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Ill be there, p.1
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       I'll Be There, p.1

           Holly Goldberg Sloan
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I'll Be There

  ‘Heartbreaking, suspenseful, life-affirming, magical – and yet unlike anything I’ve ever read.’

  Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay

  ‘I absolutely loved I’ll Be There. There simply wasn’t a moment when I could put it down. An extraordinary love story – brotherly love and the love between Sam and Emily – and amazingly there’s humour too. A real reading treat.’

  Wendy Cooling

  ‘A phenomenal hold-your-breath read. Sloan has created a heart-thumping adventure out of love, loyalty, brotherhood and tragedy and has given readers a touching, unforgettable journey.’

  A.S. King, author of Please Ignore Vera Dietz

  ‘This riveting story will keep readers interested and guessing until the end.’


  ‘Sloan excels at crafting memorable characters and relationships . . . Thrilling reading.’

  Publisher’s Weekly

  ‘Very hard to put down!’

  Jenny Downham, author of Before I Die

  ‘Hugely enjoyable with characters who tug on your heart.’

  Cathy Hopkins, author of Mates, Dates

  Holly Goldberg Sloan was born in Michigan, USA and spent her childhood living in the Netherlands, Istanbul and various parts of the USA.

  She has written and directed a number of successful family feature films. The mother of two sons, Holly lives with her husband in Santa Monica, California.

  I’ll Be There is her debut novel.

  Read more about Holly at

  Published in Great Britain in 2012

  by Piccadilly Press Ltd,

  5 Castle Road, London NW1 8PR

  This edition published by arrangement with

  Grand Central Publishing, Little, Brown and Company,

  a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.,

  New York, New York, USA. All rights reserved.

  Text copyright © Holly Goldberg Sloan, 2011

  The right of Holly Goldberg Sloan to be identified as Author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.

  A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

  ISBN: 978 1 84812 267 3 (paperback)

  978 1 84812 290 1 (ebook)

  I’ll Be There

  Words and Music by Berry Gordy, Hal Davis,

  Willie Hutch and Bob West

  © 1970, 1975 (Renewed 1998, 2003) JOBETE MUSIC CO, INC.

  All Rights Controlled and Administered by EMI APRIL MUSIC INC.

  All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

  Reprinted by permission of Hal Leonard Corporation

  Printed in the UK by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY

  Cover design by Clare Bond

  Cover wooden heart photo © Aaron Kramer.

  Aaron Kramer makes amazing sculptures out of recycled materials.

  Find out more at

  For Gary Rosen . . . who is always there.

  And for Max, Calvin, Madeline, and Alex . . .

  who are my inspiration.














































  The days of the week meant nothing to him.

  Except Sunday.

  Because on Sundays he listened to pipe organs and pianos. If he was lucky, handheld bells, pounding drums, or electronic beat machines might vibrate while people sang and sometimes clapped and on occasion even stamped their dressed-up feet.

  On Sundays, wherever he was, whenever he could, Sam Border woke early, pulled on his cleanest dirty shirt, and went looking for a church.

  He didn’t believe in religion.

  Unless music could be considered a religion. Because he knew God, if there was one, was just not on his side.

  Sam always came in after things had started and he always left before the service was finished. He sat in the back because he was there only to visualise the patterns in the musical notes. And maybe grab a glazed donut or a sticky cookie on the way out.

  If someone tried to speak to him, Sam nodded in greeting and, if he had to, threw in a ‘Peace be with you.’ But he had perfected the art of being invisible, and he was, even when he was younger and little, almost always left alone.

  What he could remember, when he thought of the dozens and dozens of towns where he’d lived, were sounds.

  Even Junction City, where he’d spent a whole winter and made a friend, was now gone, except for the ping of the rain hitting the metal roof on the apartment off the alley where the city parked all its noisy trucks.

  That was three years ago. Fifteen towns ago. Another lifetime.

  After Junction City they’d been outside of Reno for a while. And then in a trailer that rattled as if every screw and corresponding piece of corroded metal was ready to come undone.

  The trailer was in Mexico, and it felt like living in a cardboard box, which was one of his many recurring nightmares. But he’d appreciated those five months south of the border.

  Being an American automatically meant he was an outsider, so for the first time in what he could remember of his blur of a broken life, he’d felt like he could relax. He was different. It was expected.

  But even fitting-in-because-you-don’t-fit-in didn’t last.

  His father got them out of the country and back to the U.S. just as Sam was learning to speak Spanish and figuring out how to swim.

  For weeks, while his brother and father slept, Sam had gone down right after sunrise to the crashing waves. Teaching yourself a skill, especially one that could kill you if things went wrong, wasn’t easy.

