For Sophie, small town life has never felt small. With her four best friends—loving, infuriating, and all she could ever ask for—she can weather any storm. But when Sophie’s beloved Acadia High School marching band is selected to march in the upcoming Rose Parade, it’s her job to get them all the way to LA. Her plan? To persuade country singer Megan Pleasant, their Midwestern town’s only claim to fame, to come back to Acadia to headline a fundraising festival.
The only problem is that Megan has very publicly sworn never to return.
What ensues is a journey filled with long-kept secrets, hidden heartbreaks, and revelations that could change everything—along with a possible fifth best friend: a new guy with a magnetic smile and secrets of his own.
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About the Author
Emma Mills is the author of First&Then, This Adventure Ends, Foolish Hearts, Famous in a Small Town, and Lucky Caller. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and has recently completed a PhD in cell biology.
Read an Excerpt
Brit had been fired from the Yum Yum Shoppe, which came as a shock to approximately no one.
We sat on top of one of the picnic tables outside McDonald's afterward, eating vanilla cones in defiance. The sun had set, but the sky still had that pinky-blueness to it, fading to purple as we cursed Brit's manager, the Yum Yum Shoppe, its fourteen flavors of ice cream, and every person who asks for more than two samples while there's a line.
"No, screw that," Brit said. "People who ask for samples in general. There are fourteen flavors. There have been fourteen flavors there for the last, like, fifty-seven years. Really? You want to sample strawberry? Do you really need to try strawberry?"
"In the Yum Yum Shoppe's defense, there were twelve flavors up until, like, five years ago. Remember, they added peanut butter crunch, but then there was this whole thing about there being thirteen flavors so they had to add cherry chip?"
"We're not saying anything in the Yum Yum Shoppe's defense right now, Soph. We're dragging the Yum Yum Shoppe and everyone in it."
"I'll never go there again," I said, even though I knew I would.
"Thank you," Brit replied, even though she knew it too.
The truth was, if I stopped going to places just because Brit got fired from them, I couldn't go very many places. It's a testament to how small our town was, and also how often Brit cycled through jobs.
"It's fine," she said, in that way where I knew it really wasn't fine, but she wanted to believe it was. "What do I want to spend all summer scooping ice cream for anyway? I'd end up with one jacked arm and one puny arm. Who needs that in their life?" She gestured with her cone. "All they have to do to make one of these is pull a stupid lever."
"I'll ask Mel if there's something at the library," I said, chasing a dribbler running down the side of my cone. It was hot out, and the soft serve was melting fast.
"You don't have to do that."
"No, just come by on Monday."
"I can get another job all by myself, Sophie."
And you can get yourself fired from it too. "I know."
We finished up our ice cream in silence. Brit leaned back on the tabletop when she was done, folding her arms behind her head. She was still wearing her Yum Yum Shoppe T-shirt, an anthropomorphic ice cream cone on the front with FOURTEEN FLAVORS OF FUN printed in big bubble letters around it. The cone itself was flashing a double thumbs-up and a crazed smile. Its eyes seemed to say, Try the strawberry, you know you fucking want to.
"Okay," Brit said, and I knew a question was coming. "What do you want right now?"
"I mean, I would like it if the deranged Yum Yum Shoppe cone wasn't staring at me."
"I'm going to burn this shirt."
"In the fire pit. Tonight. With extra lighter fluid."
"It's gonna be a literal tower of flames."
"We'll dance around it."
Brit glanced over at me. "Will you drop it off for me tomorrow, though? Tyler said he'd take it out of my paycheck if I didn't bring it back."
"You want me to give Tyler the ashes?"
She grinned. "I probably like the idea of burning it better than I'd like the actual burning of it."
"It's good you know that about yourself."
It was quiet for a moment, her grin fading in contemplation. "For real, though. What do you want right now? If you could have the one thing you want most in the world, right this second, what would it be?"
Sometimes Brit's questions were a joke. Sometimes they were a test. You couldn't laugh at them in case it was the latter, and if indeed it was, you'd never know for sure if you'd passed or not, except for the slight wrinkle that occasionally appeared between her eyebrows that meant you probably answered wrong.
"For everyone I love to get everything they want," I said.
In this case, the wrinkle appeared immediately. "That's way too much. That's cheating."
"I said one thing. You love tons of people, and each person wants their own thing. That's like using a wish to wish for infinity wishes."
"I don't love that many people."
"You love at least a hundred and fifty people."
"Do not." A pause. "I top out at like a hundred and ten, max."
She gave me an exasperated look, but there was fondness underneath it.
"How many people do you love?" I said.
"Two point five."
"How can you love half a person? And if you say it's Aiden Morales and it's the bottom half, I'm gonna punch you."
"Love and lust are different, I hope you know that." She looked up at the sky. "One thing. Right now. The thing you want most in the world."
"Some fries would be great."
Brit rolled her eyes. "You're no fun."
"I told you. The people-I-love thing."
"Yeah and I hate that you said that."
