Tuesday, April 7, 2015 | By: Drotuno

Man Behind the Mask Chapter 14 & Pics

Chapter 14 – Your Face of Light
If I can get through tonight,
I'm waking up with my wings.
There's no way I can sleep my way through a fight,
And I think I'm gonna like what tomorrow brings.
Look at my eyes,
Don't even know who I am.
That's how I spend all my worthless time on the floor,
Waiting for you to tell me I'm a man.

But you and your face of light.
It's a brilliant roman candle that separates the day from the night.
It's that clean, clear truth that sorts out the wrong from the right.
You and your face of light
“Face of Light” by Rival Sons
“Sweet fuck,” I hissed, my head falling back to the tile of the shower. “Bella…angel…”
Her laugh was low, evil, and pushing her breath across my cock. The hum vibrated softly, and my dick twitched at the feel. My hand slipped into her wet hair and gripped hard. Not to hurt but to stop myself from either ramming forward…or slipping and busting my ass. Either was possible at this point. We were slick and warm, and there wasn’t a huge amount of space, but I’d been unable to let her go when the alarm sounded.
I didn’t fucking dare look down. The sight of her beautiful mouth on me would send me over the edge. For the moment, I let myself feel, just be. I took, even though it was selfish; it was such a douchebag, guy thing to do, but I couldn’t help it. She felt so damned good, and I needed one last distraction before I faced the day. And it wasn’t like I didn’t give. My girl had come like a freight train more than one time last night. I’d lost count after three, and that didn’t include the phenomenal desk-fucking in her office after the show.
“Bella, Bella, Bella,” I groaned, making the stupid mistake of finally meeting those stunning dark eyes gazing up at me, at those perfect lips on me. “I’m…I’m…”
She hummed again, and I was done, just fucking wrecked. I came hard, with a pitiful sound echoing out of me in that small shower. I’m fairly sure I sounded like a wounded animal, but my give-a-shit was currently hitting the back of her throat, rendering me unable to see, much less care what noises I was making.
I huffed a laugh that had nothing to do with humor, a tremor running through my whole being. I practically sagged, but Bella’s hands slipped up my body, keeping me against the tile.
“Don’t move, angel. I may take us both out,” I panted, grinning at her adorable giggle. “That was… I’m… Yeah, I’m fucking stupid.”
I could feel her grin against the skin of my throat, and her voice was soft. “I wouldn’t let you fall, baby.”
“Hmm,” I hummed, finally able to see straight. “This shower was not made for two people.”
She laughed, turning to rinse her hair. “Honestly, Edward, considering this was my dad’s shower… I’d rather not think about it.”
Huffing a laugh, I turned off the water and reached for a towel. I secured it around my waist, grabbing another one to hand to Bella. We’d left the bar after the show and surprised ourselves that we made it to my apartment, but it had been her idea, since we didn’t know if Mike was coming back to her place or not. And we both had somewhere to be today.
The thought made me frown as I stepped out of the shower and onto the rug. I steadied Bella as she did the same. Walking into the main part of the apartment, I let her have the bathroom space. I rummaged through drawers and my closet, trying to find something appropriate for the day.
I settled for a pair of boxer-briefs, and once they were on, I sat on the edge of my bed. The scent of the two of us from the night before wafted around me. It was something comforting and perfect, sexy and alluring. It was a scent that I now associated with Bella. It was us. And now that the video and concert were finished, it was a scent I’d soon be without for months. It would be replaced by the sterile smell of hotel rooms or the closed-up space of a tour bus, never mind the smells that a plane contained. Time would barrel down on us, and it scared the ever-loving shit out of me.
Her feet appeared in my vision as I glared hard at the floor. My elbows were resting on my knees, but I reached out to pull her between my legs. Navy-blue lace and something silky barely covered her, but my eyes drank her in. My fingers trailed over her ink, teased the piercing in her bellybutton, and finally my gaze raked up her glorious form to her pretty face.
“Fuck, you’re just…every damn dream I’ve ever had.”
