When Chiara got to Mark’s room the next day, she was surprised to find him already in his wheelchair, wearing a pair of athletic shorts and a regular T-Shirt. On his feet he still had the hospital socks but he looked good. Even though longer now, his hair was somewhat orderly on his head. He smelled fresh and she couldn’t help glance at his legs in the shorts. She hadn’t seen his legs in a long time and could clearly see his shin bones protrude. His feet sat still side by side on the single foot rest of his TiLite and his legs seemed still and calm.
“Good Morning.”Mark smiled at Chiara, “Good Morning.”
She pushed her bulky wheelchair into the room and tilted her head, smiling, “Who are you? Where’s Mark?”
Mark lowered his eyes and laughed softly at her questions but didn’t say anything.
Chiara pushed next to Mark and leaned over some to kiss him.
She touched his face, “You look good.”
He nodded and they kissed.
Mark then said, “I figured I should look somewhat presentable when I meet my sister. I got this stuff from the hospital.”
“That’s great. I got the clothes I’m wearing from the hospital too.”
Mark now laughed softly and Chiara smiled.
He said, “I wish I’d have my own clothes and really all my stuff, but I guess I’ll have to make do with this for now.”
Chiara stated, “Your things are safe with the police.”
“And I can’t wait to get my stuff and get home to my place.”
He lowered his eyes again, realizing what he had just said.Chiara didn’t say anything and Mark added, “Or wherever we’ll live I guess.”
Chiara now took his hand, “You’ll get all your things again.”
Mark nodded and asked with a serious expression, “Where’s all your stuff?”
Chiara took a deep breath and shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t really know and I don’t care. I don’t want any of the stuff I used to have.”
Mark had kept his eyes on her as she had answered his question.
He now reached his hand over to her and took her hand in his, “It doesn’t matter anyways, I’ll get you all new things.”
Chiara smiled and lowered her eyes, then looked back up at Mark, scanning over his face for a moment and feeling so much love for him, “Thanks babe.”
Mark then changed the subject, “So when does my sister arrive?”“Right before I left my room to come up here, she had called and told me she had landed and she’s going to get an Uber to come here. She could be here any minute really.”
Mark bit his lips and now nervously interlocked his hands on his lap.“So, you and my sister already know each other then?”
“Yes. She seems to be a very nice person.”
“I’m nervous to meet her. It’s been so long.”
“I know you’ll be fine.”
Mark looked up at Chiara and said, “Guess what?”“What?”
“With what happened yesterday I wasn’t put back on a Foley but instead I did it myself, three times already. I remembered how to do it. The CNA watched me and made sure I did it right.”
Chiara smiled, “I’m so happy about that.”
She leaned over again and Mark met her in the middle and they kissed.“I’m really so happy for you baby.”
He then was quiet again and seemed nervous. Chiara saw the knuckles of his interlocked fingers turning white.
She asked softly, “Are you okay Mark?”
He nodded and bit his lips again. Chiara sensed though that something was going on with him. She touched her hand to his knee and he looked down at her hand for a moment.
“Mark, what is it?”He swallowed and stuttered, “I don’t know. I just feel…I was…I was glad that I remembered how to…how to do this, how to cath. My hands were shaking though but I did it. I’m…I’m so nervous…”
“My sister. I don’t want her to see me like…like this.”
Chiara took a deep breath, “See you like what?”
“Like this.” Mark took a nervous breath, “Like…like how…how I am now. I want to look…”
He stopped and took a trembling breath.Chiara pushed closer to him and she took his hand and said stern, “Look at me Mark!”
