Excerpt from Nothing Stays the Same
July 10, Present Day
Dover Heights, Massachusetts
Leah Reinard bounced into 33 Revolutions on the balls of her feet, ignoring the twinge in her left knee that had cost her the coveted “dream job” at The Sports Outlet. Although working in a used record store would never have made her top 10—or even top 50—list of possible summer jobs, she’d never felt happier. That was because, three days ago, she’d found out that gorgeous, adorable Brennan Basford also had a summer job here.
Happy, happy sigh! The thought made her feel as giddy now as it had on her first day. After years of watching her crush on this fellow athlete from afar, the Fates were finally smiling down on her. Her future might seem uncertain, with college plans and athletic scholarships hinging on the outcome of her knee injury, but she had the strongest feeling this would be the best summer ever.
She would begrudgingly have to thank her older sister Callie for this job opportunity. She never would have applied without Callie’s nagging. The store manager was a friend of Callie’s from college and desperate for help. Leah hadn’t been surprised no one wanted to work there with all this old music. Now she wondered if Callie might have a sixth sense about things that seemed impossible. Like finally having some precious alone time with the boy she’d been swooning over on for as long as she could remember.
Alone time was a relative term, of course. As if on cue, her twenty-something boss, Evan Peterson, shuffled out of the backroom, a stack of used records straining his scrawny arms. Despite his struggle, he grinned at the sight of Leah.
“Oh, man, Leah, you are not going to believe what came in this morning.”
Leah rushed over to take a couple inches off the top of the stack before they slid away from him. “Let me guess, more used records?”
“Ha, ha. Funny. Don’t quit your day job. You aren’t ready for Comedy Central yet.” He flexed his rounded shoulders and dropped the stack on the front counter for pricing. Leah knew the drill by heart. She’d already grabbed the sticker gun. This wasn’t rocket science.
Unlike Leah, Evan really dug this mothball music they sold. To college kids looking to be retro—another word for lame, in her opinion—or to their grandparents. Plenty of older folks stopped in here for the country and western albums Evan tried to hide in a corner, as if the rest of the store wasn’t as equally embarrassing. Her first few hours here had been excruciating. She would have killed for one Katy Perry or Taylor Swift song to grace the store speakers instead of Nilsson, John Denver and Foghat—just a few of the unknown names she’d had to commit to memory in case a customer had questions when Evan wasn’t around.
Now she’d grown accustomed to the store’s decades-old soundtrack—not to mention the scent of stuffy closets and old cardboard that permeated the store. Looking forward to seeing Brennan again drove all negative thoughts from her mind anyway. She’d even started to “dig” a few of the female singers like Linda Ronstadt and Pat Benatar. But she’d never admit that to Callie, the self-proclaimed music expert of the world. Or Evan, who was no better. Those two took old music far too seriously, if you asked her.
Leah gave her boss a patient look and smiled. “Okay, lay it on me. What’s so great about that pile of vinyl you lugged out here?”
“You know Cliff, that dude from Lake Street who’s always cruising the estate sales and selling stuff on eBay?” he said. “He dropped off a boatload of new LPs for consignment, and guess who was on top?” He held up a worn album sleeve whose sheen had long since disappeared. Any white on it had been rubbed into a dirty-looking gray ages ago.
Underneath the wear and tear, an assault of psychedelic colors swirled around a geeky looking man-child with a Peter Brady side part and striped hip huggers. It wasn’t David Cassidy; she’d seen plenty of those used “classics” come into—and surprisingly out of—the store since starting here, but this guy could’ve been his cute, younger brother. Dark hair—check. Dreamy puppy dog eyes—check, check. Sad, sad, sad taste in fashion—triple check.
Add in a lean, bordering on scrawny, physique just like Evan’s and yup, he had it all. A 1970’s teen idol to die for. Only Leah had no idea who he was, which wasn’t surprising given that she was more of a David Beckham fan than a Ryan Seacrest one. Callie, on the other hand, could probably recite this guy’s name, birth date and several other vitals in a split second.
