Mark drove out to the street he had initially found Chiara in but it was still daylight and there was no one there. The street was a dirty back alley with steel backdoors into industrial buildings or loading docks. He slowly edged his Challenger through the alley and he felt tense and his hands were shaking.He would have to come back out at night and look for her again.
He didn’t go home all day but got some food in a drive through and drove around Seattle and all the way out of the city just to turn around again and make his way back into the city when daylight was setting. It was almost eight at night when he found himself again on Evans Street where he had found Chiara on Friday night.
He slowly turned into it but he found it empty and not one girl standing along the walls and sides of the buildings. It was a very cold night, only in the low thirties and even though he could feel the frustration inside of him, he was in a strange way relieved that she hopefully wasn’t out in the cold.
At the same time his heart felt heavy and he was in complete despair at the situation. He drove into some of the other streets he had been to when he had been looking for Chiara but he didn’t find her. There were a few girls but no sight and no trace of Chiara and when Mark asked some of them, they knew nothing.
It was almost ten that night when he pulled into the parking lot of Barbie’s Bar in Sea Tac. He pulled his cell phone out and opened the text option to his friends:
I just wanted to let you guys know that Chiara left me today and I don’t know where she is. I’m at Barbie’s Bar getting a drink if anyone wants to come out.
It didn’t take long and Corey came on: What the fuck dude? Why did she leave?
Mark didn’t answer his friend because he really didn’t have an answer. He opened his driver’s side door and got his TiLite assembled right outside. He felt tense and frustrated and adhered to the task of transferring in a forceful manner, not really caring about his wheelchair or his body at the moment. He threw his body into the seat and the wheelchair squeaked under the sudden weight, then Mark roughly pulled his feet up onto the foot rest and stuffed his phone between his thighs. He pushed away from the car, slammed the door shut and locked the car with a beep of the key.
Barbie’s Bar had a ramp and he was able to get to the entrance door okay. Just the door wasn’t automatic and he clumsily pulled it open and pushed his wheelchair into the place. On this Sunday evening it wasn’t too crowded and only the music was playing and people were talking and laughing sitting along the bar and at the tables throughout the place.
Mark pushed to a corner with a small table close to the bar and quickly the bar tender spotted him and came over taking his order of a double shot of Crown on ice.
After Corey had read the message on the chat and there had been no reply from Mark anymore, he didn’t wait around but stopped watching his movie, slipped into some presentable clothes, and was glad he had decided to not drink tonight because he now needed to have a clear head to get to his friend. The other friends hadn’t replied yet as he left his apartment.
Mark was sitting hunched over in his wheelchair with his hands on his lap, gazing from under his bangs at the people in the bar and there was already a second double shot of Crown on the small table next to him. He felt the first drink already travelling through his veins.
He was surprised when all the sudden Corey appeared in front of him. His vision was slightly off with the alcohol affecting his eyes.
Corey reached a fist out to Mark for a fist bump, then sat down on a chair close to Mark, “What’s up?”
Mark shrugged his shoulders, but didn’t say anything.
Mark shrugged his shoulders, but didn’t say anything.
Corey set his cell phone on the table and waved to the waitress. She came over and took Corey’s order and walked away againCorey leaned over the table some, “Dude, so what the hell is going on with Chiara?”
Mark took a large sip from his glass and shrugged his shoulders again, “I don’t know. I really don’t know what to think anymore. I’m kind of pissed at the whole situation.”
“Fuck yeah, that’s understandable. Why is she doing this? How did she just leave you?”
“I don’t know. I have no idea what’s going on.”
He took another sip and Corey watched his friend, then asked, “I thought you guys kind of hit it off, didn’t you? We were worried about you, man. Like, why did you go after her in the first place anyways?”Mark looked at the glass in his hands, “I wanted to get her away from that piece of shit and from that life she was in. Maybe I was just one really big dumb ass doing this for her.”
Corey asked, “What all is going on with her?”
Mark downed the rest of his drink and when the waitress brought Corey’s beer, he ordered another one.
He then explained, “Well, this fucking piece of shit forces her to be out on the streets and lets dudes fuck her and then he takes the money.”
