Thursday, February 26, 2015 | By: Drotuno

Man Behind the Mask Chapter 2 & Pics

Chapter 2 – House of Pain
I'm not trying to fake it
And I ain't the one to blame.
There's no one home
In my house of pain.
I didn't write these pages
And my script's been rearranged.
No, there's no one home
In my house of pain
“House of Pain” – Faster Pussycat
“Bella. Bella Swan. Now…let me get you another beer, and you can tell me why you look like someone kicked your puppy…”
My eyes stayed locked on the gorgeous girl across from me. Girl. The word made me scoff internally, simply because she had to be somewhere near my own age – mid-twenties – so she wasn’t a girl. But she was, indeed, beautiful. It was natural, too. I’d seen so many fake, surgically enhanced women that taking in Bella Swan’s fresh face was like a deep breath of clean sea air. She was smooth skin, a petite, shapely body, dark-brown eyes, and a small smile quirking up on her face as I simply stared at her.
Snorting, I shook my head. “It’s all bullshit,” I muttered, swallowing the last of my beer in three large gulps, only to set the mug down.
“It usually is,” she agreed.
Grinning down at the bar top, I nodded. “Yeah.” I glanced up when my mug was taken gently from my hand and a new full one took its place.
She went back to stocking bottles and clean mugs and followed that up by wiping down the bar. I forced my eyes to stay on the mug in my hands, not the poor girl who was kind enough to save me from the paps. I was just about to thank her again when the TV’s broadcast caught my ear, if only because I heard my name.
“Radiant Eclipse put on a comeback concert tonight in their hometown of Seattle. Front man and songwriter, Masen, who is only two months out of his stint in rehab, led his group in a performance of their chart-topping, critically acclaimed hits.
“Masen, who was arrested for DUI several months ago, took to the stage tonight in his usual wild manner.”
My eyes narrowed on the TV as they showed parts of that night’s show. We sounded tight, though the video was shaky and most likely someone’s damn phone. They switched from Radiant Eclipse onstage to what looked like the photos that Laurent had snapped in my dressing room with Jessica. The prop bottle of whiskey was in my hand, and I was shirtless and working the poor journalist.
“It seems nothing changes about Masen…”
I’d almost forgotten about Bella, but her cleaning had stopped and suddenly the TV’s sound clicked off, leaving my idiotic face in various places up on the screen in silence. Grimacing, I forced myself to meet her gaze, expecting disgust but only seeing curiosity and maybe a little pity.
“Fun, huh?” I asked before drinking from my beer again.
“If I judged everyone who had problems, I wouldn’t have a business,” she said softly, but it was the sweet blush on her face that made me chuckle.
“Very true, Bella.” I took another drink but glanced at the TV, where they were still talking about me. I saw Heidi and the asshole she was seeing now. I’d had suspicions that she was fucking around with her costar, but seeing it was not as upsetting as I thought it would be, or maybe I felt validated. “And if I believed everything everyone said about me, I’d either be the second coming of Christ…or the Devil himself.”
The sweetest giggle met my ears, and I grinned her way, shrugging a shoulder. Sweet God, she was stunning when she smiled. It took over her whole face and caused the most adorable scrunch in the middle of her nose. Suddenly, I just needed her to know something.
“Not everything you see is…the truth,” I sighed, waving a dismissive hand toward the infernal TV.
Bella studied my face, draping a white towel over her shoulder. She took the remote and turned the television off. “Well, if you want to talk about it…” She smiled so sweetly. “They say your bartender is better than a therapist.”
Laughing, I shook my head. “My therapist was bought and paid for by people that simply needed me out of rehab in order to continue my job. I’m a fucking dancing monkey.”
“I doubt that,” she countered, leaning a hip on the other side of the bar. “The dancing monkey part, anyway. However, I’m only the cost of a few beers, for which you are paying this time.” She stepped around the bar, and my eyes followed her as she flipped off the “OPEN” sign and clicked the lock on the front door. “Now you can’t be interrupted.”
Something about that – about her – made me feel safe but also worried for her to be so trusting.
“Bella, you don’t know me,” I whispered, finishing another beer.
“I don’t know a lot of people, but I have to serve them daily, and I’ve heard it all.”
Grinning at that, I nodded. “I bet. Woeful tales of misfortune and heartbreak, huh?”
“And then some.” She sighed, but the smile was still there, as was the warmth in those brown eyes while she set down another beer. “Then again, you don’t know me. Mistrust can be a sharp, bitter pill…” She leaned her elbows on the bar across from me.
