Chapter Two Preview
On Monday morning as she drove to school, Quinn had knots in her stomach. Unable to decide what to do about forgetting Zander’s invitation, she had just done nothing, ignored it. Instead, she had taken her mother up on an offer to go with her and her siblings to visit Jeff’s parents, who lived in a suburb ofDenver. She almost never went there with them now that she was old enough to stay home by herself
It wasn’t that she didn’t like Jeff’s parents, Richard and Denise. They were nice, and they always did their best to include Quinn and make her feel welcome, but they had never felt like her grandparents. Her own maternal grandmother had died when she was a baby, and her grandfather had remarried and moved toNebraska several years ago. Quinn saw him only once or twice a year now. Her real dad’s parents had apparently died long before her parents had even met. Quinn’s mother didn’t know anything about them.
Jeff’s parents doted on Annie and Owen, and did their best to entertain Quinn, but there wasn’t much for her to do at their house. It felt good to be able to go to a big mall, and see a movie that she knew would never come to a small theater like Bristlecone Cinema. Her options inDenverwere endless, but Quinn spent much of the weekend doing homework and reading, which she would have been doing at home, anyway. On this particular weekend, though, the escape had felt good.
Now it was Monday, though, and she wasn’t ready. Not ready to face her best friend Abigail, who she had texted on Friday night when she was freaking out about the near-accident, but then had kind of avoided for the rest of the weekend. Certainly not ready to see Zander.
As she expected, Abigail was waiting by her locker to pounce, her short black locks bobbing in agitation. One of the strands that she had recently dyed purple swung into her face. Quinn felt an immediate stab of guilt at the worry she saw in Abigail’s blue eyes.
“Quinn! What is going on with you? What happened? Why didn’t you text me back? Are you okay?”
Quinn eyed her warily, “One question at a time, Abbie, please.”
Abigail wasn’t having it; her blue eyes flashed irritation. “Quinn, what the heck? Where have you been? I was trying to call you and text you all day yesterday.”
Quinn knew that. There were probably fifty unread text messages on her phone right now. “I went toDenverwith my mom, to see Richard and Denise.”
“I haven’t seen them for awhile?”
“Is that a question, Quinn? Why didn’t you tell me you were going?”
Quinn didn’t have an answer for her. She had no answers at all. She hadn’t felt like herself since Friday. For three nights now, she had barely slept; waking each night from bizarre dreams that she could never completely remember. Small flashes of the dream would assault her throughout the day, but she couldn’t get a concrete picture. Nothing happened she kept telling herself. She hadn’t hit the kid. It felt like something else was going on here, but she couldn’t begin to figure out what it was.
“I don’t know, Abbie, I’m sorry.”
Abigail’s eyes softened. “So what were you texting me about on Friday night, all freaked out? You almost hit someone?” They started walking to their World History class as Quinn told Abigail the story.
“And you don’t have any idea who it could have been?”
“No, it wasn’t anybody I recog…” Quinn cut off, mid-sentence, because suddenly what she was saying wasn’t true.
The flash of violet that she only now remembered that she’d caught a glimpse of at the boy’s neck Friday night on the highway now widened into an instantly recognizable sweater.
Surprised, she turned back to Abigail, ready to add to the story with this new detail, “Oh my g…,” she started, but suddenly, before she could get the words out, she felt unsure about saying anything to her friend. A strange feeling rose in the pit of her stomach, a feeling that she shouldn’t say anything. The rest of the words refused to come.
“Oh your what?” Abigail looked at Quinn, eyebrows raised. “What is going on with you Quinn?” Her eyes followed Quinn’s line of sight, but there wouldn’t have been anything for her to see – just other students walking into classrooms.
“Um…” Quinn was distracted, watching the boy disappear into the library, “Um…. I forgot what I was going to say.” She turned back to her friend, trying to shake the odd feeling. “Are you ready for the World History test?”
“I think so,” Abigail nodded. “No thanks to you. We were supposed to study together this weekend, before you flaked out on me.”
Quinn swallowed. She had completely forgotten that she and Abigail had planned to spend Sunday afternoon studying. Guilt washed over her as she realized the meaning behind all of the text messages. How could she fix this? “Want me to make it up to you by helping you write your English essay?”
She could see Abigail contemplating the offer. Quinn’s writing skills were well known, and writing was a subject Abigail struggled with. Quinn was relieved when Abbie’s eyes lit up; maybe she was forgiven.
Although she was putting all her effort into staying focused on her work, shortly after Quinn settled into answering the questions on her World History test, her thoughts drifted to the boy in the sweater, William Rose.
William had arrived at Bristlecone K-8 as a third grader the year Quinn was in second grade, an instant object of curiosity. Bristlecone was a small community, and new students at the tiny school were a rarity. By lunchtime on that first day, the third graders had spread everything they knew about William to the entire school.