He moved his eyes to her and she then said, “You are who you are. You don’t have to be someone you’re not. You’re her brother, Mark, and you’re also Mark, the love of my life. You’re the strongest person I’ve ever known. You saved my life, you saved me, you survived horrible things that happened to you, and you’re sitting here, alive and determined to be the best you can be. But to me, you’re already the best, you’re an amazing man, your heart is big, your mind is always working and thinking about the right thing to do. And you’re doing everything right under the circumstances. I’m so proud to be your girlfriend and I love you so much. I can’t wait to be with you and I can’t wait to have a normal life with you, in whichever way our life will be. I don’t care where we are or how it’s going to be, all I care about is you and that’s the only place I want to be. I want to be where you are for always and forever. And I’ll always be by your side and I’ll always help you realize that you’re exactly the way you should be and you don’t have to be someone you’re not. Your sister also knows that and you don’t have to be a certain way - just be yourself. I love you exactly the way you are.”
Mark was staring at Chiara and she felt her eyes tear up, “I know it’s difficult for you and I wish I could take all the pain away. I see the despair in your eyes and I feel the pain in your heart and I know I was the reason for the way things are now and it seems to tear me up sometimes, but all I can do is be here for you and love you with all my heart. I never want to be without you in my life Mark. You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met and I’ll always love you and be there for you if you let me.”
Mark was listening and he saw the tears run out of Chiara’s eyes.
He now took her hand in his, “I love you so much too. It frustrates me that…that I am this way…I was supposed to be strong for you and now…I keep looking for…for this other guy. The one I used to be…and this is…this is the second time in my life…where I feel like I lost myself. I can’t find him…it’s like…that night…when they came…”
He stopped and swallowed the knot in his throat thinking about the horrible night when Trey had come to his place.
Chiara looked at him and he continued softly, “That night when he…I lost myself again that night. I’m scared of the future and how I will be and become. I wanted to give you a good life but I’m worried that I can’t do it.”
He now hung his head and Chiara was fighting her own emotions at Mark’s explanation.She knew Miriam was probably almost at the hospital and now Mark was having another episode.
“Mark, I love you and we’ll be okay, I promise. We’ve made it through so much, you and I, and we’ll make it again.”
He swallowed and looked up at her.
His eyes were sad, “I love you and I need you so much.”
Chiara now pushed herself up from the wheelchair and she pushed it to the side and with Mark watching, she now slowly let herself down on his lap. She didn’t care about her leg, she didn’t care if she was too heavy for him since he was so weak, she just wanted to hold him close.
And awkwardly she sat on his lap, the wheelchair pushed itself against the bed, and Mark quickly reached down and set the break. She wrapped her arms around him and he wrapped his arms around her and they held each other and she looked into his eyes, “I love you Mark. Never forget that, never. We got this. Together we can do this.”He nodded, “I love you too.”
Then they looked at each other and they kissed for a few moments. Mark held her to him. He didn’t feel Chiara on his thighs, he was worried about her leg but she didn’t seem to care and having her close felt good.
He whispered into her hair, “I can’t wait to be with you all the way. I can’t wait to get out of this place. I want to be with you so bad.”“Me too.”
And they kissed again a long kiss.Chiara was still sitting on Mark’s lap when it softly knocked on the door.
They both quickly looked toward the door and Chiara felt Mark tense up, but he said, “Come in.”
Chiara stayed on his lap and thought that it was actually a good thing to be right there at the moment.
The door got pushed open slowly and a woman with long blonde hair stepped in. Chiara saw the resemblance to Mark right away.She stood by the door and Chiara and Mark looked at her, and she looked at them and smiled insecurely.
Chiara smiled at her, “Miriam?”Miriam nodded nervously, “Hi, yes…Chiara?”
Chiara shifted and laughed softly, “Sorry about this.”She tried to sit up better, and Miriam smiled with her eyes down, “It’s all right.”
She then looked up at Mark and he was just gazing at her.Chiara was debating to get off Mark’s lap but she knew it wasn’t going to be that gracious and so she stayed on his lap for now.
Mark now spoke, “Miriam, it’s good to see you.”
