Authors: Kate Larkindale
“You’re a selfish, spoiled child!” Mom cried. “That’s what’s going on.” There was a waver in her final words. She reached for a tissue from the box on the nightstand and, pressing it against her eyes, ran from the room.
I stared after her. Something huge must have happened. Something terrible.
I stood in the center of the room, trying to make sense of it all. How had Mom even found out about it? Did the doctor tell her? It was one of the questions they’d asked at the tests. I’d considered lying, but figured if they thought it important enough to ask, I should answer honestly.
“Olivia?” Dr. Singh’s lightly accented voice startled me enough that I jumped.
“Sit down, Olivia. I’d like to talk to you about your test results.”
I shuffled across to the chair and sat. Where was Jules? I needed her. She should be here for this.
“I’m afraid I have bad news. Your blood work shows that you may have contracted Hepatitis C, probably from that tattoo.”
“What?” My fingers flew to my hip, tracing the elaborate three over and over again. The words made no sense. I didn’t feel sick. There had to be some mistake.
He didn’t raise his head. “Since it was done so recently, the results are not one hundred percent conclusive.” The words dropped from his mouth to puddle on the floor, dark and expressionless. “You will need to be tested again in about six weeks, and again in three months.”
Shit. More sickness. Just what we needed. “Is it bad?”
“It’s treatable. Not curable, but easily managed. Your regular doctor will be able to perform the tests. But I’m afraid you will not be able to donate marrow to your sister. Not until we’re certain you don’t have the disease. Because of the incubation period, we can’t accept blood or marrow donations from people who have had tattoos in the last three months anyway. So even if there weren’t anomalies in your blood work, we couldn’t have used you.”
My head whirled, the words not even registering for a second. When they did, they hit me like a bucket of icy water. Not so much that I might have contracted an incurable disease, but that I couldn’t help Jules. “Oh.”
We already knew Mom wasn’t a match, and as an adopted child, she knew nothing about her birth family. My father was dead, and his family were nothing but names on a Christmas card that arrived in a neatly typed envelope once a year. That left me. But now, it didn’t.
“Do you have any questions?” Dr. Singh’s voice was a pale green blur around me, rocking like waves in the wind.
I shook my head. I’d killed her. I was the only option, and I’d killed her.
“Thank you.” I managed to drag myself out of the chair, and on legs that felt like cooked spaghetti, walked out the door.
iding the bus, I tried to block my thoughts by focusing on the sounds around me, painting them in my mind. I knew the picture would be gone before I arrived home, but it kept me from thinking about things I couldn’t cope with. They kept filtering in though. Mom’s anger. Hepatitis C. More tests. My failure. Jules… I couldn’t think about Jules. I’d signed her death warrant. I shook my head. And what for? The stupid tattoo didn’t mean anything anymore. There was no magical three. All it took was two boys, and we were done. Eight years down the drain, victim of a plague that ate friendships as surely as the cancer devoured my sister. And my sister would die because of my stupidity.
I bit down on the inside of my cheek to keep from screaming. It hurt, but I welcomed the pain. It
hurt. I deserved for it to hurt even more than this. I climbed off the bus and trudged the two short blocks to my house. I didn’t want to go in. Mom’s car sat in the driveway and even it looked reproachful as I passed. The tick-tick sound of the cooling engine seemed to mock me. Killer, it whispered. Murderer. Executioner.
“Shut up!” I bashed my fist into the hood, creating a sudden splash of dull red. It didn’t make me feel better, just made my hand ache.
I let myself in through the back door. The kitchen was empty. Wandering through the downstairs hallway muffled thumps from upstairs sent muted shades of yellow, blue, and green flashing through me. With great reluctance, I followed them, climbing the stairs on legs that felt heavier and clumsier than tree-stumps.
The door to Jules’s room was open, and the noises seemed to be coming from in there. I crept along the hallway, fear gnawing at my insides. Her bed had been empty at the hospital. I hadn’t seen her. I’d been so wrapped up in Mom’s anger and the news of my own possible illness, I hadn’t thought to question it.
“Mom?” I slid to the gaping door and stopped. Inside, Mom was changing Jules’s bed. I watched as the fresh sheet billowed down. Mom smoothed it out and tucked the edges under the mattress. “Is Jules coming home?”