“Fuck, that’s the truth, too.” I sighed, my head falling back, and I raked my fingers through my hair. When I finally looked back at her, something in me cracked a little. “You ever felt yanked in every fucking direction?”
“Of course.” She pointed around. “This place…it belonged to my dad. When he passed away, it became mine. I was in school at the time. Try studying for college finals while working until two and three o’clock in the morning almost every night.”
Wrinkling my nose, I nodded. “Oh, damn. Sorry about your father, though.”
She smiled, but it wasn’t as real as the others she’d given me since I’d been inside her place. “Thank you.”
Sighing, I gazed around the place, huffing a humorless laugh. “I started out just a kid playing guitar in my garage with my friends. Fuck me, I miss those days. I miss playing places like this – small bars and venues. It was…so exciting, so intimate.” I rubbed my face, took a sip of beer. “It was a place like this where we were ‘discovered.’”
Bella laughed at my air quotes but didn’t say anything.
My eyes stayed locked on that red curtain for a second, but I sniffed, shaking my head. “I wasn’t supposed to be discovered,” I said softly, looking back at Bella. I shook my head again. “The band was just to…let off steam, fuck around a little in our spare time. I’d been shoved into piano lessons since before I could reach the pedals.”
“Oh, yeah?”
Scrunching up my face, I nodded, placing a hand on my chest. “Classically trained pianist. Self-taught guitar.”
“That’s not a bad thing, Masen,” she said with a laugh. “You say that like you’re embarrassed by it.”
“No, no,” I countered with a shake of my head. “Not at all.” I shrugged out of my jacket, holding out my arms that were covered in swirls of colorful ink. “But when you look like this…”
“Who cares?” she asked, smirking at me.
“My parents, for one.”
“Mm, yeah, but usually that’s because they simply want the best for their children.”
I fell quiet for a moment, just long enough for her to get another beer. Only this time, she poured one for herself.
When I chuckled, she smiled, saying, “What? It’s closin’ time.”
“I can go, Bella.” Although, now the offer was halfhearted, at best, if only because her company was so damned soothing.
Raising her eyebrow at me, she set her mug down and walked to the window. Peeking out into the street, she chuckled. “Um, not yet. Your fan club is still buzzing around out there.” She turned to face me. “Or… If you hang in there, I’ll sneak you out.”
“Why?” I asked without thinking. This woman didn’t know me, and she certainly didn’t act like a fan, so I couldn’t possibly fathom what she’d get out of what she’d done for me already, much less what she’d just offered.
I thought she’d laugh at the question, but she didn’t. She frowned, and I didn’t like it. Then she licked her lips, taking a deep breath and letting it out. When she was back on the other side of the bar, she reached for a picture just above the cash register.
“Because I think the media is made of blood-thirsty vultures. I’m aware that certain jobs require people to be…I don’t know…public figures, but I’m not sure that gives the media the right to treat them like second-class citizens.”
The framed photo was set down on the bar in front of me. It was a fairly large frame filled with a collage of pictures, but the bottom of the frame was taken up with a newspaper article that was dated a mere three years prior.
Local Blues Guitarist Perishes in the Streets of Seattle
I read the article, but my mouth fell open as I realized just who her father was.
“Whoa…wait, wait, wait…” I gaped at her as she smiled a little. “Your dad was…Chainsaw Charlie Swan?!”
“Yeah, he was.” She seemed to burst with pride at the sound of his stage name. And she should be proud.
“Holy fuck! Chainsaw Charlie was a guitar legend!” I whispered, rereading the article again. “This is so fucked up,” I sighed, tapping the glass of the frame. “Seriously? They didn’t stop taking pictures long enough to help him?”
“That’s so fucking messed up!” I practically growled, gripping my hands in my hair. “Bella, I’m so sorry.”
She smiled, but it was wavering on her face, and those deep-brown eyes were a little watery.
“Me, too.”
That answer hung between us heavily. And suddenly, I was on my feet wanting to see the rest of the pictures hanging on the walls. The man was a musical genius, very well-known in Seattle. He’d started out with his own work – blues, jazz, old-school rock – but eventually, he started working as a studio guitarist. In fact, he’d been credited on a shit-ton of albums that resided on my iPod.
“Oh, God…Jasper would love this place,” I thought aloud, which made her chuckle from somewhere behind me.
