Authors: Kate Larkindale
“You know what?” Jules turned and looked at me. “I actually kind of like it. It’s so totally different. Besides, by next week it’ll probably all have fallen out anyway.” She grimaced and stuck her tongue out at me.
“Are you sure?” I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She looked so different. Her height seemed more regal and her cheekbones protruded like small mountain ranges. She could’ve been a model.
“Yeah. I like it.” She ran her hands through it again, making the shorter bits stick up while the longer ones remained flat against her head. “Thanks, Livvie.”
I shrugged and started gathering all the fallen hair together. “S’okay.”
I didn’t even realize Mom had entered the room until I heard the gasp from behind me.
“Olivia Marie Quinn!” My name tore through the room like a bullet, hot and blazing orange. “What have you done?”
he pile of shorn hair lay at Mom’s feet. I stepped toward the door, Mom’s anger slamming into me like a wave. On the other side of the room, Jules backed away from her too.
“Julie… Your hair!” Mom bent and picked up a handful of it, letting strands dribble through her fingers.
“Doesn’t it look cute?” Jules ran her fingers through the short, choppy mess. Her voice only trembled a little.
“Cute?” Mom sounded incredulous, the word’s pitch rising upward into a burst of yellow sparks. She whipped around and skewered me with her gaze. “What did you do to your sister?”
“Nothing?” The scissors dropped from my fingers and clattered to the floor. I winced.
“You call this nothing?” Mom’s voice took on a razor edge, and her hand shook as she pointed toward Jules’s shorn head.
“Mom—” Jules began, but Mom silenced her with a hand held up before her face.
I mouthed a silent apology to Jules and ducked out the door while Mom’s attention was not on me. I knew Jules could hold her own. And Mom was mad at me, not her. As usual. I’d deal with her anger later if I had to.
On the way down the hallway I texted Hannah. The longer I could put off going home the better.
can I come over? need to lie low awhile.
I hoped she’d understand. Ignoring the elevator, I took the stairs to street-level, enjoying the way my footsteps echoed around the wide stairwell in splashes of jade green. As I pushed my way out into the bustling foyer, my phone vibrated in my pocket.
got ballet til 7. home by 8 if you want to come ova.
Damn. I needed somewhere to go now. I checked the time on the phone. Four twenty-two. Wow. Earlier than I thought. I paused for a moment, thinking, then dashed out of the hospital to toward the nearest bus stop.
I jumped off the bus at a stop by the school and hurried across the nearly deserted parking lot to the athletic fields behind the main building. The faint sound of voices drifted in my direction on the cooling air. Good. There were still people here.
Rounding the corner of the low-slung brick building, I was blinded by the sunlight that slanted across the fields. I squinted, raising a hand to shield my eyes. Knots of people dotted the space, and I searched for Mel. I walked toward a group of figures standing by the track. As I did, the cluster dispersed, people walking off in different directions. I didn’t see Mel among them. Crap. What if she’d already gone home?
“You’re too late if you wanted to try out.” The voice from behind startled me so much I jumped. I whirled around and found myself looking up at Jenna.
“No… I…” My face flamed. Me? Try out? For cheerleading? She had to be on crack.
She grinned. “Just kidding.” The smile dropped away as fast as it had come. Her hand wiped at some hair straying across her forehead. “How’s Jules doing?”
“Okay.” I shrugged. It was inadequate, but unless she’d been to see Jules, I couldn’t explain. “Have you seen my friend, Mel? She runs track. I figured she’d be around here somewhere.”
Jenna jerked a thumb in the direction of the gym. “You checked the locker rooms?”
“Uh… No. Thanks, Jenna.” I started walking in that direction, but stopped when I heard Jenna call my name.
“Livvie.” She ran up beside me. “Do you think Jules would want to see me?”
I just stared at her. How could anyone be so stupid? “Sure. Of course.”
“Really?” Her face squished up, making her look like a little kid, something that was accentuated when she tugged her ponytail over her shoulder and wrapped the tip around her finger. “Are you sure about that?”
“Jenna, you’re her best friend. Of course she wants to see you. Why wouldn’t she?”
She flicked the ponytail behind her again and shuffled her feet on the dry grass, which crackled and spat like fire under her heels. “I guess maybe I thought she’d be pretty pissed off, you know? Because she’s sick, and I’m not.”
I sighed. “Maybe she is. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to see you.”
Jenna straightened up, her face relaxing. “Thanks, Livvie. I’ll grab a shower and head over there. You think she’d like to see the film we took of the tryouts?” She held up her phone.
“You can ask.” I tried to slip away, not wanting to appear eager to leave, but all too conscious of the minutes ticking by. If Mel was still around, I wanted to catch her.
The smell of the locker room hit me before the noise. It was a musty scent, moist and heavy, a competing array of perfumes spiking through it. Steam drifted out the door, spiraling in and out of the light shafting through the windows at the end of the hallway. Voices and the sound of running water spilled from the doorway. I walked in, eyes raking across the bodies at various stages of undress. It was hard not to stare, not to compare my stick-like figure with the soft curves on display here.
Mel strode from the showers, a towel wrapped around her body, another turban-like over her hair. I hadn’t realized how tense I was until I saw her. Relief coursed through me, and my muscles loosened.
“Hey, Mel.” I wove through the benches and strewn bags toward her.
“Livvie?” She swiped the towel from her head. “What are you doing here?”
“I kind of need somewhere to hang out for a while.” I sat down and watched her rub her hair dry. “Mom’s totally pissed at me, and I don’t want to go home.”
Mel gave me a curious look. “What did you do?”
“I cut Jules’s hair off.”
