BEHIND THE LIGHTS

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Chapter 2

October 18th, 2016
Munich, Germany
Feast or famine - Andy Black

“Is Jäger here?” Søren asked, confused. He was dead tired but the haze clouding his mind dissipated the moment those mesmerizing hazel-green eyes fixed on him.

“That’d be me,” the woman replied with the initial shock slowly disappearing from her features, which bewildered him a little. He was used to all kinds of reactions, but calmness wasn’t one of them.

All he knew about this Jäger guy was that he was a great artist that knew what he was doing. He found Woodverse’s Instagram account one day when he was bored scrolling down the numerous suggestions.

He didn’t care if he was an old fart living in his mother’s basement. He could turn plain and boring instruments into real masterpieces, so he would have bought that Eighties relic anyway. What he had never expected was that Jäger was actually a woman. Much less one so gorgeous.

He didn’t use to typecast people because he hated being a target for those kinds of easy—usually wrong—judgments himself, but he had never met a woman that enjoyed such male-dominated handiwork.

“Oh.” He tried to keep his expression stoic as his eyes trailed over the light freckles covering her nose and cheeks. “I hope it’s not a problem that I arrived earlier than we agreed,” he gave her a half-smile, trying to look approachable since most people seemed to be intimidated by his presence.

“No, of course not. Come on in, please.” She moved to the side to let him in, gesturing with her right arm. Since she had the sleeve half rolled-up, he could have a glimpse of the purple lotus flower over black brushstrokes tattooed in her inner forearm.

Wondering if that tattoo had some specific meaning, he moved inside the apartment, looking around. It reminded him of the first one he lived in with Alex and Astrid when they moved to the center of Oslo. Exposed brick walls and pillars giving the space an industrial air. Big windows with black frames, high ceilings, a wooden rustic coffee table and couches that didn’t match at all. Modern yet cozy.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw two guitars on their stands and a couple of amplifiers. Feeling amazed when he turned around and saw a shelf that held close to a thousand music albums.

“Do you want anything to drink?” she asked, walking towards the kitchen.

“Do you have Monster or something like that? If not, a glass of water would be enough.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.” He nodded, taking off his bomber jacket and leaving it on the back of the couch.

He just needed to rehydrate his system. After receiving some gut-twisting news, he buried his bad mood in two women during Saturday’s party. Then, woke up with soreness even on the eyelids, didn’t sleep much for the next couple of days, and traveled to Germany first thing in the morning on Tuesday—a gum chewed and trampled on would feel better.

“I only have Coke,” she said as she peeked her head from behind the fridge’s door.

“Water then.” No way was he going to drink that bubbly poison that reminded him of other times.

“By the way, your guitar’s not ready yet.”

“I didn’t expect it to be since I’m early, don’t worry.”

He looked at her as she tiptoed to get a glass from one of the cabinets. She wasn’t very tall and didn’t seem to have exuberant curves hidden under her baggy t-shirt, but she was gorgeous and he had to admit she had a nice ass.

“Want some ice with it?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

Intrigued by that muse, Søren watched her as she opened the refrigerator again. He was accustomed to the squeals, the clingy groupies, and the fans wanting to get to know him. Most women used to be flirty or nervous around him even if they didn’t know who he was, but she wasn’t doing any of that. It had been a long time since someone made him feel disconcerted.

“You can sit wherever you want,” she said, snapping him back to reality. “There’s not much left of the guitar, but I still have to put the strings on.”

“Seems like I got here at the perfect time then.” He stared at her, unsure if he should smile or not as she was acting so cold. “Do you mind if I watch while you finish it?”

She approached him and handed him the glass with water and swirling ice cubes. After a few seconds of looking at him with an inexpressive face, she finally spoke, “sure.”

What the fuck’s wrong with her?

Without adding another word, she walked towards the double black door and slid it open, letting the metal music swamp the atmosphere around them.

As she strode around the table and crouched down to get something from one of the drawers of a storage cabinet, Søren scanned the place surrounded by white walls.

Pencils, sandpaper, screwdrivers, pliers, and a lot of other tools and chemical products everywhere. There was another guitar, a bass, and a violin hanging on the wall, all of them in different stages of their restoration.

