Chapter 3. - Backstage
Hazmat stayed for another ten, fifteen minutes or so, before they said their goodbyes, and promised to stay in touch with Arielle personally. Their manager would be our main point of contact, but since there was only five weeks until the party, everyone felt it was best if they took more responsibility.
I, for one, kept my eyes on the ground as they all came over and shook my hand - Jesse, their drummer, even pulled me into a hug - and I was still staring in front of myself when they walked out.
I knew it was stupid to imagine they would remember me - at least, the rational part of me knew. But I supposed, when a meeting was so life changing for me, I would’ve hoped it would’ve been important to the other party too.
That night, when I was sixteen in the cafe, Lukas LaBelle spoke to me like I was a normal person. No boy at our high school did that…
And I hung onto that feeling of normalcy until it was time to graduate. I listened to their songs when things got hard around me - in my dramatic, depressed, teenage mind - and they made me smile.
I experienced my first kiss while their song played over the loudspeakers at the music hall the school rented for prom. Their CD was the first one I stuck into my car’s player after I finally passed my driving test. I was watching interviews of the boys when my parents drove us out to Montana for summer vacations in the middle of nowhere, with no people around. Their third album dropped when I decided to quit college, and make my own journey.
Hazmat has been a huge part of my life, and I guess I was hoping I have altered theirs too. Even if it was just a little bit.
But all I did was spill coffee all over their insanely talented guitar player.
Only when I heard the front door slam shut did I swirl around to face Arielle. “You could’ve told me Haz-fucking-mat was coming!” I seethed from between my teeth, while Arielle giggled. “I would’ve dressed up!”
“I have never seen you dressed up!” She laughed. “Besides, you have this cute, artsy thing going. The guys totally dig it.”
“Yeah, I’m basically their dream girl…” I said, shaking my head.
Arielle was still smiling as she linked her arm through mine, and started walking us out of the building. “You know, I didn’t take you for a groupie kind of girl.” Then, she added. “But I do know you were full of shit when you said you didn’t know them!”
We laughed. “They’re my favorite band, that’s all.”
Arielle nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“For?” She was about the same height as me, but since she was wearing sky scrapers for shoes, I had to crane my neck back to look at her.
Shrugging, she squeezed my hand. “I didn’t realize you liked them that much. I really should have told you before you came here - but it’s always a weird line between keeping their identities a secret if you turn the event down, and giving you a fair heads up.”
“That’s okay.” I replied, my tone softer this time. “I probably wouldn’t have worn anything different anyways.” I lied, just to make her feel better. Arielle and I weren’t exactly friends, in a ‘we hang out outside of work’ kind of way, but I always considered her as more than an employer.
“I’ll tell you what.” She turned to me, excitedly. “They have a concert coming up this Friday night. They gave me some extra tickets - why don’t you come with me? You can be prepared this time around, and see them live! How does that sound?”
I hesitated, just for show. “I’m not sure if I can… I have this big project coming up suddenly, that I’ll need to spend a lot of time on.”
Arielle rolled her eyes. “Don’t kid yourself! I’ll email you over the ticket. Concert starts at 8 - but be there earlier. We have backstage passes.”
“You sure Maks won’t mind?”
She huffed, chuckling. “Does my man look like the type to go headbanging at a rock concert?!”
I blinked up at her, then we both burst into a fit of giggles at that mental image. “I’ll be there.”
“Great!” Arielle smiled down at me, as we reached our cars in the parking lot. She gave me a quick hug, then begun typing away on her phone. “My assistant, Tina, just got the tables picked out. I’ll send you over all the measurements as soon as I get it, and you can begin working on the centerpieces, and other decorations. Nikki, the band’s manager is your main point of contact, I just texted you her number…”
My phone vibrated in my pocket just as she said that. I nodded.
“But please keep me in the loop too! I’ll call you in a few days with more details.”
We said our goodbyes, and got into our respective cars. Arielle’s sleek Audi pulled out of the lot a minute later, and I watched her drive down the road and disappear around the corner.
Only then did I let out my boiling excitement in a giant scream.
