by Anj
(a.k.a. Azurenon)


All disclaimers in Chapter One


        After pool therapy, the next day, we were both surprised to find several men in the room next to hers, moving out furniture and assembling the very equipment she'd mentioned previously as being the next stage in my therapy.
        Sara walked into the room while I looked in from the door. “Where'd this come from?” she inquired of a burly man tightening the bolts on an exercise machine.
        “We're from Blanchard's…” the man started to name his company, but Sara interrupted.
        “No, I mean, who ordered this?”
        “A Mr. Neilson,” he replied, glancing over at his companion. “Is there a problem?”
        Sara hesitated, her gaze falling on the other young man, assembling a pair of parallel bars to a long flat mat of some sort. This reminded me of a large treadmill, although it appeared the mat was stationary. She eventually shook her head. “No, no problem,” she answered, tight lipped.
        “Are you the therapist?” the young man inquired.
        “All the paperwork is over there.” He pointed with his screwdriver to a slim stack of papers on the floor by the door. “You'll need to sign the one on top, saying you received this.”
        Sara merely nodded, walked over and picked up the papers, along with a pen that had been left on top. She read the first page, frowned, then said, “Let me know when you're finished. I'll need to check things over. I'll be next door.”
        “What's wrong?” I queried, as we entered my sitting room.
        She hesitated. “He had the equipment brought here,” she responded, still tight-lipped. “I wanted to get you out, even if it was just going to the hospital and back, but… I suppose this will be more convenient.” She paused and sighed heavily. “Well, I guess the important thing is we can start this stage of your therapy right away.” She flashed a lopsided smile.
        I could tell she was disappointed and so was I. I'd been looking forward to those outings together. I hadn't, however, been looking forward to being around a lot of other people during this therapy. This turn of events was a mixed bag; and one soon relegated to the back burner, right after lunch, when the hairdresser showed up as Brandon promised.
Pierre was a rather thin, short man, with beautiful dark wavy hair and bright blue eyes. His French accent was fake, an affection presumably to impress his customers. He hadn't quite perfected it; for, even I could detect the southern drawl tainting his performance. It was quite humorous, actually and I found him rather entertaining. He made a comment in French, as he touched my face and I had no idea what he'd said. Sara looked over at me and translated," He says your very pretty." When I inquired as to how she knew French, she frowned in consideration, then shrugged her shoulders and got that far away look in her eyes. She's found another hole in the Swiss cheese, I thought.
        "Mademoiselle, your uncle has selected three choices for your approval," Pierre explained, opening three square silver boxes. "First, we will try 'zis one."
        He pulled out a wavy blonde wig, with hair the color of Sara's and placed it over my turban. It was awful. I looked like a blonde version of Betty Boop.
        "Too full," he said, promptly removing it. "Let's try 'zis one." He placed a wig with long flowing blonde hair on my head. "No, no, no, 'zis does not fit your face," he said, removing it.
        I had to admit I did look rather odd. The hair even looked silver against my skin, rather than blonde.
        "Your uncle said 'zis one reminded him of your mother," he said, bringing out the final selection.
        I noticed immediately the nearly shoulder length blonde hair had already been arranged and set the way my mother wore it, the ends turned under like Streisand. As he placed it on my head and arranged the sides, I found myself looking at a facsimile of my mother. I looked more like her now than I ever had. Even if the nose was not the same and my lips were a bit fuller, I could still see her features in my face: rosy cheeks, bow shaped lips, small chin, and the pale pigment of my skin. Or did I look so much like her only because I no longer had the beautiful original to compare the reproduction to?
        "Oh yes, mademoiselle, 'zis is your color. Yes... I could transform zis into a work of art," he said, fussing with the front sides to arrange it around my face.
        "But the turban," I said, pointing to the way the part displayed it.
        "No need to worry, Pierre will take care of 'zat." He looked at my reflection in the mirror, then brushed the hair down in front and over to one side, covering most of the turban. "I could sweep it o'ver to the side like 'zis, give you a part here. Or... give you bangz. Yes, I believe bangz would be better. You like?" he asked, repositioning the hair in front.
        "I... I don't know," I replied, seeing a face too much like my mother's staring back at me. Then again, I'd always wanted to look like her and now was my chance.
        "Can you take 'zis tur-bon off?" he asked.
        I shook my head. "The scars are too bad."
        "Can we have a look? Pierre can do won-derz with makeup and your scar might be eazier to hide than 'zis tur-bon."
        I relented and he unwound the turban to reveal my scarred head and face. I know he didn't mean for me to see it, but I noticed the expression on his face, when he first saw the scars. Then he looked up at my reflection in the mirror and flashed a fake smile. I sighed heavily, as he repositioned the wig on my head. He fussed around with the sides again, pulling them forward for bangs.
        "Yez, yez, I think I could make 'zis work, with a little makeup here and... across here." He nodded and smiled at my reflection. "What do you think?"
        "Sara? How about it?" I asked, feeling I was not the best judge of this situation, at the moment.
