Riley opened her eyes, not sure where she was. She really felt out of it. What happened? Had she really been dumb enough to go down Deadman’s?
She shifted to roll out of bed, and the instant pain that screamed across every muscle in her body told her, Yep, she really was that dumb.
“Hey, don’t get up,” came a soothing voice she immediately recognized.
Riley slowly turned her head, seeing she was in a hospital room, Suzy sitting in a chair next to the bed. Her face was dirty, but Riley saw streaks on her cheeks from where she had been crying. Wow. She was now officially a jerk for making her best friend cry.
They had been friends ever since Riley moved to town two years ago. She didn’t have any others, most of them having grown up together in a town that didn’t get many newcomers. Suzy, knowing what it was like to be an outsider, had quickly welcomed her. Though, sometimes, Riley thought Suzy did it more because she felt sorry for her.
Riley had just turned ten, and Suzy was a year older. She should have been a grade ahead of Riley, but because her family moved around so much, she had gotten held back a year. Something she was not happy about. Being older than the rest of her class meant she was taller than everybody else and stood out. Well, that and because of her freckles and curly, red hair.
“How bad?” Riley asked with a groan, wondering just how a person could bruise their butt as badly as hers felt.
“Well, you broke your leg and knocked yourself out pretty good.”
Then Suzy looked around before leaning close. Riley could smell her sweat.
“They had to call your dad, get his permission to set the leg.”
Riley groaned, but not from pain. “Oh no.”
“Yeah. He’s not here yet, but I overheard the doctor talking to him. He didn’t sound happy.”
“I bet. I was supposed to be grounded.”
Suzy gasped. “You never told me that.”
Riley gave her a small smile. “Yeah, if I had, would you have come out with me?”
“No, I would have knocked some sense into you.”
“Well, now you know why I never told ya.”
Suzy huffed as she leaned back in the chair. “Dummy.”
Her brows furrowed. “What?”
“Never mind,” Riley groaned as she tried to reposition herself.
She now felt the weight of the cast and a twinge of pain the moment she tried to move her foot. No matter how much she moved, she just couldn’t get comfortable. Everything ached. Pulling away the blanket, she looked over herself. Much of the other leg and both her arms were heavily bandaged.
She held up both arms and nodded at them. “What’s this?”
“You were skinned up pretty bad.”
“Great. So what did my dad say?”
“Well, he was pretty loud talking to the doctor and sounded upset. Don’t think you have to worry about playing your Xbox anytime soon.”
“He’ll be here after work later tonight.”
She nodded. “How long was I out?”
“About seven hours. You were knocked out pretty good. You started to wake up during the setting of your leg, so they had to put one of those in to put you back to sleep.” Suzy pointed to the IV bag hanging over Riley’s bed.
Riley looked up and saw a tube leading to her arm, a bandage on the back of her hand. She grimaced at the idea that they had put a needle in her. She really did not like needles. They were so small…and pointy…and they really pinched going in.
“Wow, really? And my dad’s still not here?”
Suzy shrugged. “I figured he should be. My mom’s supposed to get here soon to pick me up. She wasn’t too happy that I rode with the ambulance.”
“So you left my board and your bike out there?”
“I put them off to the side of the road. I doubt anyone will take them.”
Riley sighed. “Yeah, but if Chad finds them, you know he’ll bust up the board. He’s been giving me grief over making it all summer.”
Suzy waved her hand through the air. “Don’t care about what he thinks.”
“About what who thinks?”
Riley’s dad walked into the room. He held his phone away from his ear, the screen lit up, which meant he was on a call. He put his finger over the mic on the phone.
“Hey. You okay?”
Riley nodded as her dad gently kissed her forehead.
“I’ll be right back. I just have to finish this phone call,” he said, then stepped back into the hallway.
“Well, that set a record,“ Riley said, looking at Suzy.
“Yeah, well, at least he said hello.”
“I think he just wanted to make sure I was awake so he could start in on me once he got off the phone.”
“Maybe I should go…”
Riley looked at her, gaze pleading. “If you want. He probably won’t yell as much with you here.”
She shrugged and sat back in the chair. Riley smiled at her.
“Okay. Now that that’s out of the way…,” Mr. Herman said as he walked back into the room and strode over to the bed. Riley had to crane her neck back as her dad towered over her. At six-foot-three, he had to be imposing as the district manager for the fast food place outside town. He was always driving around the county, always on the phone. He must have had a bad day because there were sweat stains under his arms.