That night, I invited my best friend, Ginger, over - and since I was now busy for the next five weeks to come, we met up at my studio. And by studio, I meant a run-down four car garage space I found downtown, far enough from any living human being to be bothered by the noises of carpentry and other shenanigans.
Ginger arrived with an already chilled bottle of wine, and two plastic cups. Our other best friend, Callie, was still overseas, but just as with any big news, she was present on Skype.
“What time is it in Rome right now?” Ginger asked, her face passive and unimpressed, as per usual.
Callie yelled from the other end of the line. “I’m in Milan! And there’s a nine hour time difference!”
“We can hear you well, sweetie.” Ginger replied. “No need to shout.”
“I’m in a fitting! The world doesn’t stop just because you called!” Callie informed us, and true enough, there were multiple people running around her, poking needles in the material she was wearing.
“Do us a favor, and don’t drop the camera lower.” Ginger snorted. “I’m not drunk enough to see you naked yet.”
I laughed, wishing it was as easy for the three of us to stay in touch as when we were younger. Callie was a successful model now, traveling the world, walking the biggest runways. Her face appeared on every other billboard in town, and despite her famous father, she was a bit of a celebrity on her own.
Completely the opposite, Ginger was now pursuing her PhD in Biomedical Engineering, while working in a prestigious lab with the best of the valley. Ginger was famous on her own, although, in very different circles.
Sometimes it felt like I was the only one still stuck in the garage, working on my art, just like I always have been.
“So what’s the big news, Londie?” Callie asked, and I made sure to turn my face toward the camera when I scowled at her for that nickname.
“Well, I have a new project I’m working on…” I started, building up the excitement.
“Is it for another celebrity?” Ginger asked, her voice calm and even. She wasn’t keeping up with the local gossip, and didn’t know half the people I’ve done pieces for. But as a good friend, she was always supportive of my happiness.
Callie was the next to cut in. “Oh, is it a guy? Handsome?” I nodded again. “Brad Pitt?!”
Brad Pitt was Callie’s ideal man. Of course, not current day Brad Pitt - but Brad Pitt from Troy. When we were younger, Callie stole the DVD from her parents, and made us watch the movie about a billion times. To this day, Brad’s butt was the one I ended up drawing on all my male pieces, because that was the one I was most familiar with.
To that, even Ginger raised her glass. “That is one handsome man.”
“Better!” I grinned.
“There’s no one better than-” Callie started, then paused. Our eyes connected through the screen. Then, she started screaming. “Fuck a duck!!! You’re working for Lukas LaBelle!”
My face nearly split in half from the size of my smile. I nodded.
“Oh, boy…” Ginger sighed. “Are we here to build your marital bed?”
I swatted at her arm. “Of course not, silly. I’m building table pieces for their album release party.”
“Yes, yes…” Callie interrupted. “But what did he say when he saw you?! You met him in person, right?! Not just over the phone with his secretary’s secretary…”
“No, we met in person.” I admitted, hesitant to continue.
Ginger and Callie were there the first time I met Lukas LaBelle, along with the rest of Hazmat. I didn’t know it that night, but they would become my all time favorite band. After the coffee shop incident, I went home, exhausted, and put in their CD.
To this day, I still had that one CD tucked away in a box under my bed…
It was incredible, and I followed them on MySpace. Almost exactly eight months later, their single went number one, and they became chart toppers. Their concerts went from free coffee shop gigs, to sold out arenas - the boys became superstars. Over time, they grew into men, and I followed their journey every step of the way. And since my friends were by my sides, they knew all about the Hazmat boys.
Now, eight years after the coffee shop incident, they were number one in the whole world, with billions of followers on all of their social media accounts, and their faces on every magazine, gossipblog, t-shirt and souvenir around town.
“London!” Callie snapped. I shook my head, chasing my thoughts away. “What. Happened?!”
I shrugged. “They came in to look at the venue. Introduced themselves, and left. They don’t have time to stick around and worry about every little detail - they’re working and all…” I cleared my throat.
“Wait…. They introduced themselves?!” Callie asked, with raised brows. “He didn’t know who you were?”
