About the Author
Hilary Weisman Graham is an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter. Reunited is her first novel. She lives in rural New Hampshire with her husband and son, roughly thirty minutes away from the nearest grocery store. Visit her at HilaryGraham.com.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Reunited Chapter One
“IS THE BLINDFOLD REALLY NECESSARY?” ALICE ASKED HER PARENTS.
“Yes!” they replied, in stereo.
Her mom tightened the bandanna around her head while her dad squeezed her shoulders. “March!” he commanded, steering her down the hall.
Alice tried not to get her hopes up about this mysterious graduation present—the Chia Pet they’d given her for her eighteenth birthday was still too fresh in her mind—but with all this hype, it was hard not to get a little excited. Especially if her parents remembered to consult the list of gift ideas she’d given them, typed up and organized by price. For a one-time event like high school graduation, Alice was hoping they’d spring for something from Category Two (iPad, camera, golden retriever) or maybe even Category One (laptop). After what happened yesterday, she could really use a good surprise.
“No peeking!” said her dad, guiding her through the living room and out the front door. Her mom made a drumroll sound with her lips, just in case the neighbors weren’t already staring. The Miller family had a reputation as the neighborhood oddballs. Nothing too crazy, if you didn’t count the garden gnome incident. But Alice was pretty sure that in all of white-bread Walford, Massachusetts, hers was the only house with a pea-green 1976 VW camper van up on blocks in the backyard.
“Okay,” said her dad, “you may remove the blindfold.”
It wasn’t in the backyard anymore. The Pea Pod, as the van was affectionately known, was right there in her driveway. It looked shinier than she remembered, as if a clear coat of nail polish had been painted over a craggy old toenail.
“We fixed it up for you!” her mom announced, waving her arms like one of those ladies from The Price Is Right. “Completely restored, good as new.”
“It’s got new brakes, a new muffler, and a new paint job!” her dad said proudly. “We wouldn’t let you and MJ drive crosscountry if this baby wasn’t safe.”
Alice blinked a few times, adjusting to the bright summer sun and the shock of her disappointment. She still hadn’t told her parents the bombshell that MJ had dropped on her yesterday. She was afraid if she said it out loud, she might have to accept it herself.
“My road trip with MJ,” Alice began, tears welling in her eyes, “got canceled.”
“Why?” asked her dad.
“Because Mrs. Ling is making her go to China all summer long,” Alice stammered. She hated to cry in front of them. She hated anything that threatened her image as the Confident Girl Who Had It All Together.
“But you girls have been planning this trip for two years,” said her mom.
“Exactly,” Alice whined. She caught her reflection in the van’s windshield, confirming that she looked as pathetic as she felt. Mascara—the only makeup she ever wore—was running down her cheeks, her long brown curls a frizzy fiasco, thanks to the blindfold.
Her dad wrapped her up in his arms. “Poor kid, you’re not having much luck these days, are you?” Understatement of the year. Her best friend was on a plane over the Pacific instead of getting ready for their last big precollege hurrah. Not that Alice actually knew which college she’d be going to. She’d applied to Brown early decision and they’d put her on the wait list. Hello, admissions people, it’s the end of June . . .
Her dad finally released her from the hug. “Well, like the great John Lennon once said, ‘Life’s what happens while you’re making other plans.’”
“And that’s supposed to be a good thing?” Alice asked. She wanted to believe that everything happened for a reason, that her canceled road trip and being wait listed by Brown were all part of the universe’s grand scheme. But sometimes she wondered if destiny was just something people believed in to make themselves feel better when they didn’t get their way.
“You know,” said her mom, “there was a time when we couldn’t get you out of the Pea Pod.”
Yeah, thought Alice, when I was twelve. Back in middle school, when Summer Dalton and Tiernan O’Leary were still her best friends, the Pea Pod had been their clubhouse. “Three peas in a Pea Pod,” her mom used to say. Alice always acted like the nickname embarrassed her, but secretly she’d liked it.
“Why don’t we go give her a whirl?” asked her dad. “It might take your mind off things.”
“That’s a great idea!” said her mom. “It’s a beautiful day for a drive.”
Can’t I just wallow in self-pity for one minute? Alice wondered. Then she looked at her parents. Her dad was buffing the van with his T-shirt. Her mom held the digital camera in her hand.
