As always Ranger was at the door greeting his human with meowing and Chiara walked into the apartment behind Mark. Her eyes lingered on his back and his arms and hands on the push rims of the wheelchair. She saw the TiLite logo on the back rest.
She closed the door and Mark spun his chair around, “Can you put the chain in and here, stick the key in too.”
She took the key from his hand, stuck it in the door lock, and slid the chain in its holder. She was certain that little chain and a key in the door would never stop Trey if he wanted to come for her.
Ranger meowed and crept around Mark’s legs and wheelchair, then jumped up on his lap. Mark petted Ranger and greeted him and Chiara just stood there and watched him shyly.
As Mark had switched the light on in his apartment, Chiara could see him so much better. When she had met him inside the bar it had not been very bright and even when she had been outside with him the lights had only been dim. The time he had come out to the streets to find her he had been in his car and she had not been able to see him all the way then.
Now she saw him clearly sitting there in his wheelchair in the light of the room. She remembered how he had worn jeans the night at the bar and how her hands had been on his legs. And she remembered thinking about his paralyzed legs under the baggy jeans and how her hands had vibrated at touching him. He wore jeans again and his hoodie with the hood pulled over his head. He just then slid the hood off his head and she now saw his dark blonde hair slightly ruffled from wearing the hoodie.
Mark was talking to the cat, running his hands over its back, and Chiara’s heart was beating quick.He then looked up at her and smiled. She couldn’t help notice his deep blue eyes.
“You may pet him.”
Chiara smiled and with hesitation moved her hand to Ranger’s back and Mark watched as she let her slender hand run over the shiny black fur. Ranger meowed but didn’t move, seemingly enjoying the attention.
She then stated softly, “It’s been so long since I’ve petted a cat.”
Mark smiled, “Well, you can pet him all you want. He’s a sucker for attention.”
Chiara now laughed softly and Mark kept his eyes on her. Her laugh changed for a moment the aura that surrounded her. It seemed to open up the invisible wall around her and he very much was drawn to her.
He snapped out of the moment and just then Ranger jumped off him, “Well, this is my place. It’s small but it’s all right. It’s accessible for…”He stopped himself from talking, he was nervous and unsure of how to act with Chiara there.
He then explained, “It’s wheelchair accessible. The VA helped me find it.”
Chiara smiled and he added, “I can show you around.”
She nodded and then asked softly, “Is it okay if I take my boots off first?”
Mark quickly glanced at her high heeled black boots that ran all the way up to her thighs, “Of course.”
Chiara passed by him and sat down on one of the three chairs around the small dining table. Mark watched as she unzipped her first boot and when she glanced at him, he quickly looked away and pushed his rims, rolling into the kitchen. He had no specific reason to be in his kitchen but he didn’t want to hover over Chiara while she was taking her boots off. He heard the sound of the long zippers and the shiny material of the boots come off her legs and feet.
Chiara only wore thin black nylons over her legs and her feet were ice cold really. She quickly massaged her feet and it felt good to rub out the tension for a moment, then she looked over at Mark in the kitchen.
He met her eyes across the breakfast bar, “Do you want anything to drink?”“That would be great.”
Mark quickly thought about the choices he could offer her but she answered before he could list them, “Just water is fine.”
He pulled out a glass from the cabinet and pushed it to the water dispenser on his refrigerator filling it not too full with water. He then put the glass between his thighs and very careful not to spill, he rolled around to Chiara at the table.
Her eyes right away travelled to the glass between his thighs and she smiled, “I could have gotten it. I’m sorry.”“No problem. I do this all the time, mostly with beer bottles in between my legs.”
He handed her the glass and she looked up at him and both thinking about Mark’s statement started laughing.
Chiara held the glass and her eyes stayed on Mark and he shook his head grinning, “Well, that came out sounding very wrong.”
Her soft laugh was incredible and pure and for a moment everything that had happened before seemed so far away. Mark couldn’t take his eyes of her and he smiled, happy to have made her laugh again. She then lowered her eyes and took a sip from the glass. He glanced quickly at her feet in the nylons and he saw her body shiver.
