Sunday, March 8, 2015 | By: Drotuno

Man Behind the Mask Chapter 5 & Pics

Chapter 5 – So Wild, So Free
I'm outa luck, outa love 
Gotta photograph, picture of 
Passion killer, you're too much 
You're the only one I wanna touch 
I see your face every time I dream 
On every page, every magazine 
So wild so free so far from me 
You're all I want, my fantasy
“Photograph” – Def Leppard
BELLA
Buzz, buzz, buzz…
Buzz, buzz, buzz…
Groaning from beneath the covers, I slapped a hand around on my nightstand to shut my phone off. I couldn’t imagine who kept calling me. Most everyone I knew respected the fact that I worked late and slept in the next day.
The buzzing stopped, and I sighed in relief, sinking back down into the heaven that was my bed, only to growl when my cell started to vibrate across the wood again.
“Dammit,” I grunted, sitting up and snatching my phone. I read it through blurry vision and with only one eye before swiping my finger across to answer. “Are you dying, Mother?” I rasped into the damn thing, rubbing my face.
The derisive scoff came across the line just as clearly as if she’d been standing at the foot of my bed. “Obviously not, Isabella,” she answered. “I was just checking on you.”
Rolling my eyes, I fell back to my pillow. “Mom, I see you every time you pick Mike up, but I closed last night, so I need—”
“You keep awful hours, dear,” she sighed deeply. “I wish you’d let someone else take that terrible place.”
Smirking, I shook my head. “Yes, I’m aware of your feelings on Dad’s bar, but I happen to like it.”
“You’re a college graduate, Isabella. You have a Bachelor’s Degree…though it’s not too late for you to go for a Master’s or finish what you started. You wanted to be a psychologist.”
“I’m aware, though I listen to people’s problems all the time, so really…I already am.” I grinned to myself, simply because she hated it but couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
“Speaking of problems… How’s that singer boy…that new tenant doing? Is he paying his rent?” she babbled, and I could hear the disdain in her voice.
“He’s perfectly fine, Mother. In fact, he’s no problem at all,” I told her honestly, though I kept the fact that Edward had paid the entire lease up front to myself. I did my best to keep my mother out of my business – both professional and personal.
“He hasn’t thrown any wild parties…or gotten high on drugs or…”
“Mother!” I scolded, shaking my head at how prejudiced she was when it came to people in the music business. “No! Of course not! In fact, I hardly see him. He’s very busy, and when he’s home, he’s quiet.”
It was the truth. Edward moved in – or rather, his friends moved him in – just shy of a month ago, and aside from the occasional late-night beer he’d grab in the bar when I’d close or bumping into him on the stairs coming or going, I rarely saw him. He looked exhausted most times…and stressed the hell out. The most noise he made in the apartment above me was his unpacking that first weekend, the treadmill he ran on just about every other day, and the soft sound of music. It was the latter that I loved the most, because it wasn’t the radio or iPod but his own hands making music. He’d tuned my dad’s old piano and was using it to write music, but he’d also use his guitars – both acoustic and electric. The only visitors he had were his brother, Rose, and Jasper.
“Just you wait, dear… Soon, there’ll be women coming and going, drugs, booze, and parties. He’ll probably ruin that place…”
“Mom!” I interrupted her rant, rubbing my face again and pulling my hair from my face. “Was there something you needed this damn early? Or did you just call to hate on my new neighbor?”
“Yes, Isabella, there was. Phil has an accountant conference coming up this weekend in New York, and Michael still has school, so we were wondering…”
“Yes, he can stay with me,” I answered her before she could actually ask, if only to finish up the call. “I’ll get him to school and make sure he eats more than just pizza and burgers.”
“We’re also going to make a long weekend of it, but I’d rather you stay here, Isabella. I just don’t know about that new neighbor… Michael thinks he’s the best thing since sliced bread, but I don’t like it.”
My eyes closed as I fought my temper with her. “Mother, I have a job to do; I’m not just going to shut everything down to babysit at your house for five days, simply because of your irrational hate for musicians. And Mike comes here every damn day after school. He’s almost eighteen! Does he really need a babysitter?” I argued, simply because I knew what it was like to feel smothered by her. In fact, at Mike’s age, I had a car, a job, and was mostly living beneath my dad. She wouldn’t let Mike have any of those things.
