I eased my taped ankle to one side as I sat down. The bandage under my breasts and around my chest pulled and it felt like my skin was tearing.
Carla's eyes were closed. Her mom put her finger to her lips and leaned toward me.
"She just fell asleep."
"How's your ankle?"
"It's OK. No surgery, but it hurts like hell."
It's funny. People say time slows down when something like that happens, but it was over so fast. One second I was braced, ready with Monica opposite me to catch Carla, and the next second I saw Monica falling backwards and my side was on fire and my ankle, well, I don't even like to think about that at all. I couldn't move, Carla was on top of me, and someone was crying. Someone else was screaming. Maybe that was me, I don't know.
"So, how's she doing?"
I waved at Carla.
"Her surgeon says she'll be fine, but it's going to take a while."
"I'm so sorry, Lisa."
I grabbed on to the bedrail to stand up. Took a tentative step to Carla's mom. Reached out to hug her.
"It wasn't Carla's fault, Mrs. Ryan."
I let go of the bedrail to put my other arm around her.
"Really. It just happened that way. Carla didn't mean to hurt me."
"Thank you, sweetie. I know that, but I'm still sorry."
I laughed, sort of.
"I mean, I could be in the next bed over right now."
Mrs. Ryan's turn to laugh.
"That's for sure. Two of you? That would be too much."
She moved her hand, gently, thank god, down my flank.
"What about your rib?"
"It's taped. It's sore and the tape pulls when I bend or turn, but it's supposed to mend on its own."
I looked over at Carla again.
"How long until she can walk?"
"At least a week before she can even sit up. It's not the leg so much, that's a clean break. It's her kidney and spleen."
This was the end of our competition hopes, of course. Without Carla and me, our squad didn't have enough members to go to districts or regionals.
"I know she'll be sorry to have missed you, Lisa. I hope she'll be awake next time."
I know a cue when I hear one. Crutches under my arms. Backpack on, very slowly, with a little help from Mrs. Ryan, and I headed for the door.
I think I saw the smallest of smiles from Carla when I looked back.
"If I don't get out of here soon, I'm going to scream."
"What's the doc say?"
"At least three or four more days. My leg's fine. It's my belly. There's no bleeding but I'm still really sore."
It was the Friday after Thanksgiving, and Carla's mom had gone to the cafeteria for coffee. A hospital that served Starbucks coffee? Wow. At least they claimed it was Starbucks. I looked around quickly. We were alone, the door closed.
Stepped over and flipped the lock. Back to Carla, bit of a hobble, but I made it. Ribs still not happy to bend down, though not nearly as bad as before.
Carla's lips warm, but chapped and cracked from the dry air. We played tongues for a little until we were both breathing fast. Nuzzled Carla's neck. A quick nip.
"Mmm. You smell good, sweetie."
"Mom gave me a sponge bath this morning."
"You taste good, too."
"Stop that right now, girl, or I'm going to climb out of this bed, sore stomach and all, and tackle you."
"You'd have to catch me first, kiddo."
I'd traded my crutches for a cane a few days ago.
"I'm still faster than you."
"Not with your leg in a cast, you're not."
"Only if you'll let me."
"Let you what?"
"Put my hand here."
Great things, hospital gowns. They look royally stupid and they don't cover you, but sometimes that's a good thing.
Down over her trimmed neat fur to her center, a swirl at the top, felt her twitch as I went over her bump, then down. Oops. Catheter. Forget that.
"Settle for another kiss, sweetie?"
Lips a little softer this time. Chaptstick helps.
"You like that?"
"You're all pointy and stiff."
"So's the other one."
Her tongue pushed back. I could feel my heart race. Carla could, too, the way she'd raised her hand to cup my left breast, then moved to the other while I thumbed her nipple.
"Carla, sweetie, I've got to stop."
"No you don't, pal. Stand closer to the bed."
"Yeah. Unzip those shorts."
"Move your legs apart a little. Yeah, like that."