Without a word he put his hands to the push rims and rolled away. Chiara stayed on the chair and looked after him disappear in the hallway. She took another sip and looked around in the apartment. She made out a small guest bathroom to the right of the entrance door, something most likely a utility closet next to it and the small dining area she sat in right next to a spacious living room. There was no carpet in the apartment and the kitchen seemed slightly different from a normal kitchen.
Mark came back and she realized once again how attractive he was. His being in the wheelchair intrigued her so very much and it touched her in ways she had not felt in a long time. In a distant past when she was a girl there had been feelings of the same kind for a boy just like Mark, but it was all so long ago.
He had a pair of thick lounge socks on his lap and now parked right in front of her and handed them to her, “Here you go. I get cold feet a lot too. Those are nice and warm.”She kept her eyes down and only glanced at him from behind her long hair draped down the side of her face.
Mark still held the socks in his hand and explained further, “For your feet. It looks like you’re cold.”
She took them and mumbled a soft, “Thank you. I appreciate it.”
He watched as she slipped the socks on her small feet. He could make out the painted toe nails under the black nylon stockings.
“I have other clothes if you need to change into something warmer.”
At the moment Chiara only wore her short skirt, a thin top and a fluffy jacket that looked warm but probably wasn’t because he still saw her shiver.“I have like sweat pants and hoodies or sweat shirts or something so you can warm up.”
She shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t want you to go through all the trouble.”
Mark shook his head, “It’s not a big deal. Here, I'll get you some warm clothes.”
He wheeled away again and Chiara just sat there.
Mark came back with some clothes, “They’re probably big for you but at least you can be comfortable and get warm.”Chiara took the clothes from him and he added, “You can change in there.”
He pointed to the door next to the entrance and Chiara nodded shyly and got up. He watched her disappear into the small guest bathroom and his eyes travelled to her thigh high boots scattered on the floor. They were definitely sexy boots but having to be in those for an extended period of time was probably not comfortable.Ranger was sniffing around the boots and rubbing his head up against them, meowing softly.
Mark said with a smile, “I know, right.”
It took a few minutes and Chiara came out of the bathroom and she was dressed in a pair of Mark’s red sweat pants and a grey hoodie with a Nike Logo on it. She looked even smaller in Mark’s clothes but at least she seemed more comfortable.She had the small pile of her own clothes in her hand and set them on a chair, “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. I hope it’ll get you warm. I can turn the heat up in here too if you want.”
“You don’t have to do that. I’m fine right now. The clothes and socks feel good.”
They were quiet again and Mark then said, “Well, I can show you my place I guess.”
She nodded and Mark turned his wheelchair and pushed his rims and rolled to his kitchen, “So this is the kitchen and living area. You saw the small bathroom and next to it behind those double doors there’s a utility closet and the washer and dryer.”
He then wheeled through the short hallway with closets on either side and to his bedroom. Chiara had her arms wrapped around herself and followed him. She felt a lot better with the warm clothes on.
He then wheeled through the short hallway with closets on either side and to his bedroom. Chiara had her arms wrapped around herself and followed him. She felt a lot better with the warm clothes on.
In the large bedroom Mark turned toward her, “This is my bedroom and the master bathroom and the wheel-in closet back there.”Chiara didn’t miss the “wheel in” closet expression and she swallowed and nodded, “It’s a nice place.”
She glanced at his Queen Size bed. She could see that the wheel-in closet had low bars where Mark’s clothes were hanging and on the top shelves, she saw boxes and various items.
Mark then explained softly, “I will sleep on the couch, you can have the bed.”
Chiara didn’t know what to say for a moment and she then met Mark’s eyes on her, almost like he was waiting for a reaction from her.He lowered his eyes and she swallowed. He sat there with his hands in his lap, slightly hunched over and his feet in the worn out Nikes sitting still on the foot rest right next to each other. His jeans looked loose and baggy on his legs and she couldn’t help her heart beating fast at seeing him right there in his bedroom and the outlook that she would actually spend the night here made her tremble.
Mark then looked up nervously and a weak smile brushed over his face as he tried to loosen the awkward moment, “So, that’s my place. I’ve lived here for about two years.”Chiara had her arms wrapped around her body still and she then asked shyly, “Is that how long you have been in this?”
She nodded at him and he knew she was referring to the wheelchair.
He lowered his eyes, swallowed, and looked back up at her, “Yeah, about that long.”