  At first, he only went in up to his knees. And then, gradually, he ventured into the swell, moving his arms in the cold surf like he’d seen people do from a distance.

  He was pretty sure he looked like a real idiot.

  But he was always able to get back to the gritty beach, even on the morning when the ocean suddenly shifted gears and began to pull him sideways down the shoreline. For what seemed like miles, he slapped his arms against the waves and thrashed his legs in a fury as he swallowed mouthfuls of icy salt water.

  Because something inside him, even when he most wanted to give up, just wouldn’t.

  After that day, Sam figured he had once gone for a real swim. But he assumed that whatever he’d learned from the experience would disappear, like so much that had come and gone in a life dictated by his father. There were so many things that were a mystery. That’s what happens when you’ve never gone to school past second grade.

  But the good thing was that he didn’t know what he didn’t know, and that
made it all easier.

  Emily Bell was a collector.

  And what she gathered and sorted and prized was carried with her wherever she went.

  Because Emily’s obsession was with other people’s lives. Her grandmother had once said that Emily would have been the greatest spy ever born. But only if spies didn’t have to guard secrets as well as unearth them. Because Emily’s own emotional wall of self-protection was see-through. She wasn’t hiding anything about herself, so why should anyone else?

  It was disarming.

  Emily’s interest in personal histories made her accessible to people’s deepest emotions. It was as if she had some kind of magnet that pulled at someone’s soul, often when he or she least expected it.

  And that same magnet, which had to have been shaped like a horseshoe, allowed someone to look at her and feel the need to share a burden.

  Hers was a gift that didn’t have a name.

  Even she didn’t understand what it all meant.

  Emily just knew that the grocery store clerk’s cousin had slipped on a bath mat and fallen out a second-story open window only to be saved because the woman landed on a discarded mattress.

  But what interested Emily the most about the incident was how the cousin had subsequently met a man in physical therapy who introduced her to his half brother who she ended up marrying and then running over with her car a year later after a heated argument. And that man, it was discovered, had been the one to dump the mattress in her yard.

  He’d saved her so that she could later cripple him. Emily found that not ironic but intriguing. Because everything, she believed, was connected.

  Now, at seventeen years old, Emily’s question was how she fitted into the big scheme of things. Where was her minor incident that would change the course of major life events? So far it had all gone according to plan. Good parents. Decent younger brother. World’s greatest dog. Loyal best friend.

  There had been no dramatic hairpin turns in her road. And not even any real bumps to speak of.

  But she had lived in one town, and she had seen how small things changed big things. She saw every person as part of a ripple effect.

  And, because of that, she believed in destiny. At least that’s what she would later tell herself.

  Emily took a bite of wholewheat toast and stared out the window. She did not have a beautiful singing voice. She could carry a tune, but that was the extent of the situation.

  So why was she going to sing a solo at church?

  The answer was right across from her, drinking coffee. Tim Bell was a college music professor. But on Sundays he was now also the choral director of their congregation. And, as Emily chewed, she decided that he really must not care about that new position if he was going to subject the people to her rendition of ‘I’ll Be There’.

  Because it wasn’t even a church song she had to sing. It was a classic pop melody that the Jackson Five had made famous, and people had heard this song and seen this song performed and they all knew how it was supposed to sound.

  Which made her singing it even worse.

  Her father had a theory – because he had theories about everything – that love ballads could be used in places of worship and reinvented to have a spiritual dimension. Being an instructor, he knew that the key to emotional involvement with music was familiarity.

  So the way Emily saw it, he was basically tricking people. He was using songs that already made them feel good. The only problem in the scheme was her. It was just plain wrong to make her a guinea pig in the plan.

  Emily had tried all week to appeal to her mother, who was always a voice of reason. But Debbie Bell was an emergency-room nurse and she said that she handled pain and he handled poetry, which meant she left music to her husband.

  In desperation Emily had even worked on her little brother, Jared, who was only ten years old and, being seven years younger than her, would pretty much do anything she said. But even Jared didn’t think her singing was a big deal.

  Emily shut her eyes and she could hear her own voice, sped up suddenly like a cartoon chipmunk, singing, ‘I’ll be there. Just call my name. I’ll be there.’

  It was a total nightmare.

  She would just have to grit her teeth and get through it. But was it possible to grit your teeth and still sing?


  Sam’s father, Clarence Border, heard voices.

  But they were voices of people who were up at odd hours and who lived exclusively inside his head. They were voices of people whose jobs were primarily to warn of danger – sometimes real but mostly imagined.

  When you first met Clarence Border, you understood you were talking to someone who was anxious. His thin body seemed to crackle with energy. His fingers fluttered at his sides when he spoke, moving like he was playing an invisible piano that must have been located on the tops of his bony thighs.

