Authors: Kate Larkindale
When we finished eating, we headed back upstairs so I could pick up the things I needed at Archibald’s. I loved that place. I could’ve spent my life there. The store was tucked away in the corner of the mall, behind the depressing little pet store that seemed to only ever have one or two scrawny puppies or kittens caged behind a great bank of algae infested fish tanks. The scents of paint and linseed oil cut through the stale cat piss and drew me in like a magnet. My heart sped up as we grew nearer, anticipation making my palms damp.
A display of canvasses just outside the door stopped me. I ran my fingers across them, feeling the taut fabric stretched across the frames. I didn’t have enough money to buy any, but that didn’t keep me from coveting one.
“Come on, Livvie.” Hannah sounded like a whiny child, her high-pitched voice shooting darts of crimson. “Just get the brushes or whatever. I need to go to Capezio. Can you believe I wore out three pairs of pointe shoes at that summer school?”
“Yeah, okay.” I gave the largest canvas a last lingering look as I shuffled through the door.
“Hey! Look where you’re going, why don’t you!” The voice crashed over me, inky black, pierced by silver spears.
“Oh! I’m sorry—” I stepped back, away from the person I’d plowed into. I bent to pick up the pencils and tubes of paint that had rained to the floor. Scooping up the last one, my hand brushed the steel-capped toe of a heavy black boot. Only one person would be wearing boots like that in this weather. I stood slowly and found myself looking into the pale, pinched face of Bianca Mattheson.
“Here. I think I got them all.” I handed her the stuff.
She snatched the objects out of my hand and whirled away in a cloud of black clothing. “Watch where you’re going next time.”
I almost ran to the display of paintbrushes, my cheeks on fire. Of all the people to smack into.
“Don’t worry about her,” Mel said. “She’s a total whack job.”
“Yeah. What’s she even doing here? They don’t sell voodoo dolls or pentacles here.” Hannah joined us by the brushes. Bianca was weird, no question about it. It wasn’t the black clothes and hair, or the scarlet slash of her mouth, but the attitude she wore them with. It was like she didn’t care what anyone thought of her, like the whispers that followed her didn’t touch her.
I grabbed a handful of brushes, but before I paid for them, I checked to make sure Bianca’s malevolent presence had left the store. “C’mon, you guys. We’d better hurry up. Jules’ll leave without us if we’re not there to meet her on time.”
“Do I have time to go order my shoes?” Hannah asked as we hurried out, not even seeing the pathetic looking beagle whose mournful eyes followed us as we passed the pet store.
urmuring voices and padding footsteps in the hall outside my door woke me from a sound sleep. Hannah snored in bed next to me. I glanced at the clock. Three thirty-seven a.m. Who could be up at this hour? Mom had already been in bed when Jules brought Mel, Hannah, and me back from the mall. And Jules would kill for her eight hours of sleep. Then I heard voices again, low but urgent, rimmed in red. Mom’s voice, then one I thought belonged to Jules.
I climbed out of bed, taking care not to trip over Mel, whose lanky physique and blanket hogging relegated her to the floor during sleepovers. I negotiated my way through the darkness. The thin curtains filtered the moonlight trickling between the leaves hanging outside my window. I grasped the door handle and turned it, careful not to let it squeal. The hallway light shone so brightly, it made me squint. Closing the door, I stumbled into the corridor, toes curling against the cool wooden floorboards. I cocked my head, listening for the sounds that had woken me.
Mom darted out of her room, dressed, but with her hair corkscrewing in wild curls about her head.
“Mom?” I stepped toward her.
She jumped. “Oh, Livvie. You gave me a fright. What are you doing up?”
“What’s going on?” I rubbed sleep from my eyes. “I heard voices.”
“Jules had a nosebleed. It won’t stop, so I’m going to run her over to the hospital. Just in case, you know?”
“It’s not—” My voice dropped off, my stomach tightening into a knot. We didn’t use the ‘c’ word in our house. Ever since Jules got better, it was almost religious. Like if we never said it, there was no way it could happen again.
“Oh, no. I don’t think so.” Mom’s voice was too high pitched, and her lips trembled as she shaped the shiny silver words. “But it’s better to be safe than sorry, right?”