"I'm going to come."
"Easy, sweetie. It's just us."
"That's my girl, Lisa."
"You liked that, didn't you?"
Quiet for a moment.
"Carla, you've got to let me go."
"I mean it, sweetie. I gotta get the door."
"What, you can't walk with someone's hand in your panties?"
"Not when she has to stay in bed, I can't."
I unlocked the door just in time. Mrs. Ryan walked in, sniffed the air, smiled.
"You bet, Mom."
"I've got to go. Bye, Mrs. Ryan. Bye, sweetie."
"Come any time."
"I can't believe you said that."
Kissed Carla, firmly. Smiled at her mom.
"Bye for real, Carla."
No competition season, maybe, but once she got out of the hospital nothing stopped Carla or me from cheering from the sidelines at games that fall. We were on the bench, yes, but we yelled as loud as anyone else.
College applications, on the other hand, gave me fits. There was really only one choice for us: UVa in Charlottesville. Everyone who could get in went there. Except my sister Alice, the traitor. She kept telling us how nice the weather was at Stanford.
UVa gets a lot of crap for being so preppy, I know, and it is. Monica's older brother, two years ahead of us, said so. I didn't care. Mom and Dad had gone there and I was going too, come hell or high water.
I wasn't so hot in history, and my math sucked, but I was strong in English and chem, and my SATs were good. Coach James wrote me a great recommendation; so did my English teacher. Being a double legacy didn't hurt, either.
College applications weren't the only big thing that fall.
What's hot and wet and blonde all over? No, not Carla, sillies. She wasn't all blonde for a while, anyway. Her midsection stayed eggplant-colored for a long time after the accident.
No, it's a sauna. For reasons Mom and Dad never quite explained, but were somehow connected to a vacation in Finland when they were just out of school, they'd wanted to have one built for years.
Classes ended the week before Christmas, and I got home that Friday to find a truck in front of the house and a gang of five or six guys gathered around a level patch of ground not too far from our patio, between the pool and the fence. There was a yellow line of spray paint from the curb all the way back along the side of the house.
The thing looked like a huge barrel. I mean really huge, almost as tall as the side of the house, up to the gutters. Why Dad wanted a barrel in the backyard I had no idea, but he was standing off to the side grinning like nobody's business.
"What's going on, anyway?"
"It's a surprise."
"What's the deal with the yellow line?"
Oh, sure. What was that supposed to mean? No hope for it, though, I knew that. When Dad wanted to be mysterious he was like a clam. It seemed unlikely to remain a secret, though. I mean, there it was, big as a house, it seemed like, right out in the open.
Saturday the gang of guys were back. They had a trench dug along one side of the yard and there was a lot of yelling and clanging from inside the barrel.
And why was the cover off of the pool?
Christmas Eve is when we usually unwrapped our presents. My sister had flown in a couple of days earlier just before the first serious snow of the season closed the airports. Our big Christmas dinner was always in the afternoon on Christmas Day, and Mom already had everything she needed. We were snug.
Dad could hardly sit still, and he and Mom kept looking at each other.
"Enough, already, Dad! What's the surprise?"
Alice was just as curious as I was.
"Strip, all of you."
What the hell? I mean, I think I've said that we were pretty casual about nudity in our family, especially during the summer out by the pool, but even for us this was pretty unusual.
Dad put his finger to his lips. Smiled at Mom.
"Not a word. Take it off, babe."
"It's OK, sweetie. Let's just play along with him."
So there we were in a couple of minutes, all of us in our birthday suits. My sister blushing a little, although it certainly wasn't the first time she'd been nude with us.
Dad walked over to the sliding door and opened it. It was freezing outside.
"Dad, what the hell?"
"Brian, are you sure?"
He walked out the door onto the patio and into the snow, heading for the barrel. We followed, our feet freezing, nipples erect and not from excitement, goose bumps all over.
Oh. My. God.
.... There is more of this story ...