Authors: Kate Larkindale
An Unstill Life
by Kate Larkindale
Copyright © Kate Larkindale, 2014
All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher.
This e-book is a work of fiction. While references may be made to actual places or events, the names, characters, incidents, and locations within are from the author’s imagination and are not a resemblance to actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events. Any similarity is coincidental.
4815 Iron Horse Trail
Colorado Springs, CO 80917
Issued by Musa Publishing LLC, January 2014
This e-book is licensed to the original purchaser only. Duplication or distribution via any means is illegal and a violation of International Copyright Law, subject to criminal prosecution and upon conviction, fines and/or imprisonment. No part of this e-book can be reproduced or sold by any person or business without the express permission of the publisher.
Editor: Jeanne De vita
Artist: Kelly Shorten
Line Editor: Damien Walters Grintalis
Interior Book Design: Cera Smith
Although writing is a solitary profession, a lot of people are involved in actually getting a book to the point of publication. I'd like to thank my wonderful editor, Jeanne De Vita, and everyone else at Musa Publishing for their support and belief in my book.
Lexa Cain is the best friend and critique partner anyone could ever have, and has long been both my biggest champion and my harshest critic. Thanks, Lexa. I could not have come this far without you.
All my beta readers and critique partners have played a role in getting this book where it is, so thanks to Jolene Perry, Nyrae Dawn, Tania Walsh, Kurt Chambers, Allyson Lindt, Juliana Brandt and everyone at the Paramount and in my WDC groups. And finally, thanks to my family for putting up with my weird habits and letting me live in my imagination as much as I do.
For anyone searching for the strength to be themselves.
he room was too small and the irregular buzzing that crept over the lopsided swinging doors set my teeth on edge. Each burst of sound sent a cloud of rusty orange scattering through my skull. I squirmed on the wooden bench, trying to avoid getting poked by loose splinters.
“Is this okay, Livvie?” Mel leaned over and pressed a slip of paper into my hand.
I studied it for a moment, still trying to shake off the burning color my synesthesia had painted the world. “Yeah. It’s perfect.” I grinned at her, but my lips trembled so much I’m sure it looked more like a grimace.
“What about yours?” Mel asked Hannah whose paper was crumpled in her fist.
Hannah smoothed hers against the taut fabric of her jeans, pressing out the wrinkles. “It’s good. I don’t think even Mom could tell she hadn’t signed it.”
Mel sighed and glanced down at her own scrap of paper. “At least they’re all different. And how closely are these guys going to look?”
Hannah’s eyes roved the enclosed space, photographs curling on every wall, layers of them tacked over each other like tattered scales. “It’s a business, right? They want to make money. I bet they just ask for these things ’cuz they have to.”
“You’re probably right.” Mel stood up and put her permission slip back into her pocket. “I wish they’d hurry up.”
“Me too.” I shifted again, my butt numbing against the hard bench. Coming here had seemed like a good idea, but now, after almost half an hour on the wrong side of the doors, with the stinging scent of rubbing alcohol drifting across us, I wasn’t so sure.
When the swinging doors whapped open and shut, the unexpected noise made me jump.
“You’re up.” The voice was deep and gruff.
We scrambled to our feet, pushing one another as we struggled not to be the first to enter the darkness beyond the doors. I ended up at the front and stepped through, taking a deep breath of air that tasted strangely metallic.
A table draped in white cloth sat beneath a single lamp. A large man sprawled in a battered desk chair beside the table. He had a lot of hair—on his face, on his head, curling out over the scoop neck of his tank top and covering his thick arms like an animal’s pelt.
“You girls got permission slips?” His eyes were dark brown, like chocolate drops or coffee beans, and they prowled over us.
“Uh… Yes.” Mel dug in her pocket and pulled out her forged document.
Hannah and I handed ours over, too, and watched as he peered at the signatures.
He tossed them into a bowl on the table behind him. “Who’s first?”
I lay on my side on the table and pulled my jeans down to expose my left hip. While the beefy man studied the stylized number 3 we’d chosen, I ran my fingers across the small, raised scar smeared across the bone. In a few minutes, that stark white reminder would be masked by a tattoo. I shivered.
“Scared?” Mel looked terrified, her face white, her eyes huge.
“Nah.” I shook my head. This hadn’t been my idea, but it felt right.
“So, why three?” The big man set the photocopied image on the table beside me and wiped something cold across my hip.
“There’s three of us,” Hannah explained. “And there’s power in threes.”
