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Sometimes the shortest month feels the longest
By Stephanie Monahan, Adrien-Luc Sanders
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Stephanie Monahan
All rights reserved.
This year, February had twenty-nine days. Still the least of any month, but I'd prefer February had none at all. I'd like to create a calendar that flowed straight from January to March, a calendar with only eleven months. If I could do something to make that happen, and erase the last thirty-two Februaries of my life, I would. Because when I woke this morning, on the first day of my thirty-third February, I convinced myself that somehow, this one would be different — that I held the power to turn the tide of my own life. That I could make February into anything I wanted it to be, and I was going to start with something big. I was going to start with Valentine's Day. But first, I was going to start with Sam, and finally give myself something to look forward to on the holiday I always dreaded.
What a joke.
"You okay?" the nurse asked.
I gave her a weak nod, because I couldn't say anything through gritted teeth. My head throbbed at the temples and still hadn't quite stopped spinning, so moving it wasn't the best idea. The queasiness in my stomach returned and I waited to be sick. I hadn't thrown up since college, the first time I'd ever gotten drunk. My one-time foray into the world of beer pong. The thought of it scared me almost as much as the fact that right now, my left arm was mangled, hanging loose like a cottony Muppet limb.
"The X-ray was the worst part," the nurse said in a soothing voice. "The doctor will be right in to tell you if you'll need surgery. If not, we'll fix you up right here and you'll be all set in no time."
She was trying to make me feel better by talking in that calm voice, slightly high-pitched, like I was a dog or a little kid, but it wasn't helping. Though I wasn't sure if anything would at this point, not after I saw the way my arm was bent, at an angle that no human limb should ever be positioned. I'd never broken anything in my life. I'd never even had a sprain.
The nurse wore blue scrubs smattered with tiny flowers. Her face was obscured by gigantic John Lennon glasses, the same kind I wore to see the blackboard in middle school. She smiled at me.
"I know it's scary, but I promise, you'll be fine." She patted the shoulder of my good arm and I bit back tears, resisting the crazy urge to tell her the whole stupid story of how I got here. I bet she had kids waiting for her at home.
The doctor appeared in the doorway. A handsome man with floppy brown hair and a square jaw, just like all the doctors on prime-time soap operas. He flashed me a smile, but unlike the sympathetic one offered by the nurse, his was reminiscent of performance art. A stage smile. I didn't like him. I wasn't judging him only on his theatrical entrance and good looks; I was also judging him by the fact that he was probably not much older than me.
"I've got good news, and I've got bad news," he boomed without introducing himself. "Which would you like first?"
I glanced at the nurse, who barely suppressed an eye roll. She must have to work with him often. "Um ... the bad news?"
The doctor nodded, and this time his smile patronized me, as if I was a slow student who'd finally come up with the right answer. "The bad news is the x-ray shows I will have to reset the bones." It was like he was reading from a script, deep-voiced and appropriately concerned. "You must have fallen at just the right angle, because the radius snapped at — "
"Doctor," the nurse interrupted. They looked at each other, and then at me. My vision started to blur and I couldn't make out their expressions, but the doctor stopped talking and I was sure it was because I was about to pass out.
"Right," said the doctor. He smiled again, reached into his white coat pocket, and set a pair of thick-rimmed black glasses on his nose. I wondered if he was aware of the complete impossibility of his existence outside of television. "Let's get started."
Get started? The nurse put her hand on my shoulder again and told me to relax. In the emergency room, being told to relax was generally not a good thing. I lifted my eyes to hers and she tightened her grip on my shoulder.
"Don't look at the needle," she said. Oh God, the needle. This couldn't really be happening to me. I shut my eyes and told myself this wouldn't have happened in January. Or March. Or any other month. It wouldn't have happened.
Just a few hours ago I'd been so hopeful. I wasn't sure exactly what time it was — I got out of work at five, so it must have been at least seven now, maybe later — but just a few hours ago I'd envisioned where I'd be right now. At dinner with Sam. Finally telling him everything. I'd even planned it this way, waited until February first to prove to myself that this entire month wasn't cursed.
And here I was in the ER.
In retrospect, it couldn't have played out any differently.
"She was on her phone at the time of the call, huh?" the doctor said to the nurse, like I wasn't even in the room.
"That's what they said."
He glanced at me with a closed-mouth, "kids these days" look on his face. I'm not a kid, I wanted to say. I'm a thirty-three-year-old woman. Jerkface.
Something reeked of glue. It sent my stomach spinning. "We're just finishing up the cast," said the nurse.
I wasn't sure if I fell asleep or just zoned out, but the next thing I knew the doctor was gone and the nurse was cleaning up. Her hand returned to my shoulder. "Just rest for a little while. You'll be discharged soon."
"Thanks," I said as she turned to go. "Wait. My phone. Did she survive?"
