Three friends. One summer. Countless consequences.
Lured away by a college band promising more singing exposure, ambitious high school senior, Zoey Harris, abandons her boyfriend, her band, and her values.
Justin Conrad is determined not to make the mistakes his dad made that nearly tore their family apart, so he will support Zoey's every decision--even if he knows it's the worst decision for her and for him.
Being a drummer is all Sawyer Mahon has. When Zoey abandons them, Sawyer sees his future fading faster than the crash of cymbals. After all, what good is a drummer without a band?
But after one wrong kiss, more than just the future of their band is destroyed. Can Zoey, Justin, Sawyer, and their band survive betrayal?
2018 American Christian Fiction Writers - Carol Award 1st place Winner
Where it All Begins
The never-gonna-be-a-chart-topper on stage stopped wailing, and a group in the back corner of the coffeehouse cheered.
Zoey swallowed back the feeling of psychotic moths swarming from her stomach into her throat and squeezed the paper cup of unsipped tea. One more karaoke performer down. Soon…soon…
She couldn’t even finish the terrifying thought. The cup’s sides started to cave, and she loosened her grip.
“Next…” The man at the mic checked a clipboard. “Zoey Harris.”
Zoey stood on jittery legs and wove between mismatched tables fingering the beads at her neck. She should’ve bailed on her older sister, Livvy, the moment the off-key strains of the previous song had insulted her ears. She should’ve run out of the Downstairs Coffeehouse after seeing “Karaoke Night” on the black dry erase board. She should’ve stopped her sister from adding her name to the list of performers.
She stepped onto the black plywood stage and faced the latte- and tea-drinking audience. Her heart pounded so loud the microphone would probably pick up its beats. She wished Justin sat out there grinning and believing in her. But “no boyfriends” was rule number one on sisters’ night. Of course, this was more like force-Zoey-to-face-her-fears night. Or, depending on what happened in the next five minutes, Zoey-kills-Livvy night.
Then the opening notes of a '90s classic blasted through the speakers. With the first word, the song swelled from deep inside sparking every nerve. She forgot her anger toward Livvy. Forgot her dread of the stage. Forgot everything except this moment.
By the time she hit the first chorus, conversations ceased. Every person stared. She owned the crowd. She danced with the mic, expressed the music with her entire body.
Mama’s dream for her come true.
The music ended, and the last notes faded, replaced by the crowd’s cheers. Zoey floated off the stage savoring the high that helped her forget she was motherless. But the euphoria evaporated.
Livvy was no longer alone. A college-age guy straddled the back of a chair. Lean and narrow-chested, his dark hair hung to his shoulders smooth and straight.
What happened to sisters’ night out? Rule number two was no picking up guys. Zoey was already taken, and Livvy attracted losers.
Zoey dropped into her seat.
“What did I tell you?” Livvy held out a peach tea peace offering. She had on her falling-in-love face—cheeks flushed and eyes sparkling. “If this was one of those TV talent competitions, you’d totally be going on national television.”
“Uh-huh.” Zoey tipped her head at the strange dude.
“This is Vance.” Livvy gave him a head-over-heels smile. He winked in return.
That confirmed it. Only a loser would flirt with clichés.
“He wanted to meet you,” Livvy said.
“Me?” Zoey sputtered tea onto the scarred wood table.
“You totally rocked that stage.” Vance turned his green-eyed charm on Zoey. “You shouldn’t be performing karaoke.”
“Thanks.” Zoey heard the caution in her voice. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t been complimented before, but not by some random guy who was hitting on her sister.
“How would you like to join a band?”
The on-stage adrenaline jolted through Zoey’s veins. Was this for real, a total stranger inviting her to join his band? But the excitement passed. “I’m already in a band.”
“What’s your group’s name?”
“We don’t have one.” Zoey caught his indulgent smile and looked away. A no-name band. She could barely take herself seriously, let alone expect him to.
“I’m in this progressive metal band called Aurora Fire.” Vance’s voice swelled with pride. “I write the songs, play lead guitar, and sing backup. Our singer’s gone until fall, so we need a voice to fill in over the summer.”
“Oh.” She rolled a necklace bead between her fingers. He wasn’t just using her as an excuse to flirt with Livvy. He hadn’t even looked at Livvy since Zoey sat down. She felt her rapid pulse in her neck. Her heart had never beaten this wildly before. Not even while on stage.
No one had ever asked her to join a band. Well, no one besides Justin, but that was back in eighth grade, and they were already a couple then, so that hardly counted. “I’m sorry. I can’t just abandon my friends.”
“Yeah, I get that.” Vance’s voice fell like a kid reluctantly accepting a no. But he couldn’t have wanted her to join that badly. He’d only heard her sing once. “You got a lot of concerts planned?”
“No. Only one—next Saturday.” Flaming heat engulfed her head. She sounded like a silly middle-schooler playing a band-style video game.
“We’ve got concerts lined up over the summer here in Fairbanks, and in Anchorage, and at the state fair. We need a voice like yours.”
Images danced through her mind, quickened her breath. Standing on stage under hot lights, backed by a live band, facing a crowd of cheering strangers. What a way to spend the summer before senior year.
“You wouldn’t be abandoning your other band.” Vance leaned even closer, his coffee-scented breath laced with something bitter, his gaze both begging and sincere. “And this would be good for them too. Trust me; that would benefit you a lot. You’d get exposure for yourself and your other band. You’d meet the people who book shows. You’d get experience.”