There were shots of Charlie with insanely talented people, shots of him playing, even shots of him teaching guitar lessons to kids. The latter reminded me so much of myself – just a scrawny, nerdy kid who had been forced into piano lessons to play Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussey but wanted to emulate the rock gods that played on the radio and hung in posters on the wall of my bedroom.
Gazing around the bar again, I shook my head in wonder. “This was his place,” I whispered.
“Oh, yeah.” Her voice was soft, but when I turned around, she was leaning against the bar with her beer mug up to her lips. When she pulled it away, she smiled a little. “He left it to me, which was a surprise to everyone, I think. He and my mother were never married, but they took turns with me growing up. I was never…” She waved a hand around the room. “I was never musically inclined, but he tried. I love music, but I can’t play for shit.”
Grinning, I let out a chuckle.
“Anyway, some of his old friends wanted this place, but I fought to keep it. My mother wants nothing to do with it, or music, or any of it, but she understands my need to be…” She struggled with the word, and I nodded in understanding.
She smiled. “Yeah.” She sighed deeply. “The whole building is mine. The bar, as you can see, isn’t booming, but the apartment I rent out upstairs helps me pay the bills, the very few employees I have, and keep me fed.”
I pointed to the “For Rent” sign, and she nodded as she finished her beer.
“I guess I should finally get out of your hair,” I muttered, reaching for my wallet. I’d had enough beer to ease my stressful day, not to mention give me a bit of a headache tomorrow, but not enough to forget that I owed the girl in front of me a huge debt of gratitude. “I really need to thank you again.”
“Not yet,” she said with a laugh. “We still need to get you back to your hotel.”
Laughing, I shook my head as I handed her my credit card. “How do you know?”
She took the card and walked to the register, glancing down at it. I wondered what she was thinking, because her brow furrowed a little. My legal name was on my card, my IDs, and everything I owned, but the world only knew me as Masen.
“I told you… You’ve been on TV all day,” she stated, sliding the credit slip across the bar top to me. “You’re the local band that made it big. That makes for interesting news, I guess.”
Snorting, I signed the receipt, leaving her a healthy tip, simply because she deserved it for staying so late for me. “The interesting news is all the bullshit outside the band, Bella. Admit it.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Yeah, I suppose.”
There it was. The look of unsure curiosity that I’d expected way before now, and it made me self-conscious and a tad embarrassed as I pulled my jacket back on. For some reason, I needed her to know the truth, or at least that everything they reported wasn’t exactly how it seemed.
“That’s not…me.” I grimaced at how trite that sounded.
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me, Masen.”
“Edward,” I corrected, shaking my head and raking a hand through my hair. “My real name is Edward Anthony Masen Cullen. My friends call me Edward.”
“That’s quite a mouthful,” she teased.
“Yeah, well…blame my parents. I do.”
She smiled, and a touch of pink flashed across her beautiful cheeks. She held out her hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Edward.”
I took her hand and shook it, liking the warmth of it in mine, not to mention the feel of surprisingly smooth skin, in spite of what she did for a living.
“You ready to get back?” she asked.
“You don’t need to…” I gestured toward the bar and register.
“Nah, the benefit of being the boss is being able to let shit slide until the next day.” She grinned a little, and fuck me, she was beautiful. “C’mon…I’ll show you how to sneak by the horde.”
Nodding, I followed her behind the bar and into the back. There was a small kitchen area, some storage for her liquor stock, and what I could only guess were the kegs of beer hooked up to the taps at the bar. She flipped off the lights of the main bar, set an alarm, and opened a back door.
When she locked the door behind us, I realized we were in an alleyway. To my left was a set of stairs up the side of the building. To my right was the street.
“Go out that way, but shoot directly across the street toward the left-side corner. Up one block is your hotel,” she told me. “You’ll see the side entrance.”
“Thanks,” I whispered, looking back at her. “Bella, I…” I stumbled over what I wanted to say.
She smirked, pushing me a little. “You need more therapy, Edward, then just come see me. But I promise…all your secrets are safe with me.”
“I know,” I whispered, frowning at how easily I could say that since I’d just met her, but it was the truth. I could tell she just didn’t give a shit about any of the asinine side of fame. Her face read like a book, but I decided to tease her instead. “You just can’t get enough woeful tales, huh?”