His eyes then traveled back to her. Leaving the glass on the table behind him, he tilted his head and stared at her, brows creased together.

Even with the careless, trashy outfit, she looked feminine. She was kind of cute to be honest, but she had that badass look at the same time. Something on her serious expression as she put the string on the guitar told him she was a woman who wouldn’t put up with anyone’s bullshit.

He was sure he hadn’t met her before—no way he would have forgotten such a beautiful creature—but she reminded him of someone and he couldn’t put his finger on who.

A few strands of her chocolate, wavy hair had fallen from her bun as she was working on the guitar. Pale skin and delicate hands with a couple of silver rings and small tattoos adorning them. Søren was mesmerized.

Suddenly, the music changed, distracting him from his thoughts as he recognized the notes playing through the speakers.

He looked at her, arching an eyebrow, and smirked. She knew who he was.

“That’s one of my favorites,” he commented.

Jäger was about to say something but then one of the strings broke, snapping and hitting her forearm. She had probably tensed it too much. ”Sheiβe!” she muttered.

“Thought you made a living out of this,” Søren sarcastically noted, amused by her clumsiness.

“Thought you made a living from what comes out of your mouth,” she retorted with a beautiful and soft German accent.

Surprised by her witty-remark, he let out a chuckle, crossing his arms and leaning on the counter behind him. “So, you knew who I was from the beginning.”

“I thought it could be you but it didn’t make sense...” She trailed off as she bent down to get a new string.

“How so?” he asked, curious. It was obvious to him now that her rude, distant attitude was nothing but nervousness in disguise.

“It was such a coincidence that my client had your initials and was coming to the city the same week you have a concert here. I mean, your last name isn’t that common... But why would you buy something from me?” she explained, still not looking at him. “I just couldn’t believe it’d actually be you.”

“You’re talented, why wouldn’t I buy something from you?”

“Because you’re... You.” She paused. “It’s not like famous people contact me every day, you know?” She looked at him with a brow lifted.

“What? We aren’t supposed to have a normal life?” His tone was serious. The moment she let him see her cards, she had opened the door for him to tease her.

“Of course! I didn’t mean it like that!” she exclaimed. Her sarcastic mask fell to the ground as her face turned red and her eyes opened wide. “I mean, I couldn’t believe it’d be you, you’re so famous and I’m a nobody, and you’re one of my favorite musicians and...”

Søren burst out laughing. The bad news, the nightmares haunting his nights again, and flying to Munich had got him exhausted, but her nervous rambling and honesty changed his mood in the blink of an eye.

“I was just messing with you.”

“That’s not nice.” She narrowed her eyes at him, trying to hold back a grin.

“But it helped you relax.” He smirked. “I can be somewhat famous, but I don’t bite.”

At least if you don’t want me to.

“It’s just so shocking that you’re standing here like this.” She pointed at him, hand moving up and down.

“Meaning...?” He crooked a brow.

“You just want me to praise you.”

“Pretty and smart. I like that combo.”

He knew the effect he used to have on people, and she was obviously nervous but didn’t hesitate to blurt out whatever was on her mind. It was refreshing.

“Whatever,” she scoffed, rolling her eyes as she blushed again.

“So, you’re a fan, huh?”

“Well, obviously,” she snorted, motioning to the speakers.

He let out a soft snicker and a small smile lit up her face as she shook her head, eyes moving back to the guitar before, with a more serious tone of voice, she spoke again, “you guys are amazing, your compositions have such a passion and intensity...” She trailed off as she adjusted the fourth string. “And your voice is something from another world... It’s like you can touch the soul of whoever listens to it,” she added as she glanced at him.

“Oh, wow! Thanks!” He chuckled, his chest vibrating as he did. He didn’t expect that kind of compliment.

“Just stating the truth.”

“Still, I appreciate it.” Søren smiled, looking at her.

Nodding, she went back to her work.

“So... Are you coming to the festival?”

“Of course!” She giggled.

Okay, that was cute.

“Well, we’re going only on Saturday, but my friends and I bought tickets the same day they came out,” she told him. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world but even if I didn’t like your music, I couldn’t have avoided it since Marc goes all fangirl over you, especially Alex,” she snorted.

“Hm?”

“He plays the bass too, and he’s his biggest inspiration.”

