Dark Secret

Dark Secret

by

K. Lorraine

K. Lorraine BOOKS

Revised for the Reading Room

Email: klorraine@klorraine.com

This publication is also available online at
www.klorraine.com

Also at Amazon.com and Kindle Books

Copyright © 2013 by K. Lorraine Books

Taken from the Mia Perez Me-Time Series

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission
from the author.

Editor: Louise Stone

Cover Design by:
Public Domain

Foreword by
Rebecca Krafft-Martinez

For as long as I can remember, our society said that my mom was disabled. I watched as she learned to live with some pretty hard stuff in her life, but she faced it all with pride and dignity.

She has a genetic disease that caused deterioration of her muscles. This, in turn, diminished her mobility.he disease has affected her since her early childhood and peaked around the age of thirty. I remember how Mother never let this disease or loss of mobility get in her way.

Under the circumstances, she made our lives the best that she could. She cooked dinner. Went shopping, and used her artistic talents for school or community events.
She always remained positive and approached every task with the best of her ability. Although she was unable to walk, she found a way to compensate for legs that did not work. She moved on in her life to overcome her disability. She faced her challenges head on with faith and determination.

I’m not just referring to her physical disability. But she also had to face the social challenges of the times. I watched as Mom blossomed. This during the time of the Americans with Disabilities Act. She became even more self-reliant and less dependent on her husband and children. Through her I discovered that burdens can make a person stronger. And that insecurity can become a strength. She has taught me to be the best that I could be. I’ve learned to put my heart and soul into everything I did. I am not the best and never will be, but I do put one hundred and ten percent into my endeavors. I learned that work ethic from Mom.

Mom, you are an inspiration to me. You helped me to see that dreams can come true. That sometimes suffering and joy go hand-in-hand. I’ve become a strong and independent person. You taught me to love myself in spite of any limitations.

I thank God for his wisdom. I could not have asked for a better mother or role model. If it wasn’t for my Mother’s example, I would have never ‘overcome’ my own fears and insecurities. I don’t think that I would have become the woman I am today. am proud to call Kathleen Wiederhold my mother.

Preface

When I woke up from the coma, my doctor said I was in a head-on collision. A drunk driver hit my car. It was a severe car crash that killed my boyfriend and the driver of the other car. My journey began the day when I learned it was a miracle I had survived the accident. I had already undergone several back surgeries to try to repair the damage to my spine. But soon, it became clear that I must now face a life without the use of my legs.

The guidance I received from many men and women, helped shape me into the person I became. I learned to face adversity and challenges with determination and humor.

My name is Mia Perez and this is my story.

Chapter 1
Within 20 Seconds

It was a sunny beach day in southern California. The shiny sky blue sports car cruised along on the California 405 Freeway. Music played on the radio and Chaz and Mia sang along. Mia, a freshman at Cal Tech, had been in southern California just two months. She was living on her own for the first time. She enjoyed the freedoms of being seventeen, beautiful, and rich. Chaz, her fiancé, was visiting from their hometown north of Rio in Brazil.

Chaz wore the fedora and shades that she loved. It made him look like a movie star – though not as handsome as her favorite star, Tobias Callan.

She wore her long black hair pulled back into a ponytail and tied with a pink and white polka dot scarf. She was so pleased to have found the perfect pink shade of lipstick to match her outfit. Between songs she refreshed her lips until they glistened in the sunlight.

Mia noticed Chaz’s longing look and once again, she realized she had to find a way to tell him. How was she going to tell her childhood friend that she just couldn’t find the love for him that he deserved. Their families expected that they would marry.

Breaking the silence, Mia asked if he often went to the beach near Rio when he was at the university.

“No, Mia,” he remarked, “I was too busy with school. My father was an even more demanding ‘professor’ than the real professors were.”

“But Chaz, I’m sure you did something other than work and classes. Didn’t you ever take a beach day like today?” she questioned.

Chaz smiled and glanced her way. “Mia, my roommate pushed me to join a group for a beach bonfire. But, without you, I felt empty. I spent the night sitting alone and missing your kiss.”

She heard him sigh, and the sound twisted at her heart. She cared for him and enjoyed doing things together, but she hadn’t missed him like a fiancé should. She had tried, but it just wasn’t there.

Changing the subject, Mia began to explain about how beaches were different in America. Unlike Chaz, she found plenty of time to sample the different beaches with a variety of friends. And even on a few dates too. Now they were on the way to her favorite beach for a day of sun, sand and frolic in the waves.

She was humming to the music and watching the ocean sparkle in the sun when she heard Chaz’s startling cry. The cars in front of them swerved and a truck going the wrong way appeared in their lane. In that instant, she knew Chaz had nowhere to go, with cars and the guard rail blocking him on all sides. She screamed as he slammed on the brakes and the tires squealed on the hot pavement.

The force of the head-on impact caused their car to spiral in midair. It landed upside down and against the guard wall. Mia saw Chaz. He was inside the mangled and twisted wreckage, cut and bloody. She also realized she was hanging upside down by her seat belt. The truck’s mashed front end pushed against Chaz.

She heard some moaning and called out to Chaz. In the silence, she realized the moaning came from her. And then her tears joined the blood from her wounds. She felt all the familiar sounds of life fading away and then she saw nothing more.
The ambulance reached the accident scene. A police officer called out, “Over here doc, I’ve got a live one and the other one is dead.”

Dr. Bennett jumped out of the ambulance and ran toward the mangled cars. Smoke billowed from the engine compartment of the overturned sports car. To cool the undercarriage, the firefighters used fire retardant. The fireman assured Dr. Bennett that the wreckage wouldn’t erupt into flames.

He crouched down and managed to reach through the open window to check for a pulse of the driver.

“There’s nothing I can do here. He’s gone.”

A paramedic called to him that the truck driver was also dead. Then Dr. Bennett crouched down near the truck’s front wheel and put his outstretched arm through the open windshield to feel for the female passenger’s pulse.

“She has a pulse, but it is slow and weak,” Dr. Bennett replied without hesitation.
“The girl is bleeding from the nose and ears and she appears to have a severe head laceration.”

He explained to the policeman, and said with urgency, “We need to get her out of the car fast. It looks like we’re dealing with a head trauma and she is in and out of consciousness.”

“Over here, the officer yelled to the firefighters. We have a live one, but she’s trapped by the truck. We’ll need you to move the truck to extricate the victim.”

The doctor heard someone call out, “Doug, fasten the winch, Larry, run to the rig and get the Jaws of Life – stat!”

With a few strategic cuts, the power saw cut the truck into pieces so that Dr. Bennett was able to get closer to the girl.

“Stay with me, stay with me,” he tried to assure her, stay with me. I promise, you will be all right. But you need to stay with me; can you tell me your name?”

It sounded as if the girl was trying to speak. Leaning his ear down closer to her mouth, he thought he heard her say, “M i a; my name is M i a. Is Chaz okay?”

“What did she say”?

“Dr. Bennett, I think she is trying to tell us her name is Mia”.

“Help me! Make the pain stop; help me, it hurts so bad. I can’t feel my legs.” Her voice was hoarse. In a low, soft voice, she was gasping deep in terrifying fear and excruciating pain. And then the spreader’s engine began to roar and the deafening noise began. The racket made it difficult for him to hear anything more.

“Stop, hold it! She’s having trouble breathing. The vibrations of the saw are causing her a lot of pain from the seat belt that has cinched tight across her chest. We need to stabilize her first before we go any further.” Dr. Bennett yelled out with authority.

He turned toward the paramedic and challenged. “Get me a neck brace and a morphine drip, she needs intravenous morphine to deaden the pain before we can move her. I suspect she has a broken neck and the vibrations from the spreader saw could kill her.” In a calmer voice, he asked the firemen if they could peel away the part of the door they had already cut.

“Let’s try and get her out.” Moving out of the way, Dr. Bennett watched as they attached the winch. The jaws of life widened the side opening of the car as much as they could.

The paramedic put a neck brace on the girl. He positioned the backboard and the morphine drip started. The doctor re-checked Mia’s pupils for reaction and tracked her eye movement. “I swear to God, the safety equipment on this car saved her life. She’s ready; let’s get her outta here!”

On the count of three, “One, two, three,” the fireman slashed Mia free from the seat belt. Dr. Bennett and the other paramedic positioned her face down on the backboard. Once outside the crumpled car, another team placed a second board against Mia’s back. Dr. Bennett said, “On the count of three, turn her her over.”

As they loaded Mia into the ambulance, Dr. Bennett checked her vitals again. He heard the paramedic comment, “It’s amazing the young girl had the ability to react at all. She’s lucky to be alive!”

Chapter 2
The Child Within

The pain eased. The morphine drip was working. But, the scene of terror, refused to stop in her mind’s eye. The picture repeated over and over in her head.

The truck kept coming at them. The sound of her scream looped around and around in her mind’s eye. She had braced her body for impact, but it had happened so fast that there wasn’t any time to react. And then, Mia fell into unconsciousness. She was home in Brazil.

“Ola papa,” she called out as she and her mother walked into Senor Perez’s office.
“Isn’t it pretty papa?” Senora Perez asked. “Do you like the beautiful gown that I purchased for our daughter to wear at the beauty pageant?”

Senor Perez looked up from his desk. Without looking away, he said, “Yes Lucia, it is quite lovely, but not as lovely as our daughter. She will be the most radiant contestant and the winner of the crown.”

He then looked up at his daughter, “Your mother and I are fortunate to have a daughter with such beauty. Charles is a lucky man to be your future husband and heir to the Perez – Santiago plantation.”

It was traditional for a wealthy family to pass down its money to future generations. Her family and the Santiago family had been acquaintances for many years. So it was natural the two family heads had made an agreement that their children would marry. This union would blend their coffee fields together. It would form the largest coffee bean enterprise in South America.

Charles, or Chaz as she liked to call him, was a handsome twenty-five year old man. He had a degree in business from the Coppead Business School in Rio. Their marriage would take place in four years. Mia would first finish her American university education.

Senor Perez had planned every detail of his daughter’s life in detail. And without a son to lead the family business, he was now forced to prepare his daughter instead. But the Senora had different plans for Mia. She wanted to send her daughter to Seaver College in Malibu, California. There, she stood a better chance of finding a wealthy husband. A tug-of-war waged between Senor and Senora Perez about Mia’s future. It annoyed her that no one had asked her what she wanted to do.

“Papa, Chaz is my friend and we have a good time together. I do not love him and I do not wish to be his wife. Besides, I want to marry the American movie star Tobias Callan.” she snapped.

“Mia, I am your father and I know what is best for you. Those magazines you read, put these silly thoughts into your head. It is utter nonsense for you to take part in this beauty pageant, but I am allowing it because I love you and your mother. This plan that you have about Hollywood and movie stars is nonsense. I am your father and I say that you will marry Charles and I will not entertain this subject again.”

Stomping her foot, she retorted. “Tobias Callan is the emcee of the beauty pageant. Papa, when he crowns me, Miss Junior Brazil, he will fall immediately in love with me. Then I will be a celebrity too. Papa, this is my dream and with or without your permission, I will marry Tobias Callan one day.”

Mia’s eyelids began fluttering. Coming out of the unconsciousness state, was someone talking to her? Did she answer? Why did he want to know her name? Why does it hurt so much? Is this a dream; a nightmare? Where was she?

The pain pump began to administer morphine into her spine. The pain subsided, but she lapsed deeper into slumber. And she heard the emcee announce. “And the winner of the title Miss Junior Brazil Pageant is…. Mia Lucia Perez.”

She trembled with excitement. Mia was standing in front of the American Movie Star, Tobias Callan. He placed a bouquet of roses in her arms and placed the crystal crown on her head. They looked deep into each other’s eyes for a moment before he kissed her cheek.

In her unconscious mind, she saw herself walking down the runway amid the flashing cameras. In the crowd, she could see her mama and Chaz, but her Papa was not there.
The runway lights were bright. The audience cheered. She declared, “Papa, I will represent Brazil and I will go to school in America with my scholarship. Tobias Callan, the American movie star will find me there. And when I am old enough, he will ask me to be his wife and I will have his American children.”

