Strung

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Chapter 1. - Sixteen

~8 Years Ago~

~London~

The coffee shop was buzzing, which was hardly news. It was Friday night after all, and everyone who was too young to go to a bar, but too old for the bowling alley was in attendance. This shop was the newest in town, owned by a young couple who moved from somewhere in Seattle. The coffee was great, they had every kind of dessert imaginable on tap, and a multitude of live bands played on the weekends.

I was here with my two best friends, Ginger and Callie.

The three of us girls have been best friends since birth, having lived and grown up on the same small street. Ginger, as the name suggested, had red hair. She was the shortest in our group, with a rounder figure, glasses, and a brilliant mind.

Callie was the gang leader - tall, blonde, beautiful, and popular with the boys. Her father was a famous actor back in the eighties, who then married his twenty years younger costar. It was quite the scandal back in the day, but they were still together, so I supposed the press was wrong about his intentions.

I, London, was the artsy one. On the shorter side, with brown-black hair that turned this weird shade of orange in the summer, olive skin, and usually covered in paint. I was in that awkward teenage stage where I felt ready to have a boyfriend, but somehow turned into a babbling idiot in front of them. So tonight, Callie would be my wingwoman.

She orchestrated the night perfectly - Colton Bryer, the captain of the volleyball team was here, along with a few of his other athlete buddies. I have been in love with Colton Bryer for ten years, and tonight, thanks to Callie, I would have a conversation with him.

“You got that dreamy look on your face again.” Ginger commented dryly.

My eyes darted to hers. “I do not!”

Callie chuckled and leaned over the table to whisper over our cappuccinos. “She’s thinking about Colton, I bet.”

I rolled my eyes. “I am not!” I sighed. But in my head, I already imagined what it would be like to be on his top friend’s list on MySpace. Last time I checked - this morning - he still had that bitchy cheerleader ex-girlfriend listed on there, who has so moved on in since the split.

“Don’t worry!” Callie said, a small smile playing on her lips, letting me know that I wasn’t fooling her. “He’s going to be here.” She assured me. I was going to let her know that I didn’t care if Colton Bryer would show or not, but my friend was already typing away on her new Sidekick.

“I never understood why you were so into that jock.” Ginger might as well have hissed that last word. “He never paid any attention to you.”

Her statement hurt a bit, but I knew better. Colton Bryer didn’t pay attention to me, because he didn’t know how special I was. But once he got to know me, he would see what he was missing out on, and we would laugh about how long it took him to finally ask me out on our wedding day. Yes, I was that into him.

“Here they come!” Callie sang, as three tall guys walked through the door of the cafe - Colton Bryer, followed by his two right hand men. I knew their names, but my nerves were already running in overdrive from the fact that the love of my entire existence would soon be sitting at the same table as me.

“Callie!” Colton smiled at my best friend when they approached our table, and the other two guys gave us all a respective nod. “I have never noticed how long your legs were. Dress code doesn’t suit you.”

“I know right!” Callie agreed, then turned toward me. “You remember London and Ginger, right?”

Colton’s eyes skimmed over us while I held my breath. They moved on too quickly, and turned back to my gorgeous, blonde best friend. “Are those nicknames?” One of the other two jocks asked, to which Callie answered.

“Ginger’s real name is Gina, but no one ever calls her that.” She motioned toward me. “And London is all real!”

“Cool!” The jock noted.

Colton Bryer looked at me again - the second time that night. Things were going great. Until-

“What were you named after?”

I bit down on my lower lip, and let out a nervous giggle. He was so funny

Over my empty cup, I noticed Ginger rolling her eyes, but before I could kick her under the table, Callie spoke up again. “Colton, you haven’t grabbed coffee yet! They have delicious drinks here! London will help you bring them back.”

I listened carefully as everyone shouted out their orders at us, and then off we went. Colton Bryer walked in front, breaking us a little walkway in the sea of people too busy sipping on fine coffee and bobbing their hands to the band playing on stage. He didn’t turn around to talk to me, and I was thankful for the time given, so I could think of something to say.

“Go ahead.” He told me, once we reached the counter, and stepped to the side to make room for me. Butterflies were swatting around in my tummy as I stepped around him, painfully aware of just how close we were to each other.