He said it with a tremble but Chiara heard the sincerity in his voice. She decided to scramble off Mark and so she did and Miriam stood there shy and insecure, looking at the situation and watching Chiara as she held herself up and braced herself with her hand on the wall, “Miriam, I’m sorry. It’s so good to finally meet you. Mark and I just…” Chiara smiled now, “We just had a moment.”
When Chiara was awkwardly trying to hop along the wall toward Miriam, Miriam dropped her bags and quickly stepped up to Chiara, “Chiara, oh my goodness. Let me help you. Be careful.”The women now stood right by each other and Chiara opened her arm somewhat, “Hi and welcome. It’s so good to see you. I’m sorry, I can’t really put all my weight on my right leg yet.”
Miriam fell into Chiara’s one-armed hug, “Oh God, it’s so good to meet you. Please sit down. I don’t want you to fall.”
The two women let go of each other and Miriam somewhat helped Chiara sit down in the wheelchair. She then looked at Mark again. He had watched them and now he put his hands to his rims and pushed his TiLite toward to his sister and stopped in front of her. Miriam now started crying and held her hand pressed against her mouth, trying to keep control of her emotions.
Mark touched her other hand and she seemed surprised, looking down at him with tear filled eyes. He tugged on her hand, pulled her down, and opened his arms.
She leaned down and they fell into a tight embrace, Miriam crying onto his shoulder and mumbling, “Oh my God Mark, I’m so happy to see you.”They held each other and Mark replied, “I’m happy you’re here. Thanks for coming.”
It’s like they didn’t want to let go, they held each other, and Chiara watched the reunion with tears in her eyes.
Miriam now sobbed, “I’m so sorry Mark.”He still held her, “It’s okay. I’m sorry too.”
And they held on for a few more moments until they finally loosened their embrace. Miriam stood up and pulled out a tissue, dabbing her face and around her eyes. Mark kept looking at his sister and he saw his mother in her. He hadn’t thought about his mom in a long time and now he just stared at his sister. He didn’t remember her looking like this. His memory had failed him once again. Miriam was still crying and she didn’t know what to say really.
Mark then offered, “Why don’t you sit down?”Chiara agreed, “Yes, have a seat.”
Miriam pulled the chair over and sat down. Her hands were gripping the tissue and she kept crying and kept looking at Mark.
He took a deep breath, “I’m very happy to see you.”
Miriam nodded, not able to speak at the moment. The last time she had seen Mark he had been on the brink of dying really. She remembered seeing him in the ICU at Walter Reed, his neck held in a cervical collar, his face bruised and injured, where shrapnel had penetrated his skin. She remembered him hooked up to machines and instead of telling him that she loved him and she didn’t want to lose him, she had told him that their mother had died with a broken heart, and that she felt like he had abandoned them when he had joined the Military. She had thrown insults at him in anger and with tears running out of her eyes.
And he had laid there, unable to move and to defend himself or say anything because he was seriously injured with a damaged spine fighting for his life. But he had heard it all and she had seen the tears run out of his swollen eyes and down the side of his face. And she had told him that he would have never found himself in this situation if he wouldn’t have joined the Military in the first place. She had told him that’s what he got and deserved for having abandoned her and their mother. And she had stormed out of the ICU room while the only thing Mark could do, was let the tears run out of his eyes and hang on by a thread while his body was shutting down physically and emotionally.
She now lowered her eyes and she felt full of shame and guilt. She was unable to speak and Mark just looked at her.
He then said softly, “I’m sorry about leaving you and mom behind. I’m sorry I wasn’t there when she died and I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help you with it all. I was selfish.”
Miriam now cried more and pressed her fist against her mouth again, shaking her head in obvious despair. Chiara sat there and felt her heart beat fast at watching this situation. She tried to contain her tears.
Miriam was now barely able to speak, choking on the tears she was crying, “Mark, I’m so sorry about everything I’ve said and done to you. I…I don’t know…how I can…I can ever make up what…what I have done to you.”
Mark now reached his hand over for Miriam to put her hand in his and she did and her crying shook her again.
