Strung

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Chapter 16. - Living

Lukas LaBelle told me he would pick me up at 8 at the curb around the corner of our apartment. He also asked me not to wear a dress. “Although, I’m going to miss seeing those sexy legs of yours!” He added, chuckling.

So instead of a dress, I chose tight, faded blue ripped jeans that fit me like a glove, a simple black top, black studded booties, and a leather jacket Callie insisted I should wear out on a California night. My shoulder length, dark brown hair was left straight, and I let my best friend apply come eyeliner, and natural shadow to bring out my dark eyes.

Overall, I was satisfied with the look – it was a nice cross between casual, but edgy – so whether he was taking me to a club, or to dinner, I would be able to blend in.

As instructed, I was waiting by the curb by the time 8 rolled around. Watching the birds fly by overhead, I enjoyed the way the cool breeze felt against my skin. It was a beautiful evening, with the sun already settling over the ocean, and only the last orange lights remaining. I inhaled, tasting the salty air, feeling ridiculous happy and hopeful – for the first time in a while.

A roar coming from the side of me interrupted my peaceful idyll.

Turning my head, I spotted a black and golden motorcycle coming down the street. With my lips hanging open, I watched as it screeched to a stop right next to me. The lid on the helmet opened, as a honey brown gaze stared back at me. “Looking hot, Montreal!” The corners of his eyes crinkled, signaling a smile. “Hop on!”

He handed me a black helmet, which I barely caught. I was still in shock.

“You don’t seriously expect me to get on the back of your bike!”

He chuckled. “I do. And you better hurry, before the paparazzi catches up.”

At that, I actually lifted the hard hat over me, thanking my lucky stars that I didn’t decide to do a complicated updo tonight. It smoothed over my head, squeezing my cheeks protectively. Lukas’s long arms reached out, pulling me closer to him, as he strapped the helmet on me, fitting it perfectly with the string. “Gorgeous.” He commented.

“Put your right foot here.” He pointed at the little handle he wanted me to use. “Be careful not to touch this.” Lukas motioned toward a rod. “Throw your left foot over and find the same step.” When I did, he pulled my arms around himself, hooking my hand into his belt. “And now hang on tight, baby. Move with my body when I do, and tap if you need me to pull over. Understood?”

I could only nod, as the adrenaline was making my tongue swell in my mouth. I was going to ride a bike, for the first time – and I was going to do it pressed up against a fucking rock star.

The motorcycle roared to life again under us, humming rhythmically. It actually felt nice and relaxing, the little vibrations against my butt and-

-we shot off like a rocket.

I might have screamed, but I wasn’t sure. My hands were holding onto him so tight, I was praying his belt wouldn’t rip. My nails dug into whatever I could find – possibly skinning Lukas LaBelle alive. My legs tightened dangerously around his, using every part of my body I knew to hang on with.

After what felt like just minutes – sitting on the back of Lukas LaBelle’s bike, with my head on his shoulder, and my thighs tightly wrapped around him – he pulled over to the side of the road. For the first time since we left my apartment, I glanced around. We must’ve been on the very outskirts of the city, because there were only a few houses here and there, hidden between the hills and valleys surrounding the road. “You hungry, Baltimore?”

I shook my head, feeling like I just got off of one of those spinny rides at the fair. “I don’t think I’ll ever eat again.”

Lukas chuckled, and flipped the visor on his helmet down. “Don’t start being dramatic now. You’re doing so good!”

And just like that, we were back on the road – the streets flying by as we rode through the hills. I had to admit, it became easier the longer I stayed on – my body naturally started moving with his, tilting to one side or the other. I somewhat loosened my death grip on his waist, so he could catch his breath.

A few minutes later, we arrived at a diner. It was a lonely establishment, alone in the middle of nowhere. But even though there were no other houses in sights as far as I could see, the parking lot was packed. People were coming and going, driving in with cars, and to my surprise, with bikes.

Lukas parked at the further, quieter end of the lot, and lowered the stick on the side of his motorcycle that made it not fall over. “Any food allergies I should know about? Diet? Preferences?”

I scrunched up my nose. This looked like one of those diners people stop to fill up while they were on a road trip. This is the kind of place I could imagine stopping by with Ginger, but not with Callie. She would think it too ran down and unsafe.

Yet Lukas LaBelle, a multi-millionaire celebrity, chose this spot over the thousands of fancy restaurants in town he could’ve taken me to. “I’ll take a burger, if they make it good. With everything on it.” He grinned in approval as he swirled around, and I had to yell after him. “And ask them to drench it in ketchup!”

He waved at me over his shoulder as his disappeared between the crowd, his helmet still securely on.

