Bryce limped into the front door after his scrimmage, and told his mother that he felt something in his knee pop when he was running to first. It was nothing, he assured her, but few minutes later, they were loaded into the Prius. Bryce’s mother drove the speed limit, and the radio stayed off. It distracted her, and she swore it made the battery run less efficiently.
The receptionist’s desk had a bucket of green, yellow, and red lollipops, right above some stickers of dancing teddy bears. Bryce reached into the bucket, and his mother gave him the same look she would give him when he reached for a second helping of ice cream. Well, it wasn’t really ice cream; it was mashed-up frozen bananas with some cocoa powder and sweetener. But it was far too fattening for a 13-year-old boy.
When Bryce’s name was called, he hobbled down the hallway to Dr. Grant’s office with his mother by his side. The room was a familiar one, with toy cars wallpapered on one side, and princesses on the other. Bryce rolled up his pant leg so that his slightly reddened knee could get the attention it needed.
“Left it all on the field, Bryce?” Dr. Grant said as he entered the room, and then, “Oh, hello Mrs. Garvey,” when he saw Bryce’s mother sitting up against the wall.
“Yeah, it was a perfect bunt, too. Right between first and third. I was going to beat it out, but then I had to slow up.”
“These games,” Bryce’s mother said, “they push the kids too hard with no regard for their bodies. It’s just constant aggression.”
“What position do you play?” asked Dr. Grant.
“Right field, but only when one or two other guys are out. So, mostly bubblegum distributor, chant inventor, and water-bottle recycler. The important stuff.”
“And it’s a good thing, too,” piped up Bryce’s mother. “Did you know they use metal bats, doctor? Metal bats!”
“Does it hurt when I go like this?” asked Dr. Grant.
“Yeah, a little.”
“How about this?”
“No, not too bad.”
“Okay, it doesn’t seem like anything’s torn. Just a sprain.”
“Oh, no. He’s never sprained anything before,” said Bryce’s mother.
“Mom, I’m fine.”
“You should wear a brace for a few days. It’ll ease the pain of walking, and keep you from aggravating the injury,” the doctor said.
“No, Bryce, it’s not awesome. You have to be more careful.” Bryce’s mother shook her head and stared up at the giant toothbrush hanging from the ceiling. It had big, googly eyes and a mouth made of bristles that smiled down on the three of them.
“I mean, I’ve never had a real injury before. Now people will at least know that I play.”
“You know,” said Dr. Grant, “you might even be smart to use crutches for a little while, especially if you want to flash a little more bling.”
“Oh, but the kids are going to make fun of him.”
“No they’re not, mom. It’s cool. It’s like I was wounded in battle.”
“Listen to you… I should’ve put you in the Tai Chi classes at the Healthy Healing Center like we talked about.”
Bryce felt something pop again; this time it was far above his knee.
“I tried, but they told me I smelled too good to go there.”
Bryce’s mother sat up straight and opened her mouth, but no words came out.
“I think you’re good to go, Bryce,” said Dr. Grant. “If it’s not better in a couple weeks, come on back.”
Bryce hopped off the exam table and made his tentative way toward the door. Before he left, he looked up at the happy toothbrush in the middle of the room, and smiled back.
“You like that?” Dr. Grant asked. “Doesn’t really fit with the theme, does it? I was told we needed more decorations in here, so I took it from a dentist friend of mine who retired. I’m a cheap bastard.”
Bryce smiled at Dr. Grant. His mother hated the word “bastard,” and said it was demeaning to people born out of wedlock, whatever “wedlock” meant. Though he could barely put weight on his knee, Bryce made his way down the hallway quickly, impressing the other patients and the nurses and the cartoon characters on the wall. Bryce’s mother lagged several paces behind.