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You Were Here
Author/Writer of Book/Novel:
0399575006 (ISBN13: 9780399575006)
Readers of Kate Atkinson will delight in this suspenseful debut novel about a woman haunted by nightmares and her grandmother’s role in a doomed love triangle almost seventy years before.
What if the past is never buried?
Death, accidental and early, has always been Abby Walters’s preoccupation. Now thirty-three and eager to settle down with her commitment-shy boyfriend, a recurring dream from her past returns: a paralyzing nightmare of being buried alive, the taste of dirt in her mouth cloying and real. But this time the dream reveals a name from her family’s past. Looking for answers, Abby returns home to small-town Minnesota for the first time in fourteen years, where she reconnects with her high school crush, now a police detective on the trail of a violent criminal. When Abby tries on her grandmother’s mesmerizing diamond ring, a ring she always dreamed would be hers, she discovers a cryptic note long hidden beneath the box’s velvet lining. What secret was her grandmother hiding? And could this be the key to what’s haunting Abby? As she begins to uncover the traces of a love triangle gone shockingly wrong nearly seventy years before, we, too, see that the layers of our lives may echo a past we’ve never known. With mesmerizing twists and a long-buried secret that may finally rise to light, You Were Here weaves together two worlds separated by decades, asking if the mistakes made in past lives can ever be corrected in the future, and if some souls are meant to find one another time and time again.
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THAT DEEP BLUE OF SUMMER, endless and brilliant. The heat seems to come with a noise like insects, a noise that shimmers. Coolers hold down blankets and bees are gathered at trash cans. Abby is lying in the sand, happy, but when she turns the ocean is gone, replaced by a dark meadow, the waves now undulations of tall, dry grass. The sky’s gone gray, a storm churning, gathering. This was the noise she heard, the storm’s approach. In a flash she sees it, the giant oak tree, black limbs snaking into an ashen sky. At its base is a table set for two, always set for two. A crystal chandelier quivers on the branch above.
It’s been years since she’s been here, and understanding bangs her heart into a furious rhythm as suddenly she’s sinking, unable to move, the sand that had been so soft a moment before now dirt that spills into her mouth. At once she’s choking, gasping, waking to a bed soaked with sun, sheets shoved to the floor.
Outside, a dove’s cry turns to a demand: who-ooo, who, who, who.
The dark meadow. The nightmare that started in high school and recurred once or twice a month until she left Minnesota. An ending that’s always the same—suffocation, desperate gasps for breath. The one time she’d gone home during college, brave with longing and rested from a year of unplagued sleep, the dream had returned like a waiting, loyal friend. Never again has she been back, never again has she had the dream. Until now.
“It’s been fourteen years,” she tells Robert later, in the car. He was asleep when she left, and she’s waited to tell him in person. Though her voice holds striations of panic, he doesn’t understand—words are a pale shadow of meaning. “Fourteen years since I’ve had the dream.”
“One nightmare,” he says, “is one nightmare. Try not to worry, okay?”
The air-conditioning blasts, her toes chilled. The entrance to the freeway is in an old residential neighborhood, and the once-proud houses are faded, pockmarked with missing siding. Glass shimmers in the gutter.
“Anxiety,” she says. “That’s what they used to say. But it never made sense. They stopped when I left for college—if anything I was more stressed.”
“You had an estate visit today?”
An attempt to change the subject, to loosen her mind’s grip. She tries to let him, to take herself from the meadow and join him in a recap of her day, her work at the antique jewelry store and the estate trips it involves, crowds of family photos on shelves, paintings darkened with time, marriages that last longer than most lifetimes or end faster than the turn of a season. A screenwriter, Robert loves the stories Abby collects. Tell me more, a constant refrain in their relationship, a request made as they fall asleep at night or while walking down boulevards flanked with magnolia trees, flowers as wide as saucers. “Forty-eight years they’d been married,” she says, though she still sees the tremor in the oak tree’s leaves, feels the dirt that fell into her mouth. “The wedding ring was her mother’s. Once sewn into the hem of a dress in Poland.”
Then they’re on the freeway, the oldest in Southern California. Made for horses, she tells people. You enter from a stop sign. Zero to sixty in the time it takes to change the radio station. Robert changes lanes to pass a car, and out of the corner of her eye she feels another driver doing the same. She looks away. Think pretty—one of the rings from today, an aquamarine the same pale blue as a pool’s shallow end, a welcome glimmer in a June light. Still the freeway’s energy pulses, gathers for impact, and her legs push against the floor.
Death, accidental and early, has always been her preoccupation. Horrible images exist behind Abby’s eyes—pretty eyes, eyes that laugh, eyes that should not look for such things. Girls who wear pink should not think your thoughts, she was once told by an ex-boyfriend who did not understand that she chose these colors, these bright soft colors, precisely because of what exists in her mind.
“Did I ever tell you I didn’t get my license till I left Minnesota?” she says. “All those one-lane highways. The accidents. That and my mom tried teaching me on a stick.” A three-point turn, the car rolling forward, angled into the street, other drivers patient but waiting. Abby’d simply thrown it into park, gotten out, and run to the passenger side. Her mother had no choice but to take over.
“I was at the DMV on my birthday,” Robert says.
Robert at his core is logic, a calm voice, a man who highlights when he reads, straight hair and ironed shirts. Abby is always, without fail and from the start, a few decibels too loud, chaos, the person who drops the book in the bathtub, curly hair that tends to knot and nail polish that’s always chipped. All reasons he loves her, she knows—she’s his voice when he wants to scream, the mess he longs to make.