Strung

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Chapter 4. - Live

Working down the line took about an hour, during which Arielle - and through her, Shai - offered to go to the buffet to get a few drinks for us. I stayed and chatted with Nikki about the band’s upcoming album release party.

“I love everything you’ve done so far!” She gushed on. “The whole enchanted forest idea… Just brilliant! I can’t wait to see the pieces in person!”

I smiled. “You are welcome to visit my studio anytime - although, I have to warn you, it’s not glamorous.”

Nikki cocked a brow at me. “And you think life with these kids are?” She asked, nodding towards the band.

I followed her line of sight, catching a kiss between Jesse and a fan, after which he wiped his mouth and loudly exclaimed: “Who’s next?!” Frowning, I turned back to their manager.

“Yes. Maybe it’s not as glamorous as it would first appear.” I admitted. “But at least you get to spend everyday with your husband! That must be worth all the-” I glanced toward Jesse again, who was tilting another girl back by her waist, while Lukas LaBelle pretended to play guitar with her airborne foot. “-all the extra annoyance.”

Nikki chuckled. “Oh, I’m not complaining. They’re a little rough around the edges, but these boys have the biggest hearts! Even if they are very good at hiding it.” She smiled fondly as she glanced their way. I could tell she genuinely cared about all of them, and their connection went way beyond just formalities. “So.” She startled me, by turning my way. “Do you have someone special in your life?”

I shook my head. “No, not right now.” Then, when that usual awkward silence descended that often followed these questions, I added. “I’m focusing on work at the moment.”

“Well, from what I hear, you have plenty of it!” She said kindly, but the weird air around us remained. The truth was that I felt this often - people who were happily taken asking about my love life, and then not knowing what to say when I told them about the lack of it.

Thankfully, Arielle and Shai came back just in time, with a couple of beers in their hands. I realized now just how helpful the bodyguard was - his giant hands fit about four bottles each.

“I forgot to ask you what you liked - so we just got one of everything.” Arielle explained. “They didn’t really have any other alcoholic options.”

“Oh, there’s vodka.” Shai murmured. “But I’m not allowed to drink on the job, and she still has an American taste.”

“Not in every aspect.” Arielle replied, wiggling her brows, to which her guard rolled his eyes.

I suspected there was a story behind it, or a hidden meaning, but I didn’t have time to ask, as Shai pushed the first bottle my way. “This one’s sweet. It’ll go down easy.”

I took it from him, and took a generous swing. “Are you trying to get me drunk?” I asked, no longer feeling awkward about the fact that Arielle had a shadow. Ignoring him didn’t work for me, I supposed, and he seemed talkative enough.

Shai shrugged. “If I have to watch you struggle over some boy band member all night, it might make it more entertaining if you were a bit tipsy.” He admitted, shocking me with his honesty.

Still basically gaping, I turned to Arielle, who was openly laughing at my pain. “How do you deal with this on a daily basis?”

She lifted her arms in a nonchalant gesture. “I guess it makes it easier that I actually enjoy his company.” Then, she added. “And it’s nice that he’s not poking fun of me for once.”

“Just wait your turn, princess.” Shai chuckled. “I have enough sass to pass around for everyone.” Which sounded really funny coming from this giant muscle mountain’s mouth, with his strong Russian accent. Or perhaps this beer was already working…


Once the line cleared out, the boys left to get their microphones on, and whatever else rock stars did before the show, and with them, Nikki left as well. There was an opening band, already playing on stage, but the three of us took our time making our way out there. En route, I picked up my pictures, which were neatly packaged in an envelope.

I figured I would open it when I got home. The last thing I needed was to get distracted by the horrific memory of Lukas forgetting my name, followed by me nearly face-planting. Cringe.

By the time we fought ourselves to our seats - which were located first row, at the very end of the isle - the band was nearly done with their sets. Shai took a seat between a screaming girl and Arielle, and I was left with the chair on the very corner, right next to the loudspeakers.

Shai helpfully handed me another beer, which I polished off quicker than the first one. My mood has seriously improved since the picture incident, and I found myself dancing along with the - mostly female - audience.

“-and she’s a fucking light weight!” I caught the end of what Shai was yelling in Arielle’s ear, who only turned to me with a wide smile.

“You can get sloshy drunk with us, we’ll give you a ride home!”