I waited patiently, still perched on the back of the bike, watching the people who walked by. Since it was later at night, it was mostly teenagers and younger adults my age, laughing with their group of friends. Everyone was smiling with mouthfuls of greasy food, slurping on coke and beer.

The air was different around here – I could no longer smell the ocean nearby. The atmosphere was filled with cigarette smoke, the scent of fattening but delicious food, and gasoline.

I grinned. This didn’t even feel like the same town we left just less than an hour ago.

Even through the crowd, I spotted him coming. And not because he was the only one walking around with a helmet on, or because he towered over most people around him.

I knew the confident way he strolled, looking like a model on a walkway, even though he was carrying two bags of takeout.

I slid the helmet off my head, smiling widely at him as he approached. I thought I wasn’t hungry before, but the scent that came from the bags he was holding changed my mind. My stomach grumbled in approval. I haven’t eaten anything since the big breakfast I’ve had with my family – due to nerves and excitement.

“We’re not eating here, baby.” He said calmly, motioning for me to raise my booty. He popped the seat underneath where I was just sitting, and placed the bags in there. “Let’s get out of there.”

Pouting, I slid my helmet back on, this time managing to secure it on my own, without needing Lukas’s help.

He kicked the bike into a standing position, and we roared off.

This time, I kept my eyes wide open and on the scenery around us, as we climbed the mountain, zig-zagging on dangerous looking roads. Lukas didn’t seem phased – in fact, he looked in his element navigating his motorcycle as much as he did stringing his guitar. He was a natural, a practiced man I felt safe with. Even if I didn’t trust the bike, not for a moment did I feel like he was not in control.

We reached a clearing, a little extra land just above the drop, but a little way away from the road. Lukas secured the bike, then helped me off of it. “Stretch out a bit. You’re probably going to be sore in the morning.”

His words were innocent enough, but that didn’t stop my cheeks from burning, imaging these words spoken from his pink mouth in a very different scenario.

Lukas produced a little blanket, just big enough for the two of us to sit on, our two bags of food, and a couple bottles of water. I laid everything out in front of us, as we sat, overlooking the breathtaking lights of the city.

“Are you from here?” He asked, and I blinked, remembering that there was so much about me he didn’t know.

The same could hardly be said the other way around.

“Yes. I was born and raised here – and so were my parents.” I glanced out the city below. “I would love to travel more, but I can honestly say that I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”

Lukas nodded, and for the next few heartbeats, we ate in silence, enjoying the rich taste of the burgers.

He was the first one to speak up. “I know your mom is a novelist.” I agreed, and he went on. “What does your dad do?”

“He has a corporate job. He owns a consultation company, but you probably haven’t heard of him - not that he isn’t great at this job! It’s just that my mother is the star of our little family.”

“I’d say that you’re making a name for yourself, Anaheim.”

I smiled sheepishly. “Apparently, not big enough that you’d remember it.”

Lukas’s golden orbs flashed at me. “Oh, I know your name.” He said, his voice dropping as his gaze darkened. Something about his tone made me tingle, and the butterflies wake in my belly. When I didn’t reply, he pointed at my half-eaten burger. “How’s that?”

“The best I’ve ever had.” I whispered, referring to more than just the food.

I wasn’t sure how much times has passed. Lukas asked me about my family, my job, how I got into art in the first place. He even asked me about school.

I told him about our traditional Saturday breakfasts, my outrageous brother and his shenanigans up North, and the fact that my mom had the abilities of a certified psychologist. There was no secret she couldn’t uncover, and she had the bad habit of writing about them - albeit, in the skin of one of her characters. I even found myself confessing spending the weekends with my father, tinkering in his garage.

I’ve only had two friends all my life, and for most of high school, Callie was busy going to dancing and modeling lessons, and attending sporting events, while Ginger had her nose stuck in a book – usually about concepts I still couldn’t comprehend.

I even told him about attending college, because it felt like what I was supposed to do, but then dropping out after my second year. “My parents were so upset with me, I thought they were going to disown me!” I shook my head, recalling the constant fights. “They said that my art was incredible, but I shouldn’t jeopardize having a solid future as a backup – which was fancy coming from someone who made a fortune writing about love.”

“So I take it you weren’t a party girl?” He grinned, his expression open and non-judgmental, which made it easy for me to start singing about my entire life. Perhaps it was because I felt like I already knew him – after nearly a decade of stalking him on every media platform possible – or maybe it was the interested glint his eyes when he listened to me speak.

And he actually listened. I could tell that he wasn’t just asking me these questions to be polite, and then daydream about his next guitar solo while I ramble on and on about my early years. He was proper interested – leaning forwards, keeping eye contact, sometimes reaching out to touch my hand or to wipe ketchup off my lips.