Leah scowled at the album cover. “Like I’m supposed to know who that is? I wasn’t even born then.”
Evan pointed to the loopy lava-lamp style writing across the top. She’d been so drawn to the poor guy being sucked into the whirling vortex of melting Crayola she hadn’t even noticed his name flowing across the top.
“Ronnie Basford,” she read aloud. Evan rolled his hand in encouragement as if it was a game of charades, and as soon as he did, her head jerked back with realization. “No way!”
“Yes, way.” Evan smiled. “Never guessed we had a celebrity in our midst, did you?”
“No way,” Leah said again, taking the album from Evan to examine it more closely. Practically the whole town knew that Brennan’s father used to be on some TV show in the seventies, but a cheesy teen idol, too? She’d never heard that part.
Looking at the geeky guy on the album cover, she started to see a little resemblance. Not the scrawny part of course. Brennan had a great body from playing sports all year like Leah did. Not that she’d been staring too much lately or anything. Ahem.
But the floppy dark hair and boyish face, that was pure Brennan. Even the blue-gray eyes were the same. He attended public school, while she went to the local parochial, but because of the Dover Heights sports clubs, she’d been crossing paths with him for years, knew his features by heart from far too much daydreaming. She’d heard someone at the Plex once say Brennan’s father was a musician, but never got all the details. Now a very big detail stared her in the face. Almost blinded her with its corniness.
She flipped the album over and read the back. “Omigod. This is Brennan’s father!” She shot a glance at the clock. Brennan would be in any minute for his shift.
Evan came around to her side to peer at the back of the album with her. She ran her fingers across the silly song titles like “January, I’m Yours,” “Perfect Fever,” and “Jellybean Jubilee,” and couldn’t stop giggling.
“You have got to put this on the turntable,” Leah said. “Now, before he gets in. Wait until he hears it playing!”
Evan smiled broadly. “I like the way you think, Dollface.”
Yeah, he liked to do James Cagney impersonations, too.
Taking the album back, Evan disappeared into the office where they kept the stereo equipment that broadcast into the shop. Within minutes, a soft crackling echoed through the room followed by a sudden influx of twangy guitar, bass beat and jingly tambourine. So much tambourine! Her sister Callie would call this bubblegum music at its finest.
“Jellybean Jubilee” proved surprisingly catchy. Leah’s foot started tapping before she had time to think about it. She even forgot about the ache in her knee for a few minutes.
“This is so bad, it’s good,” she cheered when Evan emerged from the office. He did a few goofy disco moves in the doorway before gathering a stack of albums to file in the merchandise bins.
“Go easy on the dancing, you.” Evan pointed at the soft brace just barely visible below her denim capris. “Doctor’s orders.”
“Like you need to remind me?” She didn’t care about the Sports Outlet job anymore, but the injury had put her starting position on the Sacred Heart soccer team in jeopardy, and that did worry her. So much of her future depended on her resuming her co-captain position in the fall. She wouldn’t be taking any chances by dancing too vigorously or doing anything else her physical therapist hadn’t approved.
“You honestly didn’t recognize him?” Evan asked when he returned to the counter for more albums.
“Other than Brennan’s last name, no.”
“Man, back in the day, he was as big as David Cassidy.”
Leah winced. “Sorry, but I’m not all that familiar with him, either. I know his name because my sister Callie forced me to watch Partridge Family reruns a few years ago, but nothing else. She’s the music fanatic in our family. Not me. I just like a good tune I can jog to.” Something else this annoying injury had stolen from her. “Now if you want to talk about ESPN—”
“But your father runs an oldies radio station.”
Leah shrugged. “Yeah, and I chose to spend my childhood outdoors with a ball, not cooped up next to a stereo, like my sister.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing.”
She pointed to the speakers overhead with a grin. The joyful strains of Ronnie Basford had moved on to a new chorus of the same crazy song. “Based on this, I don’t think I’m missing much.”
Evan laughed. “But Ronnie Basford lives in town. How could you not have known?”