William had come here to live with his uncle, Nathaniel Rose, who was a doctor atBristleconeCommunityHospital. Doctor Rose was young and unmarried, himself rather a phenomenon in Bristlecone. Nobody knew much about him, although there were quite a few young women in the town who would have liked to. Until he had arrived at the school with custody papers and William in tow, nobody had known anything about his family.
Dr. Rose was kind and personable, serving as both a family doctor and a general surgeon in the town. He had been the Robbins’ family doctor ever since Quinn could remember. Friendly as he was, though, he was a very private person.
Nobody had ever heard where William’s parents were, or why he was here living with his uncle. Even the teachers had talked about it for a time; Quinn’s mother had been as curious as anyone had, but both William and his uncle were adept at fading into the background and avoiding answering invasive questions. The details of their lives had remained private.
Much like Quinn’s brother Owen, William evaded the social scene at school by keeping his face hidden in the pages of a book. In the beginning, the other students had hounded him with their questions, and with teasing about his constant reading, but William completely failed to react to any of it. By the end of that first school year, all of the curiosity surrounding William had simply faded. The boy hadn’t changed his behaviors since then, and now he was just part of the background.
Quinn realized she knew almost nothing about the boy she had seen every school day for eight years now. How was that even possible? Now that she thought about it, Quinn wasn’t sure she even knew what he looked like well enough to describe him. He was quite tall, with dark, nearly black, hair. His eyes were…what color were his eyes? Had she ever seen them? She must have. He did wear glasses; maybe that’s why she’d never noticed? The most distinctive thing she could identify about him was the dark purple sweater he was nearly always wearing. It had been replaced over the years with new ones as he’d grown taller.
“I’ll be collecting the tests in 20 minutes, finished or not.” Mr. Black’s voice pulled Quinn out of her abstraction.
“Crap!” Quinn thought; that was twice this week she had had a near miss because of William Rose. She looked back down at her paper. 20 minutes, and she still had nearly two pages of essay questions to answer. Quinn noticed that she had been so lost in her thoughts that she’d started doodling on the margins of the page. Some design she had never drawn before… pretty, but not on a test. Quinn quickly rubbed it out with her eraser, and rushed through the rest of the questions on the test, pushing William Rose as far from her thoughts as he would go.
The morning seemed to pass far too quickly for Quinn, who was not eager for lunchtime, the only time during the day she would be in the same room as Zander. She felt sick as she walked toward the cafeteria, wondering how mad Zander was, what he would say to her. Or worse, what if he said nothing? And why would he say something? They had never talked in the cafeteria before. Zander always sat with his own group of friends, Quinn with hers. She had worked herself almost into a panic by the time she’d paid for her lunch and sat down at her usual table with Abigail.
Before she had even started eating, she was distracted again. There, sitting a few tables away, all by himself was William Rose, surrounded by books and papers, intently writing. It didn’t look like he’d eaten much of the lunch he had brought from home. It made Quinn curious. Her friends had often teased her about the amount of time she spent reading and studying, but even she had never spent her entire lunch working. She found herself staring, wondering what was so important.
She felt her heart drop into her stomach as she looked up to see Zander, sliding into the seat next to her.
“H…hi, Zander,” she managed to choke out. He didn’t look upset.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, why?”
The look on his face was concerned. “Your mom told my mom that you were almost in a car accident on Friday night on the way home from our house. I wanted to call this weekend and check on you, but my mom said you guys were going to Denver.”
Quinn felt like bursting into tears at Zander’s words, but she managed not to. “I’m fine, Zander, thanks. Nothing actually happened.”
“I know, but still, that would be freaky.”
“Yeah, it kinda was, but I’m okay.” Sort of, anyway.
“All right, well, I’m going to go eat lunch, let me know if you need anything, ‘k?”
Zander walked across the room to one of the football players’ tables where she could now see he had set his tray, leaving Quinn a little breathless.
As soon as Zander was gone, Abigail rounded on her. “What was that about?” she demanded.
“He was just checking on me, I guess.”
“Yeah, but since when is Zander Cunningham ‘just checking on’ you?”
“Come on, Abigail. You know I’ve known Zander forever. His mom still watches Annie.”
“Sure, but when was the last time you even talked to him? You don’t even bother to show up at any parties where he is or anything.”
Quinn flushed red-hot, thinking again about the party she’d stood Zander up for on Friday night. Abigail was right; Quinn had never managed to fit into the social scene the same way everyone else seemed to be able to do so naturally. Abigail had probably been at Jake Price’s party on Friday. She had probably even talked to Zander there. Quinn wasn’t going to ask.
The week did not improve much from there. Zander didn’t talk to her at school again, and she didn’t see him at his house on the days she picked Annie up. She wondered if she had blown any chances of rekindling her friendship with him after the stunt she’d pulled.