        "Please mademoizelle, Sara..." He moved aside and Sara's reflection appeared behind me.
        She looked at me oddly for only a brief moment and then the corners of her mouth turned up in a smile. She arched her eyebrows and slowly nodded.
        "Yes, Pierre, I'll take it, but... you must do something about the underside."
        "Un-der-side?" he asked, bewildered.
        "This thing is making me itch under here."
        "Oh, oh, Pierre can fix that, oh yez. No pro-blem 'zer." He lifted my chin ever so slightly. "You have lovely features, mademoizelle. Thiz will be a pleazure. Shall I inform your un-cle 'zat I will be returning Friday afternoon to perform your tranz-forma-shi-on," he said, his tone implying he was teasing me.
        "Alright. Friday at..." I glanced up at Sara for help.
        "Make it in the late afternoon, Pierre," she offered. "I'm sure she'll be sleeping most of the day."

        When Brandon came to my room later that evening, he was thrilled with my choice. He began chattering away about the party. As Sara walked in with the dinner tray, trying to save poor Celia a few steps, Brandon promptly relieved her for the evening. Then he left to eat his own dinner.
        Sara dropped in again on her way out. "Why don't you go to the library and look up that article on your accident?" I asked.
        "Alright, to satisfy your curiosity, I will. See ya, later."
        Brandon and Jason visited with me until well after nine. I half listened, because my mind was on Sara. I was curious to know what she'd found out. I hoped the article might tell her something that could be useful in tracing her past.
        Around ten thirty she came in, still dressed in her jeans and a white men's shirt -appellants on the shoulders- open to the waist and worn over a black tank top. She flopped down in her chair as if she were worn out.
        "Well, what did you find?" I asked, eager to end the suspense.
        "A very small article," she replied. "Didn't tell me anything I didn't already know."
        "I'm sorry."
        She waved the gesture away. "It was worth a shot," she said, as she started removing the pins from her hair.
        "I suppose." I was disappointed.
        "Hey, don't go feeling bad about it. Oh yeah... I found an article about Ashley. I had a copy made for you. I thought you might be interested in it, since she was your cousin and all."
        "What does it say?" My curiosity was on the rebound.
        "I don't know. I didn't take time to read it." She shook her head and ran her fingers through her hair to straighten it.
        She was so beautiful when she let her hair down that this distracted me for a moment. "Umm… you didn't find anything at all on yourself?" I asked.
        She shook her head, as she stood up. "I guess the daughter's recovery is not newsworthy," she replied, reaching into her back pocket and withdrawing a folded sheet of paper. "Here's that copy of Ashley's. And mine is in there, too. I assumed you'd want to read both." She stared at the mimeograph paper, as she walked over to hand them to me.
        "Do you know how beautiful you are?" I asked, admiring the way her hair fell around her face, framing it with the silky tresses.
        "Read," she said, with a smile. "I need to go change."
        After she left, I unfolded the warm sheets of paper containing slight indentions where they had been molded against the curve of her behind. The first sheet was the small article on Sara. ONE KILLED IN SEMI MISHAP, the headline read. The article went on to say that early Saturday morning, Dec 28, 1987 a tractor-trailer truck jackknifed on highway 85 south, just north of Fayetteville. According to the driver of the semi, one Dick Broswell, an oncoming vehicle swerved to avoid a collision with him and the driver lost control of the vehicle on the wet payment. The 1982 Sunbird plunged several hundred feet down an embankment and crashed into a tree. Mr. Broswell rushed down to the vehicle, which was catching on fire, the driver lying on the hood. He reportedly carried her to safety only moments before the car exploded. The vehicle was later found to belong to Amy Jackson. Her daughter, Sara Bennington, was listed in critical condition.
        I sighed heavily after reading it. Sara had been the driver of the car. I couldn't imagine how she must feel, wondering if she could've done anything differently. I knew this was a guilt she would carry around for the rest of her life.
        I put this page aside and took a look at the other copied article. “MILLIONAIRE'S DAUGHTER MISSING AFTER CAR ACCIDENT”, it read in big bold print. The article went on to say that multimillionaire, Brandon Jason Neilson had requested that the river be dragged, in an attempt to find his missing daughter, Ashley Marie Neilson, 22, after her car, a 1987 Camaro convertible, plunged into the Chattahoochee River on the night of Dec 30, 1987. According to a witness, Ashley swerved to miss a deer and lost control of the vehicle on the slick pavement. Her car tore through the guardrail, landing twenty feet below in the rising waters of the Chattahoochee. The witness was unable to say whether Ashley had escaped; for, he was quoted as saying, "It was just too dark to see anything with the rain and all". But, a police officer, Sgt. Collinsworth, gave the statement: "It would be a miracle, since the torrential rains over this weekend have raised the level of the river several inches and the current is still very swift."
        The story continued on about the prospects of finding her alive; the first attempt to drag the river, which had proved futile; and the ongoing search which had been launched the next day and so far come up empty. It went on about her life, where she had went to college and what she was majoring in: psychology. Actually, it sounded more like a eulogy than a news article on a missing girl. It was obvious to me the reporter had already made up his mind she was dead. Brandon was the only one holding out any hope.
