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Off the Ice (Juniper Falls)

It’s like Claire flips a switch, turning on the pain in my arm. It throbs instantly, but it’s nothing compared to the nausea that sweeps over me when I actually look at it. My entire body turns cold, my teeth suddenly chattering. I hold my arm out in front of me, not sure what else to do.

The color drains from Claire’s face, but she gets to her feet. She shakes her head. “You need a hospital. Like, five minutes ago.”

“But my mom…” I’m still holding my arm out like it’s not part of me anymore. This seems to keep the pain at bay. “She’s there.”

My mom is an ER nurse in our tiny local hospital. She’s working all night tonight.

“Tate,” Claire says, resting a hand on my uninjured arm. “You can’t fix a broken arm without your mom finding out.”

Yeah, that makes sense. Wait…broken?

I look at it again—God, it’s messed up. “Okay, you’re right—hospital.”

Claire nods and then somehow, what feels like seconds later, she’s behind the wheel of her mom’s car, driving the two miles to Juniper Falls Medical Center. I lean my head against the headrest and put all my effort into breathing normally.

My arm is broken. The same arm that grips my hockey stick.

The darkness fades as we approach the bright lights of the ER entrance. All six parking spots out front are empty. Claire shuts off the engine and looks at me. For a moment, I’m completely free of pain. My mouth falls open but no words form.

Finally Claire says, “It’ll be all right.”

My stomach twists and turns. I don’t know what that means. And I’m too afraid to ask. I swallow back the fear and use my good hand to pull the door handle.

Inside, the ER is dead. So, of course my mom spots me right away. Her eyes widen, gaze bouncing between the blood on Claire’s face and the deformed arm I’m holding carefully against my chest.

My mom is still for a long second before she rushes over. “What happened?”

Claire gives me that look again—the one she wore moments ago in the car—and now I know what she was trying to say. We’re going to lie. Both of us. Together.

“I tripped on the wooden stairs at the bar,” Claire spits out. “And then Tate—”

“Tried to catch her,” I add. “But obviously that didn’t work out.”

My mom gets a good view of my arm and, despite her medical training, she goes pale like Claire did. “Oh God, Tate.”

There’s sympathy in her eyes. The kind that tells me I’m not playing hockey for a while. The nausea returns, and I glance around for a place to sit down.

But then Claire slips her hand in mine, and I’m okay again. For now.

Off the Ice (Juniper Falls)
by by Julie Cross