There are very few things on this cruel earth Bella finds more humiliating than mid-day trips to the hospital due to her own special brand of breathtaking (and non-existent) coordination. On her good days, sometimes her peers can get a good laugh at the incredible way she can stretch out a fall over several stumbling yards, desperate to stay upright but ultimately hitting the ground in an undignified heap.
Today was not a good day.
They'd been outside for P.E. on the first sunny day this year, running up and down the stairs between the bleachers while Coach Clapp clicked her stopwatch and shook her head with disappointment every ninety seconds or so. Finally, after about half an hour of this mandated torture, she blew her whistle and the girls started to make their way back to the track. Bella was on the last step when her lab partner shouted her name.
All she did was turn her head.
Her foot hit the astroturf wrong- it twisted, or slipped? She can't be sure. All she knows is that she jerked her knee to correct it, felt a sickening pop, and then nothing.
And then a landslide of unbearable static shredding the inside of her knee like steel wool caught in a blender.
She dropped like a rock. Coach Clapp called an ambulance after giving her swelling knee a cursory glance. I don't know how you manage it, Swan, she'd said, shaking her head and giving the top of her head a sympathetic pat.
Now, in a paper dress that matches the blue hospital room, she thinks with a hint of amusement, she has something in common with pro basketball players, skiers, and Olympic gymnasts: a torn ACL.
Gym class should be abolished.
The librarian rolls her eyes behind her bifocals at Kate's sugary sweet smile as she glides between the shelves, wobbling sky-high stack of ragged paperbacks just barely balancing on her arm: lesser lauded Austen, Lady Susan; Picnic at Hanging Rock (she'll have to print the lost chapter off the Internet); Woolf's The Waves to match the ocean falling from the sky.
Kate dips by the study carrels in the back, a laser of a grin aimed at her cousin, Rosalie, who flashes her glittery pageant queen smile back and goes back to CPR practice on her loveable meat slab of a boyfriend, Em. They're blocking Their Eyes Were Watching God- an injustice, surely. Kate makes a mental note to pick it up next time and leaves the happy couple in peace.
Usually, when your parents ship you away to live with distant family as punishment, they intend for it to suck so bad, by the end of it you have more character than an elementary school anti-bullying assembly. But this latest parenting stunt is definitely backfiring. The Hales have an extremely laissez-faire, eyes closed take on the whole discipline thing. Kate's pretty sure Jasper hasn't even been to school yet this semester, and it's March.
In comparison, Kate's a shiny example of a (mostly) model student (turns out Cs and Bs actually do feel a lot better than failing). Tanya would fall down in a fit of laughter if she could see her now in the library. Touching books when previously in Alaska, they'd acted as radioactive rocks and unzipped her DNA, killing her slowly and painfully. She feels a touch defensive as she pulls a hardcover copy of West's The Fountain Overflows, but Tanya's not even here. She doesn't have to explain herself to anyone.
At the counter, the tired librarian eyes her selections with a bit of muted disdain as she hits a few keys on the computer with the end of her pen. "Return them on time this time, alright?"
Kate gathers the stack to her chest, the top book held in place securely by her chin. "You got it, Mrs. Books."
"I'm sorry, Bells. You get it from my side, you really do," Charlie says, looking over the array of tape and cold compresses situated around her swollen knee. "Other day I took a tumble in front of the new deputy." He sweeps his hand out from his chest. "Just completely wiped out."
Bella smiles a bit. The nurse gave her some weak painkillers that have eased the throbbing pain into more of a murky secret hurt. "How'd you recover?"
Charlie takes a sip of his coffee from the sad little hospital styrofoam. "I told him it's a new evasive maneuver."
"And he bought it?"
"Had no choice. It was his first day."
She laughs a little and winces. Then frowns. Since when has her knee had anything to do with laughing? That's just mean.
"You alright?" Charlie says. He stands up and glances toward the door. "Want me to go wrangle a doctor for you?"
"I'm okay. It just… hurts a little."
"How 'bout a strawberry milkshake?" he tries, and she can tell he really feels sorry for her now. He's calling in backup. She loves him for it, but even Carver's famous strawberry milkshakes won't take the pain away. Not really. Still, he looks so hopeful, declining would just be cruel.