“It’s not that I don’t know anything. I’d heard Brennan’s father was a musician, but I was more focused on…” His son. “Other things.” She turned away before Evan could see the nice shade of pink she felt creeping over her cheeks.
“His mother was a celebrity once, too. Kids’ TV show in England.”
“Not that young, but,” he looked off to the side in thought, “same sort of color explosion on screen. With hipper music and cool accents. Mary Kingston-Tate? Ring a bell?”
Leah shook her head. “But I’m not a complete music illiterate. I know who Madonna is.” She lifted a copy of Madonna’s True Blue from the stack she was pricing to wave at him.
“Undiscovered islands in the Pacific know who Madonna is. That doesn’t count.”
“What can I say? I’m a lump of clay. You’ll just have to mold me.” If it helped her keep this job and get closer to Brennan, she’d learn every musical artist in this store before the month was out.
* * *
When Brennan arrived for work, he came to a halt as soon as the front door swung open. A smack of cold AC air and embarrassingly familiar music hit him square in the face. Oh, no, this was not happening.
He instantly pictured one of those dreams where you show up late for an exam only to realize you’re completely naked. This moment bordered on that same level of humiliation.
“You never told us your dad was so groooooovy,” Leah teased as she came around the front counter, swaying like a drunken hula dancer to the funky beat of a song he wished he’d never heard of. He blamed the knee brace for her noticeable lack of rhythm, and thanked it for creating an image that made him smile instead of cringe at what was happening. It had been only a matter of time.
Brennan grimaced. “Oh, man, no, no, no. Turn that crap off.” The desire to both laugh and cry battled inside him. He came all the way in and shut the door tight. “Quick, before someone out there hears it.”
Leah kept dancing, or trying to, forcing another smile to his lips. That helped quell the wave of self-consciousness that suddenly struck him. Lord, what would she think of him now she’d experienced the ugly truth first hand?
“You afraid someone might buy this baby out from under you?” Leah waved the album cover at him, tempting him to grab for it.
He wasn’t biting. “Uh, no. I’m pretty sure I can find a couple copies at home somewhere, if I were truly desperate. Which I’m not.”
She held the album up to the side of Brennan’s head. He tried not to blush, and failed. “There’s definitely a family resemblance.”
“Give me that.” His cheeks burning, he snatched the album from her hand and she barely noticed. Instead, she kept moving like a pirate with a peg leg to the heavy beat. Evan, too, appeared to be caught up in the frolicking tune as he bobbed and weaved his way to the cash register. Brennan couldn’t take it anymore.
He strode to the back room, grabbed the first CD he could find. In seconds, a Creedance Clearwater Revival tune replaced the eternally cheerful vocals of Ronnie Basford. A guy he’d lived with his whole life, but who hadn’t been “that Ronnie” in a very long time. He dropped the album in the trash on his way out of the office. “Take it out of my wages,” he said to Evan.
“Don’t think accounting lets me do that,” Evan said, retrieving the album from the bin, “but I’ll keep it behind the counter for now. Deal?”
“Fine.” Maybe he should just buy it outright at the end of his shift and toss it away outside where Evan couldn’t see. It probably pained Evan to see a playable record in the trash. He’d been tempted to crack it in two when he lifted it from the turntable, but something stopped him. Family sentiment?
Leah was laughing and catching her breath near the bargain 45’s bin. “I’m sorry, we couldn’t resist.”
“It’s okay.” He waved her off, tried to push past the dread in the pit in his stomach. For some people, he guessed, these songs might invoke happy feelings, but just like the illusion of television, not everything was what you saw on the outside. Certainly not in his house.
She came forward and touched his arm. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
“Yes, you did.” He said it with a grin. Being near Leah Reinard always made him want to smile. Since he’d found out they were working together, it seemed like he couldn’t stop. He wondered if she’d noticed.
But three days of working together and they were still doing the small talk thing. He had to step up his game if he wanted something to happen here.
“Okay, maybe I did,” she admitted, looking up at him with eyes so deep and blue he could get lost in them. “Just a little. Don’t hate me.”
