The goodbye year, p.1
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       The Goodbye Year, p.1

           Kaira Rouda
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The Goodbye Year


  PRAISE FOR

  The Goodbye Year

  “The Goodbye Year is an often hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, always engaging look at the last year before high school seniors leave their families for good. I devoured it!”

  —Meg Mitchell Moore, author of The Admissions, So Far Away, and The Arrivals

  “The family dramas and dynamics are things that we can all relate to ...”

  —Redbook magazine, “20 Best Books to Read Come Spring”

  “Kaira Rouda’s latest romp through the world of the Orange County elite follows five seemingly perfect families through their children's senior year—a pressure-cooker of college applications, drugs, infidelities, and keeping up appearances. Will anyone survive? Funny, insightful and sometimes downright shocking, The Goodbye Year is ultimately an uplifting tale examining the fears and challenges that come with letting go.”

  —Colleen Oakley, author of Before I Go

  “Kaira Rouda provides a delicious glimpse into an affluent, dysfunctional community that feels so real it borders on voyeurism. Light-hearted and ultimately optimistic, The Goodbye Year also tackles weighty issues, including infidelity, homosexuality, and alcoholism, creating a compelling and highly entertaining novel. If you’re a fan of reality television, you’ll love The Goodbye Year.”

  —Lori Nelson Spielman, author of The Life List

  “Who knew that Peyton Place is in Orange County? Kaira Rouda proves that money can’t buy you love in The Goodbye Year.”

  —Leslie Lehr, screenwriter, novel consultant, and award-winning author of 66 Laps, Wife Goes On, and What a Mother Knows

  “Five families, seven kids, and one small town seething with gossip and intrigue. With skill, sensitivity, and grace, Kaira Rouda charts the lives and loves of her mismatched characters, laying bare their deepest secrets—the ones they pray will never be revealed. Yet truth has a way of coming out, and when it does, the consequences are shattering in ways none of them could have ever expected.”

  —Yona Zeldis McDonough, The House on Primrose Pond

  “The Goodbye Year is a perfect blend of Desperate Housewives and Beverly Hills 90210. If you enjoy a fast-paced story with twists that will both surprise and delight you, this is the one!”

  —Kellie Coates Gilbert, author of the Texas Gold novel

  “In The Goodbye Year, Kaira Rouda takes us behind the gates of the Orange County elite as they attempt to navigate their children’s senior year and fast-approaching empty nest. Trust is broken, secrets are revealed. It’s delicious fun! The Goodbye Year will have you wishing you never had to say farewell.”

  —Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, authors of The Status of All Things

  PAST PRAISE FOR

  Kaira Rouda

  “I loved Kaira Rouda’s book. I love its irony and its courage and humor ... it’s the real thing.”

  —Jacquelyn Mitchard, betselling author of Still Summer and The Deep End of the Ocean

  “Reading Kaira Rouda is like getting together with one of your best friends—fun, fast, and full of great advice! Here, Home, Hope sparkles with humor and heart.”

  —Claire Cook, bestselling author of Must Love Dogs and Best Staged Plans

  “To be uplifted and inspired: a fabulous, inspiring, must-read for any woman who’s ever thought about changing her life.”

  —Woman’s World Magazine

  “Told with honest insight and humor, Rouda’s novel is the story of a woman who takes charge of her life while never forgetting the people who helped make that change.”

  —Booklist

  “Rouda has created a lovable and perceptive heroine who navigates her struggles with honesty and awe-inspiring determination to succeed. A fun and totally satisfying read.”

  —Amy Hatvany, author of Best Kept Secrets

  Kaira Rouda’s novels have won the Indie Excellence Book Award for Mainstream/Literary Fiction, USA Book Awards for Women’s Fiction, and Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest International Book Awards.

