Authors: Brianna Salera
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
About Tessa’s Escape (to Athena’s Ground)
Tessa Donovan is too young to be an emotional and sexual has-been. She married her first and only boyfriend and when he died making love to another woman, Tessa’s world was shattered. Three years, one rape, several therapists and one suicide attempt later, Tessa has just about given up on herself and her emotional future.
And then she discovers Athena’s Ground, a non-traditional center for women with relationship and sexual issues. At Athena’s Ground, they don’t just talk about personal growth and sexual self-discovery, they teach it—hands-on, with the best sex therapists in the business.
Conservative, shy, sexually inexperienced Tessa is desperate enough to try anything.
Even Athena’s Ground.
Reader Beware: This romance is intended for mature audiences only; it contains extremely graphic sex, naughty language and an occasional chuckle. Some readers may object to its content. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
to Athena’s Ground
Tessa Donovan looked around her living room and focused on the sofa. It would certainly be comfortable enough; she’d spent enough that even the most sensitive princess couldn’t feel a pea. She could settle herself on the couch and open the window blinds with the remote. She’d watch the night time Manhattan skyline with an easy flick of her finger. And with an easy flick of…
The phone rang and Tessa jumped. She willed herself to let it ring, but on the fourth trill she couldn’t stand it. She’d get rid of the caller and get back to the business at hand.
“Maria,” Tessa said, recognizing the soft voice of the woman who cleaned her apartment every Monday morning. “It’s late. What’s wrong?”
“I’m so sorry to bother you Mrs. Tessa, but I wonder if I left my wallet in the kitchen? I was reaching for my cell phone and my purse fell off the counter and…”
Tessa could hear the soft voice ratcheting up an octave, becoming frantic. “Hold on,” Tessa said, walking into the kitchen, “I’m looking now.”
“Maybe on the floor, between the counter and the pantry?” Maria offered.
“Found it!” Tessa said a moment later. “It was wedged between a bar stool and the counter.”
“Oh, thank goodness. My grocery money for the week is in that wallet.”
Tessa wondered whether she should offer to drive it over to her. In light traffic, it wouldn’t take long at all. She thought about her plans and decided not to take the chance.
“Maria, I’m busy with something tonight, or I’d offer to drive it over to you. How about I take it down to the Concierge Desk and you can pick it up at your convenience?”
“Pablo is home tonight. He could drive me over to pick it up.” Maria’s voice was soft, hopeful.
“I don’t feel like having visitors tonight. The Concierge Desk is secure, but if it will make you feel better I’ll seal your wallet in a box and put your name and phone number on the box. I promise, it will be safe. I’ll run it down to the desk right now. Come when you want, but just don’t come to my apartment. I’m…going to bed early and don’t want to be disturbed. Okay?”
Maria agreed and Tessa said goodbye.
Tessa carried the worn black wallet with her as she padded across the thick living room rug, down the polished hardwood in the hallway and to the entrance of her bedroom. It was a large room, not crowded even though it held two massive armoires, a settee, and an entertainment system that elegantly displayed a 55-inch Sony Bravia, Bose theater speakers, Bose Sound System and, the thing that made Mark cringe, a Hello Kitty music box.
Tessa stepped toward the walk-in closet, intending to find a small box and some packing tape. She’d wrap up Maria’s wallet, take it to Concierge in the lobby, and get on with her business. As she passed Hello Kitty, she paused. “Always adorable,” she said softly, lifting the lid. The tinkling notes of “Sakura” sent Kitty White gently twirling. But Tessa hadn’t wound the box up so the song, and the girl, died after only a few twirls.
“That’s about right,” Tessa said, laying down Maria’s wallet and brushing a tear from her cheek. Holding the music box with both hands, Tessa forgot everything except the memories from her music box. She climbed on top of the massive bed and stroked the smooth box lid. She’d never felt completely comfortable in Mark’s bed, though she had some wonderful memories. Mark nuzzling the back of her neck, whispering sweet things into her ears until she opened herself up to him. Mark’s long, thick fingers gently pulling her silk nightgown up, over her shoulders and head, discarding it like the wrapper on a piece of fine candy. Mark holding her in his arms after he’d spent his passion.
Tessa wiped a second tear and brushed away her thoughts. If she didn’t do it now, she wouldn’t do it. “One last song for me Kitty,” Tessa said, as she found the turnkey and wound her precious music box.
