This sweet, compelling contemporary novel combines questions of forgiveness and redemption with well-drawn characters and a swoonworthy romance in a way that is sure to capture readers’ hearts.
The party was at her house. The photos were posted from her Facebook account. That was all the evidence anyone needed to condemn Nikki Baylor for a horrible cyberbullying incident. Now she's been expelled from her old school, her friends have abandoned her, and even her own parents can't look her in the eye. With her plans for the future destroyed, Nikki resigns herself to being the girl everyone hates. But then shei meets Pax, a spirited wheelchair rugby player who knows what it's like when one mistake shatters your life. He shows her that everyone deserves a second chance... and everyone deserves to be loved.
How to Keep Rolling After a Fall, author Karole Cozzo’s second contemporary young adult novel, is a thoughtful exploration of family, love, and moving on.
Praise for How to Keep Rolling After a Fall:
"Recommended for readers who appreciate tales filled with redemption and forgiveness and positive portrayals of teens and young adults with disabilities." School Library Journal
“It’s a perfect mash-up of the thoughtful family dynamic of a Sarah Dessen story, the complex friendships of an Emery Lord novel, and the sexy edginess of a Miranda Kenneally book.” Katy Upperman, author of Kissing Max Holden
About the Author
Karole Cozzo, author of How to Say I Love You Out Loud, is a school psychologist by day, a wife and mother of two by night, and a writer of YA romance in the wee hours of the morning. She loves camping out at Starbucks, breakfast cereal at all hours, and watching every movie made from her favorite YA books.
Read an Excerpt
How to Keep Rolling After a Fall
Everyone Deserves A Second Chance
By Karole Cozzo
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2016 Karole Cozzo
All rights reserved.
As I park in the lot of the Harborview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, I realize that, for the first time ever, I'm actually excited to be there. I'm working a short, three-hour shift, and the shift itself won't be so bad, since I'm filling in on the orthopedics wing, where Jeremiah's been assigned.
After work, the two of us have plans to check out the end-of-summer party that spans the length of Ocean Isle's boardwalk. Since I've seen it in those mailers that started showing up after the Fourth of July, the phrase end-of-summer has stirred feelings of anxiety, loss, and sadness. But tonight it means it's time for a party. One final opportunity to eat handfuls of hot caramel corn with the salty breeze blowing across my face. One night to forget about everything else going on, in a crowd large and chaotic enough to get lost in.
I lift my butt off the seat and scrunch my hair as I look in the rearview mirror. Once upon a time, I was a shoo-in for "Best Hair" in the senior superlatives — it's long and wildly curly, with natural highlights. All summer long I've tucked it under a baseball cap with the brim pulled down anytime I've been forced to leave my house. But not tonight. I made an effort to look good for Jeremiah. And I want to pretend I'm the girl I used to be.
Walking across the parking lot, I decide this place would be a lot more appealing if there was, you know, an actual view of the harbor. Instead, it's located miles inland, in the middle of a bleak field. The builders tried to spruce it up with the usual gazebos and flower beds, but the name is still a bold-faced lie. It's a depressing place to be, for all of us who are here because we have no choice in the matter.
But not tonight! I think, breezing through the automatic doors with renewed energy as I picture Jeremiah's face. Tonight, it's a good place to be. I head toward the nurses' station to clock in, but when I catch a glimpse of Jeremiah through the glass-paneled cafeteria walls, I make a detour, a sudden diet Dr Pepper craving developing.
I feel giddy as I walk in his direction. We've been flirting for the past two weeks, since I started my stint at the rehab center. Jeremiah's a sophomore at Rutgers University, with a long-term plan for med school and a specialty in orthopedics — as he explained it to me, "I want to break some bones and fix 'em up again." Jeremiah's got it all worked out, but his plans are on hold at the moment. He's taking a semester off to help out with some family issues. He hasn't said what kind of issues, and I haven't felt right asking; I assume he'll tell me eventually.
In the meantime, I'm content with the flirting. Jeremiah's really hot — Abercrombie model hot, with the cool hair, and the scruff, and the smirk. He even looks good in scrubs. "One day women are going to be falling down the stairs on purpose just to end up in your waiting room," I've teased him.