She flinched from a loud noise. In her mind’s eye, she watched her father smack his hand down hard on his desk. “Mia, whether you become Miss Junior Brazil, you will marry Charles Santiago. I will not listen to any more fantasies about the American movie star Tobias Callan. And giving birth to his children is not going to happen. Now leave me and give me peace to conduct business.”

“I do not love Chaz, Papa. And I do not want to run the coffee business.” She raised her voice, she cried out in anger. And for a brief moment she became aware of her surroundings again. Unintelligible words and sounds surrounded her. She tried to get her words to form and move her lips, but her body felt dead.

Tears streaked her blood stained face and she felt a warm hand upon hers, “Chaz?” She squeezed the warm, gentle hand and tried again to speak, but then darkness came upon her.

Chapter 3
Dr. Robert Chase

“Dr. Chase, stat to surgery suite two – stat.”

Robert groaned at the announcement as he was just heading to lunch. Sometimes he wished he wasn’t the head of neurosurgery; still, it had to be a difficult case for them to call him. Intrigued now, he reversed his path and headed to the surgery floor.

A nurse was waiting to help prep him for surgery and join his colleagues in the surgical theater. Surgery was hours of tedious attempts to repair the damage. The surgical team sutured the incision in her back closed and hoped for a miracle.

On the orders of Dr. Chase, “Take the patient to the Intensive care unit. I will place her in an induced coma.” He was hopeful for the young girl, but he admitted that her prognosis was not good.

During a late dinner, the doctor remembered reading in a medical journal. The article spoke about how talking to a comatose patient could help them recover sooner. Robert Chase had seen horrible mutilation before. But he hadn’t been able to shake the image of the pretty girl’s bloody face from his mind.

Out of the blue, he found himself sitting bedside and holding her hand. She was in an induced coma, but he found the need to explain why she was in the hospital anyway. “I need to tell you about the surgery. I needed to perform an operation on your back in order to save your life. The operation was done on your spine to save your life. I had to put you in an artificial sleep to help you heal.”

And then he heard himself promise out loud, “I promise that I will keep a close watchful eye over you.”

Just then, the night duty nurse opened the door and the sudden light from the corridor startled him. Only then, did he realize how late it had become.

Self-consciously he stood and said, “Nurse, what time is it? If you are clear on my orders about my patient’s care, I’ll be leaving now. Please send her personal belongs to my office.”

Dr. Chase avowed his orders and walked out of the room without giving the nurse a chance to respond.

Confused about the fixation he had on the girl, Robert shook his head. He reminded himself to focus on the details of her recovery. He needed to get back to the business at hand, and as Chief of Neurosurgery, he was responsible for her care. Making a mental list of things that needed to do, he grabbed a cup of latte before heading to his office.

The plaque on his door read: Dr. Robert Chase, Chief of Neurosurgery.

At thirty-five, Robert knew this was an achievement. He sat down at his desk and reached for his Dictaphone. But he paused when he noticed the accident victim’s purse was on his desk. After a moment of hesitation, he began to look through the young woman’s purse. He dumped the contents onto his desk and, rifling through the mess, he found her student ID. The beautiful young woman now had a name, Mia Lucia Perez, and she was from Brazil.

He instinctively began recording the surgical notes of his patient, Mia Perez. He then dictated a memo to the team members who would assist him in her recovery plan.
The doctors he chose were: Dr. Jayne Anne White the hospital psychiatrist. Nicholas Starks, rehabilitation specialist; and Dr. Cotter, the hospital administrator.

He also left a note for his secretary to contact the Cal Tech Student Information Center. “Susan, get Mia’s student information file brought by courier to my office. Get it here ASAP.”

Unable to rest well on his office couch, Robert went on his morning rounds early. He wanted to arrive before his team of residents assembled for their morning rounds.
He grabbed Mia’s chart from the end of her bed and reviewed the night nurse’s notes. She charted that Mia had a restful night. He was quite surprised by the charge nurse’s note, and ordered more tests.

He replaced the chart in its place at the foot of the bed. He picked up the bedside remote from the patient’s tray. Pressing the control, he turned Mia. She now looked up toward the ceiling.

He leaned over her, slid her gown off from a shoulder and put his stethoscope on her chest. His back was to the door when the team of doctors walked into the room. He turned toward them. He felt his face reddening from embarrassment, though he didn’t know why.

Dr. Chase shook it off and said, “Dr. Crane, you will present the patient’s case this morning.”

The resident doctor walked to the end of the bed. He picked up the chart, reviewed it and reported the case notes.

Later that day in the lounge, Dr. Crane mentioned to the other residents. “Did you see how Dr. Chase had already made his recommendations. So why do you think the doc would have me convey the notes when he could have done it himself? It seems odd and out of order if you ask me.”

Robert Chase entered into the doctor’s lounge and overheard them talking about him. It was obvious that they had noticed his unusual behavior. He ignored their behavior. “If you don’t have any questions, we will go into the next patient’s room and finish morning rounds.”

Back at his office, Robert opened Mia’s student file and began to read the contents. It contained an application, a transcript from her Brazilian high school, scholarship paperwork, and a short biographical sketch written by her private English tutor.
He learned that Mia was the Junior Beauty Pageant winner from Brazil, and part of her prize winnings, was an American college education. She had come to Cal Tech to study business administration.

He did not give the file to his team, not just yet anyway, instead he placed it in a locked drawer for safe keeping. Even as he did this, a thought ran through his mind, but he didn’t finish it.

Chapter 4
The Team

When Robert opened his eyes, he found himself on Dr. Jayne Anne White’s sofa. He still wore his green scrubs that he had worn the night before. He put his right arm over his eyes, shielding them from the sudden surge of daylight when the door opened.

Jayne Anne exclaimed, “Robert, what are you doing here you startled me.” With his eyes covered, he groaned.

“Was it a rough surgery, Robert?” She prodded for more. “Do you want to talk?”

Robert grunted a few words of profanity, and then mumbled, “Not especially Jayne Anne. I’m not in the mood to discuss any details…. I am exhausted.”

“Then perhaps you would like to explain why you are sleeping on my couch? The hospital grapevine is saying that you and Cameron have ended your marriage. I am here for you if you choose to talk about it.”

This got a reaction. Robert raised his voice, “Hell no, I especially don’t want to talk about Cameron or my marriage!”

“Why don’t you ask the grapevine the real reason we called it quits? Or did the tribal drums say that Cameron and I are getting divorced because our marriage was dead? Did we have a marriage? So doc, you tell me why Cameron and I didn’t survive even a year together?”

Silence reigned in the room after his outburst. He knew Jayne Anne was waiting for him to continue, but he turned his body away from her and remained silent.

Jayne Anne finally broke the silence. “Robert, did you and Cameron talk about what you each wanted in a marriage together?”

Robert gave up trying to sleep. “You would think that two educated doctors could discuss the ins and outs of a relationship. But hell no Jayne Anne, we never made it that far. We were good in bed and that was our main focus.”

Jayne Anne said, “Robert, I sense that you wanted more, perhaps a family?”

He was angry, but said it anyway. “Doc, do you think there is such an animal? I mean… a family, that is?”

“I don’t know Robert, why don’t you tell me?”

Robert continued, “At one time I thought it was possible for me to have a family. I told Cameron that I would go into family practice if she’d stay. I could free up time for us as a married couple – so we could start a family. But Cameron only laughed.”

Jayne Anne said, “Robert, giving up your Chief Neurosurgeon’s position was a generous offer. It shows that you were willing to sacrifice a lot to be a husband and father.”

Robert sighed, “Yeah, Jayne Anne, I was willing to sacrifice a lot. But Cameron made it clear she didn’t want a ‘rose covered cottage’, or kids. All she wanted was someone who looked good in a tuxedo and someone who satisfied her in bed.”

He paused. “So you see an amicable divorce is our only way out of these irreconcilable differences. Having children or not to have children – that wasn’t even a question. Because, you see, doc, the answer for Cameron was a definite no!”

Robert swung his body upright. “That’s enough talk about Cameron and me. Before you disturbed my attempt to get some needed sleep, I did want to talk to you. You know, about the female accident victim on the 405 freeway. Did you get my memo?”

“Not yet Robert. Tell me about the patient that survived.”

Jayne Anne was both intrigued and concerned about Mia’s case. The psychiatrist’s specialty was in treating patients with Neuro-psychological issues. And besides, Mia Perez intrigued her.

But, Robert’s questionable involvement with his patient was more than it should be.
As a respected clinical psychiatrist, Jayne Anne was brilliant in assessing mental health problems. As a woman she understood Mia’s future needs. And as a paraplegic, she understood the possible adjustments that lay ahead for Mia.

She wondered what would happen over the next few months with or without Dr. Chase as the lead physician. Would Mia, come out of unconsciousness and begin life again? Or did Robert Chase have a special connection already established with the patient?

She knew the seriousness of Mia’s physical injuries. But she didn’t know the extent of her psychological needs yet. When Miss Perez did awaken, how would she react. If she didn’t regain feeling in her legs, as the experts feared, then what?

Weeks later, Jayne Anne wheeled her chair to the elevator. As she waited, she checked her watch again. The team was gathering to awaken Mia and she didn’t want to be late.

She reflected back on when Robert confided in her. He saw his young patient through rose colored glasses. And this perplexed her. Why would he become more involved with Mia Perez, than with his other patients?

At Mia’s door, she joined Nick Starks. He looked at his watch. “Good afternoon, Jayne Anne. It looks like Robert is going to be late as usual.”

He opened the door for her saying, “Beauty, first.”

Jayne Anne smiled and wheeled into Mia’s room. As Nick joined her, she said, “She is so pale and frail looking. How old is she anyway?”

Jayne Anne lifted the chart exclaiming, “Wow, her chart says she’s just seventeen? And now she is facing a whole new kind of life.”

“Did you get the memo, Nick? The one about the latest physical tests? You know, the test showed Mia doesn’t show any nerve reactions in her lower body”?

He nodded and surprised her by asking, “How old were you when you lost the use of your legs Jayne”?

“It happened in a climbing accident when I was 24”. I was in love with a wonderful man. And I had just graduated from the university. We planned to get married that summer.”

“The accident changed everything and in some ways it changed nothing. My fiancé couldn’t cope with the challenges and he left. I’ve often wondered just how much he loved me and then, to abandon me that way. After a year of physical and emotional recovering, I went back to school so that I could help others”.

The door opened just then, and all eyes turned to Robert as he entered. Without missing a beat, Nick remarked in sarcasm. “Nice of you to join us Robert, we thought we’d have to awaken Miss Perez without you.”

Jayne Anne suppressed a smile as Robert grimaced. “Mr. Nicholas Starks, need I remind you that you’re the newest member of my team. And you are treading on thin ice.”

Robert greeted Jayne Anne with a pleasant nod. “If we are ready to proceed, let’s awaken Miss Perez”.

Chapter 5
The Awakening

“Wake up, Mia”.

Mia heard a male voice instructing her to wake up. The sharp tone of his voice terrified her. Weird images and thoughts swirled around in her head. She saw a car spinning out of control. She heard herself scream. The voice repeated once again, “Wake up Mia, you can hear me, so open your eyes”.

Her subconscious thoughts calmed. The voice interrupted her dream thoughts, “Wake up Mia. Mia, I know you can hear me. I want you to wake up. I know you can open your eyes. I want you to open your eyes and keep them open this time”.

Mia’s eyelashes began to flutter. Even though she had a sense that she was alive, her body continued to rebel as she drifted in and out of awareness. She made an effort to speak, but they were only muttered sounds and gibberish.

Her eye movement was intermittent. They flickered open, she caught a glimpse of a room and people all around her. She didn’t understand where she was at and she questioned who were these people? She felt desperation, although she didn’t know what she was desperate about or why.

Then her eyes caught movement and she began to focus on the person who was leaning over her.

The man called out in excitement, “She is regaining consciousness!”

Her body felt weightless and like it was floating in space. Her mind flashed back once again to the accident. She was trapped upside down in her vision. As her conscious mind returned, she couldn’t feel her legs. She tried not to focus on the sudden quiet and the feeling of nothingness all around her.

