For the next several days I’ll be doing a FREE CHAPTER READ of each of my books. Next up is Memory’s Prisoner. Keep reading to get to know Mitch and Joey…
Detectives Mitchell Reid and Joseph Valentino of the Chicago Police Department have finally moved from friends to lovers, partners on the job and off. Then an escaped bank robber with a thirst for vengeance shatters their world. The police tactical raid to recapture the convict goes horribly wrong, leaving Mitch severely wounded and Joey with a devastating head injury. They both survive, but Joey’s long-term coma and memory loss will change their lives – and love – forever.
An hour later Mitch was transferred to a gurney and wheeled downstairs to an exam room where Dr. Cohen was waiting. He was given a local anesthetic to reduce the pain as the rods holding the brace to his leg were disengaged.
“Now remember, Mr. Reid,” Dr. Cohen said. “This doesn’t mean you’ll be running a marathon tomorrow, as much as you might want to. I don’t even want you bending your leg until your physical therapist stops by to see you in your room a bit later. Understood?”
Mitch just nodded, not really hearing what she was saying, instead watching as first the metal contraption and then the bandages were removed and he got his first, unimpeded look at his leg.
That was the first thought that popped into Mitch’s mind. He knew he was overreacting, knew the doctors had done a miraculous job and had saved his leg, knew the scars wouldn’t be as noticeable with time. It was just a shock to see what kind of damage had been done.
Fine rows of stitches crisscrossed his leg, showcasing the areas where the shrapnel had done the most damage. He knew underneath the skin metal rods held together his shattered lower leg. His knee was by far the worst, as he’d known it would be. It was still a bit swollen, with a much larger, wider set of stitches that ran almost clear around his kneecap. Mitch tried to wrap his mind around the fact that there was plastic under his skin now, where bone used to be. He lay back against the pillows, tiredly running a hand over his face. Now that he’d seen with his own eyes, he no longer needed confirmation from Tim.
His days as a cop were over.
After Dr. Cohen’s examination was finished, complete with a new set of x-rays, a look at the stitches and confirmation that there was some loss of feeling around the kneecap, Mitch was transferred back to his own room, where his physical therapist would meet him.
But meeting the man was the last thing on Mitch’s mind. Once again squashing down his concerns for his future, Mitch focused on one thing instead—commandeering a wheelchair and getting upstairs to ICU. To Joey. Right now.
Mitch had no more been transferred back into his bed than he was trying to get out of it. Only Kim was having none of it.
“Listen to me, Mitch,” Kim said. “Just because you got the brace off doesn’t mean you can go gallivanting around the hospital! You heard what Dr. Cohen told you. You need to keep that leg straight until your therapist checks you out.”
“Forget it, Kim. I am not waiting any longer,” Mitch stated forcefully, trying to swing his uninjured leg over the side of the bed.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a male voice warned from the doorway. “I want you to lay back down and stop giving your nurse attitude.”
Mitch’s rope finally snapped and he turned on the man. “The hell with what you want! What about what I want?!” he yelled at the stranger. “For four weeks, four weeks I’ve lain in this bed while my partner, my friend, lies upstairs in a coma because he tried to save my life! I’m through with waiting! Either help me go see him or get out of my way,” Mitch finished with a snarl, blue eyes flashing anger.
Unruffled at Mitch’s outburst, the man simply crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the doorjamb, stroking his short moustache, seeming to size Mitch up.
“I’ll make you a deal,” the man offered. “You get back in bed, let me examine you and then rest for the remainder of the evening, and I’ll personally take you up to your friend in the morning.”
“Who—” Mitch began, studying this stranger who was nearly as tall as he was, with green eyes staring at him from behind thin, gold framed glasses.
“I’m sorry,” the man cut Mitch off, pushing away from the doorjamb and walking toward the bed, right hand extended. “Allow me to introduce myself. Dr. Steve Wilson. Your physical therapist.” Mitch pointedly ignored the outstretched hand, still glowering. Dr. Wilson chuckled and ran his hand through his short, salt and pepper hair. “And you are Detective Mitchell Reid of the Chicago PD. Nice to meet you, Mitch. So. Do we have a deal? You’d best take it because I guarantee you if you try to take one step on either of your legs, you’re going to end up flat on your face. Not very dignified for a cop is it?”