        I folded the papers back up and laid them both on the side of the bed for Sara. The question of Ashley possibly being alive was a dead issue with me now. Obviously her body had just been washed down the river by the rainstorm. I could see though, why Brandon wouldn't give up so easily. There was always that lingering hope that maybe… just maybe she'd somehow escaped. But, that was only a tale for the movies or a good book. Things like that didn't happen in real life.
        But things like Sara's fate did. They'd happened to her and now she was walking around without a past. I assumed the latter made her afraid to look into the future too far.
        A few minutes later Sara walked back in with her robe open, revealing a pair of black silky pajamas underneath. I wondered when she had acquired these. I didn't remember seeing them before. "So, what did you find out, Miss Detective?" she asked, as she closed her robe and tied it.
        Is she teasing me? I wondered. "Umm... she drove a convertible Camaro," I replied. "Musta had good taste."
        "Camaro? Hmm... Yeah, pretty good taste."
        "That reminds me what kind of ride do you make your escape from this place in?"
        "A black Trans Am," she replied, arching her eyebrows. "Her name's Rosa Lee."
        "Rosa Lee?" I queried, with a snicker.
        She smiled. "Hispanic girl I used to know. She was sleek, dark and moved like greased lightning."
        I turned away and crossed my arms over my stomach. She started to snicker now, as she sat down on the side of the bed. "What else did you find out?" she asked.
        I didn't even offer a reply.
        "Oh come on, sweetheart," she said playfully, as she rubbed my arm. "I was only teasing."
        I merely stared at the floor, not even offering to look her way.
        "You flatter me," she said, as she took her hand away. "Truthfully, there was no Rosa Lee, okay," she said, with a grin. "I just added that part to see how you'd react."
        "Did I perform well for your amusement?"
        "Faith... come on, I was only teasing."
        "I know... to see my reaction, right?" I faced her. "And I gave you one, didn't I? I'm jealous, okay? Next time we're out in the yard, take one of those yellow flowers (dandelion) and put it under my chin... it'll turn bright yellow, I guarantee it."
        "I... kinda like that," she said, softly, as she put her hand on my left leg and moved it up to where the covers ended. She looked up at me, then hooked her finger around the covers and pulled down ever so slowly.
        "Uh-uh," I objected, grabbing hold of it. "You can just keep your hands to yourself."
        She grinned and took her hand away. "Feisty, aren't we?"
        "Um-hmm. So, you gonna take me for a ride in... Rosa Lee, sometime?"
        "Sure, whenever you want. Although Brandon might not approve."
        "Oh, I'm positive he wouldn't approve of me riding in a car named after one of your... lovers," I said, haughtily, glancing away. "Come to think of it, I'm not sure I want to..."
        My voice drifted off, as reached up and turned my face towards her then “laid one on me”. Boy, did she ever. She pressed me back against the pillow; I wrapped my arms around her waist.
        "There was... no Rosa... Lee..." she said, through her kisses, her right hand making its way up my left side. "And... I wanna... take you… away with me."
        "Do it," I said, breathlessly, hoping she wouldn't stop.
        "Oh Jesus, Faith... how I want to." She broke away and stilled her hand, resting her forehead against mine. I could see the anguish on her face, as she uttered, "But I can't. You know I can't."
        I wanted to say, Why can't you? But, I knew what she meant. I had to get better before we could make plans like that. This was just passion talking. And mine was screaming out, Please don't stop this time! But, I knew she'd already regained control of herself. "Then just take me for a ride, hmm?" I asked, instead.
        "It'll be our secret," I whispered.
        "No, it won't, the servants will know."
        "Well... it'll go down like this, see...” I said, doing my best Edward G. Robinson impression, which wasn't very good. “…we'll sneak out by the backstairs and if the guards see us, we'll make a run for it, see,"
“What happens if they catch us?" she asked, playing along.
        "We'll let 'em have it, rat-ta-tat-tat," I replied, imitating a machine gun.
        She backed away and started laughing. I glanced down, feeling a tad embarrassed, wondering if she thought I was an utter idiot. "You're something else, you know that?" she finally said, as she lifted my chin so that our eyes met.
        "Yeah, but you're not sure what yet, right?"
        "No... I'm sure you're funny, unpredictable, stub-born…" she replied, dragging out the last word, as she moved in closer. "…kind and… adorable, as hell." She paused, as her eyes darted down to my lips and back again. "You're also very beautiful and... desirable."
        She leaned down and kissed me again. And this time, I was determined that she wouldn't get away so soon. I wrapped my arms around her neck and held on tight. Her kisses grew even more passionate than before, as she slowly devoured my lips. Her lips were soft, warm and wet. I felt like I could never get enough of them. Never get tired of feeling them against my own. I completely forgot about wanting to hold her there and brought my hands around to her face, as she came up for air. I brushed back the hair from her face, letting it slide through my fingers. I followed it downward to the top of her robe, where I traced a path down the middle of her chest to her belt. She kissed me on the cheek then continued down the side of my face, while my fingers untied the belt. Slowly, I worked my hands underneath the robe and around to her back. She was slowly progressing down my neck. Needless to say, by this time, I was on fire!