She tried to make her limbs move, but she could only make a jerking movement of one arm. Trying again, she concentrated hard to move her legs. Instead, the involuntary movement of her arm shook her back and forth. Her arms flailed about her body. She heard herself screaming inside What is going on? Help me. Why can’t I move?

Instead of an answer, she heard the doctors sigh with relief at her movements. But she felt no relief. She tried to focus on what she was hearing, but the words confused her. She heard her own voice begging What is going on? Why can’t you hear me? Please help me! 

Mia realized she lived within her own mind. They couldn’t hear her. She felt the terror at being in a place she did not understand. She felt pain and she could taste the tears circling around the corners of her mouth. She struggled to wake up and speak, but all that came out were words of confusion and fear. Giving up, she thought that her tears were all she could do, and they represented what her life had become.

But, the voice came again, “Mia, my name is Dr. Chase. You are in a hospital. There was an accident. Your injuries were severe. Your body needed to heal and an induced coma was our only recourse. Do you understand what I am saying”?

She tried to speak, but the words would not form as his voice continued. “Mia, it is okay if you cannot speak yet. Your brain was injured, but I promise, you will talk again. I want you to relax now and blink once for yes and twice for no. If you understand my question, blink”.

Concentrating, she blinked once to say that she understood. Her mind had begun to calm down and focus. She was now aware of the sights, sounds and smells around her and the terror was leaving.

A woman in a wheelchair came closer, “Mia, my name is Dr. White. Can you tell me if you are thirsty? Blink yes if you would like a drink”.
She tried to say yes. But the movement of her lips was slight. She blinked once. She could see the excitement on the doctors and nurses faces. As her vision continued to clear, she caught an odd, disappointed look on the male doctor’s face. “Oh God!”, she then thought, “Will I ever be able to do more than just blink?

Chapter 6
The Diagnosis

Mia saw her doctor come into her room with someone else. It had been weeks since she could only blink and each day she was able to do more and more by herself.

She liked to call Dr. Chase, Dr. Robert. It seemed less formal. He sat down beside her bed and asked, “Mia, how are you feeling today”?

Mia was in an optimistic mood. “I feel wonderful, Dr. Robert, now that you are here. Are you going to have lunch with me today”?

She smiled when Dr. Robert shifted. He felt uncomfortable and his cheeks reddened.
“Um, Mia, do you remember Dr. White”?

Her mood altered and her eyes shifted to the woman in the wheelchair. “Yes, I remember her”.

In disbelief, she said, “But how can a doctor be a cripple”?

Dr. Chase took over the conversation. “She is here to help you Mia. She is here to help you with understanding your emotions”.

Turning her gaze back to Robert, Mia said, “As long as you visit, I feel fine. I don’t need any emotion doctor to help me get my head screwed on”.

Robert touched her hand. But he didn’t pursue the idea of her talking with a psychologist. Instead, he said, “Mia, can you try and explain to us what you remember from the day of your accident? Can you describe any sights, smells or sounds that you might remember? I want you to close your eyes and tell us what you see”.

Mia paused. She closed her eyes. “Dr. Robert, I think I remember the sun shining on me and a warm breeze was blowing my hair around. I was humming a song and Chaz was singing along with the radio. And then there was nothing”.

She stopped and her body trembled. “Please Dr. Chase don’t make me remember. I don’t want to see the rest… it scares me too much”.

Dr. White’s manner was soft. “Mia, Dr. Chase and I want to help you, so will you try to remember what happened next”?

Mia took a deep breath. She was quick to ask Dr. Chase to keep holding her hand, and said, “I’ll try, but Dr. Chase, don’t let go of me.”

“I won’t let go Mia. You are brave… I know that you can do this”. She continued.

“I remember feeling disconnected from my body. I somehow knew that I was dreaming. I could see things, but I didn’t know where I was. I heard music, but I didn’t know where it was coming from. I remember a person in my room that looked like an angel. It was dressed in white, but I couldn’t tell if it was a female or male angel. I tried to form a smile, but instead I closed my eyes and remained quiet”.

Dr. White reassured her. “That took courage and guts, Mia. You’ve been helpful; can you tell us more”?

Mia nodded. “I think the angel kept talking to me for a long time, but I didn’t want it to notice just yet that I could feel its presence. I think I began to look forward to its visits. I no longer had the urge to yell, help me, I’m a prisoner in my own head”.

She took a breath and said, “Sometimes I could smell the aroma of food, but I wasn’t hungry. I tried to move my body, but it was stiff and my legs would not cooperate. I tried to call for help and kept saying over and over in my head, Why won’t my legs move? Someone please tell me why I can’t move my legs”?

Dr. White interrupted and explained. “Mia, these are the experiences you had while you were in a coma. A team of doctors and nurses have watched over you as your body recovered. Do you remember anything else”?

Mia nodded… “Yes, then my angel quit coming. And now there were voices that I did not recognize, except for one. It was a man’s voice that made me feel safe. I think he kept talking to me for a long time, but I didn’t want him to know that I could feel him sitting beside me on my bed”.

Robert was nervous when he asked, “Mia was it my voice that you kept hearing”?

Mia exclaimed, “Yes, Dr. Robert, I think so. I was not sad that the other angels were gone, because I then looked forward to your visits. I felt calm and safe when you were with me. I still feel better when you are here”.

Dr. Robert averted his eyes toward Dr. White, but he kept his attention focused on his patient.

“Mia, have you talked with your parents today”?

Mia was quick to answer, “No, and I don’t know why. Mama has been calling every day since I could talk again. I told her all about Dr. Robert, and how fast I’m getting better. But the last time I talked with her, she was crying and wouldn’t say why. Then papa got on the phone and all he did was ask about my legs. All’s lost, but he wouldn’t explain. That made me mad. Why would he say that? I’m not lost. I’m here and I’m getting better”.

With concern Mia watched Dr. Robert glance at Dr. White. “Mia, do you trust me”? ,he asked.

“Yes, Dr. Robert”.

Robert cleared his throat. He sensed that Jayne Anne was scrutinizing him as if he was the patient. He refocused his thoughts on Mia’s best interests and her medical needs.

“Mia, Dr. White and I have something that you need to know. What we have to tell you will be difficult to hear or understand for a while. But Mia, I promise that you will not be alone. Can you try and be brave for us”?

With tear filled eyes, she said, “I will try, but you are scaring me”.

Silence settled in the room until Mia couldn’t stand it any longer. The tears came and she burst out… “Just say it! Okay Dr. Robert? What can’t you tell me? Is this why my mama was crying and my papa was sad”?

Dr. Robert looked away for a moment. “I think it will be better if Dr. White would take over now”.

The woman kept her emotions in check, but she was remembering when a team of doctors had given her the same news. It was now her time to shatter this young patient’s dream.
“Mia,” would you mind if I held your hand”?

Mia wrinkled her brow. Her body language communicated that Dr. White violated her boundaries. Her facial expression and body language said, “Stop”. She wanted her aggressor to stop asking questions.

“Mia, getting angry at me won’t solve anything”.

“I don’t like you, Dr. White and I don’t want you to touch me. Only Dr. Robert can touch me”.

“Mia, you can suppress your anger and fears. But it won’t make the pill any less bitter or the medicine go down easier. What I’m going to say will sting like hell. But you are an adult and you need to take responsibility for your life”.

Dr. Chase reached for Mia’s hand. Dr. White said, “Mia, you have a permanent and irreversible spinal-cord injury. The injury was to the T11 through L2 region of your spine. This means that in the crash your spinal cord was severed. You will suffer from paralysis and numbness from the waist down for the rest of your life”.

Mia’s world went silent. She could not take her eyes away from the woman doctor, and she felt the pulse beating in her ears. She had never felt uncertain about anything in her life. She could no longer control her hands. They were trembling and the color drained from her face. Yet she still stared at Dr. White. She felt helpless and secluded from life. “I want my mama and papa”.

Mia wanted to reach out for her mother, but she wasn’t there.

Tears streamed down her face as she looked at Dr. Robert. “You lied to me. It isn’t true that I was getting better. I won’t be able to walk… but I was getting stronger every week. I thought next week I’d finally start to use my legs”.

Dr. White then said, “Mia, using a wheelchair is one part of the daily challenges you will now face”.

But Mia felt overwhelmed by Dr. Jayne’s words. She opened her mouth and wanted to scream. But only wet foam like a rabid animal filled the corners.

She balled her fist and pounded her legs, but they were dead tree stumps with the sap of life drained from them.

No matter what… no one was going to come and save her. She screamed until her voice was hoarse. She buried her head in her hands and allowed the fear to overcome her.
She put the thoughts out of her mind. And then as the words began to sink in. A feeling of dread sank to the pit of her stomach. Through the emotional sobbing, she said, “Dr. Robert, is this why I can’t feel my legs? Is this why my mama was crying? Is this why my papa asked about my legs”?

“Yes, Mia. Your father wants to send the family jet and take you back to Brazil. He will hire a nurse to take care of you for the rest of your life”.

Confused, Mia said, “But only old people use wheelchairs. I am too young and too beautiful to be a crippled girl”.

Then after an awkward silence, a torrent of emotions rushed out. “It isn’t fair. I want to go to the beach and swim in the warm water. I want to dance all night and ride a bike along the coast”.

Her mouth ran dry. Darkness loomed over her. She was breathless and gripped by fear.
“Someday I want to have a husband and kids too”.

But, Dr. White didn’t give Robert the chance to respond.

Interrupting, she said, “Mia, Dr. Chase and I have consulted about your medical and physical health. We concur that your life changed, but it is not over. With adjustments, you will be able take care of most of your daily needs. You can finish your education, and live a happy life.”

A bit uncomfortable, the doctor shifted in her wheelchair and continued. “Dr. Chase says that you are capable of sexual activity, and you will even be able to have children. Your uterus and other childbearing organs are not affected by your paralysis. Mia, you and I can talk about this further – woman to woman. I can provide you with some literature to help you understand what you need to do when you decide to have children”.

It was too much to absorb. She felt helpless in her body. Just being in Dr. Robert’s presence made her tremble.creaming in fear and anguish, she wanted them and their ideas to go away.

“Get out. I don’t believe you. You are nothing but liars. My father was right to call me an old and pathetic cripple. I will never walk again. All is lost. I am worthless. Get out”!

Chapter 7
Baby Steps

For days, Mia refused visitors or phone calls. She quit chatting with the nurses or flirting with the residents. Most of the time, she stared out the window in shock or sobbed in grief. Not only was Chaz gone, but her whole life changed. She now knew that her legs were never going to carry her through life. And for the first time in her life, she felt ugly and helpless.

One morning she woke to the sensual aroma of roses. The bouquet’s note only said… “Remember, you are beautiful. You are as beautiful as a rose”.

That was the day the sun began to shine again for her. The memories came flooding into her conscious mind of walking down the runway and in the pageant.

In her mind’s eyes, she remembered the handsome Hollywood movie star, Tobias Callan. He walked toward her holding the crystal laden crown and a bouquet of red roses.

She began to smile again at the nurses. She even tried to bargain getting extra ice cream for desert.

She wasn’t surprised when Dr. Robert came to visit. In fact, she was happy to see him. But, she scowled when he brought that handicapped shrink with him. “I hate her Dr. Robert. She said that I won’t ever walk again”.

Turning away from the woman, Mia turned on her brightest smile for Dr. Robert. “Did you send me these roses? I love roses.”

His response was quick. “No, Mia. I didn’t. Um, they are beautiful though. How are you feeling today”?

Confused, she instinctively said, “I’m feeling better, but who sent me the flowers? Was it my papa”?

Then, with resolve, she said, “Dr. Robert, do you think I am pretty – even if I have to be in a wheelchair”?

Robert cheeks felt warm. It’s not that he’d never had a patient flirt with him. But they were usually little old ladies whose hormones were flaming.

But this time, it was the underage, appealing younger patient. Mia Perez was flirting with him and in front of the hospital shrink, no less.

She was enticing enough to stir any man’s libido.

“Yes, Mia, you…But before he could say more…

Dr. White broke in and said, “Mia, no, it wasn’t Dr. Chase or your father, I sent you the flowers”.

“Dr. Robert, please make the nurse throw the bouquet in the trash”.

