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Authors: Kate Larkindale

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BOOK: An Unstill Life
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It was her turn to flush. “It’s easy,” she said, shuffling her feet and picking up a brush. The buckles on her boots jangled against each other. “It’s just perspective.” She waved her brush over the painting. “You see?”

Now that she said it, I did. Each element in the picture was painted from a slightly different angle. The jug, straight on; the apples, from above; the bunches of grapes from the opposite side to where she sat. The effect was almost Cubist, but less fractured.

“How’d you think of that?” I asked after I’d studied the whole thing, even the sketched in bananas she’d captured from beneath.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. It just seemed kind of boring to paint a bunch of fruit. So I thought I’d play with it a bit. Can I see yours?”

I hesitated. Compared with hers, mine was flat and boring, completely lacking in any pizzazz. “Sure,” I said, leading the way across the room.

Bianca stood a foot or so away from my easel, head cocked to the side as she studied the unfinished painting. I shifted from foot to foot and threaded the hem of my shirt through my fingers. She didn’t move or speak for a long time. I could almost hear her eyeballs scraping across the canvas, taking in the dull flat colors, the badly drawn shapes, and the awkwardness of the composition. Why did I ever think I was good at this stuff?

“It’s pretty terrible,” I said after the silence grew too heavy. “I should probably start again.”

Bianca whirled around to stare at me. “Don’t you dare.”


“Can’t you see how amazing this is?” She moved closer, not touching the painting, but tracing her finger through the air by it. “It doesn’t look like what Ms. DeWinter set up. It looks like more than that. If you look at the table, you see a bunch of fruit and flowers. You look at this, and you see… Well, more than that.” She ducked her head, black hair cascading down to cover her face. “Sorry. I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

I looked back at my painting, comparing it to the arrangement on the table in the center of the room. I saw a bunch of fruit and flowers on both. “You like it?” I tried to catch Bianca’s eye through the curtain of hair.

“Yeah.” She nodded and tucked a few strands behind her ear. She smiled a hesitant smile. I returned it. Maybe Bianca wasn’t weird and anti-social. Maybe she was just shy.

Chapter Eleven

didn’t even look for my friends after school. They led busy lives now—lives that didn’t include me. I was so certain they wouldn’t be there, I walked past the second landing without a glance.

“Livvie!” Hannah’s voice blazed across my consciousness in a flare almost the exact color of her hair. “Hey, Livvie. Wait up.”

I turned, half expecting Sam to be hanging off her, but she was alone. “Hi,” I managed.

“Where were you at lunch? We were looking for you.”

Looking for me? Yeah, right. As if I’d be in Sam Taylor’s ear. “I…I had to do something.”

She raised an eyebrow at me. “Something? What kind of something?”

I decided to change the subject. “So, you and Sam, huh? Is it serious?”

She shrugged, blushing and ducking her head. “We’ve had one date. Well, kind of two. He came over to study last night.”

I raised an eyebrow of my own. Actually, both. I’d never mastered that sassy one-brow lift Hannah’d perfected. “And your mom was okay with that?”

“My parents go to Bible study on Sunday nights. They weren’t home.” Her cheeks grew redder, and she hiked her backpack up on her shoulder, starting down the steps. I followed, even after we got to the street and she turned left, heading in the opposite direction to the one I needed to go in.

“Are Mel and Eddie serious?” Hannah leaned against the bus stop we’d reached. She slung her backpack around and searched through the pockets, digging out scraps of change. “You think it’s going to work out for them?”

“Yeah—” The rest of what I was going to say was lost when my cell phone rang, the jaunty tune at odds with my mood. I pulled the phone from my pocket and checked the display:

I groaned. What did she want? For a moment I was tempted to let it ring, let the call go to voicemail, but I didn’t. She ignored me when we were in the same room. Whatever was forcing her to break the silent treatment had to be serious.

“Hi, Mom.” I held the phone to my ear, making a face at Hannah.


“Yeah, it’s me.” Who did she expect? She dialed my number didn’t she?

“Oh, Livvie. Where are you? Can you get down to the hospital? Should I come and pick you up?”

“I’m actually at the bus stop.” I glanced up at the sign above my head. “What’s going on?”

“The oncologist wants to speak to us. When can you get here?” The brittle edges to her words sheared off in blades of navy blue.

I switched the phone to the other hand, wiping away the sweat that sprang to my palm. “It’ll take me a half hour or so.”

“Good. We’ll see you soon then.”

“See you soon,” I echoed, but she’d already hung up.

Hannah watched me, concern shadowing her eyes. “Everything okay?”

