Sunday, April 19, 2015 | By: Drotuno

Man Behind the Mask Chapter 17 & Pics

Chapter 17 – Here Without You
A hundred days have made me older
Since the last time that I saw your pretty face
A thousand lies have made me colder
And I don't think I can look at this the same

But all the miles that separate
Disappear now when I'm dreaming of your face

I'm here without you, baby
But you're still on my lonely mind
I think about you, baby
And I dream about you all the time
I'm here without you, baby

But you're still with me in my dreams
And tonight it's only you and me, yeah.

The miles just keep rollin'
As the people leave their way to say hello
I've heard this life is overrated
But I hope that it gets better as we go, oh, yeah, yeah
“Here Without You” – 3 Doors Down
BELLA
The door of the VIP lounge shut behind Edward, and I was immediately wrapped up in two sets of arms.
“We’ll take good care of him, Bella,” Tanya vowed.
“Promise,” Kate added, smiling when I gave them both a wavering smile and a nod.
“And…we’ll keep his ass outta trouble.” Tanya winked when I gave her a sniffly laugh. “We’ve been doing it for years. Now we’ll do it for you. Just…don’t give up on him while he’s gone. You see something screwy, call us.”
Nodding, I hugged them both one more time before they walked out of the lounge. I turned to leave the room, only to come face to face with my mother.
“C’mere, baby girl,” she whispered, her own eyes red from crying.
I couldn’t resist, if only because I needed it. I needed my mom. Though, I wasn’t sure what my reaction would be should she choose to lecture me at that moment. I’d probably lose my shit, because it was hard enough watching Edward practically break himself in order to go do what he needed to do.
I fell into her embrace with a sob, and her words were a surprise when they met my ear.
“You love him,” she stated instead of asking. When I nodded, she kissed the side of my head. “It’s big and overwhelming, Isabella, I know. For a second there, I didn’t think he’d leave.” There was a smile in her voice, and I pulled back to see if she was making fun, but her face was warm and kind. “I… You should know that…” She sighed, shaking her head a little. “I never hated what your father did for a living. I hated the time apart. I hated that I couldn’t make him as happy as music did. I hated the doubt, the loneliness. But you… You’re different. You’re stronger than I ever was or ever will be, sweetheart. You’re Charlie made over.”
I smiled and sniffled at the same time, and she reached up to cup my face and wipe my tears away with her thumbs.
“Your dad taught you how to be independent, self-sufficient, something I’d have never been able to do. I was too young when I met him, and it was fire and love and overwhelming need, and I wanted to capture that. I wanted to hold on to it, even when I knew I couldn’t…or shouldn’t.
“It would’ve been like keeping a firefly in a jar… He would’ve faded away.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You said something a few weeks ago, and I didn’t hear you then, but I see it now. You said Masen isn’t your father. And you’re right, Bella.”
My gaze snapped up when she called me that. She always used my full name, but I was also shocked that she’d been listening.
She smiled. “When you’re in the room, you are his sunlight. He’s drawn to you, and I can see he’d do whatever he needed to make sure you know that. Hell, he’d probably stay had you asked him, but take it from someone who knows… Don’t. Don’t force him into something he can’t do, because that’ll only lead to resentment and bitterness. Sweetheart, you have just enough of Charlie in you that you can handle what he does, survive the apart time. I think you two will figure out a way that works for you, and that is where you two are different than your father and me. You’ll talk it out. We didn’t. And that was our biggest mistake. Our biggest achievement was you.”
Smiling, I nodded, hoping she was right, that we’d figure us out, even with the time apart. I wiped my face of tears, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly.
“Why?” I asked her, suddenly serious. “Why is it okay now? You…you’ve spent Mike’s and my whole lives telling us how…terrible it was.”
Mom sighed, gazing around the now empty lounge, only to look back to me. “’Cause both of you really would’ve hated me. I wanted to protect you both, but I refused to make the same mistake with you and Michael as I did with Charlie. I won’t deny your happiness. Charlie didn’t deny me mine.”
I gasped. “You knew. You knew he—”
“That he set me free in order to live a normal life? Of course I knew!” She laughed a little. “Charlie was a lot of things, but he was never selfish.”
“Then…then… Why didn’t you go back to him?”
