It's Release Week!
Raise your glass! This week, we're celebrating the release of the final book in my Barflies series, When the Lights Come On. This one has been a LONG time coming, and I couldn't more thrilled to finally be able to share it with everyone. We've been through all the ups and downs with the Taverne Toulouse crew, and Paige and Youssef's story really wraps up what the series is all about: braving the world and kicking ass on your quest to be your best while always knowing you've got a safe place (or dive bar) full of friends to come back to.
A little cheesy? Sure, but sometimes things just get a little cheesy at Taverne Toulouse...and then quickly evolve into a tequila-fueled celebration. Speaking of which, there's a whole week of festivities coming up here on the blog and across my social media! Here's the full schedule:
On today's agenda is a sneak peek of all that awaits you in When the Lights Come On! I've got the full first chapter below. Keep an eye out during the week for some behind the scenes details, teasers, and extras, and head on over here to grab your copy of the book!
Something is biting my foot.
The room around me is pitch black, the darkness thick and heavy like a congealing liquid holding me down. I’m pinned to the floor, flat on my back with my arms splayed at my sides. I can feel the jaws clamped around my foot, shaking so hard the impact travels up my leg and jostles my hip in its socket, but still, I can’t move.
I try to open my mouth instead, ready to scream, but no sound comes out. No air fills my lungs. I’m paralyzed, my body nothing but a shell I’m trapped inside.
The sound echoes through the blackness around me before coming again, louder this time, more insistent.
“Paige, wake up!”
The grip on my foot shifts, and realization blooms: it’s not a mouth. It’s a hand. I’m not being bitten; I’m being shaken.
“Paige, wake the fuck up!”
My eyes fly open to take in the sight of my dark bedroom. Someone’s hunched over me, a woman. She’s silhouetted by the light streaming in from the open door behind her. I blink a few times, and her face comes into focus.
She notices my open eyes and sighs in relief. “Jesus, you sleep like the dead.”
The panic of the dream subsides as sleep loses its hold on me. I’m lying on my bed, flat on my back like I was in the dream. My laptop is sitting a few inches away, the screen black. I lift my hand to rub my eyes, and something clinks on the blanket beside me. I look again and notice all the brushes and containers laid out on my comforter like tiny islands.
Ingrid steps back and looks between me and the stuff on my bed like a detective intent on solving an intricate mystery.
“Were you...putting makeup on?”
“Uh...” I push myself up into a seat. My voice is thick and groggy. I pause to clear my throat and to give myself time to assess what the fuck is going on.
It was still light outside when I got the box of makeup out from under my bed. I was feeling all jittery from overloading on caffeine after staying up most of the night working on a new song, and doing my makeup always calms me down. The last thing I remember was pressing play on a smokey eye tutorial from my favourite YouTube channel. I was going to do one video, wash everything off, and then head out to grab dinner with Ingrid before my gig—
“Mierda. What time is it?”
I sit bolt upright and start clawing at the blankets as I try to find my phone in the semi-darkness. Ingrid chuckles, which is a very Ingrid reaction to the situation.
“It’s not funny, Ingrid! What time is it?”
“Your set starts in half an hour.”
“Half an hour? Shit. Chó chết. Shit shit shit.”
I jump to my feet as Ingrid laugh at my multilingual cursing.
“That one means ‘damn,’ right?” she asks.
One of our primary forms of bonding is swapping swear words with each other: Vietnamese and Spanish from me, Dutch from her.
“Not the time, Ingrid!”
I lunge for the lamp on my bedside table—the table that is also my desk, home studio, and partial bookshelf. It’s a tiny-ass room to begin with, and most of it is filled with bulky music production gear, milk crates stuffed with my CD collection, and stray articles of clothing that have found a permanent home on the floor since half my tiny-ass closet is also full of bulky music production gear.
I end up tripping on a milk crate and bashing my shin against the edge of the table before I can reach the lamp. I collapse back onto my twin mattress instead and start swearing as pain ricochets up my leg.
“Uh, everything okay in here?”
The lanky frame of my roommate, Zach, appears in the doorway, lit from behind just like Ingrid. It’s like I’m talking to two faceless alien invaders here to observe my pitiful human suffering.
“Fucking fantastic,” I snap as my shin continues to throb.
He steps forward and feels along the wall beside him before finding the switch for the overhead light. Brightness floods the room, revealing his look of concern, and I immediately regret being harsh. Zach is the human equivalent of a golden retriever puppy, and being even slightly rude to him feels as evil as kicking a baby dog in the face.
