Strung

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Chapter 55. - Breaking News

*London*

I woke up with the promise of a new day. I was inspired by my project with Ash’s home. As much as I didn’t like the guy, I had to admit - this total renovation was exactly what I needed to get my mind off of-

-I took a deep breath. There was no reason to rehash the past. This minor setback of working next door to the man I was running away from didn’t mean that I was going back to how things were. The exact opposite, actually. I was a grown-up, independent woman, who was strong enough to deal with this challenge head-on and keep my eyes on the house in question - not the one by it.

I felt empowered and in control. The boards I made for Ash were strong I was fairly certain he was going to love the ideas I’ve had for his brand new home - because after I was done with that place, it would no longer be a model beach house ready for showing. It was going to be Ash Wolfhart’s home, from the moment a guest walked in, down to the very last piece of furniture.

I walked into my kitchen and flipped on the TV as I set about making breakfast and coffee. “Good morning, people of Los Angeles!” The beautifully put-together news reporter greeted me from one of the many morning talk shows I never woke up early enough to watch for. “Today is going to be a great day! Come in, say it with me! Today is going to be a great day!

I rolled my eyes, but couldn’t help chime along with her. If I was going to go out to the world and find my new normal, I might as well have all the good spirits I could muster.

“Another beautiful, sunny day in Los Angeles, and I’m coming to you with more juicy news about America’s favorite band to give your morning that tiny dash of spice it requires!” The other reporter chuckled politely along with her as they went on. “Sharon, do I have some great pictures for you! Feast your eyes on three out of four members of the band Hazmat, all in a club together last night.”

My gaze moved to the TV on its own accord, my hands freezing over the piece of toast I was holding, before dropping it hastily. I sucked on my burned finger as I turned back toward the evil device, catching a glimpse of Jesse, Ash and Lukas LaBelle, sitting in what looked like a VIP section of a swanky nightclub.

“The three were out all night, drinking and hanging with girls - but none of this is new or surprising.” The reporter broke off with a little smile on her lips, like she was about to let us into a big secret.

“Don’t keep us waiting, Brenda!” Sharon urged, scooting closer to the other woman. “What could be better than three hunks prowling around town, giving the rest of us mere mortals a chance to bump into them at the club?!”

“Well, while the boys were out enjoying the Los Angeles nightlife, news broke from their label about their departure. That’s right, ladies, the Hazmat boys are now floating totally independent!” Brenda smiled, as the camera broke away from them to show a clip of a woman I was very familiar with.

None other than Erika, the owner of Hazmat’s label stood on a podium, at what looked like a press conference.

“This morning, the label announced that they are no longer associated with Hazmat - their number one earning act since 2012, when Hazmat first broke out with their first platinum record.” Brenda’s voice narrated the scene before us. “And if you’re as surprised by those news as I was, you might want to sit down to hear what Erika Van Der Built had to say about the boys.”

The sound shifted from the studio to Erika’s press conference. As per usual, she stood there in an immaculate suit, no doubt tailor-made to highlight her best assets. His short, blonde hair was in a fashionable bob, the creamy locks highlighting her tanned skin and bright blue eyes.

“After nearly eight years with Hazmat, it is my displeasure to hold this conference. We have tried everything in our power to make this impossible situation work, but after much discussion, the label decided to cut Hazmat out.”

The cameras began clicking faster as pictures flashed and the swirl of reporters previous out of shot were now moving closer as one, thrusting more microphones into Erika’s face.

The woman of the hour looked like the picture-perfect definition of sophisticated grief as the questions started being thrown at her from every direction.

She held a manicured hand up. “I will answer as many questions as I can, but please, keep it brief as we are talking about the loss of one of our favorites.”

“What lead up to this decision?” A reporter shouted and the room quieted as everyone waited for Erika’s response.

“Like I said, it wasn’t easy. My label and I have tried to make this difficult situation work for everyone, but the members of the band have been behaving in a way we cannot condone. While my team and I respect as musicians, the label has a strict code of ethics - and we would’ve been breaking that code had we continued our relationship with Hazmat.”

“Tell us more!”

“As you are no strangers, certain members have been very scandalous and very publicly behaving in a fashion that is most uncivil for years now.”

“So why make the decision now?” Someone shouted, cutting Erika off.

For a moment, there was a flash of anger on her face. But just as fast as it came, she recovered. “We felt that we can no longer allow this type of behavior to go on. The label is very supportive, and any time an artist has an issue, our first response is to try to help them. We’ve offered to pay for rehabilitation, anger management, even hired trained psychologists that go on tour with the band - you can fact check all of these, as I’m sure you will.”

