by Cheri Ritz
There is nothing Sadie DuChamp loves more than rocking out on stage behind her drum set. Her music career is a dream come true. But when her band breaks up and she gets evicted from her New York City apartment all in the same week, her life suddenly feels more like a nightmare. She finds herself with no choice but to retreat to her mother’s home in the suburbs of Chicago. The return also forces Sadie to face the guilt she has choked down since the last time she left.
Jess Moran is fine with her love ’em and leave ’em reputation. She’s too busy with grad school to let herself be distracted by matters of the heart. Her plans for the summer break include lazy days in the sun and nights helping with her family’s craft vodka business. If she happens to stumble upon a few one-night stands along the way, all the better. But when she arrives home from school to find neighbor-turned-rock goddess Sadie swimming in her backyard pool her plans for a quiet summer disappear like free samples of vodka at happy hour.
The more the two neighbors butt heads, the more they are drawn to one another. Will they find harmony? Or risk missing the beat and losing the rhythm of love…
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Rock ‘n’ roll dreams—who hasn’t had them? But what happens when you’re actually living the dream and it suddenly comes crashing down around you?
That was where I started when I first put pen to paper on Let The Beat Drop. Sadie’s band had been doing pretty well in the NYC underground rock scene until their lead singer decided to go solo and leave the rest of them in his dust. With the band broken up, Sadie returns to her hometown to recharge and redirect her rock star plans.
I’m not a musician—at least not on Sadie’s level—but I believe all artists carry that deep craving to create art no matter what their circumstances. So when Sadie finds herself living with her mom in a sleepy little suburb after leaving New York City, I didn’t think she would lose that drive to create and perform. I enjoyed exploring how she would fulfill that need when she became a rock ‘n’ roll fish out of water. I imagined her assessing her surroundings—her mom’s circle of middle-aged, suburbanite friends, the local pizza joint that brought in live music a couple nights a week, and of course the grumpy (and gorgeous!) neighbor gal she can’t get off her mind—and trying to make it all fit her plan to get back to her music. To me, being able to think outside the box and being able to reinvent yourself (or your dream) are key strategies in achieving success in life, and I think Sadie would agree. Let The Beat Drop is the story of the romance that develops between Sadie and Jess, but it’s also the story of how Sadie finds her dream again."
Sadie DuChamp had never felt less rock ’n’ roll than she did that morning. She climbed the stairs to her brownstone with her bandmates, reeking of stale all-night diner coffee and bacon grease. Her band, Sugar Stix, was officially breaking up, and she could practically see her rock star dreams slipping through her black nail-polished fingertips.
Paz, their lead singer, had signed a recording contract to go solo two days earlier leaving them high and dry, scrambling to rework their Saturday night set with each of the others filling in on vocals. It had been a disaster of a show.
Then as the final nail in the band’s coffin, Jason announced at their hangover helper greasy breakfast the remaining members of Sugar Stix were being evicted from the three-bedroom home he had talked his dad into renting to them at a generously discounted rate. According to Jason, his dad had no faith in the band without Paz, and he wanted them out by the end of the week so he could get paying customers in. “Money talks” was the actual phrase Jason had used.
“What are we supposed to do now?” Kellie, their bass player, followed Jason into the house trying to hold it together. She was clearly on the brink of losing it big-time. “We could all rent an apartment and pile in, even if it’s close quarters. There’s only four of us now. But we won’t be able to book any more gigs until we replace Paz. And no gigs means no rent money. So there’s that. Oh, God.”
Sadie slumped down onto the arm of the couch, defeated. The thought of cramming into some tiny apartment with three other people made her want to poke her eyes out with her drumsticks. As it was, her love affair with the underground rock scene in the city had been waning for the past few months. It was late nights with low pay, and her musical ability didn’t get nearly as much attention as her ripped up T-shirt and short shorts did. Hardly the glamorous picture people painted when they said the words “rock star.” The additional drama with her bandmates wasn’t doing anything to win her over either. They would have to come up with a hell of a solution to keep her on board this sinking ship.
“Maybe…” Jason stopped moving and Kellie walked right into him. Her gum-cracking, shadowing act appeared to be getting on his nerves. He cracked his knuckles as he spoke to her, a habit that made all his bandmates cringe. His words were slow as if that would help her understand his point. “You should have thought of that before you broke up with Paz.”
