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Beast
Author:Brie Spangler

“Oh. Well, ah…” I try to laugh. “See, they made this new dress code at school and now we can’t have long hair and we can’t wear hats. They banned hats.”

“When did they ban hats?”

“Today.” Now the pen scribbles furiously. “But, I mean, it’s a coincidence.”

“And today you fell off the roof and broke your leg at”—he flips the pages—“around three-thirty in the afternoon.”

“I’m fine.”

“You have two spiral fractures and titanium rods and pins holding your leg together. That’s not exactly fine,” he says. “Do you have a history of self-harm?”

“What? No! I don’t ‘self-harm.’ Are you serious?”

“Dylan, you fell off the roof the day they banned hats.” He raises an eyebrow.

“Because I’d rather be known as Guy on Crutches than a freak show!”

“There it is.” Dr. Jensen’s eyes flick back to the clipboard and he almost writes a book on the last piece of paper. “I think there’s someone you should talk to. I’ll get in touch with her. Her name is Dr. Burns. She’s the codirector of psychology and she runs a wonderful outpatient group therapy program for troubled adolescents here at the hospital.”

“Wait, I’m not—Dr. Jensen, I’m not troubled,” I say from my hospital bed.

Patting my arm as he strolls out of the room, he smiles. “I’ll have a word with your mother.”

“No, don’t—” He disappears and I’m alone in the room. “Shitshitshitshitshit.”

I spend a minute looking for an escape route before Mom shoots through the door like a bullet. Dr. Jensen trails behind. “Oh, Dylan!” she cries, rushing over.

“No, Mom, no. It’s not what you think! I’m fine.”

“You did this on purpose?” Her hands flutter over me, smoothing and brushing all the loose bits.

“Sort of,” I confess. “But not in the bad, crazy way. It was an accident.”

“I knew you weren’t up there looking for a football!” She looms over me. I never felt dumber. “Well, whatever that therapist recommends we’ll do, because you’re not running up to the roof every time life gets tough. You could have landed on your neck and died!”

She says it like that’s a bad thing. “I only meant to sprain my ankle.”

“Is it your father?” Mom says, laying a hand three times smaller than mine on her chest. She’s the polar opposite of me. If I’m a Minotaur lurking in a labyrinth, my brown eyes burning red in the shadows, then Mom is a doe lightly munching dandelion greens in a field, blinking her big brown eyes so frigging much, the hunters become vegetarians. I don’t get it. I almost want a maternity test. “Do you miss him that much? Do you want to be with him in heaven?” She jumps straight to blaming my dead dad because that’s her go-to when things go wrong with me. “Is that what this is?”

“Mom, no, it’s really not that big a deal.”

“It kind of is,” Dr. Jensen chimes in. Smug bastard. “But Dr. Burns is great; she’ll help you learn some usable coping skills so the roof is less tempting in the future.”

“Actually—”

“He’ll be there,” Mom butts in. “With bells on.”

“Good.” Dr. Jensen gives my mom a white card. “I’ll have her call you later today with the information.” He goes off to harass his next patient.

Once we’re alone, Mom whirls around to face me and taps the card stiff in her palm.

“Hey—” I try to cut her off.

“Don’t even try to talk your way out of it, buddy,” she says. “You’re going to therapy.”





THREE


“The Beast is mobile!” JP hollers when he sees me wheel down the hall on my first day back. My right leg clears the way. “Everyone make a path—there’s a tank coming.”

Fair comparison since I feel like a bulldozer. I can barely walk on two legs without knocking over anywhere from one to a dozen things, but a wheelchair? Forget it. Wheels are definitely not my friend. Too round. Since my mom dropped me off at the front door, I’ve managed to bang into the trophy case, one fire extinguisher, and a bucket of dirty water left behind by the art kids painting a mural over the principal’s office. At the end of the day, this poor wheelchair is going to cry itself to sleep.

But I’m slowly discovering I love being in it. In the chair, I’m normal-sized. The Beast is contained. I don’t have to duck under doorways and I can make eye contact with the girls instead of towering over them.

“Hey, hey, make way,” JP says, and the group of guys loitering in a semicircle around him step aside for me. “How are you? Does it hurt? Did you get the pizza I sent? I wasn’t sure if the hospital accepted pizza.”

“They did! It was awesome, one large pepperoni and—”

“Mushrooms,” he finishes for me, and we both nod because that’s our favorite. “Cool, because I was like, shoot, I can’t go visit but I know what’s good.”