Sunday, April 12, 2015 | By: Drotuno

Man Behind the Mask Chapter 15 & Pics

Chapter 15 – Best of You
Has someone taken your faith?
Its real, the pain you feel
The life, the love you'd die to heal
The hope that starts the broken hearts
You trust, you must
Confess

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?

I've got another confession my friend
I'm no fool
I'm getting tired of starting again
Somewhere new

Were you born to resist or be abused?
I swear I'll never give in
I refuse
“The Best of You” – Foo Fighters
EDWARD
“Carlisle Cullen,” Emmett said to the girl at the reception desk.
“Okay, just have a seat,” she told us, pointing to the row of chairs along the wall of windows. Then her eyes caught sight of me, and she smiled. “Masen, it’s good to see you again.”
“Candice,” I greeted softly. “You, too.”
She smiled but pointed again to the chairs. “Give us a second, and we’ll let you know when they’re ready.”
We all quietly took our seats. Emmett was twitchy, fidgeting with his jacket, his watch, his phone, only to snatch up a magazine and toss it back down to the coffee table. I gazed around, my fingers reaching for Bella almost blindly. She slipped her hand into mine without a word.
It was strange being back at Serenity…at least on the other side of things. Although I wasn’t sure what to expect on family day, if only because I’d never allowed anyone to come see me. I’d decided before I even went in that I’d do the stretch in rehab alone. I didn’t want my bandmates, my brother, or my parents to see me in here. I’d been resigned to get through it, but I wasn’t sure exactly how things would be in here. As the month had worn on, my time in here became a bit of a respite, a vacation from the outside world.
A warm hand pressed softly to the side of my face, and I turned to see Bella watching me warily. “You okay?”
Nodding, I gazed around the place again. “It’s weird being back.”
Rose huffed a light laugh. “I bet. Nice place, though.”
“Oh, yeah,” I agreed with a nod as I sat forward, resting my elbows on my knees. “It’s not bad. The food was okay, the staff is pretty cool as long as you follow the rules, and the doctors actually give a shit. I can’t imagine what the state rehab would’ve been like.”
“Jail,” Bella said softly, wrinkling her nose a little.
“Your dad’s friend?”
“Uncle Sam. Yeah.” She nodded. “He was forced into rehab once, but he… Well, you know.”
Nodding, I reached over to tuck her hair behind her ear and kiss her temple. She’d been my fucking rock the last few days – hell, since I’d met her. But with the concert at Charlie’s, the drama with Heidi, my mother, and now visiting my dad, she was solidly just…there. She didn’t say much, and she only encouraged me that things would be okay, even though no one knew for sure how shit would go down. It didn’t matter. When Bella said it, I wanted so fucking badly to believe it.
When we left the country club the day before after the most exhausting and trying conversation with my mother, Bella had been quiet, but she’d held my hand through it all, even the drive home. And pushed me down onto the sofa, ordered a pizza to be delivered, because she knew I’d be hungry once the shock wore off, and then she let me do wicked and desperate things to her before the delivery guy arrived. The whole time, despite how naked and sweaty we were, her repeated words of love were all I could truly focus on.
Swallowing nervously, I glanced up when the waiting-room door opened.
“Cullen?” a nurse I knew as Ron called. His grin was wide when he caught sight of me. “Well, shit fire and save matches…Masen!”
“Ron,” I greeted, and he pulled me into a one-armed hug. “Still flirting with the girl in the pharmacy?”
“Hells yes!” He laughed, slapping my shoulder. “Almost got her convinced that I’m a halfway decent guy.”
“Poor girl. Little does she know…”
“Indeed. C’mon, man, I’m here to take you back.”
I turned to reach for Bella, who really hadn’t moved from the chairs. She and Rose were hanging back a little.
“Nah, get your asses over here,” Emmett called jokingly, but his face was serious. “Both of you.”
Bella locked eyes with me, and I could see she wasn’t sure, so I walked to her, speaking softly. “C’mon, angel. Please? I’d like to think we’re a package deal now.”
