After the night the nurses had found Chiara and Mark in bed together, it had been decided that they would be moved to a double room with two beds and that way could be together. This took a lot of anxiety away and helped Mark and Chiara in their recovery tremendously.
Mark still struggled but his episodes of panic attacks and mood swings decreased, and even though he still was quiet a lot he seemed to be doing better.
It had become evident that Mark was dealing with episodes of confusion, slight seizures, and most of all severe headaches that sometimes came out of nowhere. He would be okay one moment, and he would hold his head in agony in the next moment. And when this happened it basically shut him down and he wasn’t able to function. He usually then lay in bed, got medications to help him relax, and take the pain away. At the same time, he was constantly dealing with the side effect of fatigue and drowsiness.
Chiara usually sat by his bed and hoped that when he woke up, he would be better. It was difficult for her to watch him deal with this torture, and the Neurologist confirmed that Mark would be dealing with this for the rest of his life. Triggers such as stress, strenuous activities, too much stimulation, or worrying could cause the onset of this type of headache, mostly in the form of a severe Migraine attack. He sometimes would get sick or have to vomit, light was unbearable for him, and he could only lay in a darkened room until the episode passed.
Mark’s medication list had become more extensive from what he used to be on. He had been put on a variety of medications to prevent seizures, help him deal with the pain, and keep him calm and balanced.
The TBI from the explosion in Afghanistan had been a milder form; in the blast Mark had suffered the majority of his injuries with the damage to his Spinal Cord. In the recent attack his brain had suffered of intended blows and severe trauma raising the severity level of his previous existing TBI from mild to moderate with occasional severe episodes.
Mark was struggling with it all and it made him lethargic. Sometimes he didn’t say much and only if Chiara initiated the conversation, he talked to her.
Spring arrived and the weather changed from dreary and dark to more days with sun and flower buds sticking their heads out of the ground. The change in weather affected Mark positively, and he seemed to take part in interactions more actively again, which made Chiara happy.
Chiara’s leg was healing well. The first week of March, she had a cast put on her leg as the ankle was healing. Her fractured tibia still needed to heal but the Orthopedic surgeon decided not to operate but instead just put a cast on. With the cast Chiara now was allowed to put weight on her right leg and used crutches more often, making her way slowly around the hospital.
Mark eventually got the news that another accessible apartment had come available at his old apartment complex. It was in another building of the complex but with the same amenities and also a carport again. After considering his options he made the decision to take the apartment. Chiara was somewhat concerned about this but Mark had made up his mind.
His friends moved all his things from the old apartment to the new apartment. Some items from his old apartment though stayed back; most of his living room furniture had stayed behind because the things had been damaged or compromised during the shoot-out.
Mark’s car had been in police possession over the past months and had been kept in one of their storage garages.
Any attempts to get Mark to talk about what had happened the night Trey had come to his place were unsuccessful. He didn’t talk about it, and even though the police still wanted to know, they had not pushed it too much since Trey and the people who were there that night were dead. It was unclear if Mark would ever testify in court if the need would arise with possible further arrests in the running of prostitution in both Washington and Oregon.
It had become very quiet on the inside of any prostitution activities. A special operations unit had been activated in light of the recent events. The Portland and Seattle PD still had warrants out for other members of the prostitution ring, and women had been taken and saved from the streets and put into safe locations kept away from their pimps or leaders of the ring.
Most of the women refused to talk, but the bust in Portland and the attack on Mark had revived the investigations into illegal prostitution in Seattle once again. Separate from Trey’s criminal activities another prostitution ring had been busted in Seattle with mostly human trafficking cases of women from Asian countries. It had been an impressive breakthrough in fighting prostitution and human trafficking in the area.
There were no charges filed against Chiara but she had to agree that she would attest in court if it should come to that for the charging of any other members of the prostitution ring.
Mark’s sister Miriam stayed in touch with Chiara and Mark and her next visit was already planned for summer break and she would bring her kids and probably also her husband.
It was the end of March when Mark and Chiara were finally discharged. It had been a long-awaited day.
