The doctors managed to keep me in the hospital under observation for four more days before I threatened to break out. Every day I got calls from Howie, Josh and Brian checking in while Mollee, Aj and Nick rotated shifts to give each other time to sleep or walk around since no one wanted to leave me alone. I couldn’t say that I was upset by that as the flashbacks and nightmares made their presence known any time I would try to sleep or if a male doctor or nurse got too close.
It was embarrassing and I tried to make sure that no one was offended but anyone with a y chromosome that was outside of my close friends seemed to morph into Rich when they approached me. The orderly had Rich’s eyes while the hand specialist walked like him. I talked with the hospital psychiatrist about it all but she seemed to think that these things wouldn’t change until I had put the incident behind me and that I should allow myself some time for that to happen. Aj tried to keep me positive about the whole thing, saying we had kicked my old panic attacks together and we would tackle these too when the time was right.
Overall I was so excited when the bright blue wheelchair Aj and Mollee had purchased for me arrived at my room with huge balloons and streamers all over it. I had changed into an actual outfit from my wardrobe and was more than ready to get the heck out of the hospital.
“Alright Katrina, all your papers are in order. Now you are due back here every week until I say otherwise to check on the status of all your injuries. At some point we’ll start physical therapy but until then it’s bed rest and the wheelchair only. Do you hear me?” My main doctor, Dr. Lisa, said
“I hear you. You act like I’m a delinquent patient” I said with a knowing smirk. There was no secret that I was dying to get up and moving again. This independent lady was none too happy about having everything done for her.
“Just get better” Dr. Lisa said patting me on the shoulder. She turned to give some paperwork and medication to Mollee while I turned to Aj
“Can we go? Please?” I begged. The sunshine was calling me and one minute more in this room was likely to make my head explode
“I think we’ve got everything. Ok. Roll over here” Aj said with a smile at my eagerness before carefully picking me up and moving me to the wheelchair. I settled in and gave a big smile to him.
“Forward!” I shouted like an empress causing Mollee and Nick, who were bringing up the rear with my belongings and paperwork, to laugh. We raced out of the hospital and Aj moved me carefully into the passenger seat of his car. Over all my ribs felt less sore every day but just this amount of movement had them throbbing.
“Are you ok?” Mollee whispered in my ear from her seat behind me, noticing my discomfort
“I’ll be fine. It’s just the most movement I’ve had in a few days and my body is getting used to it” I explained. Mollee pulled out one of my medications and shook it
“These babies will make it better” She attempted but I shook my head. I’d made it this far without pain medication so I could certainly do the whole thing this way. We were in high spirits as we drove through downtown LA and then up into the hills where Aj lived. We passed through three security checkpoints before finally approaching a huge wrought iron gate. It couldn’t have been less than twenty feet tall and when Aj rolled down his window to punch in the door code it squeaked and whined as its full weight was forced to swing open
“Welcome home” Aj said happily as he eased the car forward up the driveway. The driveway wound up a large hill and it took a good minute before I could see the silhouette of a house at the very top. I opened my window and stuck my head out as far as my ribs would let me to take a deep breath of fresh California air. I breathed in the trees and flowers and hint of sea salt before opening my eyes to get a good view of the house we were fast approaching.
What I saw was nothing short of a palace. The place managed to feel both medieval and very California at the same time with towering walls of orange stucco dotted with long windows topped with red clay shingles. Mollee helped me down into the wheelchair once we had parked and we just sat there for a moment taking in the entrance which towered above us with a set of winding stairs leading to a tall, ornately decorated iron door.
“How many of our New York apartments could we fit in there?” I whispered to her
“How many of our full New Hampshire house could we fit? I bet at least three” She whispered back
“It’s even more impressive on the inside” Aj joked with a satisfied smile. You could tell he was very excited to have had his house make such a strong impression. Mollee turned back to the car to get her purse and Nick took control of the wheelchair
“These are all new ramps just for you!” Nick said rolling me up a ramp that sat directly in between the two staircases
“When did you have that done?” I asked putting my hand out and resting it on Aj’s thigh which was about the only thing I could reach from the chair
“One of my guys took care of it over the last few days. Wait until you see how you get to go up the main staircase” He said pecking me on the cheek before opening the door. Nick wheeled me in and I was immediately greeted by a huge entryway that stretched up two floors. An elaborately welded medieval chandelier hung down in front of the double staircase that lead to the second floor and it burned with actual flickering candles. “Want the full tour?”