  It wasn’t that he twitched. He was more in control than that. It was that he was hardwired to run in the blink of an eye.

  And to take you with him.

  Clarence was a good-looking man. He had a full head of dark hair and a strong jaw. When he was dressed in his always clean black jeans, you couldn’t see that on the inside of his left leg, curled around the calf, was a tattoo of a black snake. He’d given it to himself, and it looked like it.

  Clarence stood over six feet tall, and you could tell in a single glance that he knew how to throw a punch – and that it wouldn’t take much to get him to do it.

  His voice was deep and steady, and you’d think that would be a good thing, but then his fingers would start moving and it was like he was getting a message from some far-off place, not from circuitry in his frontal lobe that just didn’t seem to work right.

  There are many ways Sam’s father’s life could have played out. He could have stayed in Alaska, living near the old cabin where he was born, hunting and fishing and on occasion taking something that wasn’t his and selling it to get by. But he’d gotten caught trying to unload an outboard motor to an off-duty patrolman.

  The arrest uncovered a string of other misdeeds, and Clarence found himself at the age of twenty-two in prison for three years. When he was released, he left the state, and the only thing he knew, truly deep in his heart, was that he’d never go back to living behind bars.

  Which was not to say that he was going to live a life of virtue. Far from it. Clarence Border’s vow wasn’t one of decency. It was a vow of preservation and desperation. He’d do anything, to anyone, to keep one step ahead of the government.

  For a time, life in Montana, which was where Sam was born, was without major incident. Clarence had met Shelly at the Buttrey Food & Drug store. She appeared in the aisle just as he was preparing to slip a box of cheese-flavored Goldfish crackers into the back of his bulky winter coat.

  Shelly was ten years older than he was, and he could tell right away that she liked him. Since she was wearing a name tag, he just needed her phone number. She gave it to him without his even asking.

  Six weeks later, Shelly was pregnant with Sam and she was living with Clarence above her parents’ garage. He worked odd jobs under the watchful eye of her family, and while the whole arrangement didn’t actually work, it wasn’t yet a colossal failure.

  Shelly’s father, Donn, was an electrician. If he’d had more opportunity, he’d have been an engineer. He understood not just wiring and current and all things mechanical – he also understood operating systems.

  The first time Donn met Clarence Border, he knew that his daughter had hooked up with a man who had a busted mainframe. He tried to warn her early in the game, but Shelly was pregnant before anything could be done.

  Donn then took a different approach. He’d teach the shifty snake a profession. As the months wore on, a new plan took shape. If he couldn’t make Clarence understand electricity, Donn could electrocute him and probably get away with it.

  But the snake struck first.

  The voices in his head couldn’t be ignored, and th
e morning of the bite they told Clarence that he’d need to be righteous when someone had done him wrong.

  Donn wouldn’t let Clarence smoke cigarettes when they were in the truck, and when they got to the Weiss Sand and Gravel Company, there was a No Smoking sign in the work area.

  Clarence seethed as he unloaded their tools. Someone would pay for the way he was feeling.

  Shelly’s father was up on the roof attaching a new transformer to the pole when Clarence unhooked the ground wire. The old man was cooked in a single jolt that flung his body halfway across the roof into the company’s TV dish. Smoke came off his body.

  All Clarence could do was stare at the No Smoking sign and feel a sense of satisfaction.

  After that, Shelly and Clarence moved from the garage into the main house, and Shelly’s mother, consumed with grief, stopped speaking to him. He’d look back on this period as a time of focus.

  When Sam was almost four and a half, Shelly got pregnant again and then, a month early, tiny Riddle was born. From the start, Riddle cried all the time. His weak sobs drove Clarence out of the house and back into the garage apartment.

  The kid had colic. And some other problems. His nose ran constantly, and he squinted as if the sun were in his eyes even on rainy days.

  By the time Sam and Riddle were seven years old and two, the house had liens and the bill collectors didn’t just make calls, they paid visits.

  Shelly’s mom couldn’t take it any more, and even though she’d grown attached to the two little boys, she moved down to Louisiana to be with her deaf sister. She said she’d send money when she left, but no one had believed her. Clarence hadn’t worked in forever, and his wife finally went back to stocking the aisles at the Buttrey.

  Shelly came home after an eight-hour shift on a cold, rainy day in March and the front door was wide open. The truck wasn’t in the driveway, and the garden hose by the garage was missing. Clarence had taken the two kids, some power tools, one suitcase of clothes, and her Indian Head penny collection, which had belonged to her great-uncle Jimmy.

  Sam was in second grade and the star of his class, reading books for fifth graders. Ten years later, he could still picture exactly what that classroom looked like.

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