“He cheated on me with some groupie slut after one of our shows. I walked in on them. The breakup’s on him.” Kellie squinted her eyes and rubbed her chin where it had met Jason’s back.
Jason shook his head. “Whatever. But you better start packing. My dad’s not dicking around. He will kick our asses out on the street.” Spinning on his trainers, he stalked off to his bedroom, slamming the door behind him, obviously done with the conversation.
There were tears in Kellie’s eyes as she slowly turned around. Shoulders slumped, she swiped at the dampness on her face, smearing the mascara already snaking down her cheeks. Sadie’s heart went out to her. Paz had been a total douche canoe to her the whole time they dated. And that wasn’t the first time he had cheated on her. Just the first time she had caught him. Although Sadie was in no position to judge—her last attempt at romance had blown up spectacularly as well. At least Sadie’s ex had had the good sense to never bother her again even though she had it on good authority that he was still working his day job at the adult bookstore a few blocks away.
“Come on.” She spread her arms open and gestured for her friend to fold into them. Her body fell against her with a heaving sob that bubbled up out of her. “No one is blaming you for Sugar Stix breaking up, Kel. Jason is just butt hurt and embarrassed that his dad is making him move out of the house and be financially responsible for once in his life. Don’t listen to him.”
Even as she said it, Jason started yelling from his bedroom, a string of unintelligible shouts and cries that she assumed had to be cuss words based on his tone. That was confirmed when he opened his bedroom door again. “Where the fuck is my motherfucking guitar?” He bellowed in the girls’ direction.
Sadie squinted eye daggers at him. “How the hell would we know? Where did you leave it?”
Jason wasn’t exactly the picture of responsibility, which shouldn’t have surprised anyone considering the way his father had bailed him out of any tight spot he ever got himself into.
“I’m serious,” he continued. “It’s gone. Like, not here.”
“Yes. I caught that when you said gone.” Sadie continued to glare at him. The guys in the house were really starting to piss her off. They had all gotten along for over a year, practicing, playing gigs, living together day in and day out, then one thing went wrong and they had all fallen apart. Well, two things. But still.
“Well, where the hell is it?” he screamed as if he was accusing the girls of wrongdoing, which, needless to say, didn’t sit well with either of them.
Kellie slipped out of Sadie’s arms and faced him, her spirit suddenly restored. Her gaze was hard even through the red tinge in her eyes from crying. “Jason, this is not our problem. It’s yours. You weren’t too concerned about helping us solve the living situation, so you can figure it out yourself.”
“Someone’s gotta know!” he shouted back, loud enough to roust a sleepy-faced Jon, the other member of their group, out of his bedroom.
“What. The. Hell,” Jon growled, rubbing his hand through his hair. “Some of us are trying to sleep.”
Jon, who shared a room with Paz, had still been completely passed out when the others went to breakfast at the diner down the street. They had left him behind.
“My guitar is gone. My good one.” Redness was creeping up Jason’s neck along the veins that were starting to bulge there. Maybe he was going to turn into the Hulk. That would be interesting.
“Yeah, man.” Jon nodded like he didn’t have a care in the world. Like they were discussing the weather. “Paz and that chick stopped by while you guys were out. He grabbed the rest of his stuff. And he took your guitar. He said you owed him.” He glanced at the girls. “If I were you two, I’d check your room too.”
“What the fuck?” Jason spat out. “Why didn’t you stop him?”
Jon shrugged. “Wasn’t my shit.”
Jason was in front of him in a flash, shoving him in the chest with both hands, catching him off guard and sending him backpedaling to stay on his feet. “Asshole! You just let him take our stuff? What the fuck?”
Jon recovered and swung at Jason, connecting with his jaw. Jason’s whole face went beet red and he tackled Jon to the ground, throwing punches as they hit the floor.
“Stop it, you guys!” Kellie half-screeched, half-sobbed, and took a step in their direction, but Sadie grabbed her arm before she could get too close. She didn’t need to get smacked for being in the line of fire. The boys could work things out between them. Sadie was much more interested in checking on her own belongings.
“Come on. We better look in our room.” She pulled Kellie along with her, edging past the scrambling guys, down the hall to their own bedroom.
