Your Echo: First Chapter!
Let the festivities commence! We're getting the Your Echo release week schedule underway with a preview of the ENTIRE first chapter right here on the blog. I had so much fun diving back into the world of Sherbrooke Station, and all of the guys make an appearance right in the beginning of the book.
Fun fact: the original plan was to write JP's book as the second one in the series, but after a few false starts, I realize Ace and Stéphanie weren't going to wait to have their story told. I'm usually way more of a plotter than a pantster, but one day I closed JP's story, opened up a new document, and Your Echo just kind of took off from there.I did eventually sit down and form an actual plan for the book, but the whole opening sequence you're about to read came to life before I even had a chance to do that. Enjoy!
Life is a series of fuck-ups.
Big or small, catastrophic or mildly inconvenient—life is defined not by the breaths we take, but by the moments that make us say, “Shit. That went fucking sideways.”
Sometimes you drop your ice cream cone. Other times you wake up on a balcony with no shoes and a collection of photos of you in a sombrero posing with random strangers taking up all the storage space on your phone.
I scroll through at least two dozen of them before I shove my phone back in my pocket and rub my hand over my eyes.
I don’t even own a fucking sombrero.
Nor would I ever let someone put one anywhere near my head if I were sober. If the fact that my head’s throbbing, my throat’s so dry even breathing is painful, and I’m freezing my ass off on a random balcony while the city slowly wakes up around me wasn’t proof enough, the photographic evidence concludes that I was pissed off my head last night.
Before yesterday, I hadn’t had a drink in two months. I’ve been back in Montreal for less than forty-eight hours, and I’m already face to face with the familiar sensation of wondering what the hell happened last night.
I sit up, hissing as my head protests against the sudden movement. Thank fuck it’s July, not October or some shit. I wouldn’t have feet left to stand on if this had happened any later in the year. Even as it is, I’m still freezing. The days are sweltering, but the nights have a habit of getting cold. I don’t know if it was the sound of traffic that woke me up, or my own shivering.
The pain in my head dulls enough for me to focus, and I pull my phone out again to check the time. That’s why I took it out in the first place, but I got distracted by the photos of last night’s fiesta of fuck-uppery.
It’s 6:15 in the morning. Gorgeous.
I pull up the maps app to see where the GPS is telling me I am. It looks like the apartment building is downtown, just a few blocks from my place. I grip the rail of the balcony and pull myself up until I’m standing, waiting a few moments for the nausea to pass.
I either lost half my tolerance for alcohol in the past two months, or I did myself in worse than I thought last night.
I pull my shit together enough to take the few steps over to the sliding glass door. A set of curtains is drawn across it, so I have no clue who or what is inside. I reach for the handle and pull.
“Câlice,” I swear, tugging on it a few more times just to make sure.
I groan and then start tapping on the glass non-stop for the next thirty seconds. Nobody comes to the door. I knock harder. Eventually I hear someone shouting, muffled by the glass but getting easier to make out as they move closer to the door.
“Tabarnak! Arrête! J’men viens.”
The curtains part and a woman in a short black robe flips the latch up and pulls the door open. I recognize her right away.
“Roxanne?” I demand. “What the fuck?”
She puts her hands on her hips, her Québécois accent making her sound extra unimpressed. “I could ask you the same thing.”
“Is this your apartment?” I demand.
Of all the people whose balcony I expected this to be, the girlfriend of my band’s bassist was not one of them. Sweat starts to rise on the back of my neck. This could be a bigger fuck-up than I thought.
Roxanne glares at me, but steps back so I can join her in the apartment.
“Yes,” she answers tersely. “Were you seriously out here all night? I thought you left hours ago.”
“Apparently not,” I reply, reaching a hand up to try rubbing some more of the grit out of my eyes.
She stands and watches, shaking her head. “God, you really don’t remember anything, do you?”
I drop my hand and fix my gaze on her, fighting back the nausea that rose up in me again the second I saw her pull the curtain aside.
“Roxanne, I really need you to tell me what I’m doing at your apartment right now.”
She laughs at that, a harsh and haughty laugh that grates against my headache.