“I’ve been summoned.” I tried to make it sound like a joke, but Hannah knew me too well for that. She knew my mom, too.

“Uh oh…” She grimaced, waving as the bus lurched its way up the street.

Jules’s room seemed too small with us all crammed into it. Mom sat in the chair by the bed, her spine straight, head held erect. Dark patches shadowed eyes that were red-rimmed and exhausted.

Those eyes weighed me down as I walked through the door. “You’re here.”

I thought about answering, but there was nothing to say. Whatever the oncologist had to say was more important. I guess I couldn’t blame Mom for being preoccupied, for letting me drift like a ghost through a house that felt empty even when she was home. She had a lot on her mind.

Jules sat, propped on pillows, a basin held in her lap. She was paler than ever, chalky skin drawn tight over her cheekbones. Her eyes were sunken, the shadows around them darker than any make-up she’d ever worn.

“Hi, Livvie.” Jules tried to smile, but it looked grotesque, this stretching of the skin that revealed teeth too large for her gaunt face. A purple bandana tied around her head hid the thinning, patchy hair. I wouldn’t have believed it could fall out so fast. Maybe her body remembered.

“How are you feeling?” I climbed up onto the bed next to Jules.

She didn’t reply, just made a face that told me far more than any words could. I put my arm around her shoulders, frightened by how it looked far too big, too heavy for something so fragile to hold up

We were pressed together in this tiny space. Yet not together. No one spoke. No one touched except Jules and me. And my arm around her felt like desperation, like I was clinging on, trying to keep her from drowning, even as my own head dipped beneath the surface. I remembered her holding me in the same way, her strength keeping me whole. Now I had to try to keep her pieces from scattering to the winds.

Footsteps echoed down the corridor outside, bright yellow taps that grew louder and louder until they entered the room and stopped just before the bed.

“I’m glad you’re all here.” Dr. Singh’s oddly accented words sounded too loud. “I’m afraid Julia is not responding to the treatment the way we had hoped. The leukemia is more aggressive than we initially thought, and we’re not sure if another round of chemo is the best course of treatment at this stage.”

Silence answered his news. The words sank into the room and were absorbed into a sponge that sucked the oxygen with it. I struggled to breathe in this new, airless environment.

Mom found her voice first. “So, what are the options?”

“It’s time to think about another transplant.”

Jules groaned.

“Okay,” I said, sitting up straighter. “I already said I’d do it.”

“It’s not as simple as that.” The oncologist glanced around at all of us before letting his gaze settle back on me. “You will need to be tested. It has been ten years since the last time. Factors may have changed. There may be unknown contaminants that would alter your donor status, diseases, things like that.”

All I saw was the word ‘tested’, hanging in the air, glowing white in the already too brightly lit room. It mocked me. I hated needles. The thought alone made my skin cold and clammy. I took a deep breath and tried to calm the rapid beating of my heart. I’d done it before, sure, but that did little to dampen the panic fluttering in my chest.

“Olivia?” The oncologist leaned toward me. “Since you’re here, I can take you down now.”

Now? My arm tightened around Jules, and I felt her wince under the pressure. I let her go.

“Thank you, Dr. Singh.” Mom stood up and shook his hand. “We appreciate the care you’ve been giving Jules. Livvie? Go with the doctor, please.”

I slid off the bed, teeth aching with the cloying sweetness of her voice, the cotton candy pink shade that couldn’t mask the bitterness underneath. I knew she hated that she wasn’t a match, that she couldn’t be the one. Jules grabbed my arm, pulling me back. She didn’t say anything, but there was a wildness in her eyes.

I stroked the back of her hand. “I’ll be back.”

I didn’t hear anything at school the next day. Jules consumed my thoughts. Jules and whatever the test results would say. I tried to shake the fear. It was for Jules. It wasn’t scary if it could help her. I repeated the words in my head, over and over, but my gut still trembled. My fingers glued themselves to the ridge of scar tissue on my hip. Would they take it from there again? I remembered how it was last time, the needle nothing more than intense pressure on my numbed hip before it punched through the skin and into the bone. The blinding agony before the odd sense of draining as they sucked the marrow from my bones. Then afterward, when the anesthetic wore off, the deep-seated, low throb of pain that sat there for days or even weeks, like a bruise that never healed.

I bit my lip. A week or so of pain was nothing compared to what Jules was going through. I could do this. Even if it scared me, I could do it. I had to.

Mel jabbed me in the ribs with a pointed elbow. “Are you even listening?”

