READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: THE WEAVER BY HEATHER KINDT
“Race you to the bottom!” Jason punched his subway card into the slot of the turnstile, proclaiming the hundredth race of the day.
Laney rolled her eyes and conceded, knowing her card was crammed under her notebook and multiple other items at the bottom of her bag. She stepped to the side and crouched by the wall to dig for her card, avoiding the flow of commuters heading home in Boston’s midweek rush.
“Come on, Turtle!” Jason called from the bottom of the steps. “The train’s here!”
Laney cringed at the nickname Jason had pinned on her when they were kids. She didn’t want him to look at her as a turtle, or as an eight-year-old girl. Not that she did anything to change his view of her. Her brown hair still hung down her back in a ponytail.
Jason’s transformation, on the other hand, was dramatic. He let his dark hair grow out from the crew cut his mom subjected him to every summer. When he was the quarterback in high school, his body changed into a man’s before Laney’s eyes, and she wasn’t the only one who noticed. Jason had a magnetic field that attracted any teenage girl with a pulse in a one-mile radius.
Subway card in hand, Laney merged into the sea of humanity trying to keep her eyes focused on every step until she reached Jason.
“I’m not playing anymore.” She elbowed him and kept walking to the platform. “Besides, we’ve got three more things to find on this list before we’re supposed to be back at the park. We’re going to lose because you want to do anything besides what you’re supposed to do.”
“Disobedience is the only way things get done in this world. Didn’t you learn anything on our tour of Boston about tea parties and that Samuel Adams dude?”
“Yeah.” Laney laughed. “The only thing you know about Samuel Adams is what type of beer he makes.”
Jason Harrison’s smug attitude drove Laney crazy. Besides going to parties in high school with his football buddies, he followed the rules: class president, valedictorian, and attending church most Sundays. Responsibility didn’t come naturally to Jason — it was forced on him when his dad died from a sudden heart attack. He had to take care of his mom.
The screech of the wheels on the green line echoed through the tunnel before the subway light shone in the dark abyss.
Jason took Laney’s hand to pull her back from the thick yellow line delineating the danger zone. “Besides, you’d be mortified accepting your prize in front of all those people. There must be a hundred freshman playing this stupid mixer game and I end up with you. I think I know you better than I know myself.”
“You don’t know everything about me.”
The train doors opened, Jason took her hand, and they squeezed in with the commuters, content to hold on to a silver pole. Laney moved against the wall of the train, blocking out the hordes with Jason’s body. Being this close to him should feel natural, like breathing, but she felt her nerves tense.
She glanced around the car at the other travelers. Some were families heading home after a full day in the city — little ones fast asleep in their mother’s lap or fussing from a case of being overtired. Others were couples ready to have a night out on the town. Then there were the outcasts who rode alone. Some scrolled through their phone, read a newspaper, or had an engaging conversation with themselves. A large man sat in the corner diagonal from Laney. He was big enough to intimidate, but it was something else that made her eyes rest on him. His hair hung past his shoulders entrenched in grease, and he wore period clothing from the 1700s. Was he part of a reenactment? Something nagged at her because he appeared familiar. The man raised his head and looked directly at her, so she quickly set her eyes on her backpack.
She held it protectively between her legs. Jason didn’t know about her writing. The journal nestled safely in the bag. The story she wrote was near and dear to her heart, and no one, not even Jason, would get a glance inside.
Jason stared at Laney for a few moments before their eyes locked, his usual smart remark trapped momentarily behind his lips. Of course, he knew everything about her — she had an overprotective father, was a bookworm and a master of the Scrabble universe, had legs that could outrun most boys, and a sarcastic wit that saw the truth in most situations. She was the most amazing girl he’d ever known. Laney Holden was the girl he took for granted. The popularity that came with being Derry’s hometown football hero had its privileges: girls, parties, preferential treatment at the Burger Barn — but through those distractions Jason missed something. His best friend grew up, and just looking at her drove him crazy. She was beautiful. Not the high heel, short skirt, plastered on make-up, I’m all that type of beauty he usually dated, and nothing like Jennifer, his current girlfriend. Laney was striking, and she didn’t even know it.
“Maybe we need to catch up on the time we missed.” Jason looked down at Laney’s hand in his own. It wasn’t like they never touched growing up, but he suddenly felt on edge. The thought of her rejection overwhelmed him, and he could tell his touch made her uncomfortable. He let go of her hand and brought it up to his mouth to fake a cough.
Laney picked up her backpack and held it to her, making it impossible for Jason to hold her hand again. Of course, she wouldn’t want to hold his hand. Jennifer followed Jason to Madison and Laney probably thought that made him off-limits.
