Authors: Marni Mann
Seattle WA 2013
For rescuing, for love, for friendship: Nicole Vander Clay, this book is for you.
Without the support of the people listed below, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. As a whole, they’re my foundation and a driving force. Individually, they make me a better person, a stronger writer, a believer. Katherine Sears and Kenneth Shear, I can’t thank you both enough for giving me this opportunity and continuing to have so much faith in me. Heather Ludviksson, I’m so grateful for you and all that you’ve done, and I’m so honored to be standing beside you during this wild ride. I owe
of this to you, along with the creativity, the inspiration, and so much more. Steven Luna, it’s impossible to describe everything you’ve done for me and it goes far beyond the love and care that you gave to this manuscript, which exceeded anything I had ever imagined. But I’m forever thankful for all of it—every second you spent on this project and for your friendship. Corbin Lewars, thank you for understanding my vision, for your expertise and insight and patience, and for helping me find a direction; it’s all so appreciated. Greg Simanson, thank you for once again giving this baby a face—and one that’s so stunning. Your work is truly breathtaking. Jesse James, my twin—I don’t know what I’d do without you and your friendship; all of it means so much to me. Adam Bodendieck, as always, it’s such a pleasure to work with you and I appreciate everything you’ve done to help me. James Watson, I’m overwhelmed by the amount of time that you dedicated to this project, for the advice, and the plotting. Your wisdom truly made a difference. Special hugs to Tess Thompson and Tracey Frazier, two girls who always have my back. Mom and Dad, thank you for every moment of support, for the times I needed someone to hold my hand or wipe my tears, and for always letting it be about book world. Brian, you make this all possible, my dreams, my love, my everything. I love you. To the friends I haven’t listed, your love and support hasn’t gone unnoticed. To all the bloggers, thank you so much for your generosity, for welcoming
onto your sites, for your cover reveals and reviews, and help with each of our posts. And finally, to my readers, it’s the words you share with me that force me out of bed every morning, your compliments that keep the sentences pouring out of me, and your support that continues to fuel me to
. Thank you for being so loyal, so generous, and giving. I cherish all of you.
It’s always darkest before the dawn.
Whenever I rode the train as a kid, I would press my nose against the glass and stare at a tree until it passed the window’s width and disappeared from my view. I’d always been attracted to their sexiness, how their leaves swayed in the air like hips until they dipped to the ground, how their trunks were thick and hard, with the bark serving as a protective sleeve. How they were able to grow and sprout from just a tiny seed. I wanted to know every detail: the density of the bark, how the branches could curve and bow without snapping, the exact color of each leaf.
My eyes didn’t follow trees anymore; they followed bodies. Flesh pulsed in front of me. I yearned to know its texture; the thickness of hair, the cracks in each lip, the depth of large pores. I longed to count the hidden freckles. Certain faces became inspirations, and my fingers twitched to turn them into art. But as quickly as they filled my vision and transformed into fantasies of color on canvas, I exhaled them back into the air and moved on. Every blink was a good-bye.
As the train entered the tunnel, my stare shifted from the window to the man sitting across from me. His face was pointed down as he read his phone, but his fingers were in full view. His nails were rounded, filed, with hair running over each knuckle. It was fine enough that I knew it would tickle. The top of his head was gelled into thick spikes that could poke and drag. The strands looked wet; he must have gotten caught in the storm, like me, without an umbrella. My hands twitched. I didn’t have a sketchpad, and there was no paper or pencils in my bag. But it wasn’t art they were after.
He lifted his head. His smile revealed perfect teeth; his hazel eyes gleamed. As his lips parted, my phone went off in my back pocket. His tongue curved and flicked against his teeth while he spoke. I let my cell ring and ring, vibrating against my ass as I zoomed in on the rousing that was happening inside his mouth. His tongue moved gracefully in and out; the tip of it teased me, calling me, tauntingly offering sensual promises. The tingle was back…and it was strong.
I crossed my legs, tightening my thighs to feel the friction. The rain had mixed with my lotion; my legs were slick, and the sensation of skin against skin gave me goose bumps. My pupils stroked his fingers as I grasped the metal bar by the train’s door. It had more girth than I needed—more than I was used to having in my grip—but I still squeezed. I imagined this stranger’s sounds filling my head, wordless speech that would be as powerful as verbal commands. Sweat simmered across my chest, joining the raindrops.