“You’re wondering if we slept together, aren’t you?”
I shrug. “Did we?”
She steps closer, her defensive posture relaxing as she stares up into my eyes. “And what if we did?”
Shit shit fucking shit.
Then she bursts out laughing again, backing away from me to collapse onto her couch.
“Mon dieu, Ace. You’re something else.”
She pats the cushion beside her, motioning for me to sit down as she continues to laugh at me.
“Trust me, Ace,” Roxanne continues, “even if I wasn’t dating your bassist, that would never happen in a million years. I’ve seen you with your head bent over a toilet too many times to ever want it near any part of my body.”
Even with a raging hangover and a slowly easing sense of dread still coiled around my gut, Roxanne mentioning all the parts of her body makes my dick jump. I’d never touch her, at least not in my right state of mind—I’ve seen her and Cole tear each other to emotional shreds too much over the years to ever want something like what they have for myself—but she is sitting here in a robe so short it’s hard not to stare at her thighs.
She notices where my attention’s gone.
“Oh, fuck off,” she warns me. “You’re lucky your face is still okay after the things you said last night. Don’t push it.”
“What?” I ask. “Did you try to beat me up or something?”
“No, Cole did.” She sighs. “Sometimes I don’t know how Sherbrooke Station even manages to function. Vous êtes tous complètement fous.”
She’s probably right about that; everyone in the band is completely crazy. I’d like to know just how much crazy I’m going to have to face today, though.
“Roxanne, what happened?”
“You got drunk. Really drunk.”
“Yeah, I gathered.”
She gets up and heads into her kitchen, switching on an expensive-looking coffee machine. For someone who manages a cafe for a living, she’s got a pretty sweet setup going on here. The apartment is huge by Montreal standards, and half the shit in here looks vintage in a cool, edgy kind of way—not the picked-it-up-on-the-side-of-the-road-because-it-was-free way that I’m used to seeing in my friends’ places.
“At the welcome back party, you told everyone you were just going to have one glass of champagne so you could make a toast. Then it was just one beer because you deserved it after making it through the whole tour sober. Then it was just one shot...” She opens a cupboard and pulls out two small white mugs. “We all saw where you were headed. I cut you off, but you disappeared with some guys for a bit and came back totally fucked. You were wearing a sombrero.”
I remember making that toast. Roxanne threw the band a party at the cafe last night to welcome us back to Montreal. We spent most of the summer on our first European tour and only landed two days ago. The last thing any of us wanted to do was drag our asses out to a party; after the non-stop travel and gigging, I could have slept for two weeks straight if I’d been allowed. No one wanted to say no after all the work Roxanne put in, though, and really, what kind of rock stars would we be if we bailed on a party to get some rest?
“Dedicated and successful ones,” Matt, our drummer, had grumbled to me when I asked him the same thing just before I got up to do my toast.
He’d wanted to be there even less than I had. The guy is a mother hen if I ever saw one, and I noticed him eyeing the glass in my hand with disapproval, but I shrugged it off. I could handle one fucking glass of champagne.
Apparently I was wrong.
“So where do we get to the part about Cole being threatening and me passing out on your balcony?”
“Cole offered to make sure you got home okay. He wanted to walk me home too, so we took you with us. You kept saying how much you needed to piss, so we brought you up to use my bathroom.”
I watch her do some complicated shit with the coffee machine before filling up the mugs and bringing them over.
“Roxanne, this is a really tiny coffee,” I tell her, reaching out to take the one she offers to me.
“It’s an espresso, and you’re an idiot. Drink it. It will help with your head.” She sets her own espresso down on the low table in front of us and continues with her story. “After we got you up here, you started acting like an asshole. I mean, more of an asshole. You wouldn’t leave. You kept asking how Cole and I ‘kept it interesting’ after all these years. You were...You said some really insulting shit.”
She looks away, and I know that if she can’t even bring herself to repeat it to me, whatever I said must have been bad.
“I swear I thought Cole was going to punch you out. You know how he gets when he’s mad. He doesn’t yell, he just looks...dangereux. I told him to ignore you, and then I told you to go out on the balcony and get some air. Cole and I talked for awhile before I went to bed. I thought he took you home and just spent the rest of the night at his place.”