Mark was sitting in his wheelchair and Chiara was sitting on her bed in their room, her casted leg resting on the bed, the crutches leaning next to her.
Officer Collins was there in civilian clothes and off duty. He had become good friends with Mark and Chiara over the past months and was usually never there on duty anymore, but merely as their friend. He had mediated some with the investigations and had also cleared Mark’s old apartment. He had also initiated Mark’s things to be moved to the new place. This was the day he was going to take them to the new apartment.
Chiara and Mark had come to know the staff at the hospital as more than just caregivers but also as friends. Now everyone stopped by at the room and said their Good Bye’s. There were well wishes, hugs, presents, and also tears.
It brought back memories for Mark when he had left Walter Reed newly paralyzed in a wheelchair, travelling from Washington DC to Seattle with an assigned caregiver from the VA by his side.
He didn’t like this similar situation very much, and stayed reserved and only had little words. Chiara realized that it was stressful for him and he wanted to get this over with quickly.
She was relieved when they finally got into Dan’s car and took off, leaving the hospital behind. She had been emotional all day and Mark had been mostly quiet.
Now she sat next to him and this was the first time in months that they drove through the city. They were holding their hands as they were quietly looking out the window at the bustling city streets. Chiara’s heart beat fast and she felt anxious.
She swallowed and glanced over at Mark. He met her eyes and without a word he just smiled at her.She wished so much he would say something to her and tell her that everything was going to be all right.
But he didn’t and turned his eyes out to the streets again.
They drove out to Burien and now Chiara felt how Mark gripped her hand tighter and when she looked over at him, she saw his lips were pressed together as he looked out the window seemingly nervous. She was now worried if it had been a bad idea to take the apartment in his old apartment complex.
They turned into the apartment complex parking lot and headed for the new building. The apartment was on the first floor again and it was the same set up as the old apartment. An elderly man had lived in the place prior but had now moved into a nursing home.
When they pulled around the corner Chiara already made out Mark’s Challenger under the car port. He also seemed to have spotted it and she saw his chest move up and down quickly.She smiled and tried to get his attention when she softly said, “Your car Mark.”
He swallowed and only nodded silently.
Dan pulled into a parking spot close by and while Chiara scrambled out of the car, carefully holding on to her crutches, Dan had come around and had brought Mark’s wheelchair to him. He then grabbed the two bags they had brought with them and waited until both were out of the car, then he helped shut the doors and locked his car.
Mark pushed his rims and instead of heading to the front door he wheeled over to the Challenger. Chiara stayed back with Dan who supported her slightly with his hand on her back as they watched Mark roll over to his car. Mark stopped next to the Challenger and he looked the car up and down and checked it out. Chiara then saw how he put his hand on the car and hung his head. He stayed like this for a few moments and just sat there with his hand on his car.
Mark hadn’t really talked about driving or his car the whole time while he had been in the hospital. He remembered he had a car, but he had had trouble remembering what kind of car it was and it had just now come back to him that the green Challenger with the silver racing stripe over the middle was his beloved car.
He sat there in his TiLite and he touched his hand to his car. He felt his body tremble at now remembering that this was his car. And he was very worried that he couldn’t remember how to drive it.
Dan walked over to him and asked softly, “Are you glad to see her?”
Mark was startled at Dan appearing next to him and he only nodded but didn’t look up.
Dan explained, “We kept her at the police garage.”
Mark nodded again and then took his hand from the car and put his hands to his rims, turned his wheelchair around, and made his way toward the front door of his new apartment.
Chiara tried to meet his eyes and read his reaction to his car but he didn’t look at her.
They made it to the front door and Mark pulled out the key. Chiara saw his hands were visibly shaking when he tried to put the key into the door. He barely managed and she could see his anxiety with this task. He pushed open the door and was hesitant to go in. Chiara knew this was difficult for him but once he had pushed open the door, they were surprised when Mark’s friends stood in the living room with balloons and Welcome Home signs, calling out “Surprise”.
Chiara was happy to see them but at the same time right away she was worried if Mark would be okay with it. She always worried about him now at his reactions, his emotions, or any kind of extraordinary event. He stayed in the door frame for a moment and just looked at his friends and around in the apartment.
