Erm, not exactly. Sure Pima is Nailer's best friend, but these two aren't braiding each other's hair or sharing secrets over milkshakes. Pima, Shmoopers, is a force to be reckoned with. She lives with her mother, Sadna (her father died a while ago), and she works as a sort of manager on Nailer's light crew. She's going to try to get on heavy crew next year, but she doesn't think she'll make it—and if not, her opportunities to make money on Bright Sands Beach are quite limited. This knowledge rests heavily on her mind when she and Nailer find the downed clipper ship.
Much like magnetic forces, Pima balances Nailer. Physically, they could not be more different: She's black, he's white; she's stocky and muscular, he's small and wiry. But they're also point/counterpoint in family circumstances and in their morality as well. Pima lives with her mother and is well-loved, while Nailer tiptoes around his father to avoid beatings. And Pima's morals are much slipperier than Nailer's—that is, when Nailer feels compelled to do the right thing, like save Nita's life, Pima offers the argument against it. About Nita, she says:
Pima pressed her case. "This is once in a lifetime, Nailer. We play it smart, or we're screwed for life." She was shaking and a glitter of tears showed in her eyes. "I don't like it either." She looked down at the girl. "It's not personal. It's just her or us." (9.34)
It's this us-or-them mentality that has helped Pima survive this long. And importantly, she hesitates before killing Nita. So though Pima realizes the cards are stacked against Nailer and herself, and that their best odds lie with killing the girl and scavenging the ship, she doesn't like it. She seriously considers killing Nita, though, until Nailer talks her out of it. Check it out:
"I'm sorry, Pima," he said. "I can't do it. We got to help her."
Pima slumped. "You sure?"
"Hell." Pima wiped her eyes. "I should pigstick her anyway. You'd thank me later."
"Don't. Please. We both know it's not right."
"Right? What's right? Look at all that gold."
"Don't cut her throat." (9.46-52)
In some ways, Pima needs Nailer to serve as her moral conscience so she doesn't turn into someone like Richard Lopez, blinded by her own self-preservation instincts. Truth be told, though, she doesn't seem all that put out by the shift in their plans. In fact, Pima is the one who saves Nita when Richard first attacks the girl, and by the time Nailer and Nita make a plan to leave, Pima's much more accepting of the swank:
Nita didn't blink. "I ran out of chances a long time ago. It's all Fates now."
"Yeah, well, welcome to the club, Lucky Girl." Pima grinned and shook her head. "Welcome to the damn club." (13.166-167)
Of course, it helps that Nita is willing to try to bridge the gap between her swank heritage and how Pima grew up. But Pima's also willing to meet her halfway.
When Nailer chooses to leave Bright Sands Beach to take Nita to Orleans, Pima doesn't go with them. And her choice kind of tears Nailer up inside. We're told:
Pieces clicked into place. Pima had family. Something to cling to. Something solid. Of course, she wouldn't risk the run. He should have seen it. (15.107)
Pima's loyalties are divided. Yes, she's Nailer's crew and pretty much his family, but she's also got to think of herself and her mother. Pima loves her mom, and this love ties her, for better or for worse, to where Sadna is, which is at Bright Sands Beach. Plus, there's no way she could catch the train with her broken fingers. By the end, though, she and Nailer reconcile when Nita gets them out of the dismal future that is ship breaking. She is Nailer's family, after all, and he's going to bring her along with him as his prospects improve.