Ingrid’s sitting on the end of my bed now, and she looks over her shoulder at Zach. “Did you know Paige owns makeup?”
“Ingrid, fuck off. We have to go. Now.”
Ingrid, on the other hand, I have no issues swearing at. She’s the closest thing I have to a friend, and telling each other to fuck off is a big part of our bond.
Plus, the less said about the makeup, the better. If I wanted people to know I own makeup, it wouldn’t live in a box under my bed.
“Fine, fine.” Ingrid pushes herself to her feet, and her full height leaves her an inch or two taller than Zach. Her lean, rockstar-esque build makes her look even taller. Everything about her is rock star-esque—from the bleach blonde pixie cut to the arms covered in sleeve tattoos to the array of piercings in her ears and face—which is fitting, considering she is in fact a rock star. She plays bass for Canada’s latest hit alt-rock band.
I give my shin a final rub and head over to the black cases propped against the wall beside the bedroom door, thankful for whatever music gods were whispering in my ear when I decided to pack my shit up before getting my makeup out tonight.
“Uh, can you...”
Ingrid rolls her eyes as I trail off. “Yes, I can help you carry your gear. It’s not going to kill you to say the word ‘help,’ you know.”
“I can help too!” Zach’s little blonde puppy ears would be perking up if he were actually a dog. He steps forward and grabs the biggest case before leading the way out of the room.
“I’m sorry I didn’t check on you, Paige. I had no idea you were in there. I was about to head over for your show when...” He trails off and gives Ingrid a look as the two of us follow him to the apartment door with the rest of the gear in hand.
“Ingrid,” she confirms.
“When Ingrid showed up. It’s a good thing she did.”
Ingrid laughs. “You know what he said when I told him I was your friend and that I was looking for you? He said, ‘Paige has friends?’”
She keeps laughing like it’s the best punch line she’s heard all year, but Zach flushes.
“I was just, uh— I mean you’ve never, uh, like...”
I freeze him out with a fake glare for a few seconds before I give in and lift the corner of my mouth.
“Don’t worry about it.”
We’re on better terms now and actually eat dinner together on the couch from time to time, but back when he first moved in, the guy was terrified of me. It’s kind of why I picked him from the potential roommate pool. He seemed the most likely to stay out of my business.
The value I place on people staying out of my business also explains his surprise at me having a friend.
“We good to go?” Ingrid asks after sliding on her Vans. “Do you need to...change, or anything?”
We both appraise my black leggings and over-sized, faded black t-shirt that almost reaches my knees. I grab an equally over-sized black hoodie off one of the outdated brass hooks screwed into the wall by the door. I pull it on, shove my phone, wallet, and keys into the pocket, and then flip the hood up over my head.
“Good to go.”
“You want to complete that outfit with a ski mask?” she asks.
I roll my eyes. “You make that joke every time we hang out. It’s not even funny anymore.”
Zack lets out a sheepish chuckle. “I mean, you do look kind of like a burglar.”
Ingrid whoops and raises her hand so the two of them can high-five.
I groan. “Come on, assholes. We’ve got to move.”
By the time we make it down two flights of ancient, creaky stairs covered in disintegrating carpeting, we’re too late to wait for an Uber. I start leading the way to the venue, speed-walking up the darkened city street as my gear box bumps against my leg. It’s hot for early September, and the air is humid enough that it only takes a minute or two for me to break into a sweat. We pass a few groups of tipsy students out to start their Saturday night, the sounds of laughing and distant music growing louder as we get closer to Avenue Mont-Royal.
My heart is thumping in my chest, from both the stress of being late and the exertion of running the last couple blocks, but when we turn the corner onto one of Montreal’s main nightlife strips, my pulse picks up with a different kind of thrill.
I can hear everything: the cacophony of clinking glasses, slamming car doors, and clamouring voices shouting greetings into the night. Pulsing bass beats spill out from dimly-lit bars and speakers set up on street-side patios. The sounds blend together, overlap and enmesh themselves into intricate patterns. There’s a rhythm to this night, to every night like this—when the air is thick with heat and smoke and intentions. There are no words to this song, but there is a dance, one that twists itself into the shape of a thousand possibilities.
This is Saturday night.
“Fuck yeah!” Ingrid comes to stand at my side, panting from our two-block sprint, and I know she feels it too. We both live off this energy—figuratively and literally.
I very literally need to get my ass into the packed bar across the street or risk losing one of the only steady sources of income I’ve got.
