Strung

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Chapter 50. - Out

3 Months Later...

*London*

Time heals everything - or at least, that was what my mother kept telling me. In time, on your wedding day, you’ll look back at this and laugh. Adelaide Grey was a smart woman, one I respected beyond belief. But she has never dealt with the kind of grief that came from losing your other half.

I cut myself off, cold turkey.

I spent nearly a whole month in Greece, focusing on myself. I took long walks on the beach, explored the cities, lived the culture. I went out to restaurants by myself and didn’t take a phone or a book with me. I just lived.

I started painting again - I painted the sea, the sunsets, the charming little town, and its people. I painted the ancient buildings with colorful sheets hanging outside of them. I created art, refurbished a dresser, I traveled and even learned from a local woman who made embroidery.

I did everything but let myself dwell on Lukas LaBelle.

And while I was away, life felt hopeful again. My hands didn’t stray from the scenery painting anymore, itching to curve into the familiar planes of that golden face and eyes that seemed bottomless. I no longer thought about whether Lukas would like the song the street musician strummed on his guitar, or if he would’ve enjoyed the taramasalata I’ve made. I was finally living in the moment again. Healing.

But it was easier done on a remote Greek island than in my hometown. In Greece, I listened to the waves of the sea around me and the rustle of locals. Back in America, I couldn’t even walk into a coffee shop at the airport without hearing a Hazmat song. I couldn’t turn a street corner without seeing their faces sprawled over a magazine cover.

They were on TV, on the radio, online… Everywhere I looked there was a new billboard promoting their tour or album or an upcoming event they’d be attending.

It was like they were following me. I never realized just how the band surrounded me, until they were unbearable to look at. I used to dance at their songs while in line at Starbucks. Now, I had to run into the bathroom so no one could witness my panic attack.

And then there were the photographers…

They were less in numbers now, and a lot friendlier than before. But that didn’t mean I welcomed them. They waited for me outside stores, forcing me to wear dark sunglasses to cover my tear-stained eyes. They followed me to my studio, while we were out apartment hunting with my mother when I was going to get a wax…

I’ve had no sense of privacy and nowhere to hide. And to make manners worse, they all felt like it was their obligation to tell me what Lukas LaBelle was up to.

When I came back, I had Ginger install a sort of block on my computer, that prevents any Hazmat material from ever popping up. But while I could block them from my newsfeed, I couldn’t block the voice of photographers telling me who he was last seen with, in which city. I couldn’t block the feeling of sheer panic when I learned he was out partying with his bandmates and groupies again. Nothing could block out the pain of knowing I haven’t received a single call or message from him since I returned.

And while it was precisely what I wanted, it broke me every day.

See, what my mother didn’t realize about pain was that pain was bearable. It was hope that killed me.

It was that stubborn, stupid, senseless hope that kept me glancing at my phone, wishing that his name would appear on my screen. It was turning the street corner and picturing that he was there, waiting for me. It was listening to the radio and expecting a new Hazmat song to come on - one that told me how Lukas really felt.

And despite the block on my computer, I was exposed to the news enough to know that Lukas never talked about me. Not in interviews, not on his social media, not ever - not as far as any reporter could ever see.

Even his publicist was silent about me. No polite statement about us splitting. If I expected the usual PR bullshit about mutually agreeing to go on our different ways, I was going to be disappointed.

I left, and Lukas acted like I never existed in the first place.

Not that I could blame him… If what Fitz said was true, he must’ve been hurting. And now that enough time has passed that I could asses the situation subjectively, I was adult enough to admit that I was in the wrong. I should’ve discussed the label’s demands with Lukas. I should’ve compromised and involved him in my decision.

So in all fairness, Lukas LaBelle was entitled to react however the fuck he wanted!

It was the fact that he didn’t.

“You’re a million miles away, London.” My mother touched my shoulder gently, turning me to face her. “You took after me in this. Your father always used to tell me ‘you’re living in your own imaginary world, Adele’ and he was right. And you, my darling, are just like me that way.” She smiled warmly, pulling me into a hug.

