"You're dead to me. Leave. Now."
"Aw, come on! It's funn--,"
"No, it's not fucking funny!" Torsten's voice grew louder like thunder as his patience gave way to his boiling blood. "I've lied to the press for years to cover up your fuck-ups! To protect your precious reputation. But you have no problem slandering my character to cover your own cowardly ass!"
Torsten shoved Lars forcefully away from him. It took all his resolve to not punch his stupid fucking face.
"This is your last warning. Get the fuck out."
Despite being at a clear physical disadvantage, Lars decided he wouldn't leave without a fight.
His fist swung and landed on Torsten's chin, but with zero strength behind it. Torsten returned with his fist to connect with Lars's cheekbone, which landed with a sickening crunch and sent Lars spinning away and landing on the floor.
He walked over to Lars's body writhing in pain and dragged him upright by the shirt. Half walking, half dragging Lars by the shirt collar, he forced open the studio with his shoulder and continued down the short hallway to the front of the building. With a final shove, he sent Lars sprawling across the lawn.
"I don't give a fuck what happens to you after this," Torsten snarled. "If I see your junkie face again, I'll mash it into a bloody fucking pulp."
With one hand on his cheek, Lars stumbled to his feet and walked as quickly as he could down the sidewalk with his twitchy, jerky gait.
Torsten pulled a cigarette from the slim, metal case in his shirt pocket. He lit it and took a long, heavy drag as he watched. His best friend, brother, and shining, drumming prodigy staggered away for the last time.
Helena robotically signed her name on the final page of the divorce agreement and shoved the packet of papers across the table as if it were an unsavory meal.
Her attorney, an attractive middle-aged woman in a crisp pantsuit, gave her a sympathetic look from across the table, but Helena missed it. She was too busy focusing on nothing.
"So that's it, then?" Her voice sounded robotic too.
"Yes, ma'am." The attorney forced a smile as she pulled the packet closer to her. "Once these are filed and you receive your official copy, you may legally use your maiden name again."
Her maiden name. Helena Forss. The name she was born with. No more Helena Stromblad. It felt so odd and unnatural compared to her married name. She barely remembered having a life before Lars. They had been together since they were fifteen when he was that sweet, energetic baby-faced boy. He was the only man she slept with, and the only one she loved.
Ten years later, this was the last place she expected either of them to be.
"Congratulations, Ms. Forss!" The attorney stood and extended her hand, still forcing that plastered-on smile. "It's been an honor to assist you during this difficult time. You're finally free. Please call if you ever need legal assistance."
Helena shook her hand cordially and tried to crack a smile in return, but it felt completely unnatural. She couldn't remember the last time she genuinely smiled.
Helena turned the phrase over in her head as she left her lawyer's office.
What a choice pair of words for a situation like this.
Freedom was supposed to be a good thing. She could do whatever she wanted now. Divorcing her unfaithful, drug-abusing husband was supposed to be the textbook definition of freedom. Shouldn't she be jumping and skipping through the streets?
The last time she saw him played in her mind like a movie clip. She knew he had bad news the moment he walked in the door, twitching, avoiding her eyes, and with a swelling purple bruise on his face. In that moment, she knew what she’d been afraid to admit for at least a year: she didn’t love him anymore.
She stood at the street corner, wondering what to do with her newfound freedom. At least taking care of Lars had given her some kind of purpose. As a fresh divorcee, she felt like a raft drifting on an empty, massive ocean with no anchor.
On a whim, she turned left and headed toward the downtown street where all the bars were located.
Maybe a stiff drink will make me feel like celebrating.
Freedom meant she could date now, and flirt without feeling guilty. While married, she fantasized about someone who actually came home to her every night. Some faceless stranger would scoop her up in strong, tattooed arms and set her body on fire with pleasure. She'd feel loved, wanted, beautiful, and cared for. Lars hadn't bothered to make her feel any of those ways since the band got big.
But fantasies are light-years away from reality. Plus, he always knew the right things to say when he sensed her getting fed up.
