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Chelsea has always believed that her mom died of a sudden illness, until she finds a letter her dad has kept from her for years — a letter from her mom, Catherine, who didn’t die: She disappeared. Driven by unanswered questions, Chelsea sets out to look for her — starting with the return address on the letter: The Underground.
Told in two voices, twenty years apart, Catherine delivers a fresh retelling of the Emily Brontë classic Wuthering Heights, interweaving timeless romance with a captivating modern mystery.
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of Love, Lucy
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As I hurtled toward New York City on a Greyhound bus, I'd imagined my destination would be a gleaming ultrachic high-rise or a brownstone full of cousins, aunts, and uncles who would gather me into their arms, thrilled to discover the long-lost relative they never knew they had. So the reality was a shock: a hulking windowless concrete block on the corner of Houston and Bowery, painted a forbidding black. There wasn't so much as a doorbell beside the locked front door. Big jagged silver letters spelled out THE UNDERGROUND. Whatever it was—a restaurant? a comedy club? a warehouse?—it looked about as welcoming as a maximum-security prison.
I froze on the front stoop, unsure of what to do next. Had my mother really grown up here? Two doors down a woman with fluorescent-yellow hair and a zebra-striped minidress was arranging thigh-high boots in a boutique window, and a mural of a fire-snorting dragon on the side of the building vibrated with color. Though cars blasted past me down the wide street, the sidewalks were surprisingly empty, except for a guy in a long black apron smoking against a wall and a couple of skaters propelling their boards in my direction.
Could I have gotten the address wrong? I dug in the front pocket of my backpack for the letter I'd found last Tuesday, the letter that had changed everything—my past, my present, my future. The return address, in my mother's loopy handwriting, assured me I was in the right place. I pulled it out and unfolded it, hoping for some clue I'd managed to miss.
Sweet Chelsea Bell,
By the time you get this letter, I hope you're old enough to understand and forgive me for leaving. As I write, you're probably sleeping in your bed, what's left of your favorite blue blankie clutched to your face, and it hurts to think that the next time I see you you'll be older, bigger. Maybe you'll barely remember me.
Maybe your dad is reading this letter to you, or maybe you're old enough to read it on your own. Or maybe—if I'm really lucky—we'll be together soon and you'll never need to read this at all. Still, I'm writing it just in case.
You're the best daughter I could imagine, better than I deserve. And your dad's a good, kind, responsible man. I need you to know I'm not running away from him. I'm running toward something. Does that make sense?
I can't explain exactly why I went away, but here's the main thing: I've been given a chance to undo the biggest mistake of my life. That's why I've come back to New York City, to the home I grew up in. I don't know yet how long it will take. There are some people I need to talk to in person. One of them is Jackie, my best friend from high school. I hope you'll meet her someday, because I know she would love you, and I bet you'd feel the same way about her.
Though I'm far away, everything I see makes me think of you. Like today, out on the street, I saw a woman in a pink suit being pulled along the sidewalk by a pack of five identical white poodles. I know you would have laughed at the sight of her flying along, her fussy little pink high heels barely touching the ground as the dogs raced her down the street. You have the greatest laugh, like lots of bells ringing all at once. At night, when I'm trying to fall asleep, I close my eyes and I can see your face and hear that laugh.
Remember me always,
No matter how many times I read the letter, her words still sent a jolt through me—an electric current of love, sadness, and even guilt, because my memories of her had worn away, vanishing like that tattered blue blanket. All I could summon was warmth, the tickle of her hair on my face, and the scent of her perfume—cut grass and little white flowers.
