Next Wednesday, June 10, Just One Summer will be released on Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo and just about any other place you can think of to buy a book. And I’m excited. And I’m nervous. And I’m anxious. And above all, I’m thrilled that I’ll never have to edit this dang book again because GAH! How many mistakes can one person make?? Tons, apparently. In writing and in life.
But that’s another story.
For now, Just One Summer is almost here! And to celebrate, I thought I’d share the first chapter of my book with you.
Happy reading! (unless you hate it. and in that case–so sorry you read it and please love me anyway).
A Painted Summer by Amy Matayo
I AM DARBY Sparks, and I’m afraid of almost everything. Being alone. Darkness. Heights.
And any other thing that doesn’t involve me tucked safely inside the confines of my own home.
It’s a learned trait…not something I intended when I was a child who looked at the world
through the blue irises of wide-eyed wonder. No one plans their fear. No one wakes up one day
and thinks: this is going to get me. This is going to flatten me. This is going to take control
over the rest of my life with such a paralyzing force that the courage to move ceases at
a single word or mention.
At least I didn’t.
It’s the reason I left home six weeks ago, intent on running from my fears and chasing
my dreams. I figured fear wouldn’t catch me if I moved fast enough, so move I did.
But fear got me anyway.
In the most obnoxious, unbelievable way.
A sharp rap on the door knocks the pen I’m holding out of my hand, and it falls to the floor.
With a gasp, I realize what I’ve done and look at the incriminating evidence in front of me.
One line of poetry. Another. And finishing it off, the words pierce me with your cold-blooded words written
in the best calligraphy I can manage considering the sad, nearly dried-up ballpoint pen I had to work with.
It’s cheesy. Embarrassing. Exposing in a way I never intended. And now everyone will see it.
Because I’ve just scribbled all over the bathroom wall.
For the third time this week.
It’s a bad habit I’ve had since childhood; I start daydreaming and my imagination morphs into something
only a gel pen and a continuous stream of words can rectify. It wasn’t until my parents sold our
home last year that they discovered the mess I’d made all over my closet wall.
By then, I was too old to punish.
I blink. Blink again. And look around for something, anything, to cover the evidence. I reach for
a paper towel, wet it, and hold my breath as I try to erase the words—scrubbing back and forth as if
getting rid of the evidence is the key to living a long life without the inconvenience of pain or suffering.
Because if Lennon sees it, he will kill me.
Strike me dead with the jab of a poisonous needle plunged into my skin by his graffiti-covered wrist.
My worst nightmare come to life.
I had nightmares of needles as a kid. Still have them as an adult.
Despite three best friends who all have their ears pierced and have bugged me to get mine done for years,
I’ve never been stuck with one in my life. I don’t plan on it now.
Lennon bangs on the door again, and I jump.
“What do you need?” The words still stain the wall like drippy chocolate ice cream on a white summer dress,
but I’m almost out of time. Plus my wrist hurts from all the cleaning.
“Sparky, there’s a customer waiting at the counter. If you’re not too busy, do you think
you could come out for a second and help her?”
Nicknames. Sarcasm. The worst combination, especially when they are coming from him and directed at me.
I look around for something…anything…then decide on two packages of unopened toilet
paper and position them just so in front of the picture. Not the best disguise, but it will have to do for now.
With sweaty palms and ragged breaths, I scramble for an excuse and fling open the door only
to jolt to a stop. Just like that, my excuse dies on my lips.
Lennon stands in front of me, his arms propped against the doorway with muscles in full view.
Guys know better than to do this. It puts girls like me at a definite disadvantage—the kind of disadvantage
that turns a fully-functioning female mind into nothing more than a pitiful state of wishful thinking.
The sight alone makes my heart pound and my insides ache. He’s the oddest combination of intimidation,
grace, chin-length brown hair, and black ink that defines both biceps. And it’s the ink
that leaves me transfixed, every single time.
He leans a little closer. Too close, if you ask me.
“What were you doing in there so long?” His words slide over me like soft butter.
Slowly my eyes travel from his arms—those tattoos…they’re just so
pretty—to his face. The fog lifts, and I clear my throat.
“Um…that’s a little personal, don’t you think?” When he looks at me and winks, I suck in a breath
and keep talking. “Can’t a girl get a little privacy around here?”
Without looking him in the eyes, I walk around him and toss what I hope is a threatening
glare over my shoulder. My heart hammers in my chest, but I need to look tough even if I don’t feel it.
“And for the last time, stop calling me Sparky.”