Unfortunately, Paz and his new girlfriend had visited their room as well. Dresser drawers had been left ajar, an indicator that someone had been in them since Sadie had a compulsive habit of making sure they were completely shut before leaving the room. She instinctively went to the top drawer and the envelope where she kept her cash, not the least bit surprised to find the five hundred dollars she had stashed there from their last several gigs was nowhere to be found. “Fuck.”
Kellie was standing by the little desk in the corner of the room by her bed. Her tears had started flowing full force all over again. “My new red leather jacket. It’s gone.”
Losing that jacket sucked. Kellie had only worn it a few times. And now it was in the possession of the bitch who had stolen her boyfriend too. What a slap in the face. She crumpled into a sobbing blob on her bed.
Sadie felt like a total idiot for thinking she could trust these people just because they were in a band together. It was like the past sixteen months had meant nothing. Two of the guys were beating the crap out of one another. Paz had robbed them all and taken off for God-knows-where. The only one in the bunch she had any feelings for at this point was Kellie, and there was no way the two of them could continue the band without the others. She was just glad she had left her drums in her car or they would probably be gone too. There was nothing left for Sadie there. It was time to get the hell out of New York.
She pulled her phone out of her back pocket and dialed up the one person who she knew would always be glad to see her.
“Mom, I’ve had a change of plans. I’m moving back home.”
When Sadie returned to her childhood home in Tucker Pointe less than a week later in the dead of night, nobody was there to greet her. She hadn’t expected anything different when she had decided to make the trip. The last time she was home was to attend her father’s funeral, and Dad had been gone nine months. She assumed Mom was already asleep, which was a very normal thing for her to be doing considering the hour. Exhausted from the journey, she didn’t even bother hauling herself up the stairs to her old bedroom. She just passed out on the couch.
The bright sun streaming in through the big window in the front of the house woke Sadie the next day. The dust particles floating in the rays of light indicated the floor-length curtains might be in need of a good cleaning. That was the kind of thing Sadie would help her mother with as part of her fresh start. It was the least she could do after… Well, it was the least she could do.
With the house still quiet, she rolled off the couch and shuffled sleepily past the piano to the kitchen. She rummaged through the cupboards for what she needed to get her morning fix of caffeine, noting the place hadn’t changed much since she had first moved out over a year and a half before. As the coffee gurgled, she noted a new wrought-iron table by the sofa. There was no longer an entertainment center housing the television—now it was a flat screen hung on the wall. That left the perfect spot for Sadie to set up her drum set once she brought it in from the car. She would get to that later, but first she had to know if one other thing had remained the same as she left it.
Full coffee mug in hand, she went down the steps to the game room. Her father had finished the basement when she was eight, doing much of the work himself. When the drywall was up and painted, and the carpeting had been laid, he added the finishing touches—a billiards table, dartboard, and wet bar complete with mini fridge. Sadie’s favorite part of the whole basement makeover had been the two arcade video games he had purchased for her: Ms. Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Sadie always loved video games, but it was her dad who got her hooked on the retro ones. His stories about spending hours in the local arcade as a kid, spending every quarter he could find in the house, delighted her and helped her relate to him as more than just a parent. For the first time, Sadie realized he had been a kid once too. It sparked a connection they hadn’t shared before then. She fell in love with the cheesy graphics, the silly characters, and the tinny musical displays that played between levels. One of the hardest things about moving out of her parents’ home had been abandoning her beloved arcade games. She was pleased to find them right where she had left them, a tether to her memories of her father, although unplugged since she last set her hands on them back before she originally left for New York.
Sadie reached behind the dusty Ms. Pac-Man machine and plugged it in, breathing a sigh of relief when the screen came alive and the cheerful theme song played. Reliable as ever. She smiled and patted it on its pink and blue side like she was greeting an old friend. Might as well test her out. She found an old rag in the adjacent laundry room and wiped the machine down, cringing at the layer of dust that had collected on the screen. The dirt clung to the blue cloth in her hand—one of her dad’s old security guard T-shirts from the agency he worked for before she was born, before he started his own business. Gross. She tossed it to the floor beside the machine and hit the start button.
It was three games later when she finally took the cold contents of her mug back up to the kitchen and got a light breakfast ready for her mom. With a fresh cup of coffee and some fruit on a breakfast tray, Sadie climbed the stairs to the second floor. The big house seemed so quiet with only the two of them in it. Maybe that was how it had felt for her parents after she left for New York. She couldn’t imagine what it had felt like for her mom to be rattling around all alone in the place since he died.
