Roots of Insight Chapter One Preview

One

Quinn Robbins sighed as she crossed out the third paragraph in her essay for the second time. Homework was the last thing she wanted to be spending this Sunday afternoon doing, but she had been falling behind on her homework during the last couple of weeks, and now she was attempting to tackle the massive pile. Right now, though she couldn’t concentrate. Her thoughts kept wandering to faraway places. She finally managed to complete the paragraph in a way she could live with just as the doorbell rang.

Ugh. Who could that be? Her mom had gone toDenver for the weekend with Quinn’s little brother and sister. She wasn’t expecting them to be home for another couple of hours. She put down her pen and ran downstairs. When she looked through the peephole, her breath caught in her throat.

It was Zander.

Zander Cunningham was … well, she wasn’t sure exactly what he was right now, aside from being the seventeen-year-old son of her mother’s best friend, Maggie. She and Zander had been close friends since they both were in diapers. Lately, though, things had been changing.

She took a deep breath and opened the door. “Hey, Zander.”

“Hey,” he said, his smile reaching all the way to his light brown eyes. “Can I come in?”

She stepped back into the entryway and pulled the front door wide. The blast of cold air made her shiver. The tiny, mountain town of Bristlecone, Colorado had finally gotten its first big snowstorm of the year during the night. Zander pounded snow from his boots and brushed more from the hood of his blue-and-white ski jacket as he stepped inside. He set a large shopping bag down just past the entryway.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, as she watched him take off his boots and line them up with the collection of others on the side of the tile floor.

He grinned, “I told you I would help you with your trigonometry homework, didn’t I? Last night you said you’d been falling behind.”

She blushed. The night before, Maggie had insisted on her going over to their house for dinner since her own mom was out of town. Quinn had been so exhausted and distracted, though, that she couldn’t remember what she might have said during the meal. She could vaguely remember mentioning something about trig as she tried desperately to maintain a normal conversation. “I didn’t know you were actually going to come over here,” she stammered.

Worry flashed in Zander’s eyes. “It’s okay, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” she smiled, in what she hoped was a reassuring way. “I’m glad you came. I haven’t even started on it.”

“Want to go grab your stuff?” he asked, as he hung his coat on the rack behind the door. “We can work on it in the dining room. I brought a book that helped me.” He held up his backpack.

“Sure,” she answered. Her mom would probably appreciate it if they stayed in the main part of the house. Her heart fluttered a little at the idea of her and Zander here alone. She swallowed. “What’s in the big bag?”

“My mom sent over some of her beef and vegetable stew and a bunch of rolls so you guys wouldn’t have to cook tonight.”

“That was nice of her,” she said, peeking in the bag. It smelled amazing.

“You know my mom. She likes to feed people.”

“True,” she agreed. Eating dinner with the Cunninghams had been a big part of her childhood, and Maggie was forever sending side dishes and desserts home at the end of the day when Quinn picked up her little sister, Annie, from their house.

“When will your mom and the little kids be home?”

“Probably around five or six,” she carried the bag into the kitchen and put the enormous bowl of stew into the refrigerator.

“Sweet. We have time to get you all caught up in trig.” he was already piling books onto the dining room table.

She hurried back up the stairs to retrieve her trigonometry book, trying to get her thoughts in order at the same time. Her head was still spinning from the strange experience she had just come home from the night before, and she hadn’t really been able to process what had happened. She had appreciated being home alone today. Zander was almost an awkward interruption, though she wasn’t going to turn him away.

She checked herself in the mirror, running a brush through her auburn hair. She briefly considered changing into a nicer shirt, but then thought that might be too noticeable. She settled for a quick coat of clear lip-gloss and headed back to the dining room. Zander smiled widely when she sat down in the chair he’d pulled out for her.

Almost as soon as she began trying to solve the first problem, Quinn suddenly became extremely grateful for Zander’s presence. After her ordinary weekend had unexpectedly been extended by ten days, she found herself unable to remember how to do the assignment.

“Why does this look like it’s written in a foreign language?” she complained after a few trying moments.

Zander chuckled, “Have you been paying attention in class at all?” She shot him a dark look, and he held his hands in front of his face. “Sorry, sorry! I’ve just never seen you actually have trouble with something.”

She sighed and buried her head in her arms as red colored her cheeks.

“Hey, welcome to how I feel around you all the time,” he said, tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear. “I’m just glad I’m here to be your knight in shining armor.”

If his words hadn’t been setting a blaze in her chest, she thought she might have needed to bite back hysterical laughter as she imagined what Zander would think if he knew she’d spent the last ten days in an actual castle. She breathed deeply a few times to compose herself, and looked up. “I’m glad you’re here, too.”

His answering smile melted everything else away.

Even with Zander helping, the assignment took nearly two hours. Math had never been Quinn’s strongest subject, but this was bordering on ridiculous. How could she have forgotten so much? Zander never seemed to lose patience with her, though, and as they got closer to the last problems, she realized that it was the first time she had ever really understood a trigonometry assignment, rather than just struggling through.

Zander’s smile grew wider as he watched her complete those last problems; she did the final one without any help.

“You’re not bad at this teaching thing,” she said.

Unless she was mistaken, his cheeks took on the tiniest hint of pink. He shrugged, “It’s easy to teach when there’s a cute girl involved.”

Now it was her turn to blush. Her heart pounded as Zander, smiling shyly, reached over and ran a single finger down her cheek, all the way to her jawline, where he paused, turning her face up so she was looking into his eyes.

At that moment, they heard the garage door opening. Quinn jumped, and he dropped his hand. Both of their faces were suddenly bright red, and they started giggling.

I think my mom’s home,” she said.

By the time the door between the kitchen and the garage opened, they were both bent over papers on the table, pretending to write furiously, though uncontrolled snickers kept threatening to break through. Zander had scooted his chair conspicuously far from Quinn’s.

“Hello Zander.” Quinn’s mother called from the kitchen, carrying her purse and suitcase in one arm, a sleeping Annie in the other. Owen appeared behind her, diligently toting his own bag.

“Hi, Megan,” Zander stood and walked over to her, taking the suitcase. “Do you want me to take this upstairs for you?”

“Sure. Can you come set it on my bed? I’ll carry Annie up to her room.”

Quinn was left sitting alone at the dining room table, surrounded by books and papers.

Owen took the seat that Zander had vacated, his eyes scanning over the work that she had finished. “Number six should be 47.2,” he told her quietly.
She stared at him. “How do you even know that?”
He shrugged. “I read your trigonometry book.”

She sighed.  She should have guessed. “I should have been asking you for help with it, instead of Zander.”

Owen shook his head, “Zander can explain things better than I can. Anyway, Zander helping you makes your eyes look all shiny, and your cheeks are pink.” He studied her face intently for several moments, his eyebrows furrowing. “Where did you go this weekend?”

Her heart skipped a beat. “What do you mean? I stayed here.”

“Your face and neck are tan.”

Crap. She hadn’t even thought about that. “I, uh, tried some kind of new fake tanning stuff I read about in a magazine.”

“Oh,” he was silent again. “Well, this one works better than the last kind.”

Heat flooded her face. She had never tried any kind of fake tanning stuff, and she knew Owen knew that.

“I’m going to go read until dinner,” he said, “but I’m always here if you need me.” He stood and walked up the stairs, leaving Quinn staring after him in disbelief. Owen’s mild autism often meant he had difficulty understanding things about people, but sometimes the things he did understand were shocking.

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