She giggled at me as I peeked around the corner for the paps, and I grinned back at her. Maybe I was drunker than I’d estimated. Before I took off, she whispered my name.
“Edward?” she hissed, making sure no one heard her. “Everyone has bullshit to deal with, and everyone has to put on a mask to deal with it.”
With that said, she turned on her heel and went up the stairs. I watched to make sure she went inside her door before darting across the street like she’d told me. The paps never even saw me, and when the side entrance to my hotel loomed ahead, I simply smiled, shaking my head as I dove inside before anyone could see me.
“Masen, get up!”
Groaning, I buried myself deeper into the covers, pulling a pillow over my head. I’d already dropped the alarm clock onto the floor to shut it up, along with my cell phone that never seemed to stop vibrating across the fucking nightstand.
“Edward, don’t make me get a bottle of water out of the fridge!”
My middle finger found its way out from the covers-burrito I was happily wrapped up in and saluted the annoying voice. I wanted to drown in the dreams I’d been having about sweet smiles and dark eyes. Sleep started to take me again, until my pillow was yanked away and frigid water nailed me from head to fucking toe.
“Jesus fucking Christ, Rosalie!” I snapped, flying up out of bed, but I had to fall back down to the edge of the mattress when the world tilted on its axis thanks to the massive hangover I was sporting. “I swear to God, I put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign up last night.”
She snorted into a harsh laugh that cut through to the middle of my brain like nails on a chalkboard. “That sign is up twenty-four-seven, doofus, and it doesn’t stop me; I have a key. The hotel staff is afraid to look in here, though, for fear you’ve overdosed or something.”
The ridiculousness of that statement made me roll my eyes as I held my head in my hands, leaning my elbows on my thighs. Again, my pounding head made my temper rise to the edge, simply because I’d spent thirty days in rehab lockdown and I was fucking clean as a damn whistle. Beer was the only drink I truly bought on a regular basis – I’d smoked weed in the past but had stopped when it had fucked with my singing voice. Groaning, I swallowed back the anger because I knew I’d go back to rehab again if I had to.
Two pills appeared in my blurry vision, along with the remaining bottle of water that she hadn’t used on me.
“Thanks,” I rasped, taking them from her.
“You need your own place,” she said, and it wasn’t the first time. “You’ve been living in this hotel for too long.”
“Two months, but who’s counting?” I squeezed my eyes closed, finally looking up at her. “I have an apartment.”
“No, you don’t. Your ex-girlfriend has an apartment, and you used to live there. Emmett did go in and get your shit, though,” she sighed, sitting down next to me. “The week you went into rehab, actually. Heidi was…not helpful. Just think about it. You…living here…not a good thing.”
Narrowing my eyes at her, I asked, “Why?”
“Where should I start?” she countered, nudging me with her shoulder. “For one thing, the paps know you’re here, and so do your rabid fans, and the hotel security is tired of dealing with them, despite the fact that they’re paid well for it. The fuckers down there also know you and Heidi broke up due to the accident. And I know you; you need a space of your own to decompress. If you want, I’ll start looking. Or you can stay with Em and me. You’d have the whole third floor…”
I waved her away, feeling a bit bitter about Heidi – though that may have been my pounding head – but grateful to my brother for grabbing my stuff. Sighing, I realized my family always seemed to be cleaning each other’s messes. However, it wasn’t even the loss of the relationship that irked my ass, but the loss of my place, not to mention the way she’d done it. She’d waited until I was in rehab before telling Rose that we were done, that I would ruin her career as an actress. Though, really…she was a glorified model and obviously a coward. She couldn’t even say that shit to my face.
The thought of my own place, though, was starting to sound good. And despite the fact that I felt like squashed roadkill, the memory of a sexy little brunette popped into my head, along with her “For Rent” sign.
“No, Rose,” I sighed, shaking my head to clear it of Bella Swan. “I’ll um… I’ll figure something out. I’ve got a few days before we get busy recording.”
“Whatever. Just let me know. You’re paid up here until next week, but…”
Nodding, I rubbed my face and raked a hand through my hair. I needed the aspirin to kick in, and I finally looked to Rose. “Why are you here? I didn’t think I was needed until next week at the studio.”
