Chapter 4 - The Masked Ball

Carrick and I have been hosting our annual fundraising event for Coping Together for many years now, so we have a very well-rehearsed schedule to follow, to make sure everything runs like clockwork. We are very lucky; we can count on the support of many of the rich and famous of Seattle, as well as others from across the country. But if we are expecting these affluent patrons to spend large sums of money at our fund raiser, we have to ensure that every last detail has been taken care of to make it a truly memorable evening.
Inevitably there are always some changes and alterations that need to be made, but generally speaking we use the same caterers, florists, musicians, pyro-technicians and so forth from year to year. Why change a winning formula?

Preparations for the following year start as soon as one event has finished, while things are fresh in our minds about what worked well, and what was not so successful. We choose a different theme each year, which is always the fun part. This year, on Mia’s suggestion, we decided to make it a Masked Ball, and she’d been enthusiastically involved in all the arrangements since her return from Paris.  She had been an absolute godsend, as I’d been incredibly busy at the hospital due to the measles epidemic. Mia saw to it that everyone who had bought a ticket understood that they had to wear a mask for the entire evening, until permission was given to remove it.

Coping Together is a charity very close to our hearts. Christian suffered appalling deprivation during his early formative years, because there was no one that Ella, his birth mother, felt able to turn to for the help and support she desperately needed. If she knew who Christian’s father was, she never disclosed that information to anyone as far as we could discover, and his birth certificate simply listed his father as ‘unknown’. 

That made it virtually impossible to trace his father; but in any case, Christian has never shown the slightest interest in doing so. He must have been a pretty distinctive man though, as Christian didn't inherit either his trademark dark copper hair or his musical ability from his mother. I also imagine Christian takes after his father in being so tall and well built, as his birth mother was a small, slim girl, with a pale complexion and long brown hair. But as she was a gifted mathematician, I think he must have inherited from her his extraordinary ability of being able to just glance at complicated accounts and spreadsheets to instantly comprehend and accurately interpret the figures.

As a young single parent struggling to cope, with no family around to offer her any kind of support, Ella became addicted to crack heroin. Once she had gotten herself into such a terrible, self-destructive downward spiral, it was sadly only too inevitable that she would ultimately end up as a prostitute to fund her addiction, no doubt coerced by her dealer, who then became her pimp.  

It is a desperately sad story, and such a waste of a very talented but vulnerable young girl’s life – she was only twenty three when she passed away, not much older than either Mia or Anastasia.  I believe she was too scared to ask for help from the authorities, because she feared they would take her child away from her.  Despite all her problems, Ella must have loved her son because she did not want to be parted from him, although most people would probably argue that it would have been far better for him if she had handed him over. 
Perhaps she would have felt more able to ask for help if she had been able to turn to an organization that was non-judgmental, one that simply promised to give as much support and help as possible, no questions asked, whatever the circumstances. Maybe if an organization such as Coping Together had existed then, perhaps they could have enabled her to cope and look after her child, and then Christian would not have had to endure the terrible hardships that he did.

Coping Together does wonderful work, and every cent we raise goes directly to support them.  I'm truly proud to be associated with such a worthwhile organization.
Christian always gives his full and very generous support to this and the other charities we are involved with. As a pediatrician and a mother, inevitably there are several children’s charities that I have found myself drawn to and getting involved with. But I think it would be very unfair to burden him with some of the horrifying details of the abuse I learn about, because that would only serve to dredge up terrible memories for him.

Although he never admits it, or even talks about it to anyone other than Dr. Flynn, I know that Christian still bears the deep scars of his terrible early years. Despite many years of all kinds of therapy, he still really struggles with his abandonment issues, haunted as he is by his memories of terrible abuse and his birth mother’s horrific death. 

I think maybe this goes a long way to explaining why he has never formed any kind of a personal attachment to anyone, even keeping us, his close family, at arm’s length, and why I am so thrilled to finally see him overcome this barrier by starting a relationship with Anastasia. She seems to have reached him in a way that no one else ever has before, and I truly think she could be his salvation in overcoming his issues, to finally find some well-deserved personal happiness. 


A week before the Masked Ball, Mia, Carrick and I were going through all the final arrangements and details.

“It’s such a shame that Elliot’s going to miss it this year, he’s always such good fun at these events,” Mia sighed.

“Yes, I know, darling, but he seems to be having a wonderful vacation in Barbados with Kate, doesn't he?”

“Yes, did I show you the latest text he sent me? I can't believe he hasn't got bored with Kate yet. This must be an all-time record for him.”

*Hey sis, beats rainy Seattle any day of the week*

Mia held up her phone to show me the text with a picture of Kate and Elliot on the beach. It showed a very loved up young couple, clearly having a wonderful time.  I thought maybe he’d finally met his match in Kate, in which case I’d be very happy. It was about time our eldest son stopped fooling around and thought about settling down, having sown more than his fair share of wild oats, luckily without any unfortunate consequences as far as we were aware. At least that was one worry we haven’t had with Christian, one advantage of him being such a late developer with girls.

“Elliot was lucky to be able to take off like that. I just hope he won’t regret leaving his team in charge of finishing off the Collinson Project. It wasn't very professional of him,” grumbled Carrick.

He’s always taken a very active interest in all three of his children’s careers, offering them his advice and the benefit of his experience and wisdom, and then getting upset when it’s ignored, even though I've told him numerous times that’s pretty standard behavior from one’s offspring.

“Oh, come on, you’re only young once. And you know what they say ‘all work and no play…’ I’m sure he has it all under control,” I tried to reassure him.

Elliot has always had a very relaxed and laid back approach to work and to life in general, which Carrick sometimes found hard to comprehend. Lawyers are rarely laid back about anything, in my experience.