My discovery of the letter had been completely random. I'd had the day off from slinging crullers at Mr. Donut, but it was the worst kind of day off, with nothing to do and nobody to do it with. I finished the last of the mystery novels stacked beside my bed, and the thought of walking to the library to get more in the ninety-five-degree heat gave me a headache. My best (and only) friend, Larissa, was stranded on a family vacation in a part of Cape Cod so remote it didn't even have cell-phone service. She'd be gone for two whole weeks, and though it was pathetic that I had only one real friend, that's what moving every couple of years will do to a person. By the time Dad and I arrived in Marblehead, I'd grown so tired of starting over that I couldn't make myself try very hard to fit in. Luckily, Larissa transferred from private school in the middle of freshman year, and she was in as dire need of a friend as I was. But with her out of town, I might as well be a complete pariah.
I could have used a ride to the beach, but of course my dad was at his office, teaching. He never used to teach in the summer; when I was little, he'd take me to the beach or the movies, or even to his office, where I would spin around in his chair, make long paper-clip chains, and draw with fluorescent highlighters. But at some point I got too old to hang around with my dad, and he started shipping me off to summer camp to be a counselor in training. This summer I flat out refused to be sent away—I wasn't one of those hard-core camp types who lived to make lanyards and fight color wars. I applied for the job at Mr. Donut so I'd have a reason to stay home all summer for once.
So I'd gotten my wish, and there I was, hitting refresh at the Nico Rathburn fansite every fifteen seconds, waiting for someone else to make a post. When nobody did, forcing me to face the fact that everyone in the world but me had a life, I decided to look around in Dad's closet in search of our old family photos, something I do every now and then so I won't forget my mother's face. She died when I was three, or so my father had always told me. Of a brief illness, he would say, to anyone who asked. His face would go all pale and solemn, and you could tell whoever asked was sorry they'd brought it up.
I riffled all the way through our box of family photos, and somehow it still wasn't enough. Dad's closet was packed with cartons and shoeboxes; there had to be something else interesting in one of them, but most of what I found was unbelievably pointless. A stack of old bank statements. A yellowing manuscript from a textbook Dad had helped edit. Manila envelopes full of tax documents. I'm not sure why I didn't give up. I must have been really bored.
But then I hit the—pun intended—mother lode: a shoebox at the back of the highest shelf, where I'd never have stumbled on it by sheer accident. There wasn't much stuff inside, but all of it was new to me. My birth certificate. My parents' marriage license. Mom's old passport, stamped in Italy, France, Greece, the Netherlands, and other places too blurry to make out. The next thing I found set my heart racing: a snapshot of my radiant, glossy-haired mom in a beret and a man's flannel shirt. The picture was cut crookedly in half. She'd been standing beside someone—an old boyfriend, probably. Part of a hand was still holding hers.
I dug a little deeper and found a few more cut-in-half portraits of Mom. She looked a lot younger—maybe my age. She was dressed a lot younger, too; I saw none of the pastel shirts and denim skirts she'd worn in my baby pictures. Even in a black Pretenders T-shirt and torn jeans she looked regal and confident in a way that had unfortunately passed me by, no matter how alike my dad always said we looked. In another photo she wore a short skirt, motorcycle boots, and a leather bomber jacket, the missing somebody's tan, slender but muscular arm draped across her shoulders. In that one, she was glancing to the side, toward the person who'd been chopped out of the picture, her blue eyes laughing.
But the next thing I found blew me away: an envelope addressed to me, Chelsea Rose Price, care of my dad, Max Price. Something about the handwriting on the envelope made my heart beat faster. The blood whooshed in my ears as I read it and the truth became clear. There hadn't been a "brief illness." And Dad hadn't sprinkled my mother's ashes off the coast of Falmouth, the way he'd said he had.
She hadn't died at all. She'd run away from us, and he'd been lying to my face about it for years.
Of all the lies a father could possibly tell his only daughter, this seemed an especially cruel one—letting me believe my mom was dead when she wasn't. But why hadn't she come home to us, the way she'd wanted to? Had she changed her mind? Or had Dad not let her? What else had he been hiding from me?
When I could trust my shaking legs, I ran for my laptop and typed my mother's name into Google. I found a Catherine Eversole Price in Des Moines, Iowa. A florist posed beside a prize-winning arrangement of tropical flowers, she looked nothing like my mom. One Cathy Eversole turned out to be a fifty-something real-estate agent in Bakersfield, California, and another was a fluffy blond newscaster in Indianapolis. On the next page of hits, I found what I was looking for—a four-year-old story in the North Shore Ledger.