That was just part of it. Yes, we were a threesome, had been since we were eight, but there was more to it than that. Hannah and I had been friends forever. I couldn’t remember a time when we weren’t. When Mel came, it was like we’d been waiting for her, like she completed something. We’d been inseparable ever since. The three we were all going to have tattooed on our hip was a tribute to that. But three was important in so many other ways. We each had three in our family. We’d met when Mel moved to town and joined Hannah and me in Mrs. Lovell’s class, Room 3. The number three cycled through our lives on such a regular basis, we expected it, welcomed it.
“Nothin’ wrong with that.” The man coughed and picked up a tool from the table. “It’s gonna sting a little, but it won’t be too bad.”
The buzzing started, louder in here, flooding my vision with globs of red and yellow. I focused on it, letting the colors absorb me while the needle bit into my skin. I tried to keep the colors and patterns alive, vibrant, so I could paint them later.
“There, you’re done.” The man straightened up and the buzzing stopped, taking the colors with it. I studied the inch-long number that curved across my hipbone. The tattoo was black, permanent, the lines thicker than I’d imagined. Around the inky markings my skin was angry red, swelling already from the punishment.
“Here, wipe some of this on.” The man handed me a tube of white ointment. I smoothed some over the skin, and watched as he taped a square of plastic wrap over the new tattoo. “You’ll need to apply cream like that about four times a day. It’ll start itching, but don’t scratch it. Who’s next?”
I watched the man change the needle while Hannah and Mel argued in whispers about who would go next. Mel lost and climbed onto the table.
“It’s not so bad,” I told her.
Hips stinging, we stumbled out into the afternoon sunlight.
“That wasn’t so terrible.” Mel tugged at the waistband of her jeans to sneak a peek at her new tattoo.
I couldn’t help but do the same. Blood oozed against the plastic, making me feel a little nauseous.
“It hurt,” Hannah sniffed. She’d started crying even before the needle touched her and hadn’t stopped since. “It still does.”
“Get over it.” Mel tossed her head. “What time is your sister picking us up?”
“Nine-thirty,” I said. “And guys, don’t you dare say anything to her about this. You know what Jules is like. She has that whole ‘your body is a temple’ thing going on. She’ll tear me limb from limb.”
“Our lips are sealed, right Hannah?” Mel gave her a glare.
“Yeah, okay.” Hannah sniffed again and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
We crossed the street and turned the corner, walking toward the mall that was the equivalent of tracks in our town. Anything south of the mall was considered a bad neighborhood, and the dingy tattoo parlor we’d visited was three blocks down from Bad, heading into Filthy and Dangerous.
We jostled through the main doors and headed toward the food court on the mall’s lower level. The large space seethed with people and competing food-smells. I stopped just inside the doorway; the sudden rush of color and taste that the noise brought was almost too much. This was why I hated going to the mall. I forced the synesthesia toward the back of my mind.
“What should we eat?” I asked, following Mel and Hannah past the first row of food stalls. “And don’t let me forget to go to Archibald’s. I have to get some new paintbrushes.”
“Should we go to Gio’s?” Mel suggested.
Hannah made a gagging face at her, but we walked in that direction, shouldering our way through the queues. Mel stopped abruptly in front of me, and I stumbled, slamming my face into Mel’s back.
“Hey! Watch it,” I grumbled, giving her a shove with one hand while massaging my bruised nose with the other.
“Sam Taylor,” she hissed. “Look.”
I followed her gaze and saw him at a table just a few yards away, lounging in a chair, long legs splayed out in front of him. Three other guys sat with him, but they barely registered with me.
“Oh, my,” Hannah breathed, and when I glanced her way, I saw that her face had grown almost as red as her hair.
“Come on, guys.” I tried to drag them away, but it was like Sam had cast some kind of spell over them, and they were glued to the spot. I sighed. Ever since he started at our school last winter, he’d been the center of attention. Anyone new would have been conspicuous, but Sam stood out even more because he was gorgeous. And tall—almost six feet at sixteen and still growing. Mel, who stood five-feet-ten barefoot, had been smitten the moment she laid eyes on him. So was every other girl in the school. I had to admit, there was something about him. He kind of glowed.
After an eternity, I managed to move my stricken friends along. I hoped Sam hadn’t noticed them standing there like slack-jawed, drooling morons. So many people moved between us—moms wheeling babies in over-sized strollers, young guys who wrestled and punched at each other as if this was an arena—it was quite possible he hadn’t. Then again, he was probably so used to being stared at, he didn’t notice.
“Oh, man!” Mel threw herself into a booth near the front of Gio’s. “I think he grew. He looks taller every time I see him. His legs are like nine miles long.”
Hannah nodded her head. “He’s gonna be a freak.”
“Or a basketball player,” I added.
“I decided something.” Mel pulled herself to her full height, lurching forward in a way that commanded attention. “I’m going to the winter formal with Sam Taylor.”