She smiled at him before averting her eyes to a small boy in the seat next to her playing with a toy car. That was the thing that was difficult for Jason. The girls he knew were easy to read. He knew what they wanted, and they laid it all out there, but with Laney it was different. Jason knew her better than any other girl he’d ever known, but there were parts of her that were a complete mystery to him.
The subway pulled into the Park Street station just below the Boston Commons. Laney removed the scavenger hunt list from the back pocket of her jeans to review the last three items. They walked with the masses of people until Laney sat down on a graffiti-covered bench to go over the list once again.
“You still wear that old thing?” Laney touched a tattered bracelet on Jason’s wrist.
“I never take it off.” He stretched his sleeve over the bracelet. Laney handpicked the colors based off a chart she found on the Internet when she was twelve. She made his purple and yellow. The purple was a school color, but she told him she entwined yellow because it reflected his personality.
“I think we should find the Make Way for Ducklings statues and then head to the swan boats.” She put the list into her pocket before readjusting her ponytail and swinging her backpack onto her shoulder.
Jason told her that it was ridiculous to bring her bag with her when they were planning to eat out in Faneuil Hall. She put on her stubborn pout and ignored him.
“Race you to the top!” Laney shouted over the next train pulling in, taking a two-stride head start. Jason rolled his eyes and chased after the girl who was so far from a turtle.
When he reached the stairs, Jason stopped to let Laney have her glory. She was halfway up before she turned around.
“Give up already, Turtle?” she taunted and flashed that beautiful smile of hers. Jason wanted to race up the stairs and kiss her.
But before Jason could do anything, a man ascending the stairs to the right of Laney, wearing some type of strange Revolutionary War get-up, grabbed her arm and pulled her bag off her back. She swung around and slugged him in the jaw, just before he pushed her backwards down the concrete stairs. Jason’s heart stopped as her body tumbled into an unconscious heap several feet in front of him.
When Laney first awoke, she didn’t know where she was or why her head felt extremely clouded. A constant beeping sound and hushed whispers filled her ears. She opened her eyes and tried to focus on the source.
“Delaney!” Her father’s voice made her head hurt, but she was glad to hear it. Adjusting her eyes to the light, she saw both of her parents leaning over her. She shut her eyes again, knowing she was safe and hoping to avoid a conversation.
“We’re here, Laney.” She felt a soft hand on hers. It was her mother.
Laney kept her eyes closed, not quite ready to deal with the barrage of questions she knew her parents were dying to ask. And if this were a normal situation with a normal, everyday, garden-variety thief, she’d be more than happy to divulge any information they cared to know about the incident. The problem was that it was so far from normal.
A knock on the doorframe kept Laney’s eyes shut, afraid of any further intrusion into her spinning mind.
“Doctor.” Her dad’s hand moved off the bed as he stood up to greet her physician. “She opened her eyes a few minutes ago. Does that mean she’s going to be alright?”
Laney rolled her eyes beneath the lids.
“I’m happy to see she’s awake. I told you before that it’s a simple skull fracture. While we take all head injuries very seriously, I assure you that your daughter will be fine.”
Laney tensed up inside wondering if she was fine, or safe for that matter. Images flashed through her head of her attacker — dark, greasy hair, piercing brown eyes, the penetrating smell of alcohol on his breath, and his hand on her shoulder. If the thief got away with her backpack, then he had her book. If she told the truth, she knew her parents and the doctor would diagnose it as delirium from a head injury.
When the doctor left the room, she opened her eyes to face her parents. Tim and Shelly Holden owned an antique shop in downtown Derry, New Hampshire. They had closed the business for the day to rush down to Boston. Although she was an only child, it was expensive for them to send her to a private college, but her mom wanted her to have more to look forward to than taking over the family business.
“Delaney, baby, how are you feeling? Do I need to call the doctor back? He could check your head again, or give you some more pain medication.” Her dad brushed back her bangs like he did when she was young, avoiding the bandage on the left side of her head. The momentary feeling of safety smoothed out the jitters that still ran through her body.
“No, don’t bother the doctor.” Laney pushed back with her hands to prop her body up on the pillow.
“Let me help you.” Her mom fluffed the pillow to support her lower back, which ached from a fresh bruise. Sore spots sprouted in other areas of her body making her head fracture feel less severe.
“Shelly, I told you if she went to a school close to Boston something like this would happen. The city is full of murderers and thieves.” Her dad bent over and kissed her head as he said the last words. “Hardly a place for my princess. I’m sure it’s not too late to transfer to the University of New Hampshire.”