As if he ever could. “It’s fine.” He gave her arm a little reassuring rub, but pulled away the second she turned her head that way. He’d never felt this awkward with a girl before. It was maddening. “Was bound to surface sooner or later.” He flipped his hand at the racks of records in front of them. “I mean, look where we work.” And as much as he hated to even think about his father’s past, he’d taken this job to get closer to Leah. Eventually he would have to talk about his father’s brush with stardom. He’d hoped to hold off on that for a while and not scare her away from the very start, but now he might not have a choice.
“Did he have any other albums?”
“No, not solo ones that I know of.” He wanted to meet her gaze, let those beautiful blue eyes transport him away from all the uncomfortable memories, but the shame of his home life dragged his focus to the floor. “Plenty of Beat Detector albums made it off the assembly line, though.” He shot a look toward the A-C section. “Warn me if you see any of those gems turn up, will ya?”
“Oh, that’s right. The TV show. He was in that band. My sister mentioned it once, when we saw you…”
“Saw me what?”
Grateful for the change in subject, he turned back to her. “You can’t just start to say something about me like that and leave me hanging.”
“Okay, fine. We saw you at the championship game last fall.” Now it was her turn to study a spot on the floor between them.
“You were at my game?”
She shrugged as if it was nothing, but a faint blush had crept up her cheeks when she finally tilted her chin to look him in the eye. “I’m a soccer player. I like to watch the games.”
Brennan smiled. “For a school you don’t go to?”
“It was a championship game.” She narrowed her eyes. “I’m not stalking you, if that’s what you think.”
Actually, he’d kind of hoped she was. Leah coming to the game because he was in it would be just about the best piece of news he could have today. Could almost make him forget she’d discovered the dreaded Ronnie Basford solo album.
He’d had a crush on this girl since eighth grade, when she’d stolen the ball from him during an intramural match. Two blond ponytails had whipped by him and scored a goal before he’d even realized the ball was missing. His teammates had ragged on him something fierce—beaten out by a girl—but he’d been impressed. And never forgotten her.
Then she’d chosen to go to Sacred Heart instead of Dover Heights for high school and he’d thought the world would end. They’d crossed paths at the town’s recreation complex several times since—they both did club sports as well as school ones—but he never had the nerve to say more than “Hello” to her. It seemed like a cruel twist of fate that the only job left in town was in a used record store, where his father’s dreaded past sat an arm’s length away, but then he’d found himself working side-by-side with the one reason he could never quit.
“So, your dad’s music…not your thing, huh?” Leah said. “Too old-fashioned?”
Damn, they were back on this again? “You might say that.”
“Normally, I’d agree with you. My sister loves all this oldies music that I don’t get the point of.” She rifled through the albums in the closest bin, not really seeming to see them. Maybe just looking for something to do with her hands. “But I have to say…the tunes on your dad’s album might be silly, but there’s something infectious about them.” She shot him a look over her shoulder that squeezed his heart. “He gets an ‘A+’ for enthusiasm, if nothing else.”
“I don’t know about the enthusiasm part. Things back then weren’t exactly great—”
“Oh, I know. CNN did a series about it. I caught bits and pieces while my sister watched.” She resumed fiddling with the albums, now flipping them one by one back into their original position against the back of the bin. “The 70s seem all cool to us now because we didn’t live through it, but it wasn’t all groovy tunes and rainbows. Vietnam, gas station lines, hijackers—I’ve heard it all from my sister. She’s an expert in all things old.”
Brennan had to laugh. He didn’t know Callie Reinard well, but he’d heard she was a bit of a throwback hippie. In conversations he’d overheard at soccer camp, Leah had made no secret of her disdain for her sister’s musical interests. Before today, that had given him hope that it would be a long time before he’d have to talk to her about his father.
“There sure weren’t any rainbows. At least not while he was recording that.” He gestured at the front counter where the Ronnie Basford album rested out of view, but not out of Brennan’s thoughts.
