“Yep,” she declared. “The facial expression isn’t changing and it looks vaguely irritated. Definitely your people.”

“Dad,” I ask suddenly, “is Catalan Italian?”

“Um . . .” Dad glances at Mom, making Devra bristle. “I think it’s Spanish, maybe? Why?”

I don’t know why. It was a thought that had been floating in my head since Dr. Singh asked me, and whatever is in my IV pushed the question out of my mouth before I had a chance to consider if it was worth asking. Is this how normal people work? Do they just say what they’re thinking as soon as it occurs to them?

I shudder at the thought. Devra misreads it, pulling the blanket up to my chin. Now it’s Mom’s turn to bristle, and I’m trying to decide whether to thank my stepmom when a doctor comes in, one I haven’t seen before.

“Mickey, I’m Brad, Dr. Singh’s PA,” he says, introducing himself to me first, which I appreciate.

Introductions happen all around, made somewhat awkward when the doctor assumes that Devra is my older sister. Mom manages to turn a laugh into a fake cough, but I’m pretty sure the tears in her eyes once the fit passes are real.

“I’m here to talk you through what rehabilitation is going to be like,” Brad says. “Remember playing with these?”

He pulls a Barbie out of his scrub pocket, and I narrow my eyes at him, because no, I definitely don’t remember that.

“When you had your accident, your hip came out of the socket entirely.” He snaps the leg off the Barbie, and all the adults in the room wince. Not me. I saw the real thing.

He goes on to explain the screws now holding my leg in place, the multiple fractures, and what that will mean for future mobility. Mom drops the names of the physical therapy place I’ll be going to, and Dad recites the appointments that are already scheduled. Brad nods his approval and says it sounds like I’m in the best possible hands, but all I can think about is the calendar Dad showed me, grid lines like a ladder laid out for me to climb.

If I can get my leg up that high.

Chapter Five

friend: someone for whom the bearer feels affection or esteem

I don’t see Carolina until I’m home five days later.

Mom insisted on keeping the hospital visitors to “family only,” which earned her a side-eye from Devra, who had set up camp in the reclining chair next to my bed, the better to compare the aches and pains of late pregnancy to the trauma of having my leg torn out of its socket. Mom gave Dad enough hard stares to render him the one incapable of having children, but apparently he counts his new wife as family, because she stayed.

Carolina is in my room five minutes after I get home, trailing the outfielders behind her. They’re all named Bella, an unfortunate side effect of their mothers being overly involved in the Twilight thing a while back. On the team we keep it simple by calling them Left, Right, and Center.

I’m surprised to see the Bellas. Our friendships are like muscles you use occasionally to make sure they’re still there in the off-season, but don’t pay serious attention to until training starts. On the field we’ll slap each other’s asses and chest-bump and scream unintelligibly into each other’s faces during a victory yell, but in the hallways we keep it to an up-nod and reminders about the next practice. It’s like running into your teacher in the grocery store and trying to make small talk; I’m only comfortable with these people when we’re all wearing jerseys.

Now they’re in my room, carefully arranging themselves on my bed so as not to disrupt the pile of pillows my right foot is resting on. Carolina shrugs as if to say, deal with it.

“How you feeling?” we ask each other at the same time.

“I’ll live,” Carolina says, pointing to her cast. “It’s a nondisplaced fracture, which they said is a positive thing. Six to eight weeks and I’m good.”

It’s the beginning of January now. If Carolina is out of her cast that soon, she’ll be rebuilding muscles in her arm by February while I’m still tooling around on crutches.

“My doctor said if all goes well I should be back at it in time for conditioning,” Carolina goes on, breaking my concentration.

“Good,” I say, and hope I don’t sound bitter. I don’t need a calendar in front of me to know that she’s going to be throwing fire from the mound while I try to balance on a weak leg behind the plate.

“Yeah, she’ll be good to go as long as Aaron stops doing everything for her,” Center says. Her voice drops into a deep mimic. “Oh, let me get that door for you. I’ll return your lunch tray. Maybe I’ll carry you to class. Can I rub your back? How about your vagina?”

“Shut it,” Carolina says, but she’s blushing, and the swat she delivers to Bella Center’s upper arm has a little more force to it than necessary.

“What about you?” Bella Left asks, her eyes straying to the walker next to my bed. Mom and Dad put a lot of money into my rehab, but the walker they grabbed at Goodwill. It’s got a strip of duct tape around one leg, declaring it the property of Helen W. I don’t know what became of Helen W. that she didn’t need the walker anymore, but I’m guessing it’s not because she suddenly became young and spry again.

“I’ll be ready,” I say, which is total bullshit. Dr. Singh had cautioned me about setting realistic goals, and Mom had repeated his words after my first physical therapy appointment, which left me dripping sweat and swallowing back vomit. The truth is it feels like the screws holding me together are on fire, my hip melting into them rather than growing. But my teammates don’t need to know the truth.

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