“I’m not family, Edward.” Her argument, while valid, was given weakly.
“You are now,” Emmett urged. “If you survived the country club with Esme Cullen, you can most certainly handle this shit.”
Bella smirked, huffing a light laugh, but it was Rose who helped me out. She walked to Bella, looping their arms.
“He’ll want to see us anyway, Bella, so we might as well suck it up.”
Ron waited patiently, and when we all turned, he nodded, holding the door open. “Right this way, guys. Masen, you didn’t really participate with family day, so this is how it’ll go. You’ll sit with Dr. Cope and your father for a short session, and then you’ll be released to walk about the grounds. You won’t pass anything to Dr. Cullen, nor is he allowed to give you anything. Ladies, you’ll leave your purses in the lockers here. Guys, empty your pockets.”
Phones, keys, wallets, and purses were all set inside a small locker, and Ron padlocked it, handing the key to me. We followed him the rest of the way down a hall, where I recognized the therapy rooms.
Dr. Cope was a nice older woman, with graying hair and hazel eyes that crinkled when she smiled. She’d been my favorite therapist when I’d been locked in here, and I’d hoped that if anyone could help my dad, it would’ve been her. She had more patience with me than I’d expected, even on the days I had nothing to say.
Her office was warm, neutral colors – tans, browns, and creams – and she was already in there with Dad. She stood up from behind her desk to walk to me.
“Masen,” she greeted, holding out her hand to shake it. “It’s good to see you. You look well.”
“I’m good, Dr. Cope,” I said with a smile but turned toward the people with me. “This is my brother, Emmett, and his wife, Rose. And this is my girlfriend, Bella.”
That caught the good doctor’s attention, because the last session we’d had I’d talked about Heidi’s betrayal and how it had been inevitable. I’d admitted to her that I’d had suspicions about Heidi’s infidelity, that the relationship was probably doomed from the get-go, and that I’d never truly been in love with her. I’d cared about her, but nothing came even close to what I felt for the girl I’d just introduced.
I’d also had a feeling that Dr. Cope knew I didn’t need to actually be in Serenity, but neither of us had ever discussed it.
“It’s nice to meet all of you,” she said, gesturing toward her sitting area. “We can get started. This is just an informal session. It gives all of you a chance to ask questions, talk over some things, or simply listen.”
Dad looked…like shit. Though, he was most likely still detoxing from all the alcohol. He rarely went a day without shaving, but there had to be at least three or four day’s growth on his face. His hair was messy, and he was wearing the scrubs-type clothes the patients had to wear. However, it was the heartbreaking expression on his face when he did a mental count of who was with us…and who wasn’t.
He locked his gaze on me, and I simply said, “Mom needs…time, Dad.”
Nodding, he shot a glance to Dr. Cope but didn’t say anything.
“Carlisle, it was expected, and it doesn’t mean you have to give up hope. It simply means you’ve work ahead of you. Your actions caused a chain of events that you now have to untangle.” The doc’s words and tone were calm but true. Her next words were addressed to everyone. “Guys, take a seat, and we’ll get started. Carlisle thought you’d like to hear the things we’ve been doing, the progress…and setbacks we’ve made, and he’s given me permission to discuss some issues with you.”
If my dad was surprised to see Bella, he made no mention of it. We all took seats on the sofas and chairs across from the doctor.
Dr. Cope started the session, telling us how dad’s detoxing was going, that he’d been put on an anti-depression medication that seemed to be working for him, and he’d started his twelve-step process. She explained that they’d decided to start at the beginning, when his drinking had started – which had been way back in college – in order to figure out when it had become a problem.
Dad sat pretty stoic throughout most of it, as did Bella and Rose. Emmett asked a question here or there – mainly about the meds Dad was on, and would they be a problem. The answer was no. When the half hour was just about up, Dr. Cope addressed me specifically.
“You’ve been awful quiet, Masen,” she stated, neither questioning, nor accusing.
