Release Week Festivities + Sneak Peek
Catch and Cradle is finally here! The response to release day yesterday was absolutely magical. I'm beyond grateful to all the readers, bloggers, and fellow authors who made my debut in the queer romance world a truly special experience. I can't wait to continue serving up stories about ladies (and non-binary people!) falling in love with each other.
Readers who've been with me for a while will know I like to create a Schedule of Festivities for my release weeks, where I share something new on the blog here each day. I give insights into my writing process and inspiration, behind the scenes details about the book, and fun little extras like playlists and favourite quotes.
Here's what we've got coming up for Catch and Cradle's release week:
Today's our sneak peek day! I'm sharing the whole first chapter of the book right here in this post. Keep on reading for your introduction to Hope and her kind-of-crazy-but-very-loveable roommates and best friends.
There’s a gnome wearing a thong and a pair of lacrosse goggles in our front window.
I pause in the middle of the sidewalk, the clatter of my suitcase wheels on the pavement coming to an abrupt stop. My Uber driver takes off up the darkening street, and I turn to watch the car round the corner before looking back at the gnome.
His name is CJ Junior, and my whole face splits into a grin as I raise two fingers to give him a salute.
“It’s good to be back,” I mutter as I charge through the little patch of dirt and struggling weeds we call a yard. My suitcase bumps against the wooden stoop as I haul it along behind me up to the front door.
Even if there weren’t a gnome dressed in my old lacrosse goggles and a cherry-red thong donated by one of my roommates staring out the window, it wouldn’t take a stranger long to realize a bunch of UNS athletes live here. The butter-yellow row house is so narrow it looks like it was squeezed onto the street as an afterthought, but that hasn’t stopped us from pimping it out. Besides CJ Junior, the front window is decorated with strings of pink mini lights. We’ve been told the sultry pink glow makes it look like we’re running a gnome brothel, but I kind of like the effect.
The upstairs window is covered with the huge University of Nova Scotia banner Iz, one of my three roommates, uses as a curtain. Our miniscule excuse for a yard has some UNS pinwheels we may or may not have stolen from an orientation event stuck in the ground amidst all the terra cotta pots that house Paulina’s perpetually failed attempts to grow an herb garden.
Under my feet is the custom welcome mat Jane had printed when we first moved into the house in our second year. The black block letters spell out ‘Welcome to the Babe Cave.’
I remember when we rolled the mat out one August night just like this. The four of us sat on the stoop for hours drinking spiked lemonade in the heat, smacking mosquitoes off our arms and breathing in the faint trace of salty ocean you can usually catch on the breeze in Halifax. I don’t know if it’s true, but I always think I can smell the ocean more at night.
I fill my lungs up with briny air and take a minute to let the day roll off me: the goodbye with my parents, the rush and roar of the airport, the flight in a tiny tin can of a plane. I let it all go.
One thing at a time. First thing’s first.
Phrases like that have kept me on track for years: little reminders that there’s always a next step, and I always have what it takes to get there.
I reach for the tarnished brass doorknob, but before I can grab it, the door is jerked back so hard it slams against the wall inside.
“HOPE IS HERE!”
Jane and Paulina scream and squeal as they throw their arms around me, and I’m screaming and squealing too. The three of us start jumping up and down with our arms woven around each other like a complicated Celtic friendship knot and come dangerously close to falling off the stoop.
“You guysssss!” Paulina gushes from above me and Jane. She’s six foot one, so she’s pretty much always above us. The ends of her long blonde hair are currently in danger of suffocating me. “I’m sooooo happy!”
She folds herself nearly in half to lay her head on top of mine and nuzzles into me. We stand there swaying and laughing for long enough one of my arms starts to go numb, but I don’t care. We’ve all been in and out of the house throughout the summer, but this is our first real reunion. Lacrosse training camp starts tomorrow, and the fall semester starts a week after that.
The Babe Cave is officially back in business.
“Hey, wait!” I say, twisting my head so I’m not speaking into Jane’s shoulder. My glasses have been knocked out of place, but I can’t extract my hand to fix them. “Where’s Iz?”
Our fourth roommate normally would have joined the pile by now.
“They’re picking up dinner,” Jane answers.
“You guys didn’t eat yet? It’s almost eight!”
Paulina lifts her head off me. “Oh, we had dinner. This is second dinner. We thought you’d be hungry after your flight. Iz is getting pizza!”
My mom made a giant early dinner before I left, but my mouth still waters at the thought of pizza.
“From Davy Jones?” I ask.
I can’t really see Jane’s face, but I feel her nodding. “Of course.”
“Fuck yeah! I’ve been craving Davy Jones pizza all summer. You guys are the best. You know that?”
“Oh, we know.”
I start strategizing about how we’re going to get out of this group hug without landing in the yard when Paulina lets out a wail.
“NOOO! My basil!”