“Nope.” I shake my head. “The fucker locked me out on a balcony all night.”
“Trust me, you deserved that.”
I don’t doubt she’s right. I pick up my stupidly tiny mug and take a sip. The coffee is too hot and too bitter for me to enjoy, but I down the whole thing in the hopes it will go right to my head.
“One last question before I can leave.”
Roxanne rolls her eyes. “Finally. What is it?”
“Where are my shoes?”
“They’re in my shower.”
I blink. “Your shower? Why are my shoes in your shower?”
She sips her espresso and shakes her head. “You’re going to have to ask Drunk Ace about that one.”
I get up and walk back over to her bathroom, pulling the shower curtain aside to find that she’s right. My Vans are sitting there in the tub. I lace them on and pat down my pockets, making sure my wallet and keys are there before I head to the apartment’s door.
“Hey, Ace?” Roxanne calls, just as I’m leaving.
“You should probably apologize to Cole,” she suggests, “but I’d maybe wait a few hours before you do that.”
* * *
I hear my own gasp as I sit up on my mattress and clutch the blankets, gulping down air like I just broke through the surface of a raging ocean and am about to be pulled back down. I whip my head from side to side as the screams echo in my ears, taking in the sight of my Les Paul on its stand and the tapestry hanging on the wall above my bed.
Calm the fuck down, asshole, shouts the part of my brain that’s not still caught up in the dream. You’re here. You’re not there. You’re not there anymore.
“Câlice,” I curse, brushing the hair out of my eyes before I reach for my phone to check the time.
It’s just before one in the afternoon. I went right to bed after getting back from Roxanne’s place. I glance at my windows, where there’s no sign of light pouring in. I lead a life where effective blackout curtains are a necessity.
I’ve lived in the same apartment for the past five years. Being in a chart-topping rock band hasn’t really cashed out yet—a lot of people in the music industry get famous for five minutes; not a lot of people get rich—but I could still afford to live somewhere way nicer than here. I moved into the studio when I was nineteen, just a few months before I was academically suspended by McGill University.
Most of the other units have students living in them. I’ve found fans hanging around the building a few times, which is all the more reason to find a place where it’s easier to keep a low profile, but I signed on for another year here anyway. There are so many guitars, books, and old CDs piled around the place that just thinking about moving gives me a fucking migraine.
Even if someone offered to sort all my shit out for me, I know I wouldn’t leave, though. This place is mine. Like an ink stain pooling on the floor, I’ve soaked into the scratched-up hardwood and bled into the cracks on the walls. I know every corner and crevice of these few square metres, know what the light catches on when the sun goes down, know which shadows loom the highest when I wake up covered in cold sweat and shivering in the middle of the night.
My phone’s blowing up with texts and calls from Matt. I open our conversation and scan through the messages, which contain a lot of swear words, capital letters, and repeated demands for me to explain what I did last night.
These kinds of texts used to be a part of my morning routine, right along with never waking up before noon. Being shuttled around Europe with no time to spare for the past two months helped with kicking the habit, but it looks like I’ve hit ground zero again.
Okay, maybe slightly above ground zero. Making a move on Roxanne would have been ground zero.
I decide to give Mother Hen Matt a call to pacify the bastard for a bit.
“Is this a call to tell me why you’re late for the meeting?” he greets me.
I stumble out of bed, making my way over to the curtains. “What meeting?”
I pull the fabric back a few inches and wince at the light before drawing the curtain back in place.
“Does no one check the band’s Facebook group?” Matt shouts into my ear.
“Um, no, Matt. No one does. You made a Facebook group for four people. We all told you it was stupid.”
Matt made the group after our label, Atlas Records, coerced our old manager into resigning and basically declared war on our band. It’s been more of a cold war, fought through passive-aggressive emails and deliberate scheduling conflicts, but we’re stuck putting up with it until we get our next two albums out and complete the terms of our contract. Matt uses his Facebook group and ‘Undercover Band Meetings’ to make sure we’re keeping on track.
JP, our man bun-sporting keyboardist, uses the group to send us memes and photos of girls he matches with on Tinder.