Mom didn’t even look at me. She finished making the bed and picked up the dirty sheets from the floor. Pushing past me, she gave a terse nod as she walked away. A moment later, I heard her footsteps going down the stairs. The silence that followed simmered. It crept across my skin, bringing sweat to the nape of my neck. I sagged into the doorframe. I was used to her silent treatments, but this one felt heavier, somehow alive. But no matter how mad she was at me, it wasn’t anything compared with the fury I directed at myself.
I stepped into Jules’s room, admiring its neatness. Even the posters tacked to the white walls were straight and evenly spaced. The closet door yawned open, her clothes hanging in organized rows, arranged by color. I closed it and walked over to her desk, touching the books stacked in an orderly pile on the corner. Biology. French. Calculus. Would she ever need these again? I turned away. A mirror hung over her bureau, and photographs were tucked into its frame. I studied them, seeing the cheerleaders, Jenna, Zach, and Jules, smiling in one picture after the next. Looking at them, I could almost believe the girl who lived in this room had a perfect life.
Perfect. And I’d ruined any chance for her to get it back.
A lump as big as a bowling ball sat in my throat. I tried to swallow it down, but it was too big. It swelled painfully until I couldn’t choke it back any longer. It broke into shards that pierced my insides like shrapnel. Harsh, noisy sobs erupted from the debris. I fell to the floor, burying my face in the pale blue rug that tasted of icy lemonade and smelled of her J’Adore perfume. How could I face Jules again? How could I tell her I’d failed her? I’d killed her. How could she forgive me for that? How could I forgive myself?
It was dark when I opened my eyes. I blinked, trying to get rid of the stickiness pasting my lids together. My eyeballs felt raw and I remembered crying. Pushing myself up, I realized I was still lying on Jules’s rug. I must have fallen asleep. I scraped gunk away from my eyelids and clambered to my feet. The clock on Jules’s dresser glowed green. Twelve thirty-two. I must’ve been asleep for hours. Did Mom try to wake me? I stepped out into the hallway. Moonlight pooled on the floor from the window at the end, illuminating the path to my bedroom. I stumbled in, letting myself fall into the unmade bed. It smelled sour. Mom hadn’t changed
Then I remembered.
It hit me like a cannonball, doubling me over with its force. I tugged off my jeans and tossed them on the floor, raking my fingernails over the place I knew the tattoo marked my skin. Stupid thing. I couldn’t even remember why I’d got it, what I’d hoped it would achieve. The girl who stepped into the tattoo parlor was gone, forgotten. I wouldn’t recognize her if I met her on the street.
Exhausted, I stopped scratching my hip. My throat ached, and my eyes still burned with tears, but I didn’t let them out. It was too late for crying. And tears wouldn’t do any good. I stretched out and stared at the ceiling, watching headlights sweep across it from the road outside. Sometime near morning, I fell into a restless sleep.
Weak from chemo, Jules stayed in bed most of the time, venturing downstairs occasionally to sprawl on the couch or to try and sit at the table for meals. Mom hovered over her and sent me sharp, accusing looks whenever I got too close. The coldness emanating from Mom was physical, a wall of chill that enveloped me the moment I entered the room. I wondered if Jules felt it, too. I hoped not. But just in case, I kept away from Jules when Mom was around. Which meant I never saw my sister except from a distance. I caught her watching me sometimes, but always over Mom’s shoulder, or through her crooked arm.
I missed her. Oh, I missed her. I longed to curl up next to her, her arm around me while she whispered secrets. I needed her voice and her touch, the only things that could melt the things Mom froze inside me. I wanted to hear her say she forgave me.
But I stayed away, like I was the one with the plague, the tattoo on my hip burning into my skin like acid, a constant reminder of my failure. I wore it like a brand.
“What is up with you?” Hannah stood in the hallway, one hand on her hip as she stared at me. All around us kids chattered and lockers slammed open and shut. The colors flashed through me, red one moment, then green, then yellow. “You’ve been acting weird for weeks. Are you mad at me?”
At her? Yes. No. Maybe. I shook my head. “No. Not at you.”
“Well, then who? Mel?”
I shook my head again. I should still be mad at Mel, right? For ditching me on the wrong side of town. For picking Eddie over me. Somehow it didn’t feel important anymore. Nothing did.
