BEHIND THE LIGHTS

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Chapter 38

February 4th, 2017
Manchester, UK
Our truth - Lacuna Coil

After the paramedics took care of the drunkard’s face, the police drove the four of them to the station. How could Chris do so much damage to that gorilla-like dude? Not like he was short or anything, but his body was twice the size of Chris’s.

Whatever.

Three hours later, with no bigger consequences than their manager yelling at them on the phone, they went back to the hotel. Erik and Julia had gone to pick them up, calling one of those seven-seater Ubers.

Silence took over inside the vehicle. It was uncomfortable as fuck, the air so thick one could have cut it with a knife, but none of them had anything else to say. They were angry and worried about the effect that fight could have for the band and the sales of their new album.

However, as they reached their room in the hotel, Leah exploded.

“Why the fuck did you do that?”

“You wanted me to stand there watching how that bastard treated you?” Chris fired back.

“I could have handled him myself!” Leah shouted back, angrier than she had never been.

“It’s all fine now, there’s no—”

“Yeah, right! Just like you did last time you mean?” Chris retorted, ignoring the drummer.

“What the fuck?” Leah opened her eyes wide. “I think I managed pretty well the last time something like this happened, and also there was no one around to make a shitshow!”

“Guys, Gunther said he’d take care of everything, don’t think we need to keep arguing about it.” Erik tried again.

“The fuck we don’t!” Chris looked at him. “You know what happened the last time?”

“What are you talking about?” Marc looked at him, confused.

“That time when that freak of a fuck-buddy she had showed up and got rough with her.”

“Dude, that was in October,” Marc said.

“Yeah, right, but she had a fucking panic attack when we went back home!” Chris blurted, pointing at her. “She almost passed out!”

“Chris!” Leah glared at him.

“What?” Julia’s voice came out an octave higher as she looked at her, brows creased together, concern covering her face. “Why didn’t you tell me when we met the next day?”

“Because of this.” Leah pointed at her friends. “You’re looking at me as if I was some poor little, broken thing that needs to be saved. I’m not a fucking victim!”

“We don’t think you’re a victim,” Marc muttered, eyes shimmering with sadness.

“Then wipe that expression off your faces.” Leah clenched her jaw, trying to hold the tears that were flooding her eyes. It had been bad, but she needed to turn the page. Crying to her friends every time she had a bad dream, a breakdown, made her feel powerless and weak.

“I’ve told you a hundred times,” Chris started, “no one in this room thinks you need to be saved or any shit like that, but pushing us away is not gonna make it any better.”

“You promised you wouldn’t tell!”

“And I’ve never told anyone shit, but you’re acting like a brat right now! You want me to sit back and watch how some creep hurts my best friend? Sorry, but I’m not gonna do that!”

“Dude...” Erik mumbled.

“But you didn’t have to tell everyone!”

“Fuck, Leah! We’re your friends, and we love you! We would never judge you like you think we do!” She had never told him the reason she wanted to keep those bad, fleeting moments in the shadows, but he still knew. “Wouldn’t you want to know if something like that happened to any of us? Friendship is about that, fuck! We’re not here only for the laughs and happy moments, don’t you fucking get it?”

The hurt in his eyes was so obvious it made her heart squeeze inside her chest. She had put her enormous burden on him for years. Making him her confidant, banning him from talking about it with others as he watched her crumble down several times must have been really hard for him too.

“What you went through, what that asshole did to you”—he took a deep breath through his nose—“if anything, it made you stronger, but you’re still allowed to break from time to time, and we’ll be here to help you through it.”

“I... I just...”

She knew she wasn’t alone. She knew they loved her. But she wasn’t ready to let the world truly see her. Letting people into that dark spot inside her mind scared the shit out of her, as if her demons would make them run away. But maybe she was wrong?

Without adding another word, Chris circled his arms around her, hugging her tight as the tears rolled down her face. She loved his warmth and the leatherish scent mixed with a hint of the spice of his cologne. It felt like Vaseline on her wounds.

“I don’t care how much you ugly cry, I’m gonna be around forever, shooing all those creeps away,” Chris commented after a while, making everyone in the room chuckle.

“You’re so stupid.” Leah sniffed, wiping her face as she put some distance between them.

“Yup, but you love me.” He grinned like a kid.

“Sadly, yes...” She rolled her eyes, wiping her nose with a disposable tissue Julia had handed her, letting Erik put an arm around her shoulders as he kissed the top of her head.

“Okay, time to drink again and celebrate your birthday!” Chris exclaimed as he handed Leah a beer he had gotten from the fridge. “No sleep ’til we go back home!”

“Yes!” Julia squatted and got drinks for the rest.

They all sat on the beds of the room Marc, Chris, and Leah were sharing—drinks and chips in hand. They weren’t in a party mood, but that plan always worked.

Between jokes and laughs, Leah felt her heart pounding with joy. Those four amazing human beings weren’t only her friends, but her family, the one you chose because it makes you feel whole.

“Thank you...” Leah mumbled out of the blue, eyes fixed on the rough, burgundy blanket covering the mattress.

“Just rely on us a bit more...” Marc told her, tilting his head to look at her, a warm smile painted on his face as his beautiful black, straight hair cascaded down, touching his leg.

“Yeah...” she breathed out, nodding.

As the clock kept ticking, a soft morning light rose above the horizon, dying the sky with a beautiful shade of purple and blue. Marc and Chris had gone out to smoke while the others remained in the room, doing some small talk.

Suddenly, Leah’s phone vibrated on the night table.

“Who—”

Why is he calling her so early?

“What’s wrong?” Julia asked her.

“It’s Søren.”

“Why do you have that face then?” Erik chuckled.

