“Crap!” Quinn Robbins shouted, slamming on the brakes. The car skidded to a stop, and she whipped her head around, grateful to discover that there were no other cars behind her.

Now, where was the boy? She hadn’t felt an impact, but where had he gone? She craned her neck forward the best she could, trying to make sure there was no teenage boy lying in the street in front of her bumper. As she looked around, something else caught her attention. Blinking lights a few hundred feet ahead of her, just past the intersection at River Road. Not an emergency vehicle, but not right, either. The windshield wipers made another pass, and in the cleared glass, she could see that the lights were slightly to the side of the road. The hazard lights of a car.

“Is that a naughty word?” Her little sister’s small voice piped up from the backseat.

“What?” Quinn was distracted, her heart racing.

“Crap.  You said crap. Is that a naughty word?”

“Um, no, it isn’t.” Quinn could barely concentrate on what Annie was asking. Checking around the car once more, just to make sure the boy wasn’t there, she eased down on the gas pedal, wanting to get up to the intersection.

“Quinn! It’s not nice to say naughty words!” Annie’s voice rose, as it generally did when she was feeling ignored.

“I know, Annie.  Crap isn’t a naughty word.”

“Oh.  What kind of word is it, then?”

“Um,” she struggled to turn her attention back to her little sister, attempting to calm her shaking hands, “It’s a surprised word.”

“What are you surprised about?” Annie always had to understand everything.

Deep breath. She’s only three, Quinn silently reminded herself. Don’t freak her out, too. “There’s something going on up here, Annie. Can you be quiet for a minute?”

“Why?”

Quinn sighed. Asking Annie to be quiet was like asking the river down below them to stop flowing for a minute.

“I want to see what’s going on, okay?” Her little sister’s insistent questions were starting to pull her out of her reverie, and her racing heart was beginning to slow.

“What’s going on?” Annie struggled to look as far around as the car seat straps would allow. “Why did you stop the car?”

“There was a boy who ran in the middle of the road. I was afraid I hit him.”

“You hit him? With the car?”

“No, I didn’t.” She was almost sure of that now. She pulled slowly through the intersection. On the other side, there was a little red hatchback, its hazard lights flashing. Somehow, it had gone into the guardrail. The front of the car was crumpled like an accordion, steam pouring out from under the hood. Glass littered the side of the road from the shattered windshield. The driver’s side door was open, and as she pulled past the car, she could see the outline of the driver inside, and someone else kneeling just outside the door.

Heart pounding again, she pulled carefully to the shoulder. “Stay here, Annie,” she said as she unbuckled her seat belt.

“I want to come!” Annie’s fingers were already fumbling with the chest clip on her car seat.

“I’m not kidding. Stay here. Here,” she said, digging quickly through the glove box and pulling out a small handheld video game, “play with Owen’s game.”

It wouldn’t keep her sister occupied for long, but it was better than nothing. Quinn closed the door and pulled up the hood of her jacket.

As she walked toward the car, she assessed the situation. Out-of-state plates – not unusual during ski season. There was a resort about twenty miles further up the highway. The rack on top of the car held skis and a snowboard, and another rack on the back carried – oddly—a mountain bike. What the driver planned to do with that in the middle of winter in the Colorado mountains, she wasn’t sure.

When she got to the driver’s side of the car, her pounding heart nearly stopped. The person kneeling outside the car was him. The boy she’d almost run over. And now she knew who he was. William Rose. He was a senior at Bristlecone High School, a year older than she was. He must have been really running to get here before her. He was bent over the car’s driver, doing something. He’d pushed the seat back, getting the driver away from the deployed airbag.

“Did you call 911?” she asked.

William stood up so quickly that he bumped his head on the door frame. When he looked up at her, she got the distinct impression that he wasn’t pleased to see her. “No I didn’t. I don’t have a phone.”

He didn’t have a phone? What senior in high school didn’t have a phone with him at all times?

“Doesn’t he? Somewhere in the car?”

“I don’t know, Quinn. I was too busy trying to keep him from bleeding out to look yet.”

As he spoke, he had already knelt back down in front of the driver, and now she could see that he was pressing a large piece of gauze just above the driver’s barely open eye. It was already soaked with blood. If the man was conscious, it wasn’t by much. A huge gash ran the length of his left arm, too, blood dripped in little rivulets down the sides of his arm.

A little queasy, she pulled her own phone out of her pocket, and quickly dialed 911. Quinn. He’d called her Quinn. They were standing here on the side of the road with an almost-unconscious tourist, and the thing that shocked her most was that William Rose knew her name.

“The police and an ambulance are on their way,” she said, a minute later.