The crazy dreams continued; on Wednesday morning she woke up atfour a.m., covered in sweat and mumbling something about dandelions.
On Friday, she made plans with Abigail to see a movie and then spend the night together at Quinn’s house, so Quinn could help Abigail with the essay. It had been quite awhile since they had done something like that together. Quinn thought there must not be anything more interesting going on this weekend.
As she was driving home to drop Annie off, she found her eyes wandering down the slope next to the highway, in the same spot she’d nearly run over William the week before. What she saw nearly made her crash again. There was William, wearing the purple sweater underneath his long, dark jacket, a large, fancy backpack hanging neatly from his shoulders. This time, his back was to Quinn. He was heading toward the riverbank rather coming up to the road from it. Where was he going?
“Hey, Quinn! Red means stop, you know.” Abigail’s voice beside her pulled her eyes back to the road just in time to stop for the red light.
“Sorry,” Quinn answered, “I guess I got distracted.”
“What were you looking at, anyway?”
“I thought I saw …. I don’t know,” Quinn trailed off. For the second time this week, she could not bring herself to tell Abigail about William. Abigail and Quinn had been friends since kindergarten. Quinn had never before had anything she wasn’t willing to tell Abigail. Why did Quinn suddenly feel she couldn’t share this?
“Isn’t this where whoever it was ran in front of you last week?” Abigail asked.
“Yeah… maybe I’m just still kind of freaked out over it.” Quinn realized that she was probably talking to herself as much as she was to Abigail.
“You don’t have any idea who it was, still?”
“No…” the light turned green, and Quinn made an impulsive decision. Rather than going straight, toward home, she made a right turn onto the road that crossed the river and headed up into the mountains.
“Where are you going?” Abigail’s voice was perplexed.
“Sorry. I was just thinking about last week, and I wanted to check something out. Hang on a second.” Quinn pulled the car over to the shoulder and stopped. Ignoring Abigail’s questioning glare and Annie’s sudden protest, she got out and walked around the front of the car, scanning the narrow valley below to find William, to see where he was going. She didn’t know why she cared, but the sudden curiosity blazed through every part of her. She had to know.
She stepped over the guardrail and took a few careful steps down the rocky slope, stopping when her head dipped below the road. From where she stood, she could see a solid mile and a half of the river. Far to her front and right, along the adjoining highway was the small break in the guardrail that opened onto a little, twisting footpath that someone could follow down to the riverbank. At the bottom of the path was a wide, rocky area.
It was January, and the river was quite low, more a stream now than a river. The rocky area was dry. Come spring, Quinn knew, the river would flow much higher and faster, leaving a smaller bank.
In the middle of the flat, rocky riverbank was an odd structure. It was old. It had quite possibly been longer than a century since the bridge had spanned the small section of river. All that remained were the broken stone-and-mortar steps on one side, and the remains of mortar supports hanging from the face of the tall mountain cliff on the other. Even when the bridge had stood, it had obviously never gone anywhere, besides over the river.
Perhaps someone had built it as a fishing spot, a way to stand over the middle of the river in the summer when the water flowed deep enough to house fish, and hang a fishing line. Quinn didn’t have to wonder why it hadn’t been rebuilt after the center of the bridge had crumbled into the water below.
She could see everything from this spot: the entire valley, the footpath, the entrance to the footpath, and the buildings across the highway where she had just been driving.
Everything except William. He was not there. It was impossible. He had to be somewhere she could see from here, and yet, she could not see him.
Quinn felt like the wind had been had been knocked out of her as she walked around the car and climbed back in the driver’s side. Am I imagining things now? She wondered. She was so sure, so absolutely certain that she had seen him heading down that slope toward the river, and yet…
“What are you doing, Quinn?” Abigail’s voice behind her sliced into her reverie and Quinn was almost irritated.
“I don’t know.”
“What were you looking for?”
Quinn thought for a moment, taking a deep breath before answering. “I guess I was just looking to see where that kid might have been going last week when I almost hit him.
“That boy shouldn’t have been in the road!” Annie piped up from beside Abigail, eager to be part of the conversation.
“No, you’re right, Annie, he shouldn’t.” Quinn felt a wave of appreciation for her little sister’s presence wash over her. Annie’s constant questions could change the mood in an instant.
“Then why was he?”
“I don’t know why. He’s just silly, I guess.”
“I don’t go in the road, do I?”
“I sure hope you don’t,” Abigail joined in.
“Yeah, ’cause I could get smashed, right?” Annie’s voice was growing louder.
“That’s right, Annie, you could get smashed. And I never want you to get smashed!”
“But we didn’t smash that boy, did we?”
“No, we didn’t. So maybe we should just stop talking about him. What did you do at Maggie’s house today?” Quinn quickly changed the subject as the three of them climbed back into the car.
Now that she had something new to wonder about though, it wasn’t going to be quite so easy to banish thoughts of William Rose from her mind.