The nurse opened a cabinet, revealing my camel brown messenger bag. "It's in there. You'll get it when you leave." She frowned. "The doctor's right, you know. Those things cause all types of injuries. My niece? She's only twenty-four years old. Already has carpal tunnel. You should really limit your usage."
I nodded and tried to look serious, as if I was considering it. Once she was gone I swung my legs over the side of the bed. As soon as I tried to make myself vertical, though, the room started to spin. My arm, dead against my left side, began to throb more insistently. I had no choice but to crawl back into the bed. I stared at my cast, which extended from my wrist all the way to my shoulder, the whole thing ensconced in a sling. My left hand — my dominant hand, I realized in another rush of panic — was completely immobilized. Somehow, I felt like it had betrayed me.
* * *
The next time I opened my eyes, there was more commotion outside my room. A doctor in full regalia rushed down the corridor. An elderly man pushed an IV pole with all the energy of a dying snail. A nurse walked between a couple, both of them with their heads bent toward her, listening.
Then I saw him. Sam. He walked right past my room. You couldn't miss his head of messy brown curls or the stupid plaid blazer with mismatched elbow pads, just one of a collection of blazers he insisted on wearing in class.
I called out his name. He stopped, looking around as if he'd heard a voice from space. I called his name again. This time he turned and saw me. His face changed from confused to concerned in the second it took him to hurry into my room and settle at the edge of the bed.
"What the hell happened?" His pale cheeks were flushed and he was breathing heavy.
I narrowed my eyes. "Have you been running?"
"Four flights," he said, peeling off his blazer and draping it over the end of the bed. "Elevator's broken, and I thought you were on the brink of death. Is there any water around here?"
"Sorry." I smiled. "I could call the nurse."
"I'll survive, I suppose. And now I'm all sweaty." He moved a chair from the other end of the room to the side of my bed and sat. "You've already made me break my resolution not to work out."
I laughed, and he smiled, and as soon as our eyes met all I could think about was why I fell.
I stopped laughing and looked away. In the hallway behind Sam, somebody was being wheeled on a gurney. In or out, I couldn't tell. "Thanks for coming," I said softly.
Sam stretched his long legs and scanned the room. Eventually his gaze landed back on me. "Of course," he said. "Though it puts a lot of pressure on me now, knowing I'm the one you call when you" — he eyed my cast — "break your arm, apparently."
I rolled my eyes, but the rest of me grew hot. "It had to be someone local. My dad's not local and Naomi's always losing her phone."
"I see," Sam said.
"Don't be a jerk. My arm really hurts." It didn't, really, after all the meds they dumped into me, but his face softened and when it did, something inside me melted too.
"So what happened?" he asked.
The e-mail he sent me flashed in my mind and I pushed it away. I fumbled with my words. "I don't really remember, exactly. I fell."
"I'm sure those monster heels had nothing to do with it."
"I'm not wearing my monster heels."
He looked down at my boots to confirm. "Baby monster."
It wasn't fair. If I had to go down, I might as well have done it rocking my five-inchers.
"I'd just gotten off the T and was waiting to cross the street. Some kid on a skateboard plowed right into me and I fell."
"Those little bastards are out there all the time," Sam said. "I say we start a petition."
"Oh, and there was this old woman too, waiting at the light. I think I might've knocked her over."
This sent him into laughter. "Now you and your baby monster heels are taking out the elderly."
"Okay, she wasn't that old. Maybe sixty. Ish."
"A senior citizen," Sam declared.
I shot him a look. "A young sixty. Possibly late fifties."
You shouldn't make fun of me, I wanted to tell him, considering this is all your fault.
Indirectly, at least. Or directly. Either way, I just wanted to be mad at him.
Just like everyone else on the T, I passed the ride home messing around on my phone. I got his email just after I reached my stop and was walking up the stairs to the street. I thought it was going to be about our plans for tonight. I'd sent him a message earlier, a casual invitation to dinner. It wouldn't be a big deal to him, since we ate together all the time, but I knew my invitation wasn't casual at all.
His e-mail was not about our plans. Didn't even make any mention of receiving my message. I read it over and over, not believing it. I was on my fourth go around when I tripped over an uneven patch of cement and crashed into an old lady on the sidewalk. She was old — near eighty, I guessed — and frail. I knocked her over, sending her hat and her linen tote bag flying. I was hardly concerned with her, though, because I'd landed on my arm and heard it crack. Stabbing, burning pain shot up from my wrist, through my elbow and to my shoulder. I couldn't look.
A man I recognized as a passenger on my train knelt by me. "You're all right," he'd said. But then he'd looked at my arm and his face turned green. "I — uh — I'll call someone."
"I'm not all right then?" I'd asked in a small voice.
