It's Teaser Tuesday!
It's Tuesday! Ready for a tease? As part of the release week celebration for When the Lights Come On, I've got an excerpt from one of my favourite scenes in the book right here. It's spoiler-free, so feel free to read on and get a taste if you haven't met Youssef and Paige yet. If you have, you can revel in this little throwback!
This excerpt takes place after Youssef *accidentally* bumps into Paige at a club she's just signed on to DJ at.
I’m looking out into the dance floor again, hands poised over the control panels like I’m about to play, when a crash from the other side of the stage makes me jump.
I squint through the glare from the stage lights and make out the shape of a guy trying to gather up all the cables that just spilled out of the storage container he knocked over. Then he straightens up and looks my way.
“Uh, hi Paige.” Youssef takes a step forward. “Um, fancy meeting you here?”
He looks like a complete dork. I almost laugh before I catch myself.
I should be angry. Or confused. I should have questions about what the hell he’s doing here, but all I can do is stand there and stare as something hot swells in my chest and blocks my throat.
He just feels so fucking familiar. Everything about him hits with the same sense of recognition: his voice, his hands, his faded black t-shirt with a drawing of New York City on the front. Even the way he stands calls up a hundred memories I told myself I forgot.
He steps closer, and again, I can make out the differences that mark him as changed, but they don’t matter. I know him.
You don’t. You don’t know this guy at all.
“Is this the part where I demand to know if you’re stalking me?”
He scratches the back of his neck. “Um, maybe? It seems like a reasonable question.”
I raise an eyebrow, doing my best to play it cool even though my heart is pounding in my ears. “So? Are you?”
“I can see how you would come to that conclusion, but no. Nabil called me in to help with some electrical issue they’re having.”
“So you finished, huh? Engineering school?”
The question leaves my mouth before I can stop it. I watch as a mix of surprise, curiosity, and something close to pain works its way into his features.
“Yeah.” His voice is lower now, softer. “Yeah, I did. Never worked as an actual electrical engineer, though.”
He takes a few steps closer and leans against the edge of the booth. I do the same on the other end, mirroring his position before I even realize I’m doing it. We’re only a few feet apart from each other now.
“I started working here as a rigger during college, believe it or not. Then I dropped out of my first post-graduation placement with an engineering firm and did it full time while I tried to get my foot in the door at a recording studio. Now I master for them.”
I bite back all my questions, struggling to hold them in.
Did you keep making music all through college? How did you feel the first time you played for a crowd? How’s your family? When’s the last time you went back to Brampton? Did you ever see me there?
Did you ever stand outside my house and think about how different it all could have been before leaving without saying a word?
“Never really saw that coming,” he finishes, “but it’s funny how it all works out.”
“Except it didn’t,” I blurt.
He squints at me, and I feel a rush of heat rise in my cheeks.
“I mean, you’re describing this life where you’re all set up with a steady job,” I explain. “What about the part where your single is blasting in every club in the country every Friday night?”
“Ah, right. That.”
Now it’s me squinting at him. He just gave me an impromptu rundown of his life since he was a teenager and left out what most people would consider the biggest thing to ever happen to him.
“So what about you?” he asks.
“What about me?”
I jump a little when he throws his head back and laughs long and loud at that.
“What?” I ask after a few seconds, trying to sound defensive even though I’m about to start laughing too.
It’s impossible not to join Youssef when he laughs like that. I used to try to stonewall him or get pissed about one thing or another back in high school, and he’d just laugh like I was the most entertaining thing in the world.
It would piss me off even more, but I’d always end up laughing with him in the end.
“I see you’re still as personable and forthcoming as ever,” he finally manages to get out. “Chatty, even.”
My restrained laugh comes out as a snort, and he starts laughing all over again at me snorting.
“But seriously, what have you been up to?”
I stay quiet for a moment, and the ease between us fades as reality sets in. We’re not old friends catching up on old times. This isn’t a casual chat. There’s too much we can’t say for anything we do say to be more than a front for all the hurt we’re hiding.
Although why he thinks he gets to be hurt when he’s the one who left is still beyond me.
I turn my attention to the closest CDJ and let my fingers wander over the jog wheel, spinning it around and around as I imagine fast forwarding through this conversation like I could with a track.
“You’re really good, by the way.”
I look back up and find him watching my hand.