“FYI, Dad,” Laney spit the words out, “I’m a grown-up! You’re just going to have to get used to it. Besides, I would’ve been fine if it weren’t for . . .” The words stuck to her tongue. She’d already said far too much.
“If it weren’t for what?” His dark blue eyes pierced through her and for a moment she was afraid he could hear her thoughts.
“Um . . . if it weren’t for that step I tripped over. You see I was racing Jason, and the step just reached up and tripped me. It gave that guy time to grab my backpack.”
“We know what happened.” Her dad sighed, leaning back in his chair. “Jason told us the whole story when we arrived at the hospital.” Tim ran his hand through his dark hair. “It’s all his fault, you know.”
Laney’s dad had never liked Jason. Maybe he did when Jason was young, but once he hit high school he was never good enough for her, despite his academic and athletic achievements. Because Jason’s mom was Shelly’s best friend, Laney’s mom loved him as her own.
“Oh, Jason’s out in the waiting room, I’m sure he’s worried sick.” Shelly stood up and headed toward the door.
“Jeez, Shelly. Why do you have to get him?” Her dad’s face was sullen. “It’d do him good to worry about someone else for change.”
“He saved her life. He ran after that guy and almost stopped him.” Shelly walked out the door, refusing to even entertain an argument with her husband.
After her mother left the room, Laney’s father reached over to the nightstand and picked up a long chain with a pendant on it. “The nurses took this off when you entered the hospital, so I held on to it.”
Laney took the sapphire necklace from her father and quickly latched it behind her neck. She wore it like a favorite pair of jeans. The inlaid golden spider sparkled in the light. The necklace never came off, and the realization that she didn’t have it on suddenly made her feel naked and exposed. Her father had found it at an estate sale in Connecticut when she was ten years old. Although he put it in his antique store to be sold, Laney took it out of the case to hold it at least once a day. Her parents gave it to her as a present for her high school graduation and from that point on, it had never left her neck. She closed her eyes again, hoping to avoid any further pressings from him about her attacker.
Laney heard her father stand up and the bathroom door close before she opened her eyes to stare up at the grid pattern of the ceiling. An ominous feeling reached its tentacles into the depths of her stomach. Before she could explore the feeling further, the door opened and Jason poked his head in through the crack.
“Where’s your dad?” He slipped his shoulder into the room but kept one foot in the hallway.
She pointed to the bathroom door feeling a sharp pain along her ribcage as she raised her arm. Laney tried to hide her wince, but Jason was by her side in an instant.
“I’m so sorry.” He sat on the doctor’s stool next to her bed and rolled close to her. The safety she felt with Jason there allowed her to push all thoughts about her attacker to the back of her mind. The glow of the lamp felt warmer, the hospital sheets were comfier, and the traffic outside on the Boston streets became a melodic symphony. The thing was, it had nothing to do with romance, but a feeling of home and safety that she felt whenever Jason was around. She smiled.
“Can I get you anything?” He put his hand on hers.
“Yeah, you can get the hell out of here.” Laney’s dad came storming out of the bathroom on a mission. “And you can take your hands off my daughter!”
“Dad, stop!” Laney protested trying her best to sit up straight. The anger boiling inside her rivaled her father’s and she wasn’t going to make Jason leave without a fight. “Right now, I actually want you to leave.”
“And leave you alone with him! I don’t think so. You should know more than anyone else what he’s like.” He moved closer to Jason, and for a moment she thought he might punch him.
Jason stood up, and Laney reached for his hand not wanting to lose the comfort he brought to her room. “I wasn’t going to stay long. The doctor says you’ll be released tomorrow, so I’ll come see you at school. It’s just that I wanted to bring you this.”
He bent down and picked her backpack up off the floor.
Her heart leapt. She’d lost all hope in ever seeing it again. “But how?”
“The man watched you fall down the stairs. He stood there like a statue. Maybe he thought he killed you. So, I took that moment to run up the stairs and grab him. He must’ve felt really bad because he dropped the bag.” Jason unzipped the large pocket revealing the contents inside, the essentials all being there. “Either that or he was afraid that I’d beat the crap out of him.”
“You don’t know how much this means to me.” Laney beamed, and even though it hurt like hell, she pulled him into a hug. She regretted her actions after seeing her dad’s face turn a strange shade of purple and Jason’s to red.
Jason backed toward the door and fumbled for the handle. “I’ve got to go. See you tomorrow.”
Later, as Laney lay in bed, alone in her hospital room, the ominous thoughts and feelings began to grow again. She knew her imagination lost control every now and then, but her gut told her this was not her imagination. The man on the subway and the thief who stole her backpack were the same man, and he wasn’t a stranger to Laney. She used her words to create a fictional world, a place to escape when the pressures of this world seemed to crash down on her. The book she was writing, her world, was in that backpack, and for some reason Jonas Webb, her antagonist, wanted the book. She’d know him anywhere and he was here to find her.
