It's the Stardust Awards afterparty! With everyone under the same roof, will the three singers make new friends or enemies?
Thumping bass was blasting through the luxurious ‘Emperor’ club as red and purple lights created an almost hypnotic atmosphere. Dozens of guests had already made their way onto the dancefloor, under the sparkling lights of disco balls, while others chose to stay in their private booths, having drinks and chatting among each other.
It was the afterparty following the Stardust Awards, which meant not just anyone was invited. Only celebrities and their special guests could get in.
As usual, Samson was fashionably late, arriving with Hank and Anna. After the singer’s successful performance earlier that night, they were all in a good mood, ready to enjoy the rest of the night. While Hank used the opportunity to do some schmoozing and feel out some potential business prospects, Anna was set on feeling up a sexy singer or actor by the end of the night.
“Oh my god, is that Austin Douglas?!” She whispered to Samson as she noticed the famous TV actor at the bar.
“Sure is, and I bet he won’t be alone for long,” the singer replied, eyeing the hot guy. Too bad he was straight.
“I know, I’m going over there. How do my boobs look?”
“I like them better firm and hairy,” Samson shrugged. “Gurl, you look amazing. Go get that D!”
Left alone, Samson decided to get a drink and relax for the moment. The excitement of the performance well done was still keeping him in high spirits, but he needed to just relax for a while before he headed to the dancefloor. After all, he could let loose more once he’s had a few drinks in him.
Soon after he got his cocktail, the singer found himself joined by Ash. They didn’t meet frequently, but when they did, they always had a good conversation. The Korean seemed relaxed and cool, exuding effortless charisma, as he usually did. If there was any tension or annoyance over what happened with Marcus, Samson could not sense it.
“So, spill the tea! How did you manage to snag Lance Lovecraft for the performance? I don’t think anyone saw that coming!” Samson asked Ash as the two sat in a private booth, nursing their drinks. Even though he was curious about what happened with Marcus, he decided not to push his luck.
“Actually, I didn’t see it coming either,” Ash let out a laugh, showing his pearly white teeth. “I literally just met the guy at the red carpet and asked him to join me on stage, spur of the moment, and he said yes.”
“Are you kidding me?!” Samson shrieked in delight, hitting Ash on the arm. “That is fucking brilliant! Ugh, I hate you right now. Why didn’t I see him first…”
“Sucks to be you,” Ash shrugged, smirking playfully at the other singer. “Real talk, man, I loved your performance. You nailed it. I think everyone loved it.”
“Aww, thanks, you’re a peach,” Samson smiled thankfully. “Yours was amazing, as usual. It would’ve been great even without Lance, he was just the cherry on top. A very sexy, British cherry.”
“I’m gonna tell him you said that, you know.”
“Oh my gosh,” Samson laughed, covering his mouth with one hand. “You know what, feel free to quote me on that, I don’t even care!”
Throughout all of their small talk, there was one topic both singers were avoiding, unsure of what to say. Their albums were going head to head and neither had acknowledged it yet, until at some point, Ash finally broached the subject.
“So, I hear a great new album just came out a few days ago… ‘Night Shift’ or something?” Ash said, pretending he didn’t know the title.
Samson chuckled, then took a sip of his cocktail. “Yeah, I hear it’s album-of-the-year material. Luckily, there’s no competition, only some ex-boyband member… Hang it up, flatscreen.”
Ash couldn’t help but laugh, appreciating that Samson was being a good sport about it. “Look, about this whole rivalry thing, it wasn’t my idea. Sanders decided to push back my release date. He’s just… impossible.”
“Yeah, I know,” Samson said without thinking. “I mean, I’m not crazy about it, but I don’t blame you.”
“You know? How?” the Korean asked.
“Uh, I mean, I assumed it wasn’t your doing. I know you don’t care about that crap, so I guessed the order probably came from above,” the younger guy shrugged. He didn’t want to reveal that he had talked to Marcus about it.
“Yeah… Sanders is gonna be pissed if Tyler ruins his perfect plan, though,” Ash replied.
“Speak of the devil,” Samson whispered, noticing a very familiar face approaching them. He pursed his lips, his mood instantly ruined.
The British guy came over, nervous, but excited to meet the two singers he admired very much. Since his parents took the younger siblings back to the hotel, and Stacy hadn’t arrived yet, Tyler decided to mingle a bit on his own, as scary as that prospect sounded. It was certainly better than staying with Florence, who would not stop singing his praises to anyone who would listen. Once he saw Ash and Samson sitting together, he knew he had to go over and introduce himself. When would he get another chance?
