Strung

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Chapter 35. - Consequences

*Lukas*

I sat down on the Italian leather couch. Brian was on one side of me, and Ash hopped down on the other. Jesse paced the entirety of the same office where we got our break.

We were snotty nosed teenagers the first time we were called back here, nervous about what these executives would say about our record, and eager to please them. We were young and optimistic, and didn’t think twice about signing our lives away in turn of having a single on the radio.

Today, the four of us could afford the best lawyers in the industry to scour any page we put our names on for potential loopholes and outstanding opportunities. But eight years ago, it was just us against the world.

“Did Nikki tell you what this was all about?” Jesse asked, and Brian noticeably shifted in his seat.

“She didn’t mention.”

“She’s your wife, dude.” Jesse groaned. “You think that would get you first-hand information on why we have to come all the way Downtown. I have a party in Malibu I gotta get to!”

I rolled my eyes but didn’t disagree. This was the last place I wanted to be in the midst of what was currently going on out there. “The album is doing great. I don’t see why we have to be here in person, either.” I added.

“Fucking waste of time, this whole circus is.” Ash rumbled, before pushing his long hair out of his eyes. “We have mobile phones. Or they could tweet at us if they need something.”

We chuckled, then I lifted my arm, glancing down at my watch. “They said 2 o’clock, correct?”

Brian nodded.

“It’s twenty past.”

“These fuckers are making us wait.” Ash sounded angry now, but he had a valid point. There was no reason the record executives should be this late. We were the stars after all. Twenty minutes of waiting for the newbies that just signed on wasn’t unheard of, but we were by far the most profitable investment this label has ever made.

One would think we would get the royal treatment.

“I’m giving these fucks thirty more seconds before I’m leaving.” Ash stated, and I glanced down my watch once more to time him.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see if he would take his leave, because the door opened and four people walked through. I recognized Howard, James, and Erika, the three heads of this label, followed by Nikki - our manager, and Brian’s wife.

The first three took their seat on the couch opposite us, while Nikki stood off to the far end, typing something on her phone.

“Thank you all for coming,” Erika said, smiling smugly at us. Her father created this label, and after he passed, he made his only child the heir to the most sough-after record of the business. Erika was in her fifties - at least, some parts of her. Bleach blonde hair, cropped just under her chin to create an elegant halo around her face.

Ash didn’t like blondes. “We didn’t have a choice, Rika.”

She grinned, showing off her perfectly white teeth. “That is true.” She sighed, crossing her legs, letting her thousand dollar shoes bounce in the air. “We asked you here to discuss a certain situation that arose, that we have let slip for too long.” Her light blue eyes met mine, and she raised a brow. “Care to elaborate on your romance, Lukas?”

“For fuck’s sake!” Ash cursed under his breath and jumped to his feet. Howard, the eldest of the bunch stood to block his way. “Are you going to stop me, old man?” Ash challenged, raising a brow at him.

“Ash, don’t.” I groaned and reached out to pull him back by his wrist. “You’re making it worse, man.” I whispered so only he could hear me before I turned back to the group. “You’ve been aware of this personal matter since the beginning. I recall Nikki sitting down with us, and questioning my girl before anything even happened. It should hardly come as a surprise.”

“While we have been aware-” Erika started, pausing for a dramatic effect. “-we’ve let it continue only because we assumed it wouldn’t last.”

I lifted a brow at her. “I’ve made it quite clear that it was my intention to make it last.”

“Yes, well, you hardly have the track record to back that claim up.” Erika shot back and my arm reached out grab Ash before he could get up again.

“Are you here to fucking lecture him or help him?!” Ash exploded, a vein now permanent in his neck as he spoke. “Because last time I checked, you take your cut from our money to work. So fucking do your magic, and make this shit go away!”

Erika tsk’d as she leaned back. “It’s not that easy, Asher. You see, we take our cut because we own you and your albums. And your songs, and your name, and-” She trailed off. “Must I go on?” When no one replied, she continued. “We want to help. And according to our surveys, the most effective way of swiping this under the rug is to end it. Permanently.”

“Not happening.” I shook my head.

“You can’t make him do that.” Jesse spoke up, stepping closer. “That’s his girl. What he does in his personal life is none of your business.”

“Oh, but it is.” Erika disagreed.

But Jesse shook his head before she could say more. “It never bothered you who we fucked. Well this chick is not a fuck. She’s actually really cool. And she did a kick-ass job at our release party.”