Sadie tiptoed into her mom’s bedroom. She didn’t want to startle her, but she did want to rouse her from what she suspected was an extended, depression-fueled slumber. She set the breakfast tray on the bedside table and gently ran her hand through her mom’s hair. “Good morning, sleepyhead.”
Her mom’s eyes blinked open and a trace of a smile graced her face. “Hey, baby. I’m so glad you’re home.”
Sadie bent forward and kissed her head. “Me too, Mom.” She meant it sincerely. She had known her mother was still struggling with grief based on their phone conversations over the past nine months, but seeing it in person was a whole new kick in the gut. Her mom was thinner and her eyes a little more sunken since her dad’s funeral. Sadness had taken its toll. She should have come home to help her mother sooner. “I brought you a little something to eat. Give it a try, okay?” Before she could slide away, her mother clutched her forearm.
“You’ve got something new there.” Her mom’s gaze rested on the ink on Sadie’s left shoulder. In the sleeveless black T-shirt, most of the art showed. “What’s different since the last time I saw you?”
Sadie looked down at her arm, impressed that her mother could see the difference amid the collection of tattoos. She knew exactly which piece her mom was referring to, and as she spotted it, she smiled. She was especially proud of that one. It was a black bird spreading its wings to take flight. “It’s the one right here. I got it after I broke up with Corey.”
Her mom studied it a moment before nodding her sleepy approval. “Very pretty. You know, I never liked that boy. I think he stayed around a little too long.” Her gaze rose to meet her daughter’s. “I’m glad you flew free like your black bird there.”
It warmed Sadie’s heart that she got the meaning behind the ink. “Me too.” She bent forward and kissed her mother’s forehead. It was good to be home again. Guilt tugged her heartstrings. She had neglected her family for a crappy relationship and her career with a band that had imploded with the first bump they hit in the road. But now she was home and she would do her damnedest to make up for that. She would help her mom get back on her feet—no matter what. “Mom, I’ve decided I’m gonna stay in town for a year and kind of regroup. That way I’ll be here to help you out while you get your equilibrium, or whatever, back. It will be good for both of us.”
“Sadie, you don’t have to do that.”
“I know I don’t have to.” She had to try to make things up to her mom. The idea was ballooning inside her. She felt lighter already. “I want to.”
While her mom ate breakfast, Sadie dragged her drum kit in from the car and reassembled it in the corner of the family room. Then she stuck her earbuds in, pulled up a playlist of covers Sugar Stix used to do, and drummed along.
She got lost in the music, pounding out her feelings about Sugar Stix breaking up, imagining punching Paz in the nose for stealing her money, and beating down her guilt about the pit of grief her mother had fallen into while she’d been away. Bobbing her head along to the song, Sadie hummed the melody and let the joy of making music carry her to her bliss. She had just hit the last cymbal crash of the song when she noticed she was no longer alone in the living room.
Gasping, she dropped one stick and almost fell backward off her stool, but her shock dissolved into giggles as her mother’s friends, Sophie, Marley, and Kristen waved from where they stood across the room holding Tupperware containers of food and coupon fliers from the newspaper.
Sadie yanked her earbuds out by the cord and ran her hands through her short hair as she greeted them with hugs all around. “What are you all doing here?”
“Sadie DuChamp, you’re back!” Sophie set her belongings down on the kitchen table, freeing her arms to give Sadie a proper squeeze before looking her over. “Aren’t you a sight? You’re reminding me of my days making music out on the road. Those were good days. I bet your mother is thrilled to have you here.”
Sadie beamed. As hard as it was to give up on Sugar Stix and her rock ’n’ roll dreams in New York, it really was good to be home in so many other ways. Her mother’s group of neighborhood friends was something she had truly missed.
“We could hear you playing from outside, so we let ourselves in.” Kristen dangled a set of keys in the air. Her short blond hair was spikey, same as Sadie remembered it. “It’s coupon swapping day. We do it every Sunday over brunch,” she explained. “Where’s your mother?”
Sadie nodded toward the staircase in the front hall. “Still upstairs as far as I know.” She shrugged and grinned sheepishly. “I guess I was a little distracted by my music. I’ll go tell her you’re all here.”