“Sorry to interrupt,” Tyler gave them a small wave as he came over to their booth. “I just wanted to say hi.”
While Samson mustered a smile and waved back, Ash wasted no time in getting up and giving the Brit a friendly hug.
“Hey, it’s great to finally meet you! Come sit with us,” the Korean greeted him cheerfully, scooting over to make room for Tyler. “You definitely don’t need any introductions!”
“Ugh, does he have to be so friendly?” Samson wondered silently, fighting the urge to roll his eyes as he watched Ash get chummy with Tyler. They were already chatting like best friends.
This was the guy who barely had one hit, but was already hailed as the next big superstar. Samson had been working his ass off for years and didn’t manage to make such a big breakthrough, while this guy comes over and tries to overshadow his album release AND steal his slot at the award show! And then he didn’t even have the guts to go through with it.
“A wolf in sheep’s clothing if I ever saw one,” Samson thought as he observed the younger singer.
“I am such a big fan of both of you! I went to your concerts in London last year, had the time of my life,” Tyler started fanboying, not even stopping to think if he looked awkward or not. He was genuinely starstruck and couldn’t stop the river of words that kept pouring out of his mouth. “I wanted to buy the meet and greet so badly, but I didn’t really have money at the time… But this is so much better, I can’t believe I got to meet you and see you perform tonight!”
“The feeling is mutual, man, I’m glad to finally meet you! And that performance… Oof, you killed it. You know, my parents are big fans of yours, especially my mom. She loves your voice. They were here tonight, but they already left. Shame, because they would’ve loved to have met you,” Ash said.
“Oh, that’s too bad. Say hi to them for me and tell them I’d love to meet them sometime,” Tyler replied. He was grateful his own parents had come to support him, but he was also glad they had gone back to the hotel for the night. If they had stayed, they would’ve probably embarrassed him horribly.
“I will, my mom’s gonna freak out when she hears I met- wait, what the...” Ash suddenly drifted off as he caught a familiar face out of the corner of his eye - the last person he expected to see that night. No, it couldn’t be...
As he turned to get a better look, he noticed another, and another… His jaw dropped as he stared silently at the group of young men he knew so well.
“Hey, what’s up? Seen a ghost?” Samson asked, following Ash’s gaze across the crowd.
“Five, actually,” the Korean replied, standing up, his face almost frozen in confusion and surprise as he watched his former bandmates enter the room.
Dae-Jung, a tall, lanky guy whose hair was dyed pink, easily spotted Ash and broke out into a grin, waving him over. The other four guys quickly noticed him as well, stopping to wait for him.
“Excuse me, I gotta go say hi,” Ash scrambled out of his seat. “Tyler, it’s been so nice to meet you, I hope we get to chat some more soon!” He quickly excused himself and squeezed past the British singer, leaving him with Samson.
“Who are those guys?” Tyler asked, glancing at the group that was now talking to Ash.
“Shouldn’t you know, seeing as you’re such a big fanboy of Ash?” Samson could hardly wait to snipe at the Brit. He knew he was being petty, but he didn’t care. “They’re 2Good, his former bandmates.”
“Ohh,” Tyler bit his lip, feeling dumb. He should’ve figured it out. “To be honest, I didn’t really listen to them much. But I do love Ash’s solo stuff,” he added, trying to defend himself.
With the Korean out of the picture to act as a buffer between them, the other two singers quickly fell into an awkward silence, with Samson looking anywhere but the other guy. He was irritated at the newcomer whom he had immediately branded as fake. As far as he was concerned, they had nothing to talk about.
Tyler suddenly felt stranded. Ash had done nothing but be friendly and welcoming to him, but Samson had barely spoken a word. The Brit wondered if he had done anything wrong to make him upset, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to ask him that. He felt awkward and out of his depth. All around him were nothing but certified celebrities, while he was only starting to enter the world of show business, and he still wasn’t sure if he would like it there. He reached for his phone as he saw a message from Stacy pop up, letting him know she and the driver had arrived. At the same moment, Samson did the same. Tyler smiled as he noticed a photo of a cute Siamese cat on the other singer’s phone case.
“Is that your cat?” He asked hesitantly, almost afraid he would say something wrong again.