“I am happy, Isabella. I tried to be happy with Michael’s father, but I’m truly happy with Phil. Despite how much I loved your father, I changed. He didn’t. I was so young when I was with him, when I had you, but people grow and change as they get older, and my priorities shifted. I wanted something stable for you, then for Michael, and your father couldn’t give me that. Sweetie, you remember the best parts of your dad, and that’s fantastic, but I kept from you all the times he cancelled or didn’t show, simply because he was lost in his work. I always loved Charlie, but even if he’d given me everything I asked for, it never would’ve worked. We were too different. He saw it when I didn’t. You have that part of him, Bella. You do. You have that same…comfortable-in-your-own-skin thing, that fearless honesty, but I think you have my down-to-earth sense, which will keep you and Masen on the right path.”
Studying her face, I saw she was being completely honest. There wasn’t the haughtiness or derisive laugh when we talked about Dad. The wall she kept up was gone…at least for the moment. Or hell, maybe even permanently, simply because her children were now wrapped up in the very thing she’d tried to stop.
“And Mike?” I asked her.
She grinned, shaking her head. “I can’t deny his talent, and I can’t honestly keep him from anything now that he’s eighteen. But watching him play the day of his audition was both…scary and humbling. I fought it, but…it was useless. I’m very proud of him, and I owe that to you, Isabella. You saw something in him and handed it to him on a silver platter.”
I felt my cheeks heat, and I nodded, pointing toward the door. “I guess we should go, huh? Did you drive?”
“Actually, no. Rose sent a car service for Michael and me.”
“C’mon, then. I’ll drop you home, Mom.”
~oOo~
“Angel,” Edward sighed, falling down onto the hotel bed. “Damn, baby, you’re a sight for sore eyes.”
My Edward looked exhausted, just wrecked, but I loved our video chats. They’d started from the moment he’d left Seattle and landed in Boston for the start of the tour. He always called me when he’d get checked in to a new hotel. We texted constantly, played games against each other – the man could kick my ass at Words With Friends, but I had him beat with Trivia Crack – and the video calls were always the last thing of the night. He’d wait until I closed up the bar so we could talk as long as we wished…or when one of us fell asleep, which happened more times than not.
It was that last thought that had me blurting out, “God, I miss you.”
As much as I enjoyed the closeness we were gaining by this new way of communicating, not to mention I’d seen just as much of their travels as they did, I just…missed him. Radiant Eclipse had kicked off their tour in Boston, traveling north all the way up to Maine, and they’d finally U-turned around to head back south a little. It was almost Thanksgiving, so they’d just arrived in Rhode Island.
“What’choo miss, angel?” he asked with a laugh, rolling his eyes and shaking his head. “All my stomping around upstairs?”
“Yes.” I laughed at his sweet blush. “I miss you on your treadmill.”
His brow wrinkled as a slow, sexy smile curled up one side of his mouth. “I can’t imagine why, and you won’t tell me.”
“It’s…sexy,” I teased him, ignoring his snort into a laugh. “Actually, it’s just the sound of you being close, Edward. That’s all.”
“I miss you, too,” he answered simply. “I hate that we won’t be together for Thanksgiving.”
“Me, too, but…” I sang, holding up a finger. “My goal is to meet you in New York for Christmas.”
“Shut the fuck up! Really? Don’t tease, angel! I can’t fucking take it. Not that!”
Giggling at his exuberance, I nodded. “No, I mean it. I was trying to let Tori and Garrett have Thanksgiving off…or at least, a few days in a row. But in return, they’re gonna cover Christmas for me.”
“That’s… That would… Bella, please! I’m begging you… I’ll do anything.”
His pleading hurt my heart. I knew he was tired, and I knew he was missing me, but he looked so damned lost at the moment. I’d talked and texted with my brother, with Tanya, but mostly with Rose, and they all told me he was closing in on himself. He’d perform, clean up, and then head to the hotel. That was it.
“Yeah, I asked Rose for your exact itinerary so I can start…”
“No, wait… Let me do it, Bella. Please? Let me make all the arrangements. For me?” he asked, placing a hand on his chest as he looked so damned sweet. When I nodded, his face split into the biggest, most boyish smile I’d ever seen, and I was pretty sure I fell in love with him all over again. “Please? I told you… All you had to do was say the word.”