Chiara came next to him and they all greeted her as well. Chiara went in, it was still difficult for her to walk or stand for long periods of time. Mark stayed by the door and just looked at everyone, his best friends, his counselor Phil, and his old neighbors from the other apartment.
Patrick’s girlfriend Jess right away came to Chiara’s aid, “Hi Chiara, it’s so good to see you. Here, be careful.”
Chiara leaned on the bar to the kitchen and looked over at Mark and she saw tears run over his face as he was staring at his friends. He hung his head and her heart hurt. She felt tears come up in her eyes but the guys now all walked over to him and leaned down and hugged him and told him how happy they were to see him and welcomed him to his new place. And he hugged them back but tears were running from his eyes. After Jessica had greeted him as well, she came back to Chiara right away and put her arm around her. Chiara was crying too. The balloons had been let go and rose to the ceiling.
Mark finally looked up and he said with a tremble, “Thank you everyone for being here. Thanks for everything.”Corey said with a smile, “Come on in all the way. Check out your new place.”
Mark nodded and put his hands to his rims, and wheeled further into the room. The living room furniture was new, he really had no idea where the stuff had come from. There was a TV but it wasn’t mounted on the wall, it set on a TV table. His eyes travelled to the wall and he saw the large frame with all his Military medals and awards and in the middle, he spotted the Purple Heart medal and he wheeled over to it and just looked at it for a few moments.
Mitch said, “We tried to get it all set up how you used to have everything.”Mark looked over at Mitch and nodded, “Thanks.”
Corey then said, “It’s the same floor plan, the apartment and it’s…it’s accessible like your old apartment. Like the bathroom and everything. Like you see it has no carpet and the kitchen…the kitchen is like your other kitchen was…with the counters low…or you know…so you can wheel up to the counters…”
Corey’s voice trembled and his nervousness was audible as he was trying to loosen the situation.
Mark looked up at him, “Thanks Corey. That’s good.”
Mark now wheeled over to the small kitchen and everyone just watched as he looked around. He then pushed his rims and wheeled into the hallway toward the bedroom. It was all the same, the washer and dryer right there in the hallway in a closet and an additional storage closet opposite the laundry closet. Chiara followed Mark down the hallway.
In the bedroom was his bed and his furniture, even the lounge chair Trey had been sitting in. And everyone could see how Mark hesitated entering the bedroom all the way. Chiara wanted so much to talk to him and to be there for him, but she couldn’t really do anything.
Mark finally was in the middle of the bedroom and he looked around. He swallowed and he felt his hands tremble. He had his back to everyone, but Chiara went all the way in now and made her way over to him by the bed where she let herself down on the edge of the bed. Mark didn’t say anything but when he finally looked at her, she saw the tears stream over his face. He lowered his eyes and she saw him take quick breaths.
Everyone was still in the hallway and when Chiara looked over at them, they understood the wave with her hand to give her and Mark a moment. Mark sat hunched over in his TiLite and his head hung and his body was shaking. His hands were still wrapped around the push rims.
She stretched her hand out to him and said his name softly. He didn’t react and stayed there in the same spot.
Chiara swallowed the knot in her throat, “Mark, please come closer so I can touch you.”He didn’t look up but smoothly spun his TiLite and pushed his rims moving the chair closer to her.
She reached her hand out and said, “Give me your hand.”
She took his hand in hers and she held it and asked softly, “Do you think it was a mistake to take this apartment?”
He shook his head and looked up at her with shiny eyes, “No, it’s going to be all right. I just…it’s…”
He really didn’t have words for how he felt but it definitely wasn’t easy for him.
“It’s all coming back to me. The way I lost myself.”
Chiara took a deep breath, “Do you think you’ll be all right?”
He nodded and now he smiled a weak smile and tears were still running over his face, “Yes, I’ll be all right. With you in my life I’ll be all right.”
He glanced by Chiara to his bed, “I can’t wait to have you next to me in this bed every night.”Now Chiara smiled and laughed softly, trying to contain her own tears, “Me neither. We’ll always be in this bed together.”
