Chapter 2. - Twenty-four
I woke up to a song from Hazmat playing on the radio. In this day and age, I still used my digital clock that I got as a present from my parents freshman year of high school. The clock was tuned to the local radio station, which played the most current hits.
Hence why I got to wake up to my all-time favorite band almost every morning.
Their newest song was more pop, and naughty, with a slight rock-ish edge, which is probably why the messes were in love with it. Not that I could blame them - I’ve had my fair share of daydreams and fantasies listening to this track…
I got out of bed, and did my usual morning stretches, in front of the large windows. My best friend, Callie, and I lived in a suburban city, just outside of Los Angeles. Although, she rarely stayed there. She was a supermodel these days, traveling the world, and living her best life as they say.
Our other best friend, Ginger, lived on an apartment about forty-five minutes away, close to the campus of the university she was doing her PhD program at.
And I rented a studio halfway between our places, where I could pursue my love for painting, carpentry, and other various artsy activities - for which I now actually got paid for. For the last four years - since I dropped out of the university - I’ve been freelancing as a designer. I designed custom furniture, decorated homes, made pieces for special events, and sold my art on my own online shop.
I wouldn’t say that I was making a killing - after all, I grew up with the kids of movie stars, and in the shadow of my own famous parents - but for a twenty-four year old, I was comfortable in a very expensive city.
And part of my success was thanks to the infamous event planner, Arielle Mikhailov, who I was meeting in a few hours for another job.
I enjoyed working for Arielle. She was always fair - letting the client pay me separately, and allowing me to make my own wage, without taking a cut for the introduction. And she introduced me to a lot of jobs - she was, after all, the most sought after planner in the city.
My phone vibrated with a text. It was the girls, starting the usual conversation in our group message.
Callie: Italy is insane! I almost don’t even want to go home! Look at this view:
She typed, and attached a picture of the city from her hotel room.
Ginger: I wish I could say the same.
Another picture loaded, this one from Ginger. On the photo she had a microscope in front of her, a notepad and other equipment I didn’t claim to even begin to understand.
Me: Callie, you better come back! With some fresh gossip too.
Since she was a celebrity in her own way, she got first hand information of all the celebrities. All the rumors the tabloids came out with, she knew before. Which was the only upside of her being away all the time.
Callie: I know what you want to know - but it’s been quiet around Hazmat. No new dating rumors.
I exhaled a breath of relief. I knew it was wrong to be glad that three out of four were still single - but I couldn’t help it. I felt this sense of protectiveness over them, and maybe it stemmed from the fact that I’ve been the biggest fan of their music - and them - since before they were discovered, or that I’ve had the biggest crush on Lukas LaBelle. Like ever.
Ginger: Thanks for the update.
Her message read, and I could practically picture her straight, unamused expression. As much as I loved gossip, Ginger could not care less. Of course, unless it involved Benedict Cumberbatch.
Ginger: Who are you dating now?
The conversation drifted from my possible love interest to Callie’s ever-changing dating life. She told us about this fellow model she’s been seeing, and they were doing a campaign together for a major designer brand.
We promised to call each other at night - for Ginger and I - which would be tomorrow morning for Callie in Italy, and logged off.
I arrived fifteen minutes early to the address Arielle sent over. It was a beautiful February day in the city - warm enough to sit outside for longer periods of time. I had my canvas and stand in the trunk, along with some paint. I planned on going down to the beach after this meeting, and getting a nice, long, therapy session in.
But first, work.
I grabbed my sketchbook and notepad, along with my purse - which contained a few drawing pencils, my phone, wallet, and a couple hundred lose bobby pins and hair ties. A girl can never have enough of those.
Walking up to the building, I was just about to knock on the door, when it swung open. An elder woman in half moon glasses answered. “Are you Ms. Grey?” She asked.
I nodded. “London, please.”
The woman introduced herself as the manager of the building. “Ms Mikhailov is in the ballroom - just follow the corridor, you can’t miss it.” She informed me, and from the corner of my eye, I saw her frowning down at my outfit.
Following her instruction, I walked down the relatively long hallway. The whole building had a renaissance design, the architect clearly inspired by the ones in Florence. It was stunning, in an over-the-top, full of arches and geometric shapes, painted to a grey minimal kind of way. Of course, the original renaissance buildings were most likely more lively with colors, just like their paintings. This, however, was still beautiful.
I was so lost in my thoughts, that I barely noticed Arielle standing in the entrance of the ballroom. “I’m assuming you like it?”
I raised my brows at her. “I had no idea a building like this even existed in this town.” I admitted. “It’s stunning.”
A small smile played on the corner of her full, pouty lips. Once again, I wondered how someone so beautiful and soft could have a taste for a rough, rowdy man like her fighter husband.
Then again, opposites attract.
