Strung

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Chapter 13. - Winning

I texted the girls well before I headed home that we needed to talk, and Ginger promised to head over with a bottle of wine after her classes and spend the night at our apartment.

Ignoring the rest of my messages, I went back to work, and before I knew it, my alarm rang, letting me know that it was time to head back home for the night.

The apartment I shared with Callie was in a decent neighborhood, further away from the heart of the city. Traffic thinned out slightly as I turned on the familiar roads, leading to our community.

The place was a two bedroom, enough square foot to get by without bumping into each other, but not nearly large enough to fit all of our things. We’ve been living in the same place since I dropped out of college four years ago, and Callie begun her modeling career. Back then, we were on a budget, and since our careers started taking off, we just haven’t had time to look for anything bigger.

Callie rented an additional storage place for all her clothes, shoes, and purses the designers send her, and I had my studio, where I kept all my art supplies.

The walls were pretty thin, so I heard laughter echoing in the hallway as I walked to our door. I twisted the key, turned the knob, and entered our apartment. Ginger and Callie were sitting on the couch, each with a glass of wine in their hands, and between them, on the ground was Jesse fucking Wolfhart.

“What the…” I trailed off, glancing back and forth between my best friends, waiting for an explanation.

Jesse was the first to spot me, and he jumped to his feet and rushed over. “There you are! I’ve missed you!” He said, squeezing me so hard, my soul has near left my body. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all day!”

“I was working.” I breathed, inhaling a lungful of precious air as he let go of me. “Why are you here?”

Jesse frowned, but didn’t look offended. “I told you. I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all day! You didn’t answer.” He shrugged, grabbing my hand as he walked us both back to the living room area.

“So you just came over?! Never mind…” I sighed. This seemed to have been the rock star way of handling an unanswered text. I wasn’t even going to ask him how the hell he knew where I lived. I wasn’t sure I was ready to hear the answer.

“I came because we gotta talk about that article.”

“What article?” I frowned.

Jesse shook his head. “See? This is why you should answer your phone, young lady!”

“What article?” I repeated, my eyes darting over to the sane one in the room – Ginger. “What is he talking about?”

Ginger took her time pouring me a glass of wine. She passed it over to me, her usual calm demeanor perfectly in place. “I didn’t know about it either until I showed up.” She said simply. “But it’s not a big deal.”

“How can you say that?!” Callie chimed in, shaking her head. She grabbed my free hand, turning me to face her. “It’ll all be okay. They didn’t know who it was.”

“Who was what?” I asked, confused out of my mind.

“Last night.” Callie replied. “In the club.”

“People saw you dancing with me, and then Lukas.” Jesse supplied, shrugging nonchalantly. “You were kind of grinding up on both of us, if I remember right.”

“You told me to! It was your plan!” I gasped.

Jesse agreed. “Yeah, and it clearly, it worked! I know who went to visit you today, you naughty-naughty girl.” He winked at me.

“Wait, Lukas went to see you? Lukas LaBelle?” Callie asked, her eyes growing to the size of saucers.

I held up my hands. “Later. First, tell me about this article. One of you!” I added quickly, as they all opened their mouths to talk in the same time. “Ginger, go!”

“Right.” She nodded. “I came over, and Jesse showed me this article on some gossip site, that had a witness from the club you all went to last night. They said, they saw a girl dancing with two different members of Hazmat. They called it the new… Musician skipper?”

“Band-hopper.” Jesse added, helpfully.

Oh God…

Ginger continued. “Anyways. No one knew who the girl was. But, there were some pictures taken outside of the club of pretty girls coming and going. Apparently, the list of people actually let in at that time was pretty small. So they included all the pictures in the article, hoping that someone who was also there would come forward and identify the mystery band-hopper.”

“Someone took our picture outside of the club.” Callie jumped in. “And it is included in the article.”

My head spun. Jesse was the next one to speak up. “As of right now, no one has identified you, and our management was able to get the article taken down.”

“Oh, thank go-“ I started, but Ginger interrupted me.

“But it was on the internet long enough that the photos are still floating around online.”

I took a deep breath. My photo was circling in the internet. Someone out there knew it was me. Someone had to recognize me – sooner or later. There were plenty of people in the club, and I didn’t exactly make a secret of dancing with the guys.

I shook my head, feeling like a complete moron. I should’ve known something like this could happen. Why haven’t I thought of this last night?!

Jesse, as if reading my thoughts, placed a warm hand on my knee. “Don’t worry about it, baby. Stories like this come and go. We’re not the only celebrities partying out there with the common folk.”

Ginger snorted. “How flattering!”

Jesse’s eyes flashed to her, his sympathetic expression quickly morphing into one of his usual flirty ones. “You know, you’re gorgeous behind those glasses. I like redheads. I bet you’re quite fiery!”

Ginger rolled her eyes. “You’ll never find out, pretty boy.”

Holy. Fuck.

My picture was all over the fucking internet, while people searched for the girl who was rumored to be the next-

“Jesse, what’s a band-hopper?”

Mid-sentence in convincing Ginger to give him a chance, he turned to me. “That, baby, is a groupie who fucks one band member, then hops to the bed of another. Usually, we reserve this term only for a girl one of us actually cares about, you know. We all have fans who-“

I held up a hand. “Don’t finish that sentence…” I groaned, my imagination running wild at just how many girls a band like Hazmat had access to, and how they abused that power. “Let me rephrase the question. What happened with Hazmat’s band-hopper?”

