It was three days before Michael went back to the skate park. As he'd expected, Short Round and Dewey were already there. Dewey greeted him and held up his fist in salute, but when Short Round saw him, he turned his head away. Michael responded by getting ready to leave, but Dewey shook his head.
Good old Dewey. He'd lost one friend, but one remained that he could count on. Dewey said he'd take care of Short Round, and Michael held on to the hope that maybe he could. Maybe things would be right between them again. He didn't want his friendship with Short Round to end. They'd all been friends since they were young boys, surely that must mean something to him. He knew how important it was to him.
He waited for his turn on the course, then jumped on his skateboard. The feeling of freedom he experienced when he skated replaced unhappiness. This was what he wanted, this feeling of freedom, that he could take flight, the joy he felt whenever he skated. He built as much speed as he could on the ramps, so that he could practice his tricks, ever mindful of that next competition. The natural talent that even he didn't understand enabled him to do his tricks almost effortlessly. He practiced hard and picked up tips from other skaters and by watching videos. Over time, he'd even developed tricks of his own. Skaters at the park were in awe of him and would even ask him for advice.
He was good, he knew he was good, and was only going to get better. He didn't need a college degree for this. He could see himself winning professional competitions; promoting his own skate board line, t-shirts, knee-pads, and gloves; signing autographs. Maybe he would even create a game with his name for X-Box, Play Station, or Nintendo, like his idols Tony Hawk and Jay Adams.
He lost himself in the vision of his perfect dream world. He didn't realize that he'd leaned too far back as he was landing a jump and lost his balance. The exit out of the jump he'd visualized turned into a crash landing. He flew up in the air, and slammed down on his side. He landed hard on the side of his head, as his skateboard flipped into the air and fell, just missing his temple. The force of his landing slammed him against the ramp and he saw stars just before he lost consciousness.
"Michael, Michael?" Mariah's anxious face swam in front of him, only to morph into Dewey saying, "Mikey, Mikey, I've called the paramedics." Michael opened his eyes and try to move, but his head started spinning and he collapsed back on the ground. He closed his eyes, then threw up as he tried to push himself onto his feet. The stupid stars wouldn't go away; instead he was growing progressively dizzier and could not stand, no matter how hard he tried. He head was really hurting and he wanted to lay on the ramp and go to sleep, but Dewey kept shaking him, saying, "No, no, you've got to stay awake!"
He heard the sirens and for a moment wondered who had been hurt. Then, strong hands lifted him onto a stretcher as he began to fade. He was not only dizzy now, he was violently ill. He cooperated when the paramedics said to open his eyes, but it was hard to make the effort to respond to them. He just wanted to close his eyes and go to sleep, but they kept bothering him, telling him, "Come on Michael, stay with us."
"Michael, you've got to try." He could hear Mariah's urgent voice in his head. "You might have a really bad head injury, you have to cooperate with them and stay awake. Please Michael."
Hearing her voice soothed him, in spite of his hurting head and body. All he had to do was think and she seemed to hear him. Don't go, Mariah, he thought, and he heard her answer, "I won't". She'd answered and he hadn't said anything, had he? Could she hear his thoughts? Did he even need to speak? Maybe he didn't even have to stay awake either. He didn't realize he was delirious, and therefore gave no thought to the sudden telepathy that had appeared like a gift.
"Come on kid, don't pass out on us." He heard the paramedics again as they shook him out of his reverie. He heard someone in the background saying, "Why don't these idiot kids wear protective gear, anyway? They shouldn't be allowed to use the skate park without it."
"Because helmets aren't cool," he thought and smiled. At that moment he looked up and caught one of the paramedics' eyes and realized he hadn't actually heard anyone talking, but had heard them thinking. In his half-conscious state he thought it terribly funny. He could say anything he wanted about anyone, as long as he didn't say it out loud, and suffer no consequences.
A ride through the streets in the ambulance, then the gurney crashed through a set of glass doors and he was wheeled into the ER. Someone was asking him a bunch of questions he couldn't really answer while the nurses removed his clothing. Every word he spoke made his head hurt, couldn't they understand that?
Suddenly his mother was there, and she was doing the hard work for him. He could hear the thoughts racing in her mind as she answered the questions; looking frantically to his bed, her blue eyes full of worry. In her loose white shirt and jeans she shone like his guardian angel and he smiled at her, then tried to close his eyes without anyone knowing.
"No you don't Michael," his mother said. She took hold of his hand and squeezed. "Stay awake. Keep your eyes open. They think you have a concussion and are going to do some x-rays and a CT scan. Don't you go and fall into a coma on me, hear? What would happen if I lost you? I can't lose you Michael, what would I do without you?" She started to cry.
His head was thoroughly spinning by the time they brought him back from Radiology. His father and sister were there now, along with Dewey. At least one friend hadn't abandoned him. His dad must have brought him. But where was Short Round?
He heard Mariah's soothing voice in his head while they were talking about him. "It's all right now. You're going to have to stay here. I'll be with you, don't worry." He couldn't feel her presence, but the soothing sound of her voice reassured him.
The room had started to spin, the resulting dizziness made his stomach heave. A quick thinking nurse grabbed an emesis basin and held his head while he threw up. He lay back down, embarrassed that his parents had seen it, but the nurse touched his head gently, telling him it was okay, he had a concussion and this was normal. His mother and father kissed him goodbye and Dewey made a quiet kissing noise with his mouth.
"Go away jerk, it hurts to laugh." Saying this took an effort and set his stomach churning, but Dewey's irreverent gesture did more than anything else to make him feel that things would be all right. All he had to do was put up with a head that felt like an ax murderer had struck him; keep from throwing up; and not go to sleep-which he wanted to do more than anything else.
