Ties That Bind Chapters One and Two

Chapter One

There was so much blood.

She could feel it seeping from the shallow cuts along her face and gushing from the gash on her forehead. Her hands and knees were scraped up too, but she couldn’t let any of it stop her. 

Nothing good would come from stopping. He was too close. She could hear him behind her, even over the pounding of her feet against the forest floor and the thundering of her heart. Blood flowed into her right eye, clouding her vision. It was already nearly impossible to see her hand in front of her face, the trees blocking the moon’s light. Which was how she’d ended up with the head wound that wouldn’t stop bleeding.

She just wished she knew why the man was chasing her. She didn’t know who he was or what he wanted, but she could tell by the look on his face when he confronted her she didn’t want to find out.

Instead of running for her life, she should’ve been safe and sound in her tent, cuddling with her boyfriend. It was his fault she’d run out of camp mere seconds after returning from taking pictures, tears streaming down her face. None of this would be happening if she hadn’t been betrayed by two of the people she loved most in the world.

But she couldn’t think about them now. She needed to focus on staying alive, on finding her way out of the forest and to safety.

A sob stole her breath as she tripped over a tree root and fell to her hands and knees. She didn’t allow herself to take a moment to catch her breath or assess her new injuries. Scrambling up quickly, she heard him curse behind her, his voice so loud it seemed like he was right next to her.

She had no idea what she was running toward, though she knew it wasn’t the spot where she’d spent the morning putting up tents with her friends. She’d put too much distance between herself and them before she even came upon the stranger who was now chasing her. They couldn’t even hear her scream, though she wasn’t sure any of them would be able to help her if they could. 

She’d smelled the pot when she’d walked back into camp and seen the empty bottles littering their campground. They’d started partying before she headed out to take pictures of the falls, the entire reason she’d agreed to the camping trip in the first place. When she returned briefly to grab water and a snack, they’d finished one bottle of vodka and were nearly through the second. They’d barely registered her presence.

It was the second time she returned that changed everything.

She didn’t know why her thoughts kept finding their way back to her friends when her life was on the line. Maybe because she wanted someone to blame for the predicament she was in. 

“I just want to talk.”

She didn’t have to hear the malice in his voice to know he was lying. Her messenger bag banged against her back as she picked up the pace. She thought about tossing it aside, but she didn’t want to lose the camera inside of it or the rolls of film she hadn’t had a chance to get developed yet. Her keys and wallet were also in there, things she’d need if she could get to safety.

None of those things would matter if the man behind her caught up with her.

She kept running, her knees aching, her lungs feeling like they were ready to burst. When a familiar sound broke through the tree cover, she’d just started to wonder how much more she had left to give. It was faint but loud enough that it gave her hope. Somehow she’d turned them back around, so they were headed back toward Silver Falls.

Maybe she’d make it out of there alive after all.

Maybe she could find her way back to her friends, and they could get the hell out of there. She could get somewhere safe, then call the cops and tell them about the crazy man in the woods. All she needed to do was keep going. She was so close to safety, so close to getting away. 

She couldn’t give up now.

She swiped away at the blood that dripped into her eye as her legs propelled her through the trees and bushes. The heavy footfalls and breathing of her pursuer spurned her on. She had to at least make it to the clearing. Maybe if she screamed this time, someone would hear her.

Each stride brought her closer to the break in the trees. The second she entered the clearing, she stopped, hoping the moment would help her catch her bearings. Stopping had been a mistake. The man crashed through the bushes into the clearing a few seconds after her. His hands landed in the middle of her back, sending her sprawling to the ground. Her left knee landed on a rock as her hands braced her fall, saving her head from another collision with the ground.

“Why are you here? You shouldn’t be here.”

The man’s ramblings didn’t make any sense to her, but then again, nothing about the situation made sense to her. He’d just chased her in a circle through the woods. Why? What had she done to make him mad? Was she just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Did he stalk the woods regularly, looking for stupid girls lost in the trees?

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was an accident.”

She scrambled away from the man, then got back on her feet. Every piece of her wanted to run, but something made her stand her ground and get a good look at the man who chased her. He was tall and wide, like the football players her boyfriend watched every Sunday. He was older than those men, though. At least she assumed he was given the silver strands of hair that shone in the moonlight.

“What do you want with me? I didn’t do anything. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The words fell from her lips before she could think about the action. The last thing she wanted to do was make him mad. Would denying whatever crazy story he had in his head piss him off? Would it make him want to hurt her more than he already did?

“You shouldn’t have been here. Now you have proof on that damn camera of yours. You saw me. I can’t let you ruin everything.”

“I didn’t see anything.”

At least, she didn’t think she did. 

Could she have accidentally taken a picture of this man doing something he shouldn’t have been doing? The only thing she’d seen through her camera lens was the waterfall. The beauty of the moonlit water cascading over the cliff into the river below was where her eyes had been drawn. Anything could’ve been happening around her, and she wouldn’t have noticed as long as Silver Falls was in front of her.