She snorted into a chuckle. “You’re just saying that because your brains are still fried from the shower.”
“Yes. Yes, they are.” Her adorable smile made me lean in to kiss her belly, but my fear was still there. And it didn’t help that today would be…difficult.
“You okay?” she asked into the top of my head, her fingers raking through slowly.
I sighed deeply into her stomach, turning my head to the side. Her heartbeat was steady, soothing, and her skin was warm. I shrugged a shoulder, but I should’ve known she wouldn’t let that rest. She pushed at me until I finally sat back a little.
“Talk to me.”
“I don’t know about today, Bella,” I stated, frowning down at my hands. “I don’t…want to do this.”
“You don’t have to,” she said, and I snapped my gaze back to her face. “You should, but you don’t have to.”
Narrowing my eyes at her sweet, falsely innocent smile, I mumbled, “Not fair, angel.”
She laughed, grabbing either side of my face in her hands. “Listen, I’ll be with you, but you really need to talk to your mom, baby. You don’t need me to tell you that. And your brother and Rose will be there.”
“I know, I know,” I grumbled, snorting when she squished my face. “Bewwa…”
Her laugh was hilarious. “Oh, if only the Masen fans could see this shit.”
“Shut up.” I laughed in spite of it all, shaking my head at her. It was moments like this that made me love her so fucking much. My laugh ended quickly, and I gazed pleadingly up at her. “It’s the country club, though.” I was whining. I knew I was whining, but I was still nursing my wounded pride when it came to my mother.
“So?” she scoffed, shrugging a shoulder, and her touch to my face was a little firmer. “Edward, you could buy and sell just about all of them, so don’t tell me it’s about people with money.” She sighed when I didn’t say anything. “I know that you’re judged, but hell, I will be, too, considering they don’t know me. You really have to walk in there like… Well, like Masen. Use him to walk into the place with his usual air of dominance. I’ve told you before, and I’ll say it again…you own the rooms you enter, and any stares or whispers will be that of want and jealousy. And really, who gives a shit what they think? But when it comes to your mom, baby, you’ve really got to let go of what happened. No one was honest throughout the entire event with your dad – especially your dad – so you need to give her a chance, okay?”
I nodded, turning my head in her hands to kiss the inside of her wrist. It was so fucking easy to perform in front of hundreds, even thousands of people, but the mere idea of walking into the club to see my mother had me backpedaling.
“Besides,” she said with a grin. “I’m kinda looking forward to seeing you dressed up.”
Chuckling, I shook my head, feeling my face heat with that. “I’ve been told I clean up well.”
She laughed, pushing away from me, and reached into my closet only to come away with my dark-blue suit still in the plastic from the cleaners. Hell, I hadn’t worn it since one of Heidi’s premieres.
“Monkey suit,” I teased her.
“Get dressed, Edward,” she ordered, rolling her eyes at me and walking back into the bathroom.
I did as she said, hating every second of it. It wasn’t the suit part of it but the bracing myself for the country club, for being face to face with my mother. I fidgeted with my tie, grumbling about never getting it right, but the sound of heels on my wood floors made me spin around.
The smile that curled up my face had to have been all sorts of evil, because Bella merely laughed at me. She was fucking stunning. It was a simple black dress, but she just made it all the more…just more.
“I’ve never seen an angel in black. You look beautiful, Bella. Let’s blow this lunch off, and I’ll take you any-fucking-where you want.”
She blushed but shook her head as she reached for my tie. “Shut up, Edward. We’re going. Now hold still.”
Grinning at her no-nonsense attitude, I leaned back against my dresser. Her eyes were warm, sweet, and focused on the knot she was tying. I couldn’t stop myself; once the knot was straight, she reached up to fix my collar, and my hands landed on her hips.
“You can do this, Edward.”
Swallowing nervously, I nodded, only to pull away and fidget. I tugged at my tie and collar, buttoned my coat, and pulled at my cuffs, realizing that suit or no fucking suit…not all my ink could be hidden. The spider web on the back of my hand was a loud and clear reminder of just how different I was compared to the people I was about to see.