It didn’t feel like the first official date we’ve been on. It felt like hanging out with someone I’ve known my whole life. Comfortable, safe, yet strangely exciting in its own way.

At that moment, it wasn’t Lukas LaBelle, the rock star, sitting in front of me. It was just Lukas, this totally normal guy I was on a very good date with.

“No.” I shook my head. “My idea of a party back then was going to the local coffee shops with my two friends, people watching and listening to the live bands.”

I would’ve lied if I claimed that my gaze wasn’t pointed at him, observing his reaction. I couldn’t have dropped a bigger hint if I put his old, signed CD in front of his nose. If this wasn’t going to make him remember me, nothing would.

But he only nodded. “I’ve always preferred live music over the overplayed crap the radios keep shoving down people’s throats.”

Lord. Take. The. Wheel.

He really had no idea! Disappointed, I slunk back to my seat, and averted my eyes, staring at the scenery instead. “That’s the only way most people get to hear your songs now.”

From the corner of my eye, I watched him shrug. “They can always come to our concerts.”

“They could… Then again, your concerts are getting wildly expensive.”

Lukas sighed, then leaned back to lay down – his torso and head on the blanket, while his long legs were hanging off of it. “God, baby, what do you want me to do?”

I shrugged. “Give your real fans a fair chance to meet you. How many meet and greets do you guys still do?” I asked, already knowing the answer. I also happened to know the price for them – which battled the price of a decent, used car. “All I’m saying is, your rich fans get to follow you around the country, and meet you time and again, while your real fans are stuck at home watching ill-recorded Youtube videos of you four on stage.”

His gold eyes flashed to me. “And how do you propose I fix the system? It’s not just us, London. We have management over our heads, making most of the decisions – a label that demands their cut. We have a gigantic crew that follow us around, their livelihoods depending on the wildly expensive ticket prices. We have our own small village worth of security, because the real fans will camp out outside our houses, hotels, or wherever we go. And I’m not complaining about it – I know it’s out of dedication and love – but we have this tremendous cost we can’t just ignore. In the age where illegally downloading music is easier than riding a bike, we make our money off of appearances, concerts, brand deals… And the majority of those, we pour right back into the business.”

I didn’t have a good reply to that. I never saw it that way. My feelings and thoughts were made up from the view of a fan – whose parents refused to buy her four figure backstage passes to meet her favorite band – even though they could afford it. I couldn’t imagine how hard it must’ve been for those who couldn’t pay for them at all.

“Be more personable. Do charity, or something.” I shrugged, sounding lame. “I don’t know. Ask Arielle, she’s probably much better at this than I am.”

At that, Lukas chuckled. “If I promise to do that, will you go on a second date with me?”

My brows shot up over my forehead. “But this one hasn’t even finished!”

He grinned. “No. No, it hasn’t.” His words carried in the quiet air around us. We were both finished with our food, and suddenly, there were no more distractions around. I was very aware just how alone we were - in the mountainside, just me and Lukas LaBelle.

His gaze lowered to my lips. I stuck my tongue out to wet them, suddenly feeling breathless. My eyes were searching his, waiting for him to make the next move.

“Come ’ere.” The way his voice dropped suggested that he wasn’t calling me over to play Monopoly. And I wasn’t moving in for that either.

I kneeled up, stepping over the empty bags between us, as he pushed them back and out of the way. He met me sitting up, his hand naturally sliding around, cupping the back of my head as our lips met.

Lukas opened his mouth, and sucked in the breath that left me in a gasp. My arms moved around his neck, my body pressing up against his chest. I felt his every move, every ridge of his body under the thin, white shirt he was wearing. His skin felt hot, smooth, and inviting.

Lukas’ tongue slipped into my mouth, caressing mine. He was in control, tilting my head, positioning me while pulling me in. I moaned as his free hand grabbed my ass, squeezing and digging his long digits into the stiff material of my jeans.

Before I knew it, he flipped us around, and pressed me to the ground, his weight settling over me. I felt every rock, every ridge under me, and I welcomed the slight pain. Lukas continued kissing me, making my head spin. My hormones went haywire around him, and the light sting of the hard earth kept me grounded.

My hands slid under his shirt, my nails raking and softly caressing his soft skin under as I pulled him to me. Lukas’ kiss was rhythmic, his movements coming in waves as he lightly rocked against me.

My lids fluttered shut, but the last image that flashed before them was one I would hold onto forever, cling to whenever my world would get dark.

Lukas LaBelle’s handsome face, etched with desire, his golden hair like a halo around him as the stars sparkled above. If there ever was a perfect moment in the universe, I was living it.

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