“I guess so.” I trailed after her as she started down the stairs. When we reached the bottom, I could hear Jules crying. Mom grabbed a jacket from the closet in the hall and hurried into the kitchen. I followed, unsure what else to do.
Jules sat at the kitchen table, head tilted back so far her hair almost brushed the tiled floor. She held a towel against her face, the thick fabric turning scarlet as if by magic. That was a lot of blood. A
. Too much. I could taste it in a nasty metallic coating on my tongue.
Mom wrapped the jacket around Jules’s shoulders and helped her to her feet. “We really should go.” She glanced at the towel, eyes skating over it then skittering away.
“Do you want me to come?” I watched Jules reposition the towel. Another pristine white patch crimsoned.
“No. Your friends are here.” Mom led Jules to the door, car keys clutched in her free hand. “You’re going to be fine, Julie. We’re going to take you to see the doctor, okay?” In an instant Jules was a child again, not the seventeen-year-old she was.
“Okay.” Jules’s voice was little more than a choked whisper, smoky and thick.
“I hope you’re okay, Jules,” I said.
“Thanks,” she whispered, giving me a shaky smile.
“We’ll be back as soon as we can, Livvie.” Mom almost left without saying goodbye. “Why don’t you just go back to bed?”
“Okay.” But I didn’t move. I closed the glass door behind them and watched as the car backed out of the garage and sped down the street, out of sight.
For a long time I just stood there, watching my breath fog the glass, then disappear. When I realized my feet were cold, I looked down, studying the way my toes splayed across the creamy coffee-colored tile. I yawned. Standing vigil in the kitchen wasn’t going to help my sister. I flicked off the light, plunging the room into darkness.
I stumbled up the stairs in a daze. Jules couldn’t be sick again. She couldn’t. It was like a prayer, but I didn’t pray. In the hall outside my room, someone moved toward me, and I started.
“Livvie?” It was Mel.
“What’s going on?” Moonlight spilled through the window at the end of the hall, making her skin glow ghostly white. Her hair stuck up in crazier whorls than Mom’s.
“Jules is sick. Mom took her to the hospital.”
Mel’s eyes widened. “Oh, shit. Do you think she’ll be okay?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I hope so.” The words seemed inadequate. Hope? I
her to be okay. I needed it as much as I needed air to live.
“Do you think it’s the leukemia? Do you think it’s come back?” Mel broke the cardinal rule, but I didn’t care. Sometimes things just need to be said. There’s nothing wrong with black and white; it’s the shades of gray that cause problems.
“I don’t know,” I repeated. “I hope not. God, I hope not.” I said almost to myself, repeating the words like a litany. I rubbed at my left hip, thinking about the last time Jules was sick, about the way I saved her. The square of plastic crinkled, and I winced as my fingers ran across the fresh tattoo.
“Did it hurt?” Mel asked after a long silence.
“When you did it. Did it hurt?”
“You mean the transplant?”
“Yeah.” She nodded, and I watched the purple word fall and splatter on the floor—untouchable, poisonous. This was a subject we never touched, never even got close to.
We were silent. The only sound came from my fingernails digging into the soft skin of my scalp as I dragged my hand through my hair.
“It hurt,” I said finally, the words dragged up from the depths of the ocean, dark and dripping. I never talked about this. I didn’t even like to think about it. “They told me it wouldn’t, but it did.” I stopped, remembering it—the burning pain, and worse, the fear. I tried to shake the feelings off. What I did was nothing. Jules was the one who really suffered. “It was worse for her.”
“Well, yeah. Of course.” Mel lolled against the wall awkwardly. “We should go back to bed.”
“I don’t think I can.” I scratched a mosquito bite on my ankle, watching it redden as my nails scraped across the swollen skin. Just hours ago we’d been teasing Jules about her obsessive control over her diet, commenting on how thin she looked.
“You should try.” Mel led me the few steps to my door. “Your mom’s probably going to need you tomorrow. Not to mention Jules.”
“You’re right. Thanks, Mel.”
“Any time.” She poked her tongue out at me and eased the creaky bedroom door closed behind us.
