Chapter 49. - Breathe Again
I took a deep breath, inhaling the salty breeze of the sea. It was dark now, the temperature dropping considerably, especially this close to the water. I pulled my shawl closer to my body, snuggling into the heat of it as I looked out at the seemingly endless darkness before me.
I left my phone in the little house I was renting. It was no use overseas anyway and I was enjoying the feeling of being utterly alone for a change.
In this small, remote island of Greece, I wasn’t Lukas LaBelle’s fling. I wasn’t the girl everyone enjoyed hating on to express their devotion to their favorite band. I wasn’t the one keeping Hazmat from staying together. I wasn’t even my famous, brilliant romance writer mother’s daughter.
I was just a girl, staying at a house, smiling at the locals when I went down to the market to do my grocery shopping.
The home I rented didn’t have a television or a computer. It didn’t even have internet - which was exactly how I wanted it.
The first night, I worried. I wanted to know how Lukas LaBelle was doing. I wanted to see if he had called - and what he had said if he did. I wanted to know how the media portrayed it if they even noticed my absence. I was curious about my friends, my parents. If he had looked for me…
I felt the need to turn my phone on, to scroll through social media and just feel apart of the world that made me feel like I had no choice but to run away.
But I put my phone away. It didn’t matter anymore. It was all going to disappear - it was just a matter of time.
The next morning, I woke up, feeling sad and exhausted. I had puffy eyes from crying all the way through the eighteen hours of flights and layovers, and the hour-long boat ride that took me from the mainland to the island I chose. I rolled over, feeling for my phone before I remembered where I was. Why I was here.
I got myself cleaned, dressed and stepped out of the house.
The first day, I didn’t wander far. I found a local market that sold fruits and vegetables and I stocked up, before retreating. I ate a watermelon looking over the sea that night, and for the first time, I didn’t miss my phone.
The next day, I walked further. The town was built hundreds of years ago, and most houses were left in their original glory. I walked the streets and just marveled at the ageless beauty of others’ creations.
After a week, I found myself one town over, which had a little art museum. I looked at paintings and sculptures - some elderly, and some brand new. All different styles and unique in their own way. I was lost in the magic of the place - that independent feeling of being able to go wherever I wanted to, whenever I wanted.
I chose this location because of a movie I saw with my mother. I wanted to feel just as lost in the local culture as the main character did.
Also, since the location was so remote, I was hoping no one here kept up with the Joneses. I needed to remain nameless, far far away from not only Hazmat finding me, but me running into a fan wearing their logo on a shirt.
And so far, despite the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach - I was enjoying myself.
As long as I did not think about the future, about what would happen when I eventually returned to Los Angeles, or what it would be like to listen to a Hazmat song again… I would be fine.
And tonight I didn’t have to think about the future or the past. Tonight, I had wine made by a very nice, elderly local man and his family, and fresh fruit, and cheese aged so perfectly I nearly moaned when I first tasted it.
And to top it all off, tonight I had a visitor.
“This place is impossibly hard to find, you know. No one labels the roads around here and my GPS doesn’t work.” The male voice behind me brought a smile to my face. I didn’t turn around, instead, I held a second glass of wine out as a peace offering for his troubles.
“The view is worth it, though.” I hummed, keeping my eyes on the waves below us.
“I always told you to take a year off before college and just travel the world. But I couldn’t even persuade you to leave for the summer…” Fitz hopped down on the empty chair next to me and took a sip of the wine. “This is...different.” He concluded, expertly.
I grinned. “Less sugar, I think. Everything just tastes more natural around here.” Sighing, I leaned back on my seat, glancing over at my brother. “I didn’t take that trip, because there was a concert in the middle of the summer I really wanted to go to. It was the first expensive ticket I could buy - if you remember, I was saving up for it painting the neighbor’s house all summer.”
Fitz’s smile was bitter. I didn’t have to say who I went to see that summer - we both knew. “I don’t mind this wine, actually. It’s growing on me.”