  BOOKS BY KAIRA ROUDA

  WOMEN’S FICTION

  Here, Home, Hope

  In the Mirror

  A Mother’s Day

  MYSTERY/ SUSPENSE

  All the Difference

  CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

  The Indigo Island Series

  Weekend with the Tycoon

  Her Forbidden Love

  The Trouble with Christmas

  The Billionaire’s Bid

  The Laguna Beach Series

  Laguna Nights

  Laguna Heights

  Laguna Lights

  Laguna Sights

  KINDLE WORLDS

  The Remingtons: Spotlight on Love

  The Remingtons: City of Love

  Dare to Love Series: The Celebrity Dare

  NONFICTION

  Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs

  Copyright © 2016 Kaira Rouda

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

  Published by SparkPress, a BookSparks imprint,

  A division of SparkPoint Studio, LLC

  Tempe, Arizona, USA, 85281

  www.gosparkpress.com

  Published 2016

  Printed in the United States of America

  ISBN: 978-1-940716-33-6 (pbk)

  ISBN: 978-1-940716-71-8 (e-bk)

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2015956247

  Cover design © Julie Metz, Ltd./metzdesign.com

  Formatting by Stacey Aaronson

  All company and/or product names may be trade names, logos, trademarks, and/or registered trademarks and are the property of their respective owners.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  For my fabulous kids—Trace, Avery, Shea, and Dylan

  Enjoy your wings and always know you’re welcome home.

  THE BRONSON FAMILY

  Melanie, Keith, Seth, and Dane

  THE NELSON FAMILY

  Sarah, Jud, and Ashley

  THE PARKER FAMILY

  Carol, Will, Marni, and Piper

  THE POTTS FAMILY

  David, Lauren, and Kiley

  THE WILSON FAMILY

  Zoe and Collin

  TABLE OF CONTENTS

  CHAPTER ONE

  Wednesday, September 10

  Melanie

  Sarah

  Melanie

  Will

  CHAPTER TWO

  Wednesday, September 24

  Jud

  Melanie

  Will

  Dane

  Sarah

  CHAPTER THREE

  Wednesday, October 1

  Keith

  Will

  Jud

  Sarah

  CHAPTER FOUR

  College Fair, Monday, October 27

  Dane

  Ashley

  Marni

  CHAPTER FIVE

  Halloween, Friday, October 31

  Sarah

  Will

  Sarah

  Melanie

  CHAPTER SIX

  Thursday, November 13

  Dane

  Jud

  Will

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  Tuesday, December 2

  Dane

  Marni

  Jud

  Sarah

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  Tuesday, December 16

  Jud

  Melanie

  Lauren

  Sarah

  CHAPTER NINE

  Christmas Eve, Wednesday, December 24

  Will
r />
  Dane

  Marni

  Ashley

  CHAPTER ONE

  Wednesday, September 10

  MELANIE

  Melanie Bronson needed to sit down.

  Beads of sweat soaked her forehead, no doubt ruining the blowout she’d just sat through at the salon. She smelled the toxic scent of wet hair spray, reconstituting into a noxious chemical that would run down her face. Her unruly dark hair was best left to the experts, especially on humid nights like these, but once her tamed mane was exposed to moisture, all bets were off. She wore sensible black pumps, a black sheath dress that she loved for its lack of a waistline, and her favorite pearl choker. She looked very much the part of a proud mom of a high school senior, she thought. It didn’t matter what she wore, though, she’d always be an outsider here. It was as if her hair knew she didn’t fit in and behaved accordingly.

  She reached her son Dane’s locker and noticed the lock flipped upside down. She touched the shiny cold surface of the back of the lock, wondering how he even opened the thing to get inside his locker. She shook her head, rubbing under her eyes, trying to keep the tears that were beginning to flow from ruining her mascara. Poor Dane, she thought. Someone must be bullying him again. This was not a good sign. She had Googled empty-nest syndrome and knew it was her job, this, their final year together, to be certain he could handle the real world. This lock was just another example of how he wasn’t ready, why she wasn’t ready.