“Fine,” she said, tugging on the van’s sliding door. After avoiding the Pea Pod for the last four years, she had to admit, she was a little curious. Had they reupholstered the orange-and-green plaid seat cushions? Ripped down the limited edition Level3 poster signed by all three members of the band?
They hadn’t. The inside of the Pea Pod looked exactly the same as she remembered it. Level3 memorabilia was still plastered on the walls—song lyrics written on heart-shaped pieces of paper, faded pinups of the boys ripped from the pages of Rolling Stone, glossy eight-by-tens covered with sloppy Magic Marker signatures. It was just like the sign taped to the dashboard said: LEVEL3 SUPER-FAN HEADQUARTERS.
“We didn’t want to mess with your stuff,” said her dad.
Of course, he was living in the past, as usual. Level3 wasn’t even a band anymore. They broke up the beginning of her freshman year, right before Alice, Summer, and Tiernan did. But back when they were together—when everything was still together—Alice and her friends had been diehard fans. Two all-ages shows at the Middle East, six at Boston Garden, three at the Orpheum, four at the Worcester DCU Center, and one at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, which resulted in their parents making a collective rule about not driving the girls to a concert more than fifty miles from home.
Alice couldn’t help but smile as she took in the display of old collages. When they were young, Alice, Summer, and Tiernan were practically as obsessed with making Level3 collages as they had been with the band. These weren’t ordinary collages, like the kind they used to make in their seventh-grade health class on the dangers of cigarettes. The Level3 collages were art (or at least they aspired toward it). Their final masterpiece consisted of hundreds of tiny cutouts of the boys in Level3, assembled into the shape of an eye. At the center—the pupil—was a photo of Alice, Summer, and Tiernan, age twelve, arms slung around each other, smiling.
“Why don’t I start her up, and you can watch how I drive her for a while? The gear shift takes a little practice so—”
“I know how to drive, Dad.”
“Not so fast. There’s an art to driving the Pea Pod.”
Alice rolled her eyes and flopped down on the bench seat in back, buckling herself in for the trip down memory lane. She’d been sitting right here the first time she’d listened to Level3. They were just eleven when Tiernan showed up with the CD her older brother burned for her—“Level3” scrawled in black marker across the front. It took Alice a few songs to get into it; the music was so different than the sugary Disney pop she was used to. Then something clicked and she started to really listen—not just with her ears, but with her whole body. It was an intense feeling, like she was hearing music for the first time. Like Level3’s songs expressed all the things she felt but didn’t have the words for. By the end of the album, she was hooked. They all were.
And that was before they found out that the boys in the band were cute. Alice liked Ryan because he played the bass with his back to the audience, and she had a thing for shy guys. Tiernan had a crush on Luke, poster child for crazy drummers everywhere. And Summer liked Travis, the lead singer-slash-guitarist-slash-total hottie.
Quickly, the Pea Pod morphed into a Level3 shrine. And like all worshippers, the girls had their rituals.
Step One: Crank up a Level3 tune and dance like crazed animals.
Step Two: Snack break in Alice’s kitchen; check fan blogs, official band website.
Step Three: Back to the Pea Pod to discuss fantasies of meeting Level3 boys in real life, possible planning session about triple wedding in Vegas.
Step Four: Put on a sad song, light some candles, lie down on the floor with eyes shut.
“Honey, are you coming?” her dad asked, snapping her out of her reverie.
“Sure, Dad, sure,” Alice said, noticing that he’d actually pulled over and moved himself into the passenger’s seat. It was funny: Alice thought she’d never step foot inside the Pea Pod again after the three little peas turned into split-pea soup, and now here she was, about to drive it.
“Now the clutch is finicky, so you have to push it all the way to the floor . . .”
Alice nodded patiently as her dad shouted commands all the way around the neighborhood loop. Twice. But by the third pass, even he had to admit she was Pea Pod proficient. So, she figured it was time for some tunes.
“What’s the deal with this thing?” Alice asked, turning on the radio. “You and mom couldn’t shell out for a new sound system?” She punched the preset buttons one by one. Nothing but static.
“Hands on the wheel, eyes on the road!” her dad yelled, noticing one of Alice’s hands was missing from his mandatory nine-and-three o’clock arrangement.
“Dad, calm down.” Alice kept her hand on the tuner. She scrolled past a Spanish talk radio show, then up through a long, staticky no-man’s-land. She was about to lose all hope when she finally stumbled on a signal. The familiar song rang out loud and clear.