“Talking of all work and no play, have you been able to get hold of Christian at all, Mom? I've left several messages and emails, and he hasn't answered any of them, which is not like him. I know he’s always ridiculously busy, but he usually gets back to me pretty quickly,” Mia queried.

To be honest, I had also been trying to get hold of Christian and not having much luck. Ever since I’d excitedly told my mother about his sweet new girlfriend, she’d been dying to meet Anastasia, and had been pestering me to arrange a family dinner for this purpose. So I had also been trying to get hold of Christian to invite them to lunch or dinner on Sunday, but, like Mia, I had not heard back from him, which I had to agree was unusual.

My mother loves all her grandchildren equally, but she does have a special soft spot for Christian, because she has such vivid memories of the shocking state he was in when we first adopted him. Just like me, she is very proud of him for the success he has achieved in his career, but I think she is even more desperate than me for him to find some personal happiness.

“What’s the good of immense wealth if he’s all by himself, living his life as a lonely, crusty old bachelor? What he needs is the love of a good woman to sort him out - one that will open his eyes and spark his interest in the bedroom, instead of spending all his time pouring over all those boring facts and figures to make yet another million.  I would love nothing better than to see him happily married, and getting on with producing some great-grandkids for me to bounce on my knee before I depart this world,” she has declared on several occasions.

“He needs to let me know what masks he wants for the ball. I even asked him for Anastasia’s number so I could speak to her direct about it, but he hasn't responded to that either. 
Perhaps I should just drop by his apartment, see if I can catch him that way,” Mia pondered.

“Er no, I don't think that’s such a good idea,” I hastily replied, remembering how embarrassed I’d been when I’d dropped in on Christian unannounced and had practically walked in on him and Anastasia in flagrante delicto, just because Elliot and I had been worried about him – unnecessarily as it turned out. “I expect he’s been so involved with Anastasia, that he’s not got round to contacting us yet. Just give him a bit more time, Mia darling.”

I think even Taylor would probably be unable to stop Mia from seeing her brother if she turned up at his apartment unannounced. She would just go right ahead and march straight into his bedroom whatever he said, because she is pretty much unstoppable once she sets her mind to something.  

“Can’t you women just leave the poor boy alone, for goodness sake? Give him some space so that he and Anastasia can get to know each other, without his family dropping by every five minutes. These things take time, you know,” Carrick declared.

“Look Dad, it’s really important, you know? I mean, I just want to be sure he’s bringing Anastasia to the ball, because you know how difficult Christian can be about these things. I can't wait to see my friend’s faces when they see him with a girlfriend, especially Lily. They think I’m making it up, or that I've got it wrong, because they’re all certain he has to be gay, just because he’s never shown the slightest interest in any of them.”

“I think we’ll just have to wait for Christian to get in touch. I know the event is definitely in his schedule, and if all else fails, nearer the time I’ll check with Andrea to see if he’s still planning to attend. Now, Mia, which dress have you decided to wear in the end – the pink one or the orange one?” I asked in an effort to side track my daughter.

And thankfully that was enough to get her started on the merits of each of the dresses she was considering wearing, and forget about dropping in on her brother for the time being.


It wasn't until the evening before the ball that Christian finally confirmed that he was coming, and that Anastasia was definitely coming with him too.

“He’s cutting it a bit fine – it’s a good job I know where to get the best masks from,” Mia grumbled. “He said if I picked them out for him, Taylor would collect them sometime on Saturday, because he’ll be over here to do some sort of security check or something. He’s opted for a plain black mask for himself, but he wants three in different colors for Anastasia to choose from, because she hasn't decided which dress she’s going to wear yet. All sounds a bit last minute to me. I wonder if he forgot to ask her or something. I hope he’s not getting cold feet about Anastasia, because I really like her. Or perhaps she’s gone off him…”

“I’m sure it’s nothing like that, Mia. Don't go looking for problems where none exist.”
All the same I had to confess I had been worried. Christian always likes to have every last little detail under control and he is normally very organized and efficient. So this sudden last minute arrangement was not like him at all, and I too had secretly been worried that something had occurred between him and Anastasia. Sadly, I knew better than to hope that if that was the case that he would confide in me. However, I do believe that in John Flynn, he has finally found someone that he trusts with his deepest anxieties, so hopefully he would turn to him if he was having issues of some kind.  

On the face of things, it would seem unlikely that Christian would hit it off with Dr. Flynn, who is British and very different from all his previous counselors. But he’s been seeing him now for about two years, which is by far the longest time he has ever stuck with any doctor or therapist or counselor.  

I heard about John Flynn through my medical connections, when he first set up his practice here in Seattle, so I knew he was very highly regarded, with a reputation for taking on the most difficult and challenging cases. That was why I suggested him to Christian when he stopped seeing his previous therapist. He had declared that one to be worse than useless because he suggested hypnotherapy, which my son apparently considered to be nothing more than a waste of his precious time.

But I knew that Christian needed to have some sort of an outlet for venting his inner turmoil and frustrations. I've always fervently wished he felt able to confide in me, or his father, but sadly that has never been the case. I think he feels much more comfortable with a third party, someone who is not personally involved, and I have to respect that.

So Christian was one of John Flynn’s first patients in Seattle. They just seemed to hit it off and have gone on to build up a very relaxed rapport, from what I can glean from my son. I've met John Flynn a couple of times, and I like him.  He seems very down to earth, not fazed by Christian’s unconventional start in life, or his immense wealth, which is a good thing. Not that he discussed my son with me in any way, because of course that would be unethical without Christian’s consent. This was just the impression I got of him.

I was pleased when Christian suggested that John Flynn be invited to buy a ticket to our charity event. It proved that Christian thinks very highly of him, which is high praise indeed, considering that he has deemed every previous therapist an idiot or a time waster. The only other people he ever suggests we invite are business connections that might prove useful to him, but that equally might also prove useful to us in supporting Coping Together. Most of these people are only too willing to have the opportunity to seek my son’s patronage and do business with him.