Mel almost fell over, had to put a hand out against the wall to steady herself. “What?” The word shot from her mouth in a plum-colored dart that struck the grimy beige wall and stayed there, quivering.
“Jules asked me to. And now Mom’s got her panties all in a knot.” My mouth twisted as I tried to smile. “So, can I come home with you for a while?”
Mel grinned as she shoved her long legs into her jeans. “Sure. I’ll outdo myself and microwave two frozen dinners.”
The sun sat low in the sky when we wandered out of the gym. School had only just started, but it already felt like fall. The air held the hint of cinnamon and ginger that always came with autumn. A stab of sadness pierced my gut at the idea. Soon, summer would be just a memory.
“Oh, hi Sam.” Mel’s breathy voice halted my rambling train of thought. She stopped walking and leaned up against the building. I joined her, letting the heat of the sun-warmed bricks soak into my back. Sam Taylor stood over us, his bulk blocking the sunlight from streaming into my eyes.
“So, how was practice?” Sam gestured toward the track.
Mel shook her head, letting the short blond hair fly around her face and settle again. “First one of the year, so you know… Chaos. What about you? How come you’re here so late?”
I could see the hopefulness in her words, gold and orange, and knew she wanted him to say he was there for her.
“Swim team.” He nodded in the direction of the school pool, housed in an annex off the gym. “We’ve been at it two weeks already, so I guess we’re in better shape than the track team, huh?”
Mel grinned. “I wouldn’t count on it. Eddie did a personal best today, and I shaved two seconds of my fifteen hundred meter time from last year. A lot of us have trained hard over the summer. I’d like to think we’re a force to be reckoned with.”
The breathiness was gone from Mel’s speech. The silly, flirty body language had disappeared too. She stood up straight and tall, eye-to-eye with Sam whose mouth twitched upward in amusement. “I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
“Well, see ya.” Sam walked away, joining three other guys shuffling toward the parking lot.
Mel sagged against the bricks, watching him walk away.
Before Sam had walked more than a few paces, he stopped and said something to the guys he was with. He jogged back toward us.
“Hey.” Sam stopped a few feet away, and his eyes flicked from Mel to me. “You hang out with Hannah McMillan, right?”
My heart sank, settling somewhere toward the pit of my stomach where it pulsed sickly, sending threads of nausea coursing through me. I nodded.
“You got her cell number?” He jerked his head, flicking blond strands away from his eyes. When I didn’t answer, he turned those eyes on Mel.
Mel sighed, her chin dropping down toward her chest. The words were barely audible when she gave him the digits.
“Thanks.” Sam punched the numbers into his cell. “You rock, you know?” He winked and ran off, jamming the phone into the back pocket of his jeans as he went.
“God, I’m such an idiot.” Mel shook her head. I glanced at her, seeing the dejected curve of her spine and the tightness of her mouth.
“C’mon,” I murmured. “Let’s go home, huh?”
She sighed, still gazing after him. Sunlight flashed off his golden hair. “Yeah. Okay.”
With great reluctance, Mel managed to haul herself up and away from the gym. She seemed heavier all of a sudden, tired and slow. Her footsteps were dull and leaden as we plodded down the concrete path.
“Hey, Mel! Wait up.” A voice behind us called, and Mel whirled around.
I turned too, just in time to see Eddie Fletcher skid to a stop on the path. “So… Uh… Jeremy Fraser’s having a party Saturday night. Maybe you might want to come? Like, with me?” He flushed and looked down at the ground.
I thought Mel might explode. Disappointment vibrated from her, but she tried to hide it. “Saturday? Um… Maybe…” She glanced behind us, at the place we’d last seen Sam, but he was gone. She shook her head as she turned back to face Eddie. “Yeah. Okay. I’ll come.”
“Cool.” Eddie smiled, showing even, white teeth no longer crisscrossed with braces. His eyes moved in my direction. “You can come, too, if you want. There’s gonna be a bunch of us.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “I think I have something I need to do on Saturday.” I forced myself to smile back. There was nothing I had to do that night except sit alone in a house so empty it echoed silence. But a pity invite wasn’t much better.
“Oh, you should totally come!” Mel turned to me, eyes glowing as if coals burned in them. “It’ll be so much fun. I’ll come and stay the night at your place afterward. Come on, Livvie. What do you have to do on Saturday?”
“Well, you know… With Jules…” Good one, Livvie. Using your sick sister as an excuse? What next? Dragging out a dead grandmother? I shook my head. I knew what it would be like and didn’t feel like spending yet another night watching other people have a good time.
“She’ll come.” Mel reached out and rested a hand on Eddie’s forearm. I fixed my eyes on it and shivered despite the warm sun on my back. Her hand looked right there, like it belonged.
“Awesome.” Eddie said. “I’ll see you guys at school tomorrow. I gotta get home.”
“See ya.” I didn’t even look at him.
Mel cocked her head to one side and watched him walk away, then yelled after him, “Hey! Can you give us a ride home?”
He stopped. “Where do you live?”
“Not far.” Mel ran to catch up with him, dragging me behind her. “I’m pretty sure we’ve missed the late bus.”
I pulled my phone out and checked the time: five thirty-seven. She was right. The late bus left at five thirty. If Eddie didn’t want to give us a ride, we had a long walk ahead of us. No way was I going to call Mom to come pick us up. And Mel’s mother worked nights.
Eddie grinned. “I guess so. Can’t really abandon you in your hour of need, right?”
“We appreciate it, right, Livvie?” Mel smiled too broadly, and I could see the lingering hurt and disappointment underneath.
“Yeah. Thanks,” I mumbled.
Mel grabbed my arm, and we ran to join Eddie. We were so close together, our skin touching, yet I felt like my friend was on a different continent.