Jesse seemed to perk up at the question. He actually shuffled closer to me, his excited face only inches away from mine. “Her name was Diana – very poetic, I know. And she dated Lukas, very briefly. I think it was after… our second album was released.” He glanced away, counting in his head, but his lips kept moving. “Yes! Lukas was twenty-two or so. He liked her, and after a few nights, wanted to ask her out on a date.”

I frowned, but it was Ginger who voiced my thoughts. “He slept with her a few times, then thought of asking her on a date? Poor girl, no wonder she-“

Jesse cut her off. “It was a fucked up thing to do. Yes, our timelines aren’t exactly ordinary in every sense, but Lukas cared about her.”

“Who did she fuck?” Ginger interrupted again, snapping Jesse out of his suddenly sorrowful mood.

“Ash.”

“Aren’t they best friends?” Ginger continued, being the voice of reason amongst us. I could tell by Callie’s expression that she was just as invested in the story as me, but somehow, neither of us could form the words.

But Ginger… She never had that issue.

“I mean, I realize that in a sense, you are all best friends.” She shrugged. “But I’ve heard so much gushing about the inspiring bromance between Ash and Lukas LaBelle over the years, it’s a miracle my ears haven’t started bleeding.”

“Why do you insist on calling him by his full name?” Jesse’s brows drew together, but before Ginger could answer, he waved her away. “Never mind. About Diana – my brother knew Lukas liked her, so for him, it was fucked up test. Ash does things like that sometimes…” He cleared his throat. “Anyways. He wanted to prove to Lukas that he can’t trust her.”

“So he slept with her?!”

Jesse shrugged. “Like I said before, not always ordinary our methods are, but they work! Ash was right, and the girl got out of the picture before she could do much harm. Lukas was butthurt about it for a bit, but eventually, he found some other chicks that took up his time. And life went on.” He finished, leaning back against the backseat of the couch, spreading his arms wide.

My heart squeezed at the thought of Lukas being upset or hurt by anyone. He wasn’t nearly as perfect as I always imagined him to be, but he sure as hell didn’t deserve to have his heart broken, on purpose, by his own best friend.

Then, something else occurred to me.

I have been Hazmat’s biggest fan since before they made it big. I’ve followed not only their musical career, but their personal lives as well.

Yet I have never, ever heard about this story before.

“Jesse how come this was never in any gossip site? I’m sure a heartbreaking story like this would attract a lot of attention.” I asked, finally finding my voice and my common sense.

“The label’s management killed the story down early on. That’s kind of their job.” He shrugged, like it wasn’t a big deal.

Except… “But you said now the whole internet is looking for the new band-hopper. So how could they know it existed in the first place?”

Jesse’s answer was a slow grin. “I’m glad you’re paying attention, Londie! It might not have been on the cover of every magazine in town, but a lot of people still knew about it. I mean, we travel with a big crew – there’s not a lot we can keep under wraps. We have assistants, the stage crew, stylists… You get the picture. The label can shut magazines and blogs down, but it can’t erase people’s memories.” He winked. “Yet! I’m sure they’re working on it.”

That would’ve explained why Lukas reacted to seeing me with Jesse so strongly the other night. Once again, something inside me twisted. I didn’t know why I cared so much about what Lukas thought, but I did. And I could’ve chalked it up to the fact that he was the favorite member of my favorite band, but that would’ve been a blatant lie.

“So what happened at your studio?” Jesse interrupted my train of thoughts as he leaned in, wiggling his brows. “Did he make a move on you, or what? Did you let him?” I felt my cheeks flush with unnatural amounts of heat. “You did, didn’t you! Naughty girl! I love it!” He held his hand up for a high five, but it was Callie who actually delivered.

“I knew last night would wind him up!”

Jesse agreed. “Bold move… But our boy isn’t for the faint of heart.” He turned to my other friend, engaging her in the conversation too, and in that moment, it occurred to me how naturally Jesse fit in with our little group. “You should’ve seen him last night. He was all over our little Londie, like…” He paused, thinking of the right word, which Ginger supplied.

“-a rash?”

Callie snorted, and Jesse laughed.

And while my friends were discussing me as if I wasn’t sitting pretty right in front of them, another puzzle piece clicked in place.

That is one way to put it.” Jesse agreed. “You want more wine, blondie?”

I couldn’t help but notice the way Callie was batting her lashes at the drummer, who seemed to be very aware of the attraction, and playing heavily into it.

“I’m surprised you don’t call the other two by their hair colors. Why are gingers the only ones always being picked on?!”

Ginger raised her glass to that. “People are just jealous of the level of individuality we naturally possess. Less than 2% of the general population actually have red hair – it’s not hard to imagine everyone would secretly want to be a part of such an elite club.”

“You are special to us for other reasons, besides your hair, Ging.” I supplied, wholeheartedly.

Ginger winked at me, while Jesse’s gaze ran back and forth between the three of us.

“I couldn’t help but notice, that in your so called squad, there is a blonde-“ He nodded at Callie, who sat up straighter. “-a redhead-“ Ginger returned his eye contact without wavering. “-and a brunette.” Jesse’s eyes slid over to me. “But what you’re missing, is a black haired squad member.”

To take his hint further, he actually pointed at his own head, and we all burst into laughter.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his messy quiff was actually a very deep, very dark shade of brown.

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