Woman's Disappearance Still Unsolved
Ten years since a Danvers wife and mother went missing, police are no closer to solving the mystery of her disappearance. On an ordinary weekday, Catherine Eversole Price vanished from her suburban home without a trace. A wife and mother of a three-year-old daughter left a brief note saying she had business to attend to in New York City and would return shortly. Her husband, Max Price, declined to be interviewed for this story, but police records show he assumed his wife had taken a spontaneous trip to her hometown to visit old acquaintances. Price, at the time a visiting professor of economics at Harvard, said he thought his wife would call him from New York and return home within a day or two.
Letters sent from lower Manhattan reassured Mr. Price that his wife was safe, and he resolved to wait patiently for her return. "Cathy always seemed reliable and sensible. I'm sure Max had no reason to think anything was wrong," a former neighbor of the couple told the Ledger. But Price grew alarmed when days passed without a word, and he went to the police.
An exhaustive search uncovered few leads, and Price criticized investigators for what he perceived as a slow and ineffective response to his wife's disappearance. Now an associate professor of economics at Salem State College, he resides with his daughter in Marblehead. A former Danvers neighbor still recalls seeing Mrs. Price wheel her young daughter's stroller through town to the local playground. "Cathy was so devoted to that little girl of hers. I can't believe she went away of her own free will. I'm afraid she must have met with some kind of foul play."
A yearlong investigation yielded no leads. "We've done everything in our power to locate Catherine Price," County Sheriff Dan Stevenson told the Ledger. "If a person wants to go missing, New York City is the perfect place to hide." He declined to answer questions about why Mrs. Price might have chosen to run away. "That's a private matter," he told the Ledger.
My heart sped up as my eyes traveled down the screen. So the county sheriff thought my mom was still alive somewhere in New York! It seemed at least as likely as any other possibility. What if all these years she'd been hoping I would figure out the truth and come find her? Then again, why hadn't she simply come to me? If she'd really been alive all this time, and hiding out somewhere, why not call and tell me she was okay?
But maybe she had tried to get in touch. Dad's job-hopping and our moving around from one town to the next would have made it hard for her to track us down. And our phone number was unlisted ("So students won't call and wheedle me to change their grades," Dad had said). Of course Mom could have found Dad's work number online. But what if she hadn't wanted to talk to him? What if she knew he was trying to keep me away from her? He'd kept that letter from me. Plus, the article said my mother had sent "letters," which meant there must have been others.
Unable to sit still a second longer, I paced the house on shaky legs, every familiar piece of furniture suddenly strange, as though I'd woken up in somebody else's life. On the living room bookshelf, the framed photo of Dad and me goofing around at Wingaersheek Beach might as well have been a photo of two strangers. Who was that man—his blond hair dripping with salt water, his eyes the same clear green as the ocean sparkling behind us? Some guy who had been lying to me for fourteen years straight.
At first I rehearsed the speech I was going to give when he got home, muttering the words as I paced. I would expose him for the liar he was. How can you live with yourself? Don't you think it's time you told me the truth?
But as soon as I'd figured out exactly what I would say, I realized it was no good. I knew he'd say he'd only been trying to protect me, and I wasn't in the mood for his excuses. No: What I wanted was to get away from him. I wanted to find out the truth for myself. And more than anything, I wanted my mother.
