Intriguing, romantic, and wholly original, Amy Spalding's sophomore novel is the perfect blend of humor and heart. Find out why Trish Doller called it full of "compassion, humor, love, and pitch-perfect authenticity."
For Kellie Brooks, family has always been a tough word to define. Combine her hippie mom and tattooist stepdad, her adopted overachieving sister, her younger half brother, and her tough-love dad, and average Kellie's the one stuck in the middle, overlooked and impermanent. When Kellie's sister finally meets her birth mother and her best friend starts hanging with a cooler crowd, the feeling only grows stronger. But then she reconnects with Oliver, the sweet college guy she had a near hookup with last year. Oliver is intense and attractive, and she's sure he's totally out of her league.
It'll take a new role on the school newspaper and a new job at her mom's tattoo shop for Kellie to realize that defining herself both outside and within her family is what can finally allow her to feel permanent, just like a tattoo.
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Ink Is Thicker Than Water
By Amy Spalding
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Amy Spalding
All rights reserved.
Where are you? I need you. (If you have time.)
I shove my phone into my pocket instead of responding to the very unlike-my-sister text Sara has just sent. My best friend is in emergency mode, and I am best-friending.
"But if what Chelsea heard was true, why would he be talking to her?" Kaitlyn stares at herself in the bathroom mirror and then spins away from her reflection. "We're not even supposed to be here, and if he's just going to talk to her all night —"
"No one cares that we're here," I say, even though I have no proof of that fact. I'm not letting Kaitlyn panic. "It's a party. People go to parties. We can be people who go to parties now. Or at least bathrooms of parties."
"Ha, ha." She gets her phone out of her purse and checks it. For what, I don't know, but whatever she's hoping for isn't there. "Seriously, Kellie, what am I supposed to do now?"
Here's the thing: I don't really know. But I will be The Friend with The Plan. "Probably we should get out of the bathroom. And you should just go walk in his sightline."
"'Walk in his sightline'?"
"Kaitlyn," I say like this is all so obvious and I'm not just making things up as I go. "He supposedly told a bunch of people you were hot. Go be hot in front of him. He'll stop talking to Brandy about whatever popular people bond over. He will make out with you."
Kaitlyn peers even more intensely into the mirror. "You promise?"
If I'm honest, I'll admit that lately I don't exactly love gazing into mirrors where both Kaitlyn and I are reflected back. It's been years since our bodies had first gotten the memo about grown-up things like boobs and hips, but now that we're well into being sixteen, things seemed to have settled, and I guess we're just going to look like this.
That memo circulating in Kaitlyn's hormones must have used lots of references to the magazines she reads (and I don't because Mom thinks they set bad examples and expectations for teenage girls). Kaitlyn emerged from puberty with a tiny waist and the perfect bra size: not flat-chested but not so developed people make up unfounded rumors about her experience level. Meanwhile, my hormones had taken that memo very literally. Boobs, check, hips, check, two of each and all in the right places.
A renaissance painting for Kaitlyn. Artless puberty for me.
Not that I'm Ugly McUggerstein or anything. Up until very recently, it balanced out, because Kaitlyn always had very normal brown hair that just sort of hung there, the way normal hair does. I'm pretty sure my hair's texture had up until my birth only been seen on lions' manes and expensive stuffed animals, but at least Mom dyes it for me. Currently, it's flamey red and combed through with enough vanilla-scented styling product to behave. From enough of a distance, I absolutely look like I have beautiful, flowing, naturally vanilla-scented red hair.
Lately, though, Kaitlyn has been taking the Amex her parents gave her to make up for getting divorced or whatever to a fancy salon where she emerges with sleek caramel-colored hair that rests above her shoulders with a thoughtful little flip. The first time I saw the new style I told her it looked like angels had patted the ends into place with a flap of their wings. Yeah, that was a joke, but it really did look that flawless. No one prepares you for waking up to realize your best friend who grew up with you step by step and side by side is suddenly, okay, hot.