There it was. The one thing she lacked. She had the talent. She had the determination. But she didn’t have the experience.
She glanced across the table at Livvy, who nodded encouragement. But of course Livvy would be encouraging. She’d dragged Zoey here for experience, and she was still giving dreamy looks at Vance as if she’d become his number-one groupie.
“I don’t know.” His argument sounded convincing, and he offered what she needed—connections, exposure, experience. The possibilities fluttered her heart and prickled her nerves.
“D’you want to meet the rest of the band? They’re over there.” Vance gestured at the tables behind Zoey and then stood. “C’mon. Let me introduce ya.”
Livvy started to stand, but Zoey shook her head. She didn’t need to hold her big sister’s hand. “I’m good.”
She stayed on Vance’s heels through the tight stream of back-to-back chairs until he stopped at his table.
Three guys and a bubble-gum-pink-haired girl clustered around a table littered with half-empty paper cups. They looked older than Zoey, probably in their early twenties like Livvy. And judging from their tats and piercings, they wanted to star in a reality spin-off: Fairbanks Ink.
“This is Zoey. She just finished singing.” Vance pointed around the table. “That’s Devin, Travis, Myles, Bailee.”
The names buzzed inside Zoey’s head like speaker feedback.
“As good as Gwen Stefani herself,” black-bearded Myles said.
“Thanks.” Zoey tried to sound confident, but off stage, she was as timid as a nun at a shock-rocker concert.
“Best all night.” The three silver studs under Devin’s lip flashed.
“Really?” Bailee’s voice jumped an octave. She’d performed right before Zoey, a performance only the tone-deaf could’ve called not horrible.
“Yeah. You can’t sing. She can.”
“And she can fill-in for Halleigh until September.” Vance’s sharp-edged tone reminded Zoey of Dad cutting off her and Livvy’s arguments.
“I don’t know.” Bailee leaned against Myles, her hand resting high on his inner thigh. “Karaoke is nothing. Who knows if she can sing worth anything with an actual band?”
“Shut up, Bailee.” Devin leaned across the tiny table. “Only band members have a say.”
“Bailee’s right.” Myles shoved Devin against his chair.
Zoey held her breath and inched one foot back. If a fight started, she was gone.
“But Zoey’s worth a try.” The guy with hoops in his lip like oddly-shaped fangs—Travis?—rubbed a hand over his bald head. “Else we gotta cancel next week.”
Bailee shrugged a shoulder and studied her neon orange nails.
The guys eyed Zoey as if assessing a new instrument’s specs. Not what she’d expected after Vance’s pleading. He’d acted as if she’d be the band’s savior.
“We gotta hear her with us first.” Myles stuck with his girlfriend. Bailee might not have a say, but Myles gave her a voice.
“No problem.” Zoey lifted her chin. She’d prove capable of singing anything they played. “When’s your next practice?”
“Tomorrow. Six o’clock,” Vance said. “You free?”
“Yes.” She’d cancel on anything or anyone else. No way was she letting a bubble-gum-haired girl who couldn’t carry a tune win.
“OK. We practice in the basement of our house.” Vance asked for Zoey’s number. “I’ll text you the address.”
“This place is getting dull.” Bailee pulled away from her boyfriend and stood. “Let’s go to Deadhorse.”
“You wanna come?” Vance asked Zoey.
“I’m hanging out with my sister tonight.” She waved toward the table where Livvy waited. She wasn’t about to admit that at seventeen she couldn’t get into the popular bar. Not that she’d go anyway.
“See you tomorrow?” He sounded hopeful.
“Yeah. Of course.”
“You better. We need you.” His tone shifted. Less hope, more demand.
Then he walked away, and it hit her. Tomorrow was Thursday. Thursday night, six o’clock, youth devotional followed by band practice with Justin and Sawyer. The realization wrapped around her lungs and squeezed. Squeezed so hard her vision blurred. How could she ditch her band?
But Justin and Sawyer would understand what this opportunity meant for her—and them. She’d be crazy to turn down concerts and exposure and connections.
They’d be crazy to let her.
Question 1: Of the three main characters—Zoey, Justin, and Sawyer—who do you relate to most? Why?
Question 2: The theme of this book is betrayal. Which role do Zoey, Justin, and Sawyer each play, the betrayer, the betrayed or both? How did they respond in that role?
Question 3: Have you ever felt betrayed by someone close to you? How did you respond?
Question 4: Zoey questions her relationship with Justin after kissing Sawyer. (That must’ve been some kiss!) Do you think a kiss is enough to base a relationship on? How important is physical attraction? What other qualities are necessary to build a healthy relationship?
Question 5: Justin believes his faith is strong—until he’s challenged to forgive Sawyer. Has someone ever hurt you so deeply that you struggled, or even failed, to forgive them? Does forgiveness heal you or the person who wrong you? Or both? How?
Question 6: Sawyer acts and feels like the bad guy, and he’s okay with that. But after he meets Chey, he wants someone to see him as good. Is there or has there been someone in your life who makes you want to be a better person? In what ways did you change? Do you think positive changes to earn someone’s approval is good? Or is changing to impress someone always bad?
Question 7: Each member of the band—Zoey, Justin, and Sawyer—plays a different instrument. After Zoey joins Aurora Fire, Justin and Sawyer try to perform without her, but their performance is missing something. Is each member necessary? How is this similar to how the church is described in I Corinthians 12:19-20: If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.