“Stop, baby,” she chuckled. “You look very handsome.” Her amusement was replaced with sympathy. “Relax, and if you get nervous, just hold my hand.” She stepped back and held her hand out for me, but her eyes trailed down my suit to my shoes, where she let out a giggle. “So…Masen will be joining us for lunch,” she guessed with an adorably raised eyebrow.
I shifted in place, tapping the toes of my Docs. “You can take the guy out of the band…”
Laughing softly, she grabbed my hand and tugged me along. “Let’s go, Edward.”
Rose had offered Tony’s services to us, but I’d declined. I wanted to drive us, not for any other reason but to give myself a sense of control. If shit went badly, then I wanted to get the hell out of there. The drive was quiet, with the occasional song coming through the speakers of my car.
Bella seemed relaxed as she gazed out the window, but I realized that not much really rattled her. She was so damned comfortable in her own skin. She knew herself, where she stood on just about everything, and she honestly didn’t care what people thought about her. Not strangers, anyway. She had a small circle, and that circle counted. Anything outside of that simply didn’t matter.
I pulled into the country club, opting to park my own car, if only because I needed a second before I had to face this shit.
Bella waited patiently, and I spun my gaze to hers. “Were you always this way? So…fucking calm about everything?”
Her laugh snorted out of her, but she shook her head no. “No, not always. I just…” She took a deep breath and let it out, the humor slipping from her expression. “When you’ve been through the really hard things, then stuff like this, even if it’s uncomfortable, doesn’t really rank on the nerves scale, you know?”
“Your dad?”
“Yeah,” she answered, nodding a little as her nose scrunched up in the middle the way I loved so much. She shrugged a shoulder. “Edward, life is scary and short and unpredictable. It’s all those things. It’s too many of those things not to take advantage of situations like this. When you see your mom, just be honest. You’re about to leave for months, and I think you’d regret not seeing her, not telling her what happened. At least that way, you know you tried.” She pointed a finger at the window. “These people…they don’t count. They know nothing of you…her…your dad. Just…forget they exist. Treat them as if they’re a member of your audience…the ones who only see the surface shit.”
“You prioritize better than me,” I noted in a grumpy tone, but I smiled when she leaned over in the seat to press a kiss to my cheek.
“Maybe.” She smiled against my jaw. “Am I nervous about meeting your mother? Yes, if only because I love you, and I want you happy, so I hope her opinion of me doesn’t make you upset. But will her opinion of me change the way I feel about you? No, sir. Not a chance.”
A grin spread over my face that I couldn’t stop. “I love you, too, angel.”
Her expression was adorable, silently asking me, So…what’s the problem?
With a deep breath, I opened the car door and walked around to open Bella’s. I kept her hand in mine as we approached the building. The doorman saw us coming, and it took him a moment to break into a smile.
“Masen. Welcome back, sir,” he greeted.
“Paul.” I gave him a nod and a smile. He was a fan, though he was discouraged from saying anything, which irked me to no end, but he’d lose his job. He also hid every bit of ink he had – again…job policy.
“Your mother is in the private dining room, and Mr. and Mrs. Cullen have already joined her.”
Thanking him, I guided Bella toward the restaurant, steeling myself against the stares and whispers that I should’ve been used to but wasn’t. The hostess took our coats, and I slipped into the Masen persona, if only to get through the dining room.
I’d forgotten completely that my dad would be missed, that his absence and rumor of where he truly was would’ve gotten around. How…I had no idea, but my mother’s friends probably weren’t as tight-lipped as she assumed they were.
The hostess reached for the door of the private room, opening it for us with a look of superiority all over her face.
When she met my harsh gaze, she mellowed out a bit, but I couldn’t help but say, “It would be greatly appreciated…” I glanced down to her nametag. “Susan… We would like minimal interruption in here, so if you could pass that on…” I said it loud enough to gain the attention of my family, and I ignored Emmett’s chuckle and my mother’s gasp.
“Yes, Mr…um, Masen.”