He's sweet, too, taking the mop out of my hands and pushing it himself, and one time walking me to my car under an umbrella from the lost and found when it started pouring without warning. Then two nights ago, he snatched my phone and programmed his number. "So call me tonight," he'd said all coolly as he tossed it back. I had, and now we have a date.
Jeremiah turns away from the register and slides his wallet into the back pocket of his scrubs, and his eyes meet mine. I smile and wave and wait for him to smile back.
But he doesn't smile. He glowers instead, his brown eyes ignited with a fury that turns them amber.
"I know who you are." He's not discreet; he's loud, pointing his index finger in my direction. "And you can go straight to hell."
The blood drains from my face and runs cold. I want to vanish, but I can't move. My feet feel as if they're stuck in the wet sand left behind when a wave recedes, weighted down and useless.
A few trays clatter against steel, and then the room is deathly quiet. Workers stop serving, midscoops of mashed potatoes. Residents stop talking. The scene unfolds before me in slow motion as people who have had strokes and people in wheelchairs struggle to turn their heads in my direction.
"Nice try, Nicole." He says my full name, the one I'd used to introduce myself, like an accusation. "Nikki Baylor, right? I know who you are. You forgot your ID badge yesterday. Now let me tell you who I am." Jeremiah approaches and thrusts his right hand toward me with such force it jams against my rib cage. It's almost a shove. "Jeremiah Jordan. Taylor Jordan's my sister. My baby sister, for that matter."
I hang my head and clench my fists at the same time, the mention of her name evoking the usual combination of shame and regret and a desire to run and hide. Except my feet are still stuck in the damn sand.
He folds his arms across his chest. "Guess it's my bad. You should really find out a person's last name before asking her out." Jeremiah doesn't say anything else and I look up, but it turns out he was saving one final zinger. "But now I know. And now it makes me sick to look at your face."
Tears form in my eyes at once. It sort of makes me sick to look at my face now, too, but Jeremiah had changed that for a few weeks. Before I actually start crying, thankfully, whatever's holding me in place loosens and I run from the room. I dart through the side door and into the central courtyard, the late-afternoon sun glaring down on me like the harsh lights inside the questioning room of the police station.
I choke back my tears, bending over and grabbing onto my knees for support. I'll never escape this. This is going to follow me forever. I can pretend to be someone I'm not — I can pretend to be the person I used to be — but it's nothing more than playing a part.
I shake my head back and forth and wipe my eyes with the back of my hand, struggling to wrap my head around what just happened, feeling like I have whiplash. Jeremiah had come and gone so fast. The prospect of happiness had been so fleeting. I walked in the door envisioning the warmth of his smile; now all I can remember is the cold hatred in his eyes.
What the hell just happened?
"That was pretty harsh."
I straighten and turn around ... then look down. The boy is in a wheelchair more lightweight than most I see around here, and he can't be much older than me. But he has a more mature look about him, something about his deep-set hazel eyes and square jaw that makes him look more like a young man and less like a boy. His light-brown hair falls to his chin, and the muscular build of his upper body makes me think he might've been a badass at one point.
I square my shoulders and lift my chin. "I probably deserve it."
"Highly doubt that." He wheels a bit closer, shaking his head. "That was a bad scene back there."
"Well, you don't know what you're talking about." I stare into the distance and blow out the breath I realize I've been holding. "If you did, you probably would've stood up and applauded him."
"Nah, I don't think so." A hint of a smile plays on his bow-shaped lips.
"Trust me, you would've."
"No, I don't think so," he repeats. He taps his knuckles against the wheels of his chair. "Standing ovations, not really my thing."
I cringe and want to die. "Oh my God. I'm really sorry."
"No apology necessary. I'm not easily offended."
"Still. I'm sorry."
He nods once in acknowledgment. "'S okay." Then he tilts his head and studies me. "Anyway, I've seen you around here a couple of times. And I think you have a really nice face. I have a hard time figuring why it makes that dude want to puke."