“Really? He didn’t like making it?”
“My father doesn’t recall that part of his life with much…affection.” He struggled to find the right word that would answer her question, but also draw the subject to a close. His stomach ached a little bit. Lack of affection was such a huge understatement. So many disagreements between his parents over the years had started with the mention of his father’s old band, The Beat Detectors, or the TV show that had brought the band to life, Goody Gumshoes. This morning they’d had a really bad one that had woken him from a deep sleep.
He wished he knew what bothered his father so much. He’d seen a couple episodes of the show. It wasn’t that bad, considering how old it was. Plus, the past was past, right? The Beat Detectors hadn’t been together for almost forty years.
But the last few weeks, his father had been raging on more than usual about his early career, and drinking way too much. All because a guy named Darin Roche, one of The Beat Detectors, had died in L.A.
“It is kids’ stuff,” Leah said with a quick nod. “He probably thinks it’s juvenile. Not something a grown man does.”
“Yeah, maybe.” He was happy to let her think that for now. He knew it was more than that. He’d seen his friends’ parents peruse old photos or yearbooks and laugh at their younger selves. His father never laughed. Never looked back with joy. His mother, on the other hand, loved to tell stories about when she’d been the star of a popular British kids’ program. She’d show Brennan and his older sister Kimberly pictures from those days with a huge smile on her face—but only when his father wasn’t around.
“My dad doesn’t like to talk about his old jingle-writing career much either,” Leah said. “I guess when your claim to fame is a peppy little number about constipation, you keep that to yourself.”
Brennan felt his cheeks warm. She made it so easy to smile. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and think about nothing else but the two of them. Far away from dysfunctional families who didn’t know how to talk to one another without yelling. He hadn’t met her parents, but listening to Leah talk about her sister and everyday things, he could picture them, sitting around in their living room watching TV. Everyone so normal.
That was what he wanted, so badly. For too long he’d kept the reality of his family pretty close to the vest, giving off the illusion that he, too, had a normal one. It was easy when you never invited anyone over and your father tended to avoid most school events. He let people think it was the whole “celebrity” thing that kept his father absent. Better that than to admit to everyone that his father was pretty much out of his mind. Being embarrassed by some lame show you were on when you were fifteen was one thing, but the man practically strummed with anger whenever someone mentioned his past.
Brennan had grown up learning to tiptoe around his father during these episodes, which had fortunately quieted over the years until recently. He imagined it must’ve been worse for his sister. She’d been born eighteen years before him, at the height—or maybe it was the downfall—of his parents’ celebrity status. His father must have been a barrel of laughs to live with back then. His mother had never said so, but given the space between kids, he always suspected his parents might have separated for a while. And his birth, what? Brought them back together? That sounded pretty romantic, for about a second.
“Are you okay?” Leah asked. She touched his arm, and a little zing ran up to his shoulder. “I know we were ripping on you a bit, but you seem kind of down—like too far down because of a little teasing. I know you get worse on the field.”
She would know that, too. Brennan grinned, despite the heavy thoughts. Leah knew exactly what being on a team was like, because she led one of her own. He loved that they had soccer in common. Why hadn’t he ever used that as an excuse to talk to her before? Time was not standing still, and he’d wasted too much of it already.
“I’ll be all right. Just…stuff.” He shook out his arms to push the bad feelings away. “I’m good now.”
He’d much rather think about Leah anyway. They would be seniors this fall. Off to college after that. If he didn’t make his move and ask her out this summer, he’d probably lose his chance forever.
He took in a deep breath. “I-uh got you something.” He reached into his jeans pocket.
He pulled out the keychain he’d picked up last time he was at The Sports Outlet. It had a small soccer ball on the end, and with a marker he’d added the letters L, E, A, H to four of the white hexagons.
“I saw it and thought of you.” Lord, did that sound lame? But she smiled as she accepted it, so he tried to relax. “You’ll be getting your license soon, so I thought it might come in handy.”
“Ohmigod! I love it! Thank you.” She started to lean closer, as if she might kiss him on the cheek, but Evan’s voice made her jump back.