She tries to pull away to grieve over what must be a freshly dead herb, but we’re all so tangled up that Jane and I get tugged along with her. I stumble off the edge of the stoop, fighting to keep my balance. Jane thuds into my back, which sends me careening forward like a domino to thump against Paulina. She sprawls forward and catches herself against the edge of the house before dropping to her knees to grab one of the plant pots and hoist it in the air.
“WHY CRUEL WORLD?” she shouts loud enough for her voice to echo in the street.
I turn to Jane after we’ve both righted ourselves from nearly falling on our faces. We have an entire silent conversation as we both bite our lips to keep from laughing at Paulina. We’re all close in the Babe Cave, but Jane and I have had our own secret best friend language since pretty much the moment we met.
After making the wordless decision to leave Paulina to her mourning—since she’s probably going to be out here for at least half an hour poking around at her plants—I pat her on the shoulder and announce that I’m going to put my stuff in my room.
“You all right?” Jane asks as we kick off our shoes in the narrow entranceway. Everything about the house is narrow. “You must be right tired.”
Her words are tinged with a slight Nova Scotian accent that makes her sound like an old fisherman’s wife trapped in the body of a twenty year-old university student. Paulina, Iz, and I are all from Ontario, and we call Jane our ‘local flavour.’ Her accent comes out even stronger when she’s angry, and she has a way of putting her hands on her hips and tapping her foot like anyone who pisses her off is a misbehaving husband coming home late from the pub.
At the moment, it’s just a subtle lilt. She insists on taking the tote bag I have perched on top of my suitcase so I can start hauling my stuff up the creaky stairs. I can smell something sugary drifting up from the ground floor even when I reach the top of the staircase.
“What’s the candle flavor of the day?” I ask Jane as she trudges up behind me.
Her obsession with scented candles is legendary. She uses the converted office downstairs as a bedroom, and she’s always got some weird smell filling up the house. I actually like the one she’s using today.
“Caramel apple. Isn’t it heavenly?” She takes a deep breath and raises her eyes to the ceiling as her mouth goes slack with bliss.
“Okay, okay. Don’t have a candlegasm.”
I roll my suitcase down the creaky floorboards of the hall. There isn’t much in this house that doesn’t creak. The door to my room is open, and so are my curtains. Dusk has almost turned to night now, but the annoying streetlight that filters through the leaves of a tree in our backyard casts everything in a greenish-yellow glow.
My bed is stripped, and the top of my desk is clearer than it’s ever been during a semester, but other than that, the room looks like I could have woken up here instead of halfway across the country. Lacrosse gear is tucked on shelves and hooks as functional decor. A big UNS flag covers one of my closet doors, and there’s a Pride flag tacked to the other. A framed photo of my first lacrosse team back in my hometown hangs over my desk, and the wall behind my headboard is covered by a huge art print of chickadees sitting on a branch. The drawing matches the sleeve tattoo on my left upper arm. There’s a stained glass chickadee hanging in the window too, lit up from behind by the streetlamp.
I click the overhead light on and wheel my suitcase inside. I set it down under the display of Polaroid photos I made by clipping them to strings with mini clothespins. Jane comes in behind me, and we stare at the photos together.
“Look at what little babies we were!” I point at a shot of her with her arms around my neck in the campus sports bar, the two of us wearing jerseys and clearly wasted. It was taken after lacrosse season ended in our freshman year.
“Oh my god, my cheeks are right chubby in that. Freshman fifteen much?”
“Jane!” I punch her in the arm. “You are a sexy motherfucker, and you know it.”
Jane is one of the most down to earth, breezily confident people I know, but I also know being a curvy athlete has been hard for her.
She stares at the photo for another second and then nods. “Yes. Yes I am. Especially in this one! Oooh, and look at you! This was just after you got your hair dyed.”
She points at another photo, this one taken at the start of the summer just after I’d gotten back from a trip to Montreal. I finished exams earlier than most people, so I went to visit my brother and ended up getting the teal ombre of my dreams from his hairstylist girlfriend. In the picture, Jane and I are both wearing smokey eye makeup we tried and failed to copy from a YouTube tutorial. We’re not really a makeup household, but we wanted to get all sexy to celebrate the end of term.
Jane steps closer to squint at another photo. “And aww look! It’s all of us and—oh.”
I can’t stop myself from flinching when I spot the reason for the oh.
I thought I got rid of all my photos of him. I want to grab the Polaroid and possibly rip it into a million tiny pieces, but my whole body has gone rigid. I can’t even turn around to hide the stupid stinging in my eyes from Jane.
“Oh, Hope!” Her face creases when she looks at me. “Come here. Let me give you a Jane hug.”
She throws her arms around me and squeezes hard enough to push the air out of my lungs. I flap my hands against her sides since she isn’t letting me move enough to pat her on the back.
“Thanks, Jane.” I’m grateful my voice isn’t shaking. “I’m fine. He’s just a fucking asshole.”
She pulls back to hold me at arm’s length and nods with a fierce gleam in her eyes. “Yeah, that’s right. That fucking turd.”
I burst out laughing. “Turd is most certainly the word.”
She drops my arms, and I unclip the photo before making a dramatic show of ripping it up while she cheers me on. I drop the pieces in the empty trash can by my desk.