  Suddenly, a boy—or really, she had to admit, looking at his facial hair and sculpted jaw, a man—ran past her wearing a maroon Crystal Beach High School sweatshirt and sweatpants. His dark eyes darted in her direction, taking her in, before running past her and disappearing around the corner. She saw his last name printed in block letters on the back of his sweatshirt: WINSTON. She shook her head. It was wrong. All of this. Him, the running, the stupid locker, the fact that she’d soon be a parent without a purpose. Would she even have a reason to get out of bed once Dane left for college? she wondered. Everything was moving too fast.

  “Hey, slow down!” she yelled into the now empty hallway.

  She should know every kid here, she thought. But Melanie had never seen the boy WINSTON before. She wondered if he was new, wondered if Dane knew him. Of course, that would just be another conversation they hadn’t had recently. If Melanie and Dane talked at all these days, it invariably wound up in a fight. Dane saying he was a loser and a disappointment, Melanie trying to make him believe she didn’t think so.

  As she brushed another tear away, she reached into her purse for her pink frost lipstick, a 1980s holdover that she couldn’t shake. Lips freshly aglow, she touched Dane’s lock one last time, squared her shoulders, and walked in the direction the man-child had just jogged, toward the heart of the school.

  She felt as if the ground shifted beneath her feet again as she reached the showcase of the school, the beautiful palm tree-dotted, green grass-dappled quad. As she searched for somewhere to sit down, Melanie looked around to see if what she was experiencing could be explained by an earthquake. But no one was ducking and covering. And there was nowhere to sit down. All she could see were white concrete planters filled with palm trees punctuating the broad swath of grass that constituted the daytime gathering spot for the teenagers who typically filled this place. The picnic tables had been removed because it was Parents’ Night. As a trickle of sweat rolled between her shoulder blades, Melanie took a deep, cleansing breath. The quad was almost empty, a few other parental stragglers attempting to find their way through the maze of buildings that formed the high school campus.

  Most of the other parents in the quad, heads bent together studying the school map in the dimming light, were couples. They were in this together. “I’ll kill Keith if I survive this,” she muttered. This morning, she’d begged her husband to come with her, knowing her last Parents’ Night would, in all likelihood, cause a panic attack. “Honey, you know that school and everybody in it like the back of your hand. You’ll be fine,” Keith had said, patting her on the shoulder before leaving for work. But she knew he was wrong.

  Another wave of dizziness swooped over Melanie. She lurched over to the closest planter, perching as daintily as possible on the edge, knowing her black linen sheath dress would still pick up some nasty high school gunk. She shouldn’t have chugged the glass of chardonnay at home, she knew, but she had told herself it would calm her nerves. Keith couldn’t miss his dinner event (business, of course), so she had been forced to tackle Parents’ Night solo. That was not something she was fond of, especially not with this child, her final parental product. To say Dane was a slacker was being kind. Oh, Dane.

  “Hello, Mrs. Bronson,” said a perky redhead, waving from across the quad as she hurried over. Even in the descending fog, Melanie knew it was omnipresent Annie, ready to help at all events where adults in general and parents in particular could see her shine. Annie had been assigned to escort Dane around on his first day at school, arriving as they had just before Thanksgiving, his ninth-grade year. Things had gone downhill for him since then. But not for Annie, who was already admitted to the Ivy League school of her choice based on her volleyball and academic prowess even though it was only September. Melanie still didn’t understand how that was possible as she pinched her palm and reminded herself she had Seth. He was her overachiever. Her reason for school pride. She was batting fifty percent, even as Annie’s parents were three for three at the Ivies. Who does that, really? Freaks, Melanie thought as she painted on a smile.

  “Are you lost?” Annie asked, big brown eyes blinking with genuine concern, or perhaps pity. Melanie deserved both, she realized.

  “Oh, no, dear, just waiting for second period. Dane has a free first,” Melanie said, a bit too brightly. If only the quad would stop swaying, she thought, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand.