Mark didn’t cry but now said calmly, “We can’t make up what we’ve done wrong. But it’s in the past and we have to forgive each other and we have to forget about the mistakes we made. We’ve to leave it behind us and move forward. The right moment is now and that’s where we start again, right now, right here.”
Miriam could only nod under tears and Mark continued, “I’m very glad you’re here, it means a lot to me. If we keep bringing up the bad stuff we did and didn’t do, we’ll break under that. I know I did things wrong and you know you did things wrong. A lot of things have happened to me and I’m sure you have had a lot of things happen in your life. We weren’t part of each other’s lives for way too long but we can change it now, starting today.
And Miriam nodded again and her tears were streaming over her face and Mark took a breath and squeezed her hand, “I’m dealing with a lot of stuff right now, some bad stuff has happened and I struggle, but you coming here is a good thing for me. I want you to tell me about everything I missed and if you want, I’ll tell you everything you missed from my life. But it’s good you came and I appreciate it more than you’ll ever know. I want us to move on and be in each other’s lives again.”
Miriam had kept her tear-filled eyes on Mark and had kept nodding in agreement to all the things he said. Chiara was wiping her own tears away. Mark sounded strong and determined and she felt a burst of life in him, a passion about something that she had seen before, but had seemed to be missing lately.
Mark held Miriam’s hand and now said, “You’re my sister and I love you and I want to move forward from here on out.”Miriam nodded again and now barely got it over her lips, “I love you so much Mark. You’re still my little brother, you always will be. I want the same, I want us to move on and leave the past behind us. I want to know everything that happened and everything about your life.”
Her tears seemed to slow down some, but she wiped her nose and now got up and Mark and Miriam hugged again and stayed in the embrace for a few moments. Chiara had watched everything and she felt so much joy in her heart at Mark reconnecting with his sister.
Chiara and Mark eventually filled Miriam in on their situation and how all of this had come about. They had coffee and snacks in between, they moved out to the main lobby seating area, they came back to the room, and they sat in the commons on the ninth floor some. They spent all day together and the whole time they were talking about something. The conversations were painful and sometimes tearful but there was a lot of catching up. Miriam was speechless at some of the things she found out about Mark and his life the past years and now the situation he had been in and sometimes she just couldn’t grasp the things her brother had been through.
Her life had been tough with their mother being sick and her having to take care of her for years but she had still established a good, solid homelife, and her two kids were doing well. Her husband was a successful lawyer and she didn’t have any financial problems.
They hadn’t nearly caught up when evening came around but lots of things had been talked about. Miriam had booked herself into a hotel not too far from the hospital.
It was in the early evening when they made it back to Mark’s room again. Their conversations had been intense throughout the day. Mark had interrupted a few times to make it into the bathroom and Chiara had been glad that he had remembered when to pee and how to cath.
The reunion with his sister had been very stressful for him and Miriam was getting ready to head to the hotel. She had called an Uber to take her to the hotel but she was going to come back the next day though and every day thereafter during her stay for a week.
Miriam walked over to Mark and leaned down to hug him, “Good night Mark. I’ll be back tomorrow.”He hugged her back, “Thank you. I’ll be here. Good night.”
With a hug Miriam said Good Night to Chiara and she eventually left. Mark and Chiara were left behind in the room and it was quiet.
Soon thereafter the nurse came in, checking on Mark and giving him his night time medications, and also making sure he was okay with the bathroom and didn’t any help. He assured that he was okay and that he would call if he needed help. Mark was determined to do as much as he could on his own again.
The nurse stood by the door, “Well, Chiara, I guess once Mark is in bed you can head on to your room. You should also get some sleep.”Chiara nodded, “Yeah, I’ll go to my room soon.”
Chiara had basically been okay with everything throughout the day as well. She barely needed pain medications anymore, there were days she had made it without pain medications all day.
She usually got her anti depressives and anti-anxiety meds at night and in the morning, but that night she actually didn’t care.