“Aw, Edward,” I sighed, shaking my head and tearing up at just how much I missed him. “Okay…do it. I’ll close up the bar if I have to, but I have to see you.”
“God, you don’t know how happy that makes me, Bella.”
Smiling, I pointed toward the tablet I had sitting up against my legs as I leaned back to my headboard. “I think I do.”
Chuckling, he shook his head. “Maybe.”
“How’s my brother handling things?” I asked him, wanting his opinion, not just my baby brother’s usual answer of “fine.”
“He’s so good, Bella,” Edward said with a grin and a slow shake of his head. “He’s taken to the stage like a pro, and he’s even dealing with the tour bus and travel okay.”
“And the media?” I asked, scrunching up my nose.
We knew that replacing James hadn’t been publicized until they’d started the tour. The filming of the video had been kept pretty quiet, but now that they were playing in front of thousands of people, James’s absence was noticed. As talented as Mike was, people simply were nosy, and the band addressed it with a prewritten statement to morning talk shows and radio interviews with: “James’s contract expired, and we parted ways. We wish him the best of luck in future endeavors.”
They weren’t going to trash-talk their former drummer, and they wanted Mike to be accepted. So far he was, though he was still the focus of curious fans.
“He’s doing as well as he can. He keeps his head down, his eyes averted, and ignores the yelling. I think the first couple of paps crowds scared the shit out of him, but he’s getting better.”
“You would know,” I said with a chuckle, which made him grin.
“What about you? They still making sure you’re not cheating on me?”
Laughing, my head fell back with a soft thump to the wall behind my head board. “Yeah, what did I tell you?”
“Home, work, grocery store…that they’d be bored.”
“Exactly,” I sang. “Though, if you’re concerned with my possible cheating, you can probably catch that gossip show tomorrow, talking about where Tori and I went out for coffee. It was debauchery at its finest, I tell ya. ”
Edward laughed. “Nah, I’m good. Although…” He trailed off, his eyes narrowing. “Maybe I will. What’d you wear?”
“Edward,” I groaned, breaking into laughter.
“I love you,” he sighed, wearing a small, warm smile.
“Love you, too,” I told him.
“I’m not kidding, angel. What’d you wear? I’ll record it.”
“I…I don’t know, you silly ass. Jeans?”
It was so healing to watch him mellow out the longer we teased and laughed and caught up. The darkness in his eyes lightened the more we chatted, his smile went from forced to real and sweet and sexy, and his shoulders weren’t so stiff and hunched. Even when it was just talking on the phone, he’d be the same way – his voice would go from terse and gruff to sweet and calm.
I wanted to reach out and touch him. I wanted to crawl into his lap just to feel the warmth of his hug when he’d wrap his arms all the way around me. I missed the feel of his scruffy face, his amazing kisses, and how soft his hair was when I’d plunge my fingers into it. And fuck me, I missed falling asleep to his voice, his breathing, his arms around me.
Our laughter died, and we were left staring at each other, missing each other with a sickness. My sleep had been shot to shit without him, so it wasn’t shocking when a yawn overcame me.
“Hey, angel,” he whispered, disappearing from the tablet’s camera for a second. When he straightened back out, his hands were wrapped around his black acoustic. “Lie down, Bella… I’ll play you to sleep.”
A lump formed in my throat at the memory of the first time he’d done that, and that had been my dad’s old piano from upstairs. I propped the tablet against the pillow he’d used the last time we’d slept in my bed. Curling up on my side, I let my eyes take in every inch of him. He performed every night for hundreds, maybe thousands of people, yet they never got this…this perfectly sweet and loving thing. They could have the image, the illusion of Masen. I’d take Edward any-damn-day.
His voice was soft, gentle, his playing simply perfect. He’d play old songs, love songs, even songs he’d make up on the spur of the moment, which usually ended up being so fucking silly. They’d be about the stupidest things – my pajamas, my laugh, my nipple rings, and my ass. The nipple rings had a song all their own, which I’m pretty sure he’d written down somewhere.
I smiled, swallowing the lump in my throat as I watched him play just for me. His song choice was an old love song, one I remembered my dad playing once or twice. As his voice surrounded my senses, I found myself finally relaxing after a few nights of bad sleep. Once my eyes closed, I felt myself drift off.
~oOo~
“Seriously, Edward?” I mumbled to myself as I eyed the word he’d just played on our game.
