From America's most beloved superstar and its greatest storyteller - a thriller about a young singer-songwriter on the rise and on the run, and determined to do whatever it takes to survive.
“THE LOUIS SEIZE–STYLE MIRROR in the bedroom of suite 409 at the Aquitaine Hotel reflected for little more than an instant a slim, fine-featured woman: wide blue eyes, clenched fists, dark hair streaming behind her as she ran.
Then AnnieLee Keyes vanished from the glass, as her bare feet took her racing into the suite’s living room. She dodged the edge of the giltwood settee, flinging its throw pillow over her shoulder. A lamp fell with a crash behind her. She leaped over the coffee table, with its neat stack of Las Vegas magazines and tray of complimentary Debauve & Gallais truffles, her name written in chocolate ganache flecked with edible gold. She hadn’t even tasted a single one.
Her foot caught the bouquet of Juliet roses and the vase tipped over, scattering pink blooms all over the carpet.
The balcony was up ahead of her, its doors open to the afternoon sun. In another instant, she’d reached it, and the hot air hit her in the face like a fist. She jumped onto the chaise longue and threw her right leg over the railing, struggling to push herself the rest of the way up.
Then, balanced on the thin rail between the hotel and the sky, she hesitated. Her heart beat so quickly she could hardly breathe. Every nerve ending sparked with adrenaline.
I can’t, she thought. I can’t do it.
But she had to. Her fingers clutched the rail for another split second before she willed them loose. Her lips moved in an instant of desperate prayer. Then she launched herself into the air. The sun flared, but her vision darkened and became a tunnel. She could see only below her — upturned faces, mouths open in screams she couldn’t hear over her own.
Time slowed. She spread out her arms as if she were flying.
And weren’t flying and falling the same?
Maybe, she thought, except for the landing.
Each millisecond stretched to an hour, these measures of time all she had left in this world. Life had been so damn hard, and she’d clawed her way up only to fling herself back down. She didn’t want to die, but she was going to.
AnnieLee twisted in the air, trying to protect herself from what was coming. Trying to aim for the one thing that might save her.
ELEVEN MONTHS EARLIER
AnnieLee had been standing on the side of the road for an hour, thumbing a ride, when the rain started falling in earnest.
Wouldn’t you know it? she thought as she tugged a gas station poncho out of her backpack. It just figures.
She pulled the poncho over her jacket and yanked the hood over her damp hair. The wind picked up, and fat raindrops began to beat a rhythm on the cheap plastic. But she kept that hopeful smile plastered on her face, and she tapped her foot on the gravel shoulder as a bit of a new song came into her head.
Is it easy? she sang to herself.
No it ain’t
Can I fix it?
No I cain’t
She’d been writing songs since she could talk and making melodies even before that. AnnieLee Keyes couldn’t hear the call of a wood thrush, the plink plink plink of a leaky faucet, or the rumbling rhythm of a freight train without turning it into a tune.
“If she had one wish — besides to get the hell out of Texas — it was that whoever bought Maybelle would take good care of her.”
Crazy girl finds music in everything — that’s what her mother had said, right up until the day she died. And the song coming to AnnieLee now gave her something to think about besides the cars whizzing by, their warm, dry occupants not even slowing down to give her a second glance.
Not that she could blame them; she wouldn’t stop for herself, either. Not in this weather, and her probably looking no better than a drowned possum.
When she saw the white station wagon approaching, going at least twenty miles under the speed limit, she crossed her fingers that it would be some nice old grandpa pulling over to offer her a lift. She’d turned down two rides back when she thought she’d have her choice of them, the first from a chain-smoking lady with two snarling Rottweilers in the back seat, the second from a kid who’d looked higher than Mount Everest.
Now she could kick herself for being so picky. Either driver would have at least gotten her a few miles up the road, smelling like one kind of smoke or another.
The white wagon was fifty yards away, then twenty-five, and as it came at her she gave a friendly, graceful wave, as if she was some kind of celebrity on the shoulder of the Crosby Freeway and not some half-desperate nobody with all her worldly belongings in a backpack.
The old Buick crawled toward her in the slow lane, and AnnieLee’s waving grew nearly frantic. But she could have stood on her head and shot rainbows out of her Ropers and it wouldn’t have mattered. The car passed by and grew gradually smaller in the distance. She stomped her foot like a kid, splattering herself with mud.
Is it easy? she sang again.
No it ain’t
Can I fix it?
No I cain’t
But I sure ain’t gonna take it lyin’ down
It was catchy, all right, and AnnieLee wished for the twentieth time that she had her beloved guitar. But it wouldn’t have fit in her pack, for one thing, and for another, it was already hanging on the wall at Jeb’s Pawn.
If she had one wish — besides to get the hell out of Texas — it was that whoever bought Maybelle would take good care of her.
The distant lights of downtown Houston seemed to blur as AnnieLee blinked raindrops from her eyes. If she thought about her life back there for more than an instant, she’d probably stop wishing for a ride and just start running.
By now the rain was falling harder than she’d seen it in years. As if God had drawn up all the water in Buffalo Bayou just so He could pour it back down on her head.
She was shivering, her stomach ached with hunger, and suddenly she felt so lost and furious she could cry. She had nothing and nobody; she was broke and alone and night was coming on.
But there was that melody again; it was almost as if she could hear it inside the rain. All right, she thought, I don’t have nothing. I have music.
And so she didn’t cry. She sang instead.
Will I make it?
Closing her eyes, she could imagine herself on a stage somewhere, singing for a rapt audience.
Will I give up?
She could feel the invisible crowd holding its breath.
I’ll be fightin’ til I’m six feet underground
Her eyes were squeezed shut and her face was tilted to the sky as the song swelled inside her. Then a horn blared, and AnnieLee Keyes nearly jumped out of her boots.
She was hoisting both her middle fingers high at the tractor trailer when she saw its brake lights flare.”
Extracted from Run, Rose, Run by James Patterson and Dolly Parton, coming March 2022.
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