“I hope you’re buzzing with ideas, because I really need to impress this client.” She motioned toward the gigantic room, and we stepped inside. “Before I can tell you who, I need you to agree, though. It’s very much confidential.”
As it always was.
This wasn’t my first time doing business with Arielle Lucci -now Mikhailov-, and I knew how working for her could be like. She treated her clients with the most respect, keeping their secrets and weird wishes and fetishes to herself - even when they were completely ridiculous.
In return, she was one of the most costly and popular event planners with the elite of Los Angeles, and her wait list for clients was now longer than her beautiful blonde hair.
“What kind of event are we talking about? Another wedding?” I guessed.
Arielle bit down on her lip, chuckling to herself. “No. But it’ll be big. I need tables in here, along both sides of the columns. A floor in the middle for mingling, and giant screens toward the front. And all of this, somehow made look good and natural in this setting.” I flipped my notepad open, and jotted down everything she was saying.
“How many people?”
She shrugged. “Around six or seven hundred - no exact number yet.”
I nodded. A tight fit, but it was possible. “Any themes yet?”
I glanced up at her, my pen pausing on my notepad. “Excuse me?”
Arielle laughed this time. “I wasn’t kidding. It needs to be magical - but not in a cheesy, kids’ party kind of way.”
“Oh.” I murmured, realizing she wasn’t joking. “Well, is it like a dress up party? Masquerade? Like old, Italian or French style magic?”
“I’m afraid no dress up. Although, everyone will be in tuxedos and gowns.” She replied, no longer laughing, but looking more thoughtful. “I’ll bring the masquerade idea up, it could be fun.”
“How far away is it?” I was running through the standard questions, my pen jotting down ideas, as well as facts. I had some measuring tape in my trunk, although, I was sure the building manager knew the exact numbers of the place. Before I could get to designing the decoration though, I needed to know the table and chair sizes, and the courses of meals that would be served.
I made a note of all the questions I needed clarifying once I signed for this event, which led me to- “Oh. I accept, of course.”
Arielle cringed. “Five weeks.”
“What??” I asked, my eyes nearly boggling out of my head. Something this size usually took months, if not half a year to plan. Most sane people started putting ideas and work together a year in advance, not five fucking weeks. “Arielle!”
“I know!” She sighed. “They-” She cleared her throat. “The client didn’t think it through. It’s a rush job, but the good news is, the pay is triple for it.”
I shook my head. I was twenty-four, sharing a two-bedroom apartment with my best friend. I’ve been working for years, and I wasn’t exactly in need of a large dose of cash either, if it meant tearing my hair out over a delusional client. “Arielle, you know I design and make all my pieces. Something like this-” I motioned around the giant ballroom. “-takes months.”
She nodded. “I know, trust me. That’s why I need your help.”
I lowered my notebook. “I’m not sure…” I sighed. While the building was beautiful, and I already had a few ideas, working something like this would mean no sleep for the next five weeks to come. No breaks, no life - not that I’ve had much going on - and definitely no dating. Again, not that I’ve had a line of suitors waiting to break down my door….
“I’ll owe you a big one!” She was nearly pleading with me, and I wanted to kick myself. The woman had the sad, puppy eyes down to the t. “Please…”
I sighed again, raking a hand through my messy hair. I set my sketchbook and notepad on the ground, along with my purse, which I threw open and hunted down a hair tie. I threw my hair in a bird’s nest on top of my head - which didn’t exactly bring my overall look to the next level.
The fact that Arielle had on a nicely pressed, white skirt, and a light beige button up, and about four inches of heels - all without a crinkle of a smudge on them - didn’t exactly make my old, torn overalls, and faded pink t-shirt look better.
“Fine. I’ll do it this once.” She squealed, and I held up a finger. “But! I expect a kick-ass recommendation letter from you, and three tickets to the next Underground fight from your man. Deal?”
“Anything!” She grinned, and we shook hands.
“Ms Mikhailov?” The building manager I’ve met earlier walked into the ballroom, knocking on the door slightly. “They just pulled up.”
“Who?” I turned to Arielle, frowning.
“Thank you.” She said to the elderly woman, and faced me with an excited smile. “I was really hoping you would accept, because…” I hated that dramatic pause… “-the client is here!”
I groaned. “Arielle…” I whined, glancing down at my ridiculous getup. The main reason why our partnership worked so well, was because she dealt with the client, and I just made the pieces. The last thing I wanted to do was listen to some fifteen year old spoiled princess bark out commands about her extraordinary party, that like, had to be better than like, all her friends’. “I’m gonna-” I started, pointing toward the door.
She caught my arm. “Oh, no! You’re staying for this one!” Arielle wasn’t asking. She told me. “We only have five weeks - I know you hate this part, but I need you to be more hands on for this gig. There’s no time for mediation through me. We all need to work together.”