I laughed. “Yeah? How’re you going to manage that?”
“He’s going to ask me.” Mel looked serious, so I swallowed back my laughter and forced my lips into a more sober line.
“You know that…
?” Hannah pursed her lips, skepticism painting every word with a splash of mustard-yellow.
Mel shrugged. “Well, there’s about three months ’til the dance. I figure I can catch his eye in that time. And you two will help me, won’t you?”
Hannah and I exchanged glances. We knew this would turn into another of Mel’s crazy schemes, like liberating the frogs from the biology classroom. Or the tattoo that still burned against my hip. But at least I could recognize this as being nuts from the start. And since Mel was gorgeous, even if her height did make her self-conscious, she had as good a chance as anyone of getting Sam’s attention. Certainly a better chance than I’d have.
“So, anyone caught your eye yet?” Hannah slouched in the corner of the booth and turned toward me. Somehow she managed to make even slouching look elegant.
I could have used a little of her dancer’s poise. “Not really. I mean, it’s the same old crowd, isn’t it?”
“I know.” Mel peeled the paper off a straw and blew it in my direction. “I thought there might be some interesting new boys, but they’re all the same duds.” Mel tossed the menu she’d been scanning back onto the table. “I think Sam Taylor is the only boy in the whole school I’d be willing to kiss. And that’s kind of tragic in a school that’s over eight hundred kids.”
“If Sam’s the only one you’re willing to kiss, how come you locked lips with Eddie Fletcher?” Hannah grinned. “Or did you forget about that?”
Mel flushed. “It wasn’t a real kiss. I had to congratulate him on winning the cross-country, didn’t I? I mean, we’re on the same team.”
“Looked real to me…” I muttered as I watched the waitress march over to our table, pen hovering over her pad.
After the waitress took our order, Mel changed the subject. “Do you think I should dye my hair?” She pulled out her compact and studied her reflection. Cut close to her head, the dark blonde shone under the overhead lights, the color tasting cool and spicy, like wasabi. Her bangs were streaked lighter in places, evidence of the time she spent running in the sun.
“What color?” Hannah sat up, her spine lengthening.
“I was thinking maybe red?” Mel grabbed a lock of Hannah’s auburn hair and held it close to her face. “Does it suit me?”
I studied Mel’s strong-boned face. “I think you need something darker. Your skin’s too olive to look right with that color. Maybe a dark chocolate, or something.”
“That could be nice.” Mel considered her reflection for a moment longer, then put the mirror away. “Maybe with a little chestnut highlight in it or something. Like Elise Barrowman’s.”
I nodded. “That’s what I was thinking. Something bitter.”
Hannah glanced my way but said nothing. My friends had learned not to comment when my descriptions sounded weird to them. I’d tried to explain my synesthesia, but neither of them could understand the way I tasted colors and saw sounds.
“Talking about Elise, did you hear what she did?” Hannah leaned across the table.
“What?” Mel’s head practically touched Hannah’s.
“Well, she was at camp, right? And there was this guy—”
“Here you are, ladies.” The waitress dropped two steaming pizzas onto the table, the silver trays clattering against the wooden tabletop, cutting Hannah off. “Enjoy.”
“Thanks,” I said, but she had already spun away.
I helped myself to a generous wedge, picking curls of pepperoni off it and popping them into my mouth. “Mmmmmm. This is so good.”
“I’ll say.” Mel bit off a huge chunk, making a show of licking her lips with delight. “Dare you to eat some.” She held the piece out to Hannah who recoiled and shook her head, one hand across her flat, dancer’s stomach.
“Go on, Han,” I said, shoving the tray in her direction. With her mouth full, maybe she’d stop gossiping. “One slice won’t kill you.”
“Probably not, but do you know how many calories are in just one piece?” The look of horror on her face was enough to make me giggle. Imagine being afraid of pizza.
“You sound like my sister.” I pulled another slice from the tray and took a huge bite.
“You should listen to her. She knows a ton about nutrition and stuff.” Hannah sucked hard on her Diet Coke.
“She’s obsessed with it.” I raised my eyes to the ceiling. Every mealtime was a lecture at my house, and the list of things Jules wouldn’t eat grew longer each week. Mom gave up cooking for her two years ago. But Jules still tried to force her kelp juice and organic lentils on both of us. “I hope she doesn’t see me here. I don’t feel like hearing her ‘evils of cheese’ speech today.”
“Well, you can’t really blame her.” Hannah snagged an abandoned pizza crust and nibbled on it, avoiding errant streaks of cheese.
“Yeah, I guess.” I dropped my eyes to the floor. Hannah was the one who knew me when Jules was sick. Mel came later.