Pussy.
My eyes narrowed dangerously at the winking emoticon he’d tossed into the chat box for good measure. The phone bleeped again with a message.
You know…as in cat. ;)
He was in deep shit, because it seemed he’d worked too damn hard on posting that one word, and it left me all sorts of openings for higher scoring words. I was still shaking my head and studying my letters when I felt Tori peek over my shoulder.
Her giggle-snort was priceless. “Get ’im back, boss. Here…those letters, down from the P he put in there. That’ll also give you triple points.”
Grinning, I dragged the letters over.
Peen.
I quickly typed into the chat box: You know…as in ball PEEN hammer. ;) And now we’re even.
A string of curse words popped up in the chat, which made me laugh. If only he could use those in the game, he’d really take the lead.
No fair, angel. :(
I typed back quickly. Then quit teasing and play the damn game. No PUSSY for you. No PEEN for me. Not for weeks!
My phone immediately started to ring. I smiled at the picture of the two of us that popped up. It had been one of the many selfies we’d taken the day before he’d left Seattle. We were in his bed, messy hair, silly smiles, and bright eyes.
“I’m sorry!” His loud, happy laugh came through the line before I even said hello. “I couldn’t help it. The letters were just there!”
“Hush, you,” I grumbled, but I couldn’t help but smile at his carefree laugh. He’d started to sound much better since we’d started to make plans for Christmas. “Where are you?”
“On the bus,” he sighed, but I could still hear the amusement in his tone. “We’re… Where the hell are we, anyway?” he asked someone, and I heard several voices chattering around him. “Oh. Delaware, angel.”
Chuckling, I shook my head, simply because I couldn’t imagine being all cramped up in that tour bus for hours at a time, even if it was only used for getting from one city to the other. Not to mention, Edward and my brother had complained more than one time that Jake was no longer allowed to eat Taco Bell before getting on the damn thing. They threatened to stash his gaseous ass in the luggage compartment.
“I’m glad you called, actually,” I told him.
“Yeah? Why’s that, baby?”
“Tomorrow’s another family day at Serenity, and I was going to check in on your dad.”
“Fuck, really?” he gasped. “Has he been in that long?”
“I think this is the last one, but I guess I’ll find out tomorrow. Anything you want me to tell him?” I asked, walking through the bar to the back door in order to stay private.
“No, I mean… I talked to him a few days ago. He sounded good. Though, Mom hasn’t visited him yet.”
Something about that saddened me. But the whole situation was just…sad. In reality, Carlisle had brought all of it on himself with his lies and drunken mistakes, and I was well aware that aside from Edward, Esme had been through the most. Edward’s legal issues from that DUI were all over. And as much as I hated that Edward had covered for his dad, hated that he would carry a record for the rest of his life, I was simply grateful no one was badly injured or killed in the whole process. I was also grateful Carlisle hadn’t done it again before finally realizing he needed help, but he may lose his wife, so there was a price to be paid every-damn-where. Shit could’ve been a hell of a lot worse.
“What if… What if she never sees him, Bella?” Edward asked so softly.
He sounded like a little boy with that question, and my heart hurt for him, simply because his parents had always been together.
“I don’t know, baby,” I told him honestly. “She needs time, Edward. And speaking as a woman, I get that. Your dad seems to be getting his addiction under control. He’s clean, but…the things he did before that have to be accounted for, and that’s the hard shit. He lied, he put his boys in a terrible position, he…he used you in the most terrible way, a cowardly way. And despite the fact that it was the alcohol doing the thinking for him, he still has to deal with the aftermath. All those lies, all that betrayal…that’s hard for anyone to let go, so you have to let them work it out.”
“I know,” he murmured. “Tell him… Tell him…” He sighed so heavily over the line that my whole body ached to hold him. “Tell him if she won’t let him come home, then he can use my apartment while I’m away.”
I needed his smile back in his voice, so teasing him was absolutely necessary. “Did you clear that with your landlord first?”
“Wha…? Wait…” He snorted, breaking into a chuckle. “Actually, no, but I figure she’d be okay with it, especially if I promised all sorts of sexual favors the next time I see her.”
“Lucky landlady,” I sang, giving a low whistle. “Good for her!”
Edward’s laugh was deep and so very sexy over the line. “Seriously, angel. Do you mind?”