A light mist speckled the windshield as Jason parked his vintage Duster behind Maxwell Hall. Madison College sat on a beautifully landscaped hundred-acre plot a few miles from the ocean on Boston’s North Shore. The ocean often created its own weather, cooling the campus with sea breezes and rolling fog banks. He pulled his hoodie over his hair, inspecting a piece of chipped yellow paint just below his side mirror. Jason made a mental note to sand it down and give it a fresh coat of primer and touch-up paint next weekend.
Nineteen steps led up the hill to the front of the dormitory, its wood slick with rain. Jason counted the stairs whenever he ran up and down them for his preseason lacrosse workouts. In high school, he played football in the fall and lacrosse in the spring. Madison didn’t have a football team, but the college recruited him for his lacrosse skills. He’d play on both the fall and spring teams for a scholarship, which helped him afford school.
The lounge brimmed with freshman back from the Boston trip, hanging all over the tired-looking furniture. Jason tightened the drawstrings of his hood to avoid the stares of a group of girls playing cards. His actions backfired as a fit of giggles echoed behind him. He took the stairs two at a time, ready to just crash.
When he got to his room, he reached for the doorknob, but stopped. A new name was etched into the gold nameplate just below his own — William. Jason frowned. He was so not ready to be social. All he wanted to do was sleep off this day of mixed emotions. Seeing Laney lying unconscious on the concrete floor stirred something in him. He wanted more. More with Laney, more out of life. The crowd he ran with in high school saw him as the partier who was fun to be around. They didn’t even know he was going to college to become a doctor. Jennifer was part of that crowd and he knew she’d expect him to make an appearance tonight with the group of friends they’d already made at Madison. Following the same crowd, same scene, just a different setting. Laney saw him as something more.
What was William like? Another partier? No thanks. Jason had his share of those. As he removed his hand from the knob, faint music drifted under the door. Something classical.
What the hell? Jason turned the knob.
Laney stared out the window of her hospital room at the streetlights below, wondering if Jonas was staring back up at her. Even with the book stowed safely in her nightstand, she was still in danger. Words had never been so dangerous as they were to her now. She had always known that the power of the written word could change the world: Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, The Communist Manifesto, and the Bible. She never thought she’d have that power. Of course, as far as she knew, Jonas could only harm her and wasn’t a danger to anyone else.
Her parents had left for the night, but promised to be there in the morning to check her out of the hospital and bring her back to Madison. Laney pulled her book from the drawer of the nightstand and propped herself up with the pillows. She handwrote her manuscript, paying special attention to the ebb and flow of her flowery cursive. Her soul was old. It belonged in an earlier time, not in the fast-paced present of computers and iPhones.
She ran her hand across the cover, inspecting it for damage. The tattered leather was perfect. The original pages had long since fallen out, so her father had taken it to a binder and had fresh pages enclosed. Tears came to her eyes the day she opened the gift, and she wondered to whom it had originally belonged. She made that her charge. In a series of journal entries, Laney created the character of Anne Lewis, a young woman living in colonial Lexington, Massachusetts.
She ran her finger over the dates until she reached the one she was looking for:
October 29, 1774
A gentle wind blew through the tall oak and rustled the pages of my book. Several pages flipped, but I barely noticed. The crisp, fall air filled my lungs with the musky aroma of the fallen leaves. In the distance, students mingled on the steps of the schoolhouse. They seemed amused by a young man. I did not have to be close by to know how his light brown hair caught glimmers of the sun and his eyes were the same color as the grass after a rainstorm. I watched him every day in the schoolyard, from my desk in the second to last row, and in my dreams at night.
William Clarke moved from Virginia to Lexington two months ago. He was a year and a half older than myself, and that fact made me keep my distance. I tried not to stare, for it was unladylike and disgraceful, but at times my thoughts consumed me.
As I watched him today, I caught him looking back. He inclined his head in my direction, hopped down the steps, and walked toward me. I pretended to read my book as my heart skipped more beats than I could count. Glancing down, my ankle was bare, so I pushed my skirt hem down. Moments later, his tall frame cast a shadow on my page.
“Good afternoon, Anne. Are you reading for class?” At the same moment, he plopped down next to me.
“No, this book is for pleasure.” My eyes stayed glued to the pages as I tried my best to hold my voice steady. “It is . . . my journal.”
“Why are you reluctant to join the rest of the students in the school yard?”
I could feel his stare on my downturned face.