“Callie, don’t be ridiculous! They meet millions of people, the chances of them remembering someone from a decade ago…” Ginger added, then, when she saw the expression on my face, her tone softened. “I’m sorry, sweetie. Lukas seems like a great guy, but you can’t expect-”
I held up my hand. “It’s fine.” I told them. My best friends have been with me through all my crazes, and if someone, they knew just how much this band meant to me. And Lukas LaBelle… “I’m a professional. I’ll make this release party the most magical, beautiful thing they’ve ever seen.”
“It’s not the worst thing, you know.” Callie said, soothing. “I mean, you did ruin his outfit that night.” We chuckled at the memory of him performing in coffee soaked clothes for two hours, all because of me. “Maybe this clean slate is for the best.”
“So he can fall in love with you now, and you two can get married and make beautiful little exotic rockstar babies!” She added, and I rolled my eyes.
“I doubt it’s going to happen like that.” I informed her seriously, although, the thought didn’t exactly repulse me...
The rest of the week flew by - I worked day and night on decorations for the party. Hazmat’s manager, Nikki Flynn - who also happened to be their bassist, Brian’s wife - loved the hand painted plates I designed for the evening, so I have been working nonstop with this special, glow in the dark paint.
We spoke mostly via email and text, but she did call me a few times through the week, and told me she couldn’t wait to meet me in person at Hazmat’s Friday concert.
Of course, we’ve already met in person, but she couldn’t possibly remember that...
Callie wasn’t back from her Italian trip by Friday afternoon, but she did set me up with a makeup artist and a personal hair stylist to get me ready for the night.
I was never the kind of person who got prettied up like that for any occasion - hell, I did my own look for prom night. Not that anyone important saw… I was over Colton by that time, and my one real crush - or rather, the only man I would’ve gotten dolled up for - was busy entertaining thousands at Hazmat’s concerts. I went with Callie’s cousin who was only a junior at the time.
He still ended up being my first kiss.
I frowned at the memory. Tonight, I wanted to make up for the fact that Hazmat saw me at my lowest earlier in the week. Call it vain, but I didn’t want them to think of me as the weirdo paint-freak.
Callie chose a short, black dress for me from her closet - which admittedly, was a shirt on her. The dress was simple, with a high neckline, that hid the fact that I was lacking in the chest department, and accentualized my round bum, and toned shoulders instead.
She instructed that I also invest in a pair of fishnets, and black boots that came up to my thighs, so the fact that the dress was so tiny didn’t stand out so much. The hairstylist blew my normally wavy, dark brown hair into a sleek, long bob, that came down just past my collarbone, and the makeup artist brought my eyes out with some smoky, black eyeshadow, but kept my lips neutral and glossy.
When they were done and I caught a look at the whole outcome. I was shocked by the woman that stared back at me from the mirror.
“I look like a sexpot.” I gasped, my eyes widening at the overall effect.
Callie, who was Facetiming me cheered me on. “Yeah, you do!” She laughed. “Have fun tonight, Londie! Make that man suffer!”
“I’ll uh… do my best.” I nodded, still under the spell of the woman in the mirror.
My phone rang just as my Uber arrived at the arena. “Hello?”
Arielle’s voice came through the tiny speaker. “Are you close? I can wait outside for you, if you’d like.”
“I see you, I just got here!” I replied. “One second.” I thanked my driver for the trip, and exited his vehicle.
Walking up to Arielle, I was happy to see that I wasn’t the only one wearing a tiny outfit. She wore a white two-piece skirt and tube top combination, that brought out her beautiful, slim figure. Her long, toned legs ended in a nude pair of strappy heels, and her blonde hair hung heavy down her back in loose curls. She was poetically beautiful, in a way that an artist could appreciate.
She had her back to me, and I tapped her elbow gently to get her attention. “Oh, excuse me.” She turned, moving out of my way with a smile, before her head snapped back to look at me again. “Holy shit! London!”
She made no attempt to cover up her shock at my appearance. I glanced away. “Too much?”
Arielle was still gaping, but shook her head. “No, no! You look incredible. I’ve just never seen you… dressed up like this. You look great!”
I smiled nervously. “Thank you.”
“Ready to see the boys?”
I nodded. As ready as I would ever be.
