Chapter 42. - Holding Back
“She loves me.”
“What?” Ash snapped, attracting the attention of the three groupies who sat at the table a few feet away from us. We were at a small cookout at Brian and Nikki’s house, surrounded by our closest friends and the few random chicks Ash always had hanging around. “Oh fuck, Lukas. I don’t have time for this gay shit again!” He groaned.
I grinned. “Well, you’re going to hear it anyways! She told me she loved me last night.”
He huffed, sounding frustrated. “Of course she does. Anyone with a working pair of eyes could see the way she’s been ogling you since the first time she ran you over with her hot coffee. I don’t see what the big fucking deal is!”
“The big deal is-” I explained, leaning forward. “-that she’s never said it before.”
“I don’t say to these chicks that we’re going to have a foursome later.” Ash nodded toward the groupies, who giggled and waved back. “Doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
I rolled my eyes. “Can’t you just get your head out of the gutter for once and be happy for me?”
“I’m ecstatic,” Ash noted, with the enthusiasm of a corpse. “You being off the market just means that there’s more left for me.” He winked at one of the girls, who blushed a bright shade of red. “You think her tits are natural?”
I frowned. “Doubtful. But I thought you liked them a little busty.”
My best friend shrugged. “Eh. I’m tired of the feel of plastic in my hands. It’s like fucking a blow-up doll - I’ve had enough of pocket pussies in high school.”
“Asher!” Natalie Wolfhart, Ash and Jesse’s mom scolded her son as she walked up to us, holding a plate filled with delicious meat in each hand. “You need to watch that mouth of yours, or I’ll wash it out with soap!”
I laughed as Ash rolled his eyes. “Thanks, mom.” He accepted his plate of food and moved over to make some room for his mother, the woman who basically raised me as well as the Wolfhart brothers.
“Your girlfriend seems like a very nice girl, Lukas.” She smiled, turning to me. “You should bring her around next time you come to visit us. I’d love to get to know her better.”
“Mom, I’m sure she doesn’t want to be interrogated by you.” Ash snorted through a mouthful of food, but my attention was on the small, dark-haired girl across the yard. She was chopping up vegetables with her redhead friend, smiling widely at something the other girl said, and my heart skipped a beat.
She was in love with me.
“I’d love to. I’m sure London is curious to meet the woman who got stuck with the three of us.”
Natalie’s expression was warm and open as I glanced back over at her, her dark eyes smiling with so much love. “I was lucky to have the three of you. I still am.” She sighed wistfully. “Now I can only hope that I’ll be fortunate enough to be a grandmother in the very near future.” She all but nudged Ash, who looked less than thrilled about that idea.
“I’m sure you already have thousands of grandkids out there- Ow!” He chuckled as she landed one on the back of his head. “Calm down, woman! I know how to wrap it up.”
“His father have always treated me and all women with nothing but respect.” She sighed. “I have no idea where he got this from. My only hope is that he’ll find a girl that has an even stronger will than him, that’ll break him in.”
I chuckled, momentarily feeling envious of the obvious love Natalie had for her son. I’ve never had that kind of relationship with my mother, not even before the fame. When she overdosed, it was as if a weight has lifted from my shoulder. As if her suffering was finally over, and now she could heal.
As fucked up as my relationship was with my own mom, I never got anything but love from Natalie. She was there for me when things at home got unbearable. She treated me with kindness and was the only steady adult figure I’ve had growing up. And for that, I would forever be thankful for.
Natalie was the one who showed me what unconditional love meant, and it was because of her that I could attempt to be the kind of man London deserved.
“I’ll leave you boys to talk. I’m going back to finish up on the grill. These girls have been heaven-sent!” Natalie gushed as she hurried off toward London and Ginger.
“With red hair like that?” Ash groaned. “I bet she’s the furthest thing from a saint when you strip away those nerdy clothes.”
I huffed. “I don’t think she’s your type, man.”
He cocked a brow at me. “And why the fuck not?”
“She’s too smart to fall for your shit.”
Ash snorted. “London wasn’t smart enough to dodge your ass, what makes you think her friend wouldn’t like a little danger in her?” He wiggled his brows suggestively and opened his mouth to say something else when one of the girls who had been eyeing him walked up. “Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?”
And just like that, everything was back to the usual.
“Could you bring out some more asparagus, sweetheart?” Natalie asked me with a warm smile. She was a beauty, with black hair and eyes that were nearly black. Tan, tight skin that stretched over lean muscles, and long legs that went on for days. I could definitely see where Ash and Jesse had gotten their looks from.