He nodded, reaching into a large backpack that was sitting next to him on the road, and pulling out a thick roll of clean, white gauze. What in the …

“What happened here?” she asked.

William didn’t look up at her as he wound a long piece of the gauze around the driver’s head, securing the pressure bandage in place before he turned his attention to the gash on the man’s arm. “I don’t know,” he said. “I just saw the car here and came. There’s black ice just on the edge of the intersection there. I think that probably had something to do with this.”

The driver gave a low moan as William touched his injury, but otherwise didn’t respond.

“What are you …” she didn’t know how to form the question she wanted to ask – what he’d been doing out here in the first place.

“They’re sending an ambulance?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Good.” He glanced up at the sky, looking over the mountains where the sun had now almost disappeared. “Here, hold this for me,” he said, pointing to the pad he had pressed against the worst part of the driver’s cut.

Too far in shock to think about what she was doing, Quinn followed his instructions and replaced his hand with hers, being extremely careful to keep her hand only on the clean gauze, and away from the blood that seemed to be everywhere.

Once she had pressure on the cut, William opened the back door of the car, and dug under the back seat. “Here,” he said, setting something down on the road beside her. She glanced down to see an open first-aid kit, the fancy wilderness kind. She carried one similar to it in her saddlebag on the ranch where she led horseback riding groups in the summer. William pulled open a little pouch that held latex gloves. Wordlessly, he took her free hand and slipped a glove on it. Keeping the gauze in place with the gloved hand now, she held out her other hand for the next glove.

Although she was trained in first aid, and had some idea of what she was doing, she’d never been around this much blood before, and she was beginning to feel nauseous. Keeping her hands firmly pressed against the gauze, she looked down at the ground, taking deep breaths, and studying the shards of glass under her feet.

A moment or so later, she caught sight of red and blue flashing lights out of the corner of her eye. “They’re coming,” she said, looking up for William, but he wasn’t standing next to her anymore.

“William!” she called, but he didn’t answer.

The first police cruiser to reach them was marked with the familiar county logo. Even more familiar was the officer who rushed to her side. “Quinn? Is that you?”

“Yeah, it’s me, Louis.” She was never going to get used to the fact that Louis Chavez – her best friend’s older brother – was now a cop. Although it did explain the fascination he’d had with handcuffing her and Abigail together with plastic handcuffs when they were all little.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. I just saw the car when I was driving by.”

“You didn’t see the accident?” Louis pulled his own pair of latex gloves out of his pocket, and a few seconds later, he took over applying pressure on the man’s arm.

“No,” she said. “It had already happened when I got there.” She pulled off her own gloves, and took a couple of deep breaths of fresh air, relieved to be away from the smell of the car.

“You were the one who called 911?”

“Yeah, I called.” She was suddenly distracted by another movement on the road. “Annie!” she shouted, running over to the little girl. “I told you to stay in the car.”

“But I didn’t want to be there all alone,” her sister said, tears streaming down her face. “I couldn’t see you. I don’t like it when you leave me.” The choking sounds in Annie’s voice told Quinn that she’d probably been crying the whole time, and she felt guilty. It probably had frightened Annie to be alone over there. She scooped her sister into her arms.

The trickling sleet was turning into a torrent now, and Annie had left her coat in the car. Quinn pulled her own coat around Annie as best she could. More flashing lights were approaching in the distance.

“You don’t have to stay if you didn’t see anything,” Louis was telling her. “You’d better get Annie in the car and get home before your mom starts worrying. I know where to find you if I need you. There’s black ice everywhere. Probably just someone not used to driving up here. Thanks for stopping.”

She was buckling Annie back into her car seat when she realized that she hadn’t mentioned anything about William. Two state patrol cars were pulling up now, though, and an ambulance was just a little way up the road, and she wasn’t going back into that mess. Besides, she had no idea where he had gone. Where had he gone?

Instead of heading straight home, Quinn turned the car around, heading back to the spot where she’d nearly run William over a little while ago. She believed him that he’d just seen the accident and gone running – but what had he been doing out here in the first place? And where had he gone now?

The problem was, there was nowhere for him to have gone. The stretch of highway they were on was pretty isolated. If he had come back this way, she should be able to see him. Really, he would have to be either walking along the narrow shoulder, or down by the riverbank, which was a ridiculous possibility. Nobody would be down by the river in this weather. The freezing rain was beginning to turn to snow.

“Why were there police?” Annie asked.

“Because that guy had a car crash,” Quinn answered, giving up and turning the car around, scanning the area once again for William, just in case. The whole thing was starting to freak her out a little bit, and she was starting to crash from the adrenaline rush of nearly hitting William earlier. What had he been doing in the middle of the road like that? She hadn’t seen a car. And in any case, if he’d stopped because of the accident, why would he have been in the road all the way over here?