The sweet, somewhat melancholy, song played. Kitty White twirled. And Tessa Donovan shook the contents of her pill bottle into the palm of her hand. It took five or six swallows, each followed by a large sip of water, but she got them all down. When she was finished, she settled into the softness of the bed and placed the music box next to her, on the pillow where Mark’s head should have been. The last thing she heard was Kitty’s song. The last thought she remembered was that she’d forgotten Maria’s wallet. But by then, it was too late.
The first thing Tessa saw when she opened her eyes was not Mark, and she felt cheated.
“How are you feeling?” The speaker was a gray-haired woman in scrubs. She looked tired, but her eyes were kind.
Tessa pointed to her throat and said, “Sore.”
The woman nodded. “Endotracheal tubes are no fun.” She handed Tessa a small cup with ice chips. She pointed to the IV bag hooked to Tessa’s arm. “You don’t need the fluid, honey, so go easy on the ice chips. Just enough to soothe your throat, okay?”
Tessa took a small piece of ice from the cup. Her hands were shaking so badly she nearly missed her mouth. After the ice softened the ache in her throat, Tessa spoke.
“Emergency Room. You were brought in by paramedics.” The nurse gave Tessa a steady look, hard but not unkind. “Your cleaning lady found you. You’re lucky she was fast. Gastric lavage doesn’t work past sixty minutes.”
Tessa’s brain was nearly as dry as her throat. What did Maria have to do with this hospital? Why were paramedics…and then reality hit Tessa like a sharp jab to her tender belly: she’d decided to end her pain with a bottleful of sleeping pills. It was the oldest escape in the world, Tessa thought, but in her case, not the most reliable.
“The doctor will be in shortly,” the nurse said.
Tessa had a hard time picking out her words over the noise of beeping instruments and the sounds of other people’s pain. If God collected all the pain in the emergency room tonight, she thought it would fill the Grand Canyon. A tear slipped down her cheek. Mark had wanted to take her to Arizona and she’d refused to go. “Too hot!” she’d told him, so instead they spent two weeks in London. She shopped Harrods and dined at Gordon Ramsay’s while Mark swore he was thrilled to be in London instead of a rustic B & B in Sedona. In hindsight—long distance hindsight since it had been three years now, Tessa wondered how Mark had stood her self-indulgence. She closed her eyes, half exhaustion and half shame.
The voice distracted her from the view. She was strolling the streets of London, hand in hand with Mark, until they boarded a long, beautiful boat. When they passed Anne Frank’s House, Tessa realized they had gone on to Amsterdam. Mark was at her side, nuzzling the sensitive spot behind her ear, whispering that the canals were only half as beautiful as she.
“Mrs. Donovan?” The voice was louder. Closer.
Tessa opened her eyes. A man in a white coat was leaning over her. She could feel his breath on her face as he spoke.
“Are you awake?”
Tessa’s eyes were wide open now and she wanted to tell him that obviously she was, except maybe she wasn’t. Maybe the emergency room was a dream and Amsterdam was real.
“Yes,” she said, hating that she was.
He introduced himself as Doctor Somebodyorother and he described what they had done to Tessa upon her arrival. Now she understood why her throat was so unhappy.
“Tell me about taking the pills,” Dr. Somebody said.
For an instant, Tessa thought about lying:
I only meant to take a second one, after the first didn’t work, but I must have gotten confused. I don’t know how I ended up taking so many!
Only an idiot would buy that, since Tessa had taken a whole bottle. This doctor didn’t look particularly stupid, so Tessa opted for the truth.
“I was so tired,” Tessa said. “I just wanted to escape.”
He nodded, as if he’d heard it before, probably because he had.
“Is there someone I can call for you?” The doctor glanced pointedly at the simple wedding band Tessa wore on her left ring finger.
“Mark,” Tessa whispered before she could stop herself.
Tessa shook her head. “I’m alone,” she said, thinking about David but knowing she couldn’t possibly go there.
Dr. Somebody shifted his weight from one foot to the other and cleared his throat nervously. Tessa wondered if he was about to commit her to life in the Looney Bin.
“I notice you’re wearing a wedding band. Can I talk to your husband?”
If Tessa hadn’t felt so weak, so wretched, she might have told him to call Theresa Caputo in Long Island. Two years ago, she’d almost tried it herself. Instead, she just said, “No. I’m not married.”
