Historical Romance Short Story – Stella and Tessa

CROSSROADS 

Genre: Historical Fiction, Urban Fantasy
Time: 1917
Location: Athens, Greece

(C) 2018 Mary D. Brooks

Crossroads is the first short featuring Stella and Tessa, the characters that first appeared in my Intertwined Souls Series (Starting with Book 3: Hidden Truths). 

It’s the summer of 1917 in Athens, Greece, and while the city swelters, the patients of St Gregori’s Home for the Infirm have never seen anyone like Doctor Stella Nikas–a joyous personality that defies the abject sorrow of her surroundings and brings an explosion of color and light into the patients’ lives. Tessa Mitsos, a gifted artist plagued with strange dreams of the future, is also at St Gregori’s and her only hope of stopping the visions is a radical surgery.

Stella makes a decision that will forever change not only her life, but that of Tessa Mitsos as well – beyond St Gregori’s Gates.

NOVELLA

CHAPTER 1

July 7, 1917

The early morning sunlight streamed into the room, but the occupant was wide awake. She had been awake for hours. Theresa Mitsos, affectionally known as Tessa, lay on her bed and looked up at the ceiling. Confirmation had come that, despite the best efforts of her doctors, she was not healed. Physically she was okay, but mentally she was far from fine.

The waking dreams, for they were not daydreams or nightmares as everyone else usually

have, invaded her mind while she was fully awake, and the horrors they brought made her chest heave in sorrow. The piercing screams of those in the fires were so painfully real. She could feel the heat from the flames, and the frantic efforts of those who tried to get out stung her eyes with tears.

A light tap on the door made Tessa turn her head and see her friend Karl Steigler standing there. Without a word, he entered and got into bed with Tessa. Emotionally wrought, Tessa turned and snuggled up against the sandy haired young man.

“It happened again, didn’t it?”

Tessa looked up at Karl’s strong features and nodded. “Was I screaming?”

“You were calling my name. ‘Karl, no, don’t go! Karl, stop! Karl! NO!’”

Silent tears tracked down Tessa’s face as she turned around and found the sketchbook that had fallen off the bed. She handed the book to Karl while she rested her head against his shoulder. Karl was her best friend and she had told him everything about her waking dreams. He was a tortured soul, just like her, and his mind was infested with hallucinations and periods of deep melancholy. His gentle nature came through in his art, a passion they both shared.

Karl flipped through the sketchbook and went to the last page. “It’s a fire. Where is this going to be?”

“Here.”

“How do you know? It could be anywhere.”

“Look in the corner.”

Karl brought the artwork closer to him and gasped. “Maybe you are having a bad turn after your treatment.”

“Do you really think I’m wrong? That window looks out into the forest. How many times have we looked out at it? How many times have you told me that the tree closest to the window reminds you of a gnarly hand?” Tessa knew the answer to her questions, but she hoped that everything she saw was a manifestation, somehow, of the electroshock therapy she had been receiving. “It’s not working, Karl.”

“It has to work.”

Tessa hitched herself up on her elbow and regarded Karl for a moment. She brushed his blond fringe away from his eyes. “I have to do the surgery, my friend.”

“No. You will lose yourself, Tess. You will. You won’t be you anymore. Mrs. Elimnos turned into a mindless body after she had the surgery. You’re too special, kind, and beautiful to be a mindless body.”

“The dreams will stop. They must stop. This is the third time since my last therapy session that I have seen this dream. It’s going to happen like the others have.”

“No, you don’t know that for sure.”

Tessa was certain that it was going to happen just as she had seen in the vision. She cupped Karl’s cheek with her hand. She loved his boyish charm and gentle nature, but he could turn into a raging beast, as he described himself, and the torment it would bring caused him to ask to be brought to St Gregori’s Home for the Infirm. The Home was a euphemistic name for a lunatic asylum on the outskirts of Athens.

Karl turned a page and found another drawing. Tessa tried to take the sketchbook away from him, but he laughed and held it away from her grasp. “Oh, when did you dream this?”

“Four weeks ago.” Tessa felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment. “That’s one dream that’s not going to happen as I drew it.”

“How do you know?”

Tessa laughed and took the sketchbook. She smiled at her own image kissing a woman who was older than her and the craziest person she had ever met who wasn’t institutionalized. A petite package of intensity, fun, and a joyous personality that defied the abject sorrow of her surroundings. Dr. Stella Nikas made all the patients feel worthy of her attention beyond their medical problems. Tessa gently slapped Karl’s shoulder with the sketchbook as he chortled.

They fell into a companionable silence until Karl turned to Tessa. “Why were you calling my name?”