A few minutes after he's gone and right as she's about to drift off, she hears the telltale squeak and drag of someone way too old to be wearing Heelys zooming down the long corridor just outside.
"Bella Swan! What room number!" a too-peppy voice shouts at the nearby nurses' station.
"C'mon health heroes! Bella Swan! Room, please!"
A pause. Bella imagines it full of confused exchanged looks and a lot of impatient twisting on Heely-d feet.
Then finally: "176"
Four seconds later, a chipped blue manicure wraps around the doorframe and in flies Kate Denali, transfer-student hurricane, endless ball of energy, and all-around magnet stuck to Bella's back. She blurs around the room a few times before getting caught by some otherwise undetectable frequency and spins in place on her kid shoes' wheels like a figure skater about to go supernova. Her super long blond hair dances around her like maypole ribbons only adding to the dizzying sight of her.
Bella starts to wonder if that painkiller was actually a hallucinogen.
After about twenty more seconds, Kate sticks her arms out to her sides and slows into an off-balance stumble. She catches herself on the end of the bed and freezes, presumably waiting out the after-effects of an impromptu spin-out. She's quick on the recovery, of course. Girls like Kate don't end up in the hospital from a papercut like some people.
"Hey, Kate," Bella says, feeling a bit breathless for no real reason.
Kate's head pokes up, default princess of mischief smile on full display. "Hi, Murph."
Once upon a time, a girl moved down to Forks from Literally Nowhere, Alaska, and the second she walked into their shared chemistry class, Bella accidentally dropped just the tiniest chunk of sodium into some girl's open hydroflask and, well… Sometimes you really don't have to wait until July 4th.
That would have been fine, but not ten minutes later whatever actual experiment she was supposed to be doing that day blew up in her goggled face. Mike Newton had to shove her under the power shower just to be safe. All they had for dry clothes in the lost and found was a toddler-sized Limp Bizkit t-shirt and a blue poodle skirt from the theater department's canceled production of Grease.
At lunch, she sat in grape double-bubble.
At that point, Bella just remembers Kate appearing through the red fog of embarrassment and pulling her straight out of the building. They went to the gas station down the street and ate peach rings together on the curb. Bella got a bloody nose thirty seconds in. To which Kate just rolled her aquarium rock-blue eyes. I think that's enough for today, Murph.
Which of course was short for Murphy's Law. Which might as well replace Marie for Bella's middle name on her orange juice-stained birth certificate.
Now, on her feet and settled that the room's not spinning, Kate untangles herself from her own hair. A big (and seemingly random) chunk of it is dyed a blotchy and muddled purple-grey color as if she's rebelling dress code, passable home dye-jobs, and color theory all at once.
She hefts her overstuffed backpack onto the bed, crushing Bella's ankle and effectively waking up all of her subdued nerves. The pain screams through her leg. Bella breathes sharply through her teeth as Kate actually screams and throws the backpack onto the floor.
"Oh my god, I am so sorry! Like clearly she's in here because of her leg, idiot." She thunks herself on the head for good measure before meticulously smoothing out the wrinkles she made in the blankets.
"You're not an idiot," Bella feels the need to say even if Kate won't hear it.
She sits back and lets Kate do her thing. It's tough to admit for someone so used to healing her own twists and sprains, but this pain is something else entirely. Looking for a distraction, her eyes catch on Kate's too-big t-shirt. It's sunflower yellow and blank except for two words printed across the chest: GO AWAY.
"What are you doing here?" Bella asks, focusing on the curve of the G and not the miserable heartbeat inside her knee.
Kate perks up and does a little twirl over to her backpack. The back of her shirt reads: COME BACK. "I brought you some friends."
She yanks the zipper open like a selfish kid at Christmas and wrestles out a worn copy of The Bird's Nest. Bella cringes at the memory of her own dog-eared edition at home. Her very first failed assignment. She had to redo her first middle school book report and pick a more age-appropriate book.