Corey nodded and stated, “Well yeah, she’s a hooker man. He apparently is her pimp. What did you expect?”
Mark shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know man.”
Corey took a sip from his beer and looked at his friend for a moment, then asked, “So you like her then?”
Mark looked up and into the room with all the people, then at his friend, and nodded, “I do, I like her a lot. I don’t know what it is. Something about her made me feel really good in spite of this shit and everything going on with me.”He gestured over his body and added, “It’s like she doesn’t have a problem with the wheelchair and my being paraplegic.”
Corey nodded and tried to assure Mark, “There are plenty of women you could probably hook up with.”
Mark’s eyes darted at his friend, he shook his head, “No man, women don’t want this. Women don’t want a dude in a wheelchair who can’t walk and can’t get it up anymore.”
Corey lowered his eyes embarrassed at Mark’s explanation and thought about what to say.“Mark, a normal, good woman who can see beyond the chair and see you as the person you are won’t care about your…your disability either. Getting it up is more our problem, us guys. Lots of women are not too concerned about that most of the time.”
Mark now laughed sarcastically, “Yeah, right. What fantasy world do you live in?”
Corey didn’t know what to say anymore to make his friend feel better but he thought about the situation.
The two men drank from their beverages and ordered another drink each. Mark had another double shot of Crown.
He eventually sat there and had his hands wrapped around his glass, staring into the gold shimmering liquid inside it, “I guess maybe I thought since she’s a hooker she actually hates guy’s dicks and maybe doesn’t enjoy it and I would have had a shot at being with someone. I know it’s fucking stupid and dumb. I’m just an idiot, that’s all, a fucking idiot thinking about all of this.”Corey shook his head, “You’re not an idiot. I mean I get it to some extent.”
“I guess I wanted to be there for her and maybe help someone more…”
He stopped and swallowed, “Someone more vulnerable than I am, I guess. And I didn’t like seeing her being treated like shit by him. She doesn’t want to do this.”
He drank again from his glass and thought for a moment, Corey sat quietly next to his friend.Then Mark added, “I guess I wanted to feel needed by someone again. It’s fucking stupid of me to think like that. I’m just a dumb ass.”
“You’re not a dumb ass. You care for her, you connected with her and I’m sure she appreciates what you did for her. Maybe she’s scared or something and that’s why she left.”
Mark finished his drink, waved the waitress over, and ordered another one. Corey watched and he decided he wouldn’t let Mark drive home anymore that night but he didn’t say anything yet. The waitress brought another double shot of Crown and Mark didn’t take long and the glass was half empty.
Corey then said after a few moments, “Mark, I wish I could help you somehow with Chiara. I don’t know why she did it and I’m pissed too. I hate seeing you down like this.”Mark looked up and his eyes were glossy, “Thanks man. In the end there’s nothing you or anyone can do. I fucked up by getting involved in this and with her and I was stupid to actually care so much. I should’ve known better. I was an idiot. Learned my lesson again. It’ll stick eventually.”
He almost emptied his glass again, then looked at his friend with glistening eyes, “I’m going home after this last drink.”
Corey now said, “I’ll take you to your place.”
Mark was about to protest and Corey cut him off, “I’m taking you home. You’re not driving anymore man. You had like five of those double shot Crowns. You’re not driving anymore.”
“I don’t want to leave my car here.”
Corey added, “Well, you kind of have to man.”
Mark was about to object again but Corey didn’t let him say anything, “No Mark, I’m taking you home. I’m sorry. Your car will be fine here and I’ll pick you up in the morning and we’ll come and get your car. It’ll be okay for tonight.”
Mark didn’t like the idea of leaving his Challenger there all night but he also knew that Corey was right about not driving anymore. He felt his vision was off already and he felt his balance off too, even slightly swaying in his wheelchair.
Eventually Corey paid for their drinks and they headed for the exit. The bar was more crowded now than before and Corey walked ahead of Mark making sure he could get through with his chair and heading out to the parking lot.
Mark wheeled over to his car and touched it, “Hey girl, I’ll be back tomorrow. You need to be good here tonight.”He turned to Corey, “Man, I really don’t want to leave her here.”