“It’s not irrational.”
“No, it’s sour grapes over Dad,” I snarked back, feeling cranky at the direction this had gone so early in the damn morning. “Send Mike here. I’ll keep an eye on him, but I’m not closing up my bar to spend the weekend at your house. No.”
Mom sighed impatiently, but she didn’t have a choice. “Fine. So I’ll send him with his things tomorrow night and pick him up after school on Monday afternoon.”
“Yeah, that’s perfect,” I mumbled through a long, wide yawn. “I’m going now, Mom. You guys have a safe trip.”
“We will,” she replied, and we said our goodbyes and ended the call.
I tossed the phone back onto my nightstand and fell back to my pillow. However, the gentle thumps overhead made my eyes drift up. Edward was running, the mere idea of which made me groan as my imagination took over – sweatpants, shirtless, swirls of ink on pretty skin and toned muscles. Not that I’d personally seen him shirtless, but he wasn’t exactly a secret, considering he’d end up on stage or show up in magazines without a shirt.
“Fuck,” I growled into my pillow.
I was ridiculously attracted to him, and it had all started the night he stumbled into my bar just as I was about to close. It was more than who he was. Masen, the lead singer of Radiant Eclipse, was hot and talented and sexy, not to mention confident to the point of cocky. There was no denying it. However, the man I’d served beer to that night was not him. I’d seen the band live. Mike had begged me to take him to every local concert. They were heavy and put on a good show, and the second I’d laid eyes on Masen, I thought he was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. Edward, though, was different. The man off the stage was polite and sweet, private and slightly awkward, and he was also funny and flirty.
But his eyes told his story. They were deep green, surrounded by beautiful long eyelashes, and they were filled with sadness, like he’d seen things he couldn’t un-see.
It was his eyes that reminded me of my dad – not in color but in how they looked slightly haunted. Chainsaw Charlie had been a legend in Seattle, even before the Seattle music scene had become something all its own. My dad, however, was not the person his fans knew. He was a free spirit and a poet and my best friend. He’d told me once that my mother was the love of his life, but he knew he couldn’t be what she wanted, so he let her go. He’d also told me that I was what tied him to this earth.
I’d adored my dad and more than once had begged him to let me live with him, but he never relented until I had been accepted into college. He knew he couldn’t be a fulltime father, but he also knew that my mother needed me, too, even after Mike was born.
It was my memories of my dad that had me helping Edward that night and again the next day when he showed up asking about the apartment. He’d seemed to be floundering so badly that I couldn’t stop myself. Plus, it irritated my mother something awful. Though, I hadn’t been lying to him when I’d said I hated the press, those vultures that stalked celebrities for no other reason than to pry into their private lives. They were the reason my dad was no longer here; had they just stopped hounding him for one fucking moment, he might have survived his heart attack.
Something about Edward – not Masen – made me want to keep him safe, protected. And so far, it was working. No paparazzi had shown up to bother him, but he had mentioned that they’d taken to hanging around the studio when Radiant Eclipse went in for their recording sessions.
The steady yet soft thumping of his feet on the treadmill was so rhythmic that it was almost hypnotic. I was hoping it would lull me back to sleep, but after the argument with my mother, I was still a little prickly. With a scowl, I got out of bed and padded into the bathroom. Then, I figured a cup of hot chocolate or something would settle me back down for another few hours of sleep.
I opened my fridge, groaning at the empty milk container. “Fuck, it’s like Murphy’s Law day or something…” Glancing around my kitchen, I finally relented to trudge down to the bar for milk.
The weather was chilly, with endless gray clouds above, when I peeked out the window. I pulled on boots without tying them, tugged on my thick hoodie, and grabbed my keys, but I paused at the door when I heard voices – female voices – heading up the stairs to Edward’s apartment.
Peeking out the window, I saw two gorgeous women taking the stairs. They were blonde and perfect and built like models, and even in jeans and heavy sweaters, they looked like they’d just stepped off a runway. They also looked so damn familiar. Spinning to my kitchen table, I picked up the magazine lying on top of my mail. Music Mania Magazine. I’d been getting the damn thing for years, if only because they’d done a big tribute to my dad after he’d passed away.