Mark nodded and pushed closer to her, took her other hand and looked at her, “I’m glad to be home again.”
Chiara now lost a few tears, “Me too. I’m so glad to be home with you.”
She now swallowed and Mark held her hands and just looked at her.
Mark was able to relax some and he was glad his friends were there. They all finally sat in the living room and had champagne. Mark had moved onto the couch so he could sit next to Chiara. His friends told him about having bought the living room furniture for him and a new TV and if he wanted it mounted on the wall, they would do that for him.
Mark then asked, “What happened to my old living room furniture?”He looked at everyone and no one really knew what to say.
Dan then took the word, “It’s gone.”
Mark looked at him questioning but he didn’t say anything else.
His friends didn’t stay too long as this was somewhat stressful for Mark. Eventually everyone was hugging Good Bye again and they all made sure Mark knew he could call them with anything or if he needed help or anything at all. Patrick’s girlfriend Jessica offered to Chiara the same thing and confirmed that she would be more than happy to come over if Chiara needed anything.
Dan was the last one in the apartment. He was also ready to leave but there was something he still needed to do. He walked over to the kitchen and Mark watched him. He came back to the living room where Mark was now in his wheelchair again and handed Mark a cell phone.
Right away Mark recognized his phone.
“Here you go, they had collected it for the investigation but you can have it back now.”Mark took the phone from the Officer’s hands and swallowed looking at it, “Thanks.”
Dan added, “The charging cable is in the drawer over there.”
Mark could only nod and felt the weight of his phone in his hand.
Dan then handed him an envelope and Mark took it, “What is it?”
“Read it in a little while. Someone wanted you to have this.”
Chiara watched from the couch.
Dan then said, “Well Mark, I want you to know that if you need anything, anything at all please don’t hesitate to call me. I want you to take it easy and get well all the way. What you've done and been through in the last couple of months was a lot but you started a chain of events that's helping a lot of people. I would hope that we’re friends and I want to be there for you if you need anything. The same for you Chiara.”He looked over at Chiara on the couch, “We’ll stay in touch and I’ll let you know if something comes up.”
Mark looked at Dan, “You’ve done a lot for me and Chiara already. I’m thankful for everything you’ve done and yes, we are friends and we’ll see each other as friends in the future.”
“I would like that very much.”
Dan smiled and then he leaned down to hug Mark and then went over to Chiara and hugged her as well.
Mark wheeled over to the door with him and they said Good Bye once more. Mark then closed the door and he looked at it for a moment. It had the same chain like the door in the old apartment and he put it in, then locked the door with the key on the inside. He then spun his wheelchair around and pushed over to the living room where Chiara was still sitting on the couch. He held the envelope in his hand and looked at it and then to Chiara.
Chiara asked softly, “What is it?”He shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know.”
“Do you want to open it?”
Mark was nervous to open it but nodded, “Yeah, I guess.”
Chiara then watched as he opened the envelope and pulled out a piece of paper and quietly read over it.
She saw his hands were shaking and she sat up some, ready to be there for him in whichever way she needed to be.
He finished reading and then handed her the letter. He just sat there and interlocked his hands on his lap and looked at Chiara who was now reading:
My name is Dr. Atkins, I’m a veterinarian and I was called to collect your cat Ranger the night you got attacked and Ranger got killed. It all happened after you had been taken away. The SWAT team found Ranger in the bathroom and I was called in and ordered to collect him and take him.
I took the liberty to have Ranger cremated but I have kept his remains at my clinic in case you want to get him. I would love to meet you and I would love to give Ranger back to you if you want to have him. He was a beautiful cat for sure and I’m certain you have lots of memories with him.
You can find the address of my clinic on the bottom of this letter and also my phone number if you want to call before you come and I can make sure I’ll have time for you.
I’m very sorry about Ranger and about everything that happened to you.
Sincerely,Allan Atkins, DVM
Chiara swallowed and held the letter in her hands, looking over at Mark. He met her eyes but didn’t say anything.Chiara asked softly, “Do you want him here with us?”
Mark nodded and Chiara added, “Then we’ll call Dr. Atkins tomorrow and make an appointment.”