Bella fought her smile like a champ, her thumb rubbing a continuous circuit over the ink on the back of my hand. Over and over, around and around, it was almost hypnotic but soothing, too. And I couldn’t even form the words to how grateful I was that she was with me.
Stepping into the room, I heard Susan close the door softly behind us. Emmett was up and out of his chair, pulling me into a rough hug.
“Relax, baby bro,” he whispered in my ear, pulling away to turn to Bella. “Bella!” He grinned and then whistled low. “Well, hot damn…you look…”
“Shut up, Emmett,” Rose sighed impatiently, but her gaze on Bella was soft and kind. “Bella…” She pulled my girl into a hug, whispering softly in her ear.
I faced the table, expecting my mother to still be sitting, but she wasn’t. She was standing in front of me, shifting nervously on her feet. It was the big, fat tears that had me feeling like an ass.
“Mom, I…”
Before I could blink, she rushed to me, wrapping her arms around me in a hug so tight it knocked the wind out of me.
“Edward Anthony Masen Cullen,” she sobbed, pulling back to cup my face. “You…” She sniffled, sighed, and then sagged a little. “I don’t know whether to kiss you or put you over my knee!”
Bella snorted softly, making Emmett laugh. “I say the second option would make fuck-awesome leaked photos. Hold up! Lemme get my phone out.”
Rose smacked my brother, rolling her eyes at him and snatching his phone away when he actually pulled it out of his pocket.
Frowning at my mother, I simply shrugged. “I guess we need…to talk.” Mom studied my face and nodded, but she turned toward Bella, so I waved my girl forward. “Mom, this is Bella Swan. Angel, this is Esme Cullen…my mother.”
The term of endearment caught my mother’s attention, but she offered Bella her hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Bella. I’ve heard a lot about you from Emmett and Rose.”
Bella’s face blushed a little, but she smiled warmly. “It’s nice to meet you, too, Mrs. Cullen.”
“Please, call me Esme,” Mom insisted kindly and then turned her sharp gaze back to me. “Swan…Swan… Where do I know that name?”
“Chainsaw Charlie Swan, Mom,” Emmett piped up with a big grin.
“The blues musician?” Mom gaped at Bella with something akin to respect and awe. “I saw him play once…a long time ago. He was very good. I also remember his passing. Terrible thing. I’m sorry for your loss, Bella.”
“Thank you,” Bella whispered in shock, her beautiful eyes wide when she shot a look to me.
Mom laughed softly. “My boys aren’t the only ones who appreciate good music.” She turned to me, patting my face, but the humor was gone from the moment, especially when a couple of servers stepped into the room. “I took the liberty of ordering for us because I want as little interruptions as possible.”
Nodding, I took a deep breath but walked to the table to hold a chair out for Bella, dropping a kiss to the top of her head, if only to take in the smell of her, the scent that calmed me. The kiss didn’t go unnoticed…by anyone in the room – my mother, the servers, Rose, or Emmett. The latter two were used to it, but my mother, not so much. She’d only dealt with Heidi a handful of times, and even those were in large party settings, nothing as intimate as this, but I’d never, ever shown any affection toward her in public, other than hand-holding. It just wasn’t how Heidi and I had been. Heidi liked to be seen in public but didn’t want affection in public. With Bella, I simply couldn’t stop myself, and my girl was comfortable no matter what I did.
I took my seat at Bella’s side, and immediately, her hand landed on my leg to not only still its bouncing but to comfort. I linked our fingers together. Once the food was served, the wait-staff left the room. There was an eerie silence, and I couldn’t take it. Shrugging out of my suit coat, I rolled up my sleeves and loosened my tie.
“Fucking monkey suit,” I muttered, shaking my head at Bella’s soft laugh.
“Edward, language.”
“My apologies, Mom, but you might wanna brace yourself. It won’t be the last time before this lunch is over,” I advised her, grimacing at the truth of that, but I picked up a fork, only to turn to her. “Before I do this…tell you what happened, I just… Did you know? About Dad?” My eyes raked all over her face, and with just her nervous frown, the adjustment of the napkin on her lap, and her blank gaze at the plate in front of her, I knew the answer, but I waited.