“Yes please!” I said with a grin. Aj could have brought me to a shack in the middle of the desert and I would have been pleased by virtue of it not being the hospital room. The fact that he was welcoming me to the biggest house I’d ever seen was enough to make me forget my considerable problems at the moment. And that’s saying something.
“Alright come on through here to the dining room” Aj started. A large table that could have easily sat twenty was the focal point of the room, carefully engraved with skulls of all sorts and surrounded by tall backed matching chairs of dark wood. More chandeliers hung over the table that Aj brushed aside as something he “didn’t use much”
“Not with your microwave pizza addiction” I joked as he wheeled me through to the next room. We toured the kitchen which was huge and had a large island bar in the middle and then around to the living room which was filled with more couches than made any sense.
“Aj, why on Earth do you need a room filled with couches?” Mollee asked with a laugh
“It’s my collection. You can’t knock it until you’ve had the pleasure of choosing a different couch to play Xbox on for two entire weeks” He said defensively as Mollee and I rolled our eyes at each other. We moved on to the back patio which opened out to a huge backyard surrounded by trees with a pool in the middle. Of course this was no ordinary pool. This pool was made to resemble a pond and within it were hidden intricate carvings of mermaids and beautiful fountains with multiple levels dribbling gently into the main body of water.
“What are the doctor’s orders on swimming?” I asked admiring the pool
“I’m not sure, we’ll have to check” Mollee said as she took charge and led me back to the main staircase.
“Are you ready for something so super exciting?” Aj asked giddily. Overall he was the happiest I’d seen him since everything had happened
“Definitely!” I said with a grin, catching his contagious enthusiasm. Aj wheeled me backwards towards the stairway and when I got close enough I heard a click
“Hold on tight and push this button” Aj said wrapping a remote around to me from its spot hidden in the wall. Slowly my chair began to move on a track up the stairs and my smile grew
“It’s like a theme park every day!” I squealed and Aj laughed while Nick raised his eyebrow “Oh stop, you’re just jealous”
“Ok, a little” He admitted before bounding up the stairs after me. When we got to the second floor it was time for a tour of the entertainment center with its movie theater seating and large projection screen as well as a reflection and hookah room filled with purple, red and yellow pillows around an ornate marble table that held a very impressive hookah. Then it was off to see a slew of guest rooms before we pulled up short in front of one room in particular.
“Are you ready for another surprise?” Aj asked and I nodded. He opened up a door on the long hallway and I gasped
“Mollee, why is all of your stuff here!?” The room was a dark purple and it already had pieces of flair from my sister in every corner. A picture board of us and our parents which never left her side was propped in a far corner and the walk in closet was overflowing with her clothes
“I figured Aj could use some help for a few days and he offered me a room that could be mine while I was here” Mollee said happily “That is, if you want me”
“You are the best” I said giving her a big hug. I caught Aj’s eye over her shoulder and mouthed “thank you”
“Come see my room” He said with an accompanying nod as an answer before pushing me down the hall a little farther. He swung open another door and I was met with a room that screamed Aj. You could tell it was his pride and joy in its decoration and it made me feel at home just to look at it. High ceilings topped black walls with all manner of silver, bronze and gold pieces mounted to them. Actual tiny torches burned in ornate holders to throw shadows over the dark wooden floor covered in the center of the room by a white shag rug. A monstrous bed with a huge carved wooden foot and headboard dominated the space and was dressed with black sheets with white and red accents in the pillows and blankets.
“Aj this is incredible” I said wheeling myself in
“You haven’t even seen the best part” He said quietly, taking control of my chair and wheeling me towards the curtains at the far end of the room. With a dramatic gesture he threw open the curtains to reveal that the entire wall was actually a window facing the beach. Sun poured in over the white sand and crashing waves and I closed my eyes to feel it on my skin
“Damn” Nick commented “I’ve never seen this before”
“It’s fairly new” Aj said sheepishly “I thought Kat might like it”
“You had this done this past week?” I asked incredulously
“Of course not, I had it done back when we first started touring. You were all about the beach calming you and I figured that if I ever brought you back here that you’d like a view of it” Aj answered acting like it was no big deal
“Alexander James” I teased “You planned to live with me only weeks after we had met?”