“No, Edward. I don’t mind. And I’ll be sure to tell him.”
“Be sure to clean the beer out of my fridge and keep his ass outta your bar.”
I flinched at the harshness there, but they all still had open wounds that needed to heal. Time was the only thing they had going for them. Hell, even the separation with the boys on the road might help, or it would all open back up when they returned. There was no telling at this point.
“Will do, baby.” I promised, shaking my head a little. “Now…go play real words on our game so I can survive this closing shift, Edward. No more teasing the girlfriend with sexy shit. Got me?”
“Dammit, and I had the word tits ready to go,” he teasing through a laugh.
“You’re evil. Just wait… Vengeance is mine…Masen.”
He was still laughing through his “Bye, angel. I love you,” when we ended the call.
~oOo~
“Carlisle Cullen,” I said to the receptionist at Serenity. When she glanced around me, I smiled and shrugged. “Just me. Bella Swan.”
“Got it. Have a seat, and we’ll take you back in a moment.”
I sat in the same chair as the last time we’d been there. Poor Edward had been a nervous wreck that day, and I wasn’t sure if it was seeing his dad or merely coming back to Serenity. Probably a little of both, which was understandable. I’d been able to see all over Edward’s and Emmett’s faces just how badly they just wanted their father back. Despite all that Carlisle had done, despite all that he’d asked of them, the boys really just wanted their family in one piece. It was that simple.
Their interactions together were entrenched with history – deep, close and, at one time, fun family history. I’d watched them the last time, and the three of them seemed to ache for the past. Having lost my own father, I hoped they got that back eventually. Their road was rocky, filled with lies and disappointments and misunderstandings. While Edward’s parents had tried to shelter him and his brother from the music world – something I knew a lot about because of my mother – they’d gone about it in the wrong way, pushing and fighting, which had driven a wedge between them all. It was that wedge, that rift between parents and children, that most likely drove Carlisle’s addiction to an all-time high.
“Cullen?” I heard from the doorway, and I smiled at the same nurse from the last time – Ron. He nodded my way, wearing a warm smile. “Right this way. I’m surprised to see anyone here today. Masen’s off touring, right?”
“Yeah, he’s on the other side of the country right now,” I told him, following him down the hallway to the locker. I stowed my phone and purse, taking the key from Ron.
I stayed quiet as he led me to Dr. Cope’s office, smiling when the doctor greeted me at the door. “It’s good to see you again, Bella. How’s Masen?”
“He’s…busy,” I said with a laugh at the understatement. When I glanced over at the sofa, Carlisle was getting up, his face a little surprised. “Carlisle,” I greeted, walking to him. I squeaked when he pulled me into a hug.
“Sorry,” he murmured, wearing the half-smile he’d passed on to both his sons. “I’m just… I’m surprised to see you, Bella.”
“I made a promise to Edward. I usually keep my word,” I explained, shrugging a shoulder.
“I see that.” His voice was soft as we both took a seat. “How are they? I haven’t talked to either of them since Thanksgiving, and they were in Rhode Island.”
“Oh, right about now, they’re probably setting up for their show in Delaware. They’ve just about covered all of New England.”
We were closing in on the second week of December; my visit to New York was looming closer and yet taking forever to get here. Edward had made all the arrangements – with Rose’s help, of course – but I’d be with them through Christmas in New York, and I’d spend the week with them. I’d head home from Nashville after New Year’s Eve. I wasn’t sure what to think about traveling with them, but I was willing to do just about anything to see Edward face to face.
“How’s he handling the pressure of being back on the road again?” Dr. Cope asked, and I could see the question was for Carlisle’s benefit.
“He’s tired, stressed out, homesick,” I said, smiling at the last word. “But…he’s proud of the tour and the fans seem to like their new album.”
“Your brother seems to be a big hit, too,” Carlisle pointed out, smirking when I looked over at him.
“Yeah, Mike…he’s always been talented, so this is his dream come true.”
Dr. Cope and Carlisle chuckled a little at that, but the doctor sat forward a little in her chair. “Carlisle, is it okay to share with Bella?”
“Yeah, she’s… She’s here for my boys. They’ll want an outside opinion, I imagine,” he replied, glancing down at his hands in a way that reminded me so much of Edward.