"Torsten's been buying laced weed," he'd tell her with tears in his eyes. "I swear I gave up coke, baby! I swear on our future children's lives! I would never knowingly do coke again! But he bought it laced and told us it was straight. I'm so sorry, baby!"
After catching him with several more hard drugs, he changed his story but was always the victim.
"I'm sick, baby," he said with his head hung shamefully. "I don't have control anymore, I need your help. I need you. Torsten pushes us so hard to perform a perfect set, then gives us dope so we can relax and unwind." His body wracked with a sob. "I feel like a slave to him and to these horrible fucking drugs!"
He seemed so remorseful every time. When she confronted him about the pictures on his phone kissing and groping naked women, his face went pale, his eyes welled with tears, and his lower lip trembled.
"Baby, I'm so sorry. I... I don't remember anything about that day." He swallowed a lump in his throat and his voice shook. He held her tenderly in his arms and rubbed her back, the first affectionate touch she felt from him in months. "Torsten must have roofied my beer again. The guys do it occasionally as pranks. I'm so, so sorry..."
Then this last time. Six months ago. He came home and didn't get out of bed for two days. He looked worse than ever, sweating, shaking, scratching, and talking to himself. He told her he no longer had a job and she just knew. Her marriage died that day.
Helena pushed the image of his face from her mind as she stepped into a dark, dusty pub. She scanned the place before making her way over to the bar. It was early, and therefore empty except for a few regulars.
"A martini, please." She slid into a bar stool and pulled her cardigan closed in front of her chest, already feeling creepy leers from the older man a few seats down from her.
"Coming right up," the bartender said with a friendly smile.
He really was; tall with a youthful, clean-cut face and dark eyes. This guy was a bit thin for her taste, though. It reminded her of how gaunt Lars became as his addiction worsened.
Still, she was single now. Might as well get some flirting practice in.
She gave her best attempt at a smile. "I'm Helena."
"Bjorn." A faint blush crept into his cheeks as he shyly cast his eyes downward.
Wow, this is easier than I thought it would be.
After studying him for a moment, she noticed he wore a faded black Mjolnir t-shirt and her mood instantly soured.
Ugh. Will I ever not see them everywhere I go?
Bjorn set her drink down in front of her and must have noticed her reading his shirt. "You a fan, too?"
"Yeah!" Helena chirped a little too loudly, trying to look anywhere but at his torso. "That's one of their first edition designs. You don't see many of those anymore." She focused intently on her martini olives, hoping he didn't know the band well enough to recognize their spouses.
"That's awesome." Bjorn leaned over the bar slightly, trying to catch her eye again. "Not many women are into good heavy metal. What's your favorite album?"
"Um, hard to decide. All of them are distinctive in their own way." She stared further down to the bottom of the martini glass, regretting stepping into this bar and beginning this conversation.
"Yeah, that's true. My favorite's their first one, the self-titled album. Gotta love the classics, you know? You always love the album that got you into them in the first place."
Bjorn's voice dissipated into background noise as Helena's memory took her back to when they recorded that album. Lars told her it would take a few hours, maybe the entire afternoon. He didn't answer his phone or return home until a full two days later.
"I'm not kidding, babe! Everything went wrong with the equipment, and the whole process took thirty-six hours. Torsten wouldn't let us leave until the whole thing was completely done, can you believe it?"
The thought of him made her tilt her glass back and down the rest of the martini in one go. The burning in her throat matched her feelings of scorn for that man.
Torsten asked Lars to jump, Lars asked how high. Helena sometimes wondered who he was really married to. He didn't start acting like a shitty husband until Torsten put himself in charge.
She didn't know their full history, except that they were best friends and co-founded the band together. Somewhere along the way, Torsten made himself the leader and ground Lars into the pavement under his boots. Even music became their full-time jobs, rehearsing every day for sixteen hours or more seemed excessive to her.
"Torsten's not a bad guy, babe. But he thinks he's Mozart or some shit. He wants perfection. He won't settle for being second best. Yeah, he makes us work long hours but I gotta respect him for that."