Would tonight be the night I finally got kissed?

I mean… I’ve obviously been kissed before. By Seth Wilson, back at the sixth grade dance. He had braces at the time, and his mother was one of the shapperones, so after she spotted her son plant one on me, he was forced to go home. Needless to say, Seth Wilson never dared approach me after.

But tonight was different. Neither of us had braces, our parents weren’t here, and Colton Bryer was like, the hottest guy in school.

My hands were sweating as I counted everyone’s order off my fingers to the barista. Colton Bryer was standing wordlessly next to me, staring at the crowd, probably just an nervous as I felt.

“Great band, right?” I said simidly, nodding towards the four boys on stage. They looked to be just a few years older than us and were able to keep the whole place entertained - which was no easy feat.

New coffee shops like this always had a tough crowd - the most popular trendsetters of the town, who would eventually decide if the place was cool or not - and the boys really did a good job keeping everyone entertained. They played some of their own songs, but mixed in just enough classics to keep the folks humming along.

Colton Bryer, however, didn’t even spare them a glance. Perhaps rock wasn’t his style.

“Do you need a carrier, sweetheart?” The barista was an older woman, probably in her fifties, with hippy clothes and a kind smile.

“No, thank you. I think we got it!” I handed her two twenties, and told her to keep the change. But when I turned around to give a few of the cups to Colton Bryer, he was gone.

Ouch.

It didn’t take me long to spot him a few tables away, talking to a group from our high school.

I took a hot cup in each hand, letting the barista know that I would be back for the rest in a second. She nodded with a sympathetic smile, and I made my way towards my date.

The band that has been playing on stage finished off an old AC/DC song, and announced that they would be taking a quick break, so it was easy to hear the next words coming out of Colton Bryer’s mouth. “Her?!” He huffed. “No, I’m here with Callie Sanders. The weirdo paint-freak is just part of the side-package.”

I froze, not believing my ears - not believing that anyone who so clearly did not know me could have such a negative opinion already. I knew that I wasn’t like most girls my age - into makeup and clothes and gossip. I spent most of my free time either painting something, or in my dad’s garage, building something that I could paint later.

It wasn’t like I was in idiot. I realized that my hobbies were… unusual for sixteen-year old girls, but I didn’t think it would be a turn off.

“Fuck Colton Bryer!” I cursed under my nose, deciding to be classier than to throw the steaming cups in his face.

I swirled around, swearing off of men in my head and damning Colton Bryer to whatever circle of hell high school jocks went to-

-when the steaming cups of coffee did indeed land on someone’s shirt. In fact, it dripped down his black skinny jeans, and into his white converses.

“For fuck’s sake!” I thought, then realized the words accidentally slipped out of my mouth when I heard a faint chuckle.

“Aren’t you too young to talk like that?” His voice was deeper than Colton Bryer’s and sounded much smoother.

My eyes travelled up his body, taking in the damage that I’ve caused, and when I reached his face, mossy green eyes stared back at me. “Oh fuck, I’m so sorry…” I rambled, wanting to kick myself for cursing again in front of him. It was the guy from the freaking band! “You guys are so talented! And now I’ve completely ruined your outfit…”

He was wearing a long sleeved, form fitting henley, that matched the color of his eyes perfectly. But now the green was stained with a suspicious color of brown, and-

“It’s not a big deal.” He shrugged nonchalantly, as if he didn’t care that he was going to have to perform the rest of the night looking like he puked on himself. “Did you really like the set, or are you just saying that to make up for the fact that you just threw your drink at me?”

Shocked at the audacity of his question, I made the mistake of glancing up at him again. His lips were pink and plump for a guy, and currently in a half smile. Ah. He was teasing me. “I really liked it. Even your originals. What was that one about summer and love?”

He reached up with his hand, and flicked his light blonde locks out of his face. “‘Summertime Romance’.” He informed me, looking genuinely impressed that I remembered. “I didn’t think anyone was really paying attention. I’m not sure what they put in the coffee here, but these people barely look alive. Even heavy rock songs don’t seem to get them interested.”

I shrugged. “Nonchalance is a good sign around here. If they didn’t like you, trust me, you’d know.” I bit down on my lip, continuing to look up at him. “And if you want to know what they really put in the coffee, you could just lick yourself.”