“Did he die?”

“No, he didn’t die. I think he’s going to be okay.”

“But why did he crash?”

“I don’t know. He just did.”

“But why?” The insistence in her little sister’s voice told her that there was no way Annie was going to just let it go.

“Hey, Annie, want to sing Jingle Bells?” Quinn asked, turning on the CD player. Annie had been obsessed with the song since Christmas a few weeks before.

By the time she pulled into the two-car garage, both girls were singing loudly and giggling; she was hopeful that Annie had forgotten all about the incident. Her mom wasn’t home yet, fortunately.

Inside the house, she turned on Annie’s current favorite DVD – this week it was “Fireman Sam” – and retreated into the bathroom.

The whole incident – almost hitting William, and then seeing that accident – had scared her more than she wanted to admit. Her hands still felt shaky as she turned on the faucet, sending a flow of warm water into the sink. She reached into the linen closet and removed a clean washcloth and a small, brown bottle with a purple lid. After thoroughly soaking the washcloth in the steaming water, she carefully placed two drops of the lavender-and-vanilla scented oil in the middle of the cloth.  Folding it into a smaller square, she buried her face deep inside, breathing the calming scent in deeply, the way her mother had taught her to do when she was little.

She stayed in the bathroom for a long time, wanting to be completely calm before facing her mother. Her mom didn’t need to know about this; she had enough on her plate right now as it was. Besides, nothing had actually happened.

Finally somewhat settled down, she managed to get started on making an enchilada casserole just a few moments before she heard her mother’s car in the garage. She put all of her energy into the preparations, trying to keep her mind occupied. Although she knew it was going overboard, she took a long time preparing an extensive salad with lots of vegetables that needed chopping, and she washed all of the dishes by hand.

Megan Robbins was usually exhausted on Friday evenings, which was one reason that Quinn had taken over making dinner most of the time. Quinn hoped she would be too tired to notice how antsy she was as she scrubbed the counters and set the table.

Of course, it was stupid to think her mom wasn’t going to find out. An hour later, as the girls sat down to dinner with their mother and their brother, seven-year-old Owen, Annie turned to their mother, “Mommy! Guess what?”

“What, sweetie?”

“We saw a car crash! And there were lots of police! And a fire truck. Just like on Fireman Sam!”

Quinn hadn’t even noticed the fire truck.

“Quinn! What happened?” Megan turned to her in alarm, concern written all over her face.

She sighed. It wasn’t always easy to appreciate how verbal Annie was becoming. “Some tourist ran his car into the guardrail right at the intersection to River Road. I stopped and called 911.”

“Are you guys okay, honey? That must have been scary.” Megan scooped Annie into her arms, hugging her tight, and reached across the table to grab Quinn’s hand. “Was the driver okay?”

She shrugged. “He looked like he was going to be okay, he was pretty out of it though. He had big cuts on his arm and his forehead.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t be having you pick up Annie when it’s getting dark so early…”

“It’s fine, Mom, really. We didn’t crash. We’re safe.” She didn’t want this conversation going too far in the wrong direction.  She knew it made her mother anxious to have both her and Annie in the car alone.

“Quinn always drives safe,” Owen’s quiet voice interrupted. “It’ll be okay mom.”

She looked gratefully across the table at her little brother, who had glanced up from his book long enough to join in the conversation. She loved her sweet, quiet little brother. Owen was always so straightforward and literal; it was easy to believe everything he said.

“Yeah, Mommy! Quinn drives safe. And buckles her seat belt!” Annie chimed in.

She anxiously watched her mother’s eyes as she looked carefully at each of her children in turn. Finally, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and spoke.

“All right, sweetheart. I’ll try not to worry.  Are you sure you’re okay, not too shaken?”

“I’m sure, Mom.”

 

Quinn retreated to her room after dinner, hoping that immersing herself in the English essay would distract her enough to stop the endless playback of the near-accident that was running through her brain. She had just crumpled up the second paper that had doodles on it instead of words when there was a soft knock on the door.

“Hi sweetheart. Can I come in?”

She sat up on the bed and shuffled her books and papers into a pile, making room for her mother to come and sit beside her.

“How are you doing, honey?”

“I’m okay.”

Megan eyes were on her intently. Sometimes she felt as if those green eyes could see right through her. Tonight, they were laced with the same concern and anxiety Quinn was feeling. “Really?”

She sighed. “I think so. I was pretty freaked out.” And she hadn’t even told her mom about the part that had scared her most. The part where she’d almost hit William in the street. Her heart sped abnormally every time that memory crossed her mind.

“And now?”

“I keep seeing it over and over in my head.” She didn’t know why, but she couldn’t bring herself to tell her mom about seeing William Rose there.