“Absolutely. I’ll be right back.” I said over my shoulder, leaving her and Ginger alone by the grill.
I walked inside the giant kitchen that was too clean and neat to have ever been used and washed up some more veggies.
Jesse, Brian, and Nikki were playing a video game in the living room, but when Jesse spotted me, he jumped to his feet and ran over to help. “I got this.” He took the stuff from my hands, his hazel eyes smiling at me. “How are you feeling, Londie-bug?”
I grinned. “Good. Really good!”
He wiggled his brows at me. “Did someone have a hot date yesterday?”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m sure you know all about it.”
He shrugged, feigning innocent. “I know Lukas practically bolted out of practice as soon as he could to pick you up so… Yes, I’d say I could only imagine what went down.”
“I told him I loved him,” I confessed, with a jittery excitement in my stomach. “Do you think it was too early? Too soon?!”
“Too soon?! At fucking last! I thought you two would dance around this bullshit until I went all grey.” He laughed. “I’m so happy for you! And to think that this whole Erika mess could’ve gotten between you two…”
I froze. “What Erika mess?”
Jesse paused, his Adam’s apple up and down bobbing as he swallowed. “The label has just been… Unhappy with how things are going.”
“With me?” I guessed and judging by the sour look on Jesse’s face, I was right on the mark. “I figured they wouldn’t be excited about the drama around me. The fans haven’t exactly been… The nicest.” I said, putting it mildly. “But it’ll pass. Right?”
He wanted a beat too long before nodding. “Of course!” To his credit, Jesse tried to sound cheerful.
But his acting skills were precious little to fool me. “What are you not telling me?”
He set the vegetables on the counter, taking his time wiping off his hands before facing me. “Look, if Lukas wanted you to know, he would’ve told you. It’s probably nothing, and I shouldn’t have said anything. He’s right to not want to worry you.”
“Jesse!” I warned, using the tone my mother utilized on me growing up when she found booze hidden between my clothes and demanded to know how it got there.
“Like I said… Nothing to worry about.” Jesse stalled again, but when I continued glaring daggers at him, he sighed. “Lukas would kill me for telling you this, so I’m going to need you to keep this between us.”
“Sure.” I lied, ready to say anything to find out what was actually going on.
The things Lukas have said last night, about not being able to have it all and the confusing sentiments regarding us were now starting to make a bit more sense.
“Basically, our label is unhappy with the fans’ reaction. They said that they tried to smooth it over, but it’s been weeks since the news about you broke and you are still-” He cringed. “-disliked. Well Erika, one of the executives of the label, came to Lukas with a special proposal. She wanted Lukas by himself. She said that if he broke away from Hazmat and did a solo album with them, she would help with the shitstorm your facing.”
He nodded, looking satisfied with his response.
But from that sick green glow on his cheeks, I could tell that there was more. “Or what?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Jesse stuttered as he rushed to get the words out. Turning away from me, he busied himself rearranging the vegetables, until my hand covered his, stilling it.
“I want to know the rest of the story. He quits Hazmat and goes solo. Or. What?!”
Sighing, he lowered his hands. “Or-” Jesse paused, his voice dropping to whisper. “-he has to let you go.”
“Why?” I croaked, my voice breaking. I realized that I sounded like a whiny child, who was just told she could no longer have her favorite toy, but it was Jesse I was talking to. I no longer cared about impressing him. “How?!”
“Apparently, there’s a part of our contract with the label that talks about our personal lives affecting the band. If they can prove that it impacts sales and fan behavior, there’s a clause in our contract that gives the label the right to meddle into our lives.”
I shook my head. “That can’t be-”
“Legal? Real?” He guessed, finishing out my sentence. “That’s what we thought out. Except Lukas contacted a lawyer, and it appears that the clause is very much there. We signed for it and there is nothing we can do in this case. Not unless we want to give up the band - the name, the songs, the merchandise… Anything we’ve created so far while under the label belongs to them.”
I felt as if I’ve been punched in the stomach. Everything Lukas LaBelle has said last night on his porch was suddenly making sense. His worry, his song… Fuck! The beautiful song he played that night, no doubt thinking that it would be his first solo hit.
I felt my insides twist, a wave of nausea rolling through me.
“Excuse me!” I groaned, rushing past Jesse and into the bathroom, reaching the toilet just in time to empty my stomach into it.
Lukas was right. Having a life and the band were very much mutually exclusive.
And I was the weight holding him back.