Instead of going up the main stairs of the arena, she led us toward the back. There were a few buses and vans parked there, along with a couple darkened SUVs. I glanced behind us, and saw a tall, sturdy man following us.
Arielle took my arm. “That’s Shai. Just pretend he isn’t here.”
My brows creased, but I didn’t reply. I never understood how people could just pretend to not see their security details, especially one as big as this man.
But soon, I forgot all about Shai, because we walked toward another group of equally large men, and about a dozen giggling girls. “Excuse us.” Arielle said firmly, and although scowling, they all stepped to the side. She handed our passes to the bouncers, who took a look at it, then nodded and opened the door.
“Oh, that’s so unfair!” One girl whined in a high pitched voice.
“I’d do anything to go in there!” Another said.
Shai followed us in without a word from anyone, and once the door closed, the sounds from the girls faded. We could now clearly hear the music coming from ahead. Arielle smiled excitedly. “So, tell me now. Which one do you think is the cutest?”
I raised my brows at her. “Aren’t you very publicly taken?” I replied, referring to the nationwide scandal of last year, and when her and her beau got together. Arielle used to date and was even engaged to another man, then caused a tabloid frenzy when she was caught cheating with her then-fiance’s biggest opponent of that Underground season.
Even Ginger, who could sooner split an atom than name two Johnny Depp movies, followed the story.
Arielle chuckled, bringing me out of my thoughts. “I am. But you’re not!”
I had to agree. I’ve never really even had a boyfriend before. Not anything serious, at least.
“And all four of them are very handsome…” She baited, as we walked toward the sound of the crowd ahead.
Since I didn’t decide to share my fantasies with her, and she didn’t want to take my silence for an answer, Arielle pressed on. “Come on! Do we have to play marry, kiss, hug, and befriend?!” She asked sarcastically.
I laughed. “I’ve never heard of that version of the game before!”
Arielle huffed. “Fine. Don’t tell me, then.” I grinned, biting down on my lower lip. “And Shai and I will pretend not to notice you ogling that blonde guitarist!” And with that, she let go of my arm, and walked into the big meeting room.
I, on the other hand, was practically pushed in by the giant.
The room was full with people in headsets running around, while a large line snaked around the middle. In front of the line, over the head of the crowd made up mostly of girls, I could see Hazmat.
They were taking pictures with the people who had a backstage pass. Without getting in the line, Arielle walked to the front, and once again, I was pushed to follow her. “Come on, design girl! They don’t bite.” Shai told me in an amused voice. “Or are you really digging on the blonde one?”
I frowned up at him. “Of course, not! It’s just work.”
He chuckled. “Sure, it is.”
By the time we made it up there, Arielle was already deep in conversation with a girl I knew to be Nikki Flynn - Brian’s wife and the band’s manager. “I don’t think you two have met in person yet. This is London Grey-” Arielle motioned toward me, and I extended my hand to Nikki, who turned to me with a warm smile I recognized. “-and Shai, my bodyguard.”
Shai huffed, but I saw him nod at the girl as a greeting.
“It’s so nice to finally meet you! Arielle has been singing your praises, you know.” Nikki told me, and I felt my face flush. “Of course, I had no idea you were so beautiful!”
I shook her hand. “Please, don’t make blush!”
Nikki herself was a beauty - with dark, smooth skin, high cheekbones, and an adorable button nose over full lips, she was the envy of every fangirl. She got to date her favorite musician since their high school days, and now, they were married.
Her dark eyes narrowed as I let go of her hand. “Have we… met before?” She asked, and I froze, having to look away.
“I… I doubt it.” I managed to choke out, surprised that out of all of them, she would be the only one who would recognize me.
“I apologize.” She smiled. “We see a lot of beautiful girls in this line of business.” She turned back toward the band, who were posing with a group of three girls.
We all watched as the girls lined the men up how they wanted, and told them how to pose for their photo - to which they complied. Ash was holding one in his arms, his signature dark scowl on his face. Jesse was kneeling in front of another, pretending to propose to her, and the third girl posed between Brian and-
-Lukas LaBelle, whose eyes were trained on me.
“Over here, Lukas!” The photographer waved his hand, and after another long moment, Lukas’ tawny gaze turned to the camera.