“Okay,” Dr. Cope agreed, pulling her notebook to her lap. “Carlisle’s come a long way since the last time you were here, Bella. The anti-depression prescription I wrote for him is working rather well. His detox took a bit of time, but with diet and exercise, he’s learned to curb some of the cravings.”
“Well, and I’m in my fifties, so I should be watching my health.”
Grinning at his eye roll, I turned back to the doctor.
“That’s very true,” Dr. Cope said with a light laugh. She went back to her notes. “We’re coming up on the end of Carlisle’s stay here. There are several things I’m pleased to see, but some things are a concern.” She glanced to Carlisle again, and he nodded for her to continue. “I’ve advised Carlisle to seek therapy at least twice a week to start once he’s out, and I believe the therapist I have in mind works out of the same hospital as you.”
“He does. Dr. Banner. He’s a friend, but he’s good. He’s already agreed to see me.”
“Good.” She turned back to me. “The tough part… As you may or may not know, Mrs. Cullen has not visited Carlisle. As understandable as that is…and it is understandable,” she reiterated with a sharp glance to Carlisle. “I fear the stress of a rocky marriage will be a problem, not to mention he’s probably got one of the most stressful jobs out there.”
Again, that thought saddened me, if only for Edward’s and Emmett’s sakes. Those two very strong, very sweet boys would be hurt if their parents couldn’t work it out. But there was a part of me that knew they’d survive. My parents had never stayed together – hell, they’d never even married. It would suck for all of them, but they’d find a way to get through it.
“She hasn’t called either?” I asked Carlisle.
He nodded. “She’s called. She’s asked for time, for a separation of sorts.” His eyes locked with mine, and I knew we were talking about Edward, the accident, and his arrest, but we couldn’t exactly talk about it inside that room. “Nothing legal…yet.”
He grimaced at that, but he shrugged a shoulder – again, he reminded me of his sons with certain mannerisms.
“If nothing’s changed when I get out of here, then I’ll have to…”
“Edward wanted me to offer you his place… You know, while he’s gone,” I said, smiling when he gaped at me. “I talked to him yesterday.”
“How do you feel about that, Carlisle?” the doctor asked, and I kind of wanted to know the answer myself. Sometimes I worried that Edward gave too much when it came to his family.
Carlisle frowned, and he shook his head slowly. “I… I’m not sure. Guilty?” he said, though it came out like a question when he glanced between Dr. Cope and me. “I… I already owe my youngest son so much. I just… I’m not sure I should take him up on it. It’s a kind offer…too kind, considering, but…”
“Well, let me know,” I told him, shrugging a shoulder. It was good that he recognized that he owed Edward, but I wondered if he knew how much. The part of me that protected Edward, that sheltered him from things wanted to wring Carlisle’s neck, shake him in order to drive that home. Instead, I pointed out the important, not to mention the obvious. “You’d be living above me and above my bar, Carlisle.”
“That would be quite the temptation.”
We both glanced at the doctor when she spoke and then back to each other.
“She’s right,” Carlisle sighed, almost in defeat. “I feel…in control now, but I know I’m going to have bad days.”
“Everyone has bad days,” I countered, shaking my head at how much ugly shit was stacked against him. His career as a doctor was stressful enough, but to add in the fact that his wife may leave him was like pouring gasoline on a fire. “And I won’t be home the week of Christmas to New Year’s.”
Carlisle smiled. “Going somewhere?”
“Yeah…” I chuckled, nodding a little. “New York. We’re…We’re trying to find some sort of…normal with us, so…”
“No, that’s…good,” Carlisle said. “I hope Edward appreciates what’s he’s found.”
My brow wrinkled, and I frowned over at him. “Your son is…amazing. He’s selfless – selfless to a fucking fault, as you well know, Carlisle. He’s ridiculously honest, even when it makes him look awkward or silly. He’s a brilliant musician, and he busts his ass every damn day to share that music with the masses, yet he’ll play me to sleep over the phone. He tells me every day, via text, on the phone, or video chat, that he loves me. If anyone is appreciative in our relationship, it’s me. I’ve never, ever met anyone like him.”
The room was silent, awkwardly so, but Carlisle snorted into a chuckle. “Well, then, at least his mother and I did something right.”