It had been her favorite place in the world until tonight. 

Now the falls were ruined. Not that it mattered. The odds that she would survive the night were slim.

She took a step backward, then another, putting distance between her and the man.

“I can’t trust you. I can’t let you ruin this.”

“I’ll give you the camera, the film. You can have it all and destroy it. Just let me go. I won’t tell anyone that I saw you. I won’t tell anyone what happened tonight.”

He shook his head. The look in his eye told her everything she needed to know. 

She thought about her friends and the events that led her to this moment with this man. If she could go back in time, she’d have stayed. She would have confronted them, called them out for what they were doing to her. But she couldn’t go back, and she couldn’t change anything. All she could do was wonder what they’d think when they woke up, and she wasn’t there. They wouldn’t even know she was missing until the morning. Would they care? Would they wonder what happened to her?

None of that mattered.

By then, she’d be dead.

Chapter Two

30 Years Later

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”

Paige shook her head as her friend huffed dramatically, the sound punctuating her statement. To be honest, she couldn’t believe she’d talked Taylor into helping her clean out her grandpa’s attic either. But that was one of the reasons they were best friends. It didn’t matter what the favor was; they were there for each other always.

Even if it meant getting covered in dirt and dust. 

“I’m pretty sure it was the bottomless tacos and margaritas I promised you in exchange,” Paige pointed out.

“Oh yeah. That’s what it was. Man, I’m such an easy target.”

Laughing, Paige grabbed another box off of the stack that was nearly taller than her, then set it on the floor in front of the chair she’d been using. So far, she’d made it through one box of her grandpa’s things in the half an hour they’d been upstairs. At the rate she was going, the space would be cleaned out half past never, but she couldn’t help it. These boxes were filled with her grandpa’s history and her dad’s. The two most important men in her life and probably the two men she knew the least about.

“Everyone knows your weakness is tacos. It’s the worst kept secret at work and among anyone who knows you even just a little bit.”

“There go my hopes of being a woman of mystery. This box looks like it’s full of women’s clothing,” Taylor pointed out as she set it aside. “I thought your grandma died before you were born.”

Paige glanced over at her friend, then down at the box in front of her. “She did. My dad was, I think, fifteen or so. Maybe younger. Neither of them really liked to talk about her or that time of their lives. Grandpa probably just boxed up her stuff and shoved it up here. Out of sight, out of mind. That was kind of how he liked to deal with things.”

“That’s kind of sad.”

“I know,” Paige sighed. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we found some of my Aunt Carol’s stuff up here too. When she took off, she left a lot of her things behind. Instead of getting rid of it, I’m sure it got shoved up here, so no one had to decide what to do with the memories.”

She didn’t wait for Taylor to ask about her aunt. They’d talked about her and the rest of the Reynolds family before. About how her family was some sort of football legacy, all the way down to Paige’s little brother. About how her aunt turned eighteen and barely waited until her diploma was finalized before she left town, abandoning the family without looking back, and about how no one really talked about Carol or where she might have been for the last thirty plus years.

“Well, I say we look through any clothes we find before we haul them to the thrift store. There’s no telling what kind of awesome vintage threads these boxes might hold.”

Paige laughed. “Have at it. Whatever you find can be part of your payment for helping me with this. Mom said she could handle the rest of the house if we go through the stuff up here. I think she’s afraid of the memories too.”

“It sucks you guys have to do this at all. Your grandpa was always so full of life. Alzheimer’s sucks.”

“Yeah, it does. I just wish we could’ve kept him at home, but this house is too big for him, and it just got to be too much. His lucid days were not enough to justify us keeping him here where he could end up hurting himself. And he did not want someone else living in his house full-time.”

“Well, at least the place he’s living at now is pretty high-end. He’s getting the best care in a great environment. I know you and your mom feel guilty, but you shouldn’t. Moving him into an assisted living place is what was best for all three of you.”

“I know,” Paige sighed as she shoved aside another box. It didn’t matter that she knew Taylor was right. She still felt like they had given up on her grandpa too soon. He was the only father figure she had after her dad was killed in a car accident when she was thirteen and her brother Jacob was nine.

While her grandpa wasn’t always the most affectionate man, he was there for all of them. He helped her mother with the kids whenever she needed a moment to collect herself. Losing her husband but trying to keep it together for the kids had been more than hard on her. Paige couldn’t even imagine how difficult it was to raise two kids alone after such a devastating loss.

She struggled to push aside another box, the weight of it coupled with the uneven floor making the task more challenging than it should’ve been. The news box was filled with yearbooks and memorabilia from her dad’s high school days. He’d been the star quarterback for his high school and one of the most popular people on campus. On top of that, he was a straight-A student and a member of several clubs, including student council. Academic awards and accolades were interspersed with articles about his athletic prowess. It was weird to see who her father had been before he became her dad.