"Didn't you say he gets all these hard drugs and encourages you guys to fuck groupies?" she asked bewilderedly. "He knows you're married, Lars! How can you respect him when he does shit like that?"
"It's part of the lifestyle, baby. He thinks it's important to keep appearances up. But you know I'd never cheat on you..."
He'd already cheated at least once that she knew of when he brought her to that party. She couldn't bring herself to look at Torsten, much less introduce herself to the man who encouraged addiction and infidelity.
Ignoring him at that party had been difficult, nigh on impossible. His presence filled the room like a thick, unyielding smoke. He was handsome, no, make that ridiculously hot, and at least six inches taller than every other man at the party. His dark blonde hair fell in a careless, shaggy mane just above his massive shoulders. His eyes were a pale, piercing blue that raked over her skin when he looked at her. While all the other metalheads had long, unkempt beards, he kept his clipped short and neat, outlining his sharp jawline.
"Can't leave any pussy juice evidence in here," she overheard him say while stroking it like an evil villain. The woman he said that to laughed uproariously and reached out to join him in touching his face.
His voice rumbled like a distant thunder when he spoke, which made her wonder how it felt to hear him whisper dirty, forbidden things in her ear. Lars could never get into that.
The girls at party wondered too, apparently. They never stopped clinging to him like spider monkeys on a tree. The last Helena saw of him was his broad, muscular back walking away with three women from the party. Disgusting and clearly arrogant.
After that party, Lars informed her of Torsten's latest law: No more significant others at Mjolnir parties and events. Something about distracting the band members. She never hated Torsten more than after hearing that news.
"You've got to stand up to him, Lars! Put your foot down and just take one day off! Babe, I miss you. I get so worried when I don't hear from you for days."
"I'm sorry, I can't afford to, baby. If I miss one after-party, it'll look bad. Torsten says the whole band has to be there. Otherwise, fans and press will ask questions and spread rumors."
Helena blinked, jolted out of her memory and back in the dark, dusty bar.
Bjorn the cute bartender eyed her curiously. "I asked if you'd like another martini."
"Yeah, sure. Thanks."
"Daydreaming about somebody?" he asked, trying to sound casual as he mixed gin and vermouth.
"Sort of, but not in a good way," she replied. "More like daydreaming about committing a murder," she added, hoping it sounded like a joke.
"What? Did someone wrong a pretty lady like you? Just tell me where they live and I'll take care of it, Helena," Bjorn said with a wink.
Helena tried not to roll her eyes. This guy was cute, but he was getting to be too much.
"It's a bit complicated. I don't really want to get into it."
Please take the hint.
"Fair enough. Let me know if you need anything," Bjorn conceded with a polite nod. He set her second drink in front of her and walked to the opposite end of the bar to chat with other customers.
She sipped her drink, feeling the alcohol unwrap all the years of animosity toward Torsten that she kept buried deep for Lars' sake.
I fucking hate you, Torsten. If I ever see you again, I'll spit in your smug fucking face. You rode my sweet, kind husband's ass like slavedriver until he broke. And then you discarded him like trash when you were finished. Leaving me to deal with what remained, which was nothing. The man I was forced to divorce was not the man I married.
She gripped her glass with a shaking hand until her knuckles turned white as her inner thoughts spoke her truth.
My husband died and you killed him
"...going to the show?"
"Sorry, what?" Bjorn had been talking to her again, looking at her expectantly.
"I said, are you going to the Mjolnir show tonight? They're kicking off their European tour here in Oslo."
"Ah, no. I mean, I wasn't planning on it."
Shit, shit, shit.
Bjorn's eyes lit up. "Well, turns out I've got an extra ticket. One of my friends just flaked and I'd hate to waste it, so..."
"Oh, wow! I, uh..."
She looked down at her drink, trying to appear coy or shy or something while racking her brain for an excuse. The ink hadn't even dried on her divorce agreement! She definitely wasn't ready to start dating, let alone go on a date to see her ex-husband's ex-band.