My cell rang again. It was Lilly—again—and I knew what she wanted; it was always the same, and so was my response. I pulled out the phone and clicked
. That stopped the ringing, but not the vibrating. I slid it into my front pocket. As my shorts shimmied, my eyes focused on the possibilities of his arched knuckles, on the tapping of his finger pads against the screen.
Warmness began to spread. My fingers clutched the pole even harder. But as much as I concentrated, I couldn’t push Lilly out of my thoughts. Ignoring her call had caused a ghost of a memory to flash in my head. It was of
day, and of all the times Emma had let her mom’s calls go to voicemail. Mrs. Hunt had been so insistent. Just like Lilly was being today.
As I opened Emma’s passenger door, I took a deep breath. The smell made me smile. I rode in her Benz at least twice a day, and I always had the same reaction. It wasn’t fresh leather like most new cars; this was citrus and baked bread, the same scent as her house. I didn’t live at the Hunts’, but it was the closest thing I had to a home. And whenever I left and returned to my apartment, to my mother Lilly, the smell would come with me. At night, I would lay my face on my long locks and inhale, waiting for the scent to put me to sleep. Like Emma’s voice, her presence and Mrs. Hunt’s hugs, it was comfort.
Emma’s phone rang from inside her purse. She had a different ringtone for everyone. This was one of the sounds I had memorized. Her Prada was on the floor, by my feet, so I reached inside and grabbed it.
“Let it go to voicemail,” she said.
“You’re still ignoring your mom?”
“She’s even crazier than she was last week.” She let out a long sigh and shook her head. “I checked my phone at lunch…six texts, Charlie. Six!”
“Maybe it was something important?”
“Napkins! They were all about napkins! I don’t give a shit what color she chooses. I just want to get the hell out of Boston.”
“So do I,” I whispered.
In a few months, Emma and I would be starting college at Arizona State, and we were going to be roommates. Like she had done for her son, Mrs. Hunt was throwing Emma a graduation party and had been planning it since Christmas. With only two weeks left until the event, she was bombarding Emma with decisions. Having been to her brother’s party, I wasn’t surprised. But Emma didn’t want any of it—not the fire dancers, not the two hundred people attending, and not the silk napkins that Mrs. Hunt preferred over the “tacky” cotton ones. She wanted to quietly graduate from Newton North High School and spend the summer on Nantasket Beach, as we did every year.
As she pulled up to the curb in front of the psychic’s house, her phone rang again. She looked at me with her teeth clenched and shook her head. “I’ll deal with her after our reading.”
The jerking of the train startled me from my daydream. I was in Boston, I reminded myself, while tears blurred my vision.
Emma had been like one of the trees my eyes had followed as a kid. Every morning, I was greeted by her tiny frame, wavy blonde hair, and eyes the color of a stormy sky. Her voice was my goodnight.
My front pocket vibrated again, a rattle that startled me even more than the jerking train. Its beat slithered across my navel and licked around my thighs. My stare moved back to the man across from me. He was looking out the window behind me as his tongue dampened his bottom lip. Something inside me began to melt.
I took a deep breath and put the phone to my ear. “I’m on my way home.”
“Charlie, I need—”
“I know what you need. I’ll see you in a few minutes,” I said, and hung up.
Lilly knew that today was the five-year anniversary of my accident, though she didn’t acknowledge it. I wasn’t angry with her for that; her way had always been to only look forward, letting days and months serve as the milestones in her life rather than her memories. But for one day—
day—I wanted to sit on the grass with Emma. To just sit until it started to rain and not have my phone ring. I wanted a moment, a breath and a bit of silence.
Lilly couldn’t give me that.
For our final project in my Color Foundation class, Professor Freeman wanted us to create a piece that explored the implications of value and saturation. Most of my classmates painted black-and-whites, or landscapes, and chose medium linens for their surfaces. I picked a portrait-textured canvas and used it to paint
I named all of my paintings—some after their model, others by a word that aroused me.
had visited me in a dream. She wouldn’t reveal her face, hiding it behind a shadow instead. But she wasn’t afraid to unveil her story. There was so much pain in her voice, a gnawing agony in her words. She had no release, not even when she exhaled, so she handed me a razor blade and begged me to cut.