        "You're not going to give up, are you?" she asked, breathlessly, as she straightened up to face me.
        "No," I whispered, pulling her back down for another kiss.
        She moaned as I moved my hand around her side and touched her breast, through the silky material. Wild sensations soared through my body. All I could think about was having her next to me; touching, caressing... and whatever came next.
        "Stay… with me, Sara," I pleaded, through my kisses. "I… don't care... if we do… nothing more... than this. Please!"
        She let out a soft whimper; her tongue plunged deeper inside my mouth, where I caressed it with my own. We both moaned softly. Her right hand was once again on its way up my side and this time reached its destination. I let out a loud sigh -I felt everyone in the house could've heard- when she placed her hand on my breast.
        She broke away and removed her hand slowly. "No Faith, this isn't right... I can't... God, don't look at me like that."
        "Stay with me."
        Her eyes darted back and forth searching mine. I knew she wanted the same thing I did, I could see it in her eyes. She slowly reached up to the bedpost and pressed the button lowering the head of the bed. Then she reached over and turned off the light. I tingled with anticipation. And then suddenly felt frightened. Oh God, I thought, She's stopped playing cat and mouse. Now what am I gonna do? I wouldn't know the first thing to do past fondling her breasts. What will she expect of me? I've been so aggressive up 'til now, what if she's disappointed when I don't know what else to do?
        You'll muddle through, I told myself, feeling the bed give on my left side and the covers being pulled back. I didn't know what to do, because turning over to face her would have been awkward at best. Instead, I reached out for her hand, when I felt her slide under the covers. It wasn't her hand I found, however; I touched soft, naked flesh. Oh God, no clothes! A lump formed in my throat. I swallowed hard and ran my hand over her silky smooth skin. Fireworks went off inside my mind and body. I wanted her to come closer, but remembered myself saying, "if only we do nothing more than this". I was trapped in a web of my own making, unless she took things further.
        A few moments later, she rolled over on her side and my hand fell to the mattress, as she moved closer. I could feel her breath against the side of my face. I wanted desperately to roll over, but instead reached out again. This time I found her arm.
        "Would it be better if I turned the light on?" she asked.
        "Yes," I replied, and struggled to reach the lamp myself.
        The dim light flooded the bed and I could see her, in what I thought would be all her glory. But, she wasn't naked. She had removed her robe, but she still had on her pajamas. The naked skin I had touched: her leg, where the shorts had been pushed up when she got into bed.
        "Not what you expected?" she asked, as she ran her hand over my arm.
        "No, I thought you were..."
        "I know what you thought," she said, running her fingers around my lips. "But, you didn't know what to do, did you?"
        "Er... huh-uh," I admitted, shaking my head slightly.
        "You felt helpless, didn't you?"
        "Umph. Well, I couldn't..." She silenced me by putting her finger to my lips.
        "Now do you understand why I wanna wait? I don't want you feeling helpless like that. And I don't wanna feel like I'm taking advantage of you. No, now," she admonished, as I started to speak. "Just listen for a moment. I want you... you know I do. But, I want you to be able to move away or walk away if you want to, understand?"
        "Yeah, but... that could take months."
        "Not necessarily. But, even if it does..." I turned away, feeling rejected because I was crippled. She gently brought my face back around towards her. "Even it if does, Faith, won't it be better? Listen to me. Some people date for years and never..."
        "That was years ago," I said, sarcastically. Immediately regretting voicing this argument.
        "Alright... tell me... how do you picture the first time we make love? I know you've thought about it... I have. Or are you just after a quick roll on your bed, hmm?"
        I glared at her for that last remark. But, I knew I deserved it. Matter of fact, I'd reminded myself of a couple of my boyfriends when I threw the argument back that dating without sex was something they did years ago. I was reminding myself of my old boyfriends more and more here lately. But, my god it was so hard not to want her close! I'd finally found what I'd been looking for all these years. And what I'd been avoiding, as well. I'd finally found my wings and now was eager for my first test flight.
        "Well?" she prodded.
        "I... I don't know what I imagined it being like, I..."
        "Wouldn't you like to be able to roll over here right now? Touch me, kiss me... crawl on top of me?"
        "Yes," I admitted, my stomach tensing up with anticipation, thinking how much I'd like to be doing that right this minute.
        "If we wait, sweetheart, it can be beautiful. Remember the song… I promise, I'll be worth the wait," she whispered in my ear.
        A tear formed in the corner of my eye and rolled down the side of my face.
        "Bear with me, sweetheart. I know I've caused a lot of this, because I want you as much as you want me... if not more. But I promise, it'll be better this way."