I eyed the cover, shaking my head at a gorgeous picture of a shirtless, ink-covered Edward – or really, Masen, if only because he exuded sex and drinking and rock music in the photo. The running stopped overhead when a knock pounded on his door just as I found the article. It was a quick interview, but it was the pictures I wanted. Shots of him drinking a bottle of Jack, of his playing on the stage, and sitting in his dressing room, but it was the one where he had his arms around two women that I’d remembered. And it looked like the same two that had just gone upstairs.
I slapped the magazine back down on the table as I heard laughter and squeals and loud voices above me, but I couldn’t make out what was said. Something about that bugged me, and really, it shouldn’t. I wanted to blame the interruption of sleep, of my argument with my mother, or even the fact that I had to brave the cold to go downstairs to raid the bar’s fridge for milk, which only served to remind me that I needed to get groceries in my apartment before Mike came to stay the weekend. I shouldn’t blame it on anything other than my pissy mood, because to blame it on the fact that the sounds upstairs made my stomach clench would be stupid. Edward was free and clear to do whatever he wanted. Or whoever, and that thought made me rub my face.
When another round of giggles met my ears from upstairs, I grabbed my car keys instead of the ones for the bar.
“Fuck it,” I sighed, tucking my wallet and phone into my hoodie before pulling my hair up into a ponytail and walking out the door.
If I thought the store would help me get my head straight, I was wrong. Shopping wasn’t my favorite chore, and more than once did I text my brother to ask if he wanted anything specific. I’d been gone about an hour and a half when I pulled back in, only I parked in the alleyway in order to unload the bags easier.
Loading myself down, because I was obviously a glutton for punishment, I started up the stairs.
“Jesus, Bella…” I heard from above me, watching as Edward practically tripped to get down to me. “You want some help?”
“No, I’m okay,” I sighed, pausing in front of my door when I realized full hands meant I couldn’t unlock my apartment.
“Liar,” he said with a chuckle, and I noted that I’d been right about the sweatpants, but he’d apparently pulled on a zip-up hoodie. The sight of ink peeking out of the top of the zipper made my mouth water. “Where’s your keys, angel?”
Sighing, my head fell back. “It’s simply not my fucking day,” I mumbled.
“Then let me help,” he urged, the laughter dying in his voice, but his face was so damned sincere.
“Front pocket,” I finally told him, glancing down to my hoodie.
“I hope you’re not ticklish, or we’ll both be wearing raw eggs,” he teased, but he moved slowly and carefully as he reached in to take my keys out of my pocket. He slid the key in and pushed open my door. “Is there more in the car?” he asked when I set all the bags down.
“Yeah.” I nodded, starting to go for another trip, but his hand landed gently on my shoulder.
“I’ll get it.”
“Edward, you don’t have to…”
“I know,” he said, giving me a half-smile that probably ranked nuclear on the hotness scale. “I want to.”
My mouth opened to ask about his visitors, but I snapped it closed, nodding once to him, and he was back out the door. I did my damnedest not to look at his ass in those sweats, but I failed miserably.
He was back in no time with an armload of bags, setting them down on the floor with the rest. “You plannin’ a party?” he asked with a laugh, but I shook my head. “One more load, I think.”
“Thanks.”
“No worries.”
He was back one more time, carrying the last of the groceries and the one thing that made me snort softly – my gallon of milk.
“What?” he asked, setting it down on the table.
“Nothing, it’s just been a shitty morning,” I mumbled, shaking my head. “I got woken up too damn early, and I was out of milk, so…”
“Did we wake you? Shit, Bella, I’m sorry. I told them to keep it the fuck down.” He gripped his hair. “Hell, they’re still up there. They kicked me out of my own apartment.”
I raised my eyebrows at that but hid my grimace in the fridge when I started putting stuff away. “No, you didn’t,” I answered him without looking his way. “My mother was kind enough to do that. I couldn’t get back to sleep, and I thought hot chocolate would help, but then I was out of milk. And that only reminded me that I needed to fill my kitchen because my brother is staying the weekend with me. It simply snowballed from there…as you can see.” I gestured to all the bags, rolling my eyes before going back to putting stuff away.