He comes up behind me and gives my hair a little tug.
“With hair that red, it’s the only thing that fits.”
I keep walking and try to ignore the way my mind screams he just touched your hair! Besides, he’s right.
My hair is awful. A ridiculous combination of Emma Stone after rolling out of bed and Little Orphan
Annie after three days without bathing. All my life, people have told me it’s pretty.
All my life, I’ve wanted to set those compliments on fire.
So, maybe Sparky fits, after all. But still.
“Keep calling me Sparky, and I’ll start calling you Lenny.”
My voice sings with amusement, but my nerves hum a line that goes something like please don’t hurt me
and please stop being so good-looking. Lennon is as handsome as he is slightly scary. It’s the tattoos. And the
longish hair. And the devilish grin. As a homeschooled girl who grew up in the tiniest town
Washington has to offer, I’ve never been around anything remotely close to all that is Lennon Dixon.
“Do it and I’ll fire you,” he sings right back.
Touché and totally not fair.
I suppress a sigh and round the corner into the waiting area, quickly pasting on a smile. It falters
for a moment when I see the girl standing in front of me with one hand resting on the glass counter and
the other in a tight fist. She’s young. And nervous. And has no business being in this place
because fourteen or fifteen isn’t old enough to make a decision as painful and permanent as this one.
But, like a handful of teenage girls her age, she’s clutching a note from home.
She has permission. Probably scratched out in a hurry from dad because he was too busy to pay attention
and think about the decision he was allowing her to make. But I’m paying attention. And you can
darn well be sure she won’t walk out of here with a colorful butterfly on her lower back. Not if I
can help it.
I smile the most reassuring smile I can muster.
“Welcome to Brainstorm. Can I help you?”
Her lower lip ducks for cover between her teeth.
“I just wanted to look around for a minute. My mom said I could get a tattoo, but I’m not sure what I want…”
In most cases, no one ever is.
“Well, do you have any ideas?” I ask. “If not, I can let you flip through a few design books to see
if anything catches your eye. But first, can I see your note? Because, honestly sweetie, you don’t look old
enough to be here.”
It’s the wrong thing to say, I realize a second too late. Her chin comes up and she ages three years
in the process. She hands over the note with a slight flick of her wrist. The paper is legitimate, legal, a
California birth certificate. Today is her eighteenth birthday. I reach for the books.
“So, I guess everything is in order.” I take a deep breath and give it one more try. Someone needs
to save this girl, and I’m the only one around. “But are you sure you want to get a tattoo?
It’s gonna hurt. A lot.”
“It is?” She swallows and looks at me with wide eyes.
I start to nod and say something else, but—
“Sparky,” Lennon warns from across the room.
I flick a glance at him and give a pitiful laugh. “Just kidding. You’ll barely feel a thing.”
Except pain and torture and tears for days. But I don’t say this because Lennon is still looking at me.
I press my lips together and hand her the books.
“Here you go. Why don’t you take a minute to look through these, and when you find something you like
we’ll get started?”
Another nod. Another bitten lip.
There’s a framed picture on the wall across from me, a black and gray pencil sketch drawn
in painstakingly accurate detail. It’s of a woman who appears to be in her early thirties. She’s beautiful.
Striking. With haunting, hollow eyes. She stares through me as I work, following me as I go.
Sometimes I look at her, wondering if she can see my fears, curious if we share any of the same private ones.
It’s a stupid thing to think. Ridiculous, really.
I glance over at the birthday girl as she flips through books, simultaneously feeling bad for her
and fighting against the desire to yell, “Fire!” and tell her to run for her life. Why people would willingly
subject themselves to this kind of pain and suffering just for a stupid picture leaves me wondering
about the state of humanity’s saneness. Then again, no one forced her into this place. No one forced me
here either. I glance at the drawing again. The only thing I can hope is that this girl doesn’t share my fear.
ONE HOUR AND three starts and stops later, the girl walks out of here with an infinity sign on her right ankle
and a smile on her face. I, on the other hand, plop on the sofa, toss aside the notebook I’ve been
writing in, and fight back tears. The needles. The sight of them dotting her skin in a figure eight
and leaving that painful series of red and black marks. I’m still not used to them. Sometimes
the visions alone leave me balancing on the ledge of sanity and hysterics with no clue on
which side I’ll fall. But with my limited experience at life in general, this is the only job I could find,
especially because I had only a few hours to find it. After being turned down by one fast-food place after
another—how hard is it to find a job in fast food anyway?—Lennon hired me on the spot.
