Authors: Kate Larkindale
My face was hot again, but this time it was anger that burned behind it. I should have known better. What the hell would someone like Adam Fletcher want with me? I ducked out of the bathroom and headed down the hall in the opposite direction, losing myself in the crowded living room. Where was Mel? We had to leave. I had to get out of there.
I found Mel and Eddie curled up in a beanbag behind the couch. Eddie’s hand was up her shirt and their mouths were locked together again.
“Mel!” My voice, shrill and high pitched, slashed through the surrounding noise in an electric blue bolt. “Mel. It’s time to go.”
She raised her head and looked at me with sleepy eyes, hair tousled across her forehead. “What’s the hurry, Livvie? Aren’t you having fun?”
“No. I’m not. I want to go home, Mel.” I threw her a desperate glance. I couldn’t tell her what had happened with Eddie there, his fingers still tracing the curve of her waist. “Please, Mel?”
For a second I saw her waver, then her eyes met Eddie’s, and she appeared to melt into him, her body fitting to his. “Soon, Livvie. Okay? Let’s just stay a bit longer.”
My lips pressed against each other so hard I thought they might splinter. “Fine,” I managed. “I’ll go alone.”
didn’t want to see Adam again, so I weaved my way through the kitchen and out the back door. The air was cooler out there, but not cold enough to freeze away the anger and humiliation that boiled inside me. What a douche! I couldn’t believe I’d let Mel convince me he liked me. Maybe he was right. I was so desperate for attention I was willing to believe anything. Well, that stopped here.
And Mel. Whatever happened to friends? To being there for each other whatever happened? I wouldn’t be surprised if Hannah did something like this, but Mel? I ran my fingers across the shape of the tattoo on my hip. So much for the three.
I walked fast, putting distance between myself and the party, racing away from the embarrassment. It wasn’t a neighborhood I knew well, but I thought I knew how to get back to the center of town. I could get the bus from there. I was supposed to be sleeping over at Mel’s, but no way was I going to do that. I just wanted to get home, where I could crawl under my covers in the darkness and disappear. I pulled out my cell phone and checked the time. Eleven twenty-four. Early. Good. At least I knew there were buses. All I needed to do was find a bus stop. If I could only figure out where I was.
I stomped through the streets, turning left and right at random, the fire in my gut spurring me on. The large houses and well-tended lawns gave way to smaller ones with toys or old cars littering the driveways. My steps slowed as I searched for a street sign. I reached a corner, but the pole where the sign should have been was bare and bent, a car shaped dent toward the bottom of it. A tremor of fear crept up my spine. This didn’t look right.
I walked on, head held high, fists clenched at my sides. The houses gave way to a strip of stores, closed now, metal gratings pulled down over their fronts. A neon sign flickered and buzzed above me, only three letters illuminated: A R C. I squinted at it, trying to figure out the word, but the streetlight was busted, and the darkness ate the other letters. I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk and almost fell, catching myself on a rusted sign chained to a garbage can. Where the hell was I? I stopped and looked back where I had come from. I had no idea how to get back to the party. I had no idea where I was. The anger that had roiled through my gut was gone, replaced by jagged shards of anxiety. I pulled out my phone again and lifted it to my ear, pushing three on my speed dial.
“Hi, you’ve got Mel. I’m not around, so leave me a message.” Mel’s recorded voice echoed through my head. Great. Now she wasn’t even answering her phone. Probably still locked lip to lip with Eddie.
I crammed the phone back into my pocket. No help there. Even if I had got her, how could I explain where I was? I stumbled on. Where was everyone? The streets were deserted. Dark, too, with half the streetlights out. A car passed me, its engine startling me with its low orange growl. It turned at the corner, and I watched its taillights blinking until they faded into the distance. When I reached the corner, I followed them.
I hadn’t walked more than a block before the car returned, easing down the street. I gritted my teeth and started walking faster, head down, trying to hide in the yawning shadows.
“Livvie!” I thought I heard someone calling my name and glanced up, searching the street. No one. Just that big boat of a car oozing down the street beside me. My heart leaped into my throat and throbbed there sickly. If anyone got out of that car, I was going to puke. Either that or faint.
“Livvie.” The voice drifted to me again. Now I was going crazy, too. Hearing voices calling my name. Next thing I knew I’d be strangling a wino or something. Wasn’t that what crazy people who heard voices did?
“Livvie. Get in the car!”
