6. The Loft

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I must have been in some state when I came out of the woods because both Nip and Ash jumped about a mile high at the sight of me. My wheels tore at the dirt road. Dust kicked up into the air. I ground to a halt in front of them.

"Where is he?" Ash said, her eyes snapping from tree to tree.

I gasped for breath. "Hu . . . hu . . . who?"

She picked up a rock. "Billy."

It took me a second to understand what she meant, and another second to think of an excuse for my mad flight to her van. I couldn't tell them about the way the grass had stirred on the old football field. That would mean admitting it had happened, and I was already beginning to have my doubts. Just because I didn't remember feeling a breeze didn't mean there hadn't been a breeze. I remembered reaching into a dying bear's throat and feeling my mother take my hand—remembered it vividly—and all the while my mother had been lying on the mountainside watering the brush with her blood, so my memory wasn't exactly one-hundred percent bulletproof.

The bear was real, though, and I did actually stick my arm down its throat.

The asshole who hit me with his car saw me do it.

"No," I said. "Not Billy. There was a—I thought I saw a bear."

"Awesome!" Nip jumped onto the bumper and raised his hand to his brow, like a pirate scouting for land. "Where?"

Ash dragged him down. "Get down, dipshit."

"Hey!"

"And you." She turned to me. "Dipshit number two. Does that ride of yours fold up?"

"Yeah."

"Good." Ash patted her van. "Because she's got more junk in her trunk than Nip's mom."

Nip nodded at this. "It's true."

You probably have this idea that I hate riding in cars, that I get sick or scared or something, but that's not the case. When I got in my aunt's car after leaving the hospital I fell straight asleep and dreamed nothing, sweet static upstairs, for the first time in a month. It was like I was home again, and I don't mean down in the desert.

I think we all have that place where we feel closest to ourselves, where the mind slides into perfect orbit around the heart.

Mine used to be on the football field, running the ball or running down the guy with the ball.

Now it's the road, that place between here and there.

Nip called shotgun as Ash loaded my wheelchair, but then he went and climbed into the backseat right next to me and I wondered if he knew what 'shotgun' meant, or if he thought it was just something people said as they geared up for a ride.

"A bear, huh?" Nip said as the van started to roll.

"Yeah."

"You ever see one up close?"

"Once."

"No way." He leaned toward me, knocking his backpack onto the van's trash-littered floor. "What was it like? Were you freaked?"

"Totally," I said, but what I thought was, Angry. I was angry.

The smoke from the mine was thinning. Sunlight angled in through the windshield and played off Ash's almost-bald head. She hammered the CD player on the dashboard. "Come. On. You—"

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