“Ok, that’s enough. I want to show you your room” Aj said taking advantage of my inability to move myself to wheel me away from the large display of affection which was one entire wall of his bedroom
“Why not just share this one?” Mollee asked following behind
“Aj thinks I’ll need somewhere to call my own” I explained with an eye roll
“So my room is the only one with the view to the beach” Aj interrupted outside the door next to his “but this room has the next best thing, a view of the mountains. I know they are nothing to New Hampshire but I thought it might remind you of home”
“That’s so sweet Aj” I said putting my hand on his and giving it a small squeeze. Aj opened up the door and what I saw took my breath away. A large room with light hardwood floors and bright green walls met my eyes. Everything in it was forest themed. The bed was made with green sheets covered by a fluffy brown comforter with a leopard print blanket folded at the end of the bed to match the animal print pillows. The furniture included a bedside table, dresser and entertainment unit with shelves all made of some dark wood that had been left unpolished so it resembled the bark from trees. The shelves were filled with my pictures and scrap books that Mollee must have unpacked for me while I was in the hospital and a giant branch seemed to grow right out of the ceiling to extend halfway across the room.
“This is my favorite part” Mollee said shutting off the lights and hitting a small switch next to the bed. Tiny white lights came to life on the branch as if tiny stars had been caught where leaves had once been.
“Aj” I said at a loss for words
“And this is your view” he said wheeling me to a large picture window with a window seat. He drew back the sheer brown curtains and showed me the rolling hills of LA and the surrounding area. Green played against the bright blue sky until in the distance it gave way to the burnt orange of the desert
“This is breathtaking” I said quietly. A tear rolled down my cheek and I wiped it away quickly, but not fast enough to escape my sister
“Are you ok?” She asked quickly kneeling in front of me
“It’s just so nice. I’m going to be so at home here” I said and her worried look gave way to a smile. After touring my walk-in closet and large bathroom with heated stone floors and an organically flowing glass shower and tub I settled into my chair and tried to hide a big yawn
“Tired?” Mollee asked and I nodded
“I can last though, is there anything else I should see?” I asked with a small smile. Aj glanced at Mollee who shook her head and then looked at Nick who shrugged “Ok, what am I missing”
“There is one other thing I had installed here. It was before everything happened though” Aj said tentatively as Mollee fumed
“You can see it once we know you’re all settled up here” She said sternly pointing to my head “No need to over excite you on your first day out of the hospital”
“I can handle it” I said pulling away from her condescending touch and tone
“You had to bring it up” Mollee said angrily to Aj
“I think she can handle it too. It’s for her she should know that it’s there. When she’s ready” Aj said defensively
“Ok, she is sitting right here” I said with annoyance as I tried to discreetly stretch out my now aching side. Sitting up in the chair was a lot harder on my ribs than lying down. Not that I’d ever let any of them know that. “Come on. Bring me where I’m not supposed to go”
“Someday you’ll listen to me” Mollee mumbled as she took hold of my chair and wheeled me out of my room. Aj rolled his eyes and followed as she clipped me back into the stairs and then led me carefully down a second ramp to a basement level. It was clear work had been done here as the hallway was unfinished and the door I was presented with was thoroughly unremarkable
“This is for you” Aj said reaching forward to open the door and turn on the lights. Slowly the room came to light before my eyes and I gasped. A huge space with floor to ceiling mirrors on one side and a bar on the other presented itself. The smell of brand new Marley met my nose with a nostalgic twinge and I couldn’t stop myself from slipping off my sandal so I could feel it beneath my feet. Aj had made me a dance studio. My very own dance studio
“Help me” I said quietly holding out my arms once I had moved my feet from their place on the foot rest of my chair to the floor
“Kat, what are you doing?” Mollee asked quickly
“I’m not going to dance I just want to walk in the room. I can’t wheel the chair in because it’ll mess up the floor” I explained to silent, stunned faces “You can either help me get up or I’ll do it myself”
“Ok, ok” She said with a sigh and a glare at Aj who looked like he was second guessing his own wisdom of showing me my very own dance space. They each took a side while Nick held the chair steady and I stretched slowly to my feet. Once there I shook them away so I could take some careful steps by myself to the center of the room. The walls were painted a lovely deep blue and there were all the hookups for a surround sound music system in place. It felt so perfect and so right that I didn’t think twice about turning towards the large mirror in front of me.
“Oh God” I got out once I caught my own reflection and I staggered back a few steps. Aj was there in a heartbeat to make sure I didn’t fall but that was the least of my worries. I had yet to see myself in a mirror since I had been admitted to the hospital. People had explained my injuries to me but I had not seen them for myself.