“Yes, his name is Cheops,” Samson replied, his face suddenly lighting up.
“Wow, that was the first time he smiled since I came over,” Tyler thought. “Aww, I like that name. He’s adorable! How old is he?”
“He’ll be three this autumn,” the other singer said, turning his phone around to look at his beloved pet.
“I have two lizards,” Tyler said, quickly finding their photos to show Samson. “This is Sally Mander, and this big girl right here is Queen Elizardbeth.”
“Heh, that’s clever,” Samson gave a quick glance at the screen. “So, he likes reptiles. No wonder, since he’s a damn snake,” he thought to himself. As quickly as he perked up, he went back to his moody self, turning to look at his phone and doing his best to ignore Tyler.
“So… are you enjoying the evening? It’s been so exciting, at least for me,” the Brit spoke again, grasping at straws in an attempt to continue the conversation. He was never good with awkward silences, but this was on a whole other level. He was sitting with THE Samson Flynn.
“You know what, I was,” the other guy replied, emphasizing the last word. “And I think there’s still time to salvage what’s left of it. I have to go find my friends. It’s been a... delight.” With those final words, spoken sweetly, but laced with venom, Samson got up and left, leaving Tyler alone.
“Uh, sure, have a nice… evening,” Tyler stammered, looking at Samson’s back as he walked away without pause.
If there was ever any doubt in his mind, it was now gone. The guy did not like him at all, and Tyler had no clue as to why. He didn’t have much chance to think about it, though, as the person he was looking forward to seeing all day finally showed up. Stacy entered the club accompanied by Florence. The poor girl looked exhausted, her dress wrinkled from hours of sitting in the car. Still, Tyler did not notice any flaws on her - to him, she looked beautiful.
The British singer was all smiles as he stood up to greet his girlfriend, wrapping her in a hug. With Florence standing nearby and keeping a watchful eye on them, Tyler decided not to risk kissing Stacy. They could do that later in the privacy of his hotel room. For now, they would have to pretend they were just really good friends.
“I’m so glad you’re finally here,” he said with relief as he led her over to the booth he had occupied.
“Yeah, finally being the operative word,” Stacy sighed as she moved uncomfortably through the crowd. She had never been in such high-profile company, at such an upscale venue. Until a few months ago, neither had Tyler. As she looked around at all the celebrities around her, she wondered if Tyler was fitting in well with that crowd. She didn’t think she ever could.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply…”
“No, it’s ok. I’m just so bloody tired and angry for missing your performance,” the girl said, sighing. “I really wanted to be there to support you, but… so much for that, I guess. We were stuck in traffic for so long and couldn’t get out. We spent two bloody hours going at a snail’s pace.”
“Hey, you’re here now and that’s all that matters. So, let’s enjoy the night,” Tyler tried his best to cheer her up. He didn’t want their first date in weeks - if it could even be called a date - to be spent moping around. They were in LA, at the hottest party of the season. Some people would kill to be invited to such an event, and there they were, feeling sorry for themselves. It simply wouldn’t do.
“Let me get you a drink!” He suddenly remembered and stood up to wave his hand. A waiter appeared within seconds, taking Tyler’s order of two cocktails.
“One Banana Daiquiri and one Hurricane coming right up, sir.”
“Thank you,” Tyler smiled, wondering what he just ordered. All he knew was that the names sounded cool, but he had no idea what the drinks actually contained. It would just have to be a surprise.
As they waited for the drinks, Stacy tiredly glanced around the room, suddenly feeling small. In the corner of her eye, she could see Tyler’s manager standing by the bar. The woman must have been keeping an eye on them, and it made the girl uncomfortable. She could not relax at all, knowing her every move was being watched - especially since she was in a room full of famous people. What if she accidentally made a fool of herself and ended up in a tabloid tomorrow? She could embarrass Tyler and hurt his career.
Starting to feel anxious, she decided to stop looking at others and try to focus only on Tyler. “So, um, tell me about the performance. How was it? Were you nervous?”
“Oh, yeah, kinda…” the singer replied, pondering how much to tell her. Should he reveal that he almost fled the show altogether because of his stage fright? Although that was his first instinct, he decided to keep it a secret from her. Her day was difficult enough without him giving her another reason to worry. “Some jitters, but I guess that’s only normal, right? But once I got on the stage… Oh my God, it was amazing. I’ve never been to such a massive show…”
“Tyler Edwards?!” An excited voice suddenly came from behind him. The singer turned around only to see Tiffany Cooper, a famous singer and member of the Kittycat Dolls. She wore a tight, sparkling dress that made her boobs look even bigger. “Sorry to interrupt, I just wanted to say hi. I’m such a big fan! I loved your performance tonight.”