Corey was also a bit worried leaving the Challenger there. It was a very nice car and sitting unattended in a parking lot outside a bar in a shady part of town was somewhat risky.
They really didn’t have a choice though. None of Mark’s friends knew how to drive the Challenger with the hand controls.
Mark was definitely feeling the alcohol in his blood and touched the Challenger once more, “I’ll be back in the morning.”He then followed Corey to his car, a fixed-up, fully loaded Subaru Impreza.
Corey unlocked the car as they approached and as he watched Mark for a moment on the passenger side he asked, “You got it there?”
Mark only nodded and with a blurry vision and somewhat off balance he got positioned next to the passenger seat and managed to transfer into Corey’s low sitting car. Corey had to stash the wheelchair and the wheels into the back seat of the Impreza.
When everything was stashed into the backseat Corey got into the driver’s side and started the car. He drove through town and arrived at Mark’s apartment complex about fifteen minutes later.
Corey wasn’t just going to drop his friend off but also got out of the car. He gathered the wheelchair frame from the backseat and Mark instructed how to snap the wheels onto their axles and observed as Corey put the cushion onto the seat and then with watchful eyes, he witnessed Mark transfer into his wheelchair.
Once Mark was in his wheelchair he looked up at Corey, “Okay, thanks man. Are you going to get me in the morning then so I can pick up my girl?”Corey wasn’t going to leave Mark, “I’ll come in with you for a bit if you don’t mind. I want to make sure you’re okay.”
Mark put his hands to his rims and laughed softly, “I’m good man.”“Yeah, I don’t know. You had a few drinks.”
Mark didn’t object and shrugged his shoulders before he pushed away from the car, “Whatever!”
Corey knew his friend was not sober at the moment and he wanted to make sure Mark managed and as he wheeled toward his door Corey locked his car and then followed Mark.
For a few moments Mark fiddled with his apartment keys but finally got them into the door and unlocked it. Corey followed him into the apartment. Inside they were greeted by Ranger once again.
Mark reached down to his cat, feeling dizzy at the motion, “Hey there buddy.”
Corey also petted Ranger for a moment, “Hey Ranger. I brought your daddy home, that’s right.”
Corey laughed at his own words and Mark threw his car keys, wallet, and phone onto the counter.
He wheeled into the kitchen, “You want another beer?”
Corey climbed up onto one of the two stools at the kitchen bar, “Nah man. I’m good.”
Mark looked over at his friend, “I’m good too man. I’ll just go to bed. You can go home unless you want to crash here which is fine by me.”
Just at that moment, Mark’s legs started twitching and he looked down at them, “Yeah, yeah, I know…I’m tired too. Stop fucking around you assholes…”He laughed a little and Corey smiled, “You talk to your legs?”
Mark looked up and grinned, “Sometimes. Fuckers usually don’t want to listen though.”
Corey had known Mark since they were teenagers. They had been in Middle School and High School together and had had some wild times when they were young. Mark had tried to talk Corey into joining the Army with him but Corey had no interest in the Military life and ended up attending a technical college and becoming a certified Radiology technician. He worked at an Orthopedic Clinic.
When Mark came back badly injured from Afghanistan Corey had feared the worst and thought that his friend may actually die.
For a long time, Corey wasn’t able to see Mark since he was on the East Coast at Walter Reed Military Medical Center. Corey had tried to get in touch with Mark for weeks and couldn’t get through to him. He was about to fly to Washington D.C. when Mark finally contacted him and confirmed the fear that Corey had already had. His friend was paralyzed now and would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Corey had been anxious to eventually have to face Mark in a wheelchair. When Mark finally came home to Seattle again the two friends neared each other cautiously at first but soon found their familiar connection again. It had been painful for both of them to face the new reality Mark was living now. Even now Corey sometimes felt a sting in his heart seeing Mark in the wheelchair and having to go about his life being paraplegic. Corey usually didn’t say anything because he didn’t want things to be awkward but he couldn’t help feeling a kind of anger towards the Military. He knew it was dumb of him to think that way but seeing his friends’ life change in that way hadn’t really been easy for anyone.