"Because this is a good question, not an excuse for you to be noble."
"I'm not noble."
"That's why you're noble, you don't even know that you're noble."
"Okay, if my answer's so shitty, then what do you want?" I said, even though I already knew what Brit wanted most in the world, right that second, and every other second too.
She didn't say it, though, just shook her head minutely. "Fries do sound good."
"You get them. I got the cones."
"I don't want to go back in there." Brit sat up. "I can't bear to watch Flora charming the shit out of everybody."
I glanced over my shoulder, where through the front window I could see Flora Feliciano standing behind the counter. Her shiny, dark brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail under her visor, her uniform shirt immaculate. She was taking a guy's order, and I watched as her eyes crinkled with a smile. The guy was definitely flirting with her, I could see it from here by the way he was leaning toward her, but I knew she couldn't tell — she rarely could. She was sweet to everyone and somehow believed that everyone was sweet back, that no one ever had ulterior motives.
She couldn't have been more different from Brit, but they were both my best friends.
I pulled a few crumpled ones out of my pocket and held them out to Brit. "She can't help it," I said. "That's just how she is."
"I know." She took the money and slid off the table. "That's why she's the point five."
She headed inside as a beat-up car pulled into the parking lot, snagging an empty spot facing the road. I recognized it — it was Heather Conlin's car. She lived just down the street from me, and I babysat her kids all the time — Cadence, who was six, and Harper, who was almost a year old.
But Heather didn't get out. Her husband, Kyle, emerged from the driver's side instead, and from the passenger's seat came a guy I had never seen before. In Acadia, that was saying something.
He looked about our age, maybe a little older — it was hard to tell. I watched as Kyle fumbled around in the back and then pulled Harper out of her car seat. Harper had what my grandma would describe as "two cents' worth of hair," which tonight was scraped together into the tiniest and cutest of pigtails, jutting off the top of her head like twin exclamation points.
Kyle hitched her up on his hip and was pulling a diaper bag out of the car when a phone began to ring.
"Ah, sorry." He tossed the bag back down and handed Harper to the guy. "Gimme one sec," he said, and then he stepped away to grab the call.
The guy stood a bit stiffly with Harper for a moment, until she pointed a chubby finger at the sky and he tilted his head back to see what had caught her eye.
"What are we looking at?"
Harper crowed something indistinguishable, and the guy nodded like it made sense.
She babbled something else and pointed again.
"Mm. I agree."
And then she looked my way.
I did the fish face, her favorite — cheeks sucked in, flapping my hands by my head like fins. If it were just me and her in her room, I'd dance around in a circle and go "glub glub glub" to really complete the scene, but as it was, I just wiggled silently in my spot. Her face split into a smile, and she made a happy sound.
The guy grinned down at Harper, and then he followed her gaze to me.
I froze mid-flap.
Kyle sidled up beside them then, putting his phone away.
"Hey, Sophie!" he called, slinging the diaper bag over his shoulder and reaching for Harper. "Nice face!"
I lowered my hands and schooled my expression into something other than fish face as they approached. The guy's grin had faded into something neutral.
"Don't think you two have met yet," Kyle said, gesturing to the guy. "This is my brother, August. August, that's Sophie, she watches Cady and Harper."
"Nice to meet you," August said.
"That's what I've heard," I replied.
One corner of his mouth ticked up.
Kyle adjusted the strap on the diaper bag. "Still on for Tuesday night? Heather's gotta take Cady to a dance thing, so it'll just be you and this one." He smacked a kiss to Harper's cheek.
"Yup, sounds good."
"Awesome, see you then!"
They headed inside. August grabbed the door for Kyle and Harper and glanced back at me as they passed. There wasn't enough time for me to make another funny face or to smile devastatingly — not enough time to decide between the two, if I was even capable of the latter — so we just sort of looked at each other for a second.
And then he was gone.
Brit came back out clutching a brown paper bag a few minutes later. "I'm not sharing," she said, while simultaneously extending the bag toward me.
I reached in and grabbed a handful. "Did you see Kyle in there?"
"I didn't know he had a brother."
Brit shoved a few fries in her mouth and chewed unceremoniously. "Yeah, neither did he, apparently."
"What do you mean?"
She shrugged. "Just something I heard." She wiped her hands on her shorts. "So it's Friday. What do you think? Should we go to Tropicana? Gutter balls and matching shoes?" She sang the last part, which was customary. It was a line from the one and only song ever written about our hometown. "Gave You My Heartland" by Megan Pleasant outlined a series of activities in Acadia day by day — Mondays at Miller's for beers, Tuesday by the lake, so on and so forth. Fridays were bowling, and although I did love the Tropicana —
"It's actually Saturday."
"Guess that's why I got fired," Brit said, and grinned, not nearly as sheepish as she should have been.CHAPTER 2
You know, no one here understands the Yum Yum Shoppe
People are like, if your town had a McDonald's why didn't you just go there??