He chuckled, and I grinned up at him, suddenly feeling less foolish about the night.

“You’re entertaining, Coffee Girl.” He told me, a warm half-smile still playing on his lips. “And since we’re friends now - and you dumped your hipster drinks on me - I feel obliged to ask you to get our CD.”

I nodded. “Only if I can get it signed. It’ll be worth a lot of money in a few years.”

The blonde guy shook his head and laughed. He had a great laugh, I thought. He took the empty cups from my hand, and tossed them into the nearest trash can, then grabbed my wrist, and started leading me towards the table right next to the small stage. The other three members of the band were seated there, laughing when they spotted their mate.

“Lukas, did you piss someone off again?” One of them, the youngest looking one, joked as he spotted us. The brown haired one shook his head, and the darkest one, who I remembered to be the singer, turned his dark eyes to me.

“And you?” He asked, his nearly black eyes examining me in a way that made me shift in my stance.

“I threw my drinks at him.” I admitted, then exhaled in relief when his eyes softened with laughter.

“Don’t let Ash make you feel bad.” The young one spoke up again. He seemed to be the jokester of the group. “You wouldn’t be the first girl our Lukas pissed off.”

I didn’t bother to correct him, because Lukas - now I knew his name - handed me a copy of their CD. I glanced down at a picture of the four of them, posing with their instruments, and was that eyeliner?!

I grinned. They looked adorable. “Don’t make fun of us, okay? We’re going to be superstars.” The young one said, grabbing the case from my hand, and opening the little booklet to scribble his autograph on it. He then handed it to the dark eyed one, who did the same.

A girl came up, carrying two bottles of water, one of which she handed to the brunette when she hopped down next to him. He was in line to sign, and when he passed me the CD back, he introduced himself. “I’m Brian. This is my girlfriend, Nikki.” She smiled warmly, and I greeted her. “This brooding idiot is Ash-” He pointed to the guy with the impossibly dark eyes. “-and that’s Jesse, Ash’s little brother.”

“Hey!” Jesse complained. “I’m a great drummer! The best you could get!”

Brian rolled his eyes. “Because we’re not famous enough to pay for someone with talent yet.

They continued bantering back and forth, but my attention was on the large hand that held mine up. His fingers wrapped around my entire fist, so tightly that I felt his callouses. “And I’m Lukas.”

Oh, I remembered. My heart sped up at the contact.

“What’s your last name?” I breathed, suddenly aware of how handsome he was. Colton Bryer had nothing on his chiseled cheekbones, and artfully curved lips.

Speaking of - those lips pulled into a soft smile. “LaBelle, Coffee Girl.” And with that, he took the CD from my hand, and released me. I was staring at the back of his head like a total moron while he leaned down, scribbled something on the paper inside the plastic, closed the case, and gave it back to me. “Come see us play another time.”

I nodded, knowing that I would.

Still under the daze of the tingles I felt when he held my hand, I managed to find my way back to our table. Callie frowned down at me when I climbed on the stool next to hers. “Where the hell have you been?! Colton and the guys have been looking for you!”

I took a deep breath, and placed the CD in front of her. “With Lukas LaBelle.” I smiled, as both Callie and Ginger leaned closer, sensing that there was more to the story. “Colton totally ditched me, and I heard him call me names to another chick. I hate to say this, Callie, but inviting him was a bad idea.”

I glanced over at my friends, who both looked shocked. “What did you just call him?!” Ginger asked, her eyes widening in surprise.

I shrugged. “I didn’t call him anything. Colton was the one bad-mouthing me.”

“Colton!” Ginger yelled, pointing a finger at me. “You called him Colton - not Colton Bryer! You always call your crush by their whole name, but now, he’s just Colton!” A huge grin spread across her face. “The spell is over! Bless the Lord!” She put her hands together in a mock prayer, her gaze cast toward the ceiling.

Callie laughed too. “About time you realized you were too good for him.” She said, huffing.

I shrugged, pretending that my feelings weren’t hurt by a guy who didn’t think about me twice. “It’s not a big deal.” I said, shaking my head, knowing that thanks to Lukas LaBelle, I would get over this whole Colton-thing.

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