Excerpt: First Scene, Chapter One

The loud knock on her bedroom door set the fierce anger rolling in Quinn Robbins’ chest again. “What?” she yelled; knowing, but not caring, that her voice was too harsh.

Her mother opened the door and came in, barely seeming to notice the way Quinn sat, rolled up in a ball near her pillows, still in her pajamas, even though it was nearly noon.

“I’ve decided you’re not grounded from your phone,” she said, setting the small, black object on the nightstand. The little notification light blinked furiously. “You need to use it to call Zander yourself, get things figured out with him.”

She raised her eyebrows at her mother. “What did you tell him?” Last night, in the car, as they drove home from the river, her mom had told her that she had ‘explained things’ to Quinn’s boyfriend, but Quinn had no idea what that meant, and her mother wouldn’t elaborate further.

Megan Robbins’ gaze was just as steely as it had been since last night, and she looked Quinn in the eyes when she spoke. “I told him that Dr. Rose had had a family emergency, and that since you were becoming good friends with William, you went along for support.”

Quinn’s eyes popped open wide. “That doesn’t even make any sense!” Of course, it was eerily close to the truth … but that was the problem. The truth didn’t make any sense.

“Well, if you have a better explanation, you’re welcome to share it with him. I’m headed down to Denver to pick up Owen and Annie from Richard and Denise’s.” Megan turned and left the room, closing the door behind her with an audible clunk.

Quinn only barely resisted the urge to pick up the phone and hurl it at the door. Instead, she flipped it open and began scanning through the messages – all forty-six of them. Almost every message was from her best friend, Abigail, or from Zander, although there were three from her mother, left on Thursday evening, just after Quinn had disappeared.

She opened the first one.

Where are you sweetie? Zander just called and said he saw you leaving work.

Oh. So Zander had seen her running away from the library with William? She closed her eyes, trying to remember that evening, which seemed so long ago. Of course, nearly three weeks actually had passed for Quinn, even if it had only been just over two days for her mom.

Still, even if Zander had seen her, it didn’t explain how her mom had known where to find her, how she had been at the bridge to meet her last night when she’d come back from Eirentheos. Quinn had disappeared for two whole days without a word, and she’d come back to find her mother, not panicking as she’d expected, no police officers searching the river, or even dropping by her house for a chat. No, instead, her mother had been sitting, perfectly calm on a boulder near the gate, just waiting, as if she knew exactly where Quinn had been.

Okay, so calm wasn’t the right word. Her mother had been furious, livid, as she still was today. But she hadn’t been worried, even in the slightest. And this was the source of Quinn’s anger now.

Not that she had wanted to worry her mother – actually she’d spent long hours during her time in Eirentheos fretting over what she thought she was putting her mother through. She hadn’t meant to disappear for so long without saying a word, it had just happened. When William had told her that Thomas was missing, she had just gone, without thinking about the consequences.

But coming through the gate to find her mother there, patiently expecting her return from an alternate world had rocked Quinn completely to her core. What was going on here? How? How did her mom know about the gate? What did she know?

Last night in the car, Megan had refused to answer any of Quinn’s questions, and even more disturbingly, she hadn’t asked any. She’d sat there in the driver’s seat, stone-faced for the whole drive. When they pulled into the garage, Megan had turned to Quinn.

“I explained things to Zander and to Mrs. Williams for you, so you still have a job. I picked up your stuff from the library. The perfect attendance at school you were so worried about is blown on that unexcused absence, though. You’re grounded from your phone, from everything.”

“What do you mean? What did you explain?” Quinn had asked. But Megan had just climbed out of the car, slamming the door behind herself, and gone into the house. When Quinn had gone inside, she discovered that her mother was locked in her bedroom. After several failed attempts at knocking and yelling through the door, Quinn had gone into her own room. She had wondered where her little brother and sister were when she’d seen their empty rooms.

The phone in her hand buzzed loudly, and then began to play a tune that sent an electric jolt through her. It was Zander, again. She stared at the screen, at the picture that had popped up of the two of them, Zander’s arms around her shoulders, his cheek close to hers, both of them smiling widely. She almost answered it, but it stopped ringing before she managed to make her finger move over to the answer button. She waited for several minutes, but there was no notification of a voicemail message.

She sighed, and then picked up the phone again. Unable to force herself to call Zander back, she dialed the number for Nathaniel Rose instead.

“Hello?” The voice that answered was immediately comforting and familiar. Her fingers stopped trembling so much.

“William?”

“Quinn? Is that you?”

“Yeah.”

“Hey, what’s going on with you? Are you okay?”

“I … I think so.”

“What was all that at the bridge last night? Why was your mother there?”

“I don’t know. She just drove me home and never told me anything. I’ve never seen her that angry before, but I don’t think she could possibly be as mad as I am. Now, she’s gone. I guess she took my little brother and sister down to Denver sometime this weekend to stay with their grandparents, and she went to go get them.”

William was silent on the other end of the line; she could almost see the look he would have on his face — confused, thoughtful.

“Did Nathaniel say anything to you? My mom didn’t seem too surprised to see him coming out of the gate, either.”

“No. I asked him if he knew what that was about, but he said it was between you and your mother.”

“What is that supposed to mean? Is he there?”

“No. He went into work really early this morning, and he was going to try to spend the day getting things set up for Thomas to go somewhere for the surgery. He was gone before I even woke up.”

“Well, crap.”

William chuckled, and then his voice grew serious again. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“No. I’m not sure about anything right now. Everything is such a mess.”

“Do you want to come over, and we could talk here? I’m not so good at this phone thing. This is probably the longest conversation I’ve ever had on one, actually.”

That made Quinn smile. “Sure. Give me half an hour?”

“I’ll be here. I’m doing homework – you might want to consider bringing yours along, too.”

“You would be thinking about homework at a time like this.”

He laughed. “I’ll see you in a little while.”

As soon as she snapped her phone shut, she made a mad dash for the shower. The days of traveling in the rural areas of William’s world had made her very efficient at getting ready quickly. She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to leave the house, or if being grounded from “everything” besides, apparently, her phone, meant she was allowed to use her stepfather’s car to go somewhere today, but after a few seconds of consideration, she decided that she didn’t care.

Somehow, her mother knew about the gate that led to William’s world. Even more astonishing was the fact that she had known that’s where Quinn would be. How? What did her mother know that Quinn didn’t? And worse, why was she keeping it from her?

Within ten minutes of hanging up with William, Quinn was in the small mudroom that connected the garage and kitchen, looking for her keys. As she reached for the small ring that hung underneath a bulletin board in the room, one of the papers tacked to the board caught her attention.

She recognized it immediately, and it sent a cold chill down her spine. Her mother had gone through her backpack? It was her most recent World History test, the first paper she’d ever gotten a grade lower than a B – and usually she was disappointed with those. The big, red ‘D’ on the top glared at her mockingly. Even worse, was the thick, black circle drawn around the letter, and the words, written in her mother’s perfect penmanship: ‘What is THIS?’

The fury welled within her chest again, rising into her throat and nearly choking her. The shaft of the thumbtack ripped a straight line up the center of the page as she yanked it from the display. She shoved it into her backpack, which was hanging nearby on a peg, the zipper wide open. Throwing it over her shoulder, she grabbed her keys and left.

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