Mark nodded again and lowered his eyes.
Chiara patted the spot on the couch next to her, “Sit with me.”
Mark angled his TiLite and she watched as he transferred over and landed next to her. She still felt things when she watched Mark transfer or just maneuver his wheelchair with everyday tasks, but her desires for him in this way had stayed mostly silent and she hadn’t acted on any of the longings she felt when she watched him. It had not seemed right in the face of everything that had been going on and she had not really done or said anything to him. Even though they had shared the same room at the hospital the past few weeks there really had not been a lot of time alone with each other. Passion and desire had been silent while they had been healing and recovering from unimaginable trauma.
Now Mark adjusted his positioning next to Chiara and they moved closer to each other.Chiara asked softly, “Are you okay being here?”
Mark nodded, “Yeah, I’m glad you’re here with me.”
“I’ll always be here with you.”
Mark nodded again and he then said, “Chiara?”
He lowered his eyes and she could see he was nervous when he started, “I want to be strong for you. I want you to feel safe with me but I know you’ve been the stronger of us for…ever since everything happened…to me. I see how you look at me and I see how you worry.”
He now looked up at her and Chiara took his hand when he continued, “I know…I know I’ll never be all the way right but I won’t…I won’t stop being the best I can for you and give…and give you the life you deserve. I want to make you happy.”
He stopped and took a trembling breath, then bit his lips before he continued, “I want to make you happy but I know…I know there’ll be times…when I probably can’t. I just want you to know that, no matter how I am or even if I seem…if I seem like I don’t care…I do care…I care so much about you it literally hurts. I look at you and…I’m so glad you’re with me and that we’re both here together. And I know it won’t always be easy but I need you to know, that…that I’ll always try to be the man you deserve. I want nothing else…than to make you happy. I will always be thankful for you…even if I won’t or can’t say it. I need you to know that I’m...I’m so incredibly thankful for you.”
He stopped again and looked down at their interlocked hands.
Chiara had tears in her eyes listening to him. It was his way of confirming that he was indeed present and that even when it didn’t seem like it, he needed her to be there and he wanted to be there for her just the same.
Chiara nodded as Mark looked at her, “I’m thankful for you Mark.”
He nodded and then said, “I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone in my life and I never want to lose you again. I never…I never want to be apart from you. I know it won’t be easy for us and I know…I know I’m not all the way…my head is not right but I’ll do everything I can to make you happy.”
Chiara nodded and Mark finished, “I remember what you said to me about…about my being in the wheelchair and all of that and I want to…I want to hear it again and…I want you to be happy with me and how things are. I’ll do everything I can to be that guy for you. I know we haven’t been able…we haven’t had much time alone and I know you haven’t said anything about it but I…I want to hear it again and I thought about us…being close so many times. I just wasn’t able to do things…because of everything but when I look at you, I see us very close and I imagined…how it would be. And I can’t wait to be with you all the way. I want us to pick up from the night you were at my place and how we were then…so close and you made me feel so good. I want that again and I want to give that to you.”
Chiara’s tears were slowly running over her cheek as she listened to Mark.
She now said softly, “I love you so much Mark and we will have that again. I can’t wait either. You do make me happy and I know it won’t be easy but we’ll be all right. We’ll take it easy and we’ll figure it all out.”
Mark now nodded and he then shifted to get a better look at Chiara.
Her hair had gotten longer over the last three months and now hung over her shoulders all the way down to her waist almost touching her thighs. Her green eyes were large and alert but filled with tears. There were no traces of any bruises anymore, her skin was smooth but pale. Her lips were slightly parted as she looked at Mark.
He kept his blue eyes on her scanning over her face. His hair also was longer now but he was almost clean shaven and only a very light shadow of a beard was visible. His eyes were tired and flickered nervously. He put his hand to Chiara’s hair and stroked strands out of her face, tugging it behind her ear.
Chiara lowered her eyes shyly, then looked up at him again and said softly, “I love you Mark.”
He now smiled a weak smile, “I love you.”
He then moved closer to her face and he let his lips softly touch to her lips and they held each other and kissed for a long time.