Once the box was in the “keep” pile near the attic stairs, Paige grabbed another box from a nearby stack. This one was lighter than the others she’d gone through, which was a nice change of pace. She set it down in front of her chair, then plopped down onto the seat, the action causing dust to rise up from the cushion. Coughing, she rubbed at her nose, then pulled open the box’s flaps.

Inside she found several more newspapers from 1993, the year her father graduated from high school. Obviously, her grandpa loved keeping anything written about her dad and his many accomplishments. Sighing, she shoved the papers aside, revealing an old Canon camera sitting on top of a grungy-looking bag. 

“Whatcha got over there?” Taylor asked, her question tearing Paige’s gaze away from the camera.

She glanced up at her friend, surprised to find her standing next to her instead of across the room like she’d been only moments earlier.

Before she could respond, Taylor reached into the box and pulled the camera out. “Woah, this is cool. I haven’t seen one of these since high school when my photography teacher brought in part of her collection. This thing is like forty years old or something like that. Oh, look, there’s film in here.”

Paige watched as Taylor aimed the camera at a spot across the room and then moved the ring on the camera lens around like she was getting ready to take a picture. Not that either of them actually expected it to work. If there was one, the battery was likely dead, and if there was film inside, who knew if it was still good. The camera had likely been sitting in the attic so long that no one in her family even remembered it was there. 

But she couldn’t help but wonder why it was even there in the first place. And why had it been shoved in a box with film still inside? No one in her family had ever mentioned anyone being into photography, and the camera in the box wasn’t for amateurs. 

“You should see if you can finish up this roll of film and get it developed. There could be pictures of your dad on here.”

Paige frowned as she looked at the camera in her friend’s hand. “I asked for a camera like that when I was a freshman in high school. I was intrigued by old-school film and thought having my own darkroom would be cool. My mom said it was too expensive and that no one used film anymore. I tried asking my grandpa because he liked to spoil us, but he got really angry with me for asking for something so frivolous. All while this was sitting up here in a box wasting away.”

Taylor shook her head. “They probably forgot this was even here. Look, the newspapers are from nineteen ninety-three, and that bag is covered in the good, the bad, and the ugly of the early nineties. I bet your grandpa and your mom forgot about most of the stuff up here, hence the having to clean it out now.”

“I know,” Paige sighed, though part of her wasn’t convinced her grandpa had forgotten about anything, at least not back then. “I wonder if photography was something my dad loved, and my showing an interest in one of his hobbies so soon after his death made them sadder than they already were. Back then, my grandpa leaned a little heavily on the booze so he wouldn’t have to deal with his feelings. During the year after my dad died, Grandpa Joe lashed out at everyone around him more than he ever had before then or since.” 

“That settles it. You’ve to get this film developed. Seeing what your dad or grandpa took pictures of back then could help you feel closer to them. Maybe you could even show your grandpa, and it’ll bring back memories for him that you guys can talk about.”

Ever the optimist, Paige hated to rain on Taylor’s parade, but there was one thing about the film that they couldn’t ignore. “The film’s probably degraded by now. If it’s been in this box as long as those newspapers have been, then it’s at least thirty years old. Odds are the pictures won’t be any good, and the whole thing will be a waste of time.”

“So, what’s your point? Maybe the odds are against you, but if you throw the film away, there’s a one hundred percent chance you get nothing. Why not just give it a shot?”

Paige sighed again. Her friend wouldn’t give up until she agreed to develop the film. There wasn’t an excuse in the world that would save her from having to go through with whatever Taylor wanted. Which was fine because she didn’t really have one. In fact, Paige didn’t know why she wasn’t jumping at the chance to unveil more of her family’s history. 

What could it hurt to see what her family was up to thirty years ago? Maybe she’d learn something new about the people she loved. Maybe the pictures would bring her closer to her dad or her grandpa, or maybe even both. There didn’t seem to be a reason not to get the film developed. Yet, a tiny piece of her wished there was, and she had no idea why.

It didn’t matter. She knew she was going to go through with it, no matter what her gut might be trying to tell her.

“Fine, you win,” she sighed dramatically, hoping Taylor wouldn’t notice her uneasiness. “Any idea where we can get film developed these days?”

Taylor bounced on her toes, her excitement palpable. “Yes. I knew I’d get you to see reason. The drug store down the street can have it done in three to five business days.”

Paige forced a smile on her face, one that she hoped mirrored her friend’s excitement, even though it was the last thing she was feeling. Apprehension swirled in her stomach. In three to five business days she’d finally know why seeing the camera in her grandpa’s things had put her on edge. Or maybe she’d get lucky and she wouldn’t have to fake a thing. 

Man, did she hope she got lucky.