To her surprise when she got upstairs, her mom was out of bed and had even changed into yoga pants and a long, light knit powder-blue sweater. Still not her usual look, but a big step up from the old, tattered pajamas she had worn earlier that morning. Downstairs, the ladies had already set up a buffet of various salads they had brought along. The women were seated around the kitchen table, coupon fliers and scissors laid out in front of them.
Her mother went to retrieve the Sunday paper someone had brought in for her. “Sadie, come fix yourself a plate. You can sit with us and visit.”
She sat down next to Sophie, who looked put together as ever, her dark hair in a tight knot on the back of her head, bright poppy print sundress with a light sweater on her shoulders, and her signature bright red lipstick.
“So the band went kaput?” Sophie’s dark-penciled eyebrows bunched together as she patted Sadie’s hand sympathetically. “I’m sorry.”
“Something like that.” Sadie nodded. She appreciated the kindness. “Thank you. I’ll find something else.”
She did need to find something else, at least temporarily while staying in Tucker Pointe for the next year, something to keep her busy and give her income. She would look into that later. It wasn’t like she was going to find a job on a Sunday.
The women chattered away, trading coupons with each other and eating salad. Her mom was much more reserved than Sadie had ever seen her be with her friends, and she picked at her food, but at least she was participating. It was a step in the right direction.
As the exchange wore down, the women stacked their coupons and stashed them in envelopes or plastic organizers. Sadie leaned back in her chair, belly full on homemade food. She had spent way too long existing on takeout and ramen noodles. The unexpected feast had been a welcome change for her.
Kristen snapped the elastic in place on her coupon organizer and asked, “Marley, isn’t Jessica coming home from school soon?”
“She is.” Marley’s grin was almost bigger than her gigantic boobs. Almost. “She’s due at the end of the week and I can hardly wait. I’m so excited to have my baby home.”
Jess Moran was no baby, and it was no secret that she was her mother’s whole world. Sadie remembered her from high school, although Jess had been a couple grades ahead of her. Even though she lived down the street, they never mixed and mingled back then. Jess was in with the preppy, jock types. Sadie was quite comfortable in the artsy crowd. But anytime they crossed paths in the neighborhood, Jess always seemed nice enough.
“Is she coming home alone for the summer?” Sophie, who prided herself on always being on top of the neighborhood scuttlebutt, cut to the chase and flat-out asked. “Is she dating anyone?”
“Oh, you know Jess, such a free spirit. Sometimes I wonder if she’ll ever settle down.” Marley pressed her lips together and shook her head. “I don’t worry about it. She’s so busy with school now. There will be plenty of time for serious romance later. I’m just glad I get to have her around for the whole summer.”
“It’s nice to have our kids come back.” Her mom rested her arm on the back of Sadie’s chair and gave her shoulder a loving squeeze.
“We got a little concert when we walked in.” Marley grinned. “I can see why you’re so proud of this one, Jennifer.”
The compliment made her mom smile, which in turn made Sadie smile. “Sadie, play something now that I’m down here.”
“Mom, it’s drums. It won’t sound like an actual song.”
“I’ll play along with you,” Marley proposed, nodding in the direction of the guitars in the corner of the living room.
“You play?” How could Sadie not know that one of her mother’s dearest friends was a musician?
Marley laughed. “I do. I even sing.”
“Well, let’s go.” Sadie hopped out of her seat. It had been less than a week, but she missed playing with others so much, she didn’t want to give Marley the chance to back out. “What should we play?”
Marley looped the guitar strap over her shoulder and tested the strings. Sadie didn’t know how long the guitar had sat untouched, but it still sounded relatively in tune. “‘Runaround Sue.’ You know that one?”
Sadie gave a nod and twirled a stick around her fingers like a baton. “That’s a rock standard. Let’s do it.”
She clicked her sticks, counting them in, and Marley strummed and sang. Her speaking voice tended to be on the squeaky side, so Sadie was pleasantly surprised when Marley’s singing voice came out melodious and on point.
By the second verse, Sophie had joined in singing harmony and Kristen was picking out the tune on the piano. When they hit the chorus again, even Sadie’s mom had picked up the other guitar and was singing along, a hint of her old sparkle in her eyes. As Marley strummed the last chord and Sadie pounded out a flashy ending to the song, a plan to distract her mother from her grief began to form in Sadie’s mind.