He didn’t know if he should say anything else about this and he didn’t. Chiara didn’t ask anything else.
Before she could think of another question Mark then put his hands to his rims and rolled out to the living area again.
Chiara followed him and in the living room he said to her, “Get comfortable and warm up. I can make you some coffee or tea or something. I’ll get a beer for myself, maybe you want one?”
Chiara stood there with her arms still wrapped around herself, “Tea actually sounds very nice right now.”
Mark wheeled into the kitchen, “Cool, yeah, no problem.”
He really felt insecure and nervous around Chiara and didn’t know how to act. All the things he had said to her the night before and tonight before she had gotten in his car seemed like they had been said by another person, a person who was a lot more determined to make a difference. He didn’t know how she felt about this whole situation. And he couldn’t help that when he looked at her face surrounded by the long red hair coming down to her waist and her small frame in his way too big clothes, he felt very drawn to her.
Seeing her feet in the nylons earlier and imagining her changing into his clothes in the bathroom let his heart beat fast and his mind race. Apart from his friend’s girlfriends and wives, no woman had been in his apartment, especially not when he was alone. No woman had spent a night at his apartment and definitely not in his bed.No woman had stood in his kitchen and made hot water for tea and now looked at him with large nervous green eyes, asking, “Where are the cups?”
Mark snapped out of his thoughts and wheeled up to the cabinet that had all the coffee mugs in it and opened it, “Right here.”
He then opened another door with the coffee and tea in it, “I actually don’t know what kind of tea I have. I really don’t drink tea and I only have it because…”
He was lost for words because he didn’t even remember why he had tea. He never drank tea and he tried to remember how he had ended up with tea in his cabinet. Chiara came over and actually squatted down next to him because the cabinet he had opened was on the bottom. She was squatting right next to him and he smelled her scent, a mixture of the coldness from the streets still radiating from her body, the laundry detergent of his fresh clothes, and a faint scent of a perfume.
Next to her in her line of view were his legs in the baggy jeans with his feet in the sneakers on the single foot rest of his TiLite. She felt her heart beat quickly. She looked up at him and he looked at her and when their eyes met they quickly looked away from each other again.
Chiara looked through the cabinet, “I can look through the tea you have.”He nodded and she looked at the few boxes with a variety of teas in it. Mark backed up from the cabinet and wheeled up to the refrigerator where he pulled out a beer for himself. He needed a drink and he needed to loosen up.
Chiara found an herbal tea bag and closed the cabinet again. She dropped the bag into the mug and then poured the hot water in. Mark watched as she held the tea bag on the string and dipped it up and down in the cup. He popped the lid on his beer bottle. Chiara didn’t look at him and he again thought about what to say to her.“Do you need sugar or something?”
Now she looked up and he once again realized her large, green eyes, “No, I drink it plain.”
For a moment she stood there and he then asked, “Are you sure you’re not hungry?”
And again, she answered, “No thanks, I’m good.”
It seemed to take forever to let the tea steep and Mark debated if he should stay in the kitchen, move to the living room, take his sneakers off, or his hoodie, or just do nothing. Chiara in his apartment made him nervous. He wanted her to feel comfortable around him, he wanted her to believe that she had made the right decision by getting into his car, and he wanted her to believe that she was safe with him.
At the same time, the more he thought about the situation, it seemed unreal that he had actually brought her home with him. Now he had this woman, who had no belongings on her really, there in his place, now fully depending on his charity and his care because he had basically taken her out of the life she had known apparently for a long time and away from the people who somehow made up her circle of friends and family, if that’s what her pimp and his associates could even be called.
His mind was reeling and doubts if he could actually pull off the rescue tried to push through. He couldn’t let Chiara ever see his doubts and he wanted to appear confident and strong. But he had not missed her curious glances at him when he pushed his wheelchair around and he knew she had watched closely how he had transferred from the car into the chair. He had done everything with strength and confidence because he did not for one moment want her to see that it wasn’t always easy for him, physically and especially psychologically.
She had finished steeping her tea and when she looked at him, Mark opened the cabinet door that had the trash can in it, “You can put it here.”She dropped the bag from the mug into the trash. Mark then met her eyes momentarily, stuck the bottle between his legs again and spun his wheelchair around making his way to the living room. Chiara followed him with her hands wrapped around the mug.
