Authors: Kate Larkindale
I started straightening up. Had I heard right?
“She asked you?” She leaned closer.
“When? Last night?”
I shook my head. “Months ago.”
She hugged me close. “So you’ve been living with that? Jesus, Livvie. How the hell did you handle that? You blow my mind, girl, you really do.”
I leaned into her. “You don’t…hate me?”
“Hate you? How could I hate you? God, Liv. I want you in my corner. You didn’t kill her. Okay, maybe you did, but what kind of life did she have? You gave her a huge gift. You loved her that much.”
“I did.” The sobs came then, harsh and painful, cascading through me like a tsunami of grief desperate to drown me in a sea of midnight blue. And through them all, Bianca held me.
ules’s funeral was five days later. I hadn’t gone home. I couldn’t. Mom had been released after her psych consults and had given me her diagnosis over the phone.
“I can’t go,” I said, staring at Bianca who sat on her bed. “I don’t have anything to wear.” It was a lame excuse, and I knew it. It wasn’t clothes that had my stomach tied in knots.
“You have to go. How many black dresses do you think I have?” Bianca slid off the bed and pulled open her wardrobe, a black hole.
“None of them will fit.” The words were feeble, an insipid yellow that dribbled to the floor.
“It’s your sister. You’re going.”
Thinking about seeing Mom, being close to her, was enough to make my skin crawl from my bones. Would she be able to pierce my armor and see what I had done? I was okay with it. I knew I’d done the right thing. Sharing it with Bianca served only to bolster my confidence that my decision was the best one. But I knew Mom wouldn’t see it that way. Not that I was going to tell her.
Bianca’s black dress hung loose from my shoulders and just skimmed my knee. She held my hand as we followed the other mourners up the bricked path to the chapel. There were so many people. I recognized teachers from school, family friends, gymnastic coaches, and more I couldn’t place. A knot of girls stood just outside the door, and I recognized Jenna in their midst. My mouth tightened when she broke away from the others and started toward me.
“Hi, Livvie.” She stopped a few feet away and looked me up and down. Her eyes were red and puffy, yet she hadn’t tried to hide it with makeup the way I had.
“How are you holding up?”
I shrugged. My brain knew Jules was gone. I’d seen her soulless body lying there, but my heart didn’t believe it. Perhaps it would take going home for me to absorb her absence. The reality of those empty spaces she’d once filled with so much energy and light.
“I know.” Jenna reached into her pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. “I can’t believe she’s gone. I thought she was getting better…” She broke off and blew her nose with a loud, honking sound.
“We have to get in there.” Bianca guided me past Jenna and through the yawning doorway that waited to swallow us.
“Bianca.” I balked on the threshold. I couldn’t go in. I could see Mom’s head, her new short copper curls bobbing above others in the crowd. She had a therapist and medication, but I still couldn’t bring myself to see her. Talking on the phone was as much as I could manage—stilted, awkward conversations filled with heavy pauses and long empty moments. For so long I’d let her words burn into me like acid, her indifference to me like a thousand tiny needles. Even knowing there was an explanation for it wasn’t enough to allow me back into her sphere. I wondered vaguely if her denial of my synesthesia was tied to her own illness. If she had her own problems and struggles, and hid from them, I guess it was natural to try and ignore something like my own skewed perception. No wonder she saw me as flawed or broken; she was seeing herself. But even understanding her reasons, just recognizing there
reasons, wasn’t enough to entice me home.
“It’s going to be okay.” Bianca’s breath was hot in my ear. “You can do this, Livvie.”
But I couldn’t. I tried to force my feet to move, tried to join the constant stream of people entering the room. No good. I was glued to the floor. My heartbeat was so fast and loud I was certain everyone around me could hear it.
Trish joined us. “I had to park three blocks away. Your sister was certainly popular, wasn’t she?”
“Yeah. She was.” I gave Trish a weak smile, still not moving.
People swept by us, flowing through the narrow, ominous doorway.
“Oh, Livvie.” Hannah hugged me, her cinnamon hair loose over her shoulders. A few strands crept up my nose, and I sneezed.
“Thanks for coming.” I wiped my nose with the back of my hand.
“You doing okay?” Mel’s voice was gruff as she stepped toward me, with Eddie hanging behind, stuffed into a dark blue suit that didn’t fit him anywhere.
I shrugged. “I guess.”
They started walking toward the doors and, with Bianca on one side, Trish on the other, I managed to follow them inside.