        "So what should I do, tie my hands and… put glue on my lips before you come in the room at night?" I asked, a bit sarcastically. I shook my head, knowing this is not how I meant it to sound. "I... I didn't mean that. It's just... "
        "I know," she said, as she put her finger to my lips. "I know all too well. We just shouldn't go any further than this, hmm?" she added, running her finger around my lips. "I'm not a man who feels that he can't turn it off. But… I could very easily go too far, too soon, if you're persistent. As you can see, I'm not immune to your charms. Nor losing my head, for that matter. And you're wearing my resistance down, that's for sure. More happened here tonight than I intended."
        "Sara… I love you."
        "I love you, too, Faith."
        She stayed that night until I fell asleep, I suppose. The last thing I remember was the feel of her arm draped across my side.

        The next few days went by pretty fast, what with the new therapy added in. I was able to move my legs a little more, using the parallel bars and maintain my balance standing in the pool. Walking, well that was another matter that would take time. Sara was her usual cheerful self, but I was a bit restrained, trying to control the urges inside myself. I'd had my wings clipped and I was slowly adjusting to life without thoughts of flying, for the time being.
        As Friday approached, I resigned myself to the reality that she'd done the right thing. At this point in my recovery, sex of any kind would have been a bit strained. I knew it would definitely be much better if I could move around easily. Her way was best for both of us. I had just been far too eager to jump headlong into this new and exciting experience.

        Friday came and Pierre offered to trim my own hair, evening up both sides, free of charge, before applying the wig. I had to admit it was quite a transformation he performed. When Sara saw the finished product, she thought it was nice, but voiced her own questions about my original hair color. When Brandon saw it, however, he nearly flipped! He went on and on and on about how he couldn't get over the resemblance. I was now a "living doll". Not just a princess, but a "living doll".
Yes, Chatty Cathy's string had definitely been given several good yanks that night and many was the time I felt like pulling out his batteries and would've, if he'd had any. This time he introduced me to everyone as his “princess” and “living doll”, embarrassing me to no end. I noticed several people looking at us both quite strangely, although most seemed more accepting of me, this time. I suppose I looked a bit more "normal" to them, even though I was still in a wheelchair. Several of them even came over and started a conversation with me.
        When I had first considered wearing the wig -looking like my mother the way I had always wanted- I'd never envisioned the way other people would see me. I'd always heard blondes had more fun, but I'd never heard a wig could get you many future offers from eligible men. But, it seemed it did. Or either, I had been set up by my uncle. I wasn't exactly sure which.
        While I was slowly buzzing through the crowd in my electric chair – which I had insisted on, since I didn't want to be Brandon's "living doll", pushed around the room in her carriage the whole entire evening- I was accosted by a young associate of his, who stepped in front of me and boldly introduced himself. I wanted to tell the bold and brash Mr. Graham that he took quite a risk doing this, because I was a horrible driver, but instead I smiled and said it was nice to meet him. Needless to say, those four few words, were just what he wanted to hear. And throughout the remainder of the evening, I couldn't shake him. The pleasant young man -in his late 20's, with dark brown, neatly trimmed hair and thin moustache to match- seemed intent on being with me, for some unknown reason. Of course, he wasn't really a nuisance I just didn't want to mislead him in anyway.
        Towards the end of the evening, when I'd had a few glasses of champagne –he'd insisted on getting for me- he asked if I'd like to take a stroll with him. At first I made some comment about my driving and sweetly refused. But then I noticed Sara across the room, standing by the buffet table, having an animated and seemingly enjoyable conversation with a very pretty woman about her age. And suddenly, I was extremely jealous. I was now the one with the chameleon eyes, because the green-eyed monster had me by the throat. Sara turned and glanced over at me, holding two glasses of champagne in her hands, one of which, she handed to the woman next to her. I quickly turned back to Mr. Graham and accepted his offer.
        He talked about himself mostly, as all men tend to do, while we strolled around the pool at a leisurely pace. He told me his plan was to one day own a large corporation like Brandon's. He was a junior associate at present, but moving up quite rapidly. I knew he was trying to impress me; I was only half listening. I couldn't keep my mind off Sara and that woman. I'd gotten jealous once before over the name of her car, which turned out to be her way of teasing me. This was real, however. Full-blown jealousy was rapidly eating away at me.

        Up in my room, with two more glasses of champagne under my belt, I lost my cool and blew up at her. I demanded to know who the woman was. I was sure I'd met her, but how could I remember all those names? Sara explained that she was someone she had met at another party thrown by a patient's family and that the woman was interested in working with disabled people.
Continuing along the same vein and not straying from the asinine character I was already displaying that evening, I demanded to know who the other woman was: the one she had slept with quite a while back before we even started dating or whatever it was we were doing. When she started to tell me, I cut her off and wouldn't let her continue. I could tell from her unconcerned tone of voice that this person was a one-night stand.
I lit into her again. "I thought you said if sex was all I wanted from you, I wouldn't get it. And yet, isn't that what you did with... that one?" I accused.
        "That's different," she replied. "I was… drunk and... she was coming onto me."
