Strung

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Chapter 51. - Ricochet

*Lukas*

Erika practically dragged us into the back room, away from the straining ears of the crew, who didn’t even try to hide their amusements. Once Jesse, Brian and I were securely inside, she slammed the door shut behind us.

“What the fuck are you talking about?!” This time, she didn’t bother to cover up her anger as she hissed into our faces.

I smiled, feeling alive for the first time in months. “You heard me, Erika. How many times do I have to repeat it to get it through your head?”

To make manners worse, Jesse added. “You’re embarrassing yourself at this point.”

“I don’t need to embarrass myself. Luckily, I have you all for that!” She seethed, a vein twitching in her forehead as she took another step toward me. “You want to be out? Fine! But you won’t get to take anything with you! Everything in your bank account, every little car, and plaything you own, down to your last house belongs to me!

I could tell that she was expecting more of a reaction out of us, and the fact that we were the textbook definition of calm and amused riled her up even further.

“Your name, your songs, your albums you worked so hard for… All mine! If you want to be out, you’re walking out of this room with just the shirt on your back, so I strongly urge you to take another fucking moment to think this through! When you are ready to apologize, I will be at the bar.”

Erika turned on her heel, ready to storm out of the room on us, but my voice gave her a pause.

“We’re aware of what’s in our contracts, Erika.”

She looked over her shoulder at me. “Then you know that leaving the label like this isn’t an option. You leave when we tell you to! When your contract is up. Which, might I remind you, I’m in control of.”

“Leaving is an option, Erika. It’s just not one any sane person would choose.”

“And luckily, you didn’t sign us for our brains!” Jesse chimed in with his shit-eating grin. “We’ve had enough of this circus.”

Her piercing stare turned to Brian. “And what does your wife have to say about this?”

“You know, I’m lucky that I’ve married a woman who always supported my dreams. Her opinions are no longer your concerns now, Erika. As Hazmat’s band manager, when we depart, so does she.”

“So be it.” She sighed dramatically, fully facing us now as she placed her hands on her hips. Her stance meant to be intimidating, but given that there was absolutely nothing left on this world she hasn’t already taken from me, it hardly got my heart racing. “And what band will she manage, now that you’re leaving the Hazmat name with me?”

“Actually-” I cleared my throat. “-you are correct. Our songs, our old records, all of merch is your property. It’s yours to profit off of. But as it turns out, we registered the name Hazmat just before we signed with you.”

“The day before actually.” Jesse nodded. “Would you like to know who the cash came from?”

Erika hitched a brow at us, but I saw the subtle tick of her jaw. She was beyond furious now.

“My lovely wife,” Brian informed her, his brown gaze shining with so much promise. “I remember it clear as day. The four of us got so excited by the prospect of a record deal, we got trashed the night before. We would’ve missed our appointment had she not taken our place and registered the name for us.”

“Bless her heart!” Jesse sighed dramatically. “You really are lucky she gets a say in things.”

I turned to Erika with a cold stare. “We could drag this out all night, but let’s remember, we are professionals. No need to do this here.”

“You’re right, Lukas.” Erika nodded. “You and I are finished. But the label’s lawyers will be in contact. As soon as I walk out that door-” She pointed behind herself for a theatrical effect. “-I will call them, and this process begins. From this second on, everything you own belongs to me and the label and if you fail to cooperate-”

Jesse raised a hand. “Don’t waste your breath, Erika. We get it. We unlawfully terminated the contract. Have your lawyers call us in the morning and I expect we’ll see you very soon.”

And just like that, the three of us shouldered past her, heading for the exit. But before I could disappear from her sight, I turned back to face her for the very last time. “When this is all done and played out, just remember that it all could’ve been avoided, had you stayed the hell away from my personal business. We would’ve never left the label. But now? You’re never getting us back - and that’s a bigger loss than those royalties could ever cover.”

Erika shook her head. “We’ll see about that.”

“I guess we will.”

“Lukas?” She called out my name, her voice softer this time - now that she didn’t have to put on a show in front of my bandmates. “All this for a girl?”

I nodded. “All this for the girl.” I shrugged. “But mostly, for myself. I should’ve never let you or anyone else back me into a corner. And that I will regret for the rest of my days.”

“That’s something we’ll both have in common, then.”

Her last words echoed in my head as I made my way down the corridor, where Jesse and Brian were waiting. “I’m proud of you, man!” Brian said, slapping my back, while Jesse threw his arm over my free shoulder.

The three of us began walking toward the exit, where our rides were waiting for us. “I think this couldn’t have gone any better.”

“I mean… It could’ve. We wouldn’t have had to give up our fucking songs and our life’s work and whatnot.” Brian argued, rightfully.

“I’m sorry I got the group into this mess,” I said, meaning it sincerely. “None of this would’ve happened had it not been for me and-”

Jesse shook his head. “Nonsense! This side of the label would’ve come out sooner or later. They’ve always been trying to control us - they knew who the hell they signed on, yet from the beginning, they’ve been trying to change my brother, tried to put all of us into a straight marketing label they could sell.”