Mitch knew he was beaten, but he refused to give the man the satisfaction of hearing him say it out loud. He settled for simply swinging his leg back onto the bed.
Steve smiled and nodded his head. “Good. Let’s get to work, shall we?”
The next morning, Steve proved himself an honorable man and stuck to the deal from the previous evening. First he helped Mitch into a pair of gray sweatpants, now that the brace was off, then helped him into a modified wheelchair that kept Mitch’s left leg straight out in front of him and took him upstairs to ICU. Mitch’s heart pounded a wild, staccato beat the entire way. After four weeks of wanting nothing more than to see Joey, now that the moment was upon him, he was scared. Scared to see his friend and have to finally admit to himself that Joey’s condition was indeed very serious.
Steve stopped the wheelchair outside Joey’s open door and Mitch twisted around to look at him. “Thanks. I need… to be alone with him.”
“I understand. I’ll be back in an hour and we’ll get started on your therapy.”
Taking a deep breath, Mitch rolled himself into Joey’s room, pushing the door closed behind him. His intense blue eyes bypassed the overflowing amount of cards, balloons, flowers, and machinery surrounding the bed and focused immediately on the still form lying in it.
Mitch swallowed and rolled swiftly to his partner’s bedside, overcome with a desperate need to touch the young man, to reestablish the link between them that had been broken for four long weeks.
Taking Joey’s limp, left hand in both of his, Mitch rested his forehead on their clasped hands, exhaling shakily before finally really looking at Joey for the first time.
His friend lay absolutely still, eyes closed, dark lashes in sharp relief against the pale face that blended in with the bed sheets and the thick, white bandage that encircled his head. Mitch knew some of Joey’s hair had been shaved prior to the surgery to relieve the swelling of his brain, so he was thankful the bandage covered the shaved patches.
Thin wires appeared from underneath the bandage on either side of Joey’s head, running to the EEG monitor next to the bed. More wires were visible under Joey’s hospital-issue gown, attached to his chest and the steadily beeping heart monitor on the other end of them. IV solution dripped slowly into the tube attached to his right hand. And above all else was the respirator, with its mechanical hiss and tube snaking down Joey’s throat, forcing his lungs to expand and contract, his chest to rise and fall in a carefully timed rhythm that was more than likely keeping him alive.
Mitch squeezed the unresponsive hand held tightly between his own, whispering through a tightly closed throat, “I’m here, Joey. You can wake up now, kid.”
No response, as he knew deep down there wouldn’t be, but there was still a part of him that had been hoping for a miracle.
Mitch silently cursed his injured body. Because of his awkward position in the wheelchair, he could barely reach out and brush his fingertips against Joey’s smooth cheek. But the limited contact would have to do for now. Keeping up the gentle stroking motion, Mitch struggled to put his thoughts into words. Where should he start? He had so much to say, so much to apologize for.
“Why?” came the anguished whisper. “Why did you do it? You should have left me!” Mitch swallowed. “I’m sorry… oh God, Joey… I’m so sorry. Christ, this is all my fault….” he let his head hang for a moment. “It should be me in the coma, not you. Never you…. You were only trying to help, like you always do.” Mitch shook his head sharply. “Damn it, Joey, you don’t deserve this!
“You just wake up now and I’ll never call you ‘kid’ again. Come on, how can you pass up a deal like that? Just open your eyes, Joey.”
But Mitch’s only answer to his bribe was the hiss of the respirator and the beeping of the heart monitor. His tentative smile faltered and faded, and he sobered.
“The doctors told me there’s a chance you might have brain damage. That you might not be the same, might not be able to do a lot of things or not remember a lot of things when you wake up. I refuse to believe that. You’re much too strong to let that happen to you. But… even if it is true, I swear to you I’ll never leave you,” he vowed. “There’s only one thing that scares me, though,” Mitch admitted, bringing Joey’s lax hand up to his lips. “Will you remember how much we love each other?” he whispered.