“How is everything?” I asked, not being able to help myself. Despite spending the last week completely off the grid and making myself believe that I was doing better, suddenly I was sucked right back into real life.
The life where my heart was broken into pieces because I couldn’t help but fall in love with Lukas LaBelle.
“Mom is sad. She misses you. Dad doesn’t say much.” Fitz started, taking another swig of his drink. “But they get it. They want you to be happy - they’re just worried. Their little girl all alone, out in the world without checking in… I think she will be better once I tell her you’re still alive and kicking.”
Fitz was teasing me and I gave him a weak smile. “And the girls?”
“They want you to call. Actually, made me promise that I would force you to Facetime them as soon as I got in.”
To that, I grinned. “I bet. How’s Ginger’s school? Is Callie in Los Angeles?”
He nodded. “Callie is in town. I think she’s taking a little breather from traveling after that flu breakout a couple of weeks ago. Ginger is her usual though self, kicking ass. She actually got into it with Ash when they showed up at her apartment after the concert that night…”
My heart squeezed and I leaned forward before I could stop myself. “Does that mean…” I trailed off, but my brother understood.
“That he looked for you?” He lifted a brow and I nodded. “Yes, of course, he did. They went to mom’s too. And Callie’s. And finally, Ginger’s. But you were already on a plane by the time they got there. I’m pretty sure he didn’t notice that you were gone until the end of the concert.”
My stomach did that falling thing, like when the rollercoaster flipped over, and for a moment, you thought you were going to plummet into nothing. But then, I felt grounded again. “I don’t think so,” I said softly. “I think he noticed, he just had to finish out the set.” After all, they had a label they had to answer to - and rules to play by. Sighing, I shook my head, clearing it from the painful thoughts. “Either way, I was counting on the headstart.”
“It doesn’t matter now, Londie-bug,” Fitz said gently, using the childhood nickname that used to drive me up the walls, but now actually sounds nice. “You have to let it go.”
“Do you think I’ve made the right decision?” I asked suddenly, the question bursting out of me.
He lifted a brow. “Isn’t it too late to ask that question?”
“Just answer, Fitz!”
My brother took another sip of his wine, before setting it down on the ground between us, angling his body to face mine. “You made the decision you thought was right. You couldn’t live with yourself if you stayed with him, and Hazmat had to break up because of that - so yes, I think you made the right decision for your own conscience. As for Lukas…”
I held my breath, waiting for him to continue.
“He loves you. You didn’t see how devastated he looked when he realized you were really gone. I think that sort of love… It’s a once in a lifetime thing. I’ve seen it with mom and dad, and now I’ve seen it with you two.” He shrugged. “I thought it was just your fascination at the beginning - I mean, you’ve been obsessed with the guy for the better half of the decade. I was sure you thought it was love, and he enjoyed the company of a gorgeous, unique girl like you that wasn’t after fame or money. But when I saw him standing in the middle of Ginger’s living room, looking like his soul has just been ripped away from his body…” Fitz inhaled. “It changed everything.”
“So you think I’ve made a mistake? I shouldn’t have left?” I pushed, feeling my heart shattering into a million pieces all over again as I listened to his honest opinion.
“I think you should’ve talked to him about it first and made the decision together. He’s adult enough to have been able to handle it.” Fitz said simply, then added. “But at the end of the day, there was no fairy tale outcome, Londie-bug. You were never going to get the prince and the kingdom - and that’s just how it is. It’s not doing anyone any good to dwell on this now. What’s done is done.”
I focused on breathing for a few seconds, taking in everything that I’ve just learned. Then, I smiled. “When did you get so smart?”
Fitz grinned. “They teach you a thing or two at the university. It’s a shame you never finished-” A pillow smacked against the side of his head, causing both of us to laugh out loud. My head was swimming - just as much from my guilt, as it was from the alcohol.
Finally, I rose to my feet. “I think I’m ready to call the girls now.”
Without looking at me, Fitz handed me his phone. “Take it away, sis. I’m going to enjoy the view for a bit longer.”
