I get inside the library and listen. If I happen upon Fern “by accident,” it’ll be less weird than if I plow over to her table and am all, HI. IT IS I. I AM HERE.
Way over by the biographies, I hear girls talking. I ease forward. Definitely Fern. And probably Madison too. Methinks now would be the perfect time to check out a super biographical book.
I push myself through the aisles so carefully, concentrating on stealth mode. Mom would be proud. I never pull this off on two feet, let alone on four wheels. She’d be stoked I’m not clearing swaths of books from their shelves and leaving a path of destruction in my wake.
“Oh my god, that’s so creepy,” I hear Madison say. I’m this close to coming around the corner. Deep breath, keep it casual.
“I know, right?” Fern says back. “He was all, ‘Dur…Me fell off roof!’ and I was like, what kind of dumbass falls off a roof? I mean, seriously!”
My breath freezes in my throat. I’m a dumbass? What the hell? I take trig with juniors, Fern takes algebra with freshmen, and I’m the dumb one?
“No kidding,” Madison says. “I see him and I’m like, go back to your cave.”
Fern laughs. “I feel so bad, but it’s so true! He weirds me out, no joke,” she says. “Does he even understand English? I’m just like, ew, don’t talk to me.”
“Maybe if you paint pictures on the wall, he’ll get the point,” Madison says.
They giggle and I sit back in the chair.
“And his hair? Why did he shave it all off? He looks ridiculous.”
“Ugh, I know. His head’s all bumpy at the top,” Fern says.
I touch the top of my skull. That’s why I never wanted to shave off my hair before. Even my bones are ugly.
“I just can’t with him, you know?” Fern goes on, but I want her to stop. Please stop. “I only talk to him because he’s best friends with JP.”
“Ohmygod, I know,” Madison drones. “Why someone as hot as JP hangs out with the Beast all the frigging time, I have no idea.”
I reverse my wheels and roll away. In the corner behind the computers, I drive into an open bay of one of those forty-year-old study cubbies that smell like pee and bury my face in my hands. My head. I touch it. Run the palm of my hand across the skin from front to back, feeling the new stubble.
“Whatever,” I mutter. Suck it up.
I feel an ache to study. Doesn’t matter what, I have an urge to open a book and read things that dare me to figure them out. I’m dying for a problem to solve. One that doesn’t involve people, unless they’re there to be impressed. Like in trig. I love murdering those problems, stepping back, and having the whole class admire my handiwork. That I can do.
My phone buzzes in my pocket. I leave it there. Keep my head in my hands, feeling the rasp of my scalp with my fingertips. Like sandpaper.
My phone buzzes again. And again. I pull it out.
The first one blares: DON’T FORGET! This afternoon, you’ve got therapy. —Mom
And worse: You’ve got therapy, f?yi.
Then even more worse: Dr. Burns said u need to try one session. Reminding u it’s today.
And finally: Wanted to touch base—therapy/this afternoon, k?
Got it, I text back.
Another buzz and I look down. btw, ilu. Jeezus, Mom, enough.
I’ll be there. Stop texting me, I send back before she can pop off one more.
What I really want to say is this: leave me alone.
“I’m so sorry I took so long,” Mom says from the front seat.
“What are you talking about? You picked me up from school right on time,” I say, yanking my baseball cap down hard. School’s out; hat’s on.
She stares from the rearview mirror at me in the backseat, where I’m stuck just like some little kid because of my leg. Her brows furrow with worry. “I had a meeting that ran long. I didn’t want you to think I forgot you.”
It’s easier to let my mom fret about nothing than try to help her not worry, because spoiler alert she will worry.
We pull up to the hospital. Mom parks in a handicapped spot and puts on the hazard lights. “No one will mind; we’ll hurry-hurry,” she says, opening my side door.
She lugs my wheelchair from the trunk and pops it open on the sidewalk in front of the outpatient wing of the hospital. People trudge in and out of the sliding mechanical doors. Pregnant women, kids hugging teddy bears tight, old people with humped backs and walkers, and me. We’re all here to dip in and out for our scheduled hour.
I unbuckle the seat belt and lurch out into the sun and into my chair.
“You all right?” she calls out.
She stuffs some money into my hand. “For some snacks,” she says. “Try to get something healthy. Like an apple.”
“Maybe a banana.”
“Or even an orange, if they have one.”
“I know what fruit looks like, Mom.”
She gives me a kiss on the cheek and squeezes my shoulders. “Want me to go with you to the room?”
“Are you sure? I could help get you set up, find a good spot, carry your bag….”