“So are you guys a thing now, or what?”

“Define thing.”

Normally I’d kick her for the uncalled-for smart-ass move, but I don’t have the energy left after therapy. Plus, they took her cast off and she’s graduated to a simple brace, pulled tight against the thinness of her once powerful forearm. Kicking her feels like a bad idea.

“Thing,” I say, “mutual adoration between two people, exclusive to one another, typically annoying to those around them.”

It was supposed to come out light, like when I told her to suck my dick in Spanish. Instead the words sound hard, all my pain going into them.

“Sorry,” I say immediately. “I didn’t mean that.”

But I’m not the kind of person who just says things, and Carolina knows it. She shrugs off the dig, but the corner of her mouth is turned down, and I wish I would’ve kicked her instead.

“Then yeah, I guess we are a thing,” she says, eyes on her phone and not me.

“Mickey, you need anything?” Mom yells from the kitchen.

“No,” I tell her, struggling to my feet and leaning heavily on Helen W. “Gonna go to the bathroom.”

Truth is, I don’t have to pee. But if I ask Mom to bring me my Oxy she’s going to get the little line in between her eyebrows that shows up when she doesn’t like something. I saw it the other day when I took one a few hours ahead of when I was supposed to.

We eat in front of the TV, Mom hovering to take our plates and move our books, until I finally tell her that between the two of us we can manage. Even once she’s gone there’s stale air between me and Carolina, and I’m not one to fill silence with empty talk. Carolina and I have always been able to be quiet together, still highly aware of one another and close in our silence. That’s missing tonight, and when she says she’s got to get home, I don’t argue, even though I know there are still a few hours left before her curfew.

Back in my room, I shake the bottle the way Bella Left did, but the noise is way different than it was then. There are only a few pills left, and more than a week before I’m technically supposed to run out.

I’ve been telling myself that there’s a difference between want and need. That I need the Oxy in order to get through physical therapy. I can tell my muscles to move forward, order bones to be arranged in a certain way, but if my brain balks at the pain, nothing happens. The Oxy does its job, wrapping my mind in a warm cocoon, reassuring me that everything is going to be okay.

But lately I’ve noticed a deeper thought, one that slumbers below the warmth, so buried that it took me a while to find it, unwrap it, and realize what it was telling me. With the Oxy working I can push myself during therapy, but always there’s a comfortable fallback, the acceptance that even if everything isn’t going to be okay . . . I’ll be fine. The Oxy doesn’t just take the pain away, it wraps up all my nervous what ifs and I can’ts and says—screw it.

And I do need that, right now, after seeing Carolina’s arm out of the cast. She didn’t mention it, and I didn’t ask, but she’s healing well. She surreptitiously flexed while we worked, putting her pencil down to do a few exercises. She’ll be ready for conditioning in two months, and I can’t leave my bed without Helen W. leading the way.

I shake the bottle again and count what’s left inside. If the one thing that defines me is about to be taken away, I need to not care, to be able to say screw it. I’ve been biting my second pill in half, telling myself I don’t need two, but one isn’t doing the trick anymore when it’s time to get some sleep.

Tonight I take two.

Chapter Seven

static: resting; acting without motion or progression—or—producing charges of electricity

Today someone else decides whether I’m allowed to move on. The words I say in a little room with teddy-bear wallpaper determine if I can go back to school, drive a car, and use crutches instead of a walker. This ten-minute appointment is all that stands between me and a semblance of a normal life.

Mom wanted to be here, but there’s a baby on the way in the hospital next door, one that she’s watched grow over the past nine months, carefully monitoring someone else’s life, charting the course that will lead to a moment she’ll never experience herself. She’ll be there to catch the baby, the first person to touch this new human being, her own type of maternal claim that will follow hundreds of people for the rest of their lives.

It never gets old for her, the way Christmas or birthdays start to get stale once you hit a certain age. The miracle of new life always lights Mom up from the inside out, and even her concern for me couldn’t eclipse that when her cell phone vibrated on the kitchen table moments before we were supposed to leave for my appointment.

“I’ll get Dad to drive me,” I told her, as I watched her weigh the sight of me leaning on Helen W. against the need of her patient, a battered, brittle-edged life against an unmarked one about to begin.

“You sure?” she asked, but she was already zipping her coat.

Turned out Dad was in a meeting, but he was more than happy to pass the request along to Devra, who seems to take it as a sign that we’re bonding. Apparently one of her New Year’s resolutions was to improve her relationship with me, something Dad let me know as if it were a great compliment. She’s in the waiting room right now, searching for Kohl’s coupons on her phone so we can go shopping for new school clothes if the doctor green-lights me to go back.

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