“I thought you were in the fire, but you weren’t.” They both understood that it was a lie.

“You’re a terrible liar,” Karl said as they began to cry softly in each other’s arms.

 

CHAPTER 2

Dr. Frankoulis strode across the covered walkway and Dr. Stella Nikas had to break into jog to keep up with him.

“Slow down! I have tiny legs.”

Dr. Frankoulis stopped and looked back at Stella. “I know you are following because I can hear the cow bell you have around your neck! Do you have to do that? Don’t those tiny bells around your ankles and wrists signal your arrival?”

Stella wiped the sweat from her face with the back of her hand. Athens in July was not a pleasant place to be, and the heatwave which bore down on the city did not endear itself to

Stella. “Some of our guests can’t hear the tiny bells.”

“I think the dead can hear you, Dr. Nikas.”

“No, I think I’ll need a cannon for that!” Stella responded and smiled broadly.

“Follow me to my office.” Dr. Frankoulis turned and walked off leaving Stella in the garden alone. She chuckled and walked up the path. She knew if she made enough noise, Alexandros Koulas would not be surprised by her again. Alexandros was a soldier who had returned from the Great War a shattered young man. Robbed of his sight when his unit was attacked by mustard gas and suffering from shell shock, he admitted himself to St Gregori’s. Stella had inadvertently startled him once, and he had fallen on the ground screaming.

“Where is my boyfriend?” Stella called out and danced down the pathway making as much noise as she could.

“Doctor Stella, I think my mother can hear you in Volos!” Alexandros laughed and held out his hand for Stella to join him. Stella came over and sat down beside him. “You smell nice.”

“Ooh, so do you! You smell like jasmine.”

“My sister, Toula, took me for a walk through her garden. What color is your hair today?”

“Well, I have a giant streak of red in the front and a streak of yellow in the back. I just couldn’t decide what color to choose.”

Alexandros laughed heartily and felt Stella’s hair with his hand. “May I?” He asked before his hand travelled to Stella’s face. His smile broadened when he felt her lips. “You smile all the time, Doctor Stella.”

“I always smile for my boyfriends.” Stella leaned over and kissed Alexandros on the cheek. “Are you sleeping better?”

“Being in a room with snoring men does not aid in my sleeping well.”

“I’m going to suggest to Dr. Kevalos, when he gets back, that you should be moved to your own room. Would you like that?” Stella knew Alexandro’s shell shock was quite severe. It was the worst she had seen since she arrived at St Gregori’s.

“I would like that.”

“Good. Now, I have to go and annoy Dr. Frankoulis.” 

Alexandros laughed as Stella walked away. She took off the bells on her feet and wrists and removed the cowbell as well as she entered the building. Alerting patients that she was heading their way was good for shell shock patients, but not for patients suffering from hysteria.

Stella was ushered into Dr. Frankoulis’ office by his secretary. She stood before him and played with her bright pink stethoscope. They didn’t normally come in that color, but Stella had taken it upon herself to have multiple stethoscopes in various colors that matched her dyed hair–it was highly amusing to the patients and an irritation to everyone else. The staff considered her an oddity, but she didn’t care what they thought as long as she could bring a smile to her patient’s faces.

Dr. Frankoulis sighed heavily. “Dr. Kevalos will not be coming back to us.”

“Is he still sick?”

“Not anymore. He died last night of a bad case of influenza.”

Stella was not sure whether Dr. Frankoulis was saddened by Dr. Kevalos’s unfortunate death or by the problems his absence would cause.

“I have spoken to Dr. Kannadas and he has agreed to have you work here now that we have a vacancy.”

“Um…”

“Do you not want to work here, Dr. Nikas?”

“I do but…”

“Dr. Kannadas is quite happy to have you transferred here.”

“Oh, I’m sure he is thrilled I won’t be gracing his hospital again,” Stella replied and smiled when Dr. Frankoulis glared at her over the top of his glasses. She barely resisted the temptation to lean over and give them a nudge up his nose.

“I can see why Dr. Kannadas is fine about this move. You are…unique.”

“Crazy is another word for it.”

Dr. Frankoulis’ bushy eyebrows knitted together. “We do not use the word ‘crazy’ in this hospital. No one is ‘crazy.’”

“No, sir.” Stella was truly contrite. Dr. Frankoulis’ compassion for his patients was genuine, and his tireless effort to help was one of the reasons she wanted to work in the hospital. “I didn’t mean anything by it; I was just describing myself.”