I smile in spite of everything, just for a second. Then reality sets in again, and I cover my eyes with my hand. "Today officially sucks. And I need to clock in. Like, five minutes ago." I take a deep breath, trying to imagine how I can possibly make myself go back inside. "But I can't go back in there."
"I can have your back if you want," wheelchair guy offers. "Give you an escort."
I look at him, asking why without saying the question out loud.
He shrugs. "I'm old-school like that. A guy shouldn't lash out at a girl, and he really had no business putting his hands on you. Just because of a fight or whatever."
"It wasn't a fight," I mumble. "Not his fight, anyway. You certainly don't have to make it yours."
But he doesn't go anywhere, and I don't ask him to leave. He's a perfect stranger, sure. Still, he offered to "have my back." The exact opposite of what my so-called friends have done in recent months. And I want to take him up on his offer.
"Okay, all right." I collapse onto a bench, and he positions his chair beside it. "I just need five minutes." I slide the strap of my purse over my head and put it down beside me. "I'm Nicole. Or Nikki. Guess it doesn't really matter."
We're eye to eye once I sit down, and he smiles at me, extending his right hand. "Nice to meet you, Nicole or Nikki. I'm Pax."
"Pax? Like Angelina Jolie's kid?"
He chuckles. "Sort of. But no, not really. Matty Paxton, but people have called me Pax forever." He gestures toward my ID badge, and I notice he doesn't wear those fingerless gloves meant to protect his hands, which are red and blistered. "Do you volunteer here?"
I nod but decide I can't really call it volunteering. "My aunt's a physical therapist here. I'm fulfilling some community service hours."
"Whoa!" The smile breaks out on Pax's lips again. He runs a hand through his hair, pushing it back from his forehead, and squints at me. "A hardened criminal, huh?"
"More or less." I tuck my chin, waiting for the inevitable follow-up questions. But he doesn't ask them.
Grateful, I jump at the chance to change the subject. "Are you still in rehab?" I notice his build again and figure he's an athlete. "Sports injury or something?"
"No, thank God, I finished rehab over a year ago." He flicks at the spokes of one wheel, and his voice falls off a bit. "Car accident two years ago. And this is as good as it gets. Three surgeries, seven months of rehab ... and this is as good as it gets."
Pax looks back at me, and the sun lightens his eyes. "But hey, it's all good. I'm here by choice now. Rugby team practice. And you want to hear a dirty little secret?"
I'm smiling again. "Sure."
He hoists a nylon sports bag onto his lap, unzips it, and lifts the top. "I'm addicted to cafeteria Jell-O."
I stare inside the bag, where he must have about a dozen plastic containers squirreled away: lemon-lime, orange, and the coveted black cherry.
"How'd you get your hands on those?" I ask, pointing at the dark red goo. "I've only worked here a few weeks, and I've already seen some wheelchair wars break out over the last container of black cherry."
"I'm not gonna lie. I flirt with Peggy."
Now I laugh for real, throwing my head back, imagining Pax kicking game to the perpetually cranky eighty-year-old cafeteria manager.
"Hey, there's no shame in my game. I love this stuff. And Peggy's actually pretty sweet."
"I don't believe it!"
I'm still laughing and smiling, and Pax nods in the direction of the automatic doors. "Looks like maybe you're ready," he says quietly. "Sometimes you've just got to face the worst head-on. Get it over with."
I nod and then stand and, with Pax at my side, make my way back toward the rehab center's side entrance. I notice his nickname, PAX, on the back of the black zip-up hoodie he's wearing. There's a number beneath his name, and I guess the sweatshirt's from wheelchair rugby. The regional team uses the rehab center gym for practices.
As I pass coworkers and patients, I tell myself that they've already forgotten the scene, that most of them have much more pressing concerns than silly cafeteria drama. Hopefully, this hasn't become one more place where I draw stares.
I make my way toward the clock-in computer, then my heart starts pounding with adrenaline when I notice Jeremiah moving in the opposite direction, barreling toward the exit with his bag slung over his shoulder. His eyes are still flashing, although he refuses to let them meet mine.