Bella watches silently as Kate pulls out book after book and piles them at the end of the bed. All classics, all written by women, and all already read by Bella. But Kate doesn't have to know that. It's kind of touching underneath all the silliness and pain.
"You didn't have to get all these, Kate."
"I know. I just…feel a little responsible. Yelling your name like that." She squints her eyes a little as if waiting for a reaction but goes on anyway. "Like, I know you need all your brainpower just to walk. And then I go and split your attention on something tricky like a set of stairs. Evil."
"Diabolical," Bella agrees. She pats the side of her bed furthest from her injury. "Can you sit down? You're like a deer, I never know when you're gonna start sprinting for no reason."
Instead of sitting down like a civilized human being, Kate climbs up on the bed and settles right beside her. Hip to hip, she crosses her legs at the ankles, bright orange custom Heelys like road signs at the foot of the bed. She turns her body toward Bella and spears her pokey elbow into Bella's specially fluffed pillows.
"So," Kate prompts, already twisting a strand of Bella's hair around her finger. Last weekend when Kate slept over, she had the brilliant idea to braid their hair together while Bella was sleeping. Imagine Bella's surprise when she got up to get water in the night and Kate's hair stretched out to stop her like some kind of bizarre leash.
Bella sighs. "What?"
"Does it hurt?"
"Yeah." Through the thin haze of the medicine, Bella feels the soft press of Kate's lips to her cheek.
"I'm sorry," Kate whispers against her skin. Bella knows she means it.
A little while after Bella falls asleep, her dad comes by with a pink milkshake and a greasy paper bag that Kate's expert junk food nose identifies as french fries from the deli down the street. He sets them down on the wheeled table and nods a hello to Kate before his eyes fall on the small mountain of books spilling off the sides of the bed.
He raises a bushy eyebrow. "Bella teaching you to read?"
"Yes, sir," Kate says with a two-finger salute.
"Has Dr. Cullen been through here yet?"
"Oh, you mean Boy Genius? Yeah, you just missed him."
Charlie squints his eyes like he's never heard that one before, but then he just points toward the fries. "Help yourself. They're no good cold. I'm gonna go find the doctor."
After he's gone, Kate rests her head on Bella's shoulder and hugs her arm. She's not so great at the whole sincerity thing. It's easier to live life like a string of bad standup jokes, but sometimes people get hurt for real. And it's not funny. Not even a little bit. It actually feels like a huge rock in her stomach- which is to say not great.
Bella stirs beneath her, and Kate can feel the exact second she wakes up. Mostly because she's reaching for that pink milkshake like a chimpanzee through the bars of its temporary enclosure.
As soon as Kate gives it to her, she starts on it like it's going to cure her. It's pretty cute and a little sad too. The rock in her stomach turns a bit, but rather than focus on herself, she squeezes her arm around Bella's waist.
"When can you leave here?"
Bella releases the straw with a pop."Weren't you listening to the doctor like ten minutes ago?"
"Mm…no?" Kate shrugs and sneaks a sip of the milkshake.
"Hey!" Bella jerks the cup away. "Well, Dr. Cullen said later today probably. But I'll be on crutches until it heals. Or surgery if it doesn't."
"That's kind of intense, Murph."
"Yeah, well. That's how it is when you were born with paper skin and glass bones or whatever." She takes a (cute) grumpy sip.
"What about school?"
"I'll probably stay home and ice it for the rest of the week. Maybe you or Alice can bring me the work I miss."
"All week? Screw that. I'm ditching too. I can totally take care of you!"
"No!" Bella's dark eyes widen in horror. "Remember that time I had the flu and you swore you'd take care of me, but all you did was put on a lab coat and fill a water gun with cough medicine to shoot me whenever I did 'sick things.' Remember that?"
Kate smiles innocently. "Uhh, no."
"And then you got bored and went home!"
"Be more interesting this time."
Bella sinks an elbow deep beneath her ribs. "You're the worst."
"Ow! Okay, okay! I see you're not into the whole 'good nurse/bad nurse' thing."
"That's called malpractice."
"What did you want anyway? When you called my name?"
Kate shrugs and nuzzles her neck. "I can't remember."