Dad stayed at his office even later than usual, so I had a long time to piece together a plan. The first step was obvious: I had to get to New York City. I would start with the letter's return address, knock on the door, and figure out where to go from there. Luckily, my seventeenth birthday was just a few days away. I knew Dad would give me a check, the way he'd done since I turned twelve and stopped wanting Barbie and her Dream House; I guess after that, he couldn't figure out what to get me anymore. That was around the time I quit doing the things he wanted me to—swim team, piano lessons, and getting straight As—and we stopped having much of anything to say to each other, to the point where all he ever wanted to talk about was why I hadn't made a list of colleges to apply to and why I didn't already know what I wanted to major in. How many times had I heard about my mother's great sense of purpose and direction, how she'd always known she wanted to be a writer and go to Harvard, and, sure enough, she'd applied herself and gotten in? How many times had I asked myself why I couldn't be more like my perfect mother?
Well, the joke was on Dad. I was about to become a whole lot more like my mom. Now I had a purpose—finding her—and a direction—as far away from him as I could get.
As it turned out, I was right about getting a check for my birthday. Dad handed me the envelope and stood in the kitchen doorway waiting for me to rip it open. He was on his way to his office, of course. He fidgeted in his checked shirt and dorky tie as I read my card and examined its contents. Five hundred dollars. More than I'd expected. I should have been glad—after all, I needed the money—but I couldn't help feeling let down that it wasn't something more personal or fun—an iPhone, maybe, or a boxed DVD set of The X-Files, something that showed he had thought even the tiniest bit about what I wanted and who I was.
Even so, as I thanked him and let him kiss me on the cheek, I felt a twinge of sadness. I knew he would worry about me when I was gone; he always worried. As I inhaled the familiar scent of his aftershave, I was seriously tempted to blurt out how I'd found the letter and give him a chance to explain himself. I opened my mouth to speak.
But Dad stepped back, took a look at his watch, mumbled something about being late for work, and bolted. It was my birthday, and even so he couldn't wait to get away from me. I looked down at the check in my hand and felt the anger flood in again. Thanks, Dad, I thought. I'll use this money to buy myself something you could never give me: a new life not based on lies.
The very next day I slipped out of my house before dawn. That's how I came to be stranded in front of 247 Bowery, without a clue what to do next. Would The Underground eventually open its doors? And what on earth would I do with myself in the meantime?
I looked around, taking inventory. Across Bowery, well-lit and glowing like The Underground's polar opposite, stood a health-food café. I crossed the street and ducked through the door. Behind the counter a youngish woman with crayon-red hair and hennaed hands was manning the juice machine.
I waited my turn, ordered a banana-coconut smoothie, and asked, "So, that place across the street? Is that some kind of restaurant?"
She gave me a look as if to say Well, duh. "That's The Underground. THE Underground."
"Oh. Right." Apparently I was supposed to have heard of this place because, after all, New York is the center of the universe, and THE Underground is the center of New York. "When does it open?"
She shrugged. "Different times. Six, maybe. Or seven thirty."
Great. It was only noon. The guy in line behind me was breathing down my neck, and I could tell the girl wanted me to move along, but I had about a thousand questions. "Do you know who owns it? And how long it's been there? Like if it's been there about fourteen years or more?"
"Of course. It's been open since the seventies." She sighed and turned away from me, firing up the blender and drowning out any further conversation.
So much for that strategy. If I wanted to learn more about The Underground, I was going to have to find it out on my own. I took my smoothie and set up shop at a table in the corner. Luckily, the place had free WiFi. I googled The Underground and clicked on the first hit. Punk rock started blaring out of my speakers, drowning out the café's wind chime-and-synthesizer mood music. One table over, a lady with floaty gray hair and pink overalls shot me a dirty look. The website's jagged silver lettering—just like the lettering across the street—told me I'd found the right place.
I plugged in my earbuds and clicked to enter, and a collage bloomed in front of me—picture upon picture, all of punk rockers. I'd never seen so much leather, so many tattoos and body piercings and Mohawks in one place. Had my mother grown up in a punk nightclub? This didn't mesh with what little I knew about her—mostly the things my dad had told me. She'd had a 4.0 average at Harvard before she'd left school to have me. She baked sourdough bread and made birthday cupcakes from scratch. Most of all, she'd married my dad, who listened to Bach and Brahms and whose idea of a wild night was having a glass of red wine before he dozed off in front of Law & Order reruns.