The coffin sat on a platform at the front surrounded by banks of flowers. The heady scents blurred together, mixed with the various perfumes worn by people in the crowd.
The box looked so small. Too small for Jules. How could a life as big as hers be contained in something so insignificant? Then I remembered what she’d been like after she died, how empty the shell had seemed. That fragile nothingness would fit easily into the box.
All around us people slid into seats. Murmured conversations created a comforting yellow buzz around me. I focused on that, and on the warmth of Bianca’s hand at my waist.
“You need to sit with the family.” Trish took my hand and led me to the bench at the front. I clutched at her hand, forcing her to sit with me. I needed her. Needed Bianca. Needed my friends. Mom was on that bench. I could feel her presence burning through the wood. She was less than a foot away from me, but it could have been a thousand miles.
Mom sat very straight, her eyes facing forward. She didn’t move, not even when people leaned over and said something to her. Her hands lay in her lap, fingers clenched around one another. The knuckles were white, and it looked painful, like all her strength was held there and her entwined fingers were all that kept her from flying apart.
Bianca glanced at me, then followed my gaze. Her lips tightened, but she didn’t say anything.
The service was short. Just fifteen minutes after the hush fell over the room and the small, balding man in a suit started talking, I walked back up the aisle. Mom and I walked side by side, following the coffin. Jules’s boyfriend, Zach held one of the shiny brass handles, his face somber. Where had he been? I didn’t remember seeing him while her flesh fell from her bones, while she lay, wracked with pain. Yet here he was, front and center to carry her to her final resting place. I hated him.
Tears rolled down Mom’s face, and she made no move to wipe them away. She stumbled in her heels and would have fallen if I hadn’t grabbed her arm and held her upright. She shook my hand off and strode on, head held high.
She was so obstinate, so proud. She couldn’t even accept a supportive hand from the daughter she had left. What had made her so cold? I remembered what Trish had said about how hard keeping a secret could be. Maybe Mom’s secret had consumed her to the point she had nothing left to give. But that couldn’t be right. She’d always worshiped Jules. I glanced back, hunting for Bianca in the line of people following us. I couldn’t see her. The crowd was too thick and I had to keep moving forward, had to keep following the wooden box my sister would rest in forever.
The sunlight outside was disorientating. I blinked as it flashed off the handles of the coffin, blinding me. The colors of the flowers were too bright and gaudy. The sky was too blue. If I had to watch my sister be buried, couldn’t the weather at least reflect the darkness flowing through me? I didn’t want to associate bright sunshine and blue skies with this. Dark clouds should have brooded on the horizon, heavy and threatening. This was not right.
I stepped back as the coffin settled into its sling across the open grave. Mom remained on the other side, keeping the open pit between us. Bianca and Trish flanked me and I was grateful for their support. A few feet away Hannah, Mel and Eddie stood together. I was glad they were there too. The chasm between my mother and I felt huge, unbridgeable. It wasn’t just a few feet of broken earth; it was a canyon, a continent, a universe.
Jules’s casket sank into the hole. I couldn’t hear the words the small man spoke as the box was lowered, just the dull silvery whine of the motor that spun the cable downward. A thud, and it was over. Mom stepped forward and dropped a single clod of dirt onto the lid. It hit with a hollow thunk that sent ripples of darkest violet scattering across my vision. I stood back and focused on Bianca’s fingers twined through mine, on Trish’s hand, warm against my shoulder. I watched the mourners drift away in dark clusters, scattering like clouds after a storm.
When everyone was gone except my own little support crew, I disentangled my fingers from Bianca’s and stepped forward. I bent and picked up a lump of earth from the neat mound waiting at the end of the grave. It felt heavy and moist in my hand, far too real and tangible for its symbolic purpose. I stared down at the wooden lid of the coffin, picturing Jules’s face beneath it. A lump swelled in my throat, but I choked it back. I didn’t want to cry.
I dropped the damp clump of earth, letting it crumble through my fingers and rain down across the polished surface. It was a soft sound, like spring rain, and dropped a crisp green veil across the scene. I said a silent goodbye to my sister, and at the same time, sent my past self, Old Livvie, along for the ride. Jules didn’t like to be alone, but now she didn’t have to be. She could have my shadow-self to trail behind her forever, always basking in her reflected glory.