“Oh.” He looked puzzled. “The person who came in with you—Maria?—called you Mrs. Tessa, so, and your wedding ring…”
Tessa stared at him blankly and changed the subject. “When can I go home?”
“We’ll keep you in ER for a bit longer, just to make sure all your vitals are stable. But I’m not going to just flat-out release you. You attempted suicide, Ms. Donovan, and that’s serious business.” Tessa noticed her title had changed from missus to miz.
When she’d swallowed the pills Tessa thought of it as escape. It felt like the only smart thing to do. But now, hearing it from the doctor, it sounded clinically sick. Stupid. Pathetic. Like her life since Mark had left her.
“By state law, I can commit you to 48-hour observation. Since you don’t have a support structure outside the hospital, I’m going to do that.”
Now I’ve done it
, Tessa thought.
Looney Bin, here I come
The doctor’s face suddenly softened, and Tessa realized her thoughts must have been written across her face.
“The hospital has an excellent team,” the doctor said. “Over the next two days, they’ll work with you to get the help you need. When you’re released, you’ll have a support network and a plan.” He gently patted the top of Tessa’s hand. “Now, get some rest. In a little while, we’ll get you admitted and moved into a room.”
To the doctor’s back, as he moved toward the door, Tessa whispered, “I’m sorry.” The words, so weightless the doctor didn’t hear them, were so heavy Tessa wondered how she could even breathe.
Tessa’s room looked pretty normal and the nurses bore no resemblance to Nurse Ratched, much to her relief. The social worker, or whatever her title was—Tessa couldn’t remember exactly, was a 40ish-year-old woman named Shawntay Green. Shawntay was more like a force of nature than social worker. Tessa liked her.
“So,” Shawntay said, looking at her notes, “your appointment with Dr. Blaine is tomorrow at 11:00.”
Tessa nodded. Dr. Blaine was her primary physician. Shawntay insisted that she begin with a complete physical examination, “to rule out physical causes of depression.”
“On Monday, you see Dr. Howard.” Shawntay handed Tessa some papers. “Will your medical insurance cover this?”
It had never occurred to Tessa to check. “I’m not sure, but it doesn’t matter. I inherited a large sum of money when my parents died. And my business is doing well. Money is one of the few things I don’t have a problem with.”
“Alright,” Shawntay said. “Fill those forms out and I’ll fax them to Dr. Howard’s office.”
Tessa took the stack of papers. The heading at the top said Dr. Sinclair Howard, MD, ABPN.
“What’s ABPN?” Tessa said.
“American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology,” Shawntay said. “Means the man knows his stuff. He’ll look at the workup your primary did and together, you’ll figure out what you need to reclaim your life.”
Tessa had told Shawntay the short story she thought of as Losing Mark, and the complete and utter shock she felt at not being able to ‘get over it.’ Reclaiming her life was exactly what Tessa wanted but she hadn’t known how to do it. The pills—death—was never her real goal; it had been the only path to peace she could see at the time. And it had been a very poor one at that. That had become crystal clear to Tessa within an hour of talking with the force of nature that was Shawntay Green. Shawntay made her see there was a much better path to peace, to reclaiming her life, and that the network of professionals she was constructing would help her find that better path.
“I will call you tomorrow afternoon to see how your appointment with Dr. Blaine went,” Shawntay said. Her words were business, her tone was mother hen.
“And I will call you Monday afternoon to see how you liked Dr. Howard. If you didn’t hit it off with him, there are other qualified psychiatrists in New York City. We look until you find one that works for you. Got it?”
Tessa smiled. Not exactly a break-your-face grin, but the tiny glimpse of teeth was a rare, and welcome, occurrence.
“Look,” Shawntay said, “I’m supposed to remain clinical and professional. I got no problem with professional, but clinical can get a little detached for this woman to abide.”
Shawntay’s voice was as rich as her skin and as strong as the muscled arm that handed Tessa a tissue from the box on her nightstand. Tessa dabbed the tears trickling down her own face and Shawntay continued.
“I’ll be checking on you until I know you’re hooked up with a psychiatrist. Good and hooked, got it? I will ride your ass, if I have to. I’ll use every Article 9 section of the Code to keep you from repeating the stupidity that brought you here. Got it?”
“Got it,” Tessa said.
And, actually, she did.