“Why would you want to offend Dr. White’s kindness? She is trying to help you, Mia, and so am I”.

“I don’t like her and I don’t want her to be my friend”. Said Mia.

“Mia, this isn’t about the roses. Throw them away if that’s what you want to do. I am here to help you understand this thing called paraplegia. We will spend a lot of time talking about your new body. I am hopeful that together, we can discover new ways for you to become independent”.

Irritated at the interruption, Mia ignored her.

“Why did you have to bring her along, Dr. Robert? She makes me feel like a cripple. I don’t want to be like her. I want you to make her go away”!

Not waiting for Dr. Robert, to answer, Dr. White said, “Mia, I am not here to be your friend. I remember how angry I was when I lost the use of my legs. It is okay to be angry”.
Mia yelled out, “Dr. White, I want you to go away”.

Mia diverted her eyes to Dr. Chase. “Dr. Robert, I thought you were in charge of getting me better”.

Mia was a difficult patient. He respected her hostility. But in his most professional voice said, “Mia, I am in charge of helping your physical body heal. Dr. White is here to help with your emotional needs. I wish you would give her a chance. You might find that you like her after all”.

Robert, then communicated that he had talked with her father. His goal was to convince him, for medical reasons, that she needed to stay a few more months in California.

As he talked about her options, Mia watched Dr. White move about the room with ease. Startled when Dr. White passed the mirror, she noticed how attractive the doctor was.
For the first time, when Dr. White asked a question she listened.

“Mia, where would you want to live during the next few months? Here in the hospital, or at a rehabilitation center”?

Alarmed by the question, Mia hadn’t thought about what she was going to do. What would happen when she left the hospital? She depended on the doctors and nurses, but she needed Dr. Robert in her life on a daily basis.

“I – I don’t know. No one has ever asked me what I wanted”.

Dr. White said, “Well, I’ll leave these brochures for you to look at. I’ll come back later this week to see what you have decided. And when you are ready, I’d love to hear what you want to do with your life. I’m sure that together we can find a way to make it happen”.

After the doctors left, Mia had much to think about and ponder over. She saw the roses on her night stand. She averted her eyes to the window, but this time as she looked outside, it was with hopeful eyes.

Mia’s decision was to be transferred to a rehabilitation center where the setting was similar to the hospital. She arrived late for her first solo session with Dr. White at her private office.

Mia was at the meeting with the doctor at the hospital. And again at the Rehabilitation Center where she now lived. But this was the first time she had left the security of the hospital to go out into the real world.

Dr. White greeted Mia in the reception area of her office with a smile. Mia didn’t have her emotions in check and she fell apart.

“Dr. White, I don’t like that you made me leave the Center for my appointment. When the orderly pushed me into this thing that lifted me high off the ground, it scared me. I was scared. I don’t think you understand what it feels like to be alone and in unfamiliar surroundings. I was alone in the back of a big truck and I didn’t know where I was going”.

Dr. White reflected. “I’m sorry that you were so scared, Mia. I do remember my first time on a hydraulic lift. It was upsetting. And riding in the big van was worrisome too, but I promise that it will get easier”.

The psychologist knew how she felt. The struggle for survival combined with a sense of failed mastery, causes individuals to feel limited. The experience of the patients themselves, made them feel they were lacking in the right stuff to make it in the world. This form of hopelessness is common among those struggling with severe physical handicaps, or crippling learning disabilities.

Pulling her chair closer, Dr. White suggested they do some relaxation exercises.

“Mia, I want you to raise your shoulders up high and then let them return to a natural position. Next we are going to rotate our necks in a circular motion to loosen the tension. Finally, we will we take a deep breath in through our noses and then release the air out through our mouths”.

And soon she began to feel calmer.

Dr. White started the session. “Can you tell me, Mia, what the accident did to your life”?
Mia burst out. “Doctor Jayne, I don’t want to talk about that”.

“Then, could we talk about Chaz”?

“Why, how can he help me walk again”?

“Chaz might not be able to help you walk again. But he might be able to help you understand the changes in your life without him”.

“Chaz is the lucky one”.

”Why do you think this he is so lucky to be dead”?

“My world fell apart in a split second. But, for Chaz, there wasn’t any more life. It must feel good never to have pain, feel lonely, or have to struggle just to get dressed”.

“Yes, Mia, those feelings are not the way most people live life. But these are the difficulties that you and I will live with for the rest of our lives”.

“Tell me, what did you experience when you awakened in the hospital room”?

“When I woke up from the coma, my life no longer made any sense. I didn’t want to believe that the accident was real or that Chaz was dead. I still sometimes awaken in the night smelling petrol and feeling the horrible pain”.

“Do you miss Chaz”? The doctor asked.

Mia paused. Tears were in the corner of her eyes.

“Yes, the stench of petrol makes my stomach sick. But most of all, I am glad that Chaz is dead, because I did not want to be his wife. Is that evil and sick to be glad that someone died, Dr. Jayne Anne”?

Dr. White thought a moment. “Mia, I don’t think it is ‘evil and sick’. I’m pretty sure that in your heart of hearts you miss your friend and you don’t wish that he was dead”.

“Yes, doctor, I am sorry that Chaz is dead because he was a good friend. But I’m also glad that I don’t have to marry him”.

Dr. White looked confused. “Tell me why you didn’t want to marry Chaz. It seemed like you cared about him a lot”.

“I did care about him, but in my country of Brazil, it is common for families to arrange the marriage of their children. Papa agreed for me to marry a man I did not love. Chaz would have fulfilled my father’s wishes. Dr. White, he would have taken good care of me, but to marry Chaz was papa’s dream and not mine. Dr. White, a marriage to Chaz would have been a life empty of passion”

Dr. White nodded. “Why would your father have forced you to marry Chaz”?

“Dr. White, in Brazil the father is the head of the house and he decides everything. It would have united two large coffee plantations… the largest growers of beans in Brazil. But I have heard about other places where women can choose who they marry. My friends may have liked the once-upon-a-time story of an arranged marriage, but to me it was a fairy tale. I told papa so, but he would not listen”.

“What did your mother think of these plans?”

“Mama, did not like the agreement either. She wanted me to marry a rich American and have lots of babies”.

“And what did you want, Mia”?

“I wanted to marry Tobias Callan. He crowned me as Miss Junior Brazil and I fell in love when he looked deep into my soul”.

“Mia isn’t that an unrealistic dream? I mean to marry a famous movie star”?

She looked at the doctor and confidently said, “No Dr. Jayne, it’s my real dream and I know in my heart that Tobias Callan connected with me too”.

“Mia, we will talk about Tobias Callen at another time, but I want for you to talk about your parents.

“So Mia, what are your parents wanting for you now”?

Mia sighed. “Papa has given up on me. Since Chaz is dead, there isn’t any hope for me. No one will want me as a cripple. Mama just cries. I think she doesn’t think any rich American will marry me now”.

“Mia, have you considered that this might be good? Now you are freer to make your own choices? How do you feel about that”?

“I feel alone, doctor, I’m scared about how to go forward, and ashamed of myself. Dr. White, I don’t like me in this wheelchair. I hate that I am crippled. Who would want to marry me now? And if I don’t marry, what will I do”?

Mia felt empty and discarded. Dr. Chase scheduled a consultation with Nick and Jayne Anne.

She remarked, “I think Mia would benefit in a support group. Socializing with others her own age who live with a physical disability could help. I want to introduce her to a youth group my colleague is forming. The group meets at the community center once a week. I think the group will help her become more independent”.

Robert and Nick agreed that the social group would be good for Mia. They also felt she should start water therapy with Nick.

Mia was making progress. Dr. Chase made a telephone call to Senior Perez.

The phone rang twice and a woman answered in Portuguese. “Hello, this the home of Senior Perez.”

“Do you speak English”? The doctor asked.

She then said, “Yes, I speak a little English.”

“This is Dr. Chase. I am calling from California in the United States. I need to speak with Senior Perez”.

“Yes, one moment please”.

“Dr. Chase, do whatever is necessary to get my daughter walking again”.

The senor wasn’t happy to hear that Mia was not well enough to return to Brazil. But, relief overwhelmed Robert that Mia’s departure from America wasn’t coming anytime soon.

Jayne Anne’s concern for Robert intensified. She wondered, was Dr. Chase falling in love with his patient?

Chapter 8
Mr. Testosterone

Mia was quiet during the next few weeks. She seemed more unsure of herself than she had exhibited before. This was not uncommon for someone who experienced a loss.

Dr. Chase made it a habit to check on her in the evening on his way home from the hospital. When he asked Jayne Anne about it, she flashed him a half-cocked smile.

“I don’t think a personal doctor/patient relationship is healthy, Robert. I suggest you see your patient in a professional setting. I would hate to see your personal life exposed to the hospital board”.

Dr. Chase backed off a little. He reduced his visits to a few days a week. It was gradual, but Mia’s playfulness returned. Dr. Robert felt she was ready to begin physical therapy with Nick and they began making plans.

Nick and Robert were the same age, but Nick’s appearance and maturity seemed older than Robert. Maybe because he wore his dark brown hair in an unflattering flat top.

Nick spent his off-time around muscle building equipment and it showed. Around the hospital, Nick acquired the name ‘Mr. Testosterone’. Robert detested this. He worried that Mia would find Nick more attractive and forget about him.

Mia had adjusted well to her new home at the rehabilitation center. Senior Perez paid for the best facility in the city on the quiet.

It had an indoor and outdoor handicap pool. Nick could work with her regardless of the weather. Mia’s physical limitations and emotional state of mind put limits on her beginning routine. Robert urged Nick to watch out for Mia’s flirtatious traits.

Mia had an insatiable need to please her male doctors. She was more focused on pleasing than on learning how to adapt to the realities of paraplegia. Dr. White diagnosed her with a father complex. Senior Perez wanted a son and Mia never measured up to his expectations.

Jayne Anne warned that Mia could mesmerize men with one look from her big brown eyes. It would be easy for her to steal a man’s heart with her flirtatious wit. Although Jayne was looking at Robert when she said it, she didn’t say anything more.

Curious and concerned, Robert wondered what Mia would think of Nick. On the way to her room, he said, “Tell me Starks, what is something special you remember about Mia?”

“I don’t know doc, she’s a patient… I guess I didn’t think much about her at all. I remember was that she had just awakened from a three month slumber and she was pale and thin”.

Robert just smiled and opened the door that led them into the patient’s room. As usual, the first thing Robert noticed was her smile and her hypnotic eyes. In a deep pink, fleece, sweat suit, Mia looked adorable. The color accentuated a rosy glow in the apple of her cheeks. Her eyes were chocolate brown with a tinge of amber. There was a clear sadness in them, but never-the-less, they were lovely. Long, black lashes hid the secrets that she only knew. They were the eyes of an angel, with the soul of the devil. But how could a girl wearing pig tails excite a grown man?

Mia giggled “Hello, Dr. Robert. Who is the hunk”?

Robert turned to see the look of shock and pleasure on Nick’s face. He now understood what Robert had warned him about. Mia’s eyes were warm and they sparked a curiosity in him. Robert heard him mutter, “Be still my heart.”

Robert ignored Nick’s comment. “Mia, do you remember meeting Nick Starks when you woke from the coma”?

“Yes, Dr. Robert, you told me he was one of the team that would help me get better”.

Returning a warm smile to Nick she said, “You are cuter Dr. Robert, but I still think Nick is a hunk”.

Nick laughed out loud, winked, and said, “Mia, I think you and I will get along just fine.”

With a quick gesture, Robert interrupted the banter to explain. “Mia, Nick is our water therapist in the hospital. He is a qualified physical therapist”.

“He is the best in LA. in the field of sports medicine. He will start working with you in a therapy program that we call aquatic therapy. This is exercises that take place in a swimming pool”.

“The exercises will help to increase upper body strength. You will get more flexibility and range of motion by using the buoyancy of the water. We usually start our patients suffering from back and spine injury with this technique. The warm water helps to relax the muscles, improve circulation, and cuts stress on the body. It can actually create a unique gravity eliminating world”.

Robert was rambling to keep Mia’s attention focused on him. But she just looked confused. Nick sprang into action.

“Mia, the water is like a cushion that holds you as you work your muscles”.