“It’s barely eight.”

“Stop overthinking and pick it up!” Julia giggled. “Here, go to our room so you can have some privacy.” She smirked, giving her the card for the double room the couple had booked.

“Thanks.” Leah smiled as she strode towards the door. “Be right back.”

“Take all the time you want!” Erik said in a playful tone.

“Hey...” Leah whispered as she pressed the green button.

“Hey,” Søren rasped at the other end.

“Everything alright?” she asked as she swept the card to unlock the bedroom door.

“Yeah...” He chuckled; exhaustion clear in his voice. “Just woke up and went down to smoke.”

“It’s so early.”

“Guess that since you’re not here, I’m never tired enough to sleep throughout the entire night.”

“Oh, God! Stop that...” Leah felt her core clenching, reacting to his suggestive, deep tone of voice.

Søren softly laughed. “Anyway... How are you?”

“I’m good.”

“Really?” She could picture him raising a brow as his tone was sarcastic. “There are some pictures on Instagram...”

“What pictures?”

“Chris beating some guy last night?”

“Fuck.” Sometimes it was a curse that people were starting to know them.

“What a birthday party... What happened?” he asked. “You’re all okay?”

“Yeah...” Leah sighed, closing her eyes as she ran a hand through her hair. “Just a fucking drunkard that wanted to spice the party for everyone.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah...” Leah sighed.

“What is it?”

“He... He touched me and got rough with me when I snapped at him.”

“What the fuck?”

“Yeah...” She bit her bottom lip. If she told him about her having a panic attack the last time something like that happened, he would think she was overreacting.

“Did he do anything to you?” He sounded angry.

“Chris didn’t let him.” Leah snorted.

“Good.”

“No, it’s not good... I didn’t think someone had taken pictures, Angela and Markus are gonna kill us.”

“If that jerk was the one starting it, it was just self-defense. I don’t think they’ll blame it on you.”

“Still...”

“Don’t worry, if you’re all fine that’s what really matters... That will go away soon, it’s not like you’re the first ones to get into a fight. And honestly, I’d have smashed his face too.”

“You’re just a bunch of monkeys full of testosterone.” She rolled her eyes, smiling.

“Maybe.” His husky voice resonating through the phone as he laughed made her wish he was with her.

“Whatever. When are you going back home?”

“The flight leaves at twelve.”

“Nice... How’s Ian doing?”

“He’s eager to go back to Frida. Can’t blame him though.”

“Any news on that?”

“She’s doing good, tired of being in the hospital, but that’s all. And he’s been a whiny idiot these days, but nothing new there.” He chuckled.

“... and Alex?”

“What about him?”

Leah huffed. “Look, I know you don’t like to talk about it, but... how’s everything going with him?”

Søren sighed, letting a few silent seconds linger between them. “I think he’s doing better? Haven’t paid much attention to him lately.”

“Is he going back to rehab?”

“He could, but we only have one month before we go to South America... Breaking treatments only is good for those centers to make more money... I don’t know.”

“I see...”

Silence.

As if he had read his mind, Søren spoke again, “look, he’s my best friend. We’ve been together since we met in a foster home when I was barely fourteen and he was thirteen... We were a pair of angry teenagers for a long time, fighting over nothing with everyone while we were in high school, always having each other’s back.” He paused and sighed. “He knows I’d do anything for him, but I’m tired of this shit. If he doesn’t see it himself, I’m not going to force him. I simply can’t.”

It wasn’t a secret that the metalhead had been in the system for years before he became a legal adult. She knew about him living in an orphanage and with different families for a while—it was the only thing he had ever said when he was asked about his childhood. But it was the first time he spoke so much, that he actually opened and talked to her about it.

“I have my own shit going on at the moment, can’t be following him everywhere, I’m not a fucking nanny. When he recognizes he has a fucking problem, I’ll be here.”

“I get it...” Leah didn’t know what else to say. “Hmm... If you ever need to talk...”

Søren chuckled. “You really are cute.”

“Ugh!” She rolled her eyes. “Stop mocking me.”

“I’m not mocking you.” He softly laughed again. “Thank you, but it’s okay... It’s just a lot going on at the moment and I’m a bit overwhelmed. Alex acting like a jerk, the shit going on with our label, and my mother having an accident—”

“Shit! What happened?”

“She’s alright... Just a minor accident... She’s been in this residence for a few years now because she can’t take care of herself and I’m never around so”—he sighed—“the nurses there are taking care of her, don’t worry.”

“And you can’t go back?” She was surprised he spoke about his mother. She was curious about whether she was that old or if she had any physical problems but didn’t dare to ask in case she broke the spell and just kept listening to him.

“Yeah, but it’s business... I mean, shit happens every day and there’s nothing we can do about it. We can’t cancel this tour right at the end after all the shit that has been following us lately...”

“Yeah, I get it, but still... It’s your mother we’re talking about, not some random stranger.” She could imagine how that must have felt. “If there’s anything I can do, just let me know... I’m here whenever you need me.”

She knew it was useless because she wasn’t even in the same country, but she wanted him to feel like he could count on her. Their relationship had never been only about the irresistible attraction between them, but about a deeper bond. Friendship.

“Thanks.”

She could sense his smile at the other end of the call. But not the sexy, smug kind, the honest one he barely let people see. That beautiful smile with a slightly crooked lower lateral incisor and sharp upper fangs. The one that made her heart race every fucking time.

“Anyway, gotta get going, talk to you later?” he said, snapping her back to the real world.

“Yeah, sure.”

“Have a nice day, Leah.” He practically breathed out the words.

“You too,” she replied, biting on her bottom lip before hanging up.

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