When Carrick had an early morning phone call from Christian on the day of the ball, I wondered what on earth it could be about.

“Christian’s just told me that Taylor’s recommended he order extra security for tonight. So that means there will be some new men coming over to carry out some checks before he and Anastasia arrive, and there will also be extra men hanging around this evening as well. He says they've been given orders to be very discreet and not get in the way, so it shouldn't be a problem,” he explained.

“Extra security? But why? What’s happened to make Taylor concerned enough to call in reinforcements?” I worried.

“I don’t know, Christian didn't elaborate.”

“Well why didn't you ask him, for goodness sake, Cary!”

“I did, but you know how Christian can be - it’s like getting blood out of a stone with him. He said not to worry, that Taylor is just being over cautious. Maybe Christian’s ordering extra security because of Anastasia, which is possibly a wise precaution.  A young man in his position can’t afford to be complacent, not with the threat of kidnappers and the like out there.”

“Maybe. I suppose being in a relationship, being close to someone is all very new to him, so possibly he’s being very protective of Ana, and Taylor is just responding to that.”
I have the greatest respect for Taylor; I am very thankful that he is always there in the background, looking out for my son. So I decided that if he was recommending security be stepped up, then I was happy to go along with whatever that entailed. I couldn't help feeling uneasy though - I hated the thought that someone might wish my son and his new girlfriend harm.


“Are they here yet?”

My mother peered at the crowds of people thronging the marquee. There were approximately three hundred and fifty guests, so it wasn't surprising that she hadn't seen Christian and Anastasia yet.

“I’m not sure, to be honest, Mom. It’s hard to see when there are so many people around. But we’ll all be sitting together for dinner, so you’ll see them both then,” I assured her.

“And he's definitely bringing a girl along for us to meet? Because I've always suspected Christian batted for the other side, if you know what I mean," my father asked in a loud whisper, as he raised his eyebrows at me knowingly. 

“Yes, it's definitely a girl he's bringing tonight, Dad. You'll see for yourself soon enough,” I replied, thinking they’d better darn well turn up now or my father would think I was delusional. 

Then Mia came hurtling over. She had opted for the pale pink dress in the end, and it suited her very well – my daughter looked beautiful, and I was very proud of her. I think her pink filigree face mask, with its huge plume of long feathers was the most elaborate one I had seen, but she could certainly carry it off.

“Hi Gran, hi Gramps, lovely to see you both,” Mia hugged and kissed my parents. “Wow, you both look totally amazing in those bronze masks.”

“Aw, stop with all the flattery, my darling granddaughter. Look at you, you’re certainly  a sight for sore eyes,” my father said affectionately, as he returned her hug. They have a very special bond between them, and as with all the men in our family, Mia can twist him round her little finger.

“Mom, I've seen them, Christian and Anastasia are here!” Mia was literally bouncing up and down on the spot, as she clapped her hands together in delight. “You should have seen Lily’s face when I took Ana over to meet all my friends. She looks absolutely stunning, and Lily couldn't help herself, she had to be cutting and snide and make some comment about Christian being gay. It’s just pure jealousy of course, so I soon put her straight.   Then Christian whisked her off to mingle - I think he wants to show her off to everyone. It’s just the sweetest thing to see them together, and he’s so loved up that he won’t let her out of his sight. Of course he looks divinely handsome, as usual, so I suppose it’s no wonder my girlfriends swoon over him the way they do. ”

Naturally, I was relieved to learn that they were both here, but then as hostess, I had to disappear to make sure the catering arrangements were going to plan. Carrick was also busy, checking in with the Master of Ceremonies about all the last final details of the proceedings.
So I didn't actually get to see Christian and Anastasia until I sat down at our table in preparation for dinner being served. When I finally saw the young couple making their way over to our table, my heart swelled with joy to see them holding hands and looking simply adorable together.

Ana looked stunning in a gorgeous silver satin gown that really suited her, and showed off her enviably slim figure. It looked to be a very expensive creation, so I imagine Christian had probably bought it for her, and I was pleased about that. I’d been rather worried that Ana might feel overwhelmed this evening, bearing in mind that only a few short weeks ago she was just a student, used to managing on a pretty tight budget, I imagine. Now she was being swept off her feet by Christian, but as he can be very generous and thoughtful when he chooses, I was reassured that it appeared he’d tried his best to make sure she would not feel out of place tonight. She was also wearing some very beautiful diamond drop earrings, and by the way they twinkled and sparkled as they caught the light, they were undoubtedly the real thing. Another present from Christian, perhaps? Diamonds are forever – that’s a good sign, isn't it?

Her stunning blue eyes looked enormous, highlighted as they were by her silver mask, but I could see that she looked rather nervous, so I did my best to put her at ease and make her feel welcome. She probably had no idea quite how immensely thrilled and excited we all were to see her here tonight, or what a huge milestone this was for Christian, to be seen out in public with his girlfriend. And he’s actually holding her hand!

“Ana, how delightful to see you again! And looking so beautiful, too.”

“Mother,” Christian said, as he kissed me on both cheeks. Not a hint of a hug or anything like that though. I just wished he could be more relaxed with me. I always feel he’s holding back from me, afraid to let his guard down, even now after all these years.

“Oh, Christian, so formal!”

My parents had spotted Christian with Ana now, and were hastily making their way over. 

“Oh my, don't they just make a lovely couple,” my mother whispered loudly, already starting to get very emotional, as she made a beeline for her grandson.

“Christian, it’s wonderful to see you, and looking so debonair and handsome too. Come, give your old grandmother a kiss hello,” she insisted, and Christian dutifully complied. “And now, tell me who this beautiful young lady is.”