"He's leaving?" I ask the shift manager, surprised. Jeremiah always seemed to take his work at the center seriously, and I can't believe he's bailing on a shift just because of me.
"More than leaving," she answers. "He up and quit." She sighs. "Sure left me in a bad spot for the weekend."
I stare at the ground, feeling guilty, amazed at the residual impact of my very existence. He hates me enough to quit? Exactly how loathsome am I?
I hear a low whistle beside me and see that Pax has kept his promise. He's still with me. "You really did a number on him. But he's gone now, so ... at least you don't have to worry about him anymore, right?" If only it were that easy.
"Yeah, I'll be okay," I lie.
Pax slaps his palm against mine. "Well, I'm gonna take off, then. Hope your night only gets better from here, Nikki." He flashes me a final smile. "Gonna go home and eat me some black-cherry Jell-O."
"Don't get too crazy now." I hold his gaze a moment longer. "And thank you."
He nods, spins away from me with practiced ease, and moves smoothly toward the door. I watch him until I can't see him anymore, wishing he wasn't leaving.
In no time at all, Jeremiah made me an island again. But Pax kept me from suddenly sinking. It felt all right with him. At my side, having my back.CHAPTER 2
Four days later, on Tuesday morning, I stand in front of my full-length cheval mirror, eyes closed. I imagine my day, the way it's supposed to be.
It is the first day of my senior year of high school. I've been looking forward to this day as long as I can remember.
I'm driving, so I leave early enough to pick up Lauren, Kaitlyn, Carlee, and Haley. The cover's still off my Jeep, and Wired 104 is blaring. There is just enough room for my crew. Five seat belts, five best friends.
Five best friends. The idea pains me and I wince, but I press on, the way a person sometimes keeps pressing on a bruise.
We have a similar style, and we're dressed in new outfits from PacSun or Hollister if we decided to be coolly casual, or from H&M or Express if we decided on trendy and dressy. And even if we hadn't dressed alike, even without the matching charm bracelets, it still would've been obvious to everyone that we were a group. You could always tell just by looking.
I park in the school lot and we bound out of the Jeep, truly excited to be there because school's a feel-good place for us. As we walk across the lot and into the crowded main lobby, we pretend not to notice all the noticing. The younger girls stop talking and stare at us like we're movie stars, and the more confident guys from our class call out compliments or saunter over to talk as we pass.
We're all pretty in our own way, and we're used to attention from guys. On long, hot summer nights on the boardwalk, we have our pick. We boost our ages a couple of years and talk to college guys. Even though Lauren is the stunner of the group, I can hold my own, with my delicate features, dimples, and long lashes that curl up at the ends.
I walk into school, loving my life, loving myself. It doesn't matter that my grades are on the low side of average — no one besides my parents would really care if they were higher. I am a cheerleader in the fall and play lacrosse in the spring. And when it's cold out, I can focus on my true passion. I take to the stage, routinely earning the coveted solo performances in show choir, a group I've single-handedly made cool. Onstage and off, I'm a star.
I smile and wave, wave and smile. I'm Nikki Baylor, and I'm on top of the world.
A horn beeps in the distance, obliterating my daydream, and my eyes fly open.
I take in the baggy polo shirt and the knee-length, already faded-looking kilt. I run my hand over my hair, which is pulled back in a boring low ponytail. Because who cares?
Staring and staring, I try to recognize this girl, but I can't. I'm uncomfortable in her clothes and in her skin. She's not particularly attractive, either. Guilt and shame are ugly-feeling things.
"And now it makes me sick to look at your face."
Suddenly, Jeremiah's hateful voice is back inside my head. It makes my stomach cramp with worry.
I flip the mirror with one strong push, and my image tumbles round and round until I'm half-dizzy and can't see it anymore.
I drag my feet to the driveway, where I run into my mother. She's a bit breathless, having left the ignition running to come find me.
"I need to leave, Nikki. Ten minutes ago. If I'm dropping you off, we really need to be on the road by seven ten."
Excerpted from How to Keep Rolling After a Fall by Karole Cozzo. Copyright © 2016 Karole Cozzo. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
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