She narrowed her eyes dangerously at me, and I scanned through my foggy head, trying to remember what I’d done wrong. I didn’t think I had, but sometimes I caught hell for the simplest shit. She pulled out her phone, shoving it into my face.
I blinked away sleep and beer fog to see what video she was showing me. Grimacing, I watched in disgust the ambush of the paps from the night before; even better was the escape I’d done into Charlie’s Pub.
“Really? I asked Tony to take you straight to your hotel,” Rose said with a dangerously raising voice.
“And he did,” I argued petulantly. “But…”
“But what?”
“But I decided to get some air, Rose. I’m not a child. I can handle a few paps.”
She pursed her lips at me, but the deadly narrowed eyes didn’t stop staring at me. “And where’d you go after that? Because the paps lost you.”
Grinning with pride, despite my slightly dulling headache, I said, “I never left that bar.”
She snorted. “Well, that explains the hangover.”
“What difference does it make? Honestly? Masen is a drinking, womanizing, drugging asshole, right? I mean, who gives a shit if he’s two fucking months out of rehab and back in a bar?”
Her anger melted away in an instant. “No, no… I just… Edward, if you get trapped or ambushed, I just… I know you hate it. I would think you’d avoid it.”
“I did,” I said with a harsh laugh. “Though, the girl at the bar helped.”
She laughed, reaching over to ruffle my hair. “Did she now?”
“It’s not like that,” I sighed, shaking my head at her knowing look and ignoring her teasing grin.
Sure, I’d been there, done that in the past – especially when we’d first started gaining attention – but it had been a long time. A guy in his early twenties had a near constant hard-on, so with women falling at his feet, it was hard to fucking resist. But I’d been faithful to Heidi for the year we’d been together, even with touring all over the damn world, though I was damn sure Heidi hadn’t been so loyal.
“Nah, I’m not…James.” I laughed, nudging her shoulder with mine.
“Now that’s true,” she chortled, rolling her eyes. “Hell, even before Heidi you weren’t all that bad.”
“Nah, that’s not…me.”
“I know.” She took a breath and let it out, finally standing up from the bed. “I was just curious what you did last night. I was worried about you when you left the arena.”
“I had a few beers, waited out the paps, Rose. That’s it! I swear.”
She chuckled. “Fair enough.” She started to turn away from me but stopped. “By the way, don’t forget you have to be across town tonight by seven.”
Frowning, I nodded as I glanced at the clock. I’d slept well into the afternoon, but I had a few hours to kill before then. “Right, got it.”
“Okay.” She reached the door of my hotel room and then turned to face me. “I also haven’t forgotten about those leaks. I’m looking into it as we speak, or should I say…Emmett is. Someone’s running their mouth about shit, and I wanna know who.”
“Good. Let me know.”
“I will. And Edward, for the love of God, let them clean this fucking room.”
“What?! It’s not that bad!”
She yanked open the door and stole the damn “Do Not Disturb” sign, tucking it away in her purse. “You’ll get this back in a day or two, and I’m telling them to send a whole damn team up here.”
“I don’t know how my brother puts up with you,” I yelled, shaking my head.
“Because he’d be lost without me. You, too.”
The door slammed, and I sighed. “That’s kinda true,” I muttered, shaking my head.
The aspirin had finally started to kick in, and I glanced around the room. It was messy, with overflowing garbage cans filled with takeout containers, a few empty beer and soda cans here and there, and I could use some damn towels. Okay, so maybe Rose was right.
However, it was the acoustic guitar leaning against one of the nightstands that caught my attention. Picking it up, I reveled in the comfort and ease that it brought to me. It was my personal favorite and not one I really used on stage, though I had recorded with it once or twice. I plucked out a melody that was rolling around in my head, frowning at how Bella Swan came to mind almost at the first note. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I also wasn’t sure I wanted to give it much thought.
What those few notes did do was make me want to see her again, talk to her. Glancing up at the clock, I set my guitar down. If I played my cards right, maybe I could see that apartment she had and still make it across town in time for the appointment at seven. The prospect of seeing Bella well outweighed that fucking appointment. With one last stretch, I pushed myself up off the bed and headed into the bathroom to clean up.


Helen Bentley said...

Loved it, thank you , more ;) x

aelita48 said...

I too adore this chapter.
Thank you.

lilypad said...

Wonderful chapter.

Irish Charm said...

Edward sure has some secrets. Hopefully everything will come together soon.

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