“Grandmother, Grandfather, may I introduce Anastasia Steele?”

“Oh, he’s finally found someone, how wonderful and so pretty! Well, I do hope you make an honest man of him,” my mother gushed, as she shook Ana’s hand and then kept hold of it. I could see Christian cringing, and Ana blushing as she gently retrieved her hand.

“Mother, don’t embarrass Ana,” I warned, as I smiled reassuringly at the poor girl. She smiled back at me, and I liked her even more for her gracious attitude to the old folk. I just had the most special feeling about this girl. Even though we hadn’t known her that long, there was something about her that convinced me she was perfect for Christian.

“Ignore the silly old coot, m’dear. She thinks because she’s so old, she has a God-given right to say whatever nonsense pops into that woolly head of hers,” my father stated, as he also shook Ana’s hand enthusiastically, and stared at her with a big smile on his face.

Then the heat was taken off the poor girl as Mia introduced her date to us all, a young man called Sean that we hadn't met before. She’d been determined to have an escort tonight, I think to prove some sort of a point to her friends, maybe even a bet. I'm not sure Sean actually had any say in the matter to be honest, but he seemed a nice enough boy. 

I wasn't concerned that it was anything serious, although Christian stared intently at him in an apparent effort to work out whether this boy was a suitable escort for his sister. 
Christian’s always been very protective of Mia, and as I could imagine him also being super protective of Anastasia, I decided that Carrick was probably right; concern for her safety was most likely the reason behind the increased security he’d ordered for tonight. 

I’d already noticed Taylor and three other men lurking around, because they were not wearing masks. As they were keeping in the background, it wasn't too obvious unless you were actively looking for them. Some of the other staff weren't masked either, so I think anyone not in the know would simply assume they were extra members of staff for tonight.
As everyone settled in their places at the table, Carrick appeared on stage to open the proceedings. He’s a very good public speaker, as you would naturally expect from a lawyer used to holding his own in court. Mia had gotten him a gold Punchinello mask with a long beak nose to it – I think that was her idea of a joke, but he took it all in good heart, and still managed to look distinguished and handsome.  

He gave his usual speech encouraging everyone to dig deep to support Coping Together. All he ever says is that it is a cause close to both our hearts. Our friends understand that this is a reference to our experiences with Christian. Other people probably assume he’s referring to issues relating to both our jobs – either way, it is a very worthwhile cause and we really appreciate everyone’s generosity. Every year to date we have increased the money raised, despite these difficult times with the recession. Of course this is when the charity needs supporting more than ever.

Once he’d handed over proceedings to the MC, Carrick came and joined us at the table. He too was clearly delighted to see Anastasia, and greeted her warmly by kissing her on both cheeks, the ultimate seal of approval from my husband, although I think it took her by surprise.

The evening really got going then, as Mia enthusiastically volunteered to be our table head. Ana quietly watched everything going on around her, as she sat between my father and Christian, who was very solicitous in his care of her.

Ana was obviously embarrassed to be caught out when the MC asked for donations for the draw, but Christian just quietly handed her a hundred dollar bill. She looked mortified as she whispered to him, but he just calmly passed her his pen to write her name on the note.  
I noticed he also helped and guided her through all the courses of the meal. We have to put on this kind of fancy display to impress all our influential benefactors, but no doubt all the various cutlery and glasses can seem confusing when you’re not used to them, so I was pleased to see him being caring and courteous to his date in this way. 

They whispered and gazed at each other throughout the meal in such a sweet way, and I know my mother noticed this too, as she nodded her head at them and winked at me. It didn't stop her being her usual vociferous self though – she and my father take great delight in scoring points off each other. I think my mother won that evening, as she was on top form. Lord alone knows what Ana made of it all, but that’s families for you – full of quirky characters that you just have to get used to.

Christian got into quite a heated discussion with Lance, my friend Janine’s husband. They were sat at our table to make up the numbers as we were missing Elliot and Kate, who were still on vacation. It was quite unusual to see him so animated, so it must have been about something he’s involved with at work, but I couldn't hear all the details.

However, while Christian was engrossed in his discussion with Lance, Mia got Ana to agree to take part in the First Dance auction which was being held a little later on. I strongly suspected Ana hadn't a clue what she’d agreed to, and I just hoped Christian would be fine about it - I had no idea how he would react to his precious new girlfriend being auctioned off to the highest bidder. If Elliot had been here, he’d have found the idea of his girlfriend being auctioned off a huge joke of course, but with Christian you just never know.

Anyhow, Mia was doing a good job of looking after Ana, as she helpfully showed her the way to the ladies powder room, saving Christian the bother, although he looked anxious until she returned to sit next to him again, when he quickly took her hand in his again. It was as if needed to have some contact with her all the time. So sweet.

We were very lucky again this year with the wonderful auction prizes that had been donated. It’s always such a good way to raise funds, with people getting something back in return for donating their money.  We always donate a week’s stay at our place in Montana, and Christian does the same with his place in Aspen.

We were all aware that Ana had only just recently finished at college, and that although she came from a decent family, they were certainly not affluent, from what we’d gathered. So you can imagine how shocked we all were when bizarrely, out of the blue, she suddenly bid twenty four thousand dollars for the week at Christian’s place in Aspen. She surely didn't have those kinds of funds to splurge unnecessarily, and I’m sure Christian would happily have taken her there anyway, without her having to bid for it. 

He certainly looked none too pleased at her actions, although he managed to put a brave face on it, as he smiled and whispered something to her. I think maybe Ana acted on impulse, and I just hoped it wasn't a misguided gesture on her part to try and keep up with everyone else, because we certainly didn't expect that.  I looked at Carrick, and saw the same thought was going through his mind too.

“Don’t worry. I’ll have a quiet word with Ana later. I don't want her to think she has to impress us in any way,” he whispered to me.