Once inside, I hopped down on my bed, scrolling through my brother’s contacts until I found Callie’s and Ginger’s numbers. It only rang once before Callie picked up, then Ginger joined in. “London!” Callie’s voice rang through the line, making me smile instantly.
“How the hell have you been?” Ginger asked, her tone even and full of sarcasm. “The city of angels has been a dark place without you.”
“I’m good! Greece is beautiful - I’m so happy I chose this location. And the island is so remote, I haven’t even heard American music, let alone get recognized by someone. It really is the perfect getaway I needed.” I went on. “I only wish that you two were here with me!”
If the two of them picked up on the fake cheeriness in my voice, they didn’t comment on it.
Instead, Callie responded. “Well, someone has to hold down the fort while you are living your best Mamma Mia fantasy! I’ve been followed by paps day and night since you left. The entire fandom is looking for you!”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m sure it’s such a nuisance on you.”
Callie signed. “Well, I have been getting facials more often. You just never know when someone is around the corner, ready to take your picture! I can’t represent you on the gossip sites with a giant zit on my forehead!”
“Weird. No one is following me…” Ginger trailed off, suggestively.
“You know the camera loves me!” Callie shot back, laughing. “But in all seriousness, everything is fine back home. The fans are only looking because they’re curious - no one is making threats. And I haven’t seen any nasty articles about you in a couple days. I think the storm really is passing.”
“That was the whole point.” I sighed. “I’m glad you two are good. I’m sorry to just leave you behind like this, having to put up with… Well, whatever you have to put up with.”
“A visit from your blondie and that brute of a friend of his.” Ginger commented. “Can you believe Ash tried to threaten me into telling them where you were?! In my own living room.”
“If someone, you could handle his sexy, alpha nature!” Callie whistled, making me shake my head.
“Just be careful with him, Ging. I know he’s Lukas’ best friend and Jesse’s brother, but he’s nothing like them. If he threatens you again, you need to call the cops. His threats are not just empty words…” I trailed off.
“Don’t worry about me!” Ginger responded, sounding calm. “I haven’t seen any of them since that night. Not even Jesse.”
“Me neither!” Callie added, too quickly. Then, she rambled on. “Look, London, I’m super happy to hear from you, and please call more often! We are worried about you! But right now, I’m in the middle of something.”
She cut me off before I could go on. “Take care of yourself! Love you - bye!” And just like that, she was off the line.
Ginger let out a low whistle.
“Did she sound weird to you?” I asked, frowning.
“She’s always weird.” Ginger said without any humor in her voice. “But I have to go as well. Class is about to start. But London?”
“Do call more often. It’s scary to not know anything about you and be so far away.”
“I promise,” I sighed. “Be careful out there, Ging. And I will see you soon.”
“Take as much time as you need. It’s about you - not about anyone else!” And after a heartfelt goodbye, she disconnected as well.
“Did you bring everything I asked for?” Dom asked, hopping down on the couch opposite from the one I was currently seated on.
“No, man. I came to blow thousands on your ridiculous hourly rate and just chat.”
He laughed. “You wouldn’t be the first one. I have some female clients who pay a lot more for my time…”
I shook my head as he wiggled his brows. “I don’t need to know what sort of things you took money for.”
Dom shrugged, a cheeky grin on his face. “Five dollars is five dollars. Especially when you come from nothing.”
I held up a hand. “Let’s just go over what I brought you.”
He nodded, scooting closer. As if flipping a switch, the funny, smiling man molded into a serious professional that raised the hair on the back of my neck. While the other guy was friendly, the person in front of me was oozing danger. “Do you have everyone else’s?”
I nodded, just as the door opened and the rest of Hazmat walked through. “Morning, gentlemen!” Jesse greeted, making Ash roll his eyes.
“It’s two in the afternoon, you idiot.” He snapped, hopping down on the seat next to me. “Did we miss anything?”
“Not yet. We’re still waiting for-” I started, but trailed off when the door opened, the tall figure squeaking in delight.
“I made it! So nice to see all of you!” Callie’s smile was wide as she waltzed in the room, sitting right next to Dom. “Are we ready?”