He scanned his daughter, his brow creased, obviously disappointed. “You were supposed to be home, grounded.”
“If you know, why weren’t you there? Do I need to get you a babysitter? I thought you’d be old enough to be left home alone.”
“That’s not an answer, Riley.”
Riley knew where her dad was going with this. It wouldn’t do her any good to answer. This would just keep going on and on. She was in trouble, but had no idea how bad.
“Well, I talked to the doctor. You really did a bang up job on yourself. Looks like you’ll be home six weeks, but at least I won’t have to worry about you sneaking out.”
“What?!” Suzy and Riley exclaimed at the same time. That was after school started. She’d miss tryouts for volleyball. Not that there weren’t enough open spots on the team that anyone trying out would make it, but if you didn’t tryout, you weren’t allowed to play.
“Yep, and you can think twice about getting your Xbox back any time soon. I might just sell it to pay for the hospital bill.”
“That’s not fair.” If Riley could have stomped her foot, she would have.
Her dad’s brow raised. “Really? How fair is it for me to pay for you breaking your leg and having to stay overnight in the hospital?”
“But-” Riley started to protest, then her dad’s words registered. That can’t be right. “Wait. Stay overnight? Just for breaking my leg? Why not give me some crutches and get me out of here.”
“Well, that’s normally the case, but they had to use anesthesia. They’re also worried about a possible concussion. You definitely took a nasty fall.”
This couldn’t be happening. Hospitals were creepy. They smelled funny. People died in them. She was where people died. Someone could have died in this very bed.
She squirmed at the thought, the stab of pain in her leg reminding her why she shouldn’t be moving around.
“Wow,” Riley groaned, easing back onto the bed. She was starting to feel really tired, and none of this was cool.
“I’ll hang out until my mom gets here. She might let me stay a little longer,” Suzy said.
“Thank you,” Mr. Hermon said, his smile genuine as he looked over his shoulder at her. Then he turned his attention back to Riley, the smile disappearing. “Your aunt Alice will be here in the morning to pick you up and take you home. I have to leave early. I just fired the store manager of a store several hours away, so I’ll be gone a few days.”
“Great,” Riley mumbled, already imaging the short, plump woman that was her “Aunt Alice” lecturing her on her room not being clean.
She wasn’t her real aunt, but she had grown up with Riley’s mom, and even though her mom was gone, Aunt Alice had stuck around. She was so annoying as she tried to boss Riley around like she was her mom. Who was this woman who thought she could replace the woman who just ran out on them?
Whenever she came over, it was always to watch her, and she had strict rules. She wanted Riley to actually keep her room clean and do chores. She never liked how Riley’s dirty clothes ended up in piles rather than in the hamper.
Come on. Who keeps their room spotless? It’s not like I keep half–eaten food all over the place and spill soda on the floor.
Sure, she did that last year, but not anymore. She’d learned. Riley had to battle a whole army of ants after she’d done that.
Though there might still be that spot behind her bookcase in the corner, but come on. Who looked back there? It was a great place to stash candy wrappers.
Her dad must have picked up on her lack of eagerness to be left alone with Aunt Alice.
“Hey, she’d have to come over anyway as I don’t feel comfortable leaving you alone when I’m gone that long.” He looked at his phone, either checking the time or messages…or both. “It’s a long time to leave a young lady like yourself home alone. Honestly, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with it even if you were seventeen. You’re my little princess. I gotta protect you.”
He looked back at her, trying to put a chipper tone into his voice. It came out weak and hollow. “Plus, she’ll be able to help you get around. You know, she broke her leg when she was a kid. She’ll probably be able to show you how to use those.” Riley’s dad nodded to the crutches leaning against the table next to the bed.
Yeah, like she really needed to be shown how to use those. She’d figure it out on her own. It didn’t look too difficult.
“Okay. I gotta run.”
Her dad was already halfway to the door when it opened. Riley smiled when Suzy’s mom entered. She was great, and Riley often wished she had her as a parent rather than the dad who was always gone. Just seeing her in her loose blouse and jeans made her think of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Riley’s mom had always made them, and just seeing her brought back the smell.
“Hey,” Riley’s dad said, hurrying around her. “Gotta run.” Then he was gone, leaving the surprised woman standing by the door.
“Boy, he was sure in a hurry,” Suzy’s mom said, eyes wide.
Riley sighed. “Yep. Always is.”