I snorted, shaking my head. “What’s there to say, doc? Seriously? He’s either gonna do this shit or he isn’t. But saying that out loud isn’t gonna change anything. I want to believe he’s trying, that this shit is for real, but he’s made promises and bargains with me before.”
I raised an eyebrow toward my dad, who nodded solemnly. There was no need to drudge up the wreck or my time here. Dad knew what the fuck I was talking about.
“Masen, does your anger stem from those broken promises? Or does it come from someplace else? Your career choice has always caused a rift between you…”
I laughed humorlessly, sitting back and folding my arms across my chest. “Yeah, maybe,” I admitted belligerently. “Nothing I did was good enough. I didn’t pick the right career for Dr. Cullen.”
“That’s not true, champ,” Dad argued softly.
I glared at the floor at the old nickname coming from him. It made me feel like a fucking kid, that same skinny, fucking kid who was told I couldn’t have a band, who was told I’d never make anything of that “useless rock music.” Never mind the fact that I’d just cut my third album, or that my band had won countless awards, or the millions of fans…yeah, useless, my ass.
A warm hand tugged gently at my arms until she found my hand, and Bella pulled it to her lap, not saying a damn word. She just…was. I threaded my fingers with hers, squeezing softly in thanks to her being there.
“Coulda fucking fooled me,” I mumbled, shooting a glare at the doc. “I’ve been here, done this. Shouldn’t we focus on him now?”
Dr. Cope grinned at my sour mood like she’d always done, shaking her head. “It’s all relevant, Masen.”
I pursed my lips at her, but my dad sat forward.
“It wasn’t that your mother and I disliked your career choice, Edward. Either of you,” he said, giving Emmett a pointed look. “It’s just…we knew it wouldn’t be easy, that you could get yourselves wrapped up in bad contracts, scary situations, or even face awful rejections. We never wanted you hurt. Our mistake was thinking our boys weren’t smart enough or strong enough to handle whatever anyone threw their way. And for that, I’m sorry, because clearly you’ve surpassed all of those concerns.” He placed a hand over his heart. “We discouraged you in order to keep you safe, keep you from getting hurt, when really, we should’ve been your biggest support. We should’ve realized that we’d raised two very smart, strong, talented boys who could rule the world should they set their minds to it.”
Emmett snorted, shaking his head. “I fucking love what I do. I have no regrets in following my brother. Not one.” The usual jovial guy had left the room. He was so serious, it was scary. “I’ve traveled the damn world, I get to work every fucking day with my wife, and I get to see some of the best of the best in the music industry. And I do what I’ve always done, which is protect my kid brother from the fucking bullies of the world. There’s nothin’ better than that.”
A soft laugh escaped the girls at that declaration, and I shot a quick smile Bella’s way. She looked like she was about a second from jumping out of her seat on that sofa just to give Emmett a hug.
“Told you, angel… I was a skinny little fuck,” I teased her.
She giggled but shook her head when Emmett laughed, saying, “He’s not kidding, Bella.”
Leave it to my big brother to lighten the room, even when he was being serious.
“I have so much to make up for,” Dad sighed, sitting back in his seat. “Right now, it’s all I can do not to hunt down the closest bar.”
“Which is normal, Carlisle,” Dr. Cope told him. “One day…even one hour at a time is a victory.”
He nodded, his face dark with worry and frustration and just plain old stress. And suddenly I felt sorry for him. It was bigger than the sympathy I’d had the night of the wreck, the night I took the fall for his mistake. Then, I’d just wanted to protect him and my mother, but now I was truly seeing his struggle. It was real and in my face, and I wasn’t a stranger to this struggle. I’d seen my fellow rehab patients go through hell and back with their addictions and family problems.
Gone was the man who had taught Emmett and me how to throw a baseball and football, the guy who’d taught us how to ride bikes, and the guy who would let us stay up all night when Mom was away visiting family. He was the same guy who wrestled with Emmett, who told me at fourteen that my piano lessons weren’t needed anymore because I was better than my instructor. That guy – to us – hung the damn moon. But he was gone. In front of me was the mortal man, a vulnerable man who was barely keeping his head above the shit that surrounded him, even if it was the shit in his own head. I knew from listening to others what it felt like to have your own mind betray you.