Now Corey sat there and watched as Mark’s legs hopped up and down with quick spasms as Mark tried to hold them down.Mark then rolled up to the refrigerator and pulled out a jug of water and took a big sip from it.
He turned to Corey, “You want some water? Sorry, I put my mouth on this already.”
Corey shook his head, “Thanks but I’m all right.”
“Okay, well, I think I need to lay down now. Do you want to crash here?”
Corey debated staying the night at Mark’s place because he was a little worried about his friend having drank quite a lot and also not feeling good about the whole situation with Chiara.Mark looked at Corey and kept his eyes on him, “I’m okay in case you’re wondering.”
He put the jug back in the refrigerator and Corey asked, “Are you really okay?”
Now Mark forcefully spun his wheelchair around and pushed toward the bedroom.
While he wheeled away his voice was slurring, “Yeah, I’m okay…Just got fucked over by a chick who I thought was into me for some stupid reason. That’s all…bought shit for her, almost slept with her and then I got screwed over. I’m just a fucking idiot.”
He disappeared in his bedroom and Corey sighed. He sat there and looked over his phone quickly and saw the other friends had replied to Mark’s message. He texted them about the evening and that he was with Mark now and would stay with him, giving them an update on Mark at the moment.
As he looked up from his phone his eyes travelled to the piece of paper Chiara had left on the counter.He grabbed the paper and read over it. He sighed deeply at reading the words and realized that the situation with Chiara was probably a lot more serious than what it seemed.
Corey hopped off the bar stool and sat down in the living room on the couch. He wasn’t going to leave Mark by himself and had made his decision that he would just sleep on the couch.
He heard Mark still mumbling in the bedroom and bathroom and after about thirty minutes he came wheeling into the living room and was surprised to find Corey still sitting there with the TV on.
“You’re still here?”
Corey turned the TV off, “Yeah, I’m going to stay here tonight.”He pointed to the blanket on the couch, “You can use that.”
Mark’s eyes were glossy, “Whatever dude!”
Mark’s eyes were glossy, “Whatever dude!”
Corey nodded, “Okay, thanks.”Mark looked at his friend for a moment, then said, “Well, I’m going to sleep then. Hope you can sleep on the couch. It’s all right, I guess. I fall asleep on there all the time.”
“It’ll do. When you’re sober in the morning, we’ll get your car. I don’t have to work until in the afternoon.”
“Okay, thanks man.”
“No problem, hope you can sleep.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Corey was just about to head into the small guest bathroom when Mark said, “Corey?”
Corey turned around, “Yeah, what’s up?”
“Thanks for staying.”
Corey nodded with a smile, “Yeah, no problem.”
They didn’t move and Mark then lowered his eyes and looked back up at his friend, “Do you think I made a mistake with her?”Corey shook his head, “I don’t think so…” He took a breath and added, “But I just don’t know why she left you like this. It pisses me off really. I kind of hope for her sake that she’ll get her shit together and come back or she’ll have a piece of my mind. You don’t deserve to be fucked with in that way.”
Mark nodded with his lips pressed together.Corey walked over to his friend and held out his fist. Mark touched his fist to Corey’s and nodded, “Well, good night then.”
Corey nodded, “Good night man, we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
Mark smiled, “My car is first on the list.”
Mark then spun his wheelchair around and pushed his rims, rolling into his bedroom.
As he positioned his wheelchair next to his bed and transferred into it, he heard Corey in the guest bathroom. He pulled his body over and adjusted his legs on the bed. They were still spastic and with his hands Mark positioned them, trying to hold them down somewhat. Ranger jumped up and walked all over the bed looking to get comfortable.
Mark took some heavy breaths as his legs were acting up and he was pushing his body down. He didn’t want to take any spasm medications yet.He was lying there and looked at the spot next to him where the night before Chiara had laid and nestled her face to his chest.
He took his phone and looked over his social media and he felt so much longing to text Chiara but he couldn’t do anything like that because he had no number and nothing of her. He had not even seen a cell phone on her and had not seen her look at a cell phone at all.He threw the phone onto the bed next to himself and hissed over his lips, “Fuck!”