She took a deep breath, looking to Emmett and then to me. “I did. I didn’t want to acknowledge it, but I did. I saw it happening, but… You must understand, it started so long ago that it slowly became the norm, and I didn’t realize your father had lost control of it. Hell, it was probably always there, but not as severe as the last few years. He hid it. Every day, he hid it from me.”
I shot a glance across the table to Rose, who’d guessed that very thing. She’d even said it in Charlie’s Pub, but she wouldn’t gloat. That wasn’t my sister-in-law. She didn’t want to be right, and her face held sympathy and a touch of anger.
Nodding, I let that sink in as I took a few bites of food I didn’t really want, nor could I really taste. “Yeah, that’s what he told me…just before he left for rehab.”
Shooting a quick glance Bella’s way, I realized she’d be hearing the details of that night for the first time right along with my mother. What she did know was only the basics. With that thought, I took a deep breath and steeled myself.
Looking to Mom, I said, “The night of the accident, I saw Dad. We all did.” I gestured to Rose and Emmett with my fork. “Heidi’s manager had thrown a function at a hotel downtown – something for charity but using her clothes ad. We’d just gotten back into town, and I hadn’t seen her, so I met her there. We all went. We practically came straight from the airport. I guess she’d sent an invitation to you guys.”
“She did,” Mom answered, “but I couldn’t make it. It was the same night as Mrs. Bowers’ birthday party. I’d been a part of setting it up, so I had to go.”
I nodded. “Yeah, well… Dad went. And he was three sheets to the wind by the time we got there.” Sighing deeply, I went on. “Heidi was busy…mingling.” I snorted, rolling my eyes at the memory of James being there, not to mention Heidi’s co-star in her movie, Peter Grisham. “I sat with Dad, and I had a few beers with him, though he was knocking back vodka tonics like there was no tomorrow.”
I set my fork down a little too hard, but my hands balled up into fists on my lap. Bella’s hand covered mine gently, and I unfolded my fingers in order to lace ours together.
“I didn’t know, Mom,” I told her. “I didn’t know he was on-call at the hospital. I didn’t know he’d drive. I thought he’d grab a cab home, or at the least let Rose drive him, since she wasn’t drinking that night.”
“How could you have known, son?” Mom asked. “He wasn’t going to tell you. And he sure wouldn’t have acknowledged that he was too drunk to drive, much less go into the hospital.”
Nodding in agreement, I continued. “He stayed at the bar, no matter what I did. I tried to keep him company, simply because it wasn’t his usual scene. He didn’t know anyone, and it was kinda cool that he came, you know?” I asked, opening my mouth only to close it for a moment. I wanted to tell her that I’d been pretty stoked that he’d been there, since he so rarely attended functions from my world.
Turning to my right, I locked gazes with Bella. She got it. Instantly. She knew what it would’ve meant to have my dad there, if only because he didn’t like the whole fame/celebrity thing. She smiled sadly, rubbing my forearm for encouragement.
I bit my bottom lip, glaring at my plate. “I was so tired. We’d just gotten back from touring Japan, and I was so fucking ready for time at home before we started recording. Months home in Seattle sounded like heaven to me. Downtime was so rare, so I was looking for to it. The beers and the couple glasses of champagne I’d downed had made me relaxed, too relaxed, really, because I was so damned exhausted and I hadn’t really eaten anything. I told Heidi I’d see her at home, and Rose, Emmett, and I went to see if Dad wanted a ride home, and then…his phone rang.”
What I didn’t add, because it was a moot point, was that Heidi hadn’t cared whether or not I’d been there. She’d greeted me enthusiastically, shown me off to all her colleagues, but let me go at the first opportunity. Knowing what I knew now, I could see that she’d most likely fucked around with either James or Peter…hell, maybe even both. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to know. And I sure as shit didn’t want to know details. It worked out for the best anyway, and that thought made me bring Bella’s hand up to my lips for a moment.
