The phantom pain was horrible, the future, uncertain. But worst of all, Kari Ormond was forced to depend on others, feeling as if she was a shell of a person.
Kari looked up at the brick rehab facility as she was wheeled toward the front door. With millions in the bank, she could own this rehab business. But after the car accident, everything changed. She didn't know if she'd ever work again. Her left leg had been amputated below the knee and now her future seemed bleak. She knew she'd have to conform to what society wanted her to be—an amputee, ostracized with no future—when she just wanted to live life like a normal person. With her drive and personality, she was determined to take control of her future, or at least let everyone think she had. That is, once she actually accepted her situation. Her life almost seemed like a nightmare, even though the accident had happened a while ago.
While the orderly pushed the wheelchair down the long hallway, she studied the plain white walls inside the facility, feeling so sad. Located in Santa Monica, northwest of Los Angeles, California, this building was a few blocks from the hospital where they'd performed her amputation. Even though the doctors had tried, they couldn't save her leg after the accident and now she was facing the most important challenge of her life.
"This is your new home for the next few months," the orderly said. He was a large man, void of all emotion in his voice. He'd probably taken so many patients to their beds—like wheeling them to the guillotine—that he had to detach himself from feeling the patient's pain. How someone could get used to such a long depressing walk was beyond her. She didn't want to die and she certainly didn't want to be in the rehab center. However, she had to make the best of it because she had to walk again, never letting the world or the paparazzi know of her disability.
"Thank you," she uttered. Tears filled her eyes and trickled down her cheeks. The emotions of being in this place overwhelmed Kari. Would she be able to walk? Could she resume her life? It was scary in her mind, just contemplating failure and probably a life on the street, begging for help after her money ran out.
The orderly wheeled her into a room with six beds, all but two beds filled. Kari assumed they were all amputees, but wasn't sure. She kept asking herself if she was seen as less of a person, even though she felt the same. From the way people treated her, she felt broken and could never be fixed. Rehab felt like a place where they threw discarded people. With her brown hair and green eyes, she was usually considered striking. However, that missing leg would damage her entire career.
The bright June sunlight streamed in to cover the room as the orderly wheeled her to a bed on the right side, next to the window at the far end of the room. Once he stopped the wheelchair, the orderly lifted her slight body to the blue blanket, sitting her down on the side of the bed with her foot and partial limb dangling off the side.
"You're a light thing." He moved both her legs to the bed and lifted her up so she could lean on the backrest. "You need to eat more."
"No. I'm a top model…at least I was a top model." She wiped her cheeks. "I was famous for my walk, but now…" She pointed toward her missing leg. "Now, I just have pain from something that doesn't even exist."
The man offered her a fake smile. "It's not as bad as you think."
"That's easy for you to say. You're not disabled."
"You'll be fine. You'll see." He spun the wheelchair around and left the room while whistling.
How could someone be so upbeat in such a dreary place?
She glanced around the room at the other patients, all female, and all appearing to be bored. Some were asleep—even though it was only ten in the morning—and some were reading. The bed next to hers was empty, but it looked like the person would be back at any moment, with books, magazines, lotions, and a cup of water beside the bed.
Kari leaned on the backrest and stared out the window at the blue sky. A stray cloud, indicating sadness to her, made its way across the city close to Los Angeles—the City of Angels. She could really use an angel about now.
She turned her head to see a man standing beside her bed with a few suitcases, making her grin. "Jeremy? You came to see me."
He shot her a half-smile as he pulled up a chair and sat beside her bed. "I had to see you. I brought you some clothes, sent from your sister." He glanced around the room as if he was worried someone might see him, before returning to her face. Jeremy was stunning, with dark hair and dark eyes. He looked good in the old white t-shirt and cutoff jeans shorts with his sandals, but being a model, he looked good in everything he wore.
Kari moved her hand to touch his, but he pulled it away.
"What's the matter?" she asked, losing her smile. They'd been friends for years, just recently beginning to date, right before the accident. She made it a rule never to date models, but Jeremy was different. He was very sensitive and talked about deep issues with her.
