps his shoulder. There is a humility in Carrick Grey that wasn’t there when we first met. I feel that the events of the past few years have aged him dramatically but he is also more calm. As if the secrets of his life no longer weigh him down.
“Well, I am grateful to you both. It is my greatest regret that I didn’t push him harder as a child. He had so much potential.” In years gone by I would have done a double take, given him a look that questioned his sanity and bitten back hard. Perhaps I am a lot calmer now than I used to be.
“And he would have pushed back. We wouldn’t be standing here now.” I know regret. I live with it every day. It is pointless. Carrick is not a perfect man but he loves his family. It’s enough.
Once more my thoughts cast back to that night. The limp body pulled from the water. None of it was my fault but I had seen her in the square that day. I had seen the exchange occur. As had Elliot. We could have saved her life but we were so focused on Mattie. It wasn’t until she was pulled from the water that we realized what we had done. Or failed to do. I shake off the memory and move off to circulate. As I pass him, Elliot shoots a hand out to grab mine. We say nothing. He knows what my look meant. He knows what the look I’m giving him now means. Not now. Not today.
Later in the evening with the children safely in bed and all our guests either retired or gone home we sit out on our private balcony with a cup of tea. The season is changing and it won’t be long before we can enjoy this every night. For now, we are snuggled on the love seat under a blanket.
“Well, now there is more than one doctor in the Grey family.”
“Don’t go there. Do you know how many people said that to me today? I kept telling them it wasn’t real. I didn’t earn it. Not like Mom.”
“You’re underestimating how much you have done and how difficult it is to get an honorary degree. Don’t belittle the work John and I have put into getting you here either.”
“You’re a hard taskmaster, Mrs Grey. Have I thanked you properly for all of this?”
I lean back a little to look up at him.
“Yes, I do believe you have. But you can thank me again. Besides, you did it all.”
“I don’t mean today. Although, thank you once again for that.”
Now what is he talking about?
“I mean everything. This life of ours.” This is a regular discussion. It always brings a smile and hot sex. It could be a long night. Grateful Elliot, is usually creative and full of stamina.
“Listen, old man. Some of us have been on our feet most of the day and know that they will be up to feed your daughter in the middle of the night. You might have to pace yourself.”
He chuckles and takes another sip of tea.
“You want to talk about it?”
“You were thinking about her today.”
“Weren’t we all? I saw your mother talking with Katya in the kitchen. I think it weighs heavy on her.” Katya had become Grace’s pet project after Haiti. When Jason and Luke rescued her and brought her on board our vessel it was Grace who took Katya away for a medical check and counseled her. She had hardly let the girl out of her sight for the past two years until Ava came along. Now Katya is our live in nanny.
“Mom couldn’t have prevented any of it. She has to let go of it and so do you.”
“God, I know. But the dreams don’t want to leave me alone.” Barely a week will pass when I don’t dream about some aspect of it all. The boat, the body, the bomb, the women on that bus, Elena, Linc, Ethan, Mia. What sort of investigative reporter am I that I missed all of those connections. Once again Mia and Ethan hit the front of those thoughts and I cringe at what they went through. I will never feel the same about any of our so-called protective agencies again.
We sit in silence for a little longer and then he takes my cup and helps me to stand up. I’m not sure I have the energy to move let alone make love to him tonight. The cups are placed on the dresser; tomorrow’s problem. He pulls the old sweater up over his shoulders revealing the toned and taught body beneath. Suddenly my energy levels lift with the well-worn wool. For the umpteenth time today my husband takes my breath away. I’m a lucky, lucky woman.
I drop my own clothes on the floor beside the bed and walk toward him. I need his warmth, to be wrapped up in his arms. He doesn’t hesitate and I kiss the skin that covers his muscular neck. Dedication to his own rehabilitation has honed his body in ways I never thought possible. Mike has continued in his role as personal trainer, therapist, body guard, motivator but in the end, Elliot has been his own driver. If my husband was attractive when I met him, he’s irresistible to me now. He seems to feel the same way about me which is a good thing. Things have not quite got back to where they should have since Ava arrived in our lives. I’m still working on that.
His arms wrap around me and he begins to sway. He gently hums as he dances me around in a circle and then he sings in deeply hypnotic tones.
It had to be you, it had to be you
I’ve wandered around and finally found somebody who
Could make me be true
Could make me be blue
And, even be glad just to be sad thinkin’ of you
“It really did, you know?” He stops singing but keeps us dancing.
“It had to be you. I was never going to be faithful to anyone else.”
“Don’t kid yourself, Grey. You’re a family man through and through. You would have worked that out eventually.”
“Nope, you’re wrong. I needed to fall so deeply in love that there was no way out. That would only have happened with you. I think that’s why it was so quick and why I was so certain. I was meant to find you.”
“You are such a soppy romantic. And you’ve made me one. You know I hate you for that.”
“No, you don’t. You love me. You adore me.”
“You’re so freaking sure of yourself, Mr Grey.”