In the living room Mark turned to her, “Get comfortable on the couch. You can use the blanket if you need it.”Chiara smiled at him, eyed the couch and found a spot to sit on. She set the mug onto a small table next to the couch and she did actually grab the blanket Mark had offered her.
She sat there and wrapped the blanket around her legs when Mark said, “You can put your feet up on the couch.”
Chiara looked at him again from behind her hair and timidly she put her feet up on the couch and pulled them to her body, then rewrapped the blanket around her legs and feet again. Mark just watched and took a sip from his beer.She took the mug with the tea into her hands and softly blowing the surface of the brew she then took the mug to her lips and sipped from it.
Mark just sat there in the living room in his wheelchair and took another sip from his beer. Outside it had begun to rain harder. He still felt unsure and thought about how he could actually start a conversation.He looked toward the window, listening to the rain outside and then remarked, “It’s pretty nasty out.”
Chiara nodded and just then Ranger came into the living room and jumped up on the couch to where she was. He sniffed the blanket and then found a spot right next to Chiara and rolled up. She watched the cat and when she looked up she met Mark’s blue eyes on her and he smiled, “He likes you.”Chiara smiled and let her hand run over Ranger’s fur for a moment, “He’s so soft.”
Mark took in the view of this woman sitting on his couch wrapped up in his blanket and he felt so many things. He took another sip from his beer.
He eventually asked, “How late at night were you usually out there?”Chiara didn’t look at him now but kept her eyes on the tea in her mug and she answered without looking at him, “It depends on the night.”
Mark didn’t miss that she didn’t use the past tense when she had answered.
He wished she would have made it easier for him to talk to her. He wasn’t sure how she felt about being there with him.
Chiara drank another sip and Mark felt his hands tremble. He wanted to say things but she didn’t make it easy for him.He eventually said softly, “I’m glad you got in my car.”
He looked at her, waiting for her response and hoping he could start a conversation with her.
She then looked at him shyly, “Me too.”
Mark had hoped for more but she didn’t say anything else and he said, “You won’t ever have to go back out there.”
She took a deep breath and then replied, “It’s all I have known for the past eight years.”
Mark pressed his lips together and added, “You won’t have to do this anymore. There’s help for you.’
When Chiara didn’t say anything, he added confident, “I will help you.”
Chiara now looked up at him with sad eyes, “You know that prostitution is illegal in this state?”
Mark nodded and tried to ease her mind, “Yes, but you didn’t want to do that. He forced you so if anyone should get punished, it’s him. And if you go to the police, you can help them.”
Now Chiara said quickly, “I will not go to the police.”
Mark opened his mouth to speak but was somewhat surprised at her determined statement, “You don’t have to go to the police but what he did was wrong.”
She moved her eyes away again from Mark and said, “Trey wasn’t always bad. Sometimes he was good to me. He took care of me.”
Mark didn’t want to hear anything of that kind and he moved his eyes from her and bit his lips. He could feel his nerves vibrate at her comment about her pimp, whose name was Trey apparently. He also felt anger seethe inside him.
He now heard Chiara sniffle her nose and he realized she was crying softly.He tried to save the moment, stuttering, “I’m sorry Chiara. I just…seeing the way he treated you, I…just…”
He didn’t finish because he really didn’t know what to tell her. He thought about everything and now felt naïve in thinking that she could actually praise him or be thankful for taking her out of there or trying to help her. She was probably scared and had no idea what to think.
She didn’t say anything and Mark tried again, “Chiara, please…I just…that night at the bar. I guess I just felt that you shouldn’t be…be out there and when he slapped you in the parking lot, it pissed me off and I was angry at myself…because…because I should have made sure you had the money.”Mark swallowed and thought for a moment, then continued, “Then last night…I…the way everything went down…I’m sorry. I know it was my fault again that he hit you. I…I don’t know…I just…”
He stopped because he didn’t know what to tell her.
Chiara wiped over her face and she looked up at Mark now, her eyes filled with tears.With a trembling voice she said, “He’ll try to find me and if he does, then I don’t know what will happen.”
Mark took a deep breath, bit his lips and looked down at his feet. She probably wasn’t wrong about this.
He then asked tense, “Do you want to go back out there?”
