Read All These Lives Online

Authors: Sarah Wylie

All These Lives (8 page)

Make it stop
.
I wish someone would make her stop.

She keeps doing it, and our house shakes with the loudness. My father charges up and down the stairs, delivering my mother’s orders of
a glass of cold water, Eric
and
her
tablets
, Eric! You know the ones, the ones she takes. The ones she always takes
. I imagine his knees kicking up close to his jaw from the effort when he runs. Maybe he’s dressed in green and gold jogging gear, with a matching headband. Maybe he trips over his own feet on his way down the stairs.

It’s quiet for a few minutes, and then Jena is back at it.

“Again?” My mother’s voice breaks and falls apart on itself. “On
what
, Eric? She hasn’t eaten anything.”

Dad mutters something soothing and comforting, and I wonder if it’s actually helping or just freaking Mom out.

A couple of minutes later, the door of my room opens, a trail of blue light from the hallway traveling in. I freeze, my eyes shut. I don’t want them to know I’m awake.

“Dani?” Dad brushes a strand of hair from my face and nudges me gently. “Dani, your mother and I are taking Jena to the hospital.”

I know I can’t keep pretending now. I have to say something. Maybe to Jena. At the very least to Dad.

Is she going to be okay?

Should I come?

“What about my callback?” That’s what I say.

Dad swears softly. “I’d forgotten about that. I don’t think we’ll make it. I’ll call you from the hospital and let you know what the plan is, okay?”

“Yeah.” Other words rise and fall between us. They scurry into the darkness, the farthest corners of my room. I can’t make my lips move.

“SHIT!” More retching. My mother’s feet urgently moving across the carpet downstairs. “Eric?”

He places a kiss on my forehead. “Try to get some sleep, okay?”

I don’t answer and then he’s gone and I’m left in the darkness with the words I can’t make myself say.

My mind won’t let me sleep so I lie there, breathing in the vomit-tainted air, the smell of too much bleach, the odor of dying sisters. And I’m still on number six.

I pull the covers over my head to make it stop.

*   *   *

They’ve been gone a couple of hours when I leave.

The ride downtown takes just over half an hour and then I’m stepping off the bus and walking toward Heaven’s Cycle. The store is located in the most deserted part of downtown, the place where all the crimes and muggings take place. It also happens to be where Spencer works.

“Hey!” He is surprised but pleased to see me. He comes around from behind the counter to meet me. “What are you doing here?”

“I was just in the neighborhood.”

An eyebrow goes up as an unbelieving smile plays on his lips. “Oh yeah? Doing what?”

I tell him what I want and, for a second, he just stares at me. “Please?” I ask.

“All right,” he says finally. I exhale. “But I don’t get a break for another hour.”

“I’ll wait.”

Right then, a tall guy with greasy-looking blond hair, wearing a red Heaven’s Cycle shirt, comes out from the door behind the counter. “Dude, it’s not acceptable to just leave … Who’s this?”

“Dani.” I nod at him.

The man throws Spencer a look. “Nice to meet you. Spence is usually too cool to bring his girls around.”

“Girls?” I repeat as Spencer rolls his eyes, giving B
ILL
R
.
a playful shove.

“He’s joking.”

“So you need a bike?” asks B
ILL
R
.

“She’s waiting for me.”

B
ILL
R
.
shakes his head. “Oh, no you don’t! Dude, don’t
even
think you can try to ditch me with all the work we have for the rest of the day.”

“I’m not,” Spencer says, but B
ILL
R
.
, not appearing to have heard, continues, “I mean, I’m glad you have a girlfriend or whatever, but—”

“She’s not”—Spencer glances at me—“my girlfriend.”

“You
know
Trey doesn’t like us getting visits during work hours.”

“I am NOT leaving you,” Spencer says.

B
ILL
R
.
pauses thoughtfully, holding up a hand. “Chill, bro. That’s all you had to say to begin with. And thanks, I appreciate you doing your job and cleaning up after your own shit.”

“Just ignore him,” Spencer tells me as soon as B
ILL
R
.
disappears out the door. He leans against the counter. “So, what are you gonna do for an hour? Or do you want to go and come back?”

“I’ll wait.”

Spencer opens his mouth to say something, but right at that moment, B
ILL
R
.
’s head reappears in the doorway leading into the store’s garage. “Just a friendly reminder that the tires will not move themselves.” B
ILL
R
.
smiles at me. “Nice to meet you, Dani.”