“Oh, uh, thank you,” the Brit replied, taken aback at the girl’s sudden appearance. Plus, he was still getting used to meeting all these celebrities and chatting with them as if they were friends. “You girls rocked too, I really enjoyed it.”
“You’re sweet! Wait till I tell Haley I met you tonight,” Tiffany replied, looking around for her bandmate, but unable to locate her. All of a sudden, she raised a hand and started waving. “Mark, come, look who I found!”
A stylish, young man quickly came over and stood next to Tiffany. Now that he saw them standing side by side, Tyler could clearly see the resemblance. The famous fashion designer Mark Cooper was Tiffany’s twin, and just like his sister, he was also quite eager to meet Tyler.
Of course, the two siblings weren’t the only ones looking to steal a minute of Tyler’s time. One by one, actors, TV hosts and singers came over to introduce themselves, take selfies and chat with the British sensation.
“Looks like you have a lot of fans here,” Stacy commented after all of the uninvited guests left. Tyler was quite sure he detected a note of annoyance in her voice. “This night is just getting better and better.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was going to be like this,” he replied, feeling guilty, even though he knew it wasn’t really his fault. He could hardly make himself invisible or ignore everyone who came to meet him.
“I guess you better get used to it, huh?”
“That’s going to take some time, for sure. Just now, when all these people came over, I felt like I was on auto-pilot for most of the time, smiling and shaking hands. I had no idea what I was doing, I could hardly even relax,” Tyler said.
“Well, that’s what you signed up for,” the girl shrugged, clearly not in the mood for anything.
It was the final straw for Tyler. He wasn’t in the mood for celebrating either, but no one asked how he was feeling. Exasperated with everyone antagonising him, he threw his hands in the air, staring at Stacy. “Alright, what do you want me to say? Yes, I signed up for this, but I couldn’t know how much everything would change. Do you think I love all of it? No, but I have to make sacrifices.”
Stacy just shook her head and let out a tired sigh. “Look, I don’t want to argue, especially not here. I’m just so tired and annoyed with everything. I flew to bloody America, put on this uncomfortable dress and then instead of enjoying the show, I had to sit two more hours in that fucking car! I just want to go to the hotel... It’s your big night and you should stay and celebrate if you want.”
“Yeah, I’m not really in the mood for celebrating anything. Come on, let’s find Florence and go.”
It was nearly four in the morning when the young couple, accompanied by Tyler’s manager, arrived at their hotel. Assuming his family was already fast asleep, Tyler headed straight for his room, Stacy walking by his side.
“Well, at least I’ve got this huge comfy bed, you’re going to love it,” the singer said as he stopped in front of his door and unlocked it. Stacy, however, made no attempt to follow him inside.
“I think I’ll just go to my room and sleep.”
“Oh… Well, alright then. Have a good night,” Tyler replied. As he deliberated whether to give her a goodnight kiss or a hug, Stacy already turned around and went to her room without a word.
For the first time in over three years, all six members of 2Good were together under the same roof. Before this very moment, Ash had no idea how much he actually missed his ex-bandmates. Sure, he would sometimes think of them when he would see their names pop up on his Twitter feed. He would even play their old music and videos now and then when he got nostalgic, but seeing them in person again was almost overwhelming. Maybe it was the surprise factor, he wasn’t sure. He had no idea they would show up that night, but they clearly knew he would be there. He realized they wanted to surprise him, and they definitely succeeded.
As he hugged each of them, tears threatened to fall down his face, but luckily, he wasn’t the only one. Everyone had gotten misty-eyed, even Hyun, although his face seemed frozen in a scowl. The young, platinum-blond guy used to be Ash’s roommate back when they all lived together in the same house, and he was the one who took Ash’s departure from the band the hardest. He saw it as personal betrayal - of their friendship and everything they worked together to achieve - and he never completely forgave Ash. While the other members would still send Ash the occasional message - mainly at birthdays and holidays, Hyun never did.
The other four - Jin, Dae-Jung, Tae and Nik - all came to accept and respect Ash’s decision over time. They weren’t happy about it, and certainly didn’t consider Ash one of their best friends anymore, but they also weren’t about to crucify him for wanting to go solo.