“Your set on Saturday was crazy. You were using a Push, two MIDI keyboards, and the CDJs?”
I raise an eyebrow. “You saw all that from the crowd?”
He shifts his weight. “Uh, I might have Googled you and found a Reddit thread theorizing about how you set your stuff up.”
I should be mad, but the first thing I feel is flattered.
“Well, that’s pretty close to what I use, yeah,” I admit.
“Your looping is crazy. I mean, I can improvise, but you...Where’d you even learn all that anyway? I still wish I could just bring my little controller to clubs and forget about everything else, and you’re out here being a fucking multi-keyboard savant.”
“Multi-keyboard savant? I’ll put that on my resume.”
He laughs again, and I move so I’m standing in front of the controls. It puts me closer to him, but it gives me something to focus on other than how much the way he laughs makes me want to thread my hands into his hair and pull his face down to mine.
I wonder if he’d taste the same. I didn’t get many chances to learn his taste, to commit the way his lips moved over mine to memory, but I can still close my eyes and feel myself kissing him like we’re back in his parents’ basement again.
So I keep them open and distract myself by miming out the beginning of my set while he keeps talking.
“I don’t throw the word savant around every day. I mean it.” I can feel his eyes on my fingers. “Hey, want to try something?”
“Play something!” Youssef calls out before making his way back over to the booth. “Let’s see those savant skills. You can’t get behind the DJ booth and expect to not have to play.”
“What? Is there even anything loaded in this?”
He points to a port in front of me. “Somebody’s USB is in there.”
“You want me to make a performance off a random USB whose contents I have not even looked at?”
He gets a familiar gleam in his eyes. “Do you accept this challenge or not, Paige?”
It’s what we used to say to each other before inevitably doing stupid shit that usually didn’t go well. We had a habit of daring each other to do things just for the hell of it.
We were teenagers. We were bored, and every second of our lives felt like it held a thousand opportunities. I forgot what it was like to be that alive, to let it all go and just say yes to the world instead of fighting my way through it. Sometimes it feels like that’s all I know how to do.
I cue up the first track on the USB, and Youssef nearly loses it when Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’ starts blasting out of the club’s speakers. I just hunch over the controls and begin twisting dials as he laughs beside me. I actually use this song in a lot of my bar sets; people go crazy for it, and I’ve remixed it so often I decided to put a version on SoundCloud that ended up going kind of viral.
It doesn’t take Youssef long to stop laughing and focus on what I’m doing. I’m already in the zone, slipping into the dreamy, fluid state of concentration that takes me over like the rush of a river every time I’m behind the decks.
I grab the pair of headphones plugged into the system and slip them on so I can get the next track ready, still using my other hand to fuck around with ‘Pony’ and recreate my remix.
There’s some old school Daft Punk on the USB, so I start working it in and build up to a drop.
Time has slowed down in that way it always does when I’m performing, like I can feel everything just before it happens, like I’m the one who makes it happen. My hands fly over the controls, creating a new universe with every beat, and I’m both a slave to that world and the god who rules over it.
I crank up the tempo, letting it climb and climb until the speakers are filling the empty room with a high-pitched whine that bounces off the walls and steals the breath from my lungs before I finally let the beat drop.
I throw my head back and pull the headphones down to take it all in, turning to glance at Youssef with my face stretched in an ecstatic smile I couldn’t hold back if I tried.
His mouth is hanging open, eyes nearly bulging out of his head.
“What?” I shout, laughing a little as he keeps gaping at me while I use one hand to keep mixing. “You having a heart attack or something?”
“You’re not even looking at it!” he shouts back. “How are you doing that? How are you doing that and talking?”
I just laugh again and turn back to the controls for a second before stepping to the side and offering him the headphones.
“Your turn!” I call out over the chorus of the Daft Punk song.
“Come on!” I step a little closer so he can hear me better. “Do you accept this challenge or not?”
He keeps staring, but he’s not watching me like I’m crazy anymore. He’s watching me like he used to just before he’d grab my face and kiss me.
Nobody else has ever been able to take me over quite like that, to pull me down with them into some secret place where every colour was brighter and every sound skated across my senses like the most delicate of explosions.
He says the words so softly I can’t hear him, but I read his lips. “Challenge accepted.”
Ready for the rest? Find the book here!