I stopped walking and really looked at the car, which pulled over to the curb. It was a station wagon. White. Old. Not a car I knew. The window closest to me lowered, and I found myself ready to run, every muscle tensed and ready for flight.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Bianca Mattheson’s face appeared in the open window as she threw open the door. “Don’t you know what a bad part of town this is?”
I hesitated by the door, looking at Bianca in the driver’s seat, then slid into the car, breathing the scent of stale smoke and the artificial air freshener Bianca must have used to try and mask it. My feet sank into a drift of takeaway coffee cups that filled the space beneath the glove compartment.
“Sorry about that.” Bianca glanced down. “Mom and I are both total caffeine fiends. And kind of sloppy.”
I kicked a few cups aside. “S’okay.” I was so glad to be off the street, I wouldn’t have minded if the seat were covered in rats. Well, maybe mice.
The motor hiccoughed to life when Bianca turned the key. The headlights illuminated the road ahead and the boarded up windows on some of the stores.
“Don’t take this wrong, but if this is such a bad part of town, how come you’re here?” I studied Bianca’s narrow white face in the reflected glare.
She punched the cigarette lighter on the dashboard without looking, sliding a cigarette out from the sun visor over her head. “I’ve been at work, and I’m on my way home. Lucky I came by. A guy was stabbed to death about a block from here.”
I shivered. I’d guessed I wasn’t in the nicest neighborhood, but hearing it didn’t make me feel much better. Damn, Mel.
“A better question is why you’re here.” She dragged deeply on her cigarette and blew three perfect smoke rings.
“It’s a long story.” I sighed. “But the short version is that my friend ditched me at a party. I decided to walk home.”
“And where’s home?” She pulled up at a traffic light and turned her gaze on me, those intense blue eyes burning through me once again. I shivered and for some unknown reason, an image of the dancing girl at the party flashed through my mind. Blood raced to my cheeks, and I pressed my face to the glass in an effort to cool them.
I directed Bianca to my house and she pulled up in front. The porch light burned, but the rest of the windows appeared to be in darkness.
“Thanks for the ride,” I said. “And… Thanks.”
“Sure. Couldn’t have left you there to get raped and murdered and killed, right?” A gruffness in her tone made me pause, one hand on the door handle. Was that a joke? Who knew Bianca Mattheson could be funny?
“See you in Art, I guess.”
“Yeah. Monday, huh?”
I pressed down the handle and pushed the door open, stepping out into the cool nighttime air. “Thanks again.”
“Anytime.” She nodded in my direction, hair shadowing her face so I couldn’t see her eyes.
I let the door fall closed and watched as she pulled away. My phone buzzed in my pocket, and I dropped my eyes from the vanishing car, pulling it out and looking at it. A text. From Mel. I pressed delete without reading it, jammed the phone back into my pocket, and went inside.
On Monday, I stepped into the lunchroom with caution, eyes scanning the crowd. There. Hannah sat at our usual table, Sam’s head bent toward hers. Mel was at the same table, across from Hannah, her hand nestled in Eddie’s. As I watched, Eddie raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. I guessed the weekend went well for both of them. I headed toward them, stopping when I realized there wasn’t a seat saved for me. A sick feeling punched my gut, and I turned, my backpack twisting behind me. The swinging doors whapped open and shut as I hurried out.
I didn’t need any lunch.
I sped down the hall with my head down. At least I knew what was important now. Neither of them looked as if they were missing me at all. The ocean I’d felt between myself and Mel was larger and deeper now. Mel and Hannah had never been that close on their own, but there they were, together. I’d spent Sunday avoiding Mel’s texts and calls, still furious with her. Hannah hadn’t even called, not even to gush about her date with Sam. I wondered if she’d spoken to Mel, shared that information with her alone. I couldn’t believe eight years of friendship could end this way.
I slowed as I neared the art room. Maybe that was the answer. I could go and get a head start on my next class. Yeah. That was the best idea. Nobody would ever think to look for me in there. I pushed open the door, breathing in the comforting smell of pastels and oil paint. My canvas sat on an easel pushed back against the wall, and I made a beeline for it, already picturing the colors I’d use to fill in the outline. My fingers tingled with the need to hold a brush, to make strokes across the blank space.
It was not until I’d dragged my easel onto the floor and set myself up with a palette, that I became conscious of someone else in the room. Music played softly from somewhere on the far side, and I glanced that way, seeing a small radio set up on Mrs. DeWinter’s desk. In the corner behind it, another canvas was set up, black boots and swathes of black skirt peeking out from beneath it.