Turning to Dr. Cope, I asked, “Are we done here?”
“Yes, our time is up.”
Spinning my gaze back to Dad, I asked, “Why don’t we check out the grounds? Hmm?”
Dad’s eyes widened, but he nodded and stood up. “Sure.”
We let him take the lead, winding us through the halls to the back doors that led out to the grounds. The place was kind of pretty, with hedges and fountains and concrete patios. Due to the weather, some heaters had been set up, along with some fire pits. I’d spent my time there in the summer, so I was a little surprised at the difference.
“Edward,” Bella said softly, tugging my hand just as we opened the door. “I’ll meet you out there in a minute. I need the restroom.”
“I’ll come with you,” Rose offered.
Leaning down, I dropped a brief kiss to Bella’s lips, and then the girls disappeared around the corner. I hesitated leaving the building, but Emmett slapped my shoulder gently, urging me out the door.
Some families were taking advantage of the chilly yet clear, sunny day. There was a specific spot I was aiming for, and I was glad it was vacant of people. Along a pathway, there were a few benches set up on a small hill. We weren’t far from the building, but we were away from prying ears. We each took a bench, sitting down to wait for the girls.
“You love her,” Dad suddenly said, and I smiled in spite of everything.
Nodding, I sighed deeply. “Yeah, I do.”
“She calls you Edward, I see.”
I nodded again, sitting forward to rest my elbows on my knees.
Emmett laughed softly. “I’m pretty sure he’d let Bella call him just about anything and she’d get away with it.”
I chuckled. “Yeah, probably.”
“Good. I’m happy for you, son. She’s…really good for you,” Dad stated, almost in awe. “Is she… Will she be okay when you leave? Or is she going with you?”
“No, she’s not coming with us.” I shook my head, raking my hand through my hair. “She’s got her own life to live here, but…she seems okay with everything. I mean, her dad used to tour, so she’s not naïve as to how it works. I just…” I frowned down at the ground, not knowing what to say when it came to my leaving and Bella.
“When do you leave?” Dad asked.
“Nine days,” Emmett replied. “And we won’t be back for the holidays, Dad. That’s why we came today. We wanted to see you.”
Dad smiled, glancing between us. “That means the world, boys, you have no idea. I don’t want you worried about me when you’re gone. Can you promise me that?”
“Yeah…no, probably not,” my brother said with a chuckle. “We’re gonna worry. You and Mom…”
Dad smiled but held up a hand. “I’ve destroyed your mother’s trust in me. I’ve done the same to you boys. I obviously can’t discuss the disaster of that car wreck with anyone here, but I’m well aware of how disgustingly low, how cowardly, and how despicable it was of me to allow you three to cover for me that night. I’m… The guilt and remorse I feel is overwhelming. I tried my damnedest to protect the two of you from the dangers of the music business, yet I’d ask you to go to jail for me? What kind of father does that?!”
“A drunk and desperate one,” I answered honestly. “You weren’t…you.” I shrugged a shoulder. “And we’re just as guilty, you know. We could’ve just…held your hand through it all and suffered Mom’s reaction, your arrest, and…the possible loss of your medical license. Not facing it all probably made it fucking worse, but…what the hell do I know?”
Dad chuckled a little, but it died quickly. “You know a lot, champ. I’m not stupid, though. I know your mother is pissed at me. I know she may leave me. And rightfully so. But…I’m not leaving this place until I know I can fix all the shit I’ve broken throughout the years. Unfortunately, that starts with me.”
I grinned at his scowl, but at least he knew what he had to do.
“Your mother, however, will be a long road.”
My gaze drifted to the sloping lawn that was turning brown with the cold weather. I had a feeling winter would be a rough one. The girls were making their way toward us, and they couldn’t be any more different if they’d tried. Rosalie was tall, with her striking features and blonde hair. Bella was petite, several inches shorter, with natural beauty and gorgeous dark hair. Both were bundled in their jackets, and they were chatting away as they got closer.