THE THINGS WE WISHED WE DIDN’T SAY
WE WENT AND SAID THEM ANYWAY
NO SAVING FOR A RAINY DAY
THAT’S THE WAY IT WAS
Of course, it was Level3. Who else could it be? Being in the Pea Pod had somehow channeled their music into existence.
“Hang a right,” her dad said, pointing to the street up ahead.
Alice might have laughed out loud at the coincidence if it wasn’t the one Level3 song that always made her cringe. Back before that disastrous night at the freshman winter dance, “Heyday” used to be one of her favorites. Now it just brought back ugly memories.
IT’S A ROAD I CAN’T GO DOWN AGAIN
A STREET CALLED I REMEMBER WHEN
IF WE COULD DO IT ALL AGAIN, WE WOULD
WE WOULD . . .
Alice took the turn a little too fast. At the same exact moment, the song changed into its thumping chorus.
IT WAS OUR HEYDAY, HEY DAY, HEY!
OUR HEYDAY, HEY DAY, HEY!
“Slow down!” her dad yelled as Alice jerked the wheel seconds before hitting a mailbox. She stomped on the brakes as the Pea Pod lurched forward with a loud grinding noise, then immediately stalled out.
WHY DID WE REFUSE TO STAY, ANYWAY?
Her dad drove the rest of the way home. By the time he pulled into the driveway, Alice practically leaped out of the van while it was still in motion. Clearly the universe was trying to send her a message. First, there was the canceled road trip, then her “gift” of the Pea Pod, and now “Heyday.”
She hurried inside to the den, desperate to soothe herself with some junk food and mindless TV. That’s when she saw it: the photo of Level3, right there on the TV screen. And unless the van had somehow transported her back in time—which she was pretty sure it hadn’t—she had no choice but to believe that the image was real. It had to be real; the old guy from MTV News was talking about it. She hit the TiVo rewind button three times just to make sure she’d heard Kurt Loder (that was his name!) correctly.
“Level3, the pop-rock trio that broke up at the height of their success nearly four years ago, has announced they will be getting back together for a one-night-only benefit concert next Friday in their hometown of Austin, Texas. Tickets go on sale at noon and are expected to sell out within minutes. According to lead singer Travis Wyland, ‘A reunion show is the fastest and most effective way to raise money for a cause we all firmly believe in and which has affected my family personally: finding a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.’ The band has denied rumors they will be permanently getting back together.”
Alice shoved a handful of Doritos in her mouth and crunched them up without even tasting them. How could one day be this crazy? And yet, it was how everything had always been with her old favorite band—meant to be. Tiernan used to have a Yiddish word for all the coincidences between Level3 and the girls. Beshert. And when something was beshert, you didn’t tune it out. When something was beshert, you went with it. It was all you could do.
It was 11:56 a.m. Four minutes from now, the ticket website would be a feeding frenzy. Alice ran to her bedroom and turned on her computer, the thrill of a new plan formulating as the screen tingled to life. So what if Austin, Texas, was two thousand miles away from Walford, Massachusetts? Or that tickets started at two hundred dollars apiece? Alice was going. They were going. How could they not? Especially now that they had the Pea Pod to get them there. But how could she justify spending six hundred dollars on tickets without even knowing if her old friends would agree to go along with her?
She and Tiernan were at least civil to each other. But Summer would pass by in the halls and barely make eye contact. Still, this was Level3, and however Summer and Tiernan felt about her now could never take away the fact that they’d once considered themselves the band’s biggest fans. And what was the worst-case scenario? If Summer and Tiernan said no, she’d just sell the tickets on eBay.
Alice rifled through her desk drawer for the credit card she’d borrowed from her mom two months ago and “accidentally” forgotten to give back. Whoops. After a few clicks of the mouse, she was on the ticket site. A photo of the band appeared above the words, “Reunited—for one night only!”
She carefully typed in the numbers on her mom’s Visa. At the bottom of the screen, an ominous line of text read: “By clicking continue, you agree that your credit card will be charged and your nonrefundable ticket(s) will be processed.” If she didn’t buy the tickets now, there’d be no other chance.
Well, Alice thought to herself as she clicked the button, if you guys can get back together for a one-time reunion, why can’t we?
Now she just needed to convince her ex–best friends to join her.
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