A group had converged around the poor old lady I'd almost killed. They lifted her to her feet. A teenage boy collected her bag and her hat and handed them to her with more care than I put into just about anything. My eyes started to tear up. See, there were good people in the world. It hadn't all gone to shit, at least not yet, not everything. The woman hobbled over to me and I tried to smile through the searing pain.
"I'm so sorry," I'd started to say.
She'd interrupted me. "You stupid whore!"
Up close she not only looked old, but she looked nuts. For a minute I thought she might kick me.
But the teenager put his arm around her. "Where are you going, ma'am?"
"Oh, thank you honey," she'd said. She stopped to glare at me once more before being led away.
I turned to the man who'd stopped to help me. "I can't believe — "
The man was gone. The entire street was empty. My arm felt like it'd been cut in two. Which it basically had, I guess. Eventually the EMTs showed up and carted me into the back of the ambulance. They didn't even turn the sirens on.
Exactly none of this story would I ever tell Sam.
He stopped teasing me when we heard the sobbing. A middle-aged woman with a cell phone pressed to her ear collapsed against the wall directly across from my room. A minute later another woman found her and lifted her up. They walked away together, both crying.
"Get me out of here," I said.
* * *
"Holy shit, no wonder you fell." Sam had retrieved my messenger bag from the cabinet and wasn't giving it back to me. "How do you even stay upright with this thing?"
"It holds all of my essentials." Like my phone. And a lint roller, an umbrella, a couple magazines, a water bottle, an extra pair of shoes ...
"Since when did the entire contents of your apartment become essentials?"
"I didn't hear you complaining last week when I smuggled your contraband Milk Duds into the movies."
I held out my right hand. This was weird. I'd always taken so much nonsensical pride in being a lefty. "Now hand it over."
"You can't carry this. You're much too feeble."
"Sam — "
"I got it. Now come on."
I was leaving this godforsaken place with a bottle of painkillers, a medical note to excuse me from work for the next week, and a follow-up appointment with an orthopedic surgeon in seven days. The break was bad, the doctor had explained to me and Sam. I could be in the cast for weeks.
"Well, at least it wasn't her head," Sam had said brightly, tousling my hair. The doctor didn't smile. I got the impression he didn't appreciate being upstaged. He wordlessly handed me the prescription and we were on our way. I didn't get a chance to say good-bye to the nurse.
We stepped on to the now-working elevator, a teenager with a surgical mask over his mouth already inside. "I really don't feel like getting back on the train," I whined.
"I figured as much. So, my dear, you are in luck." Sam pulled keys out of his pocket. For him it was as impressive as a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. We'd both lived in the city for years. Neither of us owned a car.
I grabbed them from him. "Where'd you get these?"
"A special place. A very special place." When I groaned, he sighed. "It's a Zipcar."
"Oh. Aren't those expensive?"
"I'll pay you back."
"Soph, you've already blessed me with the image of you and your baby monster heels attacking a helpless handicapped woman. That's payment enough."
The teenager stared at us. Maybe, if I were a better person, I'd have looked past the part where she swore at me and feel sorry for her instead. But I wasn't.
"She wasn't handicapped," I told the boy. He folded his arms and inched away from us, into the corner of the elevator.
Outside the wind howled like a newborn baby. It sounded angry. I wondered if February hated itself as much as I hated it. Sam stepped in front of me and made a show out of opening the Zipcar door. "Ladies first."
"Wait a sec," I said as he started the engine. "Do you even have a license?"
He smiled, showing all his teeth. Back in high school, while the rest of us turned sixteen and salivated at the thought of a license, Sam had refused to get a permit. He hated suburbia and insisted that as soon as we graduated, he'd be out of there and back to the city. He had no need to learn to drive.
"Oh God," I said. "Please. I've already almost died once today."
"Calm down." He patted my knee, and I jerked away, a bodily response I couldn't control. He's always touched me — elbowing my side or pulling on a strand of my hair or wiping crumbs from my cheek. He'd been touching me since we were thirteen years old. Only recently had my body started reacting so strangely. Warming, wanting him to touch me again. Craving it. Dreaming about it. All of it needed to stop. Now.
He looked at me, but only for a second. "Of course I have my license. They won't let you get one of these if you don't. I got it when I was thinking about moving."
Oh yes. The Year of Katie. We both remembered The Year of Katie. I didn't say anything else.
"Of course," Sam continued, putting the car into reverse, "I haven't actually driven since my driver's test, but I have an excellent memory."
He flew out of the space, then slammed the brakes to avoid hitting a car passing behind us. As we exited the parking garage, I hung onto the side of my door with all the strength in my right hand. If I were the kind of person who prayed, I'd have been doing so now.
Excerpted from 33 Valentines by Stephanie Monahan, Adrien-Luc Sanders. Copyright © 2013 Stephanie Monahan. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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