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Authors: Jamie Kain

The Good Sister

BOOK: The Good Sister
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the
good
sister

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

THE
GOOD
SISTER
. Copyright © 2014 by Jamie Kain. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

www.stmartins.com

The Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.

ISBN: 978-1-250-04773-1 (hardcover)

ISBN: 978-1-250-04778-6 (e-book)

St. Martin's Griffin books may be purchased for educational, business, or promotional use. For information on bulk purchases, please contact Macmillan Corporate and Premium Sales Department at 1-800-221-7945, extension 5442, or write [email protected]

First Edition: October 2014

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

To Zac

Acknowledgments

This novel might never have made it into print without the support of some of the generous people in my life. Years ago, when I was in the midst of creative burnout, my friend Bethany Griffin suggested I try writing something different, maybe a novel for teens, and that suggestion led to my sitting down and putting into words on the page the story I most wanted to write. My agent Annelise Robey was the first person to read the book and give it an enthusiastic vote of confidence. Without her ideas and advice, I would have been lost. I also owe a debt of gratitude to everyone at Jane Rotrosen Agency who gave feedback on
The Good Sister
throughout the creative process. In addition, I wish I could have given my thanks to the late Matthew Shear of St. Martin's Press, who first read the story there and passed it along to my editor. I never had the pleasure of meeting him. I am deeply grateful to my editor, Sara Goodman, for taking a chance on this novel and helping it find its way into the world. Every day, I'm thankful to my children, Alex and Annabella, for reminding me that life is about more than sitting in front of a keyboard telling stories. Finally, my husband Zachary Kain believed in me—and in this book—even when I didn't, and for that I can never thank him enough.

Be humble for you are made of earth. Be noble for you are made of stars.

—SERBIAN PROVERB

the
good
sister

One

Sarah Jade Kinsey

It's strange how someone you never knew and will never know can change the course of your life forever.

For me that someone's name was Brandon.

But before I can explain about him, I have to explain about me.

And what is there to say about me?

The truth is vastly more complicated than it ever was before the night a guy named Brandon whom I never knew and would never know appeared in my life and disappeared again in a brief and violent instant.

Life, it turns on a complicated array of delicate gears we cannot see. A heart that beats can go still in the space of a moment. Breath can vanish before we've had a chance to say good-bye.

My name is Sarah Kinsey.

I am, or was, the oldest of three sisters.

To tell my story, I must wrestle with this question of verb tense, past or present, tedious and mundane as it is. I don't know if I, the person, still exist in any way I can explain, so I stumble over mere words, desperate in death—as in life—to understand and to be understood.

Death is the twist of the knife that makes life so sweet, some say, though I am not sure I would agree.

Imagine a place where you neither sleep nor wake up. Imagine the life you would have lived, could have lived, playing before your eyes like a movie, only not.

Imagine none of this, or all of it.

The truth—if such a thing exists—eludes me.

Death has cut clean through my life, so that now I am no longer Sarah. I am the blood red tulip tilting in the wind, I am the brown-black earth of a thousand years, I am the welcome rain on a parched day. I am a grain of sand, and I am the entire ocean. I am the beginning and the end of me.

Here is what you have to understand. Although I spent much of my life imagining what dying would be like in a far more concrete way than most people ever do, when it finally happened, it wasn't for the reason anyone expected. It wasn't at all how I imagined it would be.

It did not come from the slow decay of my body, not from cancer eating me away from the inside or wearing down my body's ability to fight. It came from gravity, that simple force we all take for granted, the one that binds us to the earth and all we hold dear.

A moment before, my feet were planted on the earth, and a moment later, they were not. It was that simple.

No, that's not exactly true. It is not so simple, not really. Love had a lot to do with it. Also, grief, guilt, and no small amount of reckless, youthful foolishness.

And then there was Brandon, a horrible twist of fate I did not see coming.

But gravity, not cancer, brought me here, wherever here may be.

Two

Asha Nadine Kinsey

Today, March 29, is the day of my sister's funeral, and I am getting a new tattoo. I hold dead still as I watch the needle pierce my skin, laying down black ink in a straight line along the edge of a stenciled star. It stings like hell, and like so much of my life lately, I watch and consider the pain as if it were happening to someone else.

The needle's buzzing sound reminds me of bees.

Bees, bees, we need to save the bees. Life as we know it will end if we don't, or at least that's what I hear. They are a keystone species, holding our world in the balance with their tiny acts of pollination. And Sarah was the keystone of our family—the one who held us together.

Remove her, and we fall apart.

But actually the needle and the bees don't sound alike. Mostly it's the sensation, so much like a bee sting that won't stop, that makes me think of industrious flying insects, and honey, and hives, and the fate of the world. Lavender honey on fresh sourdough bread was Sarah's favorite treat in the world.

Was.

This word sounds wrong in my head, and I blink away barely-there tears that won't come anyway. I am an emotional desert—bereft, barren, possessing little sign that anything here survives.

