Star basketball player Chelsea “Nitro” Keyes had the promise of a full ride to college—and everyone’s admiration in her hometown. But everything changed senior year, when she took a horrible fall during a game. Now a metal plate holds her together and she feels like a stranger in her own family.
As a graduation present, Chelsea’s dad springs for a three-week summer “boot camp” program at a northern Minnesota lake resort. There, she’s immediately drawn to her trainer, Clint, a nineteen-year-old ex-hockey player who’s haunted by his own traumatic past. As they grow close, Chelsea is torn between her feelings for Clint and her loyalty to her devoted boyfriend back home. Will an unexpected romance just end up causing Chelsea and Clint more pain—or finally heal their heartbreak?
PLAYING HURT alternates between Chelsea’s and Clint’s POV. This excerpt is told from Chelsea’s viewpoint, as she watches a DVD of the moment that changed the course of her life:
Like they always do at this point in the game, my eyes dart away from myself, away from the ball, and land on two boys arguing—front row, far corner of the bleachers, just feet from the hoop. Pushing. Shoving. Not angrily, not like they’re really having a horrible disagreement, more like two brothers toying with each other. Which is exactly what they are—the Highful twins, Levi and Tucker, elbowing each other, eyes hidden by their filthy ball caps. Even though Brandon’s camera angle only shows their profiles, their stupid grins still leap out like name tags. Dopes, both of them. Morons in Fair Grove FFA T-shirts.
ELBOW, ELBOW, NUDGE, PUSH.
Levi’s holding an enormous soda. And every time Tucker nudges him, Levi spills a little more on the knee of his jeans. STOP, Levi mouths, and Tucker throws his head back. His shoulders ripple with laughter. Levi punches him in the arm.
But the Chelsea playing basketball doesn’t notice their horseplay. Now that her feet have landed inside the key, right beneath the basket, she pins her eyes on the ball as Theresa passes it. She opens her hands; when the ball hits her palms, I can feel it—the me sitting on the edge of my bed, I mean. Months after the game, I can still feel the skin of the ball, rough and bumpy as a hedge-apple. It smacks my palms so hard, my skin burns.
Shaking pom-poms, stomping feet on the bleachers. A frenzy explodes, our small town gymnasium transforming into an enormous outdoor arena the moment before some legendary, world-renowned band bursts onto the stage.
“…a pass to Keyes…” [, the local news announcer, shouts], his voice high-pitched, the sound of pure adrenaline.
NITRO, NITRO, NITRO…the crowd chants.
But powered by explosives is the last thing in the world I feel.on the TV screen is being pulverized by spinning metal teeth in a blender. Her hips are being twisted and cracked. And Beth Hardy is no puppy—she’s a rabid dog, out to attack. Her defense is so mean, it has claws and blood-stained canine teeth.
As the crowd screams, chants, stomps, I turn my crackling, fire-consumed body away from Hardy and I launch myself into a jump hook. But I know, even before I release the ball, that the shot’s all whopper-jawed. I’ve jumped too high to get the most power, and my body’s rotated all wrong.
“…Keyes shoots and…” Fred Richards narrates happily. But I wonder, as I always do at this point, how he ever could have thought my air ball, soaring wildly, would have landed anywhere near the hoop. How he ever could have expected to end his sentence with “…SCORES!”
In the bleachers, Tucker mouths an OW and reels his arm back to punch is twin. Levi tries to lean out of Tucker’s reach; as he twists to the side, Tucker’s hand makes contact with the plastic soda cup, knocking it out of Levi’s fingers. The cup flies toward the court, hits the floor near the end line, tumbles. The soda spills beneath the basket. The brown, bubbly shadow creeps across the glossy gym floor, spreading across the key.
I hit PAUSE on the remote while Chelsea is still in the air. At this moment, I have yet to come down from my crazy, desperate jump. My feet have yet to hit the puddle of Levi’s spilled drink. I have yet to lose my balance and slide through the sloppy soda. My legs have yet to shoot out in opposite directions like a Fair Grove cheerleader doing the splits. My body has yet to slam against the brick-hard surface of the court.
The me on TV has yet to be rushed to the emergency room, where a doctor will let his eyebrows crash together as he points to my X-rays, at the fracture that slices through my hip bone and makes me look like a cracked teacup. That doctor has yet to shake his head when I finally come clean about the pelvic ache, saying, YOUR HIP WAS SURELY ALREADY WEAKENED BY A STRESS FRACTURE, CHELSEA. OVERUSE. YOU SHOULD HAVE TOLD SOMEONE YOU WERE HURTING. I have yet to be sent for hip surgery, yet to be termed OUT OF COMMISSION. I have yet to see my dreams of college ball ripped to the kind of violent, life-altering shreds that usually fill a trailer park after a tornado.
I stare at myself, wishing I could have paused my LIFE here. Wishing I could have dangled in the air forever, and never had to endure the excruciating pain that followed.
Check out the extended trailer!