  “Lucky. My mom won’t let me have a free period, even . . . ” Annie said, not finishing the sentence.

  “Even though you’re already admitted somewhere fabulous, aren’t you?” Melanie asked, dreading the answer, as it would force her own son’s inferiority out into the open, like a boulder landing in the space between them.

  “Well, I still need to keep my grades up, but yes, I committed to Harvard,” Annie said, shoving her hands in her jeans’ back pockets as Melanie felt the thud. “I can’t wait to start living my own life.”

  Melanie braced herself on the planter, both hands on the now dew-covered cold white plaster. “That’s wonderful, dear. Your parents must be so proud.” Blessedly, the bell rang, and classroom doors burst open as overachieving parents filled the quad, scampering to their next classroom and providing Melanie with the opportunity to escape. “I’ve got to go. See you later!”

  Pushing off the planter, Melanie headed down a ramp in the direction of the athletic field, smiling at the memory of Seth’s senior year. He’d been captain of the football team, on the homecoming court, ASB president, and a National Merit Scholar. He’d been everything you could be in high school, even though he’d arrived here his junior year. He was continuing that success in college. Dane tried hard to be the opposite, Melanie thought as she walked slowly into the silk-screening classroom.

  Of course Dane’s first class of the day was one established to prepare him and others of his ilk for menial labor. Melanie squinted her eyes at the glare from the fluorescent lights, dropped her head, and entered the room, hoping no one would recognize her from her PTA involvement two years earlier when she had been able to shine in the reflected brilliance of Seth’s achievements.

  She’d never been inside any of the work-study classrooms, though she’d been on committees that approved supplies for these types of kids. The fluorescent lights inside the large classroom seemed to flatten out all of the features of the parents as they each picked a stool and climbed aboard. The room smelled like overheated computers, a vague car-tire smell. The teacher, a man with a ponytail down his back of all things, smiled and n
odded from his perch at the head of the long table. Melanie felt certain things could not get any worse until perfect Dr. Jud Nelson and his perfect wife, Sarah, strolled in, sucking up the attention in the room as if their entrance had been preceded by an announcer.

  Melanie knew why, of course. All the men wanted to be him; most all the women of her age in town had a crush on him. Dr. Nelson, the leading plastic surgeon in town, was gorgeous, with a strong cleft chin, perfect teeth and a broad, white-toothed smile, and thick dark hair. His twinkling blue eyes made the women in town swoon even while he was tucking and plumping their bodies. He also had invented some technology that was now used in surgeries internationally, a patent worth billions. Even so, he continued to work at his practice when he wasn’t lecturing abroad.

  Dr. Nelson had “refreshed” more women’s faces in Crystal Beach than anyone, including at least a dozen of Melanie’s friends. She’d considered going to see him herself, just for a consultation of course, but had always lost her nerve. Primarily, she realized, because she didn’t want his wife, the town’s Queen Bee, to know, nor did she want her look. She’d never be able to go back home to Ohio if she looked anything like Sarah Nelson, a look perfected by Real Housewives on both coasts. There was a reason there wasn’t a Real Housewives of Ohio, Melanie knew.

  But here, in Crystal Beach, Sarah Nelson was the definition of perfection. With her long, blonde hair—rumored to be enhanced by extensions but no one dared ask—overly plumped lips, sculpted body with round globe breasts, and expressionless face, and her frequent trips to LA for shopping, Sarah was both untouchably perfect and somehow ethereal, revered by all the women in town. Melanie was completely intimidated by her and had been since she’d arrived in Crystal Beach, only to find herself living just down the street in Diamond Bay, their exclusive gated community.

  To make matters worse, the Nelsons were the parents of a perfect daughter, Ashley, a senior like Dane, who no doubt had never set foot in shop class and probably already had signed with an Ivy League school. Melanie felt the trickle of sweat between her shoulder blades turning into a small river.

 
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