“I don’t question her work abilities or her talent, Jesse.” She shot back, her voice smooth as honey, but dripping with venom as she spoke. “However, your personal life becomes my business when it’s affecting our clients. Your fans are unhappy, you don’t make as much money. Your money is my business, gentlemen, and it is our job to maximize sales.”

She went on.

“The bad boy imagine, the one where you are all out there sleeping around works well for the rock star brand. Every chick who comes to see your show is aching to be your little fling. That’s Hazmat’s charm.” She shrugged. “Settled down, boring homebodies don’t get the girls’ panties wet. No wet panties, no extra dollars spent on having your face on them.”

“Brian is a boring, taken homebody.” Jesse pointed out helpfully, and I watched as Brian flinched next to me.

Erika’s snake eyes flickered between him and Nikki. “Brian has his own problems.”

Jesse frowned. “You’re one mean bitch, has anyone told you that?”

Erika grinned. “More times than I could count.”

But I couldn’t help but watch as Brian shot Nikki an accusatory look. She rolled her eyes and glanced back at her phone - a move so unlike her, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something going on between them that Erika was privy to.

“That doesn’t change anything.” I cleared my throat, turning their attention back to me. “I’m not breaking it off with London for your sales. So I suggest you figure something else out to fix your business.”

I rose to my feet, and this time, none of them tried to stop me as I strolled toward the door. I made it all the way down the elevator before my phone pinged with a text message.

Nikki: I think you should consider what they suggested.

I frowned and slipped the device back into my pocket.


*London*

It wasn’t a Saturday, but considering that my whole family was currently crowded at my parents’ house, it might as well have been. My mom, dad, brother, and my two best friends occupied the large dining room table, as my mother laid out a perfectly cooked dinner for us.

It was a Tuesday night, and I knew that everyone had a better place to be than with me - which was why I felt so incredibly lucky to have them here.

My mom was so awesome, she remembered to make an extra salad and ordered tofu for Ginger - which my brother eyed warily. “That shit is going to put a hole into your stomach, Ginger.” Fitz commented, frowning at the piece of salad my best friend placed in her mouth.

“Lucky for me, I have more than enough fat to cover it up with.” She said, unbothered by his childish comment. “This is delicious, Mrs. G.”

My mom smiled warmly at her. “We used to eat so much better when you were living with us. Perhaps with London coming home, you should consider spending at least the weekends here. I can’t imagine campus being a warm place.”

“You’re moving back home?!” Callie turned to me, gaping.

I cringed. I meant to sit her down and have a heart to heart with her after everyone left, but I supposed this would be a good time for her to find out. “Mom and dad think it’s safer for me here. It’s a gated community…”

Days have passed since the release party, and if anything, the hounding was only becoming worse. I woke up to find paparazzi trying to erect a ladder outside of our apartment window to sneak a shot of me. That was where I drew the line.

“They can’t get in here. There’s a guard by the gates, and they’ve increased security since they heard…” I trailed off, swallowing. “It’s nothing personal, Callie. You know I love living with you!”

She nodded, somberly. “I hate to admit it - but you have a point. It was getting freaky around the place. With everything that happened, I was actually considering moving us…”

We’ve got the apartment when we first left home. Back then, I was still attending college, and Callie was barely starting out as a professional model. She was a superstar now, and despite the recent bad press, I have been making a name for myself in the art world, as well as with decorations.

As much as I loved our little place, there was no denying that we outgrew it. And now with all the chaos in my life, I no longer felt safe in my own place.

When my parents offered to have me move back in with them, I jumped at the opportunity. Their house is spacious, so we wouldn’t be bumping into each other. And I could really use the company of people who didn’t want to take a picture of me, or insult me during breakfast.

“I think you should move alone,” I said quietly, while the rest of the table engaged in polite chatter, leaving us to it. “A fabulous place that is yours alone.”

Callie bit down on her lower lip. “Only if you’ll decorate it for me.”

“Deal!” I winked at her, and we fist bumped to seal the deal.

“You should have a housewarming party when you’re done, Calls.” Ginger chimed in. “I’m dying get embarrassingly intoxicated.” She said, sighing wistfully.

Callie nodded. “I’m going to see what I can do for you.” She promised, and just like that, for a fleeting moment, everything was right in my little world.

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