We were standing in the middle of my new living room. My parents have helped me buy this place, supporting my brand new company and we’ve been working on this since I’ve returned from Greece. The first floor has entirely been converted into a workspace - a large garage, if you will, where I can paint, draw, craft furniture and anything else I would ever need for my business. The second floor was my apartment - a two-bedroom charming place that I envisioned, designed, and decorated myself.

It was in a gated, safe neighborhood, halfway between downtown and my parents’ place. My own perfect oasis in the middle of a chaotic city that never slept.

And I should’ve been excited. I should’ve felt lucky as hell that at twenty-five, I had a little house, a job that I loved and my own company. I was making good money doing what I enjoyed, setting my own hours and rules. From the outside, it looked like I’ve made it.

But I didn’t feel happy. Or excited, or lucky, or anything at all, really. I was empty.

“I’m sorry, mom. I’ve just been thinking if the colors were right for this room.” I lied. The forest green couch in the middle of my earth-toned living room felt perfect from the moment I’ve spotted the fabric for refurbishing it.

Thoughtful, my mother glanced around. “I think it looks… homey. Different than most places I’ve seen. Very grounding.”

I agreed. I wanted the upstairs apartment to feel as if I was out in nature, still wandering the small forest in the middle of the Greek island, where I’ve felt the freest.

An unnatural sound broke the idyll moment, and I reached for my vibrating phone. “Excuse me for a moment!” I told mom, as I walked into the bedroom. “This is London speaking,” I said, hoping the unfamiliar number belonged to a future client, rather than a paparazzo trying to mess with me.

“Hello, London,” The deep, raspy voice on the other end made the hair stand on the back of my neck.

I swallowed. “Ash…”


*Lukas*

“Thank you for coming to see us! You were amazing, San Diego!” Jesse waved one last time to the crowd, before we walked off the stage, for the last time. “That was one hell of a show, fellas!” He grinned, slapping each of us in the back as we gathered for a group hug.

“It was one sick run, guys. Best decade of my life!” Brian smiled, before bowing his head. I had the vague suspicion that he was hiding tears in his eyes as he remembered everything that we’ve been through as a group.

“I’m glad the last show was this kick ass. I’ve never seen a crowd roar like this before.” I agreed.

Ash groaned. “Can we skip the sappy bullshit? We’re not going off to die!”

I laughed. He was right, of course.

“But nothing will ever be the same again,” Jesse argued, ever the emotional anchor of the band. “I’m glad we had the experience we’ve had. Couldn’t have done it without any one of you!”

“That’s because you were always the weak link!” Ash added, but he was smiling. “Alright, fellas. There’s a whole array of beautiful women waiting for us out there. I’m over this sausage fest!” He squeezed our shoulders one last time, before breaking out of the group and following the sound of high pitched female screams.

Brian met my gaze and he opened his mouth to speak when a loud noise made all of us jump.

Turning around, I came face to face with Erika, holding a giant bottle of champagne. “I think the cork flew all the way home!” She smiled, as a young guy handed glasses to each of us. “I can’t help but notice that we’re one Hazmat member down. Where the hell is Ash?”

I shrugged. “Where the ladies are.”

Erika’s perfect brows lifted. “Well, he certainly never disappoints. I’m afraid we’ll just have to toast between the four of us then. Cheers to a great tour! Take this weekend to relax, recharge, get some sleep. Or party! Whatever you have to do to get it out of your systems.” She winked. “We are very excited to have you back in the studio first thing Monday morning. I think you’ll love the concept our new producers came up with!”

I took a small sip of the champagne. After all, we deserved it. Today felt like a victory.

“You shouldn’t waste your time,” I said, watching her reaction expectantly.

Erika’s carefully painted smile faltered as the realization slowly dawned on her. “What did you just say?”

“I said, you shouldn’t waste your time. Or the people’s you hired.” I grinned. “We won’t be there.”

“Do you need more time or something?”

“We’ll have all the time, Erika,” I said slowly, enjoying the angry tick of the vein in her neck. “We’re done.”

She blinked. Then blinked again. “You can’t be done. We have a contract.”

I shrugged. “And we don’t give a fuck anymore. You can keep your contract. Hazmat is out.”

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