His chuckle was soft, but so was his expression. “You promise it wasn’t us? Tanya and Kate can be a little…exuberant.”
“I heard them, but no.”
A heavy thump and then a long drag sounded above our heads, and we both paused to look up.
“Um, Edward?” I asked. “You…um, have two pretty women in your apartment, doing something…noisy. What exactly are you doing here?”
His laugh was loud, and I was damned sure he snorted once or twice. “Believe me, you don’t want to get in their way. Rose had them find furniture for me. Tanya is Rose’s cousin…and personal assistant. They brought it over, and when they saw I had stacks of shit every-fucking-where, they told me to stay out of the way. I offered to help carry stuff, but…they’d brought movers. Once all the furniture was up there, they kicked me out.”
“Aw…” I chuckled, shaking my head. “Then, sit. I still want my hot chocolate. Want some?”
“Yeah, that’d be great.”
As the milk heated on the stove, I finished putting away the last of my groceries. “You know what’s sad? Most of this food will be gone by the time my brother leaves.”
Edward grinned and nodded. “Boys can put away some food. I don’t know how my mother survived Emmett and me growing up.”
When I glanced up from the pot on the stove, I saw that dark sadness cross his face again as he glared at my table. But it turned into something akin to anger when he caught sight of the magazine that I’d left open to his interview.
“Umm, Bella?” He held up the page. “Did you think… Are you… They aren’t… Fuck!” He gripped the magazine, getting up from the table and holding that page in front of me. “It’s bullshit, angel. It’s a motherfucking illusion. I’ve known Tanya for years; she used to date Emmett…until she came out.” He leaned on the words, raising the sexiest damn eyebrow up at me until I registered what he meant. “Kate’s her girlfriend. They do shit like this for me to…swat away the fans or clingy journalists…or whatever. Tell me you didn’t think…”
“Oh,” I whispered, nodding a little as I stirred the cocoa, sugar, and warm milk into two mugs. “It’s none of my business…”
“Angel, I’m not… They’d kick my ass for even suggesting it. They don’t do…dick.” He grinned at my snort. “Actually, I’d fear for mine if it was anywhere near them.”
Giggling, I pushed him back toward the table, taking the magazine and closing it. I tossed it to the counter. “Sit, Edward,” I told him, handing him a mug and taking the seat across from him, but he’d already stolen the magazine back, simply due to his long reach. “You hate it.”
“Hm?” he hummed, looking up from the cover. “Sometimes.” He shrugged a shoulder. “The end justifies the means, I guess. If I can keep the interviewer focused on the band and music and not my personal life, it’s a win for me. Like this one…” He set the magazine down, wrapping his hands around the mug, but that dark look was back on his face. “That bottle of Jack?” He tapped the cover. “That was tea.”
Grinning, I shook my head before sipping my cocoa. “Fair enough, Edward,” I told him, mentally smacking myself for believing what I’d seen. More than one time he’d told me that what he was on TV and in public was one thing, where he was something completely different in real life.
“So your brother’s coming?” he asked, pushing up the sleeves on his hoodie, and there was a part of me that wanted to follow every line and swirl of ink, from his hands to his shoulders…and beyond, if I was being honest with myself.
Nodding, I said, “Yeah, my mother and stepfather are going out of town. If Mike bugs you, you tell me. You’re his fucking hero, so I know he’s gonna be itching to talk to you again.”
Edward chuckled. “It’s fine if he does. I’ve got a recording session tomorrow, but I’ll be around here this weekend, and then next week we fly out to L.A. to meet with our tour manager and a director or two for some videos.” He waved his hand at that dismissively. “Then it’s back here to finish up the album.”
“You weren’t kidding.”
“About?” he asked with a grin.
“Being busy.”
“I wish I was kidding, but no, it’s a crazy schedule. It’ll get worse when we go on tour. I’ll be gone more than I’m home.” He shook his head, his eyes falling from my face to his mug.
“How long?”