Wordlessly I brought my hand up to my head where the first of many bruises stemmed. A huge swollen egg protruded from my right temple, probably the remnants of the impact it had made with the car window that had knocked me out. What had once been black and blue was healing into a cornucopia of colors and the swelling was still so intense that it made it impossible to open my left eye all the way. The right side of my jaw was swollen as well and my lip had been split in addition to the lovely bruise that blossomed underneath the wound. That must have been from one of the times Rich had slapped me.
I ran my hands down my neck and traced the bruises and tenderness there. Brian was right, there was a very clear handprint with a deeper bruise by the heel of the hand and lighter spokes that shot off from there for the fingers reaching towards my left ear. Completely in a trance I moved to lift up my shirt and was met with a stomach that could have been a yin yang. My right side was pale, my normal skin tone, but the left side was a dark reddish black that extended angrily up my entire side and around to my back. As I attempted to turn to see my back my vision became clouded with what I realized were my own tears
“Hey. Hey precious it’s ok” Aj said taking me in his arms and sweeping me off my feet so he could rock me close to his chest. The tears came faster and faster as what happened to me finally hit home and hit hard. Sobs erupted from the tears and I buried my face into Aj’s dampening shirt
“Kat you’re ok. You’re going to be ok” Mollee’s voice crooned to me from my left and I felt her hand rubbing circles into my back. I just couldn’t shake the image of that girl staring back at me. That wasn’t someone strong. That was a victim. Rich had turned me into that. Anger and devastation poured out of me so violently that I thought it might never end. Like so many things, however, with enough time I began to regain control. Slowly the sobs turned back into tears that became fewer and fewer until I had regained some of my breath. I cleared my throat a few times before I could make myself speak
“No one told me how bad it looked” I croaked, still half choking on tears
“It’s much better than it was” Mollee said and then panic rushed over her face “I mean you’re healing. It’s good because the swelling and colors mean you’re healing”
“I’m tired” I said after a moment of silence “Thank you so much for the studio Aj. Knowing it is here is more encouragement to stay strong and fight hard to get better so I can use it”
“I’m sorry I didn’t think of the mirrors” He said sadly
“Stop. It is perfect. This would have happened sooner or later. At least it’s done with now. I know what I’m dealing with” I said quietly. Aj kissed my forehead and began to carry me toward the door, bypassing the chair all together so he could keep me close
“I wish I could take your pain. More than anything I wish I could just feel this for you” Aj said quietly as he made his way up the main stairs to the bedrooms
“I wouldn’t want that. It would be impossible watching you suffer something like this…” I trailed off, envisioning it. For a moment I saw how hard this had to be for the people around me. The people I loved, watching me suffer, helpless, while they just moved around trying not to make it worse.
“Do you want to be in my room or yours?” Aj asked tenderly once we were outside the bedroom doors
“Yours” I said softly “Mollee, Nick thank you for being here for me. Get some rest ok?”
“Are you sure you’re going to be ok sleeping right now?” Mollee asked
“I’m fine Molls. I love you. Nick, make sure she sleeps” I directed to Nick who nodded before taking Mollee’s hand so he could lead her to their room. Aj dropped me carefully on his bed and then hit a switch that closed his window wall and dimmed the firelight. He made sure I was settled first with blankets and pillows in all the right places before climbing in next to me. He cuddled in close and then propped his head up on his one hand, using the other to gently stroke my hair away from my face
“How is my girl?” He whispered into the dim light as it played across my face
“Exhausted” I answered with my eyes fluttering closed even as I longed for the strength to keep them open and study the features of the face I loved most
“So sleep. You are so strong and I am so proud of you. I will be right here to keep you safe my love. You are my world” He whispered in my ear. A small smile crossed my lips before my exhaustion won out and took me away from Aj and towards the dream world that was now occupied by Rich. Aj, however, stayed up watching my eyes flicker beneath my eyelids, ready to jump into action should a flashback begin. It was unclear how long he stayed like that, trying to interpret dreams he couldn’t see for himself when he heard a soft knock on the door. A small line of light pooled on the floor as the door creaked open and Aj raised his head a bit to see who was there
“Is she asleep?” Mollee’s voice drifted from the doorway
“Yes” Aj whispered, unwilling to move or really take his attention from his watch
“I need to talk to you, come here” Mollee said through the crack in the door
“I don’t want to leave her alone. I said I’d stay” Aj whispered back
“We’ll leave the door open so you won’t miss anything. Please. It’s important” Mollee pled. Aj sighed and quietly slipped out of bed. He turned to glance back at the figure under the covers and relaxed when he saw signs of even and calm breathing. He snuck out into the hallway but left the door cracked
“What is it?” Aj asked through a yawn before sliding down the wall and positioning himself so he could still hear and see into the room through the crack in the door
“I’m sorry I got mad about the dance studio. You were right, she deserved to see it and I think it will help her knowing it’s there” Mollee said sitting against the wall opposite him
“I don’t hold that against you. As far as I’m concerned everything you and I say or do in the next few weeks can’t be held against us. We’re under a lot of stress” Aj explained
“Good” Mollee said before taking a deep breath and slowly letting it out
“Was that all that was so important?” Aj asked with a small smile. It might be annoying but the love between these sisters made him happy. It made him wish he had siblings of his own
“No. I just… I don’t know how to start” Mollee said twirling her fingers
“Relax, it’s just me. We both love that girl sleeping in there so we’re both on the same side. What’s going on?” Aj asked, a protective love like he hadn’t really felt before swelling in his chest.