“Onwards!” Zach’s clearly in better shape than both of us. He takes off running past Ingrid and I like he could sprint around Montreal all night. “We’ll go in through the back!”
Taverne Toulouse, the bar I will be bestowing my musical offerings on tonight, has played a big role in all three of our lives. Zach’s been working here since well before I met him—something like four or five years now, first as a server and now as their social media manager. He scored me a few one-off gigs before his girlfriend—also a Taverne Toulouse veteran—talked the owner into giving me a regular set.
It’s also the place where Ingrid and I met, when I DJ-ed after a gig her band played here. We ended up getting pizza at four in the morning after one of the craziest nights in Taverne Toulouse history, and we’ve been hanging out and telling each other to fuck off ever since.
We hurry down the narrow alley at the back of the building, tripping our way through the dark before a motion-sensor light clicks on and illuminates a few big metal garbage bins and countless cigarette butts littering the pavement. Zach yanks a door open, and the strains of some alternative rock hit I think I recognize fill the alley, along with the din of drunken voices screaming over each other.
The door leads to the bar’s kitchen, which is closed for the night. The fluorescent tube lights overhead reflect off the dormant appliances as we step inside.
I’m about to charge straight out into the bar area and make a break for the DJ booth when a blur of denim short shorts and vibrant pink hair comes shooting down the hallway that leads out to the main room.
“TABARNAK!” A long string of Quebecois swear words follows that first shriek as Zach’s girlfriend, DeeDee, starts hugging all of us. I go rigid at the personal space infiltration, but ‘personal space’ isn’t really part of DeeDee’s vocabulary.
“Mon dieu, Paige, we thought you died!” Her signature throaty voice makes her French Canadian sound extra thick as she lets go of Zach and turns back to me. “Quick, put these on, and we will get you onstage.”
It’s only then that I register what she’s wearing: the denim shorts that are basically her trademark, a pink bikini top, a pair of shutter shades with lenses shaped like palm trees perched on top of her head, and a gold necklace with a giant charm that spells out ‘Beach Queen.’
The real statement piece, though, is a pair of pink inflatable water wings with little flamingos on them pushed up over each of her biceps.
She’s holding an identical pair out to me.
“You want me to...wear those?”
“Duh, Paige. The theme of the night is beach party. Everyone is dressed like this.”
“DeeDee, those are not going on my body.”
She sighs like she saw this coming. “Okay, how about my sunglasses, then? You need something. Everyone’s supposed to dress like they’re going to the beach. Don’t tell me that’s what you’d wear to the beach.”
I look down at my hoodie and leggings and then back at her before raising an eyebrow. She sighs again.
“Okay, maybe you would wear that to the beach, but—”
“DeeDee.” Zach cuts her off and steps forward to start steering her down the hallway. “My darling, Paige needs to get on stage.”
Whatever she says in reply gets lost by the roar of the crowd as we head down the hallway. I round the corner, and then I’m face to face with a room full of people hungry for a show.
Everything else empties from my mind.
This is what I’m made for.
Zach and Ingrid carry my cases off after I get things unloaded, and in my calm-before-the-storm state, I get everything plugged in and connected in a matter of minutes. By then, a few people on the floor have noticed me moving around up in the booth, and some of them are even calling out my stage name.
“Chanly! Chanly! Chanly!”
My name. The name I gave myself. The first choice I made that was truly mine.
It gets louder and louder until almost everyone in the room is screaming the same thing, and maybe the drunk frat boys slapping each other with pool noodles in time with the chant don’t really know what they’re saying or why they’re saying it, but I don’t care.
This crowd is mine.
They came here looking for something, and I’m going to give it to them. They’re a swelling sea of faces in front of me, and I’m the one who turns the tides. I tell the waves which way to break.
I cut off the track from the bar’s playlist that’s pumping through the speakers and let everyone’s screams for more fill the silence for a second. I can feel the anticipation in the air. It lifts the hairs on the back of my neck, sparks in my veins like wires on overdrive.
Then I drown out the noise with a loud, long siren. A strobe light streaks the crowd in flashing white light. I throw my head back, eyes closed and face tilted to the ceiling in something close to a prayer as my hood slips off my head and my fingers start the show these people came for.
This is home. This is family. The faceless animal in front of me that writhes to the rhythm of my sound is all I need. This is the connection I crave. This is the fire I feed so it can fuel me too.
This is the only piece of me the world is going to get.
Grab your copy of When the Lights Come On here!