“Well, are we just gonna stand here or what?” Hyun asked impatiently, gesturing with his hands. The novelty of the reunion had worn off and he wanted to go and have a drink.
“Sure, let’s go over there,” Jin pointed at an empty booth in the corner and everyone followed.
In a matter of seconds, the fight with Marcus and the hot mess that was his performance were the last things on Ash’s mind. He found himself laughing to tears as he listened to the other guys’ stories about their band adventures. Even though their career never really returned to the peak from back when it was the six of them, they were still quite popular in South Korea and Japan.
“Remember when we went on our first tour?” Nik asked, pointing at Ash and Hyun. “You guys were afraid of flying so we gave you Tic Tacs, telling you they were sleeping pills.”
“Ash fell asleep ten minutes into the flight, but you were clutching your seat the whole time! You nearly crapped your pants,” Jin laughed as he threw an arm around his bandmate, pulling him into a hug.
“Yeah, very funny,” Hyun frowned, extricating himself from Jin’s grip.
“Come on, man, are you gonna be this grumpy all night? We came to have fun,” Tae asked as Ash guiltily looked at the blond guy. He knew Hyun hadn’t forgiven him and it made him feel bad. They would have to talk about it again at some point, Ash realized. Just the two of them.
“So... we’ve been thinking about something and we have a question for you,” Jin said at one point during the night. All the other guys went silent, looking at him. Everyone except Ash knew what he was about to say. “We know you’re doing your own thing now, and you’re rocking it, but… We’ve been talking about doing a new album and we wanted to see if maybe you wanted to rejoin us?”
Ash’s first instinct was to laugh, thinking the guys were messing with him. But then, he realized he was the only one laughing.
“Wait, you guys are being serious?” he asked, his eyes scanning all of their faces.
He’d be lying if he said the thought never crossed his mind in rare moments of boredom, but he never seriously entertained the idea. Especially now that his solo career was going so well.
“Yeah, we are. I mean, why not? It’d be fun, just like old times,” Dae-Jung jumped in. “You can’t say we didn’t have a blast, the six of us.”
“I mean, yeah, we did, but…” Ash stuttered, looking at each of the guys in turn. “Guys, I just dropped my album, I’m going on tour this year…”
“See, I told you,” Hyun shrugged and was about to reach for his drink when Tae kicked him under the table, shushing him. “What? This was a waste of time. But no one listens to me,” Hyun muttered as he got up, pushing his way out of the booth. “I have to go piss.”
The blond guy had barely entered the bathroom when the door opened again. He turned around to see Ash come in after him.
“Oh, it’s you,” Hyun rolled his eyes and turned around, going toward the row of stalls.
“Come on, man, I know we have to talk, but I don’t wanna do it here,” Ash said in a hushed tone, looking pleadingly at his ex-bandmate. He couldn’t deny that he missed Hyun, despite everything. They used to be such good friends. “I don’t want our first meeting after so long to go this way.”
“Well, tough luck. And we have nothing to talk about. You said everything you wanted to say three years ago.”
“What about what you guys asked me back there?”
“No, THEY asked you, not me. They’re the ones who want you back in the band,” Hyun corrected him.
“And you don’t?”
“Why would I? You already left once. See, for once we agree on something - neither of us wants you back,” the blond stared at Ash, as if trying to shoot lasers out of his green eyes.
After a moment of tense silence, Ash dropped his gaze. “Ok then, if that’s how you feel,” he replied softly, turning around and leaving the restroom. He quickly rejoined his former bandmates, a fake smile plastered on his face.
“Hey, I know we sprang this on you so suddenly, but we clearly didn’t mean you had to decide anything right now,” Nik explained, patting Ash on the shoulder. “We’re also going on tour soon, so we won’t be starting to work on the album until next year. Obviously, we didn’t expect you to say yes, but we didn’t wanna miss the chance to ask you in person.”
“Look guys, thanks for the offer, but...”
“Hey, at least think about it, ok? You have a lot of time, and you have our numbers,” Nik added.
“Yeah…” Ash nodded, his mind racing. “Sure, I’ll think about it.”
There was nothing to think about. He was happy with his solo career. He was making the music he always wanted to, his new album had just dropped, and he would be going on a big world tour in a few months. He had everything going for him and didn’t want any changes. But if that was so, then why did their idea sound so appealing?