He vanishes again and, after a momentary pause to ensure that he doesn’t return, Spencer says, “Well, I can log you in on the computer if you want to check e-mail or whatever. Play solitaire. I don’t really know what you want to do.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I say, and follow him behind the counter.

“Sit,” he tells me.

I slip into the leather computer chair and wait as he leans over me, his long tattooed arms coming down on either side of me. He smells like wood and cigarettes and burned tires. A couple of taps on the keyboard later, he’s no longer leaning over me.

“Let me know if you need anything.”

“Thanks,” I say. He heads into the door B
ILL
R
.
appeared from. The computer is so slow, it might be older than I am. While waiting for chess to open up, I wonder what I’m supposed to do if the phone rings or if a customer walks in. Probably I’ll just act like I work here or totally ignore them. I’m especially good at option 2.

I suck at chess. I’m concentrating so hard on not having the computer annihilate me that I barely notice when someone by the name of HardCoreKandi starts IMing Spencer.

I ignore the IMs at first, but, when I grow tired of losing to the computer, I decide I can afford to volunteer a little brainpower to telling the annoying IMer where to go shove it.

HardCoreKandi: HEY!!!! So guess who just got IM?

HardCoreKandi: ME!!!! LOL. Txt is so much easier.

HardCoreKandi: Spence, are you ignoring me?

HardCoreKandi: I don’t take too kindly to that. LOL.

SpencersAss: Actually, yes, I was ignoring you.

I’m busy being amused by Spencer’s IM name when, all of a sudden, it hits me.

SpencersAss: Oh my God, it’s you! Candy!

HardCoreKandi: I spell it Kandi, but yeah, it’s me. LOL.

SpencersAss: I like your screen name.

HardCoreKandi: Really? Thanks. I like yours too. And not just as a screen name. LOL.

An involuntary shudder escapes me. But, of course, there’s no way I’m going back to a chess game I was losing now.

SpencersAss: Yeah, it’s really classy. HardCoreKandi. Sounds like the title of something in a Triple X store. Or maybe the stage persona of an exotic dancer.

HardCoreKandi: LOL, really? The title of something you’ve seen? LOL.

This girl has so many problems.

HardCoreKandi: I feel like we never really talk at school anymore. Not like old times :(

SpencersAss: You know what it is, HardCoreKandi?

HardCoreKandi: What? And you don’t have to keep calling me HardCoreKandi. HCK works. LOL.

SpencersAss: Sorry, HCK. Listen, don’t take this the wrong way, okay? But every time I try to have a conversation with you, I just get distracted. Your roots are hideous. Blond roots on black hair just looks wrong.

Five minutes pass before she replies. I’ve leaned back in my seat, making myself more comfortable by stretching out my legs beneath the desk. I’ve even gone back to playing chess.

HardCoreKandi: Spence, you crack me up. LOL. What are you doing right now?

SpencersAss: IMing you.

HardCoreKandi: Well obvi. But what else are you doing? I feel like hanging out.

SpencersAss: What’s stopping you?

A minute so she can process.

HardCoreKandi: With you silly. LOL.

SpencersAss: So HKC, what do you have against Danielle Bailey? I personally think she’s hot.

HardCoreKandi: Are you kidding?? And it’s H-C-K.

SpencersAss: She doesn’t have regrowth.

HardCoreKandi: She’s a bitch.

SpencersAss: If I have to hump a dog, I’d rather she were female, thank you.

HardCoreKandi: ??

HardCoreKandi: Don’t
ever
talk to me about humping Danielle.

SpencersAss: HKC, this conversation is going nowhere. Let’s just agree to disagree … Can we talk about the time you wet your pants in third grade?

HardCoreKandi: WTF?

SpencersAss: Oh, you remember.

HardCoreKandi: Actually, NO I DON’T. Stop being such a jerk, Spence.

SpencersAss: See, Dani would have said “stop being such an ass Spencer’sAss.” That’s another reason I like her—her comic timing.

HardCoreKandi: Stop being an a-hole or I’ll leave.

SpencersAss: Does this offer stand lunchtime Monday too?

HardCoreKandi: I don’t get it.

HardCoreKandi: :(

SpencersAss: Never mind, HKC. What can I say to get you overkilling those LOLs again?

HardCoreKandi: I told you. Stop being a jerk. Or you could come over with Dunkin Donuts :-)

SpencersAss: Okay, something that doesn’t require effort or seeing your hair. (Be honest, did you
ever
think that perm was a good idea?)

SpencersAss: The first night, maybe?