Chiara sniffled her nose, “No.”
“Then I will make sure you won’t have to. If I can’t do it alone, I have friends who I know will help me.”
He looked at Chiara and they locked eyes for a moment. Mark saw a tear roll down her face.Chiara then said softly with a weary smile, “You’re very courageous Mark.”
Mark shrugged his shoulders and said still tense, “You can stay here as long as you need to or as long as it’s safe.”
He drank the last of his beer and set the bottle on the TV stand next to him.
Chiara had kept her eyes on him and now said, “You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?”Mark was surprised at her comment and took a deep breath, then said, “Not more or less than any other guy.”
Chiara now said knowingly, “More than a lot of other guys.”
He shrugged his shoulders and looked down at the floor, but didn’t say anything.
He really didn’t want to go to that conversation but Chiara wanted more, “Why are you in a wheelchair?”
He locked his hands on his thighs and sat hunched over some, looking from his feet up at her. She had tugged her hair behind her ears and he could see the bruise under her eye and the busted lip again. He looked at her for a moment and thought about how much he wanted to tell her about his situation.
She didn’t move her eyes from him and he took a breath, then answered, “I’m paraplegic.”Chiara just stared at him now, obviously waiting for more, “How did it happen?”
He took another breath, “I got blown up in Afghanistan and it messed up my spinal cord. Happened about three years ago. I was in the Army, deployed for the third time to that shit hole and third time’s a charm I guess. Was sent back stateside, was in the hospital for a couple of months and then left rehab in a chair. Came back here, it’s where I’m from and been living in this place for two years. Me in a nutshell.”
Chiara curiously scanned Mark’s legs now and ended on his face again, “So you can’t walk?”
He met her green eyes and he shook his head, “No.”
Chiara now looked away as Mark had kept his blue eyes on her, seemingly scanning her for her reaction.She sensed his tension when he had said those things and she felt her hands tremble and get sweaty, her heart beat quickly in her chest. She also sensed that he didn’t want to talk about it.
Mark was hoping she wouldn’t ask any more about his injury or his situation. He really didn’t feel like talking about any of it, thinking he would maybe cause her to have even more doubts that he could be of any help to her. He didn’t want her to think that he was weak.
Chiara took another sip from her mug. Mark was relieved she didn’t ask anything else pertaining to his disability but at the same time he felt he had answered too harsh and maybe had intimidated her slightly.He swallowed and added for confirmation of his strength, “I’m doing okay with how everything is now.”
Chiara then recalled softly, “When your friends came out that night and talked to me about hiring me for your birthday, they didn’t mention you were in a wheelchair. I had no idea until when I was at the bar that night I got a text from them to look for the guy in the wheelchair and they told me your name was Mark.”
Mark listened to Chiara still with his fingers interlocked on his thighs.
Chiara then added, “I almost backed out of it then because I didn’t know if it was a good idea what your friends had planned. And I didn’t know what kind of disability you had. They had not told me anything really.”
Mark wasn’t sure what she was getting at and he felt slightly nervous expecting how she would tell him how shocked and turned off she was when she had found out he was in a wheelchair.
She didn’t say anything like that and he had no idea how she felt about him. He wanted to hear more from her now, even though he felt nervous at her point of view on the circumstances of that night. But she didn’t say anything else about it.
Chiara instead finished her tea and petted Ranger. Mark sat up straight, with his hands quickly lifting himself up from the seat for a second. It was part of his daily life, the quick lifts off the seat, he didn’t even think about it much anymore. It had been explained and taught to him in rehab that he needed to do this to prevent any pressure sores from developing. So far he had dodged anything severe. When he did it this time though he felt Chiara’s eyes on him watching very closely.
He took a breath and then tried to sound relaxed, “I’m going to my bedroom for a moment to take my shoes off.”
Chiara nodded and watched as he put his hands to his push rims and wheeled out of the living room. She took a deep, trembling breath at having had those conversations about Mark being in a wheelchair.
Mark closed the door behind him as he was in his bedroom and for a moment he just sat there and inhaled and exhaled deeply. Something about Chiara in his place made him nervous. It wasn’t her presence there but the way she looked at him and the way she had asked him so directly about his disability. Because when she had asked she had had no problem looking straight in his eyes. It felt like she actually wanted to know and was curious. It was the first time a woman had so directly asked him about what had happened to him.
