“Goddammit, Helen,” I say.

And to my embarrassment, I start to cry.

I’m good at a few things.

Softball. Spanish. And I can eat a whole pizza by myself.

Up until the accident that was about it. Now I can add that I’m really good at pretending everything is okay while I balance on one leg, fold up a walker, shove it into a car, and get into the passenger seat. I’m usually capable of going through the process without crying or dropping anything. But today I do both, my phone slipping from my pocket to land in melting slush. I’m mopping the last tears away with my sleeve—why am I crying so much?—when another hand grabs my phone before I do.

“You okay, darlin’?”

Even people who care about me don’t call me by anything other than my name, and darlin’ isn’t exactly a word that’s used to describe me, anyway. But she says it just right, with a little twang that comes from south of the river and isn’t affected at all, like she’s not just asking to be polite, but because she actually cares what my answer is.

It is the woman from the hallway, the one who overheard me asking if I could get something for the pain. I blush, feeling my cheeks turn even redder under the tears they’re so unaccustomed to. I’m about to tell her that I’m fine, the word half formed and my lips ready to deliver them out of habit more than truthfulness, when she stops me cold.

“When was your last one?” she asks.

“Excuse me?”

“Oxy? I heard you ask the doc for something, and I’m guessing you didn’t get it. But that’s not the only reason you’re crying. You’ve got the shakes. And . . .” She puts her palm on my forehead, her skin cool and paper-thin against my sweaty brow. “You’re running a low-grade fever. You’re going through withdrawal, hon.”

She takes her hand away, the smell of old-lady perfume lingering near my nose.

“You’re going through withdrawal,” I shoot back, which isn’t clever or accurate, but I’ve never been good at conversation with strangers.

“No, because I got my prescription,” she says, holding it up. “Or Betsy’s, really. But you don’t care where it comes from, do you?”

It’s just the right thing to say to make me shut up and listen. And she knows it.

“Here,” she says, unzipping her massive purse, which has three photographs of what I assume are her grandkids slipped into plastic pockets on the side. Her arm disappears inside the purse up to her elbow, reemerging with a little white pill, which she puts into my hand, folding my fingers around it.

“First one’s free because you’re breaking my heart,” she says. “After that it’s a dollar a milligram. Dosages start at ten, but I’m betting you already knew that.”

She’s kept my phone, and now her fingers tap over the screen way faster than I expected as she adds her number.

“Call me when you need more,” she says, handing my phone over. I accept it numbly, but not with the hand holding the pill. That I pulled back reflexively, like a dog that’s had too many treats taken away before they got to eat them.

She picks her way through the slush of the parking lot to get behind the wheel of a white van with the name of the county’s senior citizen program on the side. I can see the outline of a few bald heads inside, and one with a healthy poof of hair, probably the lady with the cane. I’m not quick enough to stop the driver with my questions, anything I had to say lost in a cloud of exhaust as she starts the van up and pulls away.

I scroll through my phone to look for the new contact, jumping in surprise when Devra opens the driver’s door, steam rising from two cups of coffee.

“Good news?” she asks.

I close my fist tight around the little white pill, sweaty in my palm.

“Real good,” I confirm, showing her my prescription for crutches. She squeals and tries to high-five me, but misses.

Right now, I know a few things for sure.

I’m going to slip this Oxy, throwing it back as soon as Devra’s not looking. I’m going to call this woman—Edith—who is apparently now my pill supplier.

Also, Bella Left definitely watches NCIS.

Chapter Eight

punishment: any pain, suffering, or loss inflicted on a person because of a crime or offense

I can feel the screws. Both ends.

The threaded tips are growing into my bones, which is what they are supposed to do. This was explained to me by the PA, who snapped a Barbie’s leg off after talking me through my X-rays, the tip of an expensive pen from his coat pocket tracing the path of titanium under my skin. I knew about that, was told that bone and screw would meld together, creating a new version of Mickey Catalan that may not be better, but would—hopefully—be serviceable.

It’s the heads of the screws that I’m stuck on now. Literally.

I’m soaking in a hot bath, the water scalding my body a bright pink the moment I step in, gingerly lowering myself. My right hand keeps dropping to my hip, probing the point of pain, fingers digging down between what’s left of my muscle and tendon to find those alien parts that now keep me in one piece. Mickey Catalan, the most unlikely doll in the world.

I hear Dad’s voice in my head the second I press my thumb against the first screw, a terse reminder—“don’t pick.” Adolescence isn’t nice to anyone, but my preteen years were vicious, rendering me taller and broader than the boys, and granting me the bulge of breasts at a time when everyone found them embarrassing instead of interesting. I also inherited from somewhere in my DNA zits that were more like mountain ranges than pimples.

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