I examined the evidence in front of me—a sea of unfamiliar faces sprinkled here and there with one or two I recognized: Blondie, The Ramones, Green Day. A link took me to The Underground's history, a formidable block of text in red letters on a black background. The Underground has outlived its competition—even the famous CBGB—and remains THE place to catch cutting-edge underground music.…
This was all very interesting, but I was scouting for information I could actually use. I found it in the second paragraph. Visionary founder Jim Eversole… Could that be an uncle of mine? I did the math quickly and realized he was about the right age to have been my grandfather. After Jim's untimely death, the torch was passed briefly to his son, Quentin, who remade the site into an upscale steak house. But The Underground's original vision was revived by its current owner, Hence, former frontman for Riptide.…
What kind of name was Hence? Was he a relative of mine, too? I scanned the screen for my mother's name but didn't see it. No matter. I had a strong feeling I was on the right track. I couldn't waste the rest of the afternoon waiting around for The Underground to open. After all, how much time did I have before my father guessed where I'd run off to and came looking for me? I'd been careful not to leave any clues. Still, I could imagine Dad getting home from work, finding me gone, and going on a frenzied search. How long would it be before he thought to look for the letter, found it missing, and guessed where I'd gone?
Back at The Underground, I tried pounding on the front door until my hands ached. Nothing. I walked around to the rear of the building, stepping over fast-food wrappers and broken beer bottles. I found another door with an actual doorbell beside it. I pressed it and heard a buzzer ring inside the club. No answer. I rang again.
Just as I was about to give up, the door opened and I came face-to-face with a guy exactly my height and slender, with brown bangs that fell in his eyes and splotches of pink on his cheeks. We stood for a moment, staring at each other. This couldn't be the club's owner; he was too young—around my age, or a little older. He wore paint-stained cargo shorts and a faded purple T-shirt with black letters that read PUNK'S NOT DEAD. Head cocked questioningly, he looked at me, not saying anything.
He was probably just an employee, but my hopeful side wondered if he could be related to me—maybe a long-lost cousin? "Hello. I'm Chelsea Price." Would my name mean anything to him?
It didn't seem to; his head remained cocked. "We're not open yet."
"I'm looking for the guy who owns this club. Is he here?" When he didn't answer, I tried again. "Hence. That's his name, right?"
"He'll be in later tonight," he said, reaching for the door. "I'm not sure when." And he started to close the door on me.
"Wait! Please…" I could hear my voice getting higher, the way it does when I get upset. "I took a bus all the way from Massachusetts to see him. I've been dragging this backpack around since five this morning.…"
He hesitated. "I don't think Hence would like me to let you in."
But something about his hesitation gave me hope. I leaned forward a little, so that to close the door he'd have to slam it in my face. "My pack is heavy," I said. "And it's so hot out."
The guy sighed, but he didn't shut the door on me. "You want to fill out an application? I'll give it to him when he gets in.…"
"No! I'm not here for a job. I'm looking for my mother, Catherine Eversole."
The expression on his face changed.
"You've heard of her?"
His response was tight-lipped. "I know the name."
"You do?" I asked. "Is she related to the guy who founded the club? She's his daughter, isn't she?" I was pretty pleased with myself for having figured this out, but he didn't answer. Still, he swung the door open and let me in.
I followed him down a long hallway that reeked of fresh paint. We passed a door that led into an industrial-looking kitchen and another that opened into a room stacked high with mixers and musical equipment, its walls smeared with graffiti. So this was what a nightclub looked like.
"This way." He opened another door and flipped on a light switch, illuminating a steep staircase to the basement. I followed him down the creaky steps. At the bottom he clicked on a bare lightbulb dangling by its wire from the ceiling.
The basement's floor and walls were stark cement, adorned only by a poster of some band I'd never heard of called Black Watch—three bare-chested guys in eyeliner and tartan plaid pants. A metal cot was covered with a few scratchy-looking blankets and a lumpy pillow. Against the foot of the bed leaned a battered electric guitar. "You can stay here until Hence gets in." He turned to leave.