        "Now you sound like a man. 'Well who's going to refuse it when it's thrown in your face?'” I said, mimicking a few guys I'd heard voice this excuse to their girlfriends. "Was she that irresistible, Sara? Just because she could move her damn legs?"
        "Faith, you're drunk," she said, matter-of-factly, as she turned and exited the room posthaste.
        She was right. I was drunk, out of line and completely out of control. The green-eyed monster had nearly strangled me with envy and I'd tried to drown it with alcohol. And the result was a very jealous drunk! After taking my tight dress off and struggling out of the chair in a drunken stupor, I must've passed out on the bed, because the next thing I remember Sara was putting a nightgown on me. I don't remember a lot about what happened, but I do remember touching her and pleading with her to make love to me.
        Needless to say, the next morning I had one hell of a hangover and I felt like a real jackass. I vowed never to drink like that again, no matter whom I saw Sara talking to. I apologized for my asinine behavior and she forgave me.

        This episode passed, as did many more disagreements and arguments over the next several weeks; for, it seemed the stronger I became, the more she pushed me. And the harder she pushed, the more tension developed between us. Of course, the kissing and making up was well worth the arguing.
Fourth of July came and went with Brandon throwing another gala party, complete with a spectacular fireworks display. Sara and I watched from our separate positions in a large crowd, glancing over at each other from time to time. I longed to be by her side, but this was not to be. Brandon had seen to it that we each had dates, so to speak. At least, we each had a guy hanging around, who would not go away. I began to wonder if Brandon was getting suspicious.

        My birthday came around on the twelfth, as it did ever year, and Brandon wanted to throw another gala ball, but I wanted no part of that. I reasoned it was my birthday and I should be able to have the things I wanted. And all I wanted was a small party with a few friends. Needless, to say, that evening, my small party of a few friends turned into another gala performance, because he invited all his friends, as a surprise. I was surprised all right, but not in a nice way. I grinned and bared it for as long as I could, then sought the privacy of my own rooms, where Sara had to calm me down, because I was ranting and raving about him spoiling my party.

        July stormed its way into August and August burnt its way into September. By this time, I was on my feet and using a walker for support. No longer confined to the wheelchair, I trudged about the house and grounds more slowly, but more independently. Every morning now, instead of the pool therapy, Sara and I took walks around the grounds. We weren't able to cover up little displays of affection so easily now, so they became infrequent at best when we were outside the privacy of my room.
        Jason would be returning to school after Labor Day and I already missed him; for, he'd began withdrawing, as if preparing himself for the inevitable. Brandon had grown more demanding of my time, seemingly in step with my progress and with his slow, but deliberate ushering of Sara into the background, where he seemed to feel she belonged. Sara and I no longer spent any time together in the evenings. She had me from eight am to four pm only and he had me the remainder of the evening. Sometimes staying long past eleven, which I knew was his bedtime.
        He also began asking and growing more insistent that I wear the wig in his presence, even though my hair had grown out and Pierre had cut and styled it for me. It was short, but at least it was mine and not a scratchy old wig. Sara thought my hairstyle was cute. And I grew to like it, as well. It was cool and easy to handle, but I didn't like the color, it was coming back a mousy dull brown, which no one had a satisfactory answer for. I began ignoring Brandon's request to wear the wig and he finally stopped asking.
        My relationship with Sara was tranquil. I no longer pushed her for more than she was willing to give during those few stolen moments before bedtime, but we were still close. Sometimes, too close for Brandon's tastes and he'd make remarks here and there, but never came out and directly said anything. He still brought me a glass of milk on occasion, which Sara still had an aversion to. So, I drank very little.
        To occupy my free time, when Sara and I were not working and Brandon wasn't demanding my undivided attention, I tried to solve a few mysteries. Ashley's death was a dead issue, so I turned my attention to her mother's death. Why had Vivian committed suicide in front of her thirteen year old daughter, I wanted to know? I got nowhere with that one, either, because any of the staff who had known her would only clam up at the mention of her name. Brandon's orders, I assumed.
I then turned my attention to Sara's Swiss cheese of a past. But, that was a wash, too. For, I didn't have the resources like a private investigator would. Yet, I knew there had to be a way to find out and one day I would do just that.
        Labor day came and just as Sara had predicted Brandon threw a party. But, it wasn't with a southern theme. Matter of fact, there seemed to be no theme at all. It was just another one of his business parties, as far as I could tell. I grew bored quickly, retiring to my room for a few moments of peace, hoping that Sara would follow. But, she seemed to think it was best she didn't. Instead, I saw her walking around the grounds by herself.
        Seeing her down there and my own reflection in the glass watching her, I began to think seriously about leaving sooner than I had intended. This house had become a prison for both of us. She was being pushed out the door, while I was being kept inside.

        "Sara, I want to leave here," I said, bluntly, as she sat down on the bed that night.
        "What? Where will you go?"
        "Well, I thought we could leave together, but... I guess I was wrong about that, huh?" I replied, as I looked away.
        "You'd really take a chance on me?" she asked, softly.