“Who the fuck knows… Six months to a year?” He shrugged a shoulder. “We’ll see when we talk to the tour manager in L.A. Though, Marcus is pretty laidback, and he likes to break in between legs of the tour, so like…we’ll do the East Coast of the U.S., then break for a week or at least a few days. We’ll work the Midwest and then break before the West Coast. It’s overseas that can truly kick our asses.”
Grimacing at the mere thought of all that travel, I shook my head but looked his way. “Well, let me know. I’ll watch your place.”
His smile was sweet, and he looked like he was about to say something, but the sound of women’s voices met our ears.
“Tanya, he wouldn’t just disappear. His damn car’s still here.”
Edward snorted, holding up a finger. “Excuse me, angel…before they put my picture on a milk carton.”
He pulled open my door to reveal the two women I’d seen before, but this time, my vision wasn’t clouded by my grumpy mood or loss of sleep. I saw matching rings on their fingers, not to mention they were holding hands. The taller of the two pointed Edward’s way.
“See? Not missing.”
“I said get out of the way, Edward, not run the fuck away,” the shorter one fussed. “Do you wanna see what we did or what?”
“I didn’t run away, Tanya,” he sighed, but I could see the hint of his smile. “You said I’d only screw up what you were doing…” That made me laugh, and he shot a sexy-as-hell wink over his shoulder. “It’s probably true. Don’t tell them that.”
Two blonde heads rushed to the doorway on either side of him, but his hand slammed heavily to the doorjamb, and his arms flexed to hold them back. His forearms rolled with the muscles as he kept them outside the door.
“Don’t bug her!” he snapped, shaking his head. “She’s already dealing with my bullshit enough…”
“Edward,” I chided, laughing a little, if only to cover up just how disturbingly sexy that was. Something about his tone, his fierce protection, and the fact that he’d rather drink cocoa with me and unload groceries than to arrange his own place just about made me break into a sweat.
“You’ve been warned, angel. That’s all I’m sayin’.” He stepped back when I got up from the table.
“Jesus, Edward, you act like we’re about to mug her or something,” Tanya scolded, rolling her eyes, but she held out her hand. “You must be Bella. I’m Tanya Denali, and this is my girlfriend, Kate Barns. We’re Edward’s Do-Bitches.”
He smacked his forehead. “No, you’re Rose’s Do-Bitches.”
“Which usually means you.” Kate poked his stomach.
I laughed, shaking both their hands. “Nice to meet you both.”
“Wow…you’re as pretty as Edward said,” Tanya whispered, her mouth hanging open a little.
“Okay, time for you to shut the fuck up and get out before Bella decides everyone I know is insane,” Edward sang, spinning both girls around by their shoulders to march them up the stairs. “Let’s go see what you did, if it’ll get you out of here.”
“What? We’re merely agreeing…”
I felt my face heat with the knowledge that he’d told these girls I was pretty, but Tanya came to abrupt halt in front of him, almost taking them all down the stairs.
“Wanna see, Bella? I mean, it is your place.”
Poor Edward sagged, his head falling forward, especially when Kate giggled.
“Sure!” I piped up, and Edward’s gaze snapped to mine. “C’mon, I’d like to see what you’ve done with the place.”
“O-Okay,” he sputtered, wide-eyed and shocked.
We all went up the last flight of stairs, and Edward opened his door, letting us all in before he followed. My gaze drifted around the place, shaking my head slowly, but a smile spread across my face.
“Wow,” I whispered.
“Right!?” Tanya squeaked excitedly. “He has the perfect amount of space, and with such an open plan… Easy-peasy.”
They’d done an amazing job. When I’d shown the apartment to Edward, it had a few things left in it – my dad’s old piano, a couple of couches, and a kitchen table and chairs. Now…everything was situated into sections. And it almost seemed like there were low walls separating different things, though it was really bookcases and furniture doing the job. The brick-wall side of the apartment had his bed with my dad’s piano off to the side, and that all blended easily into a living-room area, which utilized my dad’s couches. A few guitars were leaning against the window sills on either side of a small Marshall amp. Bookcases lined the walls, and my eyebrows shot up at award after award that lined several shelves. I saw Grammys, MTV, and even some I didn’t recognize. Tucked away between the kitchen that had way too many pizza boxes stacked up and the bathroom was the treadmill I heard just about every morning.