I open Facebook up on my phone. “Um, let’s see. That’s a cat. That’s a girl named Dannika. That’s a cat. That’s a girl named Ashley who is holding a cat. Oh, there it is: ‘Urgent band meeting in the basement at 12:30 today. Be there or I will show up at your apartment and drag your useless ass out of bed myself. That means you, Ace.’ Sacrement, Matt, did you tag me? In our Facebook group of four people?”
“Just get over here. Now.”
He hangs up.
I chuck my phone on my bed and groan. What I really need is a scalding hot shower and two more of Roxanne’s espressos, but I grab a t-shirt off the floor and slip into my shoes.
My building is just on the edge of the McGill student ghetto and only a few streets down from the Sherbrooke Station metro stop. Our old rehearsal space—and our only one before we signed with Atlas and got access to their state of the art rooms and equipment—is in the basement of a building right across from the station. That’s how we ended up getting our name.
I take the stairs two at a time after making the short walk over. The familiar smell of sweat, old furniture, and the lingering trace of delivery pizza that never really goes away hits me the second I walk in the room. The scent would be enough to make other people turn around and leave, but to me it smells like music. This is what late nights spent hunched over a soundboard smell like. This is what a room smells like after it’s incubated potential for four years and given birth to a hit.
The members of said hit are all sprawled on the musty, second-hand couches, staring at me like I’m about to be sent to the gallows.
“What’s up?” I ask, freezing when I pick up on the tense expectation in the air.
Matt nods toward an empty armchair. “Sit.”
Even JP, who’s usually running around like some kind of French Canadian Christmas elf on crack, looks serious. Cole’s glaring at me like he has the ability to set me on fire with his eyes. Honestly, if anyone could actually do that, it would be Cole. I shuffle over to the chair.
“This,” Matt begins, pausing to dramatically crack his knuckles, “is an intervention.”
I breathe out, sighing half in relief and half in annoyance.
“Don’t go all reality TV on me, guys. It was one fuck-up. Look, Cole, I don’t remember much of last night, but I take it I was more of an ass than usual and—”
“Shut up,” he grumbles, staring me into silence. “Listen to Matt.”
Matt and Cole share a nod.
“We’re nipping this in the bud,” Matt continues. “We’re not going down this road again. A few months ago, we made a commitment to not let this band fall apart. We all set aside whatever fucking problems we had with the Atlas Records situation and we decided to move forward, and you know what? We crushed it. We took Europe by storm. We need to keep building on this momentum, and that’s going to take continued commitment from all of us.”
He’s drumming out a rhythm against his leg as he speaks, like he’s imagining a musical accompaniment to his speech.
“That was great, Matt,” I tell him. “I feel like you should have a flag fluttering behind you right now. Should we put the national anthem on?”
“Ben là, don’t be a dick,” JP interjects. “You have a problem, man.”
“I don’t have a—”
“You told my girlfriend she could still go back even though she went black, and asked her to give your dick a call once she got over her ‘chocolate phase.’ You might not think you have a problem, but I have a fucking problem with you.”
I can actually hear Cole’s teeth grinding as he spits the words out through a clenched jaw.
So much for avoiding ground zero. I start to stammer out an apology.
“Cole, I’m sorry, man. You know I don’t feel that way. I don’t even remem—”
“And that’s your problem,” he growls, cutting me off. “The world doesn’t shut off when you do. The rest of us do remember. I’ll take a lot of shit, man, but the second you bring Roxy into it...”
He trails off and I see the muscles in his arms twitch. A few moments of silence tick by before Matt clasps his hands together.
“Okay,” he surmises, “so now that we’ve established Ace is a dick, a fact we were all already aware of, let’s move on to the point of this intervention.”
I still can’t believe he’s actually calling this is an intervention. He reaches into his pocket and hands me a crumpled sheet of blue paper. I look over the black lettering and see that it’s an ad for something called the Société de Méditation de Montréal.
Free guided meditation session offered every Sunday in Parc Lafontaine, reads the title in both English and French. Free your mind, eliminate stress, and find your focus. Bilingual instructions. Donations accepted. All proceeds will go to support the Société.