“If you two are finished making googly eyes at each other,” he said from behind the register, “I have some estate sale merch that needs to be brought out to the floor.”
“Oh, God.” Leah’s hand flew to her reddening face as she turned away from Brennan. “I’ll get it.” She hurried into the storeroom next to the office, pocketing the keychain as she went.
Brennan’s cheeks felt a little hot too. He shot Evan a what-the-hell look. “Seriously, man?”
“I have a business to run here, and it’s not a dating service.”
“Oh, I can see that.” Brennan made an exaggerated arm gesture at the empty store.
“It picks up when the college classes let out,” Evan said.
“Little help here,” Leah grunted. She attempted to drag a heavy box of albums from the back room, but got only as far as the doorway before it started to tear.
Brennan rushed over to take it from her. “Let me do that. I’ll put it in the center of the floor, where we can both reach it.”
As soon as he touched the box, his phone rang.
“No phones on the floor,” Evan said.
Brennan waved the phone at him. “I know. It’s my mom. I’ll turn it off as soon as I’m done.” He stepped into the back room where the music was softer. “Hey, mom, I can’t talk. I’m at w—”
But she wouldn’t let him go. Her voice broke as she started speaking and the world fell in on itself. All morning he’d been worried his parents were on the verge of divorce, but never imagined this. The rush of blood in his ears drowned out John Fogerty singing about a bad moon rising, and the walls telescoped down to a single point on the chipped tile floor. One hand clutched his stomach. He feared he might be sick.
“Come home straight away,” she finished in her brisk British accent, and clicked off.
Brennan slid the phone into his pocket, his hands numb. The rest of his body was quick to catch up.
“What’s wrong?” Leah asked.
He blinked. He didn’t remember leaving the back room, but found himself between aisles three and four. Leah stood nearby, a haphazard stack of albums at her feet.
“What’s going on?” She released the albums in her arms back to the box and took a step toward him.
“That was my mom,” he said in a voice that sounded like it came from the bottom of a well. He couldn’t say the words.
Leah moved a little closer and touched his shoulder, forcing him to focus on her. “You look like you’re about to throw up.”
“I think I am.” He bent over and blew out a couple breaths to still his roiling stomach. Then he peered up at her. Her pale brows were wrinkled with worry. She rubbed a hand across his back, a gesture that managed to take away some of the sick feeling, and brought some sensation back to his limbs. He didn’t want her to let go.
“Evan, he needs to go home,” Leah said, lifting her head. She turned back to Brennan. “I can go with you, if you want. Make sure you don’t pass out or anything.” She glanced at Evan. “I’ll be back in a few.”
He didn’t hear Evan’s reply. Even if their boss had said no, he didn’t think Leah would have listened. The girl was tough as nails. On and off the field. Just one more reason he was crazy about her.
“Thanks,” Brennan said. Outside the store, he broke into a cold sweat despite the heat radiating from the sunbaked sidewalk beneath their feet. “I took the bus.”
“I know the one.”
Leah still had her hand on his back, so he leaned into her as they walked down the block to the bus stop. He caught a whiff of something fruity this close to her and wanted to keep it locked in his memory forever. It helped him to not think about what his mother had said.
“I’m not sick,” he said when they dropped onto the shelter bench to wait.
“Could’ve fooled me.” She ran her fingers across his damp brow. “You’re as pale as the Beatles White album.” She laughed at her little musical joke.
Brennan wanted to laugh, too, but it didn’t come. He wiped his face with both hands, struggling to find any words at all. One look at the beautiful girl next to him, the one willing to sit outside in ninety-degree humidity and ride a smelly bus all the way across town to see he got home okay, and he knew. Leah was the only person he could share this with. With anyone else, he’d hide the truth, make something up and pretend it wasn’t happening, just like he did with his dad, day in and day out.
He couldn’t lie to Leah. He had to explain. His eyes started to water.
“My dad’s dead. They think he killed himself.”
~ * ~