“Okay, but be very tactful about it won’t you darling? I don't want her feelings to be hurt,” I murmured back.

“Trust me, I’ll be very discreet. It really is very sweet of her to want to contribute though, isn't it?”

“Yes, it is. I don't think Christian is too impressed though. I hope it doesn't cause any upset between them. I just want things to run smoothly between them, you know?”

“I’m sure everything will be fine. What’s he going to do – punish her somehow just for donating to charity? I don't think so, Grace. You worry too much.”

Looking over at the young couple now, I decided Carrick was right. Perhaps I did worry too much about my son’s complicated nature, always anticipating problems.  Right now, he was happily sitting with his arm draped over Ana’s shoulders, gently stroking her back, and I was very happy indeed to see him being so openly affectionate towards her, in a way that I had never seen him be with anyone before.

Then it was time for the First Dance Auction.

I think it was nerves maybe, but Ana got a fit of the giggles as Mia told her it was time for them to get up on stage. At least she didn't seem too worried about the proceedings anyhow.
It was obvious that Christian was very reluctant for his girl to disappear, even for just a short time. Before he let her go, he murmured something in her ear, and then gently nuzzled her neck. Ana responded by softly kissing his mouth and gazing into his eyes, as Christian smiled at her. A genuine, happy smile. My son looks happy!

“That’s the look of love if ever I saw it!” My mother leaned over to whisper urgently in my ear, beaming from ear to ear in delight at seeing her normally very reticent, very restrained grandson acting in this way.

“I know! Don't they look just adorable together? He simply can't take his eyes off her,” I replied delightedly. Tonight, for the first time, my son actually looked like the carefree twenty-something young man he should be. Christian in love. Yes!

“Quite a turn up for the books. Not sure I’d have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes,” Carrick whispered to me, and even the cynical lawyer was smiling broadly as he gazed affectionately at the young couple.

Of course the MC went well over the top with his sales pitch for the young ladies who had volunteered to take part in the auction – but that’s all part of the fun.

Christian joined the other men gathered round the stage, as the first two young women were auctioned off. He seemed pretty relaxed about it all, while Anastasia looked highly embarrassed, but at least she had Mia by her side for moral support. I was quite certain that when the time came, my son would be placing a very high bid to ensure that he would be dancing the first dance with his girl.

When Ana's turn came to be auctioned off, the MC hadn't even finished his introduction of her, before Christian immediately placed a bid of ten thousand dollars, which was at least twice the sum the two previous girls had gone for. He meant business alright, and we all assumed that was it, a done deal, no one would be outbidding him. So there were gasps from the crowd when a counter bid rang out.


It was a loud, deep voice that sounded vaguely familiar but that I couldn't quite place, as I looked over at the tall gentleman in his mask who’d placed the bid.

But clearly Christian knew who it was, and thankfully he seemed amused rather than upset, as I might have expected. He just stood there scratching his chin and smiling wryly, as the other man nodded to him.

“Twenty.”  Christian gave a lazy smile as he upped the stakes.

“Twenty five.” The mysterious man upped his bid again, causing more gasps from the crowd.

“One hundred thousand dollars,” Christian responded loudly and clearly. Enough is enough - don't mess with me, he seemed to be saying to the other man.

There were loud gasps from the crowd, and in her excitement Mia was actually jumping up and down on the stage next to Ana.   I was more concerned about the state of my son’s mind, rather than the money.

After all, as Carrick proudly informed me recently, our son is  a billionaire, one of the youngest on the Forbes list, along with Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder who is about the same age as Christian, and Bill Gates the founder of Microsoft, who is of course much older. Interestingly enough, it turns out that they both dropped out of Harvard too, just like Christian. Make of that what you will – I guess it shows you don't need to graduate to prove you’re a financial genius.

So, as a billionaire, one hundred thousand dollars was probably quite a paltry sum to Christian. Pocket money, even. But by the look of total shock on Ana’s face, it was clearly a huge sum of money to her.

The other mystery bidder shook his head and bowed out graciously. I imagine he was probably wealthy, but not in the same league as Christian. Not many people are.
Then, without further delay, Christian collected Ana from the stage, and quickly led her away from the crowds to beat a hasty exit from the marquee. It was a lovely evening, so I imagined that maybe he was going to show her the view – and possibly spend some time kissing and cuddling with her too, which I thoroughly approved off. Clearly, he just wanted her all to himself, but I noticed that Taylor and the other security men followed them at a discreet distance. I sighed, as I realized that was the price he paid for being so rich – the lack of privacy.

I wondered to myself how Ana was going to cope with that side of things – the body guards, the intrusive paparazzi, as well as the gossip pages, all no doubt hungry for a juicy story about my son falling for her, once word got out. It made me sad, to be honest. 

Why couldn't people just mind their own business and leave them alone in these fragile early days of their new found romance? Maybe that was the reason behind Christian’s increasing their security – to prevent anyone trying to get some sort of an exclusive picture or story about Ana.  The last thing he’d want was her to be scared off by nosy, invasive reporters.
I was just thankful that Taylor was so good at his job, and always so meticulous and thorough. He’d even insisted on checking out Christian’s old bedroom earlier in the day, although I couldn't see why he deemed that necessary. Christian hadn't used that room in years, although I've always told him that this is still his home, and that his room will always be there for him, should he ever need it. I've kept it just how it was when he left to go to Harvard, and I sometimes go in there to sit and think about those years when he lived at home.