He continued.

“From the very beginning, Brian was prince charming - the serious committed one. Ash was the bad boy, Lukas the soulful unattainable talent, and I was the fucking hilarious and sexy one.”

“Don’t flatter yourself. You’re neither of those things.” I said flatly - for good measure because Ash wasn’t with us.

Jesse rolled his eyes. “But you see what I’m saying? We’ve all had a single personality trait, a little box they could put us into, market and sell to the crowd. But as soon as we started acting out of line - as soon as Ash wasn’t just breaking hearts, but faces; when you found someone you wanted to settle down with; when Brian wasn’t the compliant one they always hoped for… All the wheels were off.”

“That’s how the world works. Simple sells.” Brian agreed. “But those days are behind us now, boys. We are free as a bunch of birds!”

I smiled, my heart skipping a beat at the concept of total freedom. We could’ve gone anywhere, done anything, and there was no one to pester us about it. “Let’s give Erika something to stress about, shall we?”

Jesse lifted his brows at me. “Does that mean you’re coming out with us tonight?”

I nodded, shocked that the concept seemed so foreign to him. “Of course. Where else would I go?”

Jesse and Brian exchanged a look, then, before I could question it, we were surrounded by security details, guiding us toward a single blackened SUV parked as close to the back entrance as was physically possible.

The three of us grown men squeezed into the back seat before someone slammed the door shut and we were off. “My man, do you have something to make this journey a little more enjoyable with?” Jesse leaned forward between the seats, meeting the driver’s eyes.

“Blow or a drink?”

“A drink will do for now,” Jesse chuckled and took the bottle from the stranger up front. He unscrewed the top of the cheap whiskey and took a healthy swig, before raising it up high. “To new beginnings!”

Brian took it from him winking over at me as he tipped it back. “And to old things that never change!”


*London*

Mornings were always the toughest. I was never the person who just opened their eyes and was ready to tackle the day - I’ve always needed a healthy amount of caffeine for that. But lately, the concept of leaving my soft new comforter and pillow set seemed more and more unreasonable.

My cozy home felt too empty in the mornings. I’ve spent my whole life around others - moving from my family home to a dorm, then in with Callie, then right back home. The only time I’ve ever spent by myself was when I was traveling - and that hardly compared to the empty, quiet kitchen I was now standing in, deciding whether to be an adult and cook breakfast or skip it entirely.

With the coffee pot set, I decided to take the responsible way out. As I began whipping an egg up, I turned on my little television my mother insisted I should install into the kitchen.

It would make my time here go by quicker, she said. It was easy to get lost in cooking while a good TV show was on - or I could always just switch to a music channel and dance my way toward a healthy, nutritious life.

The TV flipped to a morning talk show I wasn’t familiar with. The three hosts were discussing the latest fitness trends and weight loss methods, while I poured the contents of the bowl into a pan.

“You know what’s the only thing I like more than looking good in a dress?” One of the hosts asked flirtily.

“What, Sharon?”

“Looking good in a dress with a hunk on my arm!” She giggled. “And speaking of hunks, the four men of Hazmat were seen out all together last night, hitting up the best night clubs in San Diego!”

My wooden spoon fell on the floor, making a clattering noise as it bounced once, twice, then rolled away from my feet.

My fingers were aching to turn off the television - to forget just what I’ve heard and moved on with my day. I was over this - I reminded myself bitterly. What they were doing was no longer my concern.

But as I stood frozen in my kitchen, trying to will my body to comply, the hosts kept chattering happily on.

“Wow! How long has it been since all four of them were out together?!”

“Too long, Brenda! In fact, Lukas LaBelle hasn’t been seen outside of the obvious concerts since his rumored split with girlfriend London Grey. It’s like he’s been in hiding for months! The Wolfhart brothers were hitting up all the local nightclubs and venues of the cities they visited while on tour, but Lukas managed to stay out of the public eye.”

“It’s equally as rare to see Brian Flynn out around town, right?” The first one, Sharon, asked in a tone that suggested she already knew the answer. “To those of you who don’t know, he is the only married one of the group. He’s been together with wife Nikki Flynn since before the band become known.”

“That’s right, they were high school sweethearts.” Brenda agreed. “So was Nikki spotted with them last night as well, or did Brian leave the wife home in favor of his friends?”

“No wife could be seen,” Sharon confirmed. “They were out celebrating the wrap of their successful mini-tour - which concluded last night in San Diego’s famous arena. Hazmat played sold-out shows all over the US for the past three months, and now they are rumored to be heading back home and hitting the studio again.”

“Look out, Los Angeles!” They laughed. “Our boys are coming home!”

My finger slammed on the remote, blissfully shutting off the evil thing that ruined my whole morning. With my stomach up in knots, I tossed the burnt eggs into the trashcan, and headed out the door.

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