“Well, that’s just it. We both love Kat so much so we’re the only two who are really in this same position and… I just… could use a friend?” Mollee said tentatively as tears began forming at the corner of her eyes
“Come here” Aj said pulling her towards him and hugging her close “I am here for you too. I love you Mollee. You’re like a sister to me”
“I love you too Aj” Mollee said through some tears “I’m just so worried about her, you know?”
“I know. There are times that I look at her and it seems like we’ll all make it through this. It seems like the girl I love is in there ready to come out. And then there are times I look at her and see what she saw today in the mirror, someone broken. What if she’s so broken that she can never be fixed?” Aj asked releasing Mollee from the hug but staying close so he could whisper as quietly as possible. It wasn’t every day that he opened up about these kinds of feelings but already talking to Mollee was making him feel better
“I just keep comparing this to last time. She bounced back from that ok but how much can a person take? What if some things are lost that can’t be recovered?” Mollee mused
“Well last time she really only had you looking out for her, right?” Aj asked and Mollee nodded
“So what we’ve got this time is each other. We will both be here, ready for whatever comes. I mean it when I say that you can stay here for as long as you want”
“Thanks Aj. I really appreciate that. We’ll be there for each other too, ok? This way we can say the stuff we need to say that we could never say to her” Mollee explained
“You know what I just realized” Aj said after a moment of silence “It’s only three days until Christmas”
“That is crazy” Mollee said shaking her head “After we lost mom and dad Christmas became a really hard time. That’s just what Kat needs, right, more hard times?”
“Well Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. You, Nick and I will have to start new traditions this year. We’ll decorate the house and use it to take our minds off of everything and keep Kat healing” Aj said with determination. Suddenly there was a small cry from the room and Aj stood up straight and fast
“Do you need help?” Mollee asked
“I got it. Get some rest. And make some plans with Nick about Christmas. His family was always really into it, he’ll be a good help” Aj said quickly before running into the room
“Stop, no” I mumbled, stuck in a nightmare that I couldn’t escape
“It’s me precious. Come back to me. You’re safe” Aj said crawling into bed and putting a light pressure on my body so I couldn’t squirm too much and hurt my ribs
“Aj?” I called out, still half asleep
“Right here” He answered quickly “open your eyes, I’m right here”
“Make it go away” I moaned slowly adjusting my vision so I could see his face “I’m so tired, I just want to sleep”
“Take some sleeping pills my love. Please? It doesn’t make you weak to get some help from the meds” Aj insisted
“I want to stay sober with you” I said quietly looking into his eyes
“Sweetheart this is so different. This is an extenuating circumstance. Please, for me, take the sleeping pills” Aj said with so much emotion that my breath caught in my throat
“I really don’t want to see his face again” I whispered, allowing a little of the fear I felt to crawl its way out of my belly and into Aj’s ear
“So take this and you won’t have to” Aj said before kissing me lightly on the lips “Stop torturing yourself. Please. It’s killing me to watch you like this”
“Ok” I said softly, unwilling to hear more pain from Aj “Where are they?”
“I’ll be right back” Aj said hopping off the bed and sprinting to his bathroom for water and the right pills. He was back before I could register that he was gone and I swallowed the pills in one big gulp “Thank you precious. Thank you for doing this for me”
“I’d do anything for you” I said drowsily, already feeling the effects of the pills. These suckers must be strong
“Your love as far as I can see is all I’m ever gonna need” Aj's voice drifted quietly to my foggy head “There’s one thing for sure I know is true. Baby I’d do anything for you”