“So, what’s going on?” Hannah set her jaw, and I knew I’d have to tell her something if I wanted her to leave me alone.
“Um… Look, you and Mel need to go to a doctor in a few weeks. I… I might have caught something, probably when we got those tattoos. You guys should get tested, too. It’s too soon now to be sure, but in about a month you should go.”
“Really?” Her voice rose to a screech. “It’s not AIDS, is it?”
“No. Nothing like that. Hepatitis. It’s treatable. But go get tested, okay?” I hoped she’d leave it there. I didn’t want to have to explain it further. I was pretty sure she and Mel would be okay. I’d seen the guy change the needle between each of their tattoos. I was first though, and he had himself all set up when we stepped in.
“So, are you okay?” Hannah leaned toward me, face crinkled with concern.
“I’m just tired, Hannah. Jules is home, and…” I trailed off, the thickness in my throat threatening to drown me again.
“Oh.” Hannah fell silent, and her face contorted into the sympathetic expression that made my teeth grind. Don’t feel sorry for me, I wanted to scream. I killed her. I killed her. I killed her.
The words whirled through my skull, their sharp edges jabbing at my eyeballs. I could feel them pressing to get out, to surge into the world for everyone to see. My hip was on fire, and I was sure Hannah could see the flames curling around me.
“I…I…gotta go.” I sprinted down the hallway, not caring that I plowed into people, not hearing the curses thrown my way. I had to get away. The words pressed harder into my brain, embossing themselves there with painful force. There had to be some way to get them out, some way to relieve the pressure.
Out of breath, I ducked into the bathroom at the far end of the corridor. It was one of the old ones, and a rusty streak stained the cracked porcelain of the sink. Thankfully, it was empty. I stood and peered at myself in the cloudy mirror. A tap dripped a quiet drumbeat from somewhere further into the room. Killer, it said. Killer. Killer. Killer.
I didn’t recognize the face in the mirror. It was too pale, and the eyes that stared out of it were huge and crazed. The lips were twisted into a grimace. Dirty blond hair hung limp on one side and stuck up in wild snarls on the other. I couldn’t remember when I’d last washed or brushed it. No wonder Hannah thought something was wrong.
I looked down and saw the elaborate curlicue that marked the top of the tattooed three peeking out from under the waistband of my jeans. Stupid thing. Foolish thing. Deadly thing.
I knew what I needed to do. I stepped out of my body and watched. A sudden calm fell over me.
The girl who looked like me tore the heavy soap dispenser from the wall. She heaved it at the mirror and watched the waterfall of shattering glass tumble into the sink. The noise was massive, a cacophony of brilliant blues and silvers streaking through my head, snapping me back into myself. What did I do? Clutching a long shard of mirror, I dove into a stall, locking the door behind me.
I was crying now, tears streaming down my face and blurring my vision. I tugged down my jeans and scraped at the hateful black mark on my hip. I needed it off me. I couldn’t wear it anymore. It was a lie anyway. My gnawed nails scraped only fine lines across my skin, so I raised the piece of mirror, prepared to make an incision.
The door creaked open and heavy footsteps entered the room. I heard the crunch of broken glass grinding beneath them and held my breath, perching on the closed lid of the toilet with my knees tucked to my chest.
“Hello?” The voice was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. “Anyone here?”
The silence weighed a ton. My chest ached with not breathing. Go away, I willed. Just go. Please.
She didn’t. I heard the gentle gold snick of a lighter and a moment later smelled the familiar scent of tobacco. Just someone sneaking in for a smoke. I let out my breath and tightened my grip on the blade. My hands were sweaty, and the piece of glass slipped as I made the first cut. I wrapped my fist around it more securely, feeling the razor sharp edges biting into my palm. The next slice was deeper, and I watched the blood well up, filling the crevasse I’d made and spilling over the lip.
Again and again, I ran the shard across my flesh. The blood trickled down my leg and stained my underwear red. Each cut made me lighter, the offensive tattoo nearly obliterated now. Once it was gone, maybe my guilt would be, too. The weapon slid from my blood-slick palm and fell to the floor with a rose colored clatter. I watched it skid under the stall door to lie on the filthy tiles, scarlet blood pooling around it.
The door rattled as someone shook it. “Are you okay in there?”