His eyes moved downward and then met hers. With sad, dark irises, he almost seemed angry. "Kari, I have some things to tell you. We wanted to wait until you got out of the hospital, but…" He sat back and blew out a big breath. "I can't do this anymore."
He leaned closer to her. "I can't date you anymore. I can't handle your problems. I have enough of my own."
"You're dumping me? You're dumping someone because they're disabled?"
She knew her voice was getting louder, but she didn't care. How shallow could this man be? Was she just someone to be thrown into the trash like that? She felt betrayed and used.
"It's not because you have a disability," he whispered. "I don't need that to get out to the press. We're different and I've found someone else."
Kari sat up and propped some pillows behind her back while glancing around the room at the people staring toward her. This was no place for a scene. The press would have a field day with a top model fighting with another model, who was trying to get ahead on her coattails.
She finally addressed Jeremy. "Who?"
His eyes lowered again while guilt covered his perfectly chiseled features. "Mallory."
"My best friend? You're dating her?" Kari knew she was almost screaming, but her boyfriend had been seeing her best friend behind her back while she lay in a hospital bed in pain, dealing with the loss of her limb. What were they thinking?
He raised his eyes to see her again. "Yes. We met when you were brought into the hospital. We were commiserating over a cup of coffee about you, and one thing led to another. We're dating now."
Tears teased Kari's eyes, but they were tears of anger. She couldn't even find the words to describe how she felt, so she pointed toward the door. "Out!" She didn't even care if the press heard about this situation.
"Kari, I still want to be your friend. I want to visit you. I want—"
"You want to keep your reputation as the good guy so you can keep your job, using my fame to get ahead." She hated when he begged. He, like most models, was so fake and superficial. "No, Jeremy. Out, and I mean now. Don't ever come to see me again and keep Mallory away as well. You're both evil. If I can talk to the press, I will." They'd certainly pay.
"You're blowing this out of proportion," he whispered, leaning toward her.
"I'm blowing this out of proportion? Are you kidding me?" She pointed toward her missing extremity. "I have no leg and you're dumping me for my best friend? How will that play out in the newspapers? Model dumps top model for best friend, because of top model's accident? Or, maybe the title, 'kick her while she's down?'"
Jeremy reached out and touched her arm, but she jerked it away. "I want you to leave." She wiped her eyes. "Now."
"I can't leave you like this. I did love you once."
After only dating for about two weeks before the accident? How could he even think of saying something so underhanded like that? "Out!" She pointed as another man approached the bed.
Jeremy's eyebrows rose slightly, still watching Kari. "You don't understand what I've been through."
"What you've been through? What about what I've been through? How can you be so selfish? Out!"
"I can't leave you like this."
The man stood beside Jeremy. "The lady wants you to leave. I expect you to go, or I'll call the police."
Jeremy looked up at the man, squinting his eyes in anger. "Who are you?"
"Grant Jordan. Now leave, please? We don't want to upset the patients, and everyone's listening to you badger this beautiful woman."
Kari nodded toward the man with a grin. "Thank you. Call the cops, too, and the press. I want to make sure he knows not to cross me."
Grant's eyebrows lifted. "The press?"
"I'm the famous top model, Kari Ormond. The press loves me, and this man used to date me, just for my name, I'm sure." She pointed toward Jeremy, just to reinforce her point.
"It wasn't like that," Jeremy said. "You're blowing this out of proportion."
Grant took a step toward Jeremy, lifting his arm. "I think it's time to go."
Jeremy got to his feet. "That's an understatement." He turned toward Kari. "I hope all goes well for you."
Kari crossed her arms. "Go away. You don't care about anyone but yourself."
Jeremy walked out of the room while Grant moved to stand by Kari's bed. "You told him."
"He deserved it, too. No one should ever treat someone like that, when they've had life kick them hard." Revenge bit through her thoughts. She just needed to plan how to get Jeremy back…as soon as she got out of this awful place.