The dude with the lime- green Mohawk and dark wooden plugs in his earlobes looked down at me, the long silver needle in his rubber-gloved hand pointed directly at my face.
“Wait.” I swallowed and gripped the arms of my chair.
Jutting out one hip, he rolled his eyes. “Do you want your nose pierced or not?”
“Yes, just . . . can you tell me something worse?” I pointed at the needle. “Something that is worse than that?”
He probably thought my request was insane, but that was how I coped with unpleasant things. Once I found out something worse, then it was easier to deal with. Whether it was a filling at the dentist or an end-of-term physics test, finding out things that were worse helped me deal with new challenges.
Green Mohawk Dude seemed to think about it as he looked around. A blond pregnant woman in tall suede boots and a fuchsia halter dress browsed through the gold hoops. With one gloved finger, he pointed at her. “Childbirth. Fairly certain that hurts worse.”
“I’m fifteen.” My turn to eye roll. “Something a little more relative? Not so obviously inappropriate?” I got ready to leave.
He pointed down at his black flip- flops. “See my big toes?”
My glance went downward and I flinched. His toes were big and callously with yellowish nails. Easily the ugliest toes I’d ever seen. Sick.
Green Mohawk Dude said, “Last year I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Coming down, my toes got smashed into the front of my boots. Ended up losing both my big toenails. Took them eleven months to grow back.”
I asked, “And that hurt worse than getting your nose pierced?”
“Guess so.” He shrugged. “Now, can we do this?”
Nodding, I closed my eyes as he shoved the needle through my skin.
A rush of stinging flooded up my nose. “Holy crap!” My eyes watered so bad I had to blink like crazy, then I finally gave up and kept them shut for a while. When I did open them again, first I glared at the green-haired liar standing in front of me, then looked in the mirror to check out the diamond adorning my nose. “Sweet.”
“No swimming in pools for a month. Even though they’re chlorinated, they could have germs. And lakes, rivers . . . avoid those. The ocean too. Just to be safe. You don’t want to get it infected.” He handed me a plastic baggie with alcohol swabs and Xeroxed instructions. “So now you can go back to the mainland with the new look you got in Honolulu.”
“Um, yeah,” I said, suddenly wondering just how much trouble I would be in when my parents saw my nose. “Actually, I don’t live on the mainland. I live the other direction, out on Midway Island.”
“Midway as in the Battle of Midway?”
His eyebrows went up and he nodded. “Very cool. You’re lucky.”
If I had a dollar for every time someone called me that, I’d be rich, because that’s all I heard when I told people about my life. When I told them that I lived on a coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific:
When I told them that I didn’t go to a real school:
When I told them that I hung out among dolphins and monk seals and nesting albatross:
For three years, my parents had been research biologists on historic Midway, now a national wildlife refuge, so I lived there too, in the old admiral’s home called Midway House. Sure, there were cool things like having my own golf cart and making my own hours for home school and getting to hang out with National Geographic photographers.
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