Christian refuses point blank to ever discuss his birth mother, and always stubbornly refers to her as the ‘crack whore’, no matter how hard we've tried in the past to get him to see that she did love him, and that she was herself a victim of circumstance. But despite all his protestations of disinterest, he has always kept the small black and white photo of Ella - as far as we know, the only one left in existence of his birth mother - in the corner of the pin board in his bedroom. Several times we’ve offered to have it restored and enlarged for him, but he’s always steadfastly refused to allow it to be touched in any way.  We’ve respected his wishes, and so the photo is still there in his room, I've never moved it or put it away.  He didn't take it with him when he moved out, and I wondered if he saw it as making a break with his past when he left it behind. I'm pleased he never destroyed it though, as I'm sure he would eventually regret it one day if he had.

I also have a box that contains the very few possessions he had when we adopted him – his precious comforter blanket, and his two toy cars, along with the few things that were left of his birth mother’s.  Nothing of financial value of course, because she’d sold everything she had to fund her drug habit, but there were some books and a diary. I've never read the diary, as it would seem a gross invasion of Ella’s privacy somehow, but I think as her son, Christian has the right to read it if he chooses to. Until now, there has never been a time that I felt was right to offer these things to him, but I hope that maybe one day, he will be in a better place, where he can be more accepting and think about his birth mother in a less judgmental way, and so be able to look through that box.


Sean didn't manage to win Mia in the First Dance auction – I think it was rather out of his financial league, poor boy. But Mia didn't seem too worried about it, probably because she was too excited at being won by a tall, handsome stranger.

“Isn't he a dish?” she mouthed at me, as she nodded towards her new partner, and I smiled my agreement back at her.

Then I was taken by surprise when my friend Elena came up and greeted me. I didn't recognize her at first, because she was wearing an unusual full gold mask that concealed her trademark platinum blonde bob.  She looked her usual extremely elegant and beautiful self, in an exquisitely cut black velvet gown, making me wonder if maybe I should have worn something more classic, rather than the mint green gown I’d opted for in the end, largely on Mia’s insistence.  Elena always looks far younger than her actual age, making me feel rather frumpy by comparison, especially as she is always so immaculately groomed in every way, although Carrick insists I have nothing to worry about.

“Elena always looks as hard as nails. All that bleached blonde hair and red talons for nails. Nothing natural about her at all,” is his considered opinion.

“Grace, darling, you've really excelled yourself this year. Everything is just fabulous, but then I wouldn't expect anything less from you and Carrick,” she enthused, as we pecked each other on the cheek in our normal manner.

“Elena my dear, how are you? I didn't think you were coming this evening, but I'm glad you changed your mind. It’s good to see you, and thank you so much for the donation of the Esclava voucher for the auction. It’s very generous of you and much appreciated.”
I hadn't actually spoken to Elena for a while, not since she’d made some rather harsh comments about Christian’s new girlfriend the last time she’d called me, which I’d felt was uncalled for. To be honest, I couldn't really see what business it was of hers, but for some reason, she’s always taken quite an interest in Christian, much more so than my other two children.

Maybe it was because I’d confided in her about my fears for Christian when he was going through that particularly difficult spell, when he was about fifteen or sixteen. I was so worried that he was secretly drinking, that he'd possibly inherited an addictive personality trait from his birth mother, and that he might even go on to start taking drugs.  

At the time, she had been a friendly shoulder to cry on, although to be honest we didn't really have that much in common. I think we became friends because I felt sorry for her, as I could see that she was trapped in a loveless marriage. Her husband treated her as a trophy wife, and they’d never had children, so I think she was probably lonely. We’d gotten to know each other through mutual acquaintances, as often happens.

I’d been surprised when I’d learned that Christian had gotten involved in some sort of business venture with Elena, something to do with her chain of beauty salons.  I assumed he’d provided some sort of financial backing, although he’s never really elaborated much about their arrangement. I do know that he likes to dabble in all sorts of new business ventures that he sees potential in, so I guess that’s why he got involved. Maybe there’s more money to be made in the beauty industry than I realized, especially as Elena only caters for the top end, for exclusive clientele. As a very busy doctor with all my onerous responsibilities at the hospital, it’s certainly not my area of expertise, and I don't have the time to indulge in many of the treatments she offers – I just have my hair done regularly, and the occasional manicure.

“It was my pleasure to donate the voucher, it’s such a worthwhile cause, after all,” Elena smiled, then changed her tune as she got her claws out. “I see Christian is still infatuated with this young girl, making that outrageous bid at the First Dance Auction to win her.”
I felt my hackles rise at her sneering tone.

“I think it’s much more than an infatuation, actually Elena. I think he’s in love, and it’s pretty serious between them. I, for one, am delighted to see the change Anastasia has brought about in Christian. I've never seen him like this before, ever.”

“Don’t get me wrong, Grace, I’m thrilled to see him so happy too. But aren't you just a little concerned?”

“What do you mean? Concerned about what?”

“Well, if things don't work out? What if Anastasia can’t cope with a challenging man like Christian? She’s just a young, immature girl, fresh from college, swept off her feet by a very rich, very handsome young man pursuing her. And he seems to have impulsively jumped straight in the deep end, with what is after all his very first relationship. But once she realizes that he moves in very different circles to those she’s more used to, she might not be able to cope, especially with his undeniably complex personality. I'm just worried he’ll get terribly hurt if she breaks things off with him again.”

“Again? What do you mean, again?” What did Elena know that I didn't?

“Oh, Didn't you know? Didn't Christian tell you? Anastasia broke things off with him last weekend, and the poor boy was totally devastated. Now I think he’s made her all kinds of unrealistic promises just to win her back, so that they can try again.”

That would explain why we hadn't been able to get hold of Christian all week, and why he hadn’t confirmed to us that Ana was coming to the ball right up until last night. Now I felt really terrible for not trying harder to get in contact with him. I wondered why they had broken up? My poor boy, why hadn't he told us what he was going through so that we could support him? He must have been heartbroken, and yet he still hadn't turned to us to support him. This was just typical of him though. But how come Elena knew about it when we didn't?

“How do you know all this?” I asked her frostily.