“Now that is a good note to start the term on,” she says as she applauds. “We should drink to that.”
“That would be cutting it close. Dry season starts tomorrow, and isn’t training camp at eight?” I wag my eyebrows. “Aren’t you supposed to be the responsible one?”
She puts her hands on her hips. “I’ll be responsible tomorrow. Tonight I’m busting out the whiskey.”
I whoop and lead the way out of the room. I need the few seconds it will take to get downstairs to pull myself together.
I spent the summer at home doing everything I could to stop the words he said—screamed—from playing on a loop in my head, but all it’s taken is one stupid Polaroid to hear them again.
You are crazy and selfish and you wasted a year and a half of my life.
I can still remember how the whole room got quiet, like they’d been waiting for a cue. Drake went on singing about one dance over the sound system, but the entire party stopped.
I wish the worst part was that he’d ruined a perfectly good Drake song for me. I wish he’d done something cliché and stupid like break up with me because I’m bi or because he felt weird dating a girl with more muscles than him.
It’s hard to write him off as a complete asshole when a lot of what he said made sense.
A few deep breaths of caramel apple help calm me down enough to push the memories away for now. I roll my shoulders back and lift my chin after I’ve made it off the last stair, the way my mom taught me to do when I feel bad about myself. Jane has only just caught up behind me when the front door swings open and Iz walks in carrying a stack of pizza boxes while Paulina trails in behind them clutching her basil pot.
“SOAP OF HOPE!” Iz shouts. They zoom past me to dump the boxes off in the living room before zooming right back to pull me into a back-slapping hug.
“Iz, that is such a weird nickname.” I laugh as I pull them closer.
“No, it’s unique and cool,” they correct me. “Just like me.”
They pull back to smile at me, and I have to agree: they are very unique and cool. Their shaved head is topped by a backwards UNS baseball cap, and they’ve paired raggedy cargo shorts and a green plaid shirt with an expensive-looking pair of high-top basketball shoes.
Iz exists almost exclusively in five dollar finds from the thrift store, but their compulsive splurging on designer Jordans is a force to be reckoned with.
When they came out as non-binary last year, Jane, Paulina, and I all chipped in to buy them a pair in the non-binary pride colours to celebrate. For a few weeks after, it was hard to convince them to even take the shoes off for lacrosse practice.
“Jumping Jesus, you think you got enough pizza, Iz?” Jane is shifting through the boxes in the living room. There is a lot of pizza there, even for four college athletes.
“It’s Davy Jones!” Iz protests. “I had to get all the good flavours.”
“I’m hungry enough to eat half of these.” I head over to plop down on the squishy royal blue sofa next to Paulina, who’s picking the few remaining leaves off the withered basil plant she has sitting in her lap and scattering them on one of the pizzas.
“I killed this plant, but at least I can honor it in death,” she says in a forlorn voice without looking up.
The rest of us all exchange looks and struggle to hold back our laughter. I pat Paulina on the shoulder, but I don’t trust myself enough to attempt to say something encouraging.
“Okay, wait, before you dig into the pizza, we need to raise a toast!” Jane disappears into the kitchen for a moment, and after some clanking of glasses and banging of cupboards, she comes back with a bottle of whiskey and four shot glasses.
“Por Dios!” Iz slaps their thighs. “Hitting the hard stuff already. Can this be our sweet Jane?”
“One shot isn’t going to hurt us, and we’ve got a whole dry season to get through starting tomorrow.” She sets the glasses down on the giant coffee table that serves as the Babe Cave’s unofficial command station and starts pouring.
Iz gets up to turn the sound system on, and Paulina continues covering our pizza in half-dead basil leaves. I look around at the three of them, and for the second time tonight, heat pricks the corners of my eyes.
This is it. This is our third year. The first semester will fly by like it always does, and before we know it, we’ll be in our fourth and final year and on our way out the door. Sometimes it feels like I just went through orientation yesterday, and sometimes it feels like UNS has been my whole life, but it never feels like enough.
I always want more of these moments.
“Hey, you guys.” Everyone turns to look at me, and I swallow to keep my voice from shaking. “We should make this a year to remember, yeah? I want...I want it to be special. You guys have been the best two years of my life, and I don’t...I don’t want to waste...I...”
Paulina squeezes my shoulder, and Jane looks at me like she’s close to tears too. I push my glasses up and swipe at my eyes, pissed I can’t seem to get myself under control tonight.
“I guess what I’m saying is that we don’t have all that much of this left.” I gesture around the room filled with UNS memorabilia, photos of us, and a mix of cheap IKEA furniture and second-hand finds. “We should make it count.”
I hear Paulina sniff, and a moment of silence passes before Iz grabs one of the shot glasses and hoists it in the air.
“NO RAGRETS!” they shout, quoting a meme we have stuck to our fridge.
“NO RAGRETS!” we all roar like only sports-obsessed jocks can.
I grab a shot glass for myself and tip the burning liquid into my mouth.