“Imma lose my motherfucking mind on this goddamn tour,” I muttered, shaking my head at Emmett’s and Dad’s laughter. “I didn’t mean to say that shit out loud.”
“Edward,” Dad said through his amusement. “She seems like a very strong girl…”
“Oh, God, she is,” I sighed, shrugging a shoulder. “It’s me. Me.” I pointed to myself. “I’ve never, ever felt selfish about my job…until now. I just found her. I just… I don’t know… So many things could happen…”
“Edward…son, if I may…” Dad said, sitting forward. “I’d be happy to check on her once I’m out of here. It’s…the very least I could do.”
My eyebrows shot up at that, but Bella and Rose joined us, and I held my arms open for my girl, smiling when she walked straight into them.
“What’d we miss?” Rose asked shrewdly.
My gaze landed on Bella as I pulled her to my lap. “We were discussing the tour. And Dad here offered to check on Bella while we’re gone…”
“Once he’s out of here, of course,” Emmett added with a laugh.
Bella smiled so sweetly that I probably tumbled head over heels in love her all over again, and she turned to my dad. “I’d like that. Just let me know, and I’ll make sure to brew the coffee.”
Dad grinned at that, nodding a little. “Yes, ma’am. I’d like that, too.”
Pressing a kiss to her cheek, I squeezed her closer. “Smart girl,” I whispered in her ear. “Hide the vodka.”
Bella fought her giggle until my dad cracked up.
“I heard that!” Dad laughed, shaking his head. “God, I’m gonna miss you guys.”
“We’re a phone call away,” Emmett said, shrugging a shoulder. “If… If shit goes bad with Mom, just…call. Hell, you’ve earned a leave from the hospital, so fuck it…you can come out on the tour.”
“Oh, yeah, brilliant idea, Em,” Rose drawled, rolling her eyes. “Let’s bring the recovering addict on a rock-band tour.”
“We’re not that bad,” I argued, grinning at Bella’s giggle. “Damn, most of that shit is a fucking illusion, anyway.”
“True that,” Emmett agreed. “We’ll just keep him away from the road crew. They’re some partying animals.”
Dad grinned. “We’ll see.”
I could see just from this interaction that things would be different with him. Seeing him truly sober for the first time in who knew how long was strange but easy. I’d forgotten just how much we’d teased and joked with each other before. I wondered if he’d missed it, and I wondered if not having it when he was struggling the most would harm him.
Warm breath pushed out against my ear, and Bella pressed a kiss to my jaw. “You know, I can check on him, too.”
She tilted her head at me when I pulled back to look her in the eye. I trailed the backs of my fingers down her face, tapping beneath her chin lightly.
“That’s completely up to you, angel,” I told her softly. “But very sweet.”
“I’d do it for you,” she whispered, shrugging a shoulder. “I know you’ll be worried.”
“Not just about him, but I’m… Yeah, I can’t with this right now, Bella.”
I wasn’t ready to face leaving her. I knew I had to, but I wanted to soak up as much of Bella as she’d allow me to have over the next nine days. The tour scared the shit out of me, if only because we were so new, because she’d possibly see stuff that would test her faith in me, and she’d be alone. Fuck, I’d be alone. And I hated it.
“Okay, shhh,” she breathed against my cheek. “Later.”
We stayed out on the benches for a few more minutes, until the girls started to get cold. We talked about the tour, the concert we’d filmed at Bella’s bar, and general chatter. When it came time to leave, Dad hugged every last one of us.
“Thank you,” he said, shoving his hands into his pockets once he’d walked us back to the main building. “Just seeing you… It means everything. I want you three to be careful when you’re gone. And Bella, you’re welcome anytime. And I’m gonna take you up on that coffee when I’m done here.”
She smiled and nodded. “I look forward to it.”