Also, I should clarify that I hate that I hate this. I am not the kind of person who's ever cared about being the hottest or coolest or most congenial or whatever girls are supposed to get hung up over. So having up my hackles because Kaitlyn now ranks above me in these categories isn't exactly a shining achievement for me.
"I promise," I say, even though I know it's dangerous making promises about another person's actions. This one's as safe a bet as you can get, though. Of course Garrett will want to make out with Kaitlyn! I start to open the bathroom door, but my phone buzzes again in my pocket.
It's another text from Sara: K? Are you there?
"Go!" I ignore the text, put my hands on Kaitlyn's shoulders, and steer her toward the door. "Conquer!"
"Hang on." She pulls the strap of her (black, lacy) bra out from her shirt (also black, lacy). "You saw this, right? It's okay? Like, if we get that far?"
"Trust me. Boys will be happy to just see your underwear. I wear frigging boy shorts, and I've had no complaints." I say it so easily by now that it's basically no longer a lie. "Seriously, go do this."
Kaitlyn gives me a hug before flinging open the door of the bathroom. I follow her out, but since I'm only at this party for moral support, I now have nothing to do. I find an open spot on the couch in the living room of whoever's house this is and get my phone back out. r u ok?? I finally text Sara. kinda stuck at this party right now. I don't add that Sara's never not okay because it's probably not nice to make people justify their not-being-okay-ness.
Sara texts back fast: Sorry about that. I sounded so dramatic! I'm fine.
This is a Cool Person party, and Kaitlyn and I are definitively not Cool People. I figured I'd be exerting a lot of energy trying to just blend in, but it doesn't actually look any different than any other party I've been to. No one's circling up to take a gulp from the golden chalice of popularity.
"Hey!" Jessie Weinberg, a girl I kind of know from my Literature of an Emerging America class, sits down next to me as I'm texting Sara to make sure she's actually fine. Ticknor Day School isn't big enough not to know everyone — if not by name, at least by face. "I just wanted to tell you that I read your piece and it was hilarious."
"My English paper on Mark Twain?" It does not seem possible for a short biographical assignment to be hilarious.
"Oh, no, your thing for the Ticknor Voice. I know it's not public yet, but Jennifer couldn't shut up about how funny it was."
"Thanks," I say even though I hadn't been trying to be funny. When I saw the flyers for our school newspaper's op/ed column, it just felt right. I've been just fine not caring too much about anything for a long time, but that's starting to feel like it's a size too small for me now. I worked as hard as I could on my submission. But I guess if it's funny, whatever works! "Wait, does that mean I'm going to be the new op/ed writer?"
Jessie makes a face like she's thinking, awkward! "I probably shouldn't talk about it."
I make the awkward! face, too. This makes her laugh, so I guess whatever's up with the paper isn't too big of a deal. And it's so weird I care. I was convinced not caring too much about stuff kept you sane, but lately this tiny voice in my head says it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
... Not a literal voice, of course. I'm trying out for an extracurricular, not developing a second personality.
"Kellie." Kaitlyn runs into the room and yanks me to my feet. "We have to go."
"Hey, Kaitlyn," Jessie says.
"Hi, Jessie," Kaitlyn says, then, "Bye, Jessie," and I'm pulled out of the room and then the front door. "Let's go. Tonight's the worst. Tonight is a disaster."
"Okay." I don't ask anything, just get her to my car as she starts crying. We sit there for a while in the darkness, and when my phone buzzes again, I leave it and wait.
"He didn't even say hi to me," Kaitlyn says finally. "And then he started making out with Brandy. Like I wasn't even there or didn't even matter."
"He's an idiot, then," I say. "Brandy's pretty, but you're ... pretty. And that whole crowd is made up of idiots. You could do way better."
Now that the silence is broken, I take the opportunity to check my phone. Yes, I'm sure I'm fine. We're at South City Diner if you want to meet us after your party.
"Want to meet up with Sara and her friends?" I ask even though I already know the answer and am already turning on the car.
"Help me fix my makeup," she says.
"Your makeup's unfixable! Just go with the badass smeary-eyed look. It works on you."