“I’m no expert at this thing, but I’d say he’s digging on you too.” Shai whispered to me, chuckling.
“I’m glad you find my love life so amusing!” I hissed back, to which he just laughed harder.
“Ah, so you do love him!”
I shook my head. “I didn’t say that! And keep your voice down!” Now probably the color of a tomato, I turned back to the scene in front of me. The group of girls were exiting the little stage, and although I didn’t want to look again, I could feel Lukas’ eyes on me.
“Would you like a picture with them?” Nikki offered, motioning towards them.
That was when Jesse spotted us, and bounced over with a loud whistle. “You look hot as fuck, London!” He smirked, jumping over the velvet rope separating us. “You’re a vision too, Arielle, but you have your man mountain with you, so I can’t really comment on that. I’m very fond of my balls, you see.”
Arielle chuckled. “Why thank you. And thanks again for the tickets! This should be an amazing show.”
“All of our shows are amazing.” Jesse bragged, but his hand was already on my waist. “Come, beauty, take a picture with us. I can propose to you too, you know!”
Without waiting for my answer, Jesse lifted me over the rope, closely following behind. Although he was the youngest of the band, he was still two years older than me, with black, disheveled hair, and friendly hazel eyes. Oh, and muscles. Lots and lots of lean, defined muscles - most of which he bared to the audience, as he preferred to play shirtless.
The other three men looked on as Jesse dragged me up to them. Brian wore a black tank top, with black skinny jeans - his dark brown hair chopped closer to his head. He smiled as I approached, greeting me politely.
Ash was the tallest of the group, with his long, jet black hair down to the middle of his waist, and his equally black eyes. His gaze bore into me, pools of darkness made looking even more dangerous with black kohl liner. I felt the heat of his intense stare all the way down to my toes, then back up again. He was wearing a leather west, black biker jeans, and made no attempt to hide that he was checking me out.
“How do you want us, baby?”
My heart skipped a beat at the sound of that voice. Lukas LaBelle, in the flash, standing right beside me. He graced the world tonight wearing a tight denim button-up, which he paired with white ripped jeans. About a dozen bracelets covered his playing hand, nearly to the middle of his lower arm - showing just enough skin to hint at the end of a tattoo.
“Uhm…” I blinked, my senses suddenly on overdrive, while my brain short-circuited. “You guys are the experts.” I said finally, because ’naked and ready for me on my bed’ would’ve sounded insane.
Thankfully, instead of doing anything outrageous like with the other girls we watched, the boys just stood on either side of me. Jesse and Ash on one side, Jesse smiling excitedly at the camera, while Ash did his signature intense frown. And on my other side was Brian and… Lukas LaBelle. Right next to me.
In fact, his arm went around my waist, and held onto my side - long, artistic fingers spread over me. Suddenly, I was wishing I would’ve worn a two piece dress like Arielle, just so I could feel if he’s had any calluses or-
I cut myself off. Deep breath, London. I smiled, and multiple flashes went off.
Then, the boys stepped away from me, as the next girl came around the velvet ropes. Of course, they still had a line… I sighed. They were experts at making fans feel special, especially that of the female kind. This was nothing special.
“Thank you.” I told no one in particular, and turned to leave.
“See you at the show, Bristol.” The same rough voice answered, and I nearly tripped over the rope.
“London…” I muttered under my breath. Great. Just fucking brilliant. He didn’t even know my name!
Shai was openly laughing at me when I got next to him. “Smooth. Very smooth…” He chuckled. “He probably just fell in love with you.”
Arielle was there on my other side. “Don’t let him make you feel bad.” She whispered discreetly. “It wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been.”
While I appreciated her attempt at making me feel a tad better, I knew a white lie when it stared me in the face. Lukas LaBelle, the very same man I spent eight years fantasizing over, not only didn’t remember me from a decade back, but he didn’t even remember me from four days ago!
Still, I felt both of their eyes on me, so I faked a smile. “Yes. That went exceptionally well.” I commented sarcastically.
Arielle chuckled, and nudged me on the side. “Just wait until the show! The things that man could do with his fingers will make you forget all about you nearly eating in front of him.”
Oh, how I hated my existence sometimes…