I felt better when we left him in the hallway to gather our things out of the locker. Something about his demeanor, his sense of just…self, seemed real. If I’d had to guess, it was most likely the loss of Mom that kicked his ass this time. Perhaps the threat of losing her was his “rock bottom.” As I slid into the backseat of Rose’s car, I pulled Bella close, because I could truly fucking understand that.
~oOo~
The apartment was quiet. Too quiet, really. The only sounds heard were the ticking of the clock in my kitchen and the sweet, soft sounds of Bella’s breathing. I wanted to freeze time. Right there and at that moment, because my sweet girl shifted, rolling over to drape a bare leg across mine. Her arm blindly reached and fumbled for me, finally wrapping around my waist as I sat up against the headboard of my bed.
I tapped my phone it in order to see the time. I’d be gone in less than forty-eight hours. Two fucking days. Just like I’d thought, time had flown since our visit to Dad at Serenity. And even though Bella worked shorter or fewer shifts, it wasn’t enough. I wanted more of her. Just…more. More time, more dinners, more late-night talks and laughter in the darkness of my apartment, and more skin and kisses and touches. And I wanted to memorize everything about her – her smile, her kiss, her sweet laughter, and fuck, the sound she made when my name fell from her lips. Jesus, that was the best sound, because she usually followed it up with, “I love you.”
Slipping down into the bed, I rolled to face her, keeping her close. Reaching up, I barely touched her in order to brush the hair out of her face. As I watched her sleep, I wondered for a moment how Alec did it. Hell, how Jacob even did it. They’d leave their girls behind and travel for months. Though, Alec’s wife would join us on the road occasionally. But she was having a baby, which would be due most likely when we were on the second leg of the tour. We were all aware of it, including Rose and Marcus. Should Carrie go into labor, we’d bring in a temporary keyboardist until he could come back. He was excited, and Carrie was a level-headed thing, so she handled Alec’s absence just fine. But me… Fuck, I couldn’t even fathom leaving Bella should she have been…
“Shit,” I barely uttered aloud, pressing my lips to Bella’s forehead. The mere thought of Bella pregnant… Oh my fucking hell, I wanted it, but I wanted it when it was right. I hoped that could be our future. As I gazed through the shadows of the room at the prettiest thing I’d ever seen, I could almost see that future, but it seemed so damned fragile.
Before I could wake the poor thing at five o’clock in the damn morning and scare the shit out of her by talking about babies, I slid carefully from the bed, tucking the covers up around her. I pulled on my jeans and a hoodie and slipped my feet into some sneakers. My black acoustic guitar stood by the door, and I picked it up, stepping out onto the landing.
There was a small spiral notebook with a pencil shoved in it on the little table by the door, and I snatched that up, too. There were words and notes I wanted to get down. The melody Jasper had written, the one he’d said he wouldn’t let Aro have, swirled in my head, and words started to mesh with those notes.
Jasper had always seen the music first, but the words usually came from me. I’d work it, rework it, and then show him what I’d done with it. We’d clean it up together, polish it, and then present it to the rest of the boys. From there it became a song.
It seemed his new melody was no different, except the words were all mine. They would be personal this time, and they were coming from a place I’d never felt before.
I was tweaking the notes on my guitar when warm arms wrapped around me from behind. Dark hair draped over my shoulder, and I smiled at the sleepy-sweet thing that pressed kisses to my jaw and cheek.
“I woke you,” I guessed.
“Not with this but when you left the bed,” she whispered, smiling when I pulled her down onto my lap and I sandwiched her with my guitar.
“Sorry,” I breathed against her skin, playing the notes blindly as I inhaled the clean smell of her hair.
“That’s pretty. What’s the words?” she asked, picking up the notebook, but I laughed and took it back. “Edward!” she whined. “I wanna see!”
“And I want you to wait, angel. It’s not done.”
She pouted adorably, and I kissed her until she melted in my arms. “Please?” she begged against my lips.
“I promise you…you’ll hear it when it’s done. It’s…important, Bella.”
She sighed dramatically, rolling her eyes and muttering, “Temperamental artist.”