I frowned. I had to give Erika credit, she was putting on the show of a perfect businesswoman, looking out for her own birthright. Along with everyone else, I probably would’ve fallen for all of this, if only I hadn’t personally known her when the camera wasn’t in her face.

“The constant parties, flock of women, the drinking, the fighting…” She trailed off, taking a deep breath. “Ladies and gentlemen, the last thing I want to do is speak ill of a group of very talented young musicians who are clearly in need of serious help. What has happened is in the past. Please, keep the questions focused on the label, rather than the band.”

This woman was a magician! From her sour, haunted expression, to the way tears gathered at the corner of her eye as she dabbed it away with one hand - she was the embodiment of what the media wanted to see.

“What’s the label going to focus on now?” Someone asked, taking the focus away from Hazmat, just as she requested.

“We are working with many talented recording artists, some of whom are also chart-toppers. As always, we have scouts in multiple cities, attending clubs, bars, searching the internet, looking for fresh talent. The label is obviously facing a great loss with the departure of its highest earner, but as I said, we are first and foremost ethical. There is an abundance of young talent out there, waiting for that one shot-”

I turned off the TV. I couldn’t listen to one more word out of this woman’s mouth.

A year ago, I would’ve fallen for this Oscar-worthy performance. A year ago, I would’ve questioned my belief in the band I worshipped all my life.

But I was smarter now. I’ve seen enough of this ruthless industry to know that her story was a carefully fabricated tale, designed to showcase her and her label in the best possible light. And that the truth couldn’t have been further from the charade she put on.


I’ve made it to Ash’s house in record time. Dodging the ample amount of paparazzi camped outside of the gated entrance, I sped down the streets until I’ve reached Ash’s huge mansion. I nearly dropped one of the boards as I scrambled up his steps, and rung the bell four times before the man of the house threw the door open, looking furious.

“You’re early, coffee girl!” He snapped, looking like he just rolled out of bed in a pair of boxers and tussled hair. “And what the fuck are you carrying?”

“My vision boards,” I said, pushing past him into the house.

“Your wha- Why the fuck couldn’t just email those to me?”

“What a great idea!” I set the boards carefully down against his couch, before turning to face him. “Once technology figures out a way to email the feel of a fabric, I’ll be sure to do that! Now, please get dressed. We agreed that you’d be on your best behavior.”

Ash rolled his eyes. “I will be - once the time we agreed on actually rolls around!” He walked to the staircase leading to the second level of his home, where his bedroom was, but stopped short. “Make yourself some coffee in the kitchen. I have some chicks to get rid of and I need my own dose of caffeine before I can deal with your cranky ass.”

Half an hour, and about three half-naked chicks later, Ash strolled into the kitchen. Thankfully, he was dressed and freshly showered this time, as he took the mug of coffee I’ve made for him. “I’ve heard the news on TV this morning,” I started, gaging his reaction.

Ash sipped his coffee, staring at his phone as if I wasn’t even there.

“About Hazmat leaving the label?” I went on. “Well, Erika presented it in a very different light, but the gist was that you guys are no longer associated with them.”

Completely ignoring me, he took another swig of his drink.

“Asher Wolfhart! I’m talking to you!” I snapped, slamming the counter with my hand which had him glance over at me if only to give me a disapproving glare. “I’m not buying what Erika is selling. What really happened?!”

Slowly, he crossed his arms as he descended on a chair opposite me and leaned closer. “What does it matter to you?”

“I want to know if-” I took a deep breath. If Lukas was okay, I wanted to say, but stopped myself just in time. “I’d like to know-” I started again, my tone softer this time. “-if there’s anything you need help with. I am aware of the troubles with the label from before I-” I paused. “-from before I left. And it would be nice to be reassured that the four of you aren’t harmed.”

“You want to know if we got kicked to the curb because of you and Lukas?” Ash asked, brow hiked in the air.

“Well…” I stuttered. “No. Not exactly, at least. I know it wasn’t because of me and Lukas. I left, so-” I paused, waiting for him to nod. “Can you at least give me something?!” I snapped.

“You want me to tell you that it wasn’t because of your relationship?”

“Yes if… If that’s the case. Then yes, it would be nice to know.”

“You’re a nosy thing, aren’t you?” He smiled. “Why don’t you call my brother. I know he misses you. Or better yet, since you’re still clearly so hung up on Lukas, call him directly. Now let’s get on with this vision board bullshit. I have places to be!”

And with that, he rose from the counter and walked out of the kitchen.

“You’re a dick, anyone told you that?” I asked out loud, not caring if he heard.

“On a daily basis, coffee girl. On a daily basis!”

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