While this is a blog for kidlit and YA, every now and then there’s space for a book for the bigger folx; whether it’s a new adult book that can cross over to a YA audience, or a book that parents and caregivers will enjoy, it can’t hurt to grow every now and then, right? So please enjoy this excerpt from Olivia Swindler’s Cynthia Starts a Band, a debut novel about a lead singer of a successful band who disappears, seemingly out of nowhere. Meet Eleanor Quinn, a recovering celebrity who decides to start all over again.
Cynthia Starts a Band, by Olivia Swindler,
(Oct. 2019, Morgan James Fiction),
$17.95, ISBN: 978-1631954900
I had no idea what day of the week it was, but that was normal for me. Days of the week meant nothing to me when we were touring. My internal calendar instead went like this: today, the bus will take us there, and then tomorrow, we will get back on the bus and be there. It didn’t matter if it was Tuesday or Friday; all days had the same value.
On the other hand, this was the first time in a long time I hadn’t needed to incessantly check the clock on my phone. I wasn’t afraid of being late to a soundcheck. I didn’t feel that familiar pit in my stomach telling me that I had overslept and would be late for hair and makeup.
For the first time in years, my time was mine.
I opened my eyes and peered out the window. We were cruising along a major highway. I was sure that I had been on this road at some point in my life before. Before, this road had meant nothing, but now the same open road meant freedom.
I had told the ticket salesman that I wanted a ticket to get to Seattle—although I had no real idea of how to get there. I wasn’t even sure if I knew precisely where Seattle was. I had visited Seattle plenty of times, but it had been clouded by the tour haze. I knew it was a big city, which meant I would be able to slip into my new life there without standing out.
I hadn’t realized how far away Seattle was from Denver. They were both on the West Coast; somehow, I had figured it would only take a few hours to get from one to the other. They had always been so close together on our schedule.
In Portland, I changed buses. The stop made me surer than ever of my decision.
I had done it. I had gotten out.
It still didn’t feel real. I had dreamed about this moment for so long, without ever actually believing it would happen.
I hadn’t told anyone that I was leaving, but I was sure they knew by now.
After the incident, I had walked out of the arena and gone straight to the bus station. I hadn’t even bothered getting my things from my bus or the dressing room. It hadn’t occurred to me that I should have withdrawn some cash. I would get some money soon. If they wanted to find me, they would check my credit card statements. I had seen enough action movies to know this was usually the first thing checked when looking for a missing person: a credit card trail.
I guessed I also needed to change my name. Or at least go by a diﬀerent one? I really hadn’t thought this part of the plan through very well.
When we were first starting out, someone had asked me if I planned on using a stage name. “Everyone does it,” I was told. But I was sixteen at the time and thought there was something cool about seeing my name up in lights. That was me! My real name. At no point had I imagined that I would need a pseudonym.
If I had gone by a stage name, this might have been easier. I could have just reverted to who I had been before the world cared about who I had become.
I needed the opposite of a stage name.
I reached for my phone—at least I had had the presence of mind to grab that—and had another realization: I would probably have to get a new phone. After checking the runaway’s credit card activity, people always tracked their phones. There was something techy that could be done by pinging oﬀ cell towers. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I had seen it in enough movies to be wary of calling anyone.
I looked down at my lit-up phone screen.
Of course, he had called. It would have been stupid to expect otherwise.
I didn’t have to call him back. A weight lifted from my shoulders, and I took a deep, shuddering breath. I was free! I never had to call him back ever again.
James had called me twenty-three times, to be exact. While I had expected that, I still felt a slight pang of remorse. I had known James since high school. I was just a long-legged teenager when he became our manager. We had walked through everything together. He had turned me from a gangly teenage girl to a polished pop star. And here I was, on a bus, running away.
I needed to let James know I was safe. I felt like I owed him at least that.
I turned oﬀ all the location services on my phone. I didn’t know if that would actually do anything, but at least I felt a little more secure.
“I am safe. Promise. Will call if I can.” I texted. But I knew that I was never going to call.
I needed a plan.
While I had been fantasizing about this escape for months, it had always felt like something belonging to the distant future, like a dream that would never come to fruition. Now, it was actually happening, and I needed to figure out my next move.
One of my cousins, Kristy, lived in Seattle. I needed to let her know I was coming. She and I had always been close. If I could stay with her, I wouldn’t have to put something else on my credit card. Maybe she could front me the money for a hotel. I had never had to do any of this by myself before. I wasn’t sure if I even knew how to get a hotel room. Or how to figure out which hotel was decent and safe. These things had always been taken care of for me. In fact, now that I thought about it, this was the first time that I was able to choose for myself. No one was telling me what I needed to wear. No one was telling me what time I needed to go to bed or wake up. No one had made a dinner reservation for me in Seattle. I didn’t have any obligation to make an appearance. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I had the freedom to make my own decisions.
The entire bus ride had been filled with peace and quiet. It was almost too much to take in all at once.
The only decision I had made for myself in the recent past was my decision to leave. I could not have imagined how many subsequent decisions would result.