Mia seemed puzzled or was she just playing games.

“But, Nick, how can I swim without my legs to kick and move me forward? Will you have to hold me? I see you have strong muscles”.

Stepping in front of Nick, Robert reclaimed the floor – so-to-speak.

“You will just have to see how the therapy works Mia. Your session with Nick starts tomorrow”.

It was a brief pause and Robert asked, “Mia, do you think you can work hard for Nick”?

Giggling like a school girl, Mia said, “Not a problem Dr. Robert. I won’t mind swimming in a pool with Nick. Not at all. I think he is a hunk”.

One glance at Nick, and Robert could tell he was smitten by Mia’s charm. “What time do you want to start tomorrow, Nick”?

Nick paused, looked at his ipad and said, “I have an opening at nine A.M. and an opening at two o’clock. The sessions will start out easy and last an hour with float times throughout. Which time is best for you”?

Not used to deciding for herself. She looked into Nick‘s Mediterranean blue eyes. “Can we do both times”?

Nick laughed, but Robert answered. “Starks, schedule Mia in the morning when her metabolism is high for the day”.

Mia teased; “Let’s see if Nick can keep up with me so early in the morning with my metabolism revved up”.

“Just you wait Miss Perez, and we’ll see who swims circles around the other”.

Dr. Chase seemed peeved. “Nick, you have a job to do”.

Nick winked at Mia… “Yeah, my boss is right. I’ll see you tomorrow at nine A.M sharp.
Young lady, it’s hard work and we’ll have you swimming like a mermaid before you know it.”

Mia teased back. “And who will be my merman”?

The air reeked with male testosterone. Robert grabbed Nick’s arm and led him toward the door.

“Starks, it’s time to go now so that this mermaid can get her beauty sleep”.

Robert gazed back at Mia as he closed the door behind Nick but he wasn’t sure if she was smiling back at him or at Nick.

Nick began working daily with Mia and within a few weeks he started to see some amazing strides in her aquatic exercise routine. She was no longer just floating and splashing playfully around in the pool.

But once he got her to focus on the specialized routine, she moved in the water with all the grace and beauty of a dancer.

At one of their sessions, Nick asked, “Mia, have you had any formal dance training before your injury”?

“Yes, Nicky. I have studied ballet since I was seven years old”.

“I can tell. You are already a graceful mermaid, although you are sometimes a lazy one, so come on Mia, I want you to do one more set of exercises.”

In the doctor’s next team meeting, Nick reported on Mia’s training.

“Jayne Anne, Robert, our patient is a champion in the making. She is a strong swimmer and an unbelievable gymnast. I would like your permission to train Mia and train her as a professional water dancer”.

Robert bristled. “Isn’t that taking the concept of therapy too far? How is water dancing better than therapy”?

Nick replied, “Sometimes water dancing is also known as Water Ballet. It is a beautiful sport where one or more swimmers perform a graceful dance in the water. A lot of the major theme parks use Water Ballet as a tourist attraction. I realize that redeveloping Ma’s treatment program would involve a demanding training schedule. But you need to see her in action to understand what I am saying about the girl’s natural talent. I’m of firm belief it would strengthen her muscles and improve her balance. It would motivate her toward a goal.”

While Robert was trying to digest Nick’s goal, he tried to substantiate an objection. Jayne Anne was happy with Stark’s creative thinking.

“Nick, this could be exactly what Mia needs to build her self-confidence and self-esteem. Not only will it develop a healthier body, but it could also promote a sense of accomplishment. And that can promote a calmer mind”.

Feeling outnumbered, Robert agreed. As long as she kept up with her lifestyle training and peer support group commitments. But, Dr. Chase made it clear that he would be the one to tell Mia, since he was the team leader.

Chapter 9
Birthday Wishes

It was after ten o’clock when Robert visited Mia at the Rehabilitation Center. He opened the door in slow motion and found that she was still awake.

She sat upright and said, “Hi Dr. Robert, come in. I couldn’t sleep because it is my birthday and I felt sad not to be with mama and papa. My mother would have given me a basket of sweet candy. And she would have tugged on my ear eighteen times – a tug for each year since my birth”.

“That’s an interesting tradition, Mia. In America, we celebrate birthdays a little differently.” Robert pulled back the sheet that covered Mia’s legs. He picked her up and sat her down into the wheelchair that he had brought with him.

“I knew about your birthday Mia. And I planned a special surprise just for you”.he fact Dr. Robert knew about her birthday made Mia snicker.

“Dr. Robert, I love surprises”.

Dr. Robert wheeled her down the corridor and into the waiting elevator. He pushed the up button and when the elevator door opened they were on the rooftop in the glass-enclosed solarium of the Rehabilitation Center. Mia had not been to the rooftop at night before and she commented on the beautiful view of the city and its sparkling lights.

Robert wheeled Mia to the table closest to a window. A white linen cloth covered the table. A flickering lamp, and a lovely red rose in a bud vase added a special touch. He lit the candle atop a cupcake and the flame gave the table a romantic ambiance.

Robert turned her wheelchair toward him. “Happy birthday Mia, this is a special birthday celebration I planned just for you.”

He went to kiss her on the cheek, but as she turned her head to see the splendor of the view, he kissed her lips instead. She smiled at the doctor and her eyes twinkled in the glow of the flickering lamp.

His kiss was perfect. “Dr. Robert, I am 18 years old today and I am a woman now. I love my surprise party. Dr. Robert, you make me feel like a beautiful Princess”.

She kissed him back, but this time it was a passionate kiss.

Robert had not meant for the birthday celebration to be a romantic gesture. He had only meant for her eighteenth birthday to not go unnoticed. He had mixed emotions over the incident.

He had fought a strong physical attraction toward her since the day she entered his life. The kiss was innocent, but it didn’t help that Mia had been flirting with him for over six months.

It felt like her outbursts of affection were more than just gratitude.

“Shush, Robert. The angels put me in your hands. I know you tried. Your face shows me love, and I feel it in your touch”.

Robert felt helpless to answer and he lusted for her embrace. He knew that he should change the subject, but Mia liked him and Robert wanted her.

She made the beast in him roar like a lion stalking its prey. He narrowed his sights on this one beautiful lioness that he could not shake from his mind.

He was the predator that preferred a pride of women. But that was until Mia baited him and brought him in for the kill. She had been right about his feeling for her.

The scent of her perfume was sweet and intoxicating. Robert knelt down in front of Mia and he wrapped both his arms around her. The taste of her sweet lips lingered from the earlier kiss. He felt the warmth of her hand on the back of his neck. Her breath was fresh upon his face as she whispered.

“I want you to kiss me again, Robert”.

Their future life together flashed before his eyes and it wasn’t a happy one. Unlike the other women that had come and gone in his life, Mia terrified him.

He needed her more than he had ever wanted anyone before. But Robert could not bring himself to continue and he pulled away. She had a body of an exciting and beautiful woman. He knew she was young and her emotions were not matured. She wasn’t ready for a grown up relationship.

Disengaging himself, he changed the subject from romantic possibilities to a medical discussion.

“Mia, I have some good news for you. Nick and I agree that you are ready to leave the Center. I’ve decided that Nick will continue to work with you as your water therapy coach. Mia, you are ready for your new life. You are strong and I know you will work hard to overcome the difficult challenges that you face. I promise there will be many people to help you make the adjustments”.

Robert paused and his words became cold. “I think it is for the best that I get the hell out of your life. Mia, I need to resign as your doctor and we will not see each other anymore. You are a young girl and you will find someone your own age when the time for love is right. The crush you have on me is natural, but it will fade away soon. I am sorry I have confused you; I got carried away. I should not have kissed you”.

Tears welled in her eyes and the guilt he felt inside crushed his heart. As Robert fought the desire to hold her close, he tried to force his feelings for her from his conscious mind. Mia’s words were soft as tears streamed down her face.

She pleaded with him. “Please Robert, I know you don’t mean it. I’m scared. Without you, I’ll end up living as a homeless crippled person. I don’t want to end up living in a group home like Papa talks about”.

Robert averted his eyes; he couldn’t allow Mia to see the truth in them. He took a deep cleansing breath and fought to keep his body from trembling.

He had to put her mind at rest. “My God, Mia, the college has special homes for students who have physical limitations. They are nice apartments and you will be safe and happy living there. The counselors at the college and Dr. White will help you find someone to take good care of you. I promise that you will be just fine”.

The only thing left to do was take her back to her room and say, “Goodnight”.

Robert’s heart ached as he left her there alone. Tears streamed down her face. She called out “Robert. Please don’t leave me. I need you. I can’t be alone. Please Robert, I don’t want to be alone tonight”.

Robert walked toward the door with his back turned away. His words were simple… he said, “Goodnight Mia. Sweet dreams”.

Chapter 10
Decisions

That night Robert tossed and turned in bed. He couldn’t stop thinking about her. He had adored Mia from afar for so long. Early in the morning, he sat up and against his better judgment, Robert decided to return to the Center.

Out of the corner of his eye, Robert saw the night guard raise an eyebrow. She continued to watch the doctor slip into Mia’s room. He closed the door, and lock it behind him. Robert knew that his career was at risk. To become physical with his patient was unethical.
Mia wasn’t asleep when he entered. She said in a low whisper, “Ola Robert. The eyes do not lie. I knew that you would come back”.

Robert walked to her bed and sat down beside her.

“Mia, have you ever had sex with a man before”?

She wasn’t embarrassed by his abruptness in fact, she smiled and said, “Yes, of course. Papa would not have approved of me having sex, but I went behind his back. I am a woman and I need your love”.
She then said, “Dr. White talked to me a little about sex. She asked me how I would feel about being intimate with a man as a disabled woman. I said… embarrassed – that I might be afraid a man would think that I wasn’t desirable. But men excite me. I like to look at them and I want them to look at me too”.

Her Mona Lisa smile was about to get him into trouble. “I told Dr. Jayne about my feelings for you, Robert. I said that I am not afraid to have sex with you because you look at me with your heart and not so much with your eyes”.

Robert had expected Mia would share her emotional feelings about him with Jayne Anne. After all, she was her therapist. She was new to her disability. It would be only natural for a female to have fantasies about her doctor. But he had not suspected that she wanted him as a sex partner. Even though she was now eighteen, she was still so young.

But Mia was intoxicating and he was a man. He knew he had returned to her room that night to have sex with her. He had spent most of the night thinking about leaving medicine to have sex with her. Robert wanted Mia in his life.

Robert thought that he was ready to take that risk. In fact, he said, ”Mia, I’ve been thinking about us since I left your room a few hours ago. I came back to talk to you about making some changes in my life, and I wanted to ask you what you might think about it. We both know that there is an unexplainable chemistry going on between us. I’m falling in love with you and I’m aware of the feelings that you have for me too. I believe that together we can make our love work”.

He paused… “Mia, it’s only fair that I am honest with you. We don’t know exactly what to expect about your sexual abilities. You have progressed well. And the tests show that you can feel a light touch and some sensation of pain below the waist.

Speaking to you as a man, I do know from experience, that having sex is 90 percent mental and the rest is physical,. So keep that in mind. We shouldn’t worry if we don’t get it right the first time. Half the fun of having sex is exploring all possibilities. And practice makes anything perfect”.

A blushing, toothy smile reassured him that she was ready. She was willing and able to begin their practice session.

He held her hand to comfort her.

“Mia, it will help if you find a place in your mind that you have never gone to before. Honey, I want you to relax and imagine the beauty and mystery of lovemaking”.
As he leaned in toward her. Mia’s lips were slow to part. And she felt a light sensation when Robert’s mouth touch hers in a gentle tease. Then he slid her night gown down, and placed his hands on her soft, bare flesh. He began to caress her breasts.

His breath was warm as he nibbled her earlobe. She felt him kissing her neck. This was the first time that Robert Chase had touched Mia as a man and not as her doctor.
His lips brushed hers again and the kiss was longer and deeper into its meaning. With each new kiss, the feelings deepened. Robert pulled back with hesitancy. But then his lips pressed against hers again and again.

He removed his clothes and crawled beneath the sheets. Robert could feel her naked body against him.