“You are not crazy either. You are a unique albeit unorthodox physician. You care for those who are not sound of mind and our patients love you. It is why I wanted you to join us at St Gregori’s.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Dr. Frankoulis took off his glasses and regarded Stella for a moment. “You were sent here as a punishment, for reasons that are not important right now, but I believe you genuinely care for your patients.” He put on his glasses and returned to his paperwork.

Stella wasn’t sure what to say. Did she thank Dr. Frankoulis or did she leave? That conundrum was solved when he looked up at her and pointed to the door. 

 

CHAPTER 3

July 9, 1917

“Darling, you haven’t thought this through…”

Tessa leaned against the wall of her room while her sister Daphne was remonstrating against her decision to undergo brain surgery. “I’m possessed, Dee.”

“You are not possessed. If you were, the exorcism would have worked. It didn’t.”

“I’m cursed like Aunty Erika. She ended up in a place like this.”

“Aunty Erika ended up in a lunatic asylum. You are not in one. You are in a hospital.”

“If you call a cow a donkey, isn’t the cow still a cow?”

Daphne pursed her lips and sighed. “You’re being extraordinarily stubborn.”

“They brought a woman in yesterday and she was babbling in another language. No one could understand her. Do you know what happened? I understood everything she was saying. EVERYTHING.” Tessa pushed herself off the wall and approached her sister. “I understood the language.”

“We’re all gifted in languages, Tessa. You know Mama can speak several languages and she picks them up easily, as do I. That doesn’t mean you’re crazy.”

“This lady was speaking in a language she had made up, Dee. Now tell me if there isn’t something wrong with me.”

“It’s probably a language you heard before but didn’t know it. There isn’t anything wrong with you. How many times do I have to tell you?” Daphne took Tessa’s hand and led her to the bed. “They take a piece of your brain out. They remove it. They did this to Aunt Erika. I don’t want this to happen to you.”

“Mama and Papa agree with me.”

“I don’t,” Daphne said softly. She brushed her sister’s dark hair out of her eyes. “I don’t want to lose you.”

“I can’t go on like this. I saw a vision…”

“It was a dream. You are just anxious.”

“No, Dee, it was a vision. I was wide awake, and I could hear everything outside my room. I was not sleeping, and I was not having a dream. It was a vision of a huge fire that engulfed the entire building and I heard my friend’s cries for help. Do you believe me?”

“I believe you had a dream and–”

“Stop.” Tessa took her sister’s hands and held them tightly. “Please, believe me. This will happen just like all the other visions happened as I saw them.”

“If you are right, how will removing a piece of your brain stop it from happening?”

“I don’t want to see the future. I don’t want to know who is going to die and who will live.”

Daphne pulled Tessa into her embrace and held her as she started to cry. “I’m scared you are going to die if they do this surgery, Tess. I’m scared that my best friend is going to disappear.”

“I’m not going to die. You will see this will work, and once I’m out of here, we can plan your wedding.”

“Excuse me?” Daphne pulled away and held Tessa at arm’s length. “Who am I getting married to?”

“The boy you’ve been secretly meeting and not telling anyone. That boy.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Daphne smiled broadly as she wiped her sister’s tears from her cheek. 

“He’s a shepherd working in Papa’s fields. I saw you kissing him.”

“I have not kissed him!” Daphne laughed nervously. “Well, not yet! A peck on the cheek

is not kissing.”

Tessa put her arm around Daphne and kissed her on the cheek. “I saw it in a vision. Clear as day.”

“Oh, now you’re dreaming up kisses. Did you kiss your friend Karl?”

Tessa smiled. “I don’t love him that way!”

“Well, if you changed your mind and ended up marrying him, I’m sure Oma Theresa would be very happy at having a German boy in the family.”

“That’s not going to happen. Karl is a gentle soul, but…”

“But? Has he asked you?”

“No, and I don’t expect him to. He won’t survive the fire that’s coming.”

“Has everything that you’ve seen in these visions happened?”

“Not everything, but eventually it all will.” Tessa retrieved her sketchbook from under the bed. “Look at these sketches.”

Daphne looked through the sketchbook as Tessa watched her. Her face betrayed her thoughts the more sketches she saw. “You remember when Andreas died in that car accident?”

“Yes, two years ago.”

Tessa flipped to the page of the sketch she wanted to show Daphne. “I drew it a year before it happened.”

Daphne didn’t say a word but kept perusing the drawings. Tessa’s heart started beating a little faster when she thought she had forgotten to remove the ‘Stella kissing artwork,’. but

Daphne found a picture of Karl with a smile on his face instead, and Tessa sighed with relief. 

“You are a gifted artist. You are smart, beautiful, and talented. Please, don’t do this.”

Daphne closed the book and put it aside. “I don’t want you to have this surgery.”