        "Of course."
        "Have you really thought this over? You'd be alone in my apartment, because you know I'm never there."
        "You mean if I was there, you still wouldn't come home?"
        This time she looked away. "I... I've never made a commitment to anyone, Faith."
        "Yes, you have. You make a commitment to your patients."
        "That's different, that's a job."
        "Oh, I see. So, all along I've been just a job."
        "You know better than that. But, my job requires me to be away from home a lot. I mean… I'm living here, Faith. I have lived with each patient in their fancy houses."
        "Does the job require this? Or is this your way of not having to return to an empty home?"
        "Damn," she said, as she got up. "Stop shining that goddamn analytical spot light of yours on me."
        "Truth hurt?" I asked, softly.
        "Damn it, Faith," she cursed and flopped down in her chair.
        "Do you love me, Sara?"
        She offered no reply. She merely stared out the window.
        "Not enough to make a commitment and live with me, huh?"
        "What would we live on? Love?" she asked.
        "Oh, money worries you? What… you think I'm sponging off my rich uncle here? I got news for you, sweet cheeks, I inherited half of Neilson enterprises, the same day my whole world went straight to hell in a hand basket." I crossed my arms over my stomach and turned away.
        "I... I wasn't aware..."
        "Does money change everything, Sara? Think if I have money I won't miss you if you..." I bit my lip and willed the tears back. "Just forget it. It was a stupid idea." I reached over, grabbed my walker and got out of bed.
        I ambled into the bathroom and shut the door behind me, then broke down in tears. It was obvious she hadn't come to terms with her past. Nothing had changed for her. I was still a job she could walk away from when things got rough. And I assumed, she preferred it that way. Perhaps she was even considering walking away now. I was stronger, I was up on my feet and I was, for the most part, independent of her, so now she could leave without a guilty conscience. But, she was going to take my heart with her, ripping it right out of my chest when she passed through those front doors.
        It took a while, but I finally got myself together again and opened the door to the bathroom. I half expected to find her still sitting in her chair, but she wasn't. I sighed heavily and started making my way over to the bed.
        "Faith," she said, as she put her hand on my shoulder. I nearly stumbled all over myself trying to get away from her. She'd scared the shit out of me. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you, I thought you saw me," she apologized.
        "Saw you? Where the hell were you?"
        "You walked right past me," she said, pointing towards the bathroom door.
        "What the hell is that?" I asked, seeing the rectangular hole in the wall near the bathroom door, which looked like a small door itself, except there was no handle and it was only the height of the wainscoting –a little over 4 ft.
        "I think it's some kind of secret passageway. Cum'mere and look." She gestured to it and even helped me turn around.
        "How did you find this?" I asked, bending over, looking into the dark little opening.
        "I was just standing here by the bathroom door and..." She paused, as she looked up at me. She quickly looked down and cleared her throat.
        "Go on," I said, not wanting to get into that sad discussion again. I was truly intrigued by her discovery.
        "Well, like I said, I was just standing by the door and I leaned up against this wall here." She demonstrated how she had leaned up against it with her behind and one leg bent at the knee, her foot pushing against it. "And it sorta gave with my weight. So... I went and got your nail file and... I made a mess of the paint in a few places, but..."
        "Who gives a shit about the paint?" I avowed, taking a few more steps forward, then bending over the walker and peeking inside the darkness of the small space. I was a little afraid of going in. Too many late-night horror movies I supposed.
        "Boo," she said, next to my ear.
        "Damn you, Sara. Did you go in here?"
        "A little ways… not far," she said, leaning over my shoulder, to see around me. "Too dark and I haven't got a flashlight, have you?"
        "What do I look like a boy scout?" I retorted.
        "Not by a long shot," she said, next to my ear.
        I turned and looked over my shoulder at her. She merely smiled and arched her eyebrows. "I feel like this is one of those Abbott and Costello movies, remember those?" she asked.
        "Never liked 'em."
        "Me neither, but I'm sure we look like 'em right now, me peeking over your shoulder like this."
        "Think Abbott and Costello had a thing…?" I stopped short, remembering our previous discussion.
        She gazed into my eyes. "I'm sorry, Faith. Please, give me more time. I mean, I love you, but... I'm so afraid of hurting you. That's what... I wanted to say to you. I was standing out here, debating whether to barge in or not. I didn't wanna knock because... I was afraid you'd tell me to go away." She paused, giving me time to digest this information. "I do love you, Faith," she whispered, as she put her arm around my waist. "So much," she added, placing a kiss on my neck.
        "What... is this?" I asked, clearing my throat and desiring to change the subject. "You get me in a small, dark, cramped place and take advantage of me?"
        "Sounds like a good idea to me," she teased, squeezing my side.
        "Be serious," I said, looking back into the darkness.
        "I am. We could use this as a hide out," she suggested.
        "Um-hmm. You're all talk, I know you. Know where we can get our hands on a flashlight?" I asked, changing the subject again. "I'd like to check this out. I wish there was more light in the room, but..."