I crunch the paper into a ball.
“Funny,” I say, letting the ad fall to the floor.
Matt’s already on his feet. “It’s not a joke. We’re going right now.”
“We’re going?” I repeat.
“Yes, all of us. We’re going to support you and get you back on track. Meditation is supposed to be very helpful for”—he stops and gestures up and down my body to indicate my general existence—“things.”
Matt knows better than anyone what ‘things’ go on in my head. I’ve never told anybody about the dreams, about the way the images are pressed into my brain like scar tissue, forcing an indent into the channel of my thoughts. Matt knows enough about my past that I’m sure he guesses. Hiding from someone gets harder after six years of being friends.
“No way.” I shake my head. “That stuff is all bullshit. You want to sit in a park and say ‘om’ for an hour?”
Right on cue, JP pulls himself into a cross-legged position on the couch and closes his eyes, hands poised on his knees.
“Ommm. Ommm,” he chants. He draws a huge breath in and slowly lets it out before jumping to his feet and raising his arms in the air. “Holy shit, it’s a miracle! I’m a new man.”
“See!” I say to Matt. “Even JP is making fun of this, and he usually loves stupid shit. He uses your Facebook group all the time.”
Matt glares at me. “It is a useful tool,” he hisses. “Now come on. We’re going to be late.”
He opens the door to the stairwell and JP trots after him, still holding his arms up like he’s celebrating his spiritual rebirth.
“You too, Cole!” Matt shouts back from the top of the stairs.
“Yeah, about that,” Cole calls. “I think I’ll—”
“No fucking way!” Matt’s disembodied voice protests. “This is a Sherbrooke Station group activity, and you don’t get that half bottle of Jameson I promised you unless you come to meditation.”
“You promised him Jameson if he helped me stop drinking?” I shout, giving in and following JP up the stairs. “You have to see how totally fucked up that is.”
Matt admits he does, and then hurries us the few blocks up to the park like we’re some kind of dog sledding team. The afternoon sun feels like it’s searing my retinas as the headache I didn’t manage to sleep off throbs in my temples. Just gorgeous. If nothing else, sitting in the park with a bunch of chanting freaks will be a good opportunity to catch a nap.
We reach the edge of Parc Lafontaine: a few sprawling, tree-filled acres with a huge pond and a network of twisting paths. Shirtless douchebags in shorts that are way too tight run laps around the edge with iPhones strapped to their biceps. College kids sit on blankets by the water, strumming guitars and covertly smoking weed. Someone’s throwing their kid a birthday party at a picnic table, balloons and streamers hanging from the tree above.
“Do we know where in Parc Lafontaine this thing is?” JP asks.
“We’ll find it,” Matt assures us, stepping forward to take the lead again.
We scope out the park for a solid ten minutes without any results.
“What are we even looking for?” Cole asks. “Do they like, sit on mats? Chairs? Are there...candles?”
“We’re probably looking for an old person surrounded by other old people,” I supply.
“That’s not it, is it?”
JP’s pointing to a group of about a dozen people, all of them sitting cross-legged on a variety of mats and cushions, facing a blonde chick under a tree.
We walk over and the blonde gives us a wave, motioning for us to sit down as she chatters to the group about something in French. I don’t bother tuning into what she’s saying as we settle onto the grass. I focus on her mouth moving, but the sounds don’t turn into words. I’m too busy processing those fucking lips of hers to have room for anything else in my brain.
This girl is stunning: creamy skin, wide-set pale eyes, impossibly blonde hair that turns gold in the shifting sun, all wrapped up with a pair of bow lips and a cute gap between her front teeth. She looks like the definition of a sunny disposition, the kind of girl who laughs easy and twirls her hair, but I see right through it all in an instant.
I see the screaming matches, the shattered glass, the trail of broken hearts. There’s no way this woman hasn’t brought men to their knees just by passing them on the sidewalk, and beauty like that never strays too far from suffering. Girls like her either hide sadness in their smiles or a thirst for blood and tears, because you can’t be that pretty and not fuck shit up wherever you go.
She’s the kind of girl people write songs about.