“Mama and Papa agree with me. The surgery is set for the day after my birthday. I want to be normal, Dee.”

 

 

CHAPTER 4

 

Stella entered the ward but didn’t go further than the front doors. She stopped and waited.

Moments later, her patient George appeared. “May I enter the city, kind sir?”

“Hark! Who goes there?”

“It is I, Doctor Stella of Pharsala!”

“Your colors are red today, Doctor Stella of Pharsala! What happened today in Ancient

Rome?”

“Well, let’s see…On this day in 455 AD, the Roman military commander Avitus is proclaimed emperor of the Western Roman Empire!”

“Hail to the Roman Emperor Avitus!” George did the Roman salute and extended his hand to salute Stella. “You may enter!”

“How are you today, George?”

“I am well and hearty. That’s what I am. Well and hearty.” George walked away, and Stella smiled. She found the room she was looking for and looked inside.

“Greetings, my fellow Roman!”

Tessa got up and chuckled. “What year are we up to?”

“455 AD. Avitus is now Emperor and all is right with the world,” Stella replied and smiled at Daphne. “Hello, I’m Dr. Stella Nikas, or as Tessa likes to call me, Dr. Nikkakas.”

“Oh, stop!” Tessa covered her face with her hands. “I only did that once. This is my sister,

Daphne Mitsos.”

“Yes, you were a little drugged at the time, so I’m giving you a pass in the retelling.

Pleased to meet you, Miss Mitsos.”

“Likewise, Dr. Nikkakas.” Daphne and Stella smiled at each other when Tessa shook her head. “Are you my baby sister’s doctor?”

“I was taking care of Tessa while her doctor was away. I just stopped by to wish her a happy birthday for tomorrow.”

“Is that part of the service?”

Stella smiled and felt the warmth in her face. “Only for those who call me Dr. Nikkakas.” She cleared her throat and put her hand in her coat pocket. She removed a packet wrapped in bright yellow packaging. “I thought you needed some new pencils so…” She felt uncharacteristically shy as she gave the gift to Tessa. “Um…yes…happy birthday!”

Tessa came forward and gave Stella a hug. “Thank you.”

“Yes…hm…alright, now. Nice to meet you, Miss Mitsos.”

Stella did an about face and headed out of the room as quickly as she could. “Oh, Stellaki, you are crazy,” she muttered to herself and took a deep breath. Being so close to those gray eyes was making her feel more than a little light headed.

 

CHAPTER 5

Stella played with her stethoscope as she left Aliki Stavros’ room and walked into brilliant sunshine when she opened the door to the courtyard. She immediately took a step back.

“Goddess, this is hot as hell, if I believed in hell.”

Sitting on a bench nearby was Daphne Mitsos. Stella looked around and saw that no one else had been daft enough to stay out in the sun. “Miss Mitsos, are you all right?”

“Please, call me Daphne. Can we talk?”

“Of course, we can, but not out here. I’ll roast in the sun. Let’s go inside.” Stella led Daphne down the walkway and into the building, which was much cooler. They found an empty room and entered. Stella closed the door and sat down on the empty bed.

“Is there something on your mind?”

“It’s about my sister’s surgery. What are they going to do? The doctor did explain it to us, but I want your opinion”

“Oh, you want my opinion? I’m not a surgeon, but I can tell you what they will do from what I know about the procedure. They will remove part of her brain…”

“What happens to her after they do that?”

“That depends, but usually patients undergoing this surgery will lose the use of one hand and an eye on the side of their body opposite to where the surgery has been performed.” 

“I see.” Daphne hesitated for a moment. “It sounds like they damage the person.”

“You are removing part of their brain, but it has been known to work…”

“Can I ask you for a favor? My sister is nineteen tomorrow. As a special treat, would you please take her out to the garden? I know they don’t allow patients to walk out, especially those who are about to have surgery. It would mean so much to her if you could take her out, maybe in a wheelchair?”

“You want me to take your sister out in this heat?”

“Yes. The garden is a beautiful spot and I would like her to experience it.”

“Daphne.” Stella stood up and touched Daphne’s hand. Her glistening blue eyes showed desperation. “Your sister will still experience everything after the surgery except–”

“Please, I’m begging you to take her out into the garden.”

Stella nodded. “I can arrange for an orderly to take her out.”

“No, I want you to do it, Dr. Nikas.”

“You can call me Stella.”

“Stella, I have seen the way you are around patients when I have visited my sister. You are a caring person. Can I ask something else of you? Could you take her for some ice cream? I know there is a nice little café near the hospital.”

“You want me to take your sister out of the hospital grounds?” 