I glanced up at Edward, smirking at his nonchalance. It was a typical guy behavior. As long as men had a place to eat, sleep, and watch TV, I wasn’t sure they gave a shit about the esthetics.
Tanya caught his look, rolling her eyes and grabbing his shoulder. “Relax.” She started to point to different pieces of furniture. “Jeans, underwear, socks, T-shirts, sneakers, sheet music… I get that’s all you care about.”
Edward grinned but shrugged a shoulder. “I just need to know where my shit is, ladies.”
“Well, now you know,” Kate sighed, but she was wearing a smile as she shook her head at him.
“Thank you,” he told them softly, stepping farther into the apartment and glancing around at everything.
Tanya shot me a wink. “No problem, Edward. Actually, it was kinda fun, and no, I didn’t hide stuff. It’s all pretty much how you had it at Heidi’s, except without the spotlight-seeking, fame-hungry bitch attached to it.”
There was a touch of nasty, blatant honesty in those words. I could see they cared for him, almost like sisters, and I could also see how they looked at each other, which made me feel pretty guilty for thinking there was something else going on. It was absolutely obvious that behind the scenes, they were all just very good friends.
My chuckle made Edward’s gaze spin to mine, and he gave me a grin and a wink, but it was Tanya that sidled up to stand next to me.
“Good riddance, if you ask me,” Tanya muttered, but Kate heard her and nodded with wide eyes. “He must really like you,” she added softly so Edward couldn’t hear, turning to face me.
My brow furrowed, but I shrugged a little because I didn’t know where this was coming from.
Tanya grinned. “First, Edward only lets certain people call him by his real name. And second, the way he just about forced us out of your place tells me he’d protect you from anything. And third, that boy only blushes when he truly likes someone.”
“And for the record,” Kate added from my other side. “He let Heidi only call him Masen.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Edward chanted, holding up his hands. “What are you two telling her!?”
“Nothing!” they sang at the same time, smiling up at him with falsely innocent expressions.
His eyes narrowed dangerously at the two of them, but the whole thing made me laugh. They were fucking hilarious.
“They were simply telling me you eat too much pizza,” I lied smoothly, plastering the same innocent smile on my face as I gestured to his garbage.
“Oh, I like her,” Kate sang softly to Tanya, who nodded.
“Mmmhm,” Edward hummed, folding his gorgeously inked arms across his chest. “You two…out. You’re bad influences.”
Tanya laughed, walking to him to kiss his cheek, which he took adorably. Kate did the same, whispering something to him, and he nodded.
“It was nice meeting you, Bella,” they said at the same time.
“You, too,” I said before they walked out the door, but then I turned to Edward. “I owe you an apology. I thought…” I shook my head and waved a hand. “It doesn’t matter. I just…”
Edward walked to me, taking my shoulders. “You owe me nothing. I’m aware of how it looked, Bella.” His smile was crooked and looked to be a little nervous, but he added, “Trust me, I… There’s only one…” He took a deep breath and huffed it out roughly. “You’ll never see women up here except you. You, my angel, are welcome anytime.”
There was the blush Tanya had mentioned. I hadn’t really paid attention until that moment, but I started for the door, stopping when I caught sight of his kitchen again. However, my rough morning caught up with me, and a large, wide yawn escaped me before I could stop it.
“I’ll be quiet, Bella, so you can get some sleep before work,” Edward stated softly, stepping back a little.
Smiling, I nodded. I pointed toward the piano. “Thanks, but I like the music…”
His smile was soft and sweet, his deep-green eyes warm, but he jerked a chin toward the door. “Then go on, sleepyhead. I’ll play you to sleep.”
That might have been the sweetest thing anyone had ever said to me, and I smiled through another yawn as I walked out his door and down to my apartment. I stripped out of my hoodie, kicking off my shoes, and crawled back into my bed. Just as I set an alarm and my head hit my pillow, the sound of music drifted down through my ceiling. I’d expected his music, or something more rock inclined, but the first few notes of Claire de Lune were impeccable and so very relaxing that my muscles actually twitched as I settled down. When the notes of something I didn’t know started to play, my lids grew heavy and I felt myself drift away.





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