Roughly he threw his body over in the bed and grabbed his pillow and tried to calm down. He heard Corey in the living room getting on the couch and really, he was glad his friend was in the apartment too. Mark laid in the dark and anger was brooding inside him. He couldn’t find any rest. His heart was beating quickly and his legs kept shaking and twitching. Even Ranger jumped off the bed again, probably sensing his owner’s restlessness.
Mark lay in his bed awake, tired but thinking about Chiara and the whole week and how chaotic everything really had been. He felt slightly dizzy and his legs just didn’t stop shaking. He turned on his bedside lamp again and pulled his body up in the bed leaning on the head board and just looking at his legs.
He watched as they jumped on the bed and he leaned his head back and looked at the ceiling. He felt tense and agitated and just then he heard some rustling and a moment later Corey stood in the door.
“I had a feeling you didn’t sleep.”Mark looked over at his friend, “I keep thinking about all the shit that happened this week and my fucking legs won’t stop shaking.”
Corey looked over at the lounge chair in the corner, “May I come in?”
Mark had his head still resting on the headboard, “Sure.”
Corey sat down in the lounge chair, “I couldn’t really sleep either. Do you need anything right now?”
“I can’t take my meds right now. I drank too much. I really shouldn’t be drinking at all.”
Corey yawned, “You shouldn’t but I shouldn’t either. It is what it is though.”
The two friends sat quietly for a moment and Corey glanced at Mark’s twitching legs, wondering how it felt or if he felt anything at all.
Mark realized and looked down at his legs too, “They’re freaking out on me tonight.”Corey nodded, “I see.”
They were quiet again until Mark remarked softly, “Dude, I think I’ll…I’ll always be by myself. I won’t find a woman being in this fucking thing.”“Don’t say that. And maybe she’ll come around again. We don’t know what’s going on with her or why she did this.”
Mark looked up at the ceiling, “I’m just an idiot to even think for a moment that a hooker would somehow be into me for anything besides using me. I’ve gone through shit for this woman who just simply left me. I’m such a dumb ass, such a fucking dumb ass.”
“Stop saying that. You’re not an idiot, you’re not a dumb ass…you’re just a guy.”
Mark swallowed, took a deep breath, and exhaled, “I’m really trying man. I’ve been trying to hold it…to hold it together but…inside I feel…I feel like shit most of the time. I hate…”
He stopped and swallowed again, trying to keep his oncoming emotions in check.
Corey just looked at him and listened to his friend.
Mark’s legs were jumping on the bed and he moved his eyes down to his legs and for a moment didn’t say anything.
He then swallowed again, trying to keep control of his feelings but then said, “I still hate being like this you know.”
Now his voice trembled and Corey could hear that it was difficult for his friend to talk.Corey had only seen Mark get emotional once, when he first got back home but after that one time, he had kept his feelings and emotions bottled up inside and no one ever mentioned it again.
Now Corey could sense that Mark was having a difficult time talking.
Mark didn’t look at Corey but instead tried desperately to swallow the emotions that were coming on like a hurricane and making it hard to breathe and talk.
He took another deep breath, exhaled with a tremble and continued, “I know it’s been…it’s been a few years and I should be okay…but I’m not…”He paused for a moment, then continued, “I see you guys…go to work, have girlfriends, wives and just…just normal lives and I…I want all those things…but it’s not happening...instead I get myself…wrapped up in some weird fucking shit with a woman I don’t even know…”
He stopped again and now a tear pushed out of the corner of his eye and ran down his cheek.
Corey shifted in the lounge chair, feeling his own breathing constricted as he watched his friend struggle with his emotions.Just as he was about to say something Mark added, “I really…I wanted this…I wanted to be important to someone…to her I guess. I don’t know how…how I could have thought that…that any of this shit was even remotely normal. And what was I thinking…I’m not a hero…I’m an idiot in a fucking wheelchair….”
Now a few more tears were escaping from his eyes and he quickly tried to wipe over his face to not let Corey see.It was already too late. Corey had seen the tears and tried to find words of consolation in the face of his friend’s suffering.
Mark now said, “Maybe you should go home man.”
“I’m good, I’ll stay here tonight, over.”
