ALL OUR SCARS, by Emily Martin
Even good girls do bad things when they’re bored out of their skull. And my sister gets bored faster than anyone I know.
That’s why she dragged me here, to the skeezy tattoo parlor next to the laser tag place. Personally, I think running around under black lights and tagging people with lasers sounds like more fun than getting jabbed repeatedly with a needle, but Parker insists she needs a change.
Because apparently going away tomorrow and leaving me behind isn’t change enough.
I stare at the wall of butterfly sketches that have probably been inked onto countless lower backs by now. But they remind me of when we were little, chasing Monarchs around our back yard. Dozens of them were floating around the milkweed Mom had planted, and I managed to catch one. I remember it so vividly, the tickle of its wings fluttering between my palms, the symmetry of them. Like two panels of stained glass. I was obsessed with those gorgeous wings.
Parker told me to let it go, warned me not to hold it too tight, but I couldn’t help myself. I had to touch them. Find out what they were made of.
So when she wasn’t looking I pinned the butterfly against a rock. I tore its wings to pieces.
I’ll never forget her face when she saw what I’d done. It’s the only time she’s looked at me the way she used to look at him.
I don’t even want to think about what he would’ve done if he had found out about this tattoo. Parker is lucky he didn’t live long enough to see it.
“Ames, quit staring at tramp stamps and come help me.” She points to a simple sketch of an oak tree, limbs stretched out and leaves blurring into a haze. “What do you think of this one?”
She rolls her eyes. “It’s symbolic.”
“Of what, exactly?”
“You know, strength. Endurance.” Her lips pucker. “I like it.”
I pick at a hangnail until it peels off. “Well, it’s going on your body, so.”
She scowls at me. “You could at least try to be supportive.”
Like I haven’t heard that one before. She’s been saying it for weeks, as though I haven’t always been there for her. As though she isn’t the one who’s bailing.
I hold onto opposite elbows. “Whatever. It’s fine, okay? Can you just hurry up?”
She stares at me for a long moment. Her eyes narrow, like when you walk outside the morning after a snowfall, and the sun is so much brighter than you expect. Like I’m hurting her.
And maybe I want to hurt her a little bit. Maybe that’s why when she gets the guy’s attention, the guy with sleeves of tattoos and a metal ring in his eyebrow, and they start walking toward the room behind the curtain, I stay put.
She looks over her shoulder. “Aren’t you coming?”
I don’t say anything. I didn’t even want to come here, and Mom is going to be pissed—well, she will be, if she ever notices, and chances are she won’t. But I’m angry Parker’s leaving, and I’m scared, and maybe she deserves to have to go through this alone. See what it will be like for me when she’s gone.
“Fine,” she says, and her voice is clipped. She spins on her heel and marches down the hall, disappears behind that heavy velvet curtain.
I pace the tile floor, staring at all the drawings up on the walls, and when I pass one of a mermaid, I remember playing Disney Princesses with Parker. Especially during the summer, when we got to swim at the community pool, I always picked Ariel. But Parker has always been the one in motion, the one forever promising to fly away from here. Sometimes I think about my past lives, wonder if I could have lived in the ocean. But if I ever did, it was probably as some kind of coral.
Parker would laugh if I told her that theory. She’d say if I’d ever been coral, I’d have a brighter wardrobe. Or she’d tell me I’m really more of a freshwater girl. But all of that’s beside the point.
Coral is one of the rare creatures that stay in the same place its whole life.
Parker goes straight to her room when we get home. I stand in the living room, move to the couch where Mom’s laying down, still in her bathrobe. She’s awake though, sober enough to ask where we’ve been.
“We went to play laser tag,” I answer, and she smiles. Says she’s glad we’re having fun together.
I know Parker leaving is hard on her, too. When Dad died, I thought maybe she’d finally be happy. But instead she sank deeper into the darkness that always hovered at the edges when he was alive. He took and took and took from her, emptied her out, and sometimes I think she only managed to hold herself together all those years for our sake. And now that my father’s gone, there’s nothing keeping her from falling apart. There’s nothing left.
Only me, and if I’m being really honest, I’m not sure which of my parents I’m more afraid of becoming.
Mom’s already turned back to her TV show, drowsy eyes glued to the screen. I squeeze her hand and head upstairs.
Parker’s music is blaring and I slide belly-first onto my bed, ignore the way she looks at me. Ignore the boxes scattered all over her side of the room.
She turns down the music and I tear through the pages of my book. Even in the quiet, I can’t seem to concentrate.
“Do you want to see it?” she asks softly.
She glides over, eases herself onto my mattress. She lifts up her shirt and peels back the cotton padding that’s taped to her ribcage. She had it done in black ink, the leaves turned in one direction as though blowing in the wind. But the roots. The roots of the tree corkscrew into script and it’s my name. She stitched my name onto her skin.
My throat tenses, aches from the effort of holding the words back, but they slip out anyway. “Don’t go.”
Gentle fingers push the bangs off my forehead. “I have to.”
“Then let me come with you.”
“Mom needs you here. And you have to finish school.”
I push myself up onto my knees. Wipe angrily at my wet cheeks. “I can get my GED. Get a job. We can live together.”
My skin tingles, hot with anger and frustration. It feels like falling off my bike the first time I took my training wheels off—I’m embarrassed, because I thought I was ready. I kept telling myself I could be ready. But I don’t know how to be anyone but Parker’s little sister.
Like she’s reading my mind, she presses her fingertip against the scar on my knee. “You’re my best friend, you know that?”
I don’t answer—can’t with my throat clogged up this way—and she leans back on my bed, pulls me down beside her and snuggles against my arm.
“I need to get out of here,” she whispers. “You understand that, don’t you?”
I roll onto my side, facing her. Gently, I trace my name across her skin. A new scar, one she chose to put there. One that means she won’t forget me.
She takes my hand, threads our fingers together. I try not to hold on too tight.
Emily Martin lives and writes in the Greater Boston area, though she will always call Michigan home. She has a penchant for impromptu dance parties, vintage clothing, and traveling to new places. When not writing, she can be found hiking New England’s peaks, searching for the perfect cup of hot chocolate, or baking something pumpkin-flavored.
Emily’s debut young adult novel, THE YEAR WE FELL APART, is out now from S&S/Simon Pulse.