        "I know where I can find a candle," she offered.
        "Oh great and have it blow out on us, while we're looking around, hmm?"
        "Knowing us, we'd be the ones to blow it out," she said, with a giggle.
        "You are in an Abbott and Costello movie, now cut it out. I'm being serious here."
        "Okay… seriously, Faith, whaddaya think we're gonna find in there, hmm?"
        "I don't know. What are you suggesting?"
        "Wait until morning, we'll find a flashlight tomorrow and then we'll check it out. Makes no sense to do it now. Hell, we'll end up waking up the whole house."
        "Well, you're the one who opened it up," I reminded, glancing over my shoulder. "Don't blame me for getting my curiosity stirred up."
        "Ooh, you're a hellion when you're mad," she vocalized, while breathing in my ear.
        "Who pulled your string?"
        "You did. You made me think I might lose you. I don't wanna lose you, Faith," she said, placing her face next to my ear. "Please… give me time."
        "Like you've given me time to heal?"
        She nodded. "Come on, we'll save this for in the morning. Right now...."
        I saw the look in her eyes, as they darted back and forth searching mine. I knew she was asking me to forgive her and reassure her that things were all right. Just as she had done for me so many times when I had made a mess of things.
        I nodded in agreement and she helped me backup and turn around. "How are you gonna get that thing shut again?" I asked, watching her attempt to close the door and realize she had nothing to hold onto once she could no longer get her fingers around the edge of the panel.
        "Must be some way," she said, looking at the side of the door. "I mean whoever built the damn thing surely made a way to shut it from this side. Don'cha think?"
        "What's that down there by the molding? No, there…” I corrected. “See that place near the very bottom of the door?"
        She pushed the door open a bit, to reveal a small piece of what appeared to be leather, painted white and nailed to the inside of the panel. She pulled it out a little ways, then used it to pull the door shut.
        "Look at that, the way it's painted and lays down behind the molding, you can't even see it," she said, astonishment in her voice. "Now we have our own secret door," she added, in a ghoulish voice, arching her eyebrows up and down. She rose up and faced me. "Shame it doesn't run between my room and yours, hmm?"
        "Maybe it does," I suggested.
        She shrugged. "I doubt it. But… we'll find out tomorrow." She looked back at the opening. The only thing that gave it away was the tiny nicks in the paint. "Never was much good with a knife. Couldn't cut a straight line to save my life. Remember those damn little scissors they always gave you to cut with in grade school?”
        “Dull as shit and then hurt your hand when you used 'em? And they wanted you to have fun. Give me finger paints any day. Remember how that stuff used to smell?”
        "Sara..." I said again louder.
        "What, sweetheart?" she asked, putting her arm around my waist and starting to help me to the bed.
        For a moment, I was afraid to mention it. But, I felt I had to. "Sara..."
        "Yes, Faith." She stopped and looked at me "What? What is it?"
        "You... remembered," I said simply.
        "Huh?" she asked, as if not comprehending.
        "The Swiss cheese is filling in."
        She stared at me for a moment then looked down at the floor. "I did remember, didn't I? Those little scissors… the finger paints…” She paused, looking awestruck. “I even remembered the smell."
        "How about the Abbott and Costello movies?"
        She stared at me, as her mouth dropped open and tears welled up in her eyes.
        "You didn't like 'em, but… you remember 'em," I said, as my eyes became misty, as well.
        "God, I love you," she said, as she grabbed me around the neck, nearly knocking me off balance.

        "I think you should go to your room now," I whispered in her ear.
        She raised up slowly, batted her eyes a couple of times and looked over her shoulder at me. "I love you." Words so soft and beautiful, said in a sleepy voice. Then suddenly she frowned. "What the hell...?" She sat up in the bed and looked down at me. "What did...? I didn't drink anything, did I? What did I do?" she asked, seeming quite bewildered.
        "You fell asleep, that's all. Believe me, when you do that... I'll make sure you remember it the next morning," I quipped.
        "What time is it?" she asked, running her fingers through her hair.
        "Four-thirty," I replied, having read the clock only moments before.
        "Damn, the servants'll be getting up."
        "What? How do you know what time the servants get up?"
        "Huh?" She shook her head. "What the hell did I just say?"
        "I think you're still half asleep. Go catch a few more hours sleep and then... I wanna find out about our secret door."
        "Huh? What secret…?"
        "Just go to your room and go to bed."
        She got up slowly and glanced around the room, then made a beeline for the bathroom. I waited a good while for her to come out. Thinking she may have went back to sleep on the john, I started to get up and go see about her.
Just then, the door opened and she appeared in the doorway. "My head's a fuckin' mess," she said, as she half stumbled across the room. "Goodnight," she added, as she walked out the door, leaving it ajar.
        "I'll say," I agreed, with her first assessment. Getting out of bed to shut the door, I couldn't help but wonder if this had something to do with her regaining bits and pieces of her memory the night before. "I hope it all comes back for you," I said quietly, as I closed the door. "And I hope there's nothing bad like you think."

Part 12

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