I shook my head. “I’ve got this!” I reassured them, as I took my third drink, and popped the cap off with my bare hands. Granted, it was one of those twisty ones designed for that, but I was still proud of myself.

A video started playing, with a familiar tune in the background. I sat back, my eyes fixed on the giant screens above us. This wasn’t my first Hazmat concert by far, but I’ve never had seats this close to the action that I basically had to crane my neck back to watch three of the four members sit around with an intense scowl on their faces as Lukas LaBelle played the guitar in a studio.

The next clip that cut in showed Ash in the booth, singing on the lyrics to one of my favorite songs.

The video kept rolling, showing multiple, short clips from present times, as well as old ones. They cut in a bit about them recording the song that would become their first hit single, and performing it in front of a crowd of about twenty people.

Then, the screen cut to a giant arena, and I realized, this was live. This was us.

The whole place went wild, as people started jumping up and down, waving signs they brought with themselves, as a drone flew over our heads. The flying recorder disappeared behind the enormous speakers located right next to me. It landed smoothly on the edge of the stage, hidden from the audience.

And there they were.

All four of them, in their majestic glories. The whole arena paused, anticipation thickening the air, making it hard to inhale for a moment.

Then, the boys gave a wicked smile to the camera, jumped up on stage, and the show kicked off.


My hair was sticking to the back of my neck, my body covered in a sheen layer of sweat. The air was sizzling, and I was lost in the live music and the feeling of the beat matching my heart.

Arielle and I danced like fools, singing along with the songs, and whipping our hairs back and forth - respective of the small space we had available. By the time Hazmat announced they would take a little break, I was completely out of breath as if I’ve ran a marathon.

“I think I need to visit the ladies’ room.” I yelled to Arielle, who nodded.

“Want us to come with you?”

I smiled. “I think I’ve got this on my own. Thanks, though!”

I fought my way through the crowd of chattering girls, and excited looking guys, and made it out to the hallway. The ladies’ was easy to spot, thanks to the gigantic line of women in front of it. I was never going to make it back on time if I waited in this - I thought, and decided to look for another one.

A giant arena like this would surely have more than one bathroom for the public. As I turned left and then right on some hallways, the crowds begun to thin out, then disappear entirely. Lastly, I neared the end of the hallway, with only one big door to push through.

The cold night air hit me hard, and I nearly turned around and went back in, when I spotted a tall shadow, leaning against the corner.

I stepped out into the open.

“Hey there, Paris.” Said a deep, amused voice.

I wrapped my arms around myself. “Wrong city, friend. It’s London, actually.” I corrected him, for the second time that night. “But you know that, don’t you? You’re just teasing me.”

I only saw his confident smile because he pushed a cigarette between his lips, and the light illuminated him enough to distinguish him from the shadows. “Just like you were teasing Jesse about not knowing who he is.” Lukas LaBelle observed, in that quiet, thoughtful voice of his.

I didn’t deny it.

“I saw you singing along to every song, you know. I know you know all the words.”

I was thankful that it was so dark outside, so he couldn’t see me turn the angry shade of an tomato. He saw me. He was watching me! I squeaked inside my head, but on the outside, I just shrugged.

“I’m a long-time fan.” I said, choosing my words carefully.

If I expected the light bulb to go off above his head in recognition, it didn’t happen. He continued looking at me in that measured way, as if he was older for his age - saw and experienced more than the rest of us. “Are you enjoying the show so far?”

“I thought you saw me singing along.” I replied, thanking the Lord that I didn’t drink enough to lose my quick wit. I’ve already made a fool of myself in front of him once tonight, the last thing I wanted was to walk away ashamed again.

He smiled - the motion slow and tantalizing, like he knew something I didn’t.

When he didn’t say anything, and we just stared at each other for what felt like half an eternity, it dawned on me that I must have looked like creepy stalked, standing out here with him when no one else was around. Quickly, I pointed to the door behind me, and took a step towards it. “I was just looking for the ladies’ room and got lost.” I explained. So much for quick wit…

Lukas LaBelle nodded. “Good luck then.”

I bit down on my lower lip, wanting to slap myself in the forehead. But instead, I waved goodbye to him quickly, and stepped through the door. Before it could close behind me, I heard his voice echo in the hallway. “See you inside, Helsinki.”

“It’s-” I started automatically, then cut myself off when the door cut me off. Shaking my head, I walked back toward the crowds instead. I supposed, I was going to have to wait in that long line after all.

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