He was passionate when he kissed her lips harder. Then he kissed her neck and shoulders. He stimulated the nipples of her breasts with his tongue until they were erect.
Robert’s sensual kisses and caressing touches moved her and she told him that she did not want him to stop.

Mia had fantasized about how she would feel when he made love to her. She could feel the weight of Robert’s naked body as he lay on top of her. In her mind, she envisioned him pushing his way into her vagina as they become one in mind, body and soul.
He kissed her lips and slid his tongue into her mouth in a slow, sensual way. It was an intense dance of joy and tenderness. His labored breathing was heavy as he thrust his penis in and out. She felt every muscle in Robert’s body tense at the moment of climax – and then relax.

He continued to caress her naked breasts and she told him that she never wanted to return to reality ever again. After a few more minutes of pleasure, she felt herself drift off to sleep.
In the morning, when she awoke,  she knew that her Robert was gone.

Time after time Robert’s words tried to convey that he was no longer her doctor. Then one day he was gone forever.

Chapter 11
Mia Returns to Reality

Mia’s days seemed endless. She blamed herself for not being enough of a woman. Her tears never dried. She shared her fears with Dr. White, who asked in a gentle way.

“Mia, if that were true, would Robert have come back again and again”?

She had to admit that he had seemed satisfied. She realized too that she had learned new ways to be satisfied as a woman with a disability. But, why then would he want to leave? She remembered how sad he had looked when he left that last time. Could Dr. White be right about his fears of a deeper relationship? Perhaps he got scared.

Mia began to doubt herself. She even thought that she had pushed him away. Maybe she shouldn’t have mentioned a family? He had seemed happy at the idea – at first, but then he seemed distant and lost in thought. Robert came back one last time – and that time he seemed different.

Now that he was gone, gone too were her plans for a wedding and a life as Mrs. Robert Chase. After a few weeks, Dr. White reminded her that it was time for her to find her own place. She suggested moving into a university housing unit and resuming her studies at Cal Tech. She insisted that Mia join with her and talk with the Campus Housing Director. She was shown a list of student housing options.

The Director explained the laws that prohibited discrimination against those with disabilities. Mia realized that she had many options for a new home. Dr. White was her closest confidant. They chose an accessible apartment on campus. It was both near her classes and the campus pool facilities.

Mia met with Dr. White. She explained about her father’s telephone conversation with the hospital administrator. He was adamant that Dr. Cotter fire Dr. White as his daughter’s therapist. He demanded a male doctor take charge of Mia’s mental health. Jayne Anne repeated his comment verbatim.

“Dr. Jayne Anne White is putting nonsense in my daughter’s head. She is a cripple too, and nothing will change that!”

Mia screamed. “But I’m not in the hospital anymore!”

Dr. White tried to explain as she followed up with Mia’s comment.

“Yes, Mia it is true that you live an independent lifestyle. But your involvement with the Center still connects you to the hospital. Dr. Cotter is still in charge of your mental and physical health”.

Mia persisted in hearing an answer that she wanted to hear and not the cold hard facts.
“But why Dr. White, does Papa get to tell the hospital what to do”?

Jayne Anne spelled out the truth without any sugar coating. “Because Senor Perez has donated a lot of money to the hospital. And they hope he will continue to give more in the future. Dr. Cotter has appointed both Dr. Eric Fishman and Dr. Samantha Long as your new physicians. Dr. Long was a part of your surgical team and Dr. Fishman is a general practitioner. He is also a man that can deal with your father. Dr. Cotter convinced your father that I should remain as your therapist. And Nick will continue to oversee your physical therapy and training”.

Mia thought about it and stated. “Dr. White, everything went wrong when Robert left. I think that papa will listen to Dr. Fishman, but I hope papa will listen to what I want. I liked that apartment that we looked at. I can see how easy it will be getting to the pool and classes from the apartment building. I like the bathroom because it was big and it had enough room for my wheelchair to move about. But I especially liked the vanity mirror that was low enough for me to use. I hate it when I go into public bathrooms and I can only see the top of my head”.

Jayne Anne was happy that Mia was still invested in her beauty. But she at least toned it down from being an obsession. Dr. White then commented. “Well, Mia, I will meet with Dr. Fishman and explain your choices to him before he calls your father. In the meantime, have you thought about your course of study this new semester? Do you still want to study business or was that your father’s decision”?

Mia answered, “I guess I liked the business class okay, but what I liked most was all the guys in my classes. Dr. Jayne I think if I finished a business degree, then maybe Papa won’t think I’m worthless”.

Dr. White shook her head and said, “Mia, listen to me. Stop thinking that your life will be better if follow the wishes of your father. You can’t control what your father thinks. It is better to focus on what you think – what you want to study and learn. I want you to think about your interests and then we can discuss what you would like to do with your life. I’ll get you a catalog of career opportunities and you can see all the possibilities”.

Later that week. Mia leafed through the boring catalog that Dr. White had sent over. She sighed, “I wonder how I will ever decide what to study”?

Just then Dr. White rolled into the student union at the Center. She was with a stylish woman and two doctors. One of the doctors stood out because he was in surgical scrubs.
Mia looked surprised. “Dr. Jayne, what else is there to study? Papa had always chosen my classes. He was anxious for me to finish soon so Chaz and I could get married. He wanted the two plantations to join the coffee empire before he died. That is why I started in the summer instead of the fall like all my friends”.

The doctor then queried. “Did you like the classes you had”?

Dr. Cotter introduced the two resident doctors. Mia suspected that these were the new doctors ordered by her father. They were now assigned to watch her progress.

The doctors looked friendly enough. The man looked older, but age has never been a factor if he appealed to her taste in men. She giggled to herself and thought he’s safe because he’s not my type.. Cotter broke into her mindless game. “Mia, I would like to introduce Dr. Fishman and Dr. Long to you. Dr. Lisa Long will take over in monitoring your neurological progress. And Dr. Eric Fishman will take over as your General Practitioner.”

Mia cleared her throat. “And deal with my papa. Good luck Dr. Fishman”.

He nodded and half smiled. “It’s nice to meet you Mia. And yes, Dr. White has clued me in about how Senor Perez can be a little difficult at times. I’m pretty sure that I can handle him. Anyway young lady, Dr. White and I have talked about some of the choices that you have made lately. I understand that you like your new apartment. Have you given thought about your class selection yet”?
She shook her head no. “I’ve looked through the catalogue of career opportunities. I’m still trying to figure out what classes to take. Papa had selected Business Administration so I could help run the coffee plantation. But that’s when I was married to Chaz. I guess I liked the classes okay before the accident, but now that I see so many choices I’m not sure”.

Dr. Fishman glanced toward Dr. Cotter. “Dr. Cotter, didn’t you get a Bachelor’s Degree before you went to medical school”?

“Yes, and my business classes are beneficial in medicine too”.

“Perhaps Mia could shadow you as Hospital Administrator”.

Mia had always seen Dr. Cotter as an intelligent and powerful woman. She questioned whether she could ever be as calm and efficient as Dr. Cotter. Mia thought, maybe father was right. To study business and run father’s coffee business was a formidable goal after all.

Dr. White talked with her about Dr. Fishman’s conversation with her father. Senor Perez listened about Mia’s progress. Senor Perez requested details and pictures about the apartment. After all, if was going to pay for it, he wanted to take the matter under consideration.

“Mia, your father wants to hold off on making a decision about the apartment. He wants time to review the material about campus housing. He will contact Dr. Fishman with his answer”.

Mia knew from experience that there wasn’t anything more she could do except wait. At least her father didn’t demand that she go back to Brazil.

Meanwhile, Dr. White looked over the semester plan she had put together for Mia. It took a while to convince Mia that a career in business did suit her.

Dr. White and Mia turned their attention toward campus accessibility for people with disabilities. The curriculum satisfied her. She registered for classes.

Time management was now the biggest issue. Mia needed to learn the importance of time management. Her schedule was busy. She wondered, how can I coordinate my transportation and class work? She needed to align her classes with the transportation schedule. And then there were her daily water therapy and exercise training sessions.
Mia began to realize how much she still needed to learn before classes started.

One month before school started, Senor Perez contacted Dr. Fishman about a change in plans. Without any further discussion Senor Perez hired a Brazilian realtor. His instructions were explicit. Dr. Fishman was to lease a lift-equipped van and find a personal care assistant for Mia. The Los Angles realtor would contact him when the condominium was ready.

Mia fought to accept her father’s decision. She wondered if he would ever stop making decisions for her. She sighed and threw her hands up in the air.

“Dr. Fishman, at least Papa has allowed me to pick my own personal assistant. I trust Dr. White’s people skills. I’m sure that she will help me find someone nice and funny”.
Mia wasn’t as sure about choosing the color of her new van. Dr. Fishman thought a sea blue would be a good choice. But that color brought back the terror of the accident that killed Chaz and crippled her. Instead, Mia chose the opposite of blue and picked a cherry apple red color.

She said, “Dr. Fishman, I want people to see me coming”.

At the next therapy session, Dr. White gave her two keys. A key for a new bright red van and a key for her new condominium.

Dr. White drove Mia home in her accessible van. She marveled at how easy it was for Dr. White to transfer from her wheelchair into the driver’s seat. It was a miracle to drive the vehicle using special hand controls that operated the gas and brakes. Mia poured out her emotions to Dr. White.

“Wow Dr. White, I’m beginning to see that you and I have some similarities, but we are still different. In Brazil, Mama would have her chauffeur drive her around because she was afraid to learn how to operate a car. I never thought I would need to know how to drive. My legs didn’t work, so what difference did it make? I guess I have a lot more to learn about my new body”.

Dr. White beamed with confidence. “Mia, in America, people with disabilities can drive, get jobs and have families. Just because your body changed, doesn’t mean that you must forgo your goals. What goes on inside your mind, and the accomplishments you reach, makes the person”.

Mia remained quiet while she thought about the doctor’s words. And just for a moment, she felt positive about her future.

Mia started to like the van. The raised roof made it comfortable to sit in the wheelchair without bending her neck. She could see out the windows and enjoy the ride. Jayne Anne continued to talk about opening her mind and checking out driver’s education. Jayne Anne decided to delay the conversation. She could see that Mia already had more than she could handle.

Mia loved the condo her father had bought. It had a heated pool with a lift. This meant that Nick could come to her for the therapy sessions. Mia liked her ground floor condo for safety reasons. And easier access to the outdoor pool.

Mia loved her new home. She was hopeful that her father was beginning to accept her disability.

The day she moved into her new condo, she found it cluttered with things from her dorm room. And some things she hadn’t seen since the accident. Mia was glad that Dr. White was there to help her sort through the baggage in her mind. She needed to discard stuff that wasn’t useful to her any longer.

Jayne helped Mia box up the reminders of Chaz for later. They weeded out non-useful furniture and kept a few items that she still wanted.

Together, the girls tried to move a heavy glass coffee table into the living room. They laughed about where was a man when you needed one. Mia ended up calling up the building manager to help them move the furniture into place.

It was then that the super noticed the envelope on the kitchen counter addressed to her. She opened the letter, but there wasn’t anything inside the envelope except a check. The amount was four thousand dollars. The memo line said: for you to buy furniture or necessary adaptations, Senor Perez.

Mia was sure the check was her mother’s influence. She wished her mother could be there to help her shop and plan for her future. Instead, Dr. White offered to help. She made a list and soon the condo began to feel like home with her own decorating style.

It had been a busy two weeks and yet Dr. White kept reminding Mia that she still needed to find an assistant. But finding someone to live with her and take care of her was frightening.

Mia had confusing thoughts about what if the person she chose didn’t get along with her? After all, nurses assisted her. Mia also asked herself, would an assistant be a better choice?
She talked to Dr. White about her concerns. Jayne assured Mia that they would interview candidates together. She could choose the person that she felt comfortable with. Dr. White chose an agency that she had worked with on many occasions. They pre-screened applicants to interview.

If Mia found one that she liked, the woman could move in over the weekend.

One of the first candidates they interviewed was Roberta Harper. Berta was a plain looking woman in her 40’s with a rather crass personality.

It was obvious that Berta spoke her mind without hesitation. This was something Mia found familiar and comfortable. Yet, Berta also seemed to have a warm heart and she had a genuine concern for Mia.