Her mom nodded. “That happens sometimes when something really scares me, too,” she paused, and her eyes drifted to a framed photograph on the nightstand. “And that would really scare me.”

Quinn followed her mother’s gaze. It was a picture of her real father, Samuel. He had died in a hit-and-run car accident when she was three. Someone had hit him in the road, the same way she’d almost done to William tonight. In the picture, he was grinning widely, his gray eyes twinkling as he hoisted a tiny Quinn into the air. They both stared at the picture for several minutes.

“Still think I should have gotten my driver’s license already?” Her voice was wry.

Her mother looked directly into Quinn’s eyes. “Yes, I do. You’re almost seventeen, Quinn. You can do this. Things happen. You can’t control everything. I know it’s scary for you. Trust me, it’s terrifying for me. Someday you’ll understand when it’s your child. But you can’t hide from everything that scares you.” She pulled Quinn into her arms and hugged her tightly, kissing her on the forehead before she let her go. “It will be okay, honey, it really will.”

“I know,” she said. But she didn’t really.

Halfway to the door, her mother turned back to face her again. “I think you should come to Denver with us tomorrow.”

Quinn raised an eyebrow.

“I know you don’t love going down there all the time anymore, but Richard and Denise haven’t seen you in a while.”

“They just saw me at Christmas.” It wasn’t that she didn’t like Jeff’s parents. They’d been supportive when he had adopted Quinn, and they were always nice to her and made her feel welcome, but they weren’t her grandparents the way they were Owen’s and Annie’s. She’d never really had her own grandparents. Her mom’s mother had died when she was little, and that grandfather had remarried and moved far away. They saw him every other year or so. She didn’t know anything at all about her father’s parents. Megan had told her they’d died before she was born.

It felt weird to her now, watching her little brother and sister with grandparents who doted on them, who got antsy about seeing them if more than a couple of weeks passed between visits.

“Look, sweetie … I just don’t think I could spend a weekend away from you right now, okay? Please come.”

She sighed. It wasn’t like she had big plans here in Bristlecone for the weekend anyway. “I thought you said you were okay.”

Megan kissed her on the head again. “I’m fine, and so are you. I just … want you close, okay?”

As she watched her mother walk out of the room, Quinn wondered which of them she had been trying to convince. The last few months, since Jeff’s team had taken the contracting job in Afghanistan, she knew her mother’s anxieties had been soaring. It was hard on all of them really, to be missing him.

She stared at the picture again, thinking now about the fact that she’d almost hit William. It still scared her. What if she’d hurt him as badly as someone had once hurt her father?

Her phone buzzed, startling her out of her reverie and when she looked at the screen, she realized that she was still more freaked out than she’d thought. It was a text message from Abigail, and just the thought of reading it abruptly exhausted her. She was sure that Abbie had heard about the accident from her brother, and she was going to want all of the details.

What could she even tell her? Now that she thought about it, she hadn’t told anyone about William being there. Louis had probably just assumed that Quinn had been the one to pull out the first aid kit and patch that guy up.

Right now, she didn’t even want to think about it. So she did something she’d never done before. Without reading the message, she turned off the phone and went to bed.

 

*          *          *

 

Quinn woke up feeling unsettled. It didn’t feel like it could be morning already. She glanced at the digital clock on her nightstand. The red numbers glared at her. 1:23. Strange, she never woke up in the middle of the night. She could almost remember the dream she’d been having, but not quite. Something about … flowers? It left her with an odd feeling that she just couldn’t shake.  As if it was somehow important, as if she needed to be able to remember it, but the memory kept slipping away, just as she thought she might grasp it.

For almost three hours, she tossed and turned in the bed, telling herself it was just a crazy dream brought on by the stress of the almost-accident, and that everything was okay, but sleep refused to return.

Finally, faced with the approach of morning, Quinn resorted to something she would never admit to – she crept quietly to the next room. Inside, her mother lay sleeping, Annie curled peacefully next to her on the king-sized bed – the same way Quinn had slept every night until she was six, until a few months before her mother had married Jeff.

Gingerly, so she wouldn’t wake either of them, Quinn climbed in next to Annie. The little girl’s face was so relaxed, adorable, deep in sleep, that Quinn couldn’t resist stroking her soft cheek for a moment. Though she didn’t wake at all, Annie’s hand reached for Quinn, wrapping her chubby little fingers around Quinn’s thumb. Their mother, a light sleeper always, stirred and reached across the sleeping Annie to find Quinn’s arm. For a long moment she lay there, soaking up the comforting warmth of her mother’s loving hand on her arm, and the sounds of Annie breathing peacefully. A few moments later, she drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

 

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