“It just so happened that we had a business meeting arranged last week, when he was going through this. I could tell that he was very upset about something, and when I asked him what the matter was, he confided in me. Much as you confided your woes to me about Christian all those years ago. I guess I must be a good listener. Look, please don't mention to Christian that I've told you about any this, not if he hasn't already mentioned it to you himself. I’d hate him to think I’d broken his confidence, but it’s probably best that you’re aware of what happened.”

“Can I ask, why did Ana break up with him? Do you know the reason?” I hated asking her, hated that my son had confided in her rather than me, but I had to know.

“I think she finds him, his needs, very demanding, and it all got too much for her. You know Christian followed her all the way to Georgia, flew there in his private jet, even though she specifically told him she needed some space, some time away from him to think things through?”

I recalled how Ana had been talking about making a visit to her mother in Georgia when Christian had brought her to dinner at our place that first time, and how he’d seemed upset about it, so what Elena was telling me did ring true.

Poor Christian, it seemed he simply couldn't bear to be without his Anastasia. You could see it by the way he was constantly by her side all evening, how he couldn't take his eyes off her.  He really was head over heels in love, and I suppose I could see how Ana might feel rather overwhelmed. My son can be very driven, determined to get what he wants at any cost, which of course is why he is so successful.  He just needed to remember that Anastasia was not a business acquisition that he could steam roller through in his usual intense way. He needed to learn about the more subtle aspects of a relationship, and I couldn’t argue that he had a lot of catching up to do in that area. But it was very obvious that Ana was deeply in love with him too – any fool could see that. They just needed to learn to compromise and adjust to each other.

“But they seem to have made up again now, and they look very happy together. So hopefully they have managed to work things out,” I insisted, upset that Elena had rained on my parade. I’d been so thrilled to see them together, so happy that my son had a lovely girlfriend, but was I closing my eyes to the reality of the situation? I couldn't argue that Christian was indeed a very difficult young man, so was it fair of me to expect Anastasia to be the answer to all our prayers and magically solve all his problems overnight?

“Yes, they seem to have papered over the cracks for now at least. Don’t get me wrong, Grace. Just like you, I’d love to see Christian happy in a close relationship. But it’s no good looking at things through rose colored spectacles is it? Maybe being outside the immediate family means I can see things a little more clearly. I’m not being swept along by the euphoria of discovering that Christian isn't gay, because I've always known that he wasn't.”

“How? How could you possibly have known that he wasn't gay?” I queried disbelievingly.
It wasn't just me who’d made that assumption. Carrick, Elliot, Mia and even my father had all reached the same conclusion, that Christian was most probably gay. Why else had he never brought a girl home, or even been seen with one? At the time, it had been a perfectly logical assumption.

“I don't know, just call it a sixth sense about these things if you will,” Elena shrugged. 
“But I've always known that Christian was straight and definitely not into guys.”

I didn't really believe her, to be honest. It was easy enough to claim that now, seeing him with his girlfriend, and quite frankly, I was getting rather sick of her insinuation that she knew my son better than I did. Just who did Elena think she was?

Luckily, just as I could feel my temper rising and I might have said something I would regret later, Carrick appeared at my side to collect me. The first dance was about to be announced and we needed to make our way over to the dance floor.

“That woman…” I muttered to him.

“What? What’s the matter?” he asked, concerned.

“Never mind. I’ll tell you about it later, Cary. ”

My good humor was restored by seeing Christian grinning happily as he led Anastasia onto the dance floor, having returned just in time from wherever they had snuck off to.

We all started dancing as the band struck up ‘I've got you under my skin’, and as I glanced over at the young couple dancing together, smiling and whispering together in their own private little world, I pushed my annoyance with Elena to the back of my mind. 

All young couples inevitably have their ups and downs, but looking at them now, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that they looked very happy together. I decided that Elena was probably just one of those glass-half-empty kind of folk who always cast doubts and look for problems. And anyway, whatever went on between Christian and Anastasia was really none of her goddamn business.

When the dance ended, the identity of the mysterious man who had bid against Christian was revealed, as I recognized John Flynn cutting in and asking for the second dance. So it seemed he knew about Ana being Christian’s girlfriend, which I could only think was a good thing, because it meant that Christian had confided in him and hopefully turned to him for support when they broke up last week. In any case, Christian didn't seem to have a problem with letting John dance with her, although he watched them from the sidelines like a hawk of course, and was there to reclaim her the second the music finished.

Carrick and I stood on the sidelines to watch, fascinated because we'd never seen our son so eager to dance and take part in the festivities before. Normally, he dutifully completes just one dance with me, his grandmother and his sister before making his escape. Tonight, he was obviously relaxed and actually enjoying himself.  I couldn't imagine where he learnt to dance that well, unless maybe he’d had lessons at college, but there was no doubt that he was a very good dancer indeed, as he effortlessly swept Ana around the floor.

“Good evening, Dr. Trevelyan, Mr. Grey. Thank you for inviting me this evening.”
I turned round to see John Flynn, as he proffered his hand.

“Please, it’s Carrick and Grace,” my husband insisted, as the two men shook hands.
“It’s a pleasure to see you here tonight. Is your wife here?” I inquired, thinking she probably wouldn't know many people, so perhaps I ought to seek her out.

“No, unfortunately she couldn't get a babysitter for our boys at short notice. Rhian won’t leave them with anyone she doesn't know, she’s very protective,” he explained.

“That’s a shame, but I quite understand how she feels. I was just the same with our kids, wasn't I, Carrick?”

“Yes, you most certainly were, darling. Well, hopefully next time you’ll have a bit more notice to organize a sitter, Dr. Flynn, because we’d certainly love to meet your wife.”
“That’s very kind of you. And please, it’s John.”

