“And booze?” Beau called.
“Booze after,” I said with a laugh. “Anyone who isn’t trained as a bartender and would like to be just needs to let me, Rose, or Greg know so we can get you trained. We’d really like everyone to be capable of working in as many areas as possible. Everyone pulls their weight and steps in where we need help, because at the end of the day, we’re more of a family than anything, or at least that’s how Rose and I see it. Hope you do too.”
“Aww, thanks, Mom,” Harrison said.
I chuffed. “Rose is Mom. I’m the cool aunt.” I stepped over to the stacks of clipboards on the table. “We’ve split you all up into teams to do inventory, one to count and one to tally. Come on up when I call your names.” I grabbed the first one. “Beau and Harrison, I have you in suspense and erotica.”
They wore almost identical smirks.
“My favorite,” Beau said as he grabbed the clipboard and they headed out.
“I figured. Eva and Polly, you two are taking rom-com and half of contemporary romance.” They took their clipboard and stepped back. “Bayleigh and Greg, you’re on paranormal and historical.” They took theirs, and I tried not to look too obvious about gloating. “Ruby and Elizabeth, you’re on general fiction and sci-fi, and Jett, you’ve got the second half of contemp.”
Warren made a face. “What about me?”
I handed him a clipboard. “You’re on your own in comics with me and Rose.”
“How come I don’t get a partner?”
“Because you don’t work well with others.” I glanced around the room. “Any questions?” They shook their heads. “Then let’s get to it. Taco truck will be here in three hours, and if you’re finished with your list in time, I’ll buy your lunch.”
They cheered, and Rose smiled at me. I was the good cop and she was the bad cop, which meant I got to hand out tacos while she handed out tongue lashings.
We headed out of the room, everyone grabbing a last donut on their way.
“Wash your hands before you touch my books,” Rose said as she swept her finger across the lot of us.
“Does licking them count?” Beau asked.
“Only if you want to lose them,” Rose answered over her shoulder.
HOW TO HOPE
THE DAY WAS CRISP, THE cool weather blowing in with a gust, carrying the familiar scent of change. For the entirety of my life, it also brought football, and the trigger of the change of seasons was one that used to fill me with nothing but lust for life. Now I was only filled with memories of that time, the longing for that feeling. Six years hadn’t been long enough to forget them completely.
I supposed I never would, which was a blessing and a curse.
I breathed deep as I headed toward the subway station, feeling the cold air in my lungs, remembering that I was alive. That made the loss easier to accept.
The day I was injured found its way into my mind as it so often did, in flashes of memories, smells, sounds. The crowd roaring. The glint of sun off the defensive line’s helmets as we squared up. The crash of pads, screams and grunts of players, like we were at war. I remembered the tackle, remembered falling, but then there was nothing, only blackness, until I woke up at the hospital.
They told me the stories of what happened, and I saw the tape once — it was all I could handle. The play ended, and everyone stood, except me. I lay sprawled out on the grass, body still. Too still. I knew watching it that I wasn’t breathing. I don’t think many people in the stadium were either.
A hush fell over the crowd, an eerie impossibility to have thousands of people nearly silent as medics ran onto the field. My helmet was removed carefully, gingerly — being paralyzed wouldn’t matter if they didn’t because I would have died right then, right there if they hadn’t.
Watching someone perform CPR on my lifeless body was one of the strangest things I’ve ever experienced. They pumped my chest, breathed for me until my lungs began to work again, both teams circling my body in silence.
I stopped breathing for over a minute before they resuscitated me. And then they moved me onto a board and I left the field in an ambulance.
A little more pressure would have snapped my neck. A slight shift in the angle would have ended my life.
My first sense of awareness was only sounds and blurred shapes in flashes and bursts, and when I finally woke, it was coughing against the hard tube in my throat. I tried to fight it, tried to pull it out, but I couldn’t. Not my hands, my arms, legs — my entire body lay useless on the hospital bed.
Terror. That was all I felt — pure terror pressing me from all directions. I was locked in my body like a prison cell. My mom called for the nurse, crying, my dad on the other side of me, telling me to stay calm, that it would be okay. But my eyes darted around the room in panic, blurring from shock and the pain of knowing that he was wrong. Nothing would ever be okay again.
Once they’d removed my breathing tube and I’d calmed down, they told me that I’d suffered a spinal injury to my top two vertebrae, said that the next seventy-two hours would tell us how much damage had been done, how much of it was permanent. They said I was young and strong, that the odds were in my favor. They said we just had to wait and see.
It was the longest three days of my life.
All that I wanted, aside from to go back and do it all differently, was to be alone. I wanted to think. I wanted to cry. I wanted to try to claw my way out of the avalanche, but it seemed like miles before I could reach the air. Before I could breathe. But I looked into the eyes of my mother and father, and that’s where I found strength.