Figure of Speech by Dana Marie Bell, now you can read online.
“Want some Red Butt?” Chloe held up the energy drink, wincing at the words coming out of her traitor mouth. When it came to speech impediments Chloe had gotten one hell of a winner.
Her cousin Alex blinked rapidly before smiling. “Um. No thanks, sweetie.”
She was getting used to the odd looks she got every time she spoke, but that didn’t mean she liked it. “Man, I hate this.” She couldn’t quite keep the sorrow from her voice no matter how much she wished she could hide it from her friends and family.
Alex shrugged. “Yeah, but I knew what you meant.” He ruffled her hair. “Don’t sweat it, kiddo.”
Chloe sighed, but she tried to listen to her cousin. Her condition sucked rocks, but she was already doing everything she could to help herself get better. Without the support of her family and friends she wasn’t certain if she’d be as well as she was now. She’d probably be curled up in a ball somewhere, babbling nonsense and terrified that her assailants would come after her again.
Chloe had been attacked a year ago, beaten savagely and left for dead. She’d been in a coma for weeks before Julian healed her. But that healing had come at a cost. Super Bear, as his mate Cyn called him, had brought her back from the brink of death but had been unable to heal all of her wounds. The head trauma alone had been horrific; the brain damage that had been inflicted as a result was permanent.
Conduction aphasia with phonological paraphasia. Such pretty words for such a sucky disorder.
Basically, she could read and understand words just fine. It was saying them that was the problem. She would replace a word with one that sounded similar, and the more upset she got, the worse her paraphasia became. Sometimes it would become so bad her speech was completely garbled or, worst of all, she couldn’t speak at all, her mind a jumble as it sought to spit out something that just wasn’t coming to her. Her speech had gotten better with therapy, but already her therapist was beginning to make noises that she was as good as she was going to get.
For a while she hadn’t even been able to tell that she’d said something wrong. It wasn’t until therapy that her brain began to make the connection between the odd looks on other people’s faces and her speech. Now she could tell before the odd looks that she’d said the wrong word, but in her mind it felt, and sounded, correct right up until it came out.
But that wasn’t the only thing the beating had left her with. Oh, no. It got better.
Her left hand no longer worked correctly. She couldn’t make a fist at all, and her hand had no grip strength, causing her to drop things often. Her left-handed fine motor skills no longer existed. Peeling a potato had become an exercise in frustration.
Performing surgery on small animals was no longer possible.
All of her visions of the future had been dashed. Chloe would never become a veterinarian. That had to be the hardest thing of all to deal with. She’d worked so hard, moved all the way across the country to a shifter-friendly college, only to have her future ripped away from her in one night of unimaginable horror. Her lifelong dream had been to work with animals, to heal them and help them any way she could. Thanks to the beating, that dream was now forever out of reach.
Ryan hugged her from behind, the big-brother kind of hug that made her ribs creak. “It’s going to be okay, little vixen. No matter what else happens, you’ll always have us.”
“I know.” She patted her brother’s arm, more grateful than she could say. She had the best friends and family in the world. When she’d been hurt they’d come running, leaving behind work and home to give Chloe whatever it was she needed. Now they were all moving to Halle, Pennsylvania, uprooting the business and their lives to keep the family together.
Julian leaned forward, staring into her eyes. His deep brown ones turned gray, and a silver streak appeared in his long black hair. “You’re hurting.”
She grimaced. She should have known better than to try and hide her pain in a room full of Bears. “My hand is cramping.” And her right hand had begun tingling recently, a new development that scared her spitless.
“Your head hurts too.” Julian swiped his fingers across her brow, easing the headache that had been torturing her all day.
Ryan grabbed her left hand and began massaging it, the pain easing as he used his healing ability to relax her muscles.
Chloe whimpered happily as the pain dissipated. “Have you guys considered becoming massage therapists?”
Julian chuckled. “I don’t think Cyn would take well to me rubbing other people.”
Alex winced. “Yeah, until Tabby drops the cub she’s going to be pretty cranky. Let’s not give her something to beat me over.”
“How’s Glory doing?” She was worried about her future sister-in-law’s panic attacks, but Ryan’s solution had been ingenious. He’d packed up his laptop and started working from her business. Doing so enabled him to be there whenever one of Glory’s attacks happened.
Ryan let go of Chloe’s hand. “Working from Cynful has been great. Glory’s panic attacks aren’t nearly as bad.”