Mark now tried to pull himself together, “Fuck…man…I’m losing it I guess.”
Corey leaned forward in the lounge chair and now stated, “I’m always waiting for you to lose it really. I don’t think you have lost it enough times yet.”
Mark looked over at Corey somewhat surprised at his words, “What do you mean?”
“I mean that you’ve been trying to hold it together for way too long. I don’t know if you ever actually broke down over everything that happened. If you did, you never mentioned it and you did it on your own which is probably what happened. You can break down sometime, you know? I won’t think less of you. The guys won’t think less of you.”
Mark lost another tear and laughed softly and with a sarcastic undertone he started, “Shit, I am the fucking Infantry, I am my country’s strength in war, her deterrent in peace. I am the heart of the fight – wherever, whenever. I carry America’s faith and honor against her enemies, I am the Queen of battle. I am what my country expects me to be – the fucking best trained soldier in the world. In the race for victory, I am swift, determined and courageous, armed with a fierce will to win…”His word faded as he now laughed and more tears ran down his face, “Fucking shit load of crap, that’s all it is…
Corey debated getting up and walking over to Mark but he didn’t and instead just looked at him.
Mark looked at him now with tears freely flowing, “This is the beginning of the fucking Infantry creed…it means shit anymore because I am nothing anymore. I’m not a warrior, I’m a fucking paralyzed idiot…”
Now he stopped talking and just let the tears run over his face and tried to breathe while his legs were violently shaking.
Corey now got up and walked over to the bed and sat down at the edge looking at Mark, “Hey man, listen to me…you’re not an idiot. You’re many things but not an idiot. For one you’re my friend and that never changed. And you’re a friend to the others. You’re also a dude who cares about things and people and that’s why you wanted to do something good for your country and that’s also why you wanted to give her that fucking money back, because you have these morals and values. And you’ve been so strong through everything that happened to you and you took it with acceptance and never blamed anyone. I know you struggle to cope and I worry all the time about it, the others do too. We talk about it when you’re not there, how we hope you’re okay and how we sometimes feel we don’t ask you enough. And that whole deal when we got her for your birthday, it was fucking stupid and we felt like shit. And then you went after her and you found her, connected with her apparently and now she’s gone again. It’s no wonder you’re feeling…you’re feeling like shit right now. I’m sorry but no one can tell me that you’re just cool with everything. You could’ve died about three years ago but you didn’t because you’re strong and you are a warrior and you fought through all of the shit that happened to you so don’t sell yourself short just because you have feelings for a person who for some reason just fucking left you. I don’t know why she’s doing it, it pisses me off and I hope she has a fucking good reason for it but you are not an idiot Mark. You’re probably the strongest guy I have ever met and I’m proud to call you my friend.”
Corey’s voice trembled now. He had kept his eyes down while talking, not wanting to meet Mark’s tear-filled eyes but now he looked up. Mark’s tears had subsided as he looked at Corey and tried to smile.
Another tear escaped and Mark swallowed once more before he said, “Promise me you won’t tell anyone about this.”“About what?”
“About me losing my fucking shit tonight and crying like a bitch.”A smirk brushed over Mark’s face when he had said this.
Corey laughed softly now looking at him, “I won’t. It’ll be our secret.”
They both laughed now and after a moment of hesitation of how much emotion was okay to be shown, Corey leaned over and they quickly hugged with some pats on each other’s backs and then let go again.Corey said, “Everything will work out somehow man, and I’ll be there for you and I know the others will be too.”
“I hope so. Thanks man.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Corey got back up and walked toward the door, “Can I get you anything from the kitchen or something?”“Maybe some water. I don’t think I can sleep right now.”
Corey walked to the kitchen and moments later came back with the water jug and a glass of water for himself. He handed Mark the jug and sat on the lounge chair again.
He then asked, “Do you actually ever sleep?”“Yeah, at least for a few hours at night. I still dream shit a lot of times and wake up from it.”
“That must suck.”
Mark nodded, “It does…but it is what it is I guess.”
The two friends ended up playing video games for a few more hours until at almost five in the morning they finally fell asleep, Mark in his bed, Corey on the couch in the living room.