Of course. I remembered seeing Bianca sneak out of this room last week. No wonder her presence in the lunchroom was such an event. I wondered if she knew I was there. Possibly not. I’d never known anyone to get as absorbed as me in a painting, but Mrs. DeWinter had to shake Bianca to remind her it was time to leave when the bell rang, the same way she shook me. If I went to Bianca, what would I say? She’d rescued me on Saturday, but I didn’t feel like I knew her any better today than I did last week.
I decided to ignore her. I stood before the canvas, studying the colors and their flavors with care before mixing a cool, milkshake shade of orange. I dipped my brush in, coating it well so the paint would clump a little when I transferred it to the picture. There, just right. The shape of the fruit came alive beneath the fine hairs of the brush. The next color needed to be sourer, to contrast with the sweetness of the orange.
As I mixed the paints, I became aware of other colors swirling through my consciousness. Flashes of pink, blue, and vibrant turquoise danced before my eyes. I squinted and shook my head, trying to move them away. They weren’t helping. I couldn’t focus on the shade I needed with all this distraction. Looking up, my eyes fell on the radio. That’s where it was coming from. I tried to tune it out, but the hues kept darting through my mind. The colors were so powerful in music.
I crossed the room to the desk, reaching out a hand to the radio’s dial. “Um… Bianca?” I don’t think I’d ever called her by her name to her face. The word felt heavy and clumsy on my tongue.
“What?” Her head whipped around the side of her canvas.
“Um… Would you mind if I turned this off? It’s kind of distracting me.” I ran my hand across the dial, not quite brave enough to turn it off yet.
“Distracting you?” She narrowed her eyes. “How can it be distracting you? It’s not even loud.”
“It doesn’t have to be.” I shrugged, knowing I was going to have to explain. For some reason, I sensed that Bianca might listen, might actually understand. “I have this thing… I kind of see sounds? And music is the worst. It makes it really hard to paint what I’m supposed to.”
She studied me, her expression turning curious all of a sudden. “I think I read about that. It’s called… Synthe… Synthetic? No. Something like that.”
“Synesthesia,” I supplied. “Yeah. That’s it.”
She studied me. “So, what’s it like?” She sounded interested, even shifted a little closer to me.
I leaned back against the desk and tried to think of the right words. “It’s like, every sound has a color. And when I hear them, I see the different shades. And colors have tastes. When a sound is really…full on, I guess, I can see its color and taste it. But usually I only taste things I see.”
“That’s…that’s kind of cool.” Bianca brushed some hair away from her face with her wrist, paintbrush still clamped between her fingers. “What does this taste like?” She waved the brush.
I peered at the reddish paint clumping at the end. It wasn’t quite the color of red wine, but close. My tongue darted around my mouth. “Kind of earthy,” I said. “Like the way dirt smells after it’s rained. Or mushrooms.”
She looked at the color again, brow creasing as she tried to comprehend what I might mean. “What about sounds?” She dropped the brush and stood up, layers of skirts whispering around her legs. “What does this look like?” Turning up the volume, she let the music fill the room, the beat throbbing around me.
I hesitated for a moment. I was talking to Bianca Mattheson? And she wasn’t spitting at me? One short car ride could change a lot. I opened my mouth, then changed my mind. I couldn’t tell her what music looked like. There weren’t words adequate for that.
“I’ll show you.” I grabbed a piece of paper from Mrs. DeWinter’s desk and pulled a box of pastels from the shelf. The music pulsed through me, driving my heart to beat in time. That drumbeat was gold, bright and shiny. The guitar that wailed beneath fluctuated, blue and green, the bass filling in the colors between. The woman singing had a deep, throaty voice that threaded burgundy velvet and the sandy color of arid desert through the rest.
My hands flew across the page, colors winding in and out of each other as the song crescendoed in the chorus, and then dropped back in the verses. Bianca leaned across the table, watching me grind the pastels into the paper. When the song ended, she flicked the radio off.
I pushed the picture toward her, breathless now.
“Wow.” Her eyes moved back and forth across the page before rising to my face once more. “That’s pretty incredible. That’s exactly what that song would look like.”
My cheeks burned. “Thanks.” I wiped at my hair, clumped to my forehead by the sweat beading there. “It’s weird, but sometimes I like painting music more than anything else. Certainly more than this crap.” I gestured to the still life that remained in the center of the room.
“Yeah, me too.” Bianca sighed and headed back toward her easel. Without thinking, I followed, rounding the canvas so I could see what she’d done.
My mouth gaped open. Bianca’s still life was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Each element was there, just as it was on the plum-draped table, but in her painting, each one had a life of its own.
“How did you do that?” I looked up at her. “It’s incredible.”