As soon as the nurse was gone, Chiara pushed her wheelchair against Mark’s bed and without any words she got up into a standing position. Mark was in bed already and watched her with tired eyes and thought she was going to say Good night to him as well, but instead she wriggled herself onto his bed and he moved over some as he realized she was going to lay next to him. They didn’t speak but Chiara now nestled herself to his bare chest and Mark had his arm around her. There was only a dim light on in the room.
Mark asked softly, “Shouldn’t you be going to your room?”“I should but I don’t want to. I want to stay with you a little longer.”
“Okay, but…” He couldn’t finish as Chiara pushed her finger on his lips, “Pssst, don’t say anything. I’ll just stay for a little while longer.”
Chiara was tracing her finger over the tattoo on his chest and asked, “Are you happy about today?”“Yes, I’m very happy.”
“Good. It was an exhausting day for you. I know that.”
“It was, but it all needed to be said.”
Chiara supported her head on her hand and looked at Mark.His eyes moved over to her and she said, “I love you so much.”
He smiled now, “I love you too. I can’t wait to be in the same bed with you all the time. We need to figure out where we’re going to live. I’m calling the VA tomorrow. We need to talk to Officer Collins. He’ll help me get my stuff and everything.”
Chiara took a deep breath, “Yes, we need to figure all of that out.”
Chiara leaned over Mark and kissed him and then she nestled herself to him again. They were so tired that soon their eyes fell closed and their breaths came even and slow.
It wasn’t long after when the nurse came in and found the two in the bed together, sleeping deeply. She had gotten a call from Chiara’s nurse and had been asked to send her to her room. Now she saw them sleeping and she logged into the computer and brought up Chiara’s profile.
She checked for Chiara’s evening meds and saw what needed to be given and what had not been done yet. She made a quick call to Chiara’s nurse on the sixth floor and explained the situation, and they agreed to just give Chiara her meds in Mark’s room. Chiara’s nurse on the sixth floor pulled the meds for Chiara and then brought them up to the ninth floor. Mark’s nurse led her to his room and the two nurses quietly went into the room.
Mark’s nurse whispered with a smile on her face, “Look at that.”They stood for a moment, looking at Mark and Chiara in the bed.
Chiara’s nurse then said softly, “She does love him a lot, I think. It’s been rough for them.”
She then quietly walked over to the bed and next to Chiara she tried to rouse her from her sleep and said softly, “Chiara, honey. Wake up for me really quick. It’s your nurse Rita.”
Chiara moaned and blinked her eyes open slowly.
Nurse Rita stood over her, “I brought your evening meds, you need to take them honey. We can’t just skip your meds.”
Chiara recognized nurse Rita over her. Rita was holding a small cup with the tablets in it and another small cup with water. Mark moaned next to her in his sleep.
Chiara pushed herself up on her elbows and Rita handed her the small cup with the tablets, “Here you go honey.”Chiara dropped the medications into her mouth and then washed them down with the water.
She was groggy and sleepy though and mumbled, “I don’t want to go to my room. I want to stay with Mark.”
Rita smiled in the dimness, “Okay, just this one time. Are you in pain at all?”
Chiara shook her head, “No, I’m good. I’m just tired.”
“Okay, then just sleep now.”
Chiara nodded like a small child, and Rita helped her lay back down, and made sure her leg was somewhat supported with an extra pillow under it, “We’ve to keep your leg elevated sweetie. Keep the swelling down.”Chiara nodded again and eventually Rita told her Good night, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Mark’s nurse made sure the call light and remote was in reach for them, and then the two nurses walked out, switching the light off as they left the room.
Chiara nestled herself against Mark again and she saw his chest rise and fall softly as he was sleeping deeply. She felt so safe with him in that moment, exactly how she had felt with him before seemingly him that morning. She moved herself even closer to him, feeling the warmth of his body radiate into her and hearing him take soft breaths as he was sleeping. She would never leave him again.