The ones’ he had met in the past had successfully ignored the fact that he had showed up to the date in a wheelchair and they had not mentioned it at all. In a way it had bothered him when the few dates he had been on had gone like that, the women basically ignoring the wheelchair and not even acknowledging it. At the same time, he always felt like he didn’t want anyone to only see the wheelchair and then when they didn’t acknowledge it at all, it also didn’t feel right.
Because it wasn’t that they didn’t see the wheelchair because they cared about him as a person, it had been because they had checked him off as soon as he had wheeled up to the date locations in his TiLite. It had been because they realized that it had been a stupid idea to actually meet up for a date with a paraplegic and realizing how they could have all the able-bodied men in the place who were checking them out probably wondering what the women wanted with the guy in the chair.
And it had been because they realized that they actually couldn’t see themselves with him after all and so all the dates had not led to anything. And every time he had tried so hard to seem confident and strong, had tried this best to ignore his wheelchair and his broken body too, but in the end there was no way to escape who he was now and now he sat there and once again looked at his legs and he nodded to himself because he didn’t want to ignore it anymore.
With Chiara something was different, she looked at him with a curiosity of sorts and he also remembered the way he had felt her eyes studying him the first time she had seen him at the bar. She had looked straight at the wheelchair, directly at his paralyzed legs and straight into his eyes when she had asked him questions. It was almost like he wanted her to ask him more and he wanted to answer more and he wanted to really talk to her about it all. And he wanted her to look at him in that way, not ignoring the wheelchair and looking at him as a whole, a man and his wheelchair. Because he didn’t come as only a man or as only a wheelchair, he was one with the wheelchair and he would never be any different.
He pulled his foot up on his knee and untied his sneaker and took it off his limp foot, then did the same with the other foot. He took the gun out of his hoodie pocket and put it in the drawer on his bedside table, then pulled the hoodie over his head and only wore his T-Shirt now with his jeans. He dropped the hoodie on his lounge chair. He pushed his chair into his bathroom, made sure he locked the door now with someone in the apartment and looked in the mirror while washing his hands. He unzipped and unbuttoned his fly, pulled his penis out from his boxers and prepared the catheter and eventually inserted it into his urethra and let the urine flow into the toilet. He finished up and washed his hands again, then pushed his rims and wheeled out of the bathroom and back into the living room.
He was surprised to find Chiara actually laying down on the couch now with her eyes closed. Ranger was still curled up next to her but the blanket was halfway hanging off the couch. She was breathing softly and he quietly pushed his chair closer to her and looked at her for a moment, waiting if she would move or open her eyes. Her hair was hanging down over the side of the couch, long strands of red hair, untamed but still beautiful.
He pushed his rims gently and wheeled all the way up to the couch, then leaned over to grab the blanket and he pulled it up over her and made sure she was covered. He looked at her for a few more moments and he thought how he really would have wanted her to have the bed so she would have been comfortable. But he also looked at her thinking about how he really didn’t care where she slept as long as it was going to be close to him from now on.
Mark made his way into his bedroom and this time he closed the door, something he usually never had to worry about anymore. He wanted to take off his jeans and get into some comfortable clothes. He wouldn’t just sleep in his boxers, and definitely not only in his incontinence briefs with Chiara in his apartment.
He sat in his wheelchair in his bedroom and found his lounge pants on the chair. He then transferred over onto his bed and he pulled a brief out, then pushing his legs around to get his jeans and boxers off. He then slipped into the briefs and sweatpants, making sure the briefs were covered and not visible. He didn’t really like wearing them to begin with but with Chiara there it was even more of an issue for him but it would be more embarrassing if he would have to explain why he was changing his sheets. He then pulled his T-Shirt off and transferred back into his chair, then made it into the bathroom where he finished up for the night.
It was shortly after eleven now and even though he usually didn’t go to bed before midnight and most of the times later, he couldn’t do anything else in the living room because Chiara was sleeping there. Before he got into his bed, he opened the door slightly to make sure Ranger could come in if he wanted to. Surprisingly Ranger was not at the door waiting to come in and get on the bed with Mark. Mark softly pushed the rims again and wheeled out to the living room once more and when he came around the corner he saw Ranger was still curled up next to Chiara on the couch.