Now that his family and Dewey had left, he could hear Mariah again. "Please Michael, promise you'll do whatever they tell you?" Her voice was plaintive, almost pleading.
"It's just a concussion. I'm not going to die."
"Just a concussion? You're lucky you didn't crack your skull!" Anger was in her voice this time. "They're going to keep waking you up all night to make sure you don't go into a coma. You and your stupid skateboard "you're going to get yourself killed!"
A sound echoed in his head, like a car door shutting "where had that come from?
A thought came to him out of nowhere. "Mariah?"
"Go to the house really quick and see if his car is back."
"Now? Are you crazy?"
"Yes I'm crazy. But go to his house and then come back." Michael paused a moment. "I think he just came home." They both knew who "he" was.
"How do you know that?"
"I heard him. I don't know how but suddenly I just heard a car door shutting and I knew it was him. Just like I hear you. Do this for me, okay? I promise, I'll be good and cooperate for the rest of the night. I need to know if I'm right."
"You're an idiot, you know." He felt light, cold lips brush his forehead. He could sense that she was no longer in the room with him, and it felt empty in spite of the hospital personnel bustling around him.
"You're right, he's back". She was suddenly lying next to him, invisible to all eyes but his. "And there's something not right about this "his car smelled, well, funny. But I can't tell you what it smelled like."
"I knew it, he's done something, Mariah, we don't know what or where." He wanted to put his arms around her, but the dizziness started to return. Instead she curled up around him so he could feel her next to him.
The nurses came to wake him at regular intervals. All he wanted was to sleep, but when they explained about head injuries and comas he cooperated as best he could. He wanted out of the hospital, not a longer stay. When they left, Mariah would again be at his side, soothing him.
They finally left him alone at dawn, as the hospital started to come alive. Orderlies came and they moved him to a room in the ICU to free up his bed in the ER. They brought him breakfast, even though he didn't have the stomach for it. Mariah persuaded him to try, whispering mischievously that if he needed to, he could always throw it up.
He looked at her, suddenly aware that he still felt lousy. "You're a big help. I want to get out of here, not be stuck in here."
He skipped his breakfast, drinking only a glass of milk. A doctor came by and looked at his x-rays, shone a penlight in his eyes, then told him he was going to be admitted for a few days until they were sure it was safe for him to go home.
Michael fell back and groaned. The doctor laughed, then in a more serious tone told him that he could have avoided this if he'd worn a helmet. His head injury was serious, but he was lucky because it could have been much worse. He'd hurt his shoulder, too, but that was the worst of it.
The doctor moved on to the next patient. Michael was left with nothing to do but feel angry at himself. None of his friends used a helmet, but now it seemed that not using one had left him stuck in the hospital. He felt like crap, but maybe now they'd let him sleep.
"You okay?" Mariah was suddenly next to him, holding onto him with cold arms.
Michael looked, but could not see her. He had understood her perfectly, but it surprised him that her voice had seemed to come from inside his head. How long had this been happening?
"Michael, don't you remember?" Her voice was a soothing caress, "it happened when you hit your head. You were doing it in the ambulance and when they first brought you to the Emergency Room. I didn't realize that you had no memory of it, it must be because of the concussion. Try it now, you can talk to me in your head-no one can hear. That's the reason I can be with you right now. Just don't look like you're talking to anyone."
"Will you materialize and kiss me?" In spite of his hurting head, he smiled.
"If I could materialize right now, I'd hit you. Don't be such a guy."
It strained his head a little as he tried one more time. "I think it was easier in the ambulance and the ER. More people milling around, so more things to hear. I didn't even know I had a roommate."
She sighed. "No, you don't remember, do you? Don't try now if it makes you hurt. Don't even try to talk to me. Just sleep. I bet your parents and maybe your friend are coming, so I'll have to leave when they get here. Right now just let it be you and me. Sleep, Michael, sleep. Sleep and get well."
"I love you Mariah." The thought came almost on its own.
"Michael, me too. Now go to sleep." Cold, invisible fingers stroked his forehead and soon he drifted off.
Dewey came shortly after he woke and was allowed to stay for a few minutes before the nurse hurried him out. Short Round, however, did not appear. Not even to see how he was. Short Round's mother came, though, and brought him some oranges and a little statue of Buddha that had belonged to Grandfather. Michael was touched that she had given him something so precious, and smiled his thanks at the little round woman who looked so much like her son. She placed the statue on his table, then patted his head awkwardly, ashamed that her son had not come to see his best friend.
By the time his parents came, the room would start to spin every time he moved. His mother's face was full of worry, despite the fact that the doctor had assured her that though serious, the concussion was less severe than it could have been. His father gave him the inevitable lecture about teenage macho and his refusal to use a helmet. He felt too weak to argue, but gave his dad a thumbs up.
When they left his mom kissed him goodbye, then his father surprised him by kissing the top of his head. He hoped no one was there to see. He was close to his sixteenth birthday and having your father kiss you like you were in kindergarten or something was embarrassing, even when your head was hurting like hell and you got dizzy when you moved even an inch.
He suffered through a hospital dinner, trying to eat more but with little success. Then, in the middle of watching TV, Mariah pressed herself against him, and he took comfort from her presence.
He was more than ready to sleep when the nurse came to switch off his light. The television screen was starting to make his head ache and concentrating on the programs made him feel worse. It was much better to lay his head on his pillow and drift off, taking comfort in the fact that Mariah was close by.