Grinning, I set the guitar aside. “I can show you temperamental…” My fingers gripped her sides, and her squeak and laugh echoed down into the alleyway.
“Edward! Okay, okay, okay!” she begged, fighting me and finally sagging in my arms when I relented.
Pushing her hair away from her face, I said, “I love you. You know that, right? You know this isn’t just…for now. Please…please, angel…tell me you know that.”
Her expression was heartbreakingly sweet and concerned and sad all at once, and I dropped a kiss to her lips, silently urging her to answer me without saying the words.
A small smile curled her beautiful lips. “I know Edward loves me. Masen may be on the fence.”
Chuckling, I shook my head. “They’re both so very fucking stupid over you, Bella. Shut up.”
She laughed softly, pressing kisses to my lips. “I love you, too. And I know you’re out here ’cause you can’t sleep.”
Nodding, I looked down at where our fingers were entwined.
She was quiet for a moment but then lifted our hands beneath my chin to tilt my gaze to hers. “I took the next two days off, you know.”
I shook my head. “No, I didn’t know.”
“Yeah, see… My boyfriend is kidnapping my baby brother for the next few months, so I thought…maybe I needed to take off for it.”
Swallowing nervously, I reached up with my free hand and threaded my fingers into the hair at the base of her neck in order to bring her forehead to mine.
“I will watch over him, baby. I swear to God.” My eyes closed when I pressed kisses to her lips.
“I know you will. I know the other guys will, too. Emmett already promised me.” When I opened my eyes again, she smiled sadly. “Now…we have to talk about this. You’ve avoided it long enough.”
I turned my head. “I… I’m sorry. I know we do. I just…” I let out a deep breath, and suddenly all my fears came rushing out of me. “I… I feel so fucking selfish for leaving. I want so fucking much for us, but it’s all getting snatched away too early. For the first time, I’ll hate touring. I’ll worry about leaving you alone, about whatever shit you’ll see on TV, about the paps and the fans and…”
“Edward, baby…stop,” she pleaded, grasping either side of my face. “It’s your job.” She raised a dangerous eyebrow at me until I nodded. “That’s not selfish; that’s fulfilling your responsibilities. And you can’t tell me you’ll hate it, because on that stage…you’re free. You’re doing what you were born to do, so…it’s only right that you go do it. And do it like you always do it…amazingly well.” She took a deep breath. “As far as the media and paps go… I don’t know, Edward. I never paid them much attention before, but I’m sure there will be things I’ll hate seeing. I just… I have to trust you, just like you have to trust leaving me here.”
“Can you come? Not for a long period, but maybe a weekend?” I asked her, though it sounded like begging.
“I’d already planned it, but I’m not sure when, so let me figure that out. Okay?”
I nodded, feeling a bit relieved at knowing I might see her before the first leg of the tour was done. We were quiet for a moment. Bella’s head fell to my shoulder, and I was ridiculously content simply holding her right there.
“Angel, why would you say Masen’s on the fence?”
She giggled. “I was teasing you, Edward. You’ve only ever been Edward to me, even from the beginning, so I was just playing.” She lifted her head, reaching up to rake her fingers through my hair. “We’ve been lucky, I think. No paps have followed you here, even after the filming. No one knew you actually lived here. You’ve been able to stay clear of it all. I’m glad. I’m glad I could give that to you.”
Smiling a little, I nuzzled her nose with mine. My phone bleeped on the step next to me, and I saw that Rose was already up and working. Her text made a hissed string of curses leave my lips.
“What?” Bella asked.
“New rumor,” I sighed, shaking my head. “Apparently Aro leaked word out that Heidi was at the filming of the video, and now we’re supposedly back together.” I snorted at the absurdity of it all…and the timing, since we were just about to leave.
“Ooh, Lord, if they’d only seen your face that day,” Bella teased with a laugh, and I couldn’t help but grin. “You know, there’s only one way to squash a rumor.”
Studying her face, I tilted my head. “Start a different one?”
“Mmhm,” she hummed, leaning in to kiss me. “But in order to do that, you’d…we would have to go public.”