Mark didn’t roll any closer, he heard her breathe softly and hoped she would be able to sleep all right on the couch.
Eventually he was leaning on the head board in his bed and had his phone in his hands debating if he should text the guys.He brought up the group message option to his friends:
Hey guys, I just wanted to let you know. I went out to find Chiara and I took her home with me.
Corey was the one that replied first: What? Like you’re not kidding.
Mark: No, I’m not kidding. She’s sleeping on my couch.
Mitch jumped into the conversation: Seriously bro?
Mark: Yes, I’m serious
Mitch: What if her dude finds out where she is?
Mark: He won’t find out. I need you guys to support me in this. I may be in over my head a little
Corey: We got your back man.
Patrick now joined the conversation: Wow Mark, how did you get her out of there?
Mark: Long story
Mitch: Are you like with her now or what’s the deal with that?
Mark: We are not together if that’s what you’re referring to. But she’s here at my place with me and I want to help her. I actually may need you guys’ women to help me out with clothes for her or something. I took her with me and she had nothing but the clothes on her body.
Corey: We need to hook up tomorrow and talk about all this. We’re here for you Mark.
Mark: Thanks Corey. I really hope you guys will back me up. I know it’s all kind of crazy but there was something inside of me that I just had to do it. I care about her.
Mark finished texting with his friends and they all agreed that they needed to get together or talk more about this very soon.
Mark then put his phone on his bedside table. He really didn’t want to take any sleeping pill because he wanted to be alert in case anything would come up with Chiara.
He was worried some about falling asleep and possibly having a nightmare, which happened frequently. He didn’t want to scare Chiara waking up screaming but he really had no control over dreaming or not. He pushed his body down in the bed and turned the light off staring into the darkness.
He actually missed Ranger next to him but he felt it was a good sign how Ranger was next to Chiara. Maybe the cat sensed that Chiara needed him more than his owner that night. Mark’s mind was working and he couldn’t find rest for another hour but instead lay awake and thought about everything.
This was the same time when Trey was about to pick up Chiara from her spot in the alley and she was nowhere to be found. He stayed in his car and waited around for a while like he usually did when she was out with a customer, expecting her to come back with a customer shortly but she didn’t come back. It still rained and he texted someone and told them that Chiara wasn’t back and he had waited for thirty minutes.
And he got out of his car and walked up to one of the other girls standing in the shadows, “Did you see Chiara this evening?”“Yes, I saw her earlier.”
“When did you see her last? Did she leave with someone?”
A few girls were standing together in the protection of the canopy on the building and they looked at each other and they knew Chiara had last been seen when she got in a green Challenger with a silver racing stripe down the middle.
Now all three of them shook their head and one of them answered, “She was here earlier and a few cars came through and she got into one of them. I think it was a pick-up truck.”
Trey looked at them and asked, “When was that?”
“About four hours ago.”
He repeated, “A pick-up truck? Do you have a color or model or something?”
They all looked at each other again and shook their heads.
The first girl answered, “It was too dark and I didn’t look at it.”He bit his lips and then hissed angrily, “What the fuck? Did she not came back?”
The girl answered confidently, “I didn’t see her come back.”
Trey walked away toward his car parked in the alley, mumbling to himself, “What the fuck?”
He pulled out his cell phone and texted Chiara: Where the fuck are you? You need to get back here, I’m waiting for you.
Just then the one girl brought out her phone and tapped on the “delete messages from archives”: When he comes around, don’t tell him anything. Make up something. Please back me up, I love you girls so much. I will try to get in touch when I can. ChiaraThe message was deleted from the girl’s phone forever.
And while Trey angrily got in his car, a broken cell phone was under water in a drain right outside Mark’s apartment. The heavy rain was running into the drain and was filling up the underground channels carrying the phone along with the strong current of the rain water in the sewer systems of Burien and surrounding areas, finding its way into Puget Sound and eventually into the Pacific.
And Trey never got a reply text from Chiara nor did she come back that night.
Mark slept restless but didn’t dream. He kept waking up and found himself actually missing Ranger next to him. Ranger didn’t come to him all night and apparently stayed on the couch with Chiara, keeping her warm.