“I like to keep to myself.” I raised my eyes. The thought of spending time with the other students terrified me.
William played with a small stone on the ground next to him, tossing it up before catching it in his palm. “Would you like me to walk you home today?”
My smile answered his question.
“Good.” He held the stone in his hand.
The bell rang from the schoolyard. William jumped up, turning to hold his hand out to me. I took it and he helped me to my feet, the warm strength of his hand emanating through me.
“I will meet you here by the oak tree.” He turned and rushed off to class.
William looked up from his book as Jason entered the room. His new roommate’s brown hair was tied back at the nape of his neck and Jason recognized the music playing on the guy’s phone as something by Mozart.
“You must be Jason.” William smiled, stood up and held out his hand. “I’m William, but you can call me Will. I arrived a couple of hours ago. I’m sorry if I surprised you.”
“Not a problem.” Jason lied. He wished admissions had warned him before he hung posters of his favorite ballplayers and a couple of supermodels all over the room. Even though Jason was an only child, he shared a locker room with tons of guys on the football team.
“So, did you go to Boston on the freshman trip today?” Jason lifted his hoodie over his head and flung it on the end of his bed.
William’s eyes darted to the window as he opened his mouth. “No,” he shrugged. “I’m a junior.”
Great. He had offended his roommate on day one.
“Why aren’t you on the harbor cruise?” William sat back down on his bed.
“Damn,” Jason muttered more to himself than to William. He’d hear the wrath of Jennifer for missing it. She’d even gone into Boston to buy a dress at some fancy shop.
The older boy put his glasses back on and picked up his book, something about understanding today’s youth. Assuming that his roommate was just weird, Jason grabbed his toothbrush and went to the restroom to wash up.
When Laney’s parents dropped her off, her dad made certain that she knew where the medical center was on campus and that her roommate, Missy, knew the doctor’s instructions. Despite Laney’s objections, he bought a small first aid kit at the local drug store. There wasn’t a single item in there that could help her internal head injury, but she kissed him and thanked him anyway. She hugged her parents and watched them leave as she stared through the window.
Melissa Vines scared Laney to death when she arrived at school a week ago. Back in July, the college had a summer open house for incoming freshman — a perfect opportunity to meet other freshman and her roommate, but Laney settled on a phone conversation.
“Hi, is this Delaney Holden?” Her voice sounded very chipper, like someone trying to get you to sign up for a new credit card or take some exhausting political survey.
“Yes,” Laney replied. Since turning eighteen she had received an onslaught of telemarketing calls.
“This is Missy Vines!” she literally squealed on the other end of the line.
Laney pulled the phone away from her ear. “Hi.”
Missy scared her more than a telemarketer. It’s a well-known fact that the introverts of the world greatly fear the extroverts.
“I can’t wait to meet you. We’re going to have so much fun. Do you like pink? My mom and I just went out and bought my bedspread.” Missy paused to take a breath, which surprised Laney more than the fact that her favorite color was still pink.
“I can’t wait to meet you either.” And believe it or not, Laney meant it. College excited her, and Missy’s enthusiasm was contagious.
It disappointed Missy when she found out that Laney couldn’t come to the summer open house. It also disappointed Laney because, with Missy’s energy, she’d surely have several new friends before Laney even walked in the door. Missy was a cheerleader and student body president at her high school in Maine. Laney’s extracurricular activities consisted of running and writing; they were her only two outlets. The story she wrote in her notebook absorbed her life. Because she often isolated herself to accomplish perfection in the two disciplines, she was not what one would consider a “social butterfly” in high school.
Missy wanted to make sure that she took her role seriously as Laney’s caregiver. The whole floor got together and made her a giant card, which was hanging on the door when she returned. Laney had no doubt that the whole thing was Missy’s idea. After Laney’s parents left, Missy made her lie down and brought her a dinner consisting of a cheeseburger, French fries, and a soda — all tasting a hundred times better than hospital food.
With her dinner in hand and the television on, Laney assured Missy it was all right for her to go to the dining hall with her friend Morgan. When she finished up her last bite of burger, Laney clicked off the TV, and took her journal from her backpack. William and Anne’s first official date spread like a blank canvas before her.
October 29, 1774
The fallen autumn leaves crunched beneath my boot as I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. I traced my finger along the bark of the tree glancing up at the schoolhouse again. What was I thinking? What was he thinking? Surely, he could walk Susan home, or even Elizabeth. They were closer to his age and laughed at his childish jokes. But he did not make fun when he was around me. It must be all in my mind, but I sense an undeniable connection when William was near.
“Anne.” William woke me from my thoughts. In his hand he held a large red apple. “My wish was to bring you a flower.”