HardCoreKandi has signed out of this conversation.

I spend the next ten minutes finishing up my chess game. Predictably, I lose.

“You still here?” Spencer walks toward me, wiping his hands on a yellow cloth and then throwing it down on the counter. “Ready?”

“Yep.” I stand and follow him out of the store and back around it. “There’s a slight chance your relationship with Candace has been irreparably damaged.”

He frowns, his forehead creasing. “A slight chance? What did you do?”

I give him a quick rundown as we approach his motorcycle. A well-oiled, shiny black machine. Also, the favor I’ve requested.

“Here.” He hands me a helmet and climbs on. When I make no move to get on, he turns back. “What’s wrong?”

“I thought you were going to let me drive.”

“Your first go?” He shakes his head. “Hell no.”

“But I’ve driven before.” The fact that Spencer is so worldly makes it difficult to lie to him. Harder than it usually is. I bite the inside of my cheek as I wait for his response. This is important.

“Okay,” he sighs, “but I’ll ride behind you.”

He gets off and I get on. Then he gives me a long lecture and explanation of what everything does. Afterward, he quizzes me on everything he’s said. For some reason, I want to burst out laughing. Spencer doesn’t exactly strike me as the explaining, teaching kind. But the crazy things we do for the things we love. In this case, his bike.

“I swear, if this thing gets a single scratch,” he warns as he fixes his helmet. I start the motorcycle and we take off, at snail’s speed at first. It’s a good thing I’m a fast learner.

His arms wrap tightly around my waist and, instead of holding on for dear life, like I might have been if I was sitting in the back and he was driving, he seems to be pulling me down, keeping me from crashing into the bike and into the strong wind that blows against us.

Ten minutes later, we’re in the park and Spencer makes us stop. “You did really well,” he says in a tone that would sound encouraging coming from someone who encourages, but just sounds patronizing from him. Even though we’re at a full stop, his arms are still around my waist. I think he likes them there.

“Wanna get off?” I whisper.

“Sure.”

He gets off the bike and starts to take off his helmet. I unbuckle mine, hand it to him, but don’t get off.

Spencer is fast.

So fast that when I restart his motorcycle and drive forward, twisting the grip to accelerate, I’m afraid he’s going to catch up with me.

Except he doesn’t.

His yells and—I’m sorry—his shrieks are lost in the swishing of the wind, along with his frantic footsteps.

I drive fast, really fast, so fast that it happens before I have time to reconsider.

One second he’s behind me, sprinting to stop me from hurting his motorcycle. The next, he’s right above me, yelling, still yelling.

I panic.

This had to have done it.

How can it not have worked? I’m so angry that I can’t breathe; so frustrated, I can’t swallow.

But then I taste it. The smell and flavor of iron. Blood.

As if to confirm it, my head tingles, my muscles—well, I can’t feel them, but they don’t seem okay either.

“Oh my God!” Spencer screams. And this time, I know he’s not yelling about his motorcycle and the fact that I ran it into the biggest tree in this park. He’s speaking now, frantically, but the words hover around me, falling and dripping with blood. I think he’s on the phone, calling somebody.

Or maybe not, because he keeps talking to me.

“Why didn’t you stop, Dani?” he yells. “Why the hell didn’t you stop? Oh
shit
, Dani.
Shit
.”

I feel bad. I do.

But mostly, I feel dead.

I like that feeling.

five

14

“Jena and I are taking a walk to the cafeteria. Are you sure you don’t need anything?” my father asks me, standing in the doorway of the hospital examination room. It’s funny; Jena is the one whose body can’t fight anything, and yet here she sits beside my bed with my mother and my father, making sure I am still alive.

“I’m sure.” Mom’s gaze is focused on mine as Jena rises from her position on the chair next to my bed. I know Mom is making a concerted effort not to look at her, because then she might change her mind and have to focus on her instead. Even though I’m lying here half-naked in one of those spotted cotton hospital gowns, it’s obvious who’s sick and who isn’t. Sure, I’m covered in scrapes; I have three stitches above my right eye and more on my thigh and a wrist that might be broken. But you almost need a microscope to find Jena. Her bones and veins are bigger than her. Bluish, greenish, reddish lines that run across her body, rebelliously tattooed all over her, claiming her. I bet that’s what my mother does when she sneaks into Jena’s room in the mornings. She’s replicating the colors on herself, so the cancer voodoo gods know where to send it. The red right here, the green right there, the blue everywhere. Everywhere a blue-blue.

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