I could feel myself getting overwhelmed. Was this really what I desired? The events of the previous hours flashed through my mind. I wanted to hide. I had abandoned my life without a second thought or a clear plan of what to do next.
What had I done? I had left the life that most people only dreamed of living, and for what? Nothing? I had no plan. No boyfriend. I had given no warning to my friends or family. There was no promise of another job (though it wasn’t like I would need the money). But I was starting to realize that this was probably not my most responsible decision.
James had once told me that I was his favorite client because I always did what I was told. He never had to worry about me get- ting caught in the wrong bar or getting cited with a DUI. I was a dream client. I did what I was told, and people loved me.
Maybe they just loved the person James had made me into. I wasn’t sure that person had ever been me.
James had texted me back right away, “Ellie, you need to call me right now. Your bus had to leave without you. The plane is already waiting for you in Denver. Go to the airport now, and you will be able to meet us in Dallas by soundcheck.”
I was not going to get on that plane. I was not going to make it in time for soundcheck. A piece of my soul had been slowly suﬀocating. I knew my choice was not just aﬀecting me; this was James’s life as well. The lives of the rest of the band. But after last night, I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue as Eleanor Quinn.
They could do the set without me. Our publicist would release some statement about how I had come down with bronchitis or lupus. It would be something nasty (but not life-threatening), and I would rejoin the tour as soon as I was cleared.
The publicist would be lying.
I would not be rejoining the tour. After what happened, I couldn’t be Eleanor Quinn, singer extraordinaire from Kittanning. I was going to become someone new.
Outside the window, the road markers flashed past, dimmed by the rain. The bus passed a billboard advertising a weight loss company that had helped a woman named Cynthia lose seventy-five pounds. I was going to be Cynthia. Cynthia, who had just lost more than seventy-five figurative pounds of a band that had been controlling her every waking moment.
I ignored James’s text. I didn’t know how to tell him that I would not be on the plane. It felt unfair to him. I had never intended for him to end up in the crosshairs of my consequences. Our lives had become intertwined; that was just the harsh reality. But I couldn’t let that change my mind. I would figure out how to break the news to him once I had settled. The tour was going to take a week oﬀ after Dallas, so that would give them time to regroup.
I tried to focus on that.
Giving up on my vain attempt to shove my guilt aside, I started searching for Kristy’s number. It was almost 8:00 a.m. This, I thought to myself, was when most people got up. I checked my phone and saw that it was a Tuesday. She worked for Amazon, and the last time I’d seen her, she had mentioned how long and crazy the hours were, so it was a safe assumption that she would be either getting ready or on her way to work. Or maybe already there.
Her phone started ringing.
“Hey, El, what’s up! Why are you calling so early? Didn’t you have a show last night?”
Okay, so she hadn’t heard about the incident.
“It’s a long story, and I can’t tell you over the phone.” I was still worried about those nasty cell tower pings, “Basically, I’m on a Grayhen heading to Seattle. Can I stay with you?”
“Wait, what? You mean a . . . Greyhound? Uh . . . yes, of course, what time does your bus get in? I’ll pick you up.”
“Oh, yeah, a Greyhound, and I can’t tell you more over the phone. I think we should be there in, like, two hours. Is that okay?”
“Yes, I’ll be there.”
“Hey, also, could you bring me a change of clothes?”
Kristy was waiting for me on the bus platform, clearly dressed for work, brown hair twisted into an easy, elegant bun. I was impressed. I realized that if I had gotten a call like that, I wouldn’t have even known where the bus stop was, let alone on which platform to wait.
As soon as I stepped oﬀ the bus, she burst out laughing. “What on earth are you wearing?”
“This is why I asked for a change of clothes,” I motioned down to my cobalt-blue bejeweled onesie. “Isn’t this what the kids are wearing in Seattle? This is all the rage in New York right now.” I tried to joke.
She looked over the top of her designer glasses at me: “You know, they probably are. I’ve never really been able to keep up with what kids are wearing these days.”
Kristy was eight months older than me. When we were kids, that eight-month gap had felt like years. It meant that she was a grade above me in school. She got her license before me. She experienced everything just a bit before me.
If only we had known as kids that our lives would turn out so diﬀerently.
She walked me over to her car. On the passenger seat sat a bottle of wine, a change of clothes, and a bar of chocolate. I knew what this meant.
“Is there a video? Oh gosh. How bad is it?”
“Well, it’s not all bad. You guys went viral, which is something most people only dream of!”
“Kristy, my whole life has been viral for like the past year.” “Okay, fair point.”
We drove in silence for a few blocks. The weight of the unspoken was almost unbearable.
“So,” Kristy broke the silence first, “Do you want to talk about
I thought about this for a second. The request was expected.
After all, I had just barged into my cousin’s life without any warning. The familiar fear of letting someone down wormed its way into my heart.
I barely managed: “I don’t think I know how to yet.” It was the only honest answer I could give. The incident flashed through my mind. Again.
Kristy smiled warmly from the driver’s seat, “That’s okay.” And, just like that, the weight on my chest lifted just a little more.
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