"Is this where you sleep?" I asked his retreating back, not wanting to be left alone for God knows how long. "Wait!"
He paused. Before he could disappear again, I asked, "What's your name, anyway?"
"Cooper," he said. "Coop."
"Are you Hence's son?"
He laughed, as though I'd said something funny. "No. I work here. And I need to get some painting done. I'll let you know when Hence gets home." He took the stairs away from me two at a time.
When he was out of earshot, I allowed myself a heavy sigh. I perched on the cot's crinkly mattress, with nothing to do but wait. The small, ancient TV in the corner got about four stations, all of them too staticky to watch. I thought of the phone in my pocket, but I couldn't exactly call anyone. Larissa was still on the Cape, and even if she hadn't been, I couldn't trust her not to crack under my father's interrogation.
After at least an hour had passed and I was about to die of boredom, I started poking around Cooper's stuff. Not that there was much of it—a heavy English lit textbook under his cot, and a battered trunk plastered with stickers and stuffed with a tangle of jeans and T-shirts with names of bands I'd never heard of. I fought the urge to fold his clothes for him—that would have just been weird.
Instead, I picked up his electric guitar, slung the strap over my shoulder, and stood in rock-star stance, giving it a strum. Not that I knew how to play. Those piano lessons Dad had forced me to take revealed I wasn't the prodigy he'd hoped for, and in a few months he'd gotten tired of nagging me to practice. Now, wondering if my mother had been musical, I ruffled my hair and drew my lip back in a sneer, trying to look like the pictures on The Underground's website. I gave one last muffled, tuneless strum. According to my watch, it was five thirty. What if Cooper forgot his promise to come and get me? Would I have to stay trapped in this basement all night?
And then I started worrying about Hence. Cooper had seemed nervous about my being here, like his boss would bite his head off for letting me in. Why else would he be hiding me in the basement? But if I really was the granddaughter of the guy who founded The Underground, didn't that make me something like rock-and-roll royalty? Why wouldn't the current owner be happy to meet me?
Suddenly tired, I thought about lying down on the cot, maybe crawling under the blankets, but they smelled like boy and probably hadn't been washed in months. Instead, I dug into my backpack, zipped on a hoodie for warmth, and put a T-shirt between my head and the grungy-looking pillow. Earbuds in, I hit play on my iPod and shut my eyes.
When I opened them again, groggy and disoriented, someone was standing over me, watching me sleep. I bolted upright, struggling to recall where I was. The someone was a guy, familiar and strange at the same time, looking down at me with a wry little smile, like I was a puzzle he was working out how to solve. I yelped, scrambling to my feet, and our heads collided.
"Ouch!" The pain jolted me back to the present, and I remembered where I was and how I'd gotten there. "Geez! What were you looking at?" It didn't seem fair, watching a person like that while she slept.
"I came to get you." The flush on his cheeks deepened. "I was trying to decide whether I should wake you up."
"You scared the crap out of me." I didn't mean to be rude, but I'd always been cursed with a tendency to blurt out the first thing that pops into my head. It was something I'd been meaning to work on.
- * "Intricately written, this fast-paced story...will enthrall readers. Give this book to readers of Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins, and Simone Elkeles."—Library Media Connection (starred review)
- "Lindner astutely allows her setting to be as important as it is in the original...[The rock club is] seedy, dangerous, and loud, but we don't want to leave."—The Boston Globe
- "Dramatic events touched by love, loss, and longing have all the juicy elements readers will appreciate...[Catherine] captures the agony of love gone wrong."—Booklist
- "The strands of mother's and daughter's stories come together during the suspenseful climax...Solid and well-told."—Kirkus Reviews
- "[Lindner] capably streamlines the complex, gothic plot twists of the original as she depicts the passionate but ill-fated love."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Aug 19, 2014
- Page Count
- 336 pages