When Joey’s doctor told Mitch Joey might not remember days, weeks, or months leading up to his injury, or even suffer permanent amnesia and/or brain damage, Mitch’s ultimate fear was that his new lover would not be able to recall their feelings for one another. He could handle anything but that. Anything but knowing their love for one another had been wiped from Joey’s memory. They’d wasted so much time tip-toeing around each other before finally opening up their hearts and learning what love was really all about. To have to suddenly face the fact that a psychopath’s twisted desire for revenge may have possibly ripped it all away from them was cruel beyond belief. To finally find everything you’ve been looking for, only to lose it in the next heartbeat….
And Mitch had no one to turn to. No one knew that he and Joey had become lovers. Not Tim, not Angela, no one. They had just started their relationship and hadn’t wanted to shout it from the rooftops quite yet. No one knew the true depths of his feelings for the young man. Everyone thought they were just friends, close friends, but to Mitch he and Joey were the other half of each other’s soul.
Mitch brought his hand back up to Joey’s face. “We’ve got so much to do together. I can’t go on alone. Not anymore. I need you, always.” He took a shaky breath. “I love you, Joey. Don’t you quit on me….”
For the next week, Mitch’s life at the hospital became routine. Mornings were spent in agonizing, excruciating physical therapy with Steve on the mat or in the pool, finally on his way to regaining mobility in his battered leg. After a month of non-use, with metal rods holding his bones together and an artificial kneecap, he had no strength in it and bending it was pure agony. The end of each session found Mitch shaky and exhausted, desperately wishing Joey could be there with him, missing his constant presence at his side. His partner had the uncanny ability to be able to calm and center him with just a touch, a focus Mitch would need to get him down the long road of rehabilitation ahead of him.
After each round of physical therapy, Mitch received a rubdown on his healing leg to try to ease the painful cramps and muscle spasms the sessions left him with, a side effect of partially atrophied muscles rebelling against use after so long. Drained after therapy and relaxed after the rubdown, Mitch dozed off and on throughout the afternoons before getting himself into his wheelchair to take his dinners upstairs with Joey every evening.
It was what he looked forward to each day, of course. The chance to see his partner and tell him how his day went, what he did in therapy, news from the station that Tim had brought, hospital gossip… hoping each evening that this would be the night Joey’s eyes would open. But seven nights later Joey’s eyes still remained closed.
On the eighth night, Angela dropped the bombshell that threatened to destroy Mitch’s entire world.
He was sitting on the edge of his bed getting ready to lever himself into his wheelchair for his nightly visit with Joey when the brunette appeared in his doorway. Mitch looked up with a smile.
“Hi, Angela. I’m just on my way up—” He cut himself off at the haunted expression on her face. Panic squeezed his heart and he struggled to draw his next breath. “What? What is it? What’s happened to him?” he demanded in a rush, terrified at what her answer might be. Joey had been stable all this time… what could have gone wrong?
“No, Mitch, nothing’s happened,” Angela said quickly.
Mitch was confused. “Then what? You look—”
“Can we talk?” she asked softly, closing his door.
“Of course. Sit down. What’s on your mind?” he asked as she settled herself in the chair next to his bed.
“I don’t… I don’t know how to tell you this, Mitch,” she began.
“Is it about Joey?” At her nod, a tendril of fear took hold in his stomach. “Then just give it to me straight.”
She nodded again and took a deep breath. “Mitch, Joey has a living will. He had it drawn up when he was twenty-one after something that affected him profoundly when he was only twelve.”
The tendril of fear grew ’til Mitch’s stomach was clenched in knots. “A living will?” He slowly shook his head. “Joey never told me. What does it say? What happened to make him write one?”