Buttery sunlight spread across my bed, warming my face through the curtains. Something was wrong. The tightness in my belly told me so, as did the weight resting on my heart. I forced my eyes open and stared up at the ceiling. The curtains shifted in the gentle breeze drifting through the open window and sent shadows waltzing across the roof. I rolled over and peeked off the edge of the bed. Mel lay curled up on the air mattress, her face mashed into a pillow. The space in the bed next to me was empty, the quilt turned down neatly, the pillow straight and plumped. Hannah was such a neat freak.
I stretched, feeling every bone and muscle in my back and chest, then stretched further until my stomach screamed for me to stop. I should get up, I thought. But I was so comfortable here. So safe. As long as I stayed in bed, I wouldn’t have to go downstairs and face the news from the hospital. If I stayed put, Jules wouldn’t be sick.
“Stupid,” I muttered. The news would be the same whether I heard it now or tomorrow. Better to get it over with. For all I knew, Jules was home, the whole incident already fading into a frightening memory.
With a sigh, I swung my legs over the edge of the bed. I thought about waking Mel, but she was such a bear in the morning. I left her snoring and slipped out of the room. The tattoo throbbed dully, but I thought the pain was a little less than it had been yesterday. I headed toward the kitchen, knowing Mom’s need for caffeine would make that her first destination. A flicker of movement caught my eye as I passed the living room. Hannah, still in her pajamas, stood with her back to me, one hand resting on the back of a chair she was using as a barre. She stretched one leg out, then the other, rising onto the balls of her feet before she turned and lowered herself back onto her heels. Her hair hung loose to her waist, a great mass of cinnamon curls that swung in arcs behind her as she moved.
“Oh! Livvie, you scared me.” She gave a sharp laugh and clutched at her chest. “I woke up early and thought I’d get my stretches in before you and Mel woke up.”
“That’s fine.” I shrugged. “Have you seen my mom?”
She shook her head. “No. Haven’t seen anyone yet. And it’s after nine.”
“Is it?” I turned my eyes to the clock on the wall. Nine minutes after nine. Where were they? A flock of birds took off from somewhere in the pit of my stomach and fluttered aimless circles through my midsection.
“Livvie?” Hannah let go of the chair-back and crossed to where I stood. “What’s wrong?”
I thought about shaking it off, telling her everything was fine, but I couldn’t lie to her. Not to Hannah. “Mom had to take Jules to the hospital in the middle of the night. I guess they’re not back yet.”
Hannah paled. Her arm came around my shoulders, warm and heavy, comforting. “Oh, Liv. I’m sorry.”
“It might not be the…you know. She had a nosebleed. It wouldn’t stop, so they went in. Just to be safe, you know?” I hated the pleading tone in my voice. Like I was trying to convince myself. But even I didn’t believe me.
“I’m sure it’s nothing.” There was dull lead in her words. She wanted to make me feel better, and I wished it could work.
The telephone rang, making me jump. I reached to pick it up. My hand sank into the leaping orange flames that shot up with each electronic bray. The color was so intense I could taste the heat, and for a moment the sensory overload was so great, I couldn’t even move to pick up the receiver. Hannah did, and handed it to me. I was surprised when it wasn’t hot.
“Livvie?” My mother’s voice tumbled down the line.
“It’s me. What’s going on?” My knuckles ached from the force with which I held the phone to my ear. “Is Jules okay?”
“They’re doing tests.” Mom’s weariness blurred her words. “We probably won’t know anything until Monday.”
Monday? It was Saturday morning. “Are you coming home?” I hated the pitch of my voice, like some frightened little kid, like I was five, not fifteen.
“Later. I just wanted you to know what’s going on. Try not to worry too much. It might not be anything.” The words rang false, brittle and yellow. She was worried. And why wouldn’t she be?
“Okay. I’ll see you later on then.”
“See you.” The phone went dead in my hand.
“Well?” Hannah had her hands on her hips. “What’s going on?”
“They don’t know yet.” The weight of my mother’s words became too much for me, and I stumbled to the couch, falling into the soft cushions. “They’re doing tests.”
“Oh, Livvie…” Her voice trailed off, and I could tell she didn’t know what else to say. There wasn’t anything else to say. There
no answers, just an endless procession of questions.
“C’mon,” I said, after the silence had gone on too long to even be called uncomfortable anymore. “Let’s go wake Mel up and make pancakes. It’s not going to do anyone any good if we starve to death, is it?”