She acknowledges, when pressed, that she feels hatred toward the bombers for disrupting her life so drastically. She and her mother do not mention the suspects by name, but in moments of anger or frustration refer to them with a short-hand expression: "FB" for "F---ing Bombers." Brannock says, "How can you not feel angry about someone who basically tried to blow you up?"

Though her nightmares have stopped, she occasionally has flashbacks of the bombing, or emotional reactions to footage of the attack. At times, such as after a painful physical therapy session, she has posted Facebook messages about feeling defeated.

Brannock sees a therapist to cope but is reluctant to talk publicly about her inner struggles.

Even when she touches on problems, she instinctively coats them with a silver lining.

For example, she mentions having to move from her Mount Washington apartment to her mother and stepfather's Monkton home and having to "bump up the stairs" to her second-floor bedroom. In the next breath, she says she's excited about getting toned arms. (In the end, a company donated a chairlift to carry Brannock upstairs.)

She missed the chance to attend a good friend's bridal shower and bachelorette party over the summer. But she was thrilled to be a bridesmaid in the June wedding — even if it meant the groom's best man had to push her down the aisle and she had to sit out the dances.

Meanwhile, Brannock tries to help her sister work through feelings of guilt for leading her to a spot along Boylston Street that was closer to the marathon's finish line — and the bomb.

To Brannock, it is a last-minute nudge that she chooses to focus on. In the seconds before the blast, her sister saw an opening in the crowd and gave Brannock a push forward, putting her a few more inches away from the bomb.

These days, Brannock says, it's moments of gratitude, not anger, that matter to her.

As she continues to recover emotionally, most of the surgeries are behind her. The last two procedures will be to repair her perforated eardrums, with the first set for mid-January.

Her insurance coverage — which costs $500 a month — has covered much of her medical expenses and up to about $55,000 toward her prosthetic leg, which must be replaced every three to five years with as much as $16,500 in maintenance in between.

Brannock also has received about $1.2 million through the One Fund Boston charity, established to benefit the bombing victims. The nonprofit received about $61 million between April 16 and June 26, and an additional $10 million has been donated since.

Still, the total medical costs for Brannock, who faces decades of care, are being tallied. The family remains unsure how much she'll owe out of pocket.

To help with medical bills, other charitable funds have been set up, including an account at Graul's Market in Hereford, where she worked for more than six years while in school. Brannock expects to convert another charity, The Brannock Fund, into an account for young amputees in the coming months.

She still asks, "Why me? and "What if?" but refuses to dwell on the questions.

"You have to acknowledge them and say, 'This is how I feel,' but worrying about them and asking yourself so many times, it's just going to drive you crazy," she says.

"This is the life that I have been given now, and I can either sit here and go, 'Oh, my God. This sucks.' And be a miserable person. Or I can go, 'All right. This has happened. What am I going to do with this?' "

'A force of spirit'

At an August orientation session at Davenport Preschool, Brannock's new school, an energetic boy tries to squeeze past her and she reaches down to tickle his tiny body, saying "Watch my leg." Her right leg, wrapped in cotton and gauze, protrudes from her wheelchair, as it has for about five months.

Many of the children stand back tentatively and stare at Brannock's foot, whose silver toenails peek out.