I turned away and walked across the manicured grass, green despite the freezing temperatures. I’d almost reached Bianca and Trish when a figure stumbled across the uneven ground surrounding the grave. I stiffened as she approached and clutched Bianca’s hand hard enough that I could feel the small bones grinding together inside. She gasped and I winced.
“Sorry,” I whispered.
She squeezed back, the gesture more reassuring than she could imagine. I wondered if she could feel my pulse racing in my wrist, if Trish could feel it in my neck, the hot, heavy throbbing that filled my ears.
“Livvie…” Mom’s voice was stiff, her face an unreadable mask.
“Hi, Mom.” I took a deep breath and let go of Bianca, stepping forward to meet her.
Mom’s eyes shifted past me, and I saw her lips tighten when she saw Bianca and Trish. She took a deep breath and returned her focus to me. “I haven’t treated you very well, Livvie. I’m sorry.” The words were said without emotion. “My therapist says I need to try and make amends for it. You and I are too similar, I’m afraid. Perhaps that’s why—” She paused, and I held my breath as I waited for her to continue although I had no idea what I wanted her to say. “Jules…Jules was the person I always wanted to be.” She stopped again, dropping her head. I saw her throat constrict as she choked back tears.
Bianca darted around and inserted herself between Mom and me. She looked at me, her eyes dark and furious. “Is that supposed to be an apology? Something her therapist says she has to do? Well, I—”
“It’s okay,” I said, brushing her cheeks with my fingertips. But was it? My heart felt as if it were being crushed between two bricks.
“I know it isn’t enough, Livvie.” Mom ignored Bianca. “But I hope you’ll at least try to forgive me. You’re all I have now.” Her voice trailed into nothing, and I saw tears glistening at the corner of her eyes.
This was where Old Livvie would have crumbled. She would have agreed to forgive and forget, burying the hard nugget of anger somewhere too deep to find. I wasn’t going to do that. She’d done too much damage already.
“I wish I could, Mom.” I reached out and touched her arm, forcing her to drag her eyes away from the lawn before her. “But I think it’s too late.” It was harsh, and it wasn’t exactly what I meant to say, but the words were trapped inside me, too tangled with emotion to be said aloud. While I sensed sincerity in her, there was desperation too. The same dark, dangerous desperation I’d heard from her when she insisted on the transplant or on going to Mexico. I couldn’t trust her.
Mom’s face darkened, and I stepped backward to get out of the path of her fury.
It never came.
For a moment Mom seemed to struggle with it, rage mottling her face and neck before she managed to tame it. She nodded. “I’m sorry,” she repeated.
“Yeah, me too.” I bit my lip. She was trying. I could see that. Maybe she didn’t fully understand the depth of hurt she’d caused, but she was aware it was there. That was something. A beginning, maybe.
I moved closer to Bianca, wrapping an arm around her waist. I wanted to go. Two men hovered near the open grave, clearly waiting for us to leave before they went about filling the gaping hole in the ground. I couldn’t watch that. We started walking toward Hannah and Mel, Trish beside us.
“Livvie?” Mom’s voice stopped me in my tracks.
“Yeah?” I turned, but didn’t let go of Bianca.
“Can I call you?” She looked tiny standing there alone. I felt sorry for her. Almost.
I bit my lip. “I’ll call you,” I said finally.
She seemed to crumple in on herself for a second, but then managed to pull herself back up to her full imposing height. “I’ll look forward to that.”
She strode off, her heels sinking into the soft lawn as she did. I watched her go, seeing the way the weak winter sunlight glinted off the strands of white in her auburn hair.
“You okay?” Bianca leaned across, peering into my eyes.
I looked right into those intense blue orbs and smiled. “I will be, I think.” Searching the words for the muddy colors I associated with lies, I found nothing but a clear, pure gold. “Yeah. I will be.”
About the Author
Having spent a lifetime travelling the globe, Kate Larkindale is currently residing in Wellington, New Zealand. A cinema manager, film reviewer and mother, she’s surprised she finds any time to write, but doesn’t sleep much. As a result, she can usually be found near the espresso machine with a long black in hand.
Her short stories have appeared in
Halfway Down The Stairs, A Fly in Amber, Daily Flash Anthology, The Barrier Islands Review, Everyday Fiction, Death Rattle, Drastic Measures, Cutlass & Musket
, among others.
She has written eight contemporary YA novels, four of which other people are allowed to see. She has also written one very bad historical romance. She is currently working on a new YA novel that is still looking for a title other than its Twitter hashtag, #juvvielesbian.