“Yes, yes I am, Mrs Grey. But I’m right.” It’s part statement, part question. I let it hang. The man doesn’t need to have his ego fed right now. After a moment the lip goes out. I can’t stand it.
“Oh, alright. Yes, I adore you. Now, it’s getting cold. Take me to bed.”
Without hesitation he swings me up into his arms. The advantage of the new and improved Elliot is that when he lifts me onto the bed I no longer worry about his back. I’ve seen what he is capable of and throwing my frame around the bedroom is nothing. He’s a testament to what hard work and belief can do. Mattie helped there. Elliot and Mattie fell in love with each other in Haiti and he would do anything for his little boy, including live the life he was meant to live. Ava has simply doubled his efforts. We worried for Mattie when Ava came along but they seem to adore each other already.
“Say it again, Mrs Grey.”
“What?” I feign ignorance.
“You know what. Say it again.” He tickles my stomach. It is too much.
“Okay, okay. I adore you. Now stop it, I want to go to sleep. I try to stare him down but he’s too good at this game. My leg is lifted and he kisses the sole of my foot.
“Thank you for standing by me in this life.”
He kisses my calf and my knee. I suck in a breath.
“Thank you for this wonderful dance.”
Higher up to my thigh, my hip, my stomach. And exhale.
“Thank you so very much for baring my children.” We don’t reflect too much on that dark time except for lighting a lantern at each anniversary and setting it afloat from the jetty. And watching our tree grow stronger and sturdier over time.
Now my breasts and my shoulder. Oh God, I’m going to jump him.
“Thank you for your beautiful heart and the strength of your love.”
Down my arm and to the palm of my hand. Oh, that’s nice.
“Thank you for holding my heart and taking such good care of our love.”
My throat and my lips. Don’t kiss him back. Don’t… kiss… him… back.
“Thank you for your beautiful voice, for singing for us daily and being our voice when we need it.”
Ah, heck, and now I’m choking on my own emotions. My ears, my eyes.
“Thank you for hearing and seeing and believing in us.”
My forehead. Oh, shit. These tears must be baby hormones.
“Thank you for your sexy intelligence and your wisdom when it comes to what really matters in our lives.”
He props himself up and looks into my eyes for the longest time, one hand frozen on the side of my face. I wait for him to speak but he just looks. Unable to bare his scrutiny much longer I grasp his hand and kiss his palm before looking back up to him. He smiles.
“You. I’m showing you how grateful I am and you’re not saying a word. Not even a you’re welcome.” That’s because right now I’m trying not to cry, you big bozo.
“Oh, you’re welcome.” I manage to croak out the words before I pull his face to mine and kiss his lips, deep and long.
“Will you marry me?” I like this game. I school my face before I answer.
“I already did.”
“Oh, will you have my baby?” A hundred of them. Okay, maybe another one or two.
“Already did that too. But I’m willing to negotiate on doing that one again.” That makes him smile. We have come a long way.
“Will you make love with me?” Not to but with. Yes, yes, yes.
“That will be my earthly and heavenly pleasure until the end of my days.” There’s no preamble. There’s no need. I’ve been wet since this morning when he first left me in bed and walked naked to the shower. Everything since has been a matter of degrees.
His eyes are completely focused on my mine as he enters slowly and keeps me suspended in ecstasy for the next hour or so. Our love is quiet, slow, thoughtful, intense. When we come, we come together as if by mutual agreement. Coming down is like watching storm clouds clear behind his eyes. He is so beautiful that my heart hurts. There is no sound but our deep breaths and the beating of our hearts Finally, when we are almost drifting to sleep in each other’s arms, I hear his soft whisper.
“I love you, Kate.” His lips touch my hair. I smile, half asleep and content beyond belief. In my Elliot-induced haze, I whisper my reply.
A/N: Thank you all for reading this last book in Kate and Elliot’s story. There are still more loose ends that need to be tied up in Mia and Ethan’s story so I hope that you will follow on. If this seems like a cop out ending, in many ways it is. I mean no disrespect to my readers and reviewers who are actually the best and nicest people. In the past few weeks I have taken issue with the behaviors of some of the authors and readers in this fanfiction world. So much so that I have held my finger over the delete button of Sasha’s existence several times in the past two weeks. Don’t worry, if this ever happens the decision will be about fanfiction.net so my stories will continue on my blog. My apologies for not posting as often as you would like, you have all been so very patient with me while real life takes it’s toll on my time. And thank you for the many small ways in which you have contributed to Kate and Elliot’s story. They have been an absolute joy to write. I will continue to edit their story on the blog. This can only make it better. And I am hopeful that my lovely translator will continue to do her thing so that the Spanish chapters can grow.
Love to you all and please, if you have taken the time to read this story, leave a final note to tell me what you think. I would have liked to spin the story out but doing that would have been selfish when Mia and Ethan have so much that they need to say. Thanks again, Sasha xxx
Again, I mean no disrespect to Ms James and I hope that she would approve of my playing with her characters.