All three of us were standing on the edge of the dance floor, watching Christian and Ana dancing together.

“It’s a delight to see them, isn't it?” John commented, smiling as he nodded towards the young couple – Christian was expertly spinning Ana around, and she was laughing up at him.

“It most certainly is.  We've never seen him like this before, and it’s wonderful to see him looking so… happy…and normal, just like a young man in his twenties with his whole future ahead of him ought to be. He’s always seemed old before his time, continually alone and just concentrating on his work,” I agreed. “But… I just hope we aren't expecting too much. From Anastasia, I mean. Christian can be rather… challenging, can't he?”

The doubts that Elena had put in my mind had resurfaced.

“Between you and me, I think Anastasia is the best possible thing that could have happened to him,” John winked at us.

“Really? You truly think so?”

 I couldn't hide the note of hope and longing in my voice. If, as I suspected, John had been supporting Christian during his break up with Ana, and now his opinion was so positive about them, surely that was a very good sign? I knew I couldn't ask him anything directly about it, but I took his words as a hint that things had turned out for the best between them.

“I’ve been looking forward to meeting Anastasia in person, and I have to say now that I've met her, in my opinion she is a total delight, and just perfect for Christian,” he replied with a big smile.

“Oh thank you, you don't know what that means to us,” I gushed, and then I just couldn't help myself, I gave the poor man a hug and kissed his cheek. He looked surprised, but at least he didn't seem offended, so perhaps he was not as reserved as some British people I've met.

Carrick was also rather taken aback by my unusually exuberant display, but of course he had no idea what Elena had told me earlier. I decided I would fill him in later, because I really didn't want to talk about that just now. If the good Doctor Flynn thought everything was going well, that was good enough for me.

So Cary and I danced a few more dances together.

“I haven’t had a chance to speak to Ana about her auction bid yet, but I can't see her or Christian at the moment,” he said as he glanced around the dance floor.

“Perhaps they've escaped for a while. Perhaps they wanted to be… alone, if you catch my drift,” I suggested with a smile. “You remember those days, don't you?”

“I most certainly do, and I still like stealing a kiss or two from my lovely wife,” he teased as he gave me a quick kiss. “Ah, there they are. Won’t be long.”

With that, he headed off towards Christian and Ana who had just reappeared, and after a few words with them, he was dancing with his son’s girlfriend to ‘Come Fly with Me’. I just hoped he wouldn't say anything that would rock their very precarious boat, especially as he was unaware that they had only just reconciled after breaking up.

I needn't have worried. When he came back, he was singing Ana’s praises.

“Ana said she’d unexpectedly come into some money she didn't need and that she really wanted to donate it to Coping Together, because Christian had told her some things about his childhood. Grace, he’s actually opening up to her; he’s talking about what happened to him with her.  He’s never done that before, has he? This really is a huge step forward for him, don't you think? Anastasia is having such a positive and beneficial effect on him, so I really think we must do everything in our power to support them and encourage this relationship. She is so good for him.”

“I couldn't agree more, Cary.  No one is happier than I am about this romance, so we must treasure Ana and make her part of our family.”

For the first time in many years, Christian stayed for the firework display – he is normally long gone by the time they start. But this year, he stood and watched them as he cuddled up very closely with Ana, every now and again leaning down to kiss her. Yes, head over heels in love, the pair of them.  As everyone had now been allowed to remove their masks, I could see their expressions more clearly, and they were both like young children, excitedly watching the impressive display. 

A little while after the display had finished, they sought us out to say their farewells.

“Please do come again, Anastasia, it’s been lovely having you here,” I told her warmly, as I kissed them both goodbye, and hugged the dear girl. My son’s salvation?

“Yes, my dear, you are always very welcome, anytime,” Carrick echoed my sentiments as he also kissed and hugged her.

I had to admit they both looked rather bemused at our effusive display, but we didn't care, although it was a good job my parents had left earlier, or else no doubt they too would have been joining in.

“Make sure you include us next time you have Christian and his young lady over to dinner, won’t you? We didn't get much of a chance to talk to them tonight,” my father had insisted when they left. 

I didn't like to point out that he had actually talked to Ana for a quite a considerable time at dinner, when he'd been sat next to her. I’d overheard him telling her all about the origins of the Trevelyan family name, and how his family originated from Cornwall in the south west of England. I think he’s always been rather disappointed that none of my children have chosen to use the old Cornish part of our name, preferring instead to stick with the much simpler Grey. I can’t say that I blame them though – Trevelyan-Grey is rather long winded.

“They are such a sweet, lovely young couple,” my mother had sighed happily as they left. “And they would make such beautiful babies together too.” 

I was certainly very glad they weren't around to hear that last remark of hers, because I'm sure Ana would have blushed right to the very roots of her hair, even if I did secretly agree with my mother. God willing, they would indeed make very beautiful babies together, if they should ever progress to that stage in their relationship sometime in the distant future.  

But of course we were getting way ahead of ourselves. All I could hope at the moment was that the course of true love would run a little more smoothly for them, now that they seemed to have reconciled whatever their differences had been. It still rankled with me that I’d had to learn about their difficulties from Elena. I'm Christian’s mother, for goodness sake, and he should have felt able to confide in me, shouldn't he? But it made me all the more determined to befriend Ana, to be as supportive of her as possible, especially as her own mother lived so far away. I felt sure that she was definitely the key to getting closer to Christian.

As the Coping Together Masked Ball finally came to its conclusion, Carrick and I agreed that this year had without doubt been the best event we had ever hosted, and a very large part of that was due in no small part to a certain young lady who was having such a remarkable effect on our son.

I don’t own any of the Fifty Shades Trilogy or the characters therein. They belong to E L James. I’m just borrowing them for fun and not for profit. Please refer to the Legal’s page for further details. This work is not to be copied or reproduced in any way without permission.