Mcflurry blah blah blah
Vanilla cone blah
I feel like you can't comprehend the Yum Yum Shoppe until you have experienced the Yum Yum Shoppe
Its tacky wooden decorations
The window display
Mean Kim the manager
The weird sodas
Do you want Dr Pepper? You're out of luck TRY SOUR CREAM AND ONION SARSPARILLA INSTEAD
Don't forget the 14 flavors of ice cream
Oh the 14 flavors
How could I?
They were so carefully curated
So hotly debated around town
We have to go when you're back from school
Dad can do that thing where he considers every
flavor and then orders vanilla
"It's a CLASSIC, you can't DENY a CLASSIC"
WELL THEN MAYBE START BY NOT DENYING THE CLASSIC, DAD
MAYBE SAVE US THE DELIBERATION
If you could pick a 15th flavor for the list, what would it be?
Something really niche
Like chewed up gum
Would new hat taste better than old hat?
No old hat tastes better
Like felt and history
What if the flavor wasn't a flavor at all?
What if it was a feeling?
Ooh okay. Like the feeling when you're little and you start a brand new box of crayons
Night before Christmas excitement
COME TO THE YUM YUM SHOPPE FOR EVERYONE'S FAVORITE SEASONAL FLAVOR: INEFFABLE SADNESS
It pairs great with old hat
"Hm?" I looked up from my phone, closing out of the text thread with my sister.
Terrance Cunningham stood before me, backpack on. "I said, are you ready? For. All. Of. This." He punctuated each word with a robot move, adding a flourish at the end, and a weird hip gyration.
"I'm ready for about half of that."
"Eighty or I walk."
"We're walking anyway," I said, pushing up off the front stoop. "And you're bargaining in the wrong direction."
"Always bargain up. It's a good tactic. Throws people off."
Although school was technically over for the year, Terrance and I had one final bit of business to attend to — the last booster club meeting before the marching band's hiatus in June. We would reconvene the last week of June to practice for the July Fourth parade, and then there would be band camp, and then regular practices would resume.
Terrance and I were the future vice president and president of the Marching Pride of Acadia Student Fundraising Committee (MPASFC, which Terrance pronounced as "map as fuck" when there were no booster club members around, and we spelled out properly when there were). After this last meeting, we would be the present vice president and president proper, newly minted, and responsible in part for raising the funds necessary to send the Marching Pride of Acadia to the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena this coming winter.
"No sweat," Terrance had said, back when Acadia was preparing their audition for the parade and we first joined the committee — my sophomore year, Terrance's freshman. "We only need to sell like twenty kidneys if we get picked. There are over a hundred of us. Twenty people should be willing to give up one measly kidney."
"I mean, you and I would definitely have to step up," I said. "As student leaders." I was very into being an official member of MPASFC. It would look good on my college applications, and anyway, I loved the band. I wanted to help however I could.
"You know, if we pick the most hydrated people, we could probably get better prices. Like maybe only ten kidneys, if they're super-high-quality kidneys."
"Marcy Keane is always chugging those bottles of fruit water." She was, and she insisted on referring to them as fruit infusions, which made it insufferable. "You know she has some high-quality kidneys."
"She makes Matt drink the infusions too." Her boyfriend at the time.
"There we go. That's like forty-k worth of kidneys right there."
Kidneys didn't come up in the booster club meeting this evening. What did come up was the candy sale that just finished up (it raised about what was expected, but not as much as was hoped), and our fundraising strategies for the coming months: the Fourth of July barbecue in conjunction with the Lions Club (a quarter of all proceeds from food sales would benefit the band, and the members would be responsible for cleanup), the school-wide garage sale, the formal dinner, half a dozen car washes, and, of course, the fall festival.
"So twenty percent of fall fest concession and ten percent of games will go toward fundraising," Mrs. Benson said.
Next to me, Terrance tapped his pencil absently against his notebook as Mrs. Benson talked about concession logistics. Tap tap tap. It started to take on a rhythm — tap tap TAP tap, tap tap TAP tap.
Mrs. Benson paused for a second to glance pointedly in our direction, and then resumed speaking.
Terrance looked over at me, brown eyes full of mirth, and then tapped again.
I had known Terrance my whole life — our moms were both teachers at Acadia Junior High. My mom taught language arts, and Terrance's mom taught science. They had been friends themselves since high school, had gone off to college together and later came back to Acadia — first my mom, then Mrs. Cunningham, who we called "Aunt Denise." A plastic-framed photo hung on our fridge showing the two of them in college, posing together wearing matching denim jackets, each with their hand on their hip. My mom had bangs teased to an impressive degree, while Aunt Denise had gorgeous box braids. This is a genuine moment in time right here, Aunt Denise would say when she was over, tapping the picture on the fridge. No, this is a genuine betrayal, my mom would reply, seeing as you never told me how terrible I looked with that hair. Aunt Denise would just laugh.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Famous in a Small Town"
Copyright © 2019 Emma Mills.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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