“I thought maybe it was you,” I told my mother, and she nodded. “But he didn’t stay on long, and he stood up to pay his tab. I thought he’d ride with us. He said he needed the restroom, so I told him to meet us outside.” Shaking my head slowly, I added, “He didn’t show.”
“He left.” My mother’s guess was spot-on, and I nodded, my gaze still on my barely touched plate.
“He did,” I whispered, looking her way. “He either avoided me, or he completely forgot about us in his drunken stupor, but he never showed up. I…I…I tried calling his cell, but he didn’t answer. By the time they’d brought Rose’s car around, I’d almost decided to go looking for him, but he called me back.” Squeezing my eyes closed, I shook my head to clear it, but I let out a sigh. “He was frantic. Scared shitless, really. I could hear the sound of the car beeping, but he was screaming at me to come to him, about an accident. I figure the only reason it was me he called was because I’d just called him. He’d simply hit the call-back button. If it had been any other way, it wouldn’t have worked.”
I looked to my mom, who was wide-eyed at the possibilities, the could-have-beens.
Looking to Rose, I sighed, but I needed to finish the story. “We dove into the car, and Rose took the street from parking garage, trying to find him. He didn’t get far, for sure, and luckily there was hardly any traffic that late at night. He’d run a red light a couple of blocks up, T-boning a minivan in the intersection, sending it into some…some sort of fountain or pool. Hell, the cops hadn’t even been called yet. The timing was fucking perfect.” I whispered that last sentence in awe, because we would’ve never been able to pull any of the shit off otherwise.
“What about the other driver?” Bella asked so softly, but her voice startled me a little.
Turning her way, I said, “Bree’s mother…”
Bella nodded, frowning a little.
“She hadn’t even come out of the car yet, but it had been her to call the police. The airbag saved her from any injuries, but when she hit the fountain, the side Bree was on collided with the statue in the middle, so…her injuries were…understandable. It also spun her around so that she wasn’t facing my dad’s Mercedes. Shit, she never saw us pull up…or who got out of the car, so…” I shrugged, gazing over at my mother. “Dad was…a fucking mess. He’d gotten out of the car, grabbed Emmett, and was pleading… No,” I groaned, my hand gripping at my hair as I shook my head. “Not pleading. He was sobbing. He was absolutely terrified. He came at me with wild eyes, and…and he…he grabbed my shirt, begging me to help him. That he’d been on-call. He was…crazed and completely trashed, but he scared me, Mom. I just…
“When the sound of sirens started to get closer, he flipped the fuck out. Just…lost his shit. I…I couldn’t… I didn’t…” I floundered for the right words, swallowing nervously. “I froze for a second, but when I saw the police cruiser pull up, followed by the ambulance, I gripped Dad’s arm. I told him that if I took care of it, he needed to get help, that he needed to stop drinking; I made him fucking swear to me. And he did; he promised me. Though, he didn’t mean it; he just wanted help at the moment. He broke his promise, stopped coming to meetings.
“All… All I could see was his fear, and the mere thought of what would happen to you should he get caught…it was all too much, but… I knew… I knew I could deal with it better than he could. I also knew that it wouldn’t…touch my reputation. I told Emmett and Rose to get his ass in her car. I… When I faced the officer, I simply told him I’d been driving. It all fit. I failed the Breathalyzer, due to my own drinking, and Dad and I are just about the same height, so the seat in the Mercedes wasn’t moved. Bree was removed from the van, and she was okay, just that broken arm and some cuts. Her mother was fine, so Rose was quick to start calling Jenks to get to work, not to mention play witness to everything, because we’d been so close by, and I let them take me in. And I did it all as…Masen. I played it all up. I said that I’d left the party in my dad’s car, that they’d tried to stop me, and I thought I could drive. Me being…well, me, they ate it up – never even questioned it. Rock star, Masen, known for partying and drinking and wild actions…the cops puffed up when they put the cuffs on me. They believed every damn word.”
I shrugged a shoulder once I was finished.
Bella wrapped and arm around my shoulder, whispering into my ear, “Still stupid, Edward. Brave and understandable, but stupid.”
