Strung

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Chapter 27. - Unconventional

After we left my parents’ house, I was mortified. I couldn’t recall a time when I felt more embarrassed about a series of events around Lukas LaBelle – and there have been numerable blush-worthy times!

“You look lost in your head,” Lukas observed in a calm tone. “Again.”

I bit down on my lip. “That didn’t exactly go how I expected,” I whispered. “Actually… It went exactly how I thought it would. Which is absolutely terrifying, because I tend to come up with some terrifying scenarios in my head!”

He chuckled, his entire face coming alive with a devastating smile I could never quite capture on a canvas. “I don’t think it was that bad, was it?”

His grin was infectious. “As compared to…?” With my brows raised, I observed him for a few moments, before we both burst out laughing. “I’m sorry for how they acted.”

Lukas shrugged. “I would’ve been worried if they were fine with someone like me for their only daughter. And your brother? Quite the guy. I like him!”

There must’ve been something in the air at my mother’s dining room because now Lukas was talking nonsense too!

“They’re something, that’s for sure…” I murmured under my breath, glancing out the window as the beautiful city of angels sped by us. “I’ve had a good time last night,” I said, turning to him, because I did, and it felt like the right thing to say.

Lukas cocked his brow at me as he glanced over the rim of his sunglasses. “And this morning.”

My feminine senses were tingling at his innuendo of our time together, and if we weren’t just coming from seeing my family, I would’ve been all over the idea.

But right now, I needed to hide away in the safety of my studio, alone with my thoughts and the familiar scent of paint. “I have a lot of work to get done before the big night.”

Lukas seemed to pick up on my mood swing and went along with it. “Say no more, Athens. I have to meet up with the boys too. We’re fighting over which three songs to perform at the release party.”

That piqued my interest. “Perhaps I could help.” I offered, blinking up at him in a way I imagined starlets do in vintage movies. “If I could just listen to the album, I could-“

Lukas held up his hand, cutting me off. “You’re not getting to listen to it ahead of time. No fucking way!” He said, grinning. “But what I can tell you is that the songs we want to perform are the personal ones, while the label really needs us to promote the singles.”

I rolled my eyes. “I don’t think getting your singles on the radio will be an issue. If there’s anything I’ve learned about Hazmat during my time with you, it’s that your fans are insanely dedicated.” I shrugged. “Plus, why does the label get to decide which songs will be the singles? Why not let the fans choose?”

Lukas frowned, hesitating before answering as if he was really giving my question a thought. “I wish things worked that way, Sabzewar.”

“You four are big enough. You can do whatever you want. After all, what’s the point of having all this power if you never use it?!”


Lukas dropped me off at my studio, where my bodyguard was already waiting. For a change, there were no lingering fans or paparazzi in sight. After a brief kiss goodbye, Lukas sped off into the distance, and I went skulking into my studio, ready to tackle another day of work.

I was just getting into the groove of things, with an old Hazmat CD blasting in the background, and my apron covered in mahogany paint when the doors busted open.

“The party is here!” Callie announced, waving two bottles of wine in the air like flags of victory, while Ginger followed behind, a scornful expression on her face. “We heard what happened, so we came to cheer you up!”

I rolled my eyes. “Thanks, Callie! Just put the bottles over on that table, and you’re welcome to leave.”

“Har-har!” She groaned. “It really couldn’t have been that bad.”

I frowned. “How do you even know what happened?!”

She blinked. “Well, it’s Saturday morning!” My blonde best friend stuttered. “And you’re always with your family on Saturdays.”

Ginger sighed. “She’s bullshitting – in case the uninspiring acting didn’t give it away. Fitz called her afterward to tell her the news, and then she called me. And now we’re all here! Now, where is the bottle opener?”

“Fitz called you?” I was shocked. My brother was a good guy, sure, but he barely communicated with me. Since when did he have time to be chatting on the phone with my best friend?!

“What?!” Callie exploded, throwing her hands in the air. “Don’t look at me like that! It’s not like you bring home the love of your life to family brunch every day! And he’s famous! Of course, they were freaking out!”

I shook my head. “Of course! I’m sorry. I’ve just been tense.”

Callie nodded, and stepped closer, opening her arms for me to walk into. “I know, Londie. But as far as your family is concerned, you have nothing to be tense about. They loved him – even your father.”

I cringed. “He mellowed out as the time went on, but they didn’t get off on a good start.”

And just like that, the three of us sat around one of my work tables, sipping on wine just after noon, as I told them every detail I could recall about the morning when the two very important parts of my life collided.

“You know, Fitz is an idiot. That’s horrible! How could they gang up on poor Lukas like that?!” Callie asked, shaking her head. “And your dad pulling out his phone to shove all the awful things people say about you on the internet in Lukas’ face?!” She sighed.

“She’s right, London. That was a low blow. It’s not his fault that certain individuals don’t know how to mind their manners behind the anonymity of their computer screens.” Ginger agreed. “Especially since Lukas is sacrificing for you too.”

“What?” I asked, dumbfounded.

But Callie spoke up before I could grill Ginger more on what she meant. “Excuse me?! Whose side are you on?!”

Ginger sighed, immune to the high frequency our blonde best friend was spinning on. “London’s. I’m always on her side.” Her chocolate brown eyes met mine, and I gave her a quick smile.

I knew that. In fact, I could’ve said the same thing about Callie too. Both of these girls have been my rocks – unwavering through the madness of high school, through being a college dropout, to painting for a living. They have patiently put up with my Hazmat obsession, and even supported me along the way as I made mistakes, decisions that would alter my whole life, and recently, millions of enemies.

If there was one thing I could count on, it would’ve been these two.

“But I have to be honest here. London’s family made it sound like she was the victim here, but she’s not the only one putting herself on the line.”

Callie’s mouth opened to protest, but I cut her off. “Elaborate, please.”

“You’re not the only one who has opened themselves up for criticism by going public with this relationship, London. Lukas has been getting heat too.” She held up her hand to halt Callie, before continuing. “And yes, women always get it worse. That’s just the sad reality of people’s mindsets. But things haven’t exactly been rosy for Lukas.”

“In what way?!” Callie questioned, managing to get a word in. “Because as far as I can tell, London is the one getting torn apart online by teenagers who have never left their bedroom, let alone did anything noteworthy to criticize.”

Ginger rolled her eyes. “Sure. But the fans’ unhappiness reflects on the band as well. And Lukas must be getting a lot of pressure from their label – especially since all this has been happening right before the release of their new album. The label must be nervous about how this newfound romance might affect the band. After all, their cash cow is the fact that there are three very attractive, very single men lead the band, who aren’t afraid to flirt with the crowd.”

“Brian’s attractive too.” Callie noted, shrugging.

Ginger ignored her. “But the biggest risk he’s taking, by far, is letting you in close.” Her eyes, so somber, remained on me. “Lukas is making himself vulnerable by letting you in so close. After all, you can sell him for a picture, or a risky recording.”

“I would never!” I gasped, and she nodded.

I know that, London. But he didn’t. He had to trust that you wouldn’t.” Ginger continued. “And his trust never wavered.”

I swallowed, my throat suddenly feeling too dry – despite the pleasant sweetness of the wine. Ginger was right, of course.

All along, I have been looking for signs that cared about me just as much as I cared for him. I was falling madly, passionately in love with Lukas LaBelle, and I have been terrified that he might not have felt the same.

“You’re looking for a confession of love?” Ginger asked, reading my features – and possibly, my mind. “Trust is as much of a declaration of his true feelings as you’re ever going to get.”

And perhaps, Ginger was right.

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