Kaitlyn laughs and flicks me in the head — ow — and hopefully that means stupid Garrett Miller is forgotten for now. And also hopefully the crowd Sara's with at the diner includes her boyfriend and his friends, and Kaitlyn can find a new distraction to get her through the evening.
I drive east on Highway 44 all the way to South Grand, where it feels like I spend as much time as I do in Webster Groves, the suburb of St. Louis where we live. Parking can be crowded, especially on weekends, but I'm so used to the side streets that I zip around and slide into a spot on Hartford almost immediately. When we walk in, the diner's so packed I can't even spot Sara, but Kaitlyn does and pulls me over to the table crowded with, yes, Sara, Sara's boyfriend Dexter, and a bunch of other guys.
"Good evening, ladies," Dexter says, affecting an old-timey accent. "How is this beautiful Saturday treating you and yours?"
Sara and I tell each other almost everything, but we don't really talk about guys — who knows why — and so that was only one of the reasons I was surprised when she started going out with Dexter. Wasn't my perfect pre-prelaw sister way too serious for stuff like boys and dating when she was studying her butt off and worrying about college applications? And if I had been forced into describing the kind of guy Sara would end up with, I would not have said redheaded hipster hottie. But then all of a sudden, Dexter was a thing.
Dexter is a senior at the all-boys school Chaminade, where he wears his uniform tie slightly askew and heads up both the Young Democrats Club and the Poetry in Action Club, the latter of which he'd also founded. (No one really seems to know what Poetry in Action actually is. Poetry seems like a pretty passive activity. Sometimes Dexter recites Yeats really loud and in public. Is that it?)
Anyway, I guess it works because they are serious, about each other and about the stuff in their lives. They study together and talk nonstop about college and go to lectures and museums and foreign films. Even when Dexter's doing goofy accents or shouting poetry at the stars, Sara looks at him like it all makes sense to her. The lesson I take from this is that love is finding someone who thinks everything about you that's weird is actually hot.
"Make room for Kellie and Kaitlyn," Sara says, and the guy on her other side jumps at her command by shoving in two chairs for us. Kaitlyn's immediately eyeing the other prospects, but I stare Sara down until she notices.
"What's up with you?" she asks like she didn't send me two emergency-ish texts less than an hour ago.
"You're sure you're okay?"
"Don't I look okay?" she asks with a smile. And of course she does, because Sara is basically two steps shy of a supermodel. Tall and blond and the kind of cheekbones that people comment on. Four separate times people have asked Sara if they saw her in a Macy's ad. (No, but that seems like a pretty good compliment.)
"We can talk later if you want," I say even though that's the kind of thing she says to me and never vice versa. Sara's only a year older than me, but she's got it together.
"Sure." She turns her attention back to Dexter, who's in the midst of some elaborate story about a fight he witnessed between two stray cats. Kaitlyn's talking with the guy on her other side, so I finally glance all the way around our table.
Across from me, sitting just a few people down — like it's normal! — is Oliver.
Oliver! Dexter's brother. Who knows a lot about me. Who knows things I don't want anyone else knowing. Who I hoped would have found a way to text me even though I'd never given him my number and even though the thought made me a little terrified.
He raises his eyebrows at me and grins. And I don't know what I'm doing any more than I did back in May when everything happened — or, well, didn't happen. But I can't help it. I grin back.CHAPTER 2
My plans the next morning are the usual: brunch with Mom, my stepdad Russell, Sara, and Finn. Since the shop's closed on Sundays, it's Family Day, and I'm completely fine with that. I guess now plans also include replaying in my head every time Oliver grinned or raised his eyebrows at me last night (seven total, by my count).
Still, I'm looking forward to brunch. Seeing Oliver last night made me so jumpy I was afraid to eat and just stole some fries from someone else's plate. But when I walk downstairs expecting pancakes and eggs or at least bagels, what I see instead is Dad.
"There she is!" he says. It's the only way he ever greets me, like I'm a contestant on the game show in his mind. "Hey there, kiddo."
I figure if he's doling out normal salutation-type stuff, probably no one is dead or maimed or whatever tragic event would bring him here. "Hey, Dad."