“That idiot’s great, yeah, but I’m glad he hasn’t listened to this, it’d go straight to his head.” Søren chuckled.

She smiled and kept working on the guitar, adjusting the last string. “Okay, what do you think?” she asked, raising her head as she put the guitar upright to show it to him.

He walked closer to her and ran his fingers over its side. It was a nice guitar even when it was all worn out but after the restoration, it was perfect. She hadn’t painted it, just varnished it. The mid-wooden color was beautiful with its slightly greyish shade and all the natural grain in full display, doing an amazing contrast with the black decorations.

“Stunning,” he breathed out as he looked deep into her eyes.

It was subtle, but Søren noticed their proximity made her feel uncomfortable as she moved away, crossing her arms over her chest..

“It’s mahogany wood with a maple top. When I scratched all the old paint off and saw how it looked, I loved it. I added the black pickguard because I wanted it to shine,” she pointed out, avoiding eye contact with him. “I also had to make some reparations on the plug because it was a bit loose.”

“Well, you’ve done an amazing job,” he stated as he studied the 1957 Gibson Les Paul Special Reissue. He already had a matte black one in his collection but that one was so different.

“Glad you like it. The man who sold it to me said it’s from the eighties, I can give you the papers he gave me.”

“Sure.” He nodded, not worried about that. “Can I try it?”

“Of course!”

She walked out of the studio and straight to the living room. After plugging the amplifier and the guitar, she turned the volume knob and gave it to him. “Here.” She handed it to him and sat on the armchair right in front of him.

Since he didn’t have a strap to hold the guitar in place, he put a foot on the amplifier and rested the instrument on his leg. He tuned the guitar and soon after his left hand moved along the neck, making his whole body throbbed when the strings vibrated under his fingers as he played a few chords.

Music had always been his safe place. It was the only thing that made him feel alive, always pushing him to go forward against all odds. It allowed him to keep his sanity when the ghosts from the past haunted him.

As hard and frustrating as it could be to live in a world where he was just a mere tool for making money, even if he had a second chance, music would always be his path. He needed it like he needed oxygen to live.

Letting one last note fly and vanish in the air, he looked at her, eyes falling into the deepest and most silent conversation he had ever had, electrifying his being.

Before he could completely lose himself in that forest of intense browns and greens, his phone rang, forcing him to break eye contact with her. He cleared his throat and picked up, laying the guitar on the couch before turning his back to her.

“What’s up, fuckface?”

“Hey, fornicator!” Ian’s deep voice exclaimed on the other end of the line, making him laugh. “We’re at the suite. Are ye joining us for lunch?”

“Yeah, I’m almost done.”

“Great.”

“Where are we going?” he asked as he grabbed his jacket and put it on, moving the phone to his left ear when he slid his right arm in.

“We’re staying... Alex... He’s a bit moody.”

“I’m going to pack this for you,” Jäger told him in a low tone of voice.

“Thanks.” He nodded. “What happened?” he huffed, shifting to Norwegian again.

“Had a fight with Mikael over some pills.”

“I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”

“Good.” Søren could sense the relief in the guitar player’s voice.

As he hung up, he pinched the bridge of his nose between his index finger and thumb. He was so tired of everything.

“Here.” The hazel-eyed beauty told him as she held the guitar out to him inside a neoprene bag.

“Thanks,” he said as he grabbed it. He put it on his shoulder and took his phone out of his pocket. “Four grand, right?” he asked as he typed his bank account password.

“Yeah.”

“What’s your full name?”

“Leah Jäger. The name’s spelled with an h at the end, and the last name has an umlaut over the a.”

He wrote her full name, the amount of money, and the concept for the transfer. In those kinds of transactions, one would usually pay part of it beforehand, but she told him that wasn’t necessary because if he didn’t show up, she would keep the guitar.

“And the bank account number?”

She grabbed her phone from the coffee table and in a few seconds, she already had the bank app opened. As she read the numbers out loud, he typed them down.

“Done,” he said after confirming all the details and pressing the send button.

“Great.”

“I’ll get going. Thanks for this, Leah.”

“Sure,” she said as she put a lock of hair behind her ear.

“Bye.”

“Bye.” She nodded before closing the door behind him.

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