“Huh? What?” I hadn’t heard a word she’d said. I glanced around, realizing we’d almost reached the door to my homeroom. Where was Hannah? I searched the hallway, looking not just for her orange head, but for Sam’s blond one too. I knew they’d be together.

Mel stopped and stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at me. “I knew you weren’t listening. What’s up, Livvie?”

I shook my head. Did I want to go into it? With Mel? A week ago I wouldn’t have hesitated. “I’m just worried about Jules, okay? She’s not doing well.”

Mel’s face collapsed into a sympathetic expression, sending a sudden pang of guilt across my gut.

The bell rang before she had a chance to say anything, and I hustled into the classroom. “See you at lunch.”

But I didn’t go to lunch. Passing the art room, I caught sight of Bianca slipping through the door and followed her in. Despite her oddness, she was easier to be around than my friends. Their relentless excitement and cheer jarred me, while Bianca’s aloofness soothed my prickly skin.

“Hello,” I said, setting my easel up.

Her head snapped up. “Oh. Hi.” She gave a shy smile before turning back to her own canvas.

I smiled back, hesitating only a second before moving my painting closer to hers.

“I won’t turn the radio on.” Bianca paused by me on her way to the sink.

“Thanks.” I tried to dive into my painting, but fruit and flowers didn’t inspire me at the best of times, and this wasn’t one of them. With a sigh, I threw down my brush, streaking the corner of my canvas with a peppermint-flavored blue.

“Something wrong?” Bianca sucked on the end of her paintbrush. I could tell she wanted to know. There was a clarity to her words, a brightness that I associated with honesty. It wasn’t a color but a texture, something felt rather than tasted.

“Yeah.” I stood up and walked through the muddle of chairs cluttering the room. “My sister’s sick.”

She nodded. “I heard. That sucks.”

“Yeah. It does.” I leaned against Mrs. DeWinter’s desk, running my fingers across the smooth, dark wood. Its root beer flavor flooded my tongue. I didn’t know what to say. I’d been so afraid of sympathy, but Bianca’s felt comforting, the way a bowl of soup on a cold day does. “She probably needs a bone marrow transplant. I got tested yesterday, to see if I’m a match.”

“Did it hurt?” Bianca set her brush and pallet down.

“It was just a blood test and a swab. Nothing big. But it hurts when they take the stuff out of you.”

“You’ve done it?”

“Yeah. She was sick before. When I was five and she was eight.” I didn’t know why I was telling her this. I never talked about it. Jules never talked about it.

Bianca stood up and joined me at the desk. Her arm brushed mine, a lace sleeve scraping across my bare skin. “That’s rough. I’m sorry, Livvie.”

“Thanks.” It wasn’t enough. “Sorry to be bugging you with this. I’m just kind of nervous, you know? Waiting for the test results and all.”

“But you gave it before, right? So you know you’re a match. You don’t need to be nervous.” Bianca toyed with a heavy silver bracelet, twisting it back and forth.

“The doctor said things could change. Environmental factors and contaminants and stuff.”

I pushed away from the table and paced the small space in front of it. Like Bianca would have the answers. Weird Bianca with her black clothes and piercings laddering her ears. What was I thinking?

I wasn’t thinking, that’s what.

“I guess they’re just making sure. I mean, you wouldn’t want to give her funky marrow, would you?”

“No. You’re probably right.” I shook my head to rid myself of the unease squirreling through me. It didn’t work. “Did you finish your painting?”

“Yeah. You want to see it?”

I nodded. I needed the distraction.

When I entered Jules’s room, my mother was stalking, her low heels making a noise like gunfire as she paced the floor. I stopped just inside the doorway and took in the scene, not missing the empty bed in the center, crumpled sheets hanging haphazardly to the floor. “What’s going on?” Fear tightened my throat.

Mom whirled around at the sound of my voice. Two hectic spots of color burned on her cheekbones, but the rest of her face was ashen.

“Where is it?” she began, the words spearing the quiet, shattering it into purple shards that fell into drifts on the floor. “The doctor says you have a tattoo.”

I stared at her. The rage seething from her crept across my skin. I’d known she’d be mad about the tat when she found out, but this anger was more intense than any I’d ever seen in her before.

“Mom, lots of people get tattoos… It’s not that big a deal.”

She started pacing again. “It is a big deal when you get it at some disreputable hovel!” The hissed words sprayed across me in a yellow haze that burned into my skin. I stepped backward, away from it. I couldn’t grasp this fury. It made no sense.

“Mom, what’s going on?”

BOOK: An Unstill Life
5.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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