"Hi, baby." Mom pops into the front room, right next to Dad, and I try for the ten billionth time to comprehend that they'd ever been married. Photos and my own memories tell me they were, but it still feels like fabricated history, a novel based on actual events and not the nonfiction it is.
It's a casual day for Dad, which means he's in shiny black dress shoes and perfectly pressed black slacks, with a gray shirt and a patterned blue tie that pops exactly how all the fashion magazines say a tie is supposed to. It's a casual day for Mom, too; she's wearing ragged jeans with a black sweater of Russell's that features a little skull and crossbones on each shoulder. Since she's inside, her feet are bare, chipped red manicure showing as well as the black line drawings of flowers tattooed across the tops of both her feet.
"How was your Saturday night?" Mom asks.
"It was fine. Is everything okay?"
"Everything's fine." Dad kisses my cheek, smelling — like always — of coffee and the spearmint gum he chews obsessively since he quit smoking when I was nine. "In fact, I'm on my way out. See you this weekend."
When I was little, I'd cling to him whenever we said good-bye, but now it's just life. "Bye, Dad."
He leaves, which is for the best because I always worry the universe will explode if he spends much time in this house. Well, the universe or Mom's brain, and I don't see myself surviving either one of those catastrophes.
"Why was Dad here?"
"It's nothing," she says as Finn barrels into the room wearing Mom's black leather jacket, which hangs past his knees, and a black ski mask covering his face.
"I'm a pirate!" he shouts.
"No, you're a ninja," I tell him. Finn always gets those confused. "Also ninjas don't shout. You have to be super sneaky."
He nods solemnly before racing up the stairs and letting out some kind of war cry. Well, I tried.
Even Mom says I'm biased, but I'm positive Finn is the cutest kid in the world. I've seen hundreds of photos of myself, and I definitely didn't hold a candle. His hair is sandy brown like Russell's, he got Mom's perfect little upturned nose (which genetics conveniently didn't give to me), and big blue eyes (I'd at least gotten those), and when he smiles he somehow looks just like Mom and Russell at once. Total cute overload.
"What happened to brunch?" I ask Mom as she sorts through the mail on the front table even though nothing new could have come today. Mom might be sort of old — she just turned forty-three — but she's the kind of lady you totally believe when you hear she'd once been a cheerleader. Still blond, still smiles all the time, still pulls off a high ponytail, still, you know ... cheers for things. With Mom, no achievement is too small for hugs and congrats. (And she can still turn a pretty mean cartwheel, if you beg.)
"What? Oh, right, sure. Russell's out picking something up." She turns back to the mail like it's urgent when in reality it piles up there constantly.
I run upstairs and down the hall to Sara's room, where Finn is jumping on the bed while she's curled up on one corner of it doing homework. From here it looks like physics, but considering I'm three levels of science behind her, I'm probably not the best judge. Still. Physics on a Sunday morning.
Sara is really good with numbers. Honestly, she's good at everything, but numbers especially. Normally when people say things like that they just mean someone's good at math, but the point is that she's good at something useful. When we moved into the big house down the street from the old house, Sara knew how many boxes each room would take. It probably doesn't sound that exciting, nothing like knowing how many jelly beans are in a giant jar and then winning a prize, but way more useful.
I'm not good at many things that are useful, a fact Mom delights in telling me. It's not that she's disappointed — no, her parents had always told her the same thing, which she bought into for a long time. She says, "Kellie, baby, I bought into that, can you believe it?" and I actually can't. No matter how many times she tells the story, I can't believe Mom trained to be a paralegal and went to work every day in a jacket and skirt and the scary flesh-tone pantyhose with tasteful pumps, until the day she realized she was miserable. "I ripped myself free of a nylon hose existence," she likes to say, which I thought was a figurative saying until the day we were packing to move into the new house and Mom actually found the torn pair of hose. Mom hangs on to the weirdest stuff.
Excerpted from Ink Is Thicker Than Water by Amy Spalding. Copyright © 2013 Amy Spalding. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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