“When Joey was ten we were living in Fort Worth with my brother Charles, his wife Maggie, and their teenage son Robert. Joey was very attached to his aunt. She doted on him, encouraged him in his voracious reading appetite and generally spoiled him rotten.” Angela smiled, the first one Mitch had seen since Joey had been in the hospital. “Joey went everywhere with her, soaking up the things she did and said like a sponge.” She let her smile fade. “You know I wasn’t supermom, and I was so grateful to Maggie for helping to raise my son. For two years, we were so happy. Then the accident happened. Maggie and Charles were on their way home from dinner one night.” Angela paused and cleared her throat. “The drunk driver crossed the double yellow, hit Charles head on. It happened so fast….”
Mitch closed his eyes in sympathy and laid his hand on Angela’s shoulder.
“Charles received a broken arm and leg, but Maggie suffered a severe head injury. She slipped into a coma and never woke up. She died a year later.” Angela clasped her hands in her lap. “Joey was devastated, and horrified Charles would let Maggie linger like that for so long before finally agreeing with the doctors to turn off the respirator. He never forgot her or that experience and he told me he never wanted that to happen to him. He was upset and was only thirteen years old when Maggie finally passed and I really didn’t understand how serious he was until he showed me the living will he’d had drawn up after his twenty-first birthday.”
Angela looked up at Mitch with anguish, desolation, and a profound sense of loss in her wide eyes. “You don’t have to guess what his will says.”
No… this couldn’t be happening. Mitch began shaking his head in denial before stopping the motion abruptly and pinning Angela with an intense, furious gaze.
“You knew,” he accused, his voice low and threatening. “You knew about his will the entire time! My God, Angela, why didn’t you tell me? You let me go on thinking that—” He cut himself off, realization dawning on him. “That’s why you told me I needed to accept the possibility of Joey’s death, because you knew. Damn you! How could you do this?”
Mitch’s tirade had Angela close to tears. “Don’t you see?” she demanded of the angry, disbelieving man, rising swiftly from the chair. “I didn’t say anything because I was thinking of you.”
“How?” he challenged. “By giving me false hope, by—”
“Mitch. What would have happened if I would have come to you that first night I arrived and told you of Joey’s wishes? You couldn’t leave this bed! You couldn’t see him!” She quieted. “You wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye,” she whispered, wiping at the solitary tear moving slowly down her cheek. “I know how much he means to you. I wanted to wait ’til you were healed enough to go upstairs and see him. I wanted to wait and see if you could bring him back when no one else could….” Her voice broke and her shoulders shook with a silent sob. Mitch gathered her into his arms, her head resting on his shoulder.
“Please, Angela, don’t do this to him,” Mitch pleaded. “Don’t let him go yet. There’s still a chance.”
Angela pulled back from the larger man. “He’s my son, Mitch. Do you think I want to walk upstairs, have the respirator turned off and watch him die?”
“Then don’t—” Mitch tried again, refusing to accept this horrifying scenario.
“I have to. And you know it,” she stated firmly. “It’s what he wants, to not be hooked up to a machine, and he’s already been, for a month now. I know you don’t want this, and neither do I, but what if it were reversed? What if it were you or me lying in a coma, hooked up to a machine that we’d asked not to be and Joey were in one of our positions? Wouldn’t you want him to respect your wishes? As much as it hurt to do so? I know I would.”
Angela was right and he knew it. As much as it was tearing him up inside, he knew he had no right to deny what Joey wanted and had no right to try to force Angela to do so, either. But it didn’t mean he accepted it.
“You know Joey’s not brain dead, Angela,” Mitch reminded her, desperately trying to find hope in a hopeless situation. “Turning it off doesn’t necessarily mean… he might have just been too weak after the surgery last time….” He knew he was grasping at straws after what happened the first time Joey had been unhooked from the respirator, but trying to find something, anything, to cling to, to help him get through this, to finally face the imminent possibility that the man he loved was going to die.
“I know,” she quietly agreed. “And I’m holding on to that hope. That, and his love of life and deep connection to you. I don’t believe he wants to let either one go just quite yet.” With that, she kissed Mitch on his cheek and left the room, tears once again streaming silently from her eyes.