Here is something no one tells you about what happens when the person you love most dies. You all of a sudden start to see how pointless most moments are. We are so busy with bullshit, we fail to stop and recognize the profound. So busy with brushing teeth and buying groceries and washing dishes and watching YouTube and checking Facebook and texting and putting on makeup and driving to here or there and looking for lost keys, it starts to feel like what we are really doing is hiding from how totally fucking scary life is.

Like one minute you have a sister and the next you don't. That kind of scary.

Isn't that what we should all be stopping and noticing?

Doesn't our profoundly precarious existence deserve most of our attention?

I think it's just too big for us to hold in our mushy brains for long.

Too big for me, definitely.

I stare at the top of Sin's head, bent over my leg resting in his lap, as he focuses on the black star he is drawing there, just above my right ankle. It is the largest of a spray of stars that he has inked there over the past hour. His dark brown hair is a jumble of clumsy spikes today, the result of a haircut I gave him and his own affection for styling products. He is wearing a pink shirt with a white rabbit on the front, above the caption
PLEASE DON'T EAT ME
.

We have not talked in the minutes since he started the tattoo because he has to give the work all his concentration. He's still learning not to screw up, and I'm the perfect practice dummy since I don't really care if he does. The buzzing drone is accented by the sounds coming from the other room, of a stereo playing Bob Marley's “Could You Be Loved?”

Could I? I think I could if the right guy was asking the question.

To Sin's left is the funky wooden kitchen table that his mother, the not-so-famed artist Jess Lowenstein, has painted in a rainbow of colors and patterns, and on top of the table are his inks and the tattoo equipment he inherited after Jess gave up her short stint as a tattoo artist (turns out skin wasn't her medium, nor was the kitchen table).

Midday light pours through the sliding glass doors on the other side of the room. Outside, it's an offensively sunny day, as is often the case in this part of Northern California, even though it's still technically the rainy season. We have microclimates here, as Mr. Tobias, the geography teacher at school, would say. Which means that while it might be a foggy, cold day across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, or even a bit west in the San Geronimo Valley, here on this side of Mount Tam, in the little, Marin County, stuck-in-the-1970s hippie town where most of the members of my parents' old commune settled after their guru fled the country and everything fell apart, we have six months of warmth and sunshine from mid-April to mid-October and often long into the winter, regardless of the weather anywhere else.

Most of the time, I am fine with this, but today, I wish for a storm. I wish the sky would turn dark and rain would fall until no one could see anything and the streets were awash in an epic flood.

This only seems appropriate.

Sin hits a particularly sensitive spot with the buzzing needle, and I wince. Tears well up in my eyes once again, but a movement outside distracts me. On the other side of the sliding glass door sits Sin's cat, Buddha, who is neither Buddha-like nor catlike. His long, mangy gray fur and blue eyes remind me of some kind of northern sled dog, and he's nearly the size of a dog too. He stares at me vacantly, not in the reproachful way cats so often do, but in a way that suggests he doesn't really see me.

Maybe I am a ghost. Maybe the week since Sarah's death has actually been a horrible dream, and I am the one who died. I often imagined this, in the many years that we were as close as two sisters could be. I imagined what it would be like to take her place, to be the one with cancer, to die so she could live. I admit, I never wanted to do it, but I also could not imagine her gone.

I had never known—and do not want to know—a world without Sarah.

Another stabbing pain jars me back to the present, and I exhale a curse. It's real now, this pain, it's happening to me, and I'm relieved to at least be feeling something. He's working over bone now, where there's no layer of fat to dull the sensation of the needle.

Sin stops and looks up at me. “You need a break?”

“No, keep going. I'm fine,” I lie, because I want to keep feeling the pain, or at least watch myself sort of feeling it.

Whatever it is I'm doing here.

Although Sinclair Tyler is my best friend, he is probably not someone I should trust to give me a tattoo. Not because he's inexperienced so much as because he is someone I shouldn't allow to leave any more permanent marks on my body. And yet I do. Again.

Something about our friendship feels almost dangerous, almost self-destructive, but I can never quite put my finger on what it is. It probably has something to do with the bottle of whiskey he has hidden under his bed. Or the way I feel a little frantic about the idea of him vanishing from my life.

I don't even know why I torture myself with the idea of him suddenly deciding not to be my friend, but I do. Often. I guess it's another of those things that make me feel something. And I was always so close to Sarah, I didn't make much effort to gather a big collection of friends.

Another stabbing pain, and another wince. I jerk my leg a little this time, and Sin has to stop and wait for me to be still again.

I'm only fifteen—turning sixteen this summer—but it's my third time going under the needle. The first was an infinity symbol my parents had tattooed on the bottom of my foot when I was five years old. I can still remember how hard I cried, how I tried to squirm away from the pain, but my dad (whom I now only call by his old hippie name, Ravi, because it pisses him off) held my leg tight and promised me all the ice cream I could eat when we were done.

BOOK: The Good Sister
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