“She loves chocolate ice cream.”

“I can’t do that, Daphne. Not that I don’t want to, but the door is locked, and I don’t have the key. It’s locked so we can protect our patients from wandering off and hurting themselves.”

Daphne paused and nibbled her bottom lip. “What if the garden gate was accidently left open?”

Stella played with her stethoscope as she regarded Daphne. “Well, I would have to close it.”

“Can you close it on the way out?”

 “It’s against the rules to leave the premises without permission,” Stella replied.

“However, if I’m asked why I’m wheeling a patient out of the grounds, and I had permission from a family member, I could be persuaded.”

Daphne smiled and opened her handbag. She fished out an envelope. “Would something

like this be suitable?”

Stella opened the envelope and was more than a little surprised to find money inside. She shook her head and gave it back. “No. That’s not the right letter. I don’t want money.”

“You don’t want money to buy my sister ice cream?”

“I have money for that. The ice cream is not gold encrusted. I’m perfectly happy to take your sister out if the gate is accidently left open. I don’t want money, Daphne.”

“All right, thank you.”

“I love ice cream as well, so this will be a treat.”

 

CHAPTER 6

July 10, 1917

“Where are we going?”

“Out in the garden. Your sister asked me to take you out, so you can enjoy your birthday. Goddess, it’s hot!”

“I love hot weather.”

“Yes, you are also the one having brain surgery, so that explains why!” 

Tessa laughed and looked up at Stella, who had chosen to color her white hair in blue, green, and yellow for her birthday. They quietly made their way to the back garden where the flowers were in bloom and a large tree afforded them shade.

“This is nice.” “Indeed.” 

They sat in silence for a moment before Stella got up and took hold of the wheelchair.

“Are we going back so soon?”

“No. I see someone has left the gate open.”

“Oh. Can’t you close it without taking me out in the sun?”

Stella smiled and shook her head. “I’ve got an idea. I’m in the mood for some ice cream.

Would you like some?”

“Are we going back inside?”

“No, we’re going outside for some ice cream,” Stella replied as she pushed the wheelchair down the pathway. She knew if she stepped through the gate, she was going to be breaking the rules, even if she had Daphne Mitsos’ permission. Stella was not a woman who always obeyed the rules.

“Are we going to sit here watching the gate?”

“No, we are not.” Stella pushed the wheelchair beyond the gate and closed it.

The things I do for beautiful girls with gray eyes. Stella smiled and listened to Tessa talk about the flowers that surrounded them.

 

***

“Dr. Stella…”

“We’re not in the hospital grounds now, Tessa. You can call me Stella.”

“I don’t understand. Why didn’t we stop at the café? Aren’t we going in for ice cream?

“Well, yes, we are, but I have some at my apartment which is much nicer, and I hate being outside in this heat.”

Stella hummed as they made their way down the street. It didn’t take them long to arrive at the apartment. They were about to enter the front door when Stella’s neighbor came out.

“Good morning, Stella! Who is this beautiful lady?”

“Oh, hello, Mrs. Pappas. This is my sister-in-law, Tessa Lambros. She’s visiting me for a short while.”

“So nice to meet you, Tessa. Have a nice day, Stellaki.” “Busybody neighbors,” Stella grumbled. 

Tessa got out of the wheelchair as soon as they entered the apartment. The living room was exactly as she imagined Stella’s home to be–it mirrored her personality and was an explosion of color everywhere.

Stella went to the kitchen and opened the icebox. “I have several flavors…”

Tessa leaned against the kitchen counter. “Do you have chocolate?”

“I sure do,” Stella replied and picked up the ice cream. Tessa was standing right in front of her. “Oh, hello.”

Tessa smiled shyly and gazed into Stella’s black eyes, which crinkled in delight as she put the ice cream down and took Tessa’s hand.

“I’m thinking you really don’t want ice cream right now.”

“Not really.”

“I see…” Stella grinned and led Tessa to the sofa. “Just to be clear, the ice cream can wait, right?”

“Uh huh.”

Stella brushed her fingers across Tessa’s soft lips. Tessa smiled before she leaned in and captured Stella’s mouth in a passionate kiss.

 

***

 

Tessa’s vision ended as she sat on the wheelchair while she was pushed down the street. She bowed her head and smiled.

“Are you all right? Is the heat getting to you?”

Tessa shook her head. “No, I’m fine.”

“You’re looking a little flushed, but if you’re alright, then ice cream, here we come. I’m really looking forward to it.”

“So am I, so am I,” Tessa responded and giggled. If this was going to be the last vision she would ever have, it was one she would savor for a long time.

 

 

THE END

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