It would be a long, long time before Mitch’s tears finally fell.
“No, Tim. I won’t do it. And that’s the end of it.”
It was the day after Angela’s revelation of Joey’s living will and its conditions. She had conferred with Joey’s doctors after leaving Mitch’s room the night before, and now, within an hour or so, the respirator would be turned off. Possibly taking a life with it with the push of a button.
Angela had contacted Joey’s closest friends last evening as well, and now they were gathered in ICU to say their words of goodbye to someone they cared deeply about, in case the worst case scenario played itself out. Only Mitch was refusing.
“Mitch, listen to me,” Tim tried again, hoping to get his distraught, grieving friend to see reason. “If you don’t go in there and talk to him for what may be the last time, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. I guarantee it.”
Mitch looked up at the tall black man from his position in his wheelchair, the determined expression on his face not quite hiding the pain in his blue eyes. “I won’t go in there, Tim. I refuse to accept the possibility of his death. I will not tell him goodbye. Because that would mean I’ve given up on him. And I haven’t. He’ll beat this, Tim. Joey’s a fighter.”
Tim sighed deeply, and Mitch could tell from the look on his face he’d lost the argument and would be at Mitch’s side to pick up the pieces in the aftermath. He clasped Mitch’s shoulder briefly and nodded his head, then turned and moved off toward Joey’s room. Mitch saw Angela meet him at the doorway with a question in her eyes. Tim shook his head and Angela made a move toward Mitch before Tim stopped her with a hand on her arm and another shake of his head. Angela sagged, pinning Mitch with a pleading look before finally turning and walking inside her son’s room. Mitch ran a hand over his face, pinching the bridge of his nose. Dammit, he knew what he was doing. He wouldn’t give up on Joey.
One by one they came and went from Joey’s room—Neal, Rick, Drew, Tim, Danny—as Mitch watched from his wheelchair across the hall in the open area of the ICU wing, perfectly still. No one approached him as they arrived or departed, warned off by Tim probably, but each looked at him with tears and sympathy in their eyes and an unspoken offer of support for their friend.
Eventually, only Angela remained. The time had come. Mitch watched her approach him, noting her pale complexion and too bright eyes. She crouched next to Mitch’s wheelchair, eye level with him now, and placed a hand on his forearm.
“Mitch,” she spoke softly, gently. “The doctors are ready. Please… come inside. I know how you feel about this, but I’d like it if you were there with me, and I believe Joey would too.”
Mitch remained staring straight ahead, the muscle in his jaw jumping. “I won’t tell him goodbye,” he replied, voice rough with restrained emotion.
Angela gave him a sad smile and stood as Mitch’s chair began to roll forward. “I won’t ask you to.”
Once inside Joey’s room, Mitch stayed at the foot of his lover’s bed, off to the right side, his back ramrod straight, looking completely controlled on the outside, while on the inside he was coming apart at the seams. But he refused to let it show as Angela leaned over the pale, still form of her only child and kissed Joey tenderly on his cheek, whispering tremulously, “I love you,” before stepping back and nodding once at the doctor.
With a grim, returned nod, the man turned the respirator switch to Off as the nurse carefully but swiftly removed the tube from Joey’s throat, affording the young man every chance at spontaneous respiration. The end of the tube slipped past Joey’s lips just as the respirator gave its final hiss and fell silent.
No one moved.
Joey’s chest did not rise.
Angela’s eyes slid closed, her hand covering her mouth.
“NO! NO!” Mitch lurched from his wheelchair, his sudden movement and desperate cry startling everyone in the room. His left leg crumpled beneath him with his first step, hurling him toward the floor. He caught the edge of Joey’s bed as he went down, halting his fall as Angela rushed to his side. Mitch put all his weight on his good leg and pushed himself up, grappling for Joey’s hand at the same time.
“Don’t you do this!” he commanded his friend. “Come on, fight! Don’t leave me! Do you hear me? Don’t you go! Breathe, damn you!”