Grinning, I nodded, leaning into the kiss to my jaw. “Yeah, I know.”
She smiled against my cheek but then backed away. My mother was quiet but watching us with an unreadable look in her eyes.
Mom gazed slowly around the table, only to land on Bella. “Bella, you’ll have to forgive me…” She faced Emmett, then Rose, and finally me. “All of you are reckless and…and… I don’t even know what to say. Bella’s right. Stupid. Brave but damned stupid. Do you have any idea what would’ve happened had they seen through your lies? Do you? More trouble than you took upon yourself to take on, and you know it.” She shook her head slowly, toying with the napkin on her lap again, her eyes downcast. “He’s such a damn fool. I can’t believe he asked this of you…of his own children!”
My heart shattered at the tears streaming down her face when she finally looked to me.
“Mom, I…”
She reached forward, pulling me close in order to kiss my forehead. “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” she sobbed against my skin. “Did he even think? What if that mother and little girl had been killed?! He’d have sent my boy away to jail! All because he was a drunken coward! I want to wring his damn neck!”
I wanted to laugh at her words, but I couldn’t. There wasn’t anything funny about this shit. Not a single bit of it. Because of my father’s actions, my mother was hurting.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered once she’d pulled back, but she was still cupping my face. “I shouldn’t have, but...”
“But nothing, son,” she said to me in a firm voice. “You’re right, you shouldn’t have, but your father should’ve never, ever put you in that position.”
I opened my mouth to say something.
“My sweet boy, listen to me; I’m well aware that you’d have done it for anyone at this table. And as brave as that makes you, as loyal as that makes you to your friends and family… Edward, you are your own man, with a career and a life to lead. It wasn’t your responsibility to suffer for him.”
“Suffer,” I scoffed, rolling my eyes and shaking my head. “I didn’t suffer, Mom. Hell, I had my own room, caught up on sleep, not to mention therapy was a place I could get some stuff off my chest, and…I learned who I could and couldn’t trust.”
Bella’s fingers slipped into mine, and I shrugged a shoulder when I gazed over at my pretty girl.
Mom scowled. “You were always too good for that Heidi. You can slather frosting on shit, but that doesn’t make it a cake.”
Despite the tension in the room, that statement coming from my mother was hilarious. The table broke up into soft chuckles, only to completely shatter into belly-holding laughter.
I squeezed Bella’s fingers gently but turned to my mother, saying, “I’m good now, Mom. Trust me.”
Mom smirked, looking from Bella to me. “I see that.”
We quieted down when the wait-staff stepped back into the room, simply to check on us. They poured some water, took away some dishes, and left quickly. Our room stayed quiet once the door shut closed.
Mom pushed her plate away from her, folding her hands on the tabletop. “Okay, you three,” she said, pointing to Rose, Emmett, and then me. “When do you leave?”
Rose glanced my way but answered her softly. “We’ll be kicking off the tour in Boston. We fly out in two weeks…well, ten days, I suppose.”
Mom nodded solemnly. “So you won’t be home for Thanksgiving… What about Christmas? New Year’s?”
I shook my head sadly, my heart hurting, because I was leaving my mom alone with this shit with Dad. And…I was leaving the best thing that had ever happened to me.
“Mom, I’m… I… I wish it was different, but we probably won’t get back until well into February, and that’ll only be for a few days.”
“I can get you the itinerary, Esme,” Rose offered. “If I’m remembering correctly, we’ll be in Providence, Rhode Island, for Thanksgiving and New York for Christmas. New Year’s…I’m not sure…Nashville? I’d have to look.”
“We’d fly you out, Mom,” Emmett offered. “Anywhere you wanted. You, too, Bella.” He shot her a wink when my girl smiled his way.
“Well, perhaps we can figure something out, but…” Mom trailed off, her face so very sad, and I was pretty sure she was afraid to even make plans due to my dad’s situation. “Have you spoken to your father?”
“Not since he checked in,” I replied softly, “but I was going on family day…tomorrow. You going?”
My heart sank when she shook her head no.