“See, you didn’t tell me this before I agreed…” I murmured, quietly seething to myself. I would stay, but if this client thought they could boss me around, they had another thing coming…
Multiple pairs of footsteps echoed down the hall, followed by deep, male laughter.
“Cheer up!” She whispered to me conspiratorially. “You’ll be glad you agreed when you see them.”
I highly doubted that…
“Wow, this place is fucking insane!” I froze in my place. I knew that voice. Holy shit, I knew that voice!!!
“I know! Exactly what we were hoping for.” Another very familiar male voice added.
Then… “It’s epic.” Him. Lukas LaBelle walked in at that exact moment, followed by the other three members of the band - Jesse up front with him, with Brian and Ash following. Holy mother of…
My eyes roamed over the man I - shamefully - spent the last eight years fangirling and fantasizing over. I was fucking twenty-four now, I should’ve kicked myself for the way my heart sped up just knowing I was in the same room as the band, Hazmat. It really was embarrassing but, I mean, I spent the best of my teen years obsessing over them, and reading - and yes, writing - fan fiction, and now here they were! In the flesh!
“This baroque thing really does it.” Lukas LaBelle commented, looking up at the arched, high ceiling.
Lukas LaBelle turned, light green-brown eyes zeroing in on me. Fuck me, I’ve said that out loud…
His gaze moved down my body, sizing me - and my ridiculous outfit - up, before returning to my face. I was waiting for that flash of recognition in those eyes I’ve spent hours painting - but there was none. His smile was flirty and nonchalant as he stepped closer to me. “And you?”
My lips squeezed together, my body tightening in disappointment. He didn’t know who I was.
I mean, of course he didn’t know! We’ve met, like forever ago… In a small coffee shop, for a grand total of three minutes. How could he remember that, when he’s had supermodels on each arm ever since their first number one.
Arielle cleared her throat, motioning toward me. “London Grey.” She introduced me, because I was still a mute. Meanwhile, from the corner of my eye, I saw the other three men walk up to us. But my gaze was still fixed on Lukas LaBelle. “She’s the genius behind the beautiful decorations at my events.”
One of them remarked the statement with an ‘uhm’ or ‘ah’, but I remained motionless.
“Yes. She not only designs, but handmakes the decorations. Paints them as well.” Arielle went on. “I’ve even seen her do beautiful furniture - but of course, there’ll be no time for that for this event.”
I felt her hand on my arm, and finally, I broke the staredown I had going on with the blonde rockstar, who has grown at least a head taller since last time I saw him, and filled out… Quite nicely. The pictures I had saved of him on my phone really did him no justice. The man was a Greek God in real life.
“The event, by the way, is their new album release party.” Arielle informed me. “And this is Brian Flynn, Ash and Jesse Wolfhard, and Lukas Labelle. They make up the band Hazmat.”
I opened my mouth to let her know that I knew exactly who they were, but decided against it. If Lukas LaBelle didn’t know who I was, I didn’t have to know who he was either. Was I being childish and unprofessional? Probably...
But my ego was deflated enough for my stupid outfit, and the fact that they seemed to have no recollection of ever meeting me, and I needed to at least kid myself into thinking I’ve had the upper hand.
So, calmly, I faced them again, nodding my head in greeting. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Jesse, predictably, was the first to speak up. “Wait, you don’t know who we are?” He asked, cocking a brow at me.
I faked a polite smile, but before I could answer, Brian rolled his eyes. “Not everyone on this planet worships the ground you walk on, asshole.”
“Maybe not the music, but you have seen my face somewhere, haven’t you, sweetheart?” Jesse moved closer to me, his mouth set in a half-smile, doing his damndest to be charming as he grabbed my hand, and pressed his lips softly against them.
I tilted my head to the side. “Of course, sweetie.” I made sure my tone was sarcastic and dripping with false honey as I smiled back at him.
“I’d be happy to introduce myself…” He trailed off, letting the unsaid hang in the air.
A large hand appeared on his shoulder, and the next moment, Jesse was yanked back and away from me, by Lukas LaBelle, himself. “We’re here to work - stop trying to scare her off.” He murmured, and led the youngest member of the band away.
Arielle took the clue, and started walking the men through the outlay of the ballroom, the guests in attendance, and the execution of the ideas for the party. If I wasn’t still hyper aware of everything around me, I probably wouldn’t have heard Ash - the singer - walk up next to me. “Don’t mind my brother. He doesn’t take rejection well.”
I shrugged. “I don’t scare easily.” I tried to appear nonchalant, but the truth was that my hands were still trembling inside my pockets.
“Good.” Ash smiled, his nearly black eyes flashing with relief, before he trained them on the crowd in front of us. “You’ll do good for his ego.”
“I have a feeling this whole experience will be really humbling for everyone.” I mumbled under my nose, suddenly heartbroken again over the fact that the man I’ve spent the last eight years basically worshipping had no fucking clue who the hell I was.