Dr. White approved and thought Berta was an ideal fit for Mia’s personal care assistant.
It was over the weekend when Berta helped Mia settle into her new condominium. Nick came to the condo on Saturday afternoon. He came to work with his patient on her water therapy. Mia was proud of her new home and showed him around.

“What a hunk! Where did you find him”? Berta exclaimed!

Berta, I’d like to introduce my water coach, Nick Starks.”

She extended her hand and said, “Do you have an older brother”?

Mia could see that life wasn’t going to be boring with Berta around.

Chapter 12
Nick

Nick was high on Berta’s list for teasing, but he knew how to fire back with humor and sarcasm. Together, they played a game with Mia. They preyed upon her poor understanding of English slang words.

Mia was not offended with their teasing. Instead, she seemed to enjoy the game. She said it was a fun way to become more Americanized.

Mia settled in her own place and started her college classes. Nick noticed that she had not mentioned Robert in a long time. He liked that Robert seemed to be out of the picture. The aquatic rehabilitation course and the water ballet routine progressed without a hitch. In Nick’s mind, it was the perfect time to win over the affections of this lovely mermaid.
“Hey, Mia, do you have any plans for tonight”? Nick asked one day after therapy. “I’ve got a movie and I think you’ll like it”?

Mia was happy and excited that Nick was taking an interest in her as a woman and not just one of his patients.

She grimaced. “Nick, I would like to watch a movie with you, but is it a movie you picked out or one that Dr. White wants me to watch”?

Nick hesitated before he spoke. “Mia, I am not going to lie to you. Dr. White did ask me if I would talk to you about the Para Olympic Games. She thought it would be good for you to get involved, and so do I. We are both amazed at how well you move in the water. Dr. White and I are proud of your progress”.

He then said, “The movie is “Million Dollar Mermaid” with Esther Williams. I came across the DVD. I thought that you would enjoy watching the synchronized swimming as a spectator. I thought you might like to see how beautiful water dancing can be. Do you want to watch it together”?

“That sounds like fun Nick. I’m not sure about the handicap Olympic Games, but the movie sounds great”.

Nick arrived around eight o’clock that night and he helped Berta make popcorn. He was afraid Berta would join them, but soon she retired to her room leaving them alone. Yet, Berta did tell Mia to give a shout if she needed anything.

After putting in the DVD, Nick asked, “Would you like to sit on the sofa beside me and get comfortable”?

Mia’s smile was warm and inviting. “Yes, Nicky, that sounds perfect.”

Nick lifted her from the wheelchair and helped her settle on the sofa beside him. After seeing what falling in love with a doctor had done to Mia, he hid his emotions. He put the idea of an intimate relationship on the back burner. He instead decided to show her a relationship of friendship and trust.

They devoured the bowl of popcorn, and Nick drank two beers. Aware that a drunken driver caused her paralysis, he was careful not to consume too much alcohol. He convinced himself that he needed the “liquid courage” to make his next move.

After the video ended, Mia asked him if she could ever be that graceful. He assured her that she could, but it would take dedication and hard work.

“Nicky,” I’ve decided I would love to swim like Esther in the movie. This thing called the Para Olympic swimming sounds good to me. Will you help me train for the games”?

Nick was proud of Mia. He beamed with delight when she asked him to continue working with her as her trainer.

“Mia, you have faced your challenges head on with true grit. You have succeeded in each step of your physical and emotional struggle. I think you are good enough to compete. I’m honored that you would ask me to be your coach”.

Her emotions got the best of her. She blurted out her feelings. “Nick, I have started to adjust, but I still do not understand how to be okay with the new me. I was always taught to be the best that I could be”.

She took a deep breath inward and sighed. “Why do people look at me like I’m a broken human being? Why does Dr. White say that living with a disability is not a bad thing? I think I must have so much work to do to overcome my insecurities”.

“Sometimes, I feel so alone. I used to focus on making my parents happy, but this seems impossible to do. Papa wanted me to marry Chaz and become heir to a grand coffee business. Now he says that I am nothing more than a helpless cripple and he won’t even talk to me”.

She paused and let out a breath of air. “Nicky, before the accident, Mama said my life was going to be happy with a rich American husband. Mama always wanted me to be famous”.
She sniffled a little and reached for a Kleenex. “Nicky, I need to believe it when Dr. White says I can do anything that I want to do, but how will I know what that might be? I know that I will never walk again and it feels like Berta will need to be my caregiver forever. Everything seems so hopeless! I’m tired of being alone”.

Nick placed his arm around her shoulders to comfort her. He started to understand why Mia felt these emotions. He wanted to say something profound, but he wasn’t a trained psychologist. So, he set out to show her that she could be desirable as a woman and not a pretty toy.

Without hesitating, he leaned over and he kissed her. She didn’t push him away or ask him not to do it again. Having gotten away with it, he did it again, but this time the kiss was longer and more passionate.

Mia was enjoying Nick’s advances and she gave him a “green light.” He took it to mean…“Go.” Mia knew from experience that she liked sex and she was ready for more.
The tension began to mount up in Nick. He couldn’t seem to stop himself. The fragrance of her hair smelled so good. She was no longer his patient, but a desirable young woman calling out to him as a man. Nick held Mia in his arms as they cuddled and kissed and then she encouraged him to remove her dress and bra.

Mia surprised Nick when she playfully said, “Nicky, Brazilian men are lovers. They are like a matador that waves his red blanket and stares into the eyes of the bull to make it lunge at him. The matador is fearless, lusty and vigorous. He takes the bull as his trophy plunging his sword into the bull to kill it”.

Nick was a willing matador as he removed the red, sofa blanket and waved it to and fro in front of Mia. Feeling strong, fearless, dangerous, and aggressive, he became the matador for her. His male urge was to please Mia and gratify his own erotic desires.

After making love to Mia, he straightened her up on the couch. Berta came into the room. She stood there in silence, shaking her head in disbelief. It was obvious to Berta that they had been intimate.

She pointed an accusing finger at him. “Nick, Nick, Nick. You disappoint me. I thought you were strong enough to resist the beauty queen, but I see you had to go ahead and do it anyway. It is mystifying to me how men are always thinking with the wrong head. I thought you, above all, would use your brain”.

Nick chortled. “Well, Berta I guess my mind was weak and my ‘head’ was…” There was a moment of silence when he spit it out. “What can I say, Berta? I’m hypnotized by Mia’s beauty and playfulness. I’m in awe of her inner strength and I enjoy being with her”.
Turning away from Berta he asked, “Mia, I would like to take you out again. Will you go out with me on Friday”?

She giggled like a giddy school girl. “Yes, Nicky. I had fun tonight and I will go out with you again”.

Nick kissed her and brushed her cheek with his fingertips. “Sweet dreams and I’ll see you tomorrow”.

As Nick began to leave, he winked, gave a slight tip of his hand and said, “She’s all yours Berta”.

He saw Berta smile. “Well Mr. Testosterone, you have stones. But I question whether you’ve got a hell of a lot of sense”.

Chapter 13
And Then There Were Three

The friendship between Nick and Mia continued to flourish and their sexual encounters intensified. Mia started to look at Nick as a lover and boyfriend.

She looked forward to their training together and their dinner dates. On weekends they would go to campus movies or a home game. She enjoyed their time together, but somehow she still missed Robert. It didn’t make sense, but he was still there in the background.

Unlike Robert, Nick hid his feelings from the hospital chief of staff, Dr. Cotter. He did this so he could remain Mia’s rehabilitation therapist and personal trainer. Still the rumors ran rampant through the hospital grapevine.

Dr. White even warned Mia about the repercussions of a patient-doctor love connection. Nick stood to lose his job over the tryst. But she refused to follow the American rules.
She asked Nick about their relationship. But, he just laughed it off and said he could handle the hospital grapevine. He said that love conquers all and that their love would find a way. So she agreed to move forward with Nick and their love life.

Mia knew that Nick loved her, and that he was good for her too. Sometimes she felt guilty about not having stronger feelings for him. But she shrugged off her doubts and looked forward to a new life with Nick.

Mia convinced herself that she was happy again. As far as she knew, no one had heard from Robert Chase in months.

It was time for Mia’s monthly progress checkup. The nurse had already settled her on the examination table and taken her vitals.

Left alone in the room, Mia stared at the ceiling and was beginning to count the holes in the tiles. She discovered each square had one hundred holes. She was multiplying the holes when he entered.

Dr. Fishman said, “Good afternoon Mia. Did you have a happy Halloween”?

She smiled and looked in his direction. “Yes, it was so much fun! Berta and Nick were busy getting all the treats ready for the trick-or-treaters. But not many ghosts and goblins came our way, so we ate the treats ourselves. Nicky ate more candy than Berta and me. He ate so many chocolate bars that he felt like a fat pumpkin”.

She scrunched her mouth and commented that she wasn’t exactly sure what he meant.
Dr. Fishman shrugged his shoulders and then asked, “And how have you been feeling lately? Are you still feeling tired”?

“Yes, doctor, so does that mean my vitals are not normal”?

“Mia, your blood pressure, oxygen level, and heart rate are all in the normal range. This is good”.

He positioned her so he could hear her heart and lungs.

“I am pleased to say that you are in perfect health. Now let’s see if your lab report agrees”.
Turning to his nurse he said, “Will you please go and see if her lab results are in yet”?
Mia seemed a little nervous. “Dr. Fishman, are you concerned about something? Is that why you had me do a blood test yesterday”?

He shook his head no. “Mia, I’m not especially concerned about anything in particular, I was just checking your blood. It’s always a good thing to do when a patient seemed a bit tired”.

The door opened again and the nurse handed the lab report to the doctor. As he read the results the expression on the doctor’s face was of surprise. But when he saw a concerned expression on Mia’s face, he smiled. “Actually, Mia, the rabbit died”!

Now it was Mia’s turn to look surprised. ”I don’t understand what you mean. Why did a rabbit die”?

The doctor chuckled. “Mia, it is an American expression that means you are pregnant. But a moment ago you looked like you already knew what the results were. You are not surprised, are you”?

“No, Dr. Fishman, I suspected that I was pregnant for a little while. At first, I missed a few periods like Dr. White said might happen. And then my periods returned just like she said they would. But it was a bit inconsistent. And then it stopped again and I began to wonder. I’ve been so tired and my belly is getting bigger too – and not just from too many candy treats”.

Dr. Fishman cautiously asked, “So, Mia, how do you feel about being a mother”?

She scratched her head. “My first thought was ‘yippee’! I hope Robert is the father”!

A little startled, Dr. Fishman said, “Are you sure that you don’t mean Nick? Isn’t he the baby’s father? I’m aware that you are having a relationship with him. Have you had sex with Nick over the past few months”?

She nodded. “Yes, Dr. Fishman, our first time was just after classes started in September. It was also just after Robert had surprised me for a weekend of secret lovemaking. I was so happy to be with Robert again, and then so sad when he left. So you see Dr. Fishman, it is Robert. I am sure that Robert is the father of our love child”.

Dr. Fishman asked with concern in his voice.

“Mia, Robert left you twice. And Nick has remained by your side so why would you want Robert Chase to be the father of the baby and not Nick? It’s obvious that Nick loves you, but can you be so sure about Dr. Chase”?

Mia didn’t like the doctor’s question, but she told him the truth anyway.

“Yes, because I am still in love with Robert and I want to believe that he will come back to me when he knows about the baby. I feel in my heart that he will. I know that he loves me. He just needs time to figure this out”.

So, Dr. Fishman tabled any further discussion about the paternity of Mia’s baby. It was obvious that she was upset.

“Okay, Mia, let’s see if the ultrasound machine is free. I want to take a look at this baby”.
Dr. Fishman had the nurse move her into another examination room. She rang for an extra nurse to help get the patient settled on the table.

He said, “Mia, this will be a little cold”. Dr. Fishman slathered a jelly solution on her stomach.

She squealed, “ooh, it is cold”.

Dr. Fishman moved the ultrasound wand around her belly in a circular motion. He pointed to the screen and said, “Look! Here is your baby. I can tell from the development that you are late in your first trimester. I think we should do a paternity test just to be sure who’s the father. There isn’t anything to worry about Mia, it is a simple test, and then we will know for sure”.

