THE FIRST FEELING IS EXHILARATION.
My arms hit the ground. The sound is like a mallet against a crab.
Pure fucking exhilaration.
Beside me, my skateboard is a stranded turtle on its back. The wheels shriek with each spin.
And then—oh. Oh, the pain.
The second feeling is pain.
Naomi’s camera beeps and she makes a triumphant noise in her throat. “You totally got it that time,” she says. “Tell me you got it.”
I hold my breath for a moment until I can say, “We got it.”
“You fell like a bag of mashed potatoes.” Her sneakers make bubble gum smacks against the pavement on her way to me. “Just . . . splat.”
So vivid, that girl.
Naomi’s beside me, and her tiny hand is an ice cube on my smoldering back.
“Don’t get up,” she says.
I choke out a sweaty, clogged piece of laughter. “Wasn’t going to, babe.”
“Whoa, you’re bleeding.”
“Yeah, I thought so.” Blood’s the unfortunate side effect of a hard-core fall. I pick my head up and shake my neck, just to be sure I can. “This was a definitely a good one.”
I let her roll me onto my back. My right hand stays pinned, tucked grotesquely under my arm, fingers facing back toward my elbow.
She nods. “Wrist’s broken.”
“Huh, you think?” I swallow. “Where’s the blood?”
“Top of your forehead.”
I sit up and lean against Naomi’s popsicle stick of a body and wipe the blood off my forehead with my left hand. She gives me a quick squeeze around the shoulders, which is basically as affectionate as Naomi gets. She’d probably shake hands on her deathbed.
She takes off her baseball cap, brushes back her hair, and replaces the cap with the brim tilted down. “So what’s the final tally, kid?”
Ow. Shit. “Hold on a second.”
She waits while I pant, my head against my skinned knee. Colors explode in the back of my head. The pain’s almost electric.
“Hurt a lot?” she asks.
I expand and burst in a thousand little balloons. “Remind me why I’m doing this again?”
“Shut up, you.”
I manage to smile. “I know. Just kidding.”
“So what hurts? Where’s it coming from?”
She exhales, rolling her eyes. “And your brain is getting these pain signals from where, sensei?”
“Check my ankles.” I raise my head and sit up, balancing on my good arm. I suck on a bloody finger and click off my helmet. The straps flap around my chin. I taste like copper and dirt.
I squint sideways into the green fluorescence of the 7-Eleven. No one inside has noticed us, but it’s only a matter of time. Damn. “Hurry it up, Nom?”
She takes each of my sneakered feet by the toe and moves it carefully back and forth, side to side, up and down. I close my eyes and feel all the muscles, tendons, and bones shift perfectly.
I shake my head. “They’re fine.”
“Just the wrist, then?”
“No. There’s something else. It-it’s too much pain to be just the wrist. . . . It’s somewhere. . . .” I gesture weakly.
“You seriously can’t tell?”
“Just give me a second.”
Naomi never gets hurt. She doesn’t understand. I think she’s irritated until she does that nose-wrinkle. “Look, we’re not talking spinal damage or something here, right? Because I’m going to feel really shitty about helping you in your little mission if you end up with spinal damage.”
I kick her to demonstrate my un-paralysis.
She smiles. “Smart-ass.”
I breathe in and my chest kicks. “Hey. I think it’s the ribs.”
Naomi pulls up my T-shirt and checks my chest. While she takes care of that, I wiggle all my fingers around, just to check. They’re fine—untouched except for scrapes from the pavement. I dig a few rocks from underneath a nail.
“I’m guessing two broken ribs,” she says.
“Yeah. Both on the right.”
I nod, gulping against the third feeling—nausea.
I ignore her and struggle to distract myself. Add today to the total, and that’s 2 femurs + 1 elbow + 1 collarbone + 1 foot + 4 fingers + 1 ankle + 2 toes + 1 kneecap + 1 fibula + 1 wrist + 2 ribs.
= 17 broken bones.
189 to go.
Naomi looks left to the 7-Eleven. “If we don’t get out of here soon, someone’s going to want to know if you’re okay. And then we’ll have to find another gross parking lot for next time.”
“Relax. I’m not doing any more skateboard crashes.”
“Enough with the skateboard. We’ve got to be more creative next time, or your video’s gonna get boring.”
She makes that wicked smile. “You okay to stand?” She takes my good hand and pulls me up. My right wrist dangles off to the side like the limb of a broken marionette. I want to hold it up, but Naomi’s got me in a death grip so I won’t fall.
My stomach clenches. I gasp, and it kills. “Shit, Nom.”
“I’m gonna puke.”
“Push through this. Come on. You’re a big boy.”
Any other time, I would tease her mercilessly for this comment. And she knows it. Damn this girl.
I’m upright, but that’s about as far as I’m going to go. I lean against the grody wall of the Laundromat. “Just bring the car around. I can’t walk that far.”
She makes her hard-ass face. “There’s nothing wrong with your legs. I’m not going to baby you.”
My mouth tastes like cat litter. “Nom.”
She shakes her hair and shoves down the brim of her cap. “You really do look like crap.”
She always expects me to enjoy this part. She thinks a boy who likes breaking bones has to like the pain.
Yeah. Just like Indiana Jones loves those damn snakes.
I do begging eyes.
“All right,” she says. “I’ll get the car. Keep your ribs on.”
This is Naomi’s idea of funny.
She slouches off. I watch her blur into a lump of sweatshirt, baseball cap, and oversize jeans.
Shit. Feeling number four is worry. Problems carpet bomb my brain.
What am I going to tell my parents? How is this setting a good example for Jesse? What the hell am I doing in the grossest parking lot in the city on a Tuesday night?
The feeling that never comes is regret.
There’s no room. Because you know you’re three bones closer.