His receptionist had quit the hour before— walked off the job, leaving him here to fend for himself. Lucky or
unlucky me. Either way, it’s poetic justice at its finest.
“Sparky, why the long face? Is it because of the girl who just left or because of the awful line
of prose you wrote on the bathroom wall? Cold-blooded words, really?”
I blink up at a frowning Lennon as he dries his hands on a questionably clean towel. Darn him
and his apparently small bladder.
“What are you talking about?”
He rolls up the towel and tries to flick me with it, but misses.
“Nice try, liar. The toilet paper tower you used to hide it made things pretty obvious.”
I press my lips together and pick at a fingernail.
“First Sparky and now liar. What is it with you and nicknames?” I sigh. “I’m sorry. I
won’t let it happen again, I promise.”
He tosses the towel on a nearby chair and shoots me a wink.
“It’s the fifth picture I’ve found in half as many weeks, Sparky. It will most definitely happen again.”
He reaches for my notebook and opens it before I have the chance to snatch it out of his hands.
“What are you working on here?”
Mortified, I lunge, ripping a sheet of paper in an effort to get it back in my possession. No one can
read my words. They’re too private. Too intimate. And probably not any good.
“Nothing, just something I thought of when that girl was here.” I was writing a short story about a girl
who gets an infection from a tattoo needle, but not in the way one might think. No medicine or hospital
visits are involved. Just superpowers. Like the ability to mindread and time travel and blink one’s way
from planet to planet while hopping on one foot. Seriously, not any good.
Lennon grins. “Maybe one day you’ll let me read it.”
Not a chance. When hell freezes over. After I’m dead and not a moment before.
“Maybe,” I say instead, managing a small smile, thankful he isn’t mad. And then I change the subject.
“Do you think you will ever, ever call me Darby? Or will the string of dumb nicknames just
keep piling up?”
He sits down and leans back, resting his feet on the table in front of us. His thigh touches mine,
and while the contact is all I can think about, I’m not sure he even notices.
“Why would I call you Darby when Sparky fits you better?” It’s the answer he always gives.
I can’t help the smile that slides up my lips. Lennon is four years older than I am in age
and about two decades older in soul. With his piercing blue eyes and the detailed collage
of tattoos on his arms, all of it combined makes the most interesting combination.
A little too interesting.
A little bit frightening.
My parents would be mortified.
I shift position on the sofa to get a better look at him.
“The girl who was here earlier? She turned eighteen today and looked scared to death. I wish people
would give it some time before making decisions like this. Especially ones that are so permanent.”
He breathes a laugh and eyes me up and down. I decided weeks ago that he means nothing by it.
It’s his way of sizing me up before delivering a statement that simultaneously makes me think and puts
me in my place. It’s the one thing about him that has me perpetually confused. His exterior
shouts dangerous tough guy. His interior whispers reflective, thoughtful poet. Two appealing
contradictions that slam together and smash apart everything my parents taught me.
One thing is for sure: Lennon is proof the world is much more colorful than the black and white
way I was raised.
“You’re right, maybe people should give things a little more thought,” he says. “Then again,
sometimes in life it’s better to jump in with both feet instead of overthinking things to death.
Besides, what’s the worst thing that can happen to that girl?”
“She could wake up in a lot of pain or, at the very least, with a lot of regret tomorrow, that’s what.”
“Over a tattoo?” He sighs and rubs an eyebrow. “In my opinion, regret is better saved for wrong
relationships and dreams you didn’t accomplish. If more people would think about the big things in life
instead of the superficial like piercings and body art, we all might get along a little better
and save ourselves a lot of unnecessary heartache.”
He pats me on the knee and stands up. “Sparky, cut your hair if you hate it. Wear orange lipstick
if you like it. Get a freaking tattoo if you want one. None of those things matter; you can undo
them tomorrow if you want to. But dreams? Go find yours and follow it. That’s what lasts.”
And with those words, Lennon tweaks my chin with his thumb and walks into the back room,
leaving me to stare after him like an abandoned puppy left in a gated laundry room by its oblivious owner.
All I want is to be noticed. To be special. To hear Lennon call me his girlfriend in front of everyone
within a ten-block radius. Ridiculous, because he isn’t my type.
Lennon is twenty-five.
Looks a little rough.
Owns a tattoo parlor named Brainstorm.
Is covered in a fair share of ink.
Refuses to call me by my real name.
Never sees things my way.
But no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise, all these things add up to Lennon
being one of the kindest souls I’ve ever met.