Mia nodded and replied without any concern at all.

“Okay. Dr. Fishman, you do a paternity test, but I know it is Robert’s baby”.

The doctor asked her. “Meanwhile, would you like to know if the baby is a boy or a girl”?
“Okay. Dr. Fishman, but I am sure that the baby is a girl. I know this because Robert would want to have a daughter and I would not want to disappoint him”.

Chuckling at her simple logic, he assured her.
“This time your instincts are right Mia. You are going to have a baby girl”.

Nick had been watching Mia’s belly become more rounded. He suspected that she was pregnant and that he was the father. Nick had not confronted her because he was waiting for her to tell him.

He should have known that Berta would also have noticed. And that she would challenge him, which of course Berta did. “Hey, are you blind or what? Isn’t it obvious that you are going to be a papa? Looks like Christmas came early this year”.

Nick’s reply was as blunt. “No, Berta, I’m not blind. But, I’ve been waiting for Mia to say something. You know that she went to her doctor’s office today because you drove her there. So you tell me Berta, can we start celebrating”?

Later that day, Nick wasn’t surprised when Mia asked to talk with him alone.
”Nicky, yesterday Dr. Fishman ran some tests on my blood and today he gave me the results”.

After a pause, she continued. “The test showed that I am pregnant, Nicky, and an ultrasound showed that I am three months along”.
Concerned at her serious manner, Nick hesitated to ask. “Is there something wrong with the baby? Are you having complications”?

She shook her head. “No, Nicky, I am healthy and the baby is fine”.

Her mood hadn’t altered. “Dr. Fishman wants me to have a paternity test, and I said okay. They took a blood test for the baby’s DNA and a cheek swab for my DNA. They need to get a cheek swab from you as well. Will you do that”?

Nick was all smiles. His enthusiasm was obvious. “Sure Mia, I don’t have a problem with seeing the doctor. I’m excited about becoming a dad. But, aren’t you excited to have our baby”?

She pursed her lips together. “Nicky, Dr. Fishman is also going to test a stored DNA sample of Robert’s”.

He furrowed his brow. “What? Why? He has been gone for a few months now”.

She hugged him. “Nicky, because I believe Robert is the father of my baby”.

He scowled. And with a slight nudge, he pushed her away.

“But Mia, how could he be the father? Why do you think that Robert Chase is the baby’s father and not me? It’s not possible because he has been gone too long for the timing to be right”.

Chapter 14
Dr. Chase Returns

Nick was already there when Berta wheeled Mia into the Dr. Fishman’s reception area. Berta had called him to let him know that the results of the paternity test were ready. She felt that Mia would need some moral support when she learned who had fathered the baby. Nick was beginning to wonder if maybe he wasn’t the father after all.

The nurse wheeled Mia into the doctor’s consultation room. Nick noticed how radiant and beautiful she looked. Her beauty always made him smile. But now he wasn’t waiting for the birth, he was waiting for the identity of the father. He wondered, why is she keeping this such a dark secret?

Dr. Chase entered the room, and his thoughts vanished. Nick stood in disbelief and spouted off.

“You son of a bitch, so you’ve chosen now to come back. Where the hell have you been for the past few months”?

Robert tried to control his tongue, but the words came out regardless. “It’s no concern of yours, Nick. The fact is, I’ve come back”.

“The hell it isn’t”?

“Since you are here, I imagine it’s because of Mia”

Nick snarled back. “Chase, I’m here to make sure Mia is okay. That’s more than I can say about you”.

He was about to spew more venom. But just then, the nurse invited all three of them to join Mia in Dr. Fishman’s office. But why would Mia wheel herself in Robert’s direction?
She was smiling in a state of emotional peace. Her eyes were sparkling and twinkling like the evening stars.

“Hello Robert. I knew you would come here today. I am happy that you would want to be with me”.

Robert looked stunned. He knelt down in front of her and looked into her seductive eyes. Raising her hand to his lips, he kissed it. A slight groan escaped his lips. And a bulge was visible in Robert’s groin.

Mia brushed her fingertips over his cheek and said, “Robert. I believed in you. I knew in my heart that Dr. Fishman would ask you to come home. I am the only one who believed that you were not gone forever”.

Shifting in her chair, she continued. “But, before Dr. Fishman tells us the obvious, I have a confession to make. Robert, Nick and I had a relationship after you left. I agreed to have the paternity test so that everyone would know what I know.

The silence in the room was deafening. Robert looked at her and then at Nick. He seemed indecisive, like he was partly pleased and partly jealous.

Robert looked at the door and Nick wondered if he would bolt and leave yet again. He seemed to be looking for someone or something.

Then he turned and when he focused on Mia again, he seemed to settle down and he asked. “May I touch your belly? It is round and beautiful”.

“Sweetheart, you have that special glow that a woman gets when she is pregnant. I’ve never seen you more beautiful than you are right now. Mia, is the child mine”?

He leaned forward and kissed her lips. Nick was fuming and feared what she was going to say. He had fallen in love with her. He wanted to keep her in his life. He wanted to be the father to her unborn child regardless that he suspected he wasn’t.

Mia’s eyes were teary. She took a deep breath and answered Robert. “Yes, you can touch me. But Robert, before I answer your question, I want the truth. Did you return to love us or to leave me again”?

Nick and Berta exchanged glances of surprise. In answer, Robert grabbed Mia and kissed her lips with every ounce of emotion. Then he spoke to the child she carried in her womb. “Little one, at first I wasn’t sure why I came back. But now that I see how real you are, I know that I want to be your daddy. How can I not love you as much as I love your mommy”.

He looked into Mia’s eyes with tenderness.

“I love you, Mia. You are more beautiful than I remembered. I have come back home because I couldn’t get you out of my head. Sweetheart, I’m so sorry for ever leaving you. Can you forgive me”?

Nick couldn’t stand it anymore. He didn’t want to hear Robert’s bullshit. He stood beside Mia, and put his hand on her shoulder.

”Bravo Robert! You are right in character. All I’ve heard is ‘I, I, I.’ For once in your life, Robert, can’t you think about Mia and how cruel it was to leave her in the first place? I was here for her when she cried for days after you shattered her heart into pieces. Now you have the nerve to breeze back into her life, say a few romantic words and then it changes everything. Well, it doesn’t. Your words are meaningless to me and they should be meaningless to her also”.

Robert released Mia’s hand, stood up, and lunged toward Nick.

“You’re right, Starks! Everything you’ve said is correct. Maybe I don’t deserve forgiveness. But it doesn’t change the fact that I’ve come home. And Mia wants to give me a second chance. It also doesn’t change the fact that I’ve never stopped loving her”!

Nick raised his fist and swung at Robert.

“Hell, Robert, you don’t have any idea of what it is to love”.

Robert ducked. “Okay Nick, I admit I made a mistake, but I want to make it right. I’m sure the baby is mine and I will take care of my family. So step back… It’s no longer your business.”

Robert turned away from Nick and looked into Mia’s tear– stained eyes. He held her hand and touched her cheek. Meanwhile, Nick again put his hand on her shoulder.

“Mia, Robert said he loved you”.

But Robert Chase wasn’t known to commit to anyone for long. Nick knew Robert’s marriage to Cameron had been a disaster. Had he changed enough to make a commitment to Mia, a baby and married life this time? Or would this be another promise he wouldn’t keep?

Robert continued to plead with Mia. ”Sweetheart, as I look into your eyes, I see that there are feelings for me. I know how unforgivable my actions have been and I’m sorry. It has been painful being apart from you. I love you”.

Nick had not budged from holding her shoulder. He was trying to protect her from Robert’s lying words. But now, Mia turned and asked him to let her go.

With reluctance, he backed away and in an angry voice shouted, “You repulse me Robert! I only have contempt for you. Chase, you don’t deserve this incredible woman”.

As he stormed out of the room, he brushed past a young woman who had opened the door. She had heard the shouting. She was focused on Robert kneeling in front of Mia. Nick stopped when he heard Mia ask, “Robert, do you know that woman”?

He turned toward the door. Robert looked startled and flustered. He seemed caught between two worlds. Nick noticed that the attractive older woman also looked confused.

Mia again asked, “Do you know that woman, Robert? Who is she? Did you bring her with you?”

His brow furled and he raised an eyebrow. “Yes, sweetheart. Her name is Janice, and I did bring her with me. She is my girlfriend”.  In a monotone voice, he explained. “I was going to tell you about her until I saw you. Mia, I can’t l help myself. I want you back in my life and I want this baby to be mine. Please tell me the child is ours”.

Janice was angry. She gasped in disbelief and turned to leave. She stalked past Nick on the way to the elevator.

In disgust, Nick heard Robert plead with Mia. “I’ve got to talk with her. Mia, please wait for me! I’ll be right back. I promise you that I’ll be right back”.

As Robert ran after Janice, Nick followed. If Robert was going to be unfaithful to Mia, he wanted to know about it. He saw Robert lunge and grab Janice’s arm as she was about to step into the elevator.

Pleading, he said, “Janice, stop. Please stop so I can talk with you”.

She turned away. “I’m sorry, Janice. I didn’t mean for us to end this way. I’m sorry, but I can’t let her go. Mia is still in my heart and she still loves me too. Janice, try to understand that I can’t leave my baby without a father. I can see now that Mia has always been the woman I wanted”.

Janice glared into Robert’s eyes. “Good-by Robert. You son of a bitch. You thought you’d cover your ass by having me along just in case the lovely Mia turned you away. Smooth move Robert, you are a selfish bastard”!

Janice slapped his face and stepped into the elevator. Before the doors closed, she looked back. “Robert, I feel sadness for her. How long will it take you to do to her what you did to me? But it is obvious that she is the winner, for now. How long are you going to ‘love’ her this time Robert Chase?”
Robert didn’t have a chance to give Janice an answer before the door closed and she was gone. Nick saw him shake off the harsh rebuff and dashed past him to get back to Mia.
Nick stood in the shadows. He saw Dr. Robert Chase kneel down in front of Mia and he listened to his sickening syrupy words.

“Sweetheart, Nick left you standing here alone because he knows that we belong together. I told Janice that it is over and I sent her away”. “Mia, we need to talk because there is so much that I need to confess. Take me home with you”.

Nick was a gentleman, but his love for Mia was deep. It was in Nick’s nature to defend her to the end and at all costs. He had had enough.

He stalked back into the office. Nick turned Mia’s chair away from Robert so she faced him.

He fired off one question after another. “Is this what you want Mia? Can you even trust him? Do you want to leave this building today with Robert instead of me? Are you sure this is what you want to do”?

Nick fell to his knees, reached for Mia’s hand and said, “You can trust me. You know that you can always count on me. Mia, I want to marry you. Will you say yes that you will be my wife? I don’t care which one of us is the biological father to this baby. All I know is that I love you and I will love this child as my own”.

Mia took a deep breath and let out a sigh. “Nick, I love you too. You are more than a friend, but I cannot be a wife to just anyone, just to Robert. He is the only man that I love. I love Robert in my heart and that love will not go away”.

Robert tried to pull Nick away from Mia and the men scuffled. While Berta cheered Nick on, Dr. Fishman intervened.

“That’s enough, Nicholas, Robert. Nick you had better stay away from Mia until things cool down. For now, wait in the reception area”.

But, Nick had to defend Mia. “No, Dr. Fishman. I’m in love with Mia and I will never agree to stay away from her. Unlike Robert, I will never hurt her”.

He turned around and pled, “Mia, Robert will hurt you again if you go back to him. I’m sure of it. He will never change his ways. Sweetheart, please think about what you are doing. I am begging you. Please say yes and marry me”!

Without hesitation, Mia turned away from Nick.

“Robert, you are the baby’s father and I want you to take me home right now”.

Her answer tore through Nick’s chest and ripped his heart from his body. Nick did not think that Mia would betray him this way. He was so sure she had fallen out of love with Robert Chase and she loved him instead.

Nick threw up his hands and barged out of the room lamenting, “Unbelievable, just fucking unbelievable”.

COMING ATTRACTION
THE READING ROOM
PRESENTS
He Took my Child
Based on the Mia Perez Series