“No, baby,” I argued, shaking my head. “I never wanted that for you! No, I can’t. I can’t do that to you when you’ve got such a peaceful thing here. And you hate them… I never, ever—”
She shut me up by kissing me. Hard. And then it turned deep and heated, and suddenly my hands started to move on their own. Fuck it all if she didn’t have me hard in an instant. She pulled away just as I had one hand cupping her breast underneath her sweatshirt, while the other palmed her ass without shame. I groaned and panted as I glared up at her for stopping.
“Edward, listen to me,” she urged, smiling when I squeezed her ass cheek. “When I say I love you, I mean I love every part of you, and that means… Eventually, the world will know. Yeah, sure, I hate them, but I’m beginning to hate Aro more. You should control what you do. Rock-star image or not, you should make the decision. Unless you don’t want people to know…”
“Oh hell no!” I practically growled against her mouth. “I want everyone to know, the whole fucking world, but I was worried about your privacy, angel. I’d put it in skywriting if I thought I could get away with it.”
Her smile lit up the damn world, and I kissed her softly.
“You’re sure?”
“Yes.”
Swallowing thickly, I studied her face but didn’t relent just yet.
“It’s Saturday, Edward,” she purred against my mouth. “It’ll be a clear day. There’s fun stuff to do in town, and a friend of my dad’s is playing at a place on the water tonight.”
All day. I’d have Bella to myself all damn day, and we could go do normal couple shit.
“Yes,” she answered with a giggle. “Was ‘normal couple shit’ something that interested you?”
“Dammit, I said that out loud.” I shook my head at her sweet laugh. “Yeah, very interested. We could get some stuff done before I left, too. And…prove to Aro that rumor or not…he can’t manipulate me.” I took a deep breath but locked gazes with her. “If we do this, there’s no going back. They may follow you, even…or especially while I’m away. I don’t want you hurt, baby, so you gotta be sure. I can live with a fucking rumor that isn’t true, but I can’t bear the thought of anything hurting you.”
“I love you, Edward. Every part.” Her answer was simple and honest. “I knew what I was getting into the minute I made you hide behind my bar.”
Grinning, I nodded. “Okay, then. We’ll start now. Go get dressed, and we’ll get breakfast…out.”
Her face was stunningly happy, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at her.
“You want this? Really?” I couldn’t help but ask again.
She shifted in my arms, straddling my lap and facing me fully. Her smile was sad and her eyes warm as she trailed her fingers down my face. “I know you’re worried, Edward. I know Heidi screwed you over when you toured the last time. And I know this is…new. Us. I also know you’ve got so much riding on this tour. Not only is it possibly the last one underneath Aro and all his bullshit, but there’s the worry over your parents, too. I know you’ll be stressed out and busy and tired. I know you love me…both of you,” she said with a grin when I chuckled at her. “I just…I want to be one less worry for you, Edward. I’m… I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right here missing you until you come back – whether I come for a visit or not. And if telling the world I’m yours somehow makes one of those things easier, then…I’m in.”
I gaped up at her, and my words stuck in my throat. “Jesus, Bella… How the hell… When did I… I’m one lucky bastard.”
Giggling, she grabbed my face and kissed my lips. “No, I just… I just… I remember my dad leaving for weeks or months at a time, and I remember our talks on the phone, no matter what age I was, and he worried. All the time. Jesus, Edward, you have enough going on in your life without me being an issue.”
Laughing softly, I wrapped my arms around her. “You, my angel, are not an ‘issue.’”
“I’m glad. Now…let’s go…have some fun before you go.”
Grinning, I held her close, standing up with her wrapped around me. “I tried to tell ya, Bella. Masen’s the fun one. Edward is fucking boring.”
She nuzzled into my neck, dropping ridiculously enticing kisses to my skin, but her chuckle was adorable. “I call bullshit, Edward. And I want waffles.”

Shaking my head at just how amazing this girl was, I toted her and my guitar back inside, saying, “Then my girl gets waffles.”




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