But since she had tried, she could now officially consider herself resigned to cheerleader limbo, where she would have to wait until Coach either summoned her for judgment or clipped her wings for good.

Whatever the case, Isobel sincerely doubted a cheer-format apology would do any good at resurrecting her standing this time.

In one fell swoop, she’d managed to jeopardize everything. Now the one thing she’d been so desperate to avoid, a phone call home, seemed inevitable.

How was she going to explain this to her dad? It would be the last straw; she knew it. If Coach called him, which she might be doing right that very second, he’d cancel the Baltimore trip for sure.

What had she been thinking?

Isobel grabbed her coat, shouldered her gym bag, and pushed her way out of the locker room, eager to evacuate before Coach dismissed everyone else.

Then, glancing up, she was suddenly reminded of exactly what she’d been thinking, since once again, she found herself questioning if she really could be awake.

Because the thin, pale person hobbling into the boys’ locker room on a pair of crutches could not possibly be who she thought it was.



As the door to the boys’ locker room began to shut behind Brad, Isobel broke into a fast walk. She hurried down the corridor and stopped to catch the metal handle. Pulling it open again, she slipped silently inside, keeping her back pressed to the door as it eased into the jamb.


At first, she didn’t see anyone. But the metal click and squeak of a locker being opened told her he was close by.

Setting her coat and gym bag to one side, she stole forward, past a U-shaped section of blue lockers. Straight ahead, she noticed her reflection in a narrow full-length mirror affixed to the wall at the end of the aisle. It hung right next to a door that she knew must lead into the showers.

Isobel crept farther down the aisle, toward the sound of clanking and rustling, then stopped when she caught sight of him within the next alcove.

He stood with his back to her, scrounging in one of the blue metal cabinets.

BORGAN it read on the front of the door, which was open toward her, obscuring his head. Below his last name, the number twenty-one, his jersey number, stood out in bold yellow.

When he began pulling things out, padding and gear, Isobel thought that maybe she shouldn’t have been so quick to follow him in. It now felt as though she was intruding on some private rite, his time to detach.

She wondered if she should say something or make some kind of a noise to let him know she was there. Or should she just retrace her steps and duck out again?

Seeing him like this, so different, so changed, made it difficult for her to do anything but stare.

His once thick arms, corded with strong muscles that used to strain against the sleeves of his shirts, now looked more like thin tree branches poking out of the cuffs of his retro tee. He had on a baggy pair of crisp and new-looking dark-wash jeans, the left pant leg of which had been rolled up over a Trenton blue midthigh-to-ankle cast.

He worked at a slow pace, as if he were a robot teaching itself how to move.

A blue-and-gold jersey hit the floor while he tossed a plain white T-shirt onto the duffel bag that sat on the bench behind him.

Isobel’s gaze traveled down the length of his shrunken form, stopping to take in the thick cast coating his leg. There were no squiggly lines of black Sharpie where friends or teammates might have signed their names. Only clean, hardened bandages molded to the shape of his thigh, knee, and calf.

He stood with his weight on his right leg, his crutches propped against a pair of lockers at his side.

Whenever he began to teeter one way or the other, he would stop and place a hand against the wall of metal doors to catch himself.

Isobel fidgeted. She opened her mouth, then let it shut again. It felt wrong to stand and gawk without saying something, but what could she say?

She hesitated, then cleared her throat.

The sound made him pause, though he didn’t startle. Not until he turned his head.

When their eyes met, his body jarred as though shocked by a jolt of electricity. He stumbled backward, the lockers banging and clattering as he tumbled into them.

Isobel took a step toward him. “Sorry! I—”

“No!” He threw up a hand, palm out, fingers splayed.

His fear made her pull back.

“I—I didn’t mean to,” she stuttered, aiming a thumb over her shoulder. “I mean, I saw you—but I wasn’t—I just thought I’d—”

She realized she was babbling, so she stopped and took in a deep breath.

With no more meaningless words pouring out of her, Isobel found herself with nothing left to do but gape.

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