“I hate this shit,” I muttered, shaking my head. I let go of Bella’s hand in order to rake my fingers through my hair. “I feel…guilty. I feel like I fucked up, somehow.”
“You did not!” Bella suddenly piped up, and her face was fierce and angry when I snapped my head over to her. Her face flushed pink, but she shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, “but you didn’t fuck up, Edward. Sorry, Esme… But none of you did.” She took a deep breath and continued. “Your dad has a problem, but it’s not your fault.” She tapped her temple. “His head… It’s in a really bad place. He… There’s not a chance in hell he could’ve made a good decision. He thought you and Emmett hated him. He was convinced his wife was leaving him, yet he couldn’t stop asking for another drink. That’s all on him. And if he’s seriously using rehab to get better, not merely to appease all of you, then he’ll be atoning for a lot of stuff soon.”
“Twelve steps,” I surmised, nodding a little.
“Yeah,” she sighed, her sweet nose wrinkling a little. “It’s none of my business, I know, but…from what I’ve seen, you’ve all tried to help.”
“I didn’t, Bella,” Mom admitted softly, her eyes welling up. “I ignored it.”
Bella’s smile was warm and sad but probably the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. “No, you trusted your husband. You wanted to see the good. Not the bad. It happens in this situation. It’s perfectly normal. However, all of you will have a long road ahead of you when he comes to you, and he will…”
If he’s really trying,” I added bitterly.
“If he’s really trying,” she agreed, nodding, and she reached for my hand again. I gave it willingly.
When I glanced over to my mother, I snorted at her confused face. “Bella was studying to be a psychologist,” I told her but turned to kiss Bella’s cheek, only to whisper in her ear. “Damn sexy therapist, I’m tellin’ ya.”
Bella rolled her eyes, pushing me playfully away from her neck.
“Mom…” Emmett started, his usually happy demeanor gone. “Come with us tomorrow.”
She shook her head no, and my big, laidback brother looked like he’d cry. “I can’t, bear. I just can’t. Not after hearing the whole story. He lied to me, convinced me that my youngest son was responsible for it all, when my heart, my soul wasn’t buying it. He…he put the three of you in the most god-awful bind without a thought as to what could’ve happened. He could’ve killed that little girl, he could’ve sent my baby boy to prison, he could’ve killed himself, and he could’ve lost his medical license, and while that last one is low on the list of priorities…” She huffed a humorless laugh. “If he thought things were bad already, then to take away his license, his career, would ruin him. If he couldn’t practice medicine…I know your father…he’d feel his life was over.”
“Which is probably what caused him to panic that night to start with,” Rose added sadly.
“Probably.” Mom’s voice was soft and weary. “I have some thinking to do concerning your father, and in order to do that, I need…time.”
Emmett and I locked scared, panicked gazes. We were grown men, but the idea that my parents’ marriage was now shaky, now in jeopardy, made us both freak the fuck out.
Before we could say anything, Bella’s kind, gentle voice asked, “Would you like us to give him a message tomorrow?”
Mom’s smile was warm but wavering, and she nodded. “Just tell him I… Just tell him the truth, that I’m not ready.”
We nodded, and I glanced over the table. We hadn’t eaten much, but I wasn’t really hungry. And from the blank stares around the table, I wasn’t alone, though I worried about Bella.
The club’s servers stepped into the room again, and Mom told them to clear the table, that we were finished. They did so in complete silence, but I could see that one of the girls knew me. Her eyes betrayed her, not to mention her hands shook, but I didn’t have it in me to play the part. I just couldn’t. She and another guy filled their trays and left the room again.
My mother stood up, which was the sign that we were done, and we all followed her lead. She reached for me again, hugging me close, only to pull back and cup my face.
“Edward, you… Please, please be safe, champ.” She reached for Emmett when he stepped up to my side, saying, “You, too. Take good care of each other. I don’t say it enough, but I’m so very proud of you…no matter what you’ve come to believe. Okay?” We both nodded, and she smirked a little. “That being said… Knock ’em dead, boys.”


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