Smirking over at him, I nodded, but I was still feeling a little prickly, so I stayed quiet for a moment. I was protective of Edward to the point of madness, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. It just…was. It had been there the second he’d stumbled into my bar trying to hide from the media outside.
“Dr. Cope, I’d… Our session is pretty much over. I’d like to talk to Bella alone.” Carlisle’s voice was tentative but unwavering. He sounded in control, which was more than I could say for my own temper.
“It’s too cold outside; it’s starting to snow again, I see. Feel free to use my office,” she offered, standing up from her chair. She set her notes down on her desk and stepped out of the room.
“You’re upset with me,” Carlisle said, dragging his gaze from the door to me.
I shook my head and rubbed my face. “No, I’m just… If I could shelter Edward from all the nasty shit in the world, I would. So…” I sighed deeply, pulling my hands from my face and meeting his warm blue eyes. “If anyone needs to be appreciative of things, it’s you.”
That statement fell between us heavily like a flat stone, but he nodded, getting up from the couch to start pacing.
“You think I don’t know, Bella?” he asked, frowning over at me and shaking his head. “You think I don’t relive that night over and over? I do. I dream it. And in every damn dream, the outcome is different. Sometimes I take responsibility, and I still lose my wife, my sons. Sometimes little Bree doesn’t make it, which wakes me up in a cold sweat. Sometimes I see my youngest son behind the wheel, and he doesn’t make it. You see a pattern yet?” he asked harshly, but I nodded, thinking maybe he needed this off his chest. Edward worked the same way, blurting out all that bothered him in order to be able to breathe again. “I see my car over and over – twisted metal, spewing fluids, shattered glass, and blood. I relive it how it really happened, which is funny, because I could barely think straight that night. I have so much I need to atone for, Bella. And I don’t even know where to begin.”
He placed both hands on his face, only to shove them into his hair.
“Why would he offer his apartment, sweetheart?” he asked, his voice breaking.
My eyes teared up a little, but a small laugh escaped me. “Because he loves you. It’s that simple. When Edward loves…it’s just… It’s deep and perfect and endless. It comes from such a good place that it wraps you up and carries you away.” We stared at each other again, and I shrugged a shoulder. “A part of me gets it, because I’d gladly give up everything to sit in a room like this with my dad again. I miss him. I miss him some days so badly that I can hardly breathe with the sadness of it all. A part of me doesn’t get it, though,” I continued, frowning down at the coffee table in front of me. “Edward works so very hard to keep his public image separate from his private one, and he’d mastered it…until that night. He’d maintained a false character – Masen – and despite the fact that he was the poster child for bad boys all over the world, he’d managed to stay out of trouble. He offered up his clean record…for you. I can’t think of anyone who would do that, but he did. And he did it without even thinking twice. Mind you, I think the police did a piss-poor job, or they caught a hard-on for being able to arrest the local big celebrity, but still…he did it.”
“He should be saying this to me.”
“He should, but he won’t. You’re his dad. He’s probably respected you, looked up to you his whole life, and all he wanted was to help you. He wanted to do something that made you see him differently.”
“Emmett, too.”
“Emmett, too,” I readily agreed. I sighed, standing up from the couch. “And now Edward’s going to carry that record, that sacrifice he made, for the rest of his life. It’ll always be there. With every speeding ticket, with every background check, with every Internet search, there will be this…DUI glaring back at him.” My nostrils flared as I fought to control my temper. “He’s looked at differently because of it, and I realize that to try to take it back would bring more trouble on you guys than it’s worth, but dammit, you need to figure out how to make it up to him. It was you who made the deal with him and then reneged.”
Carlisle’s face stayed calm, despite the things I was saying. “You think I don’t know? You’re not saying anything that I haven’t said to myself…that my wife hasn’t said to me. Repeatedly. These are the thoughts that keep me up at night.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t…” I sighed, shaking my head. “I was supposed to check on you, not…”
Carlisle laughed, walking to me and setting his hands on my shoulders. His eyes met mine, and they seemed to be filled with something akin to pride or awe.
“You’re protective of Edward, Bella. There’s nothing wrong with that.” He laughed again, saying, “You’re protective of each other, sweetheart. That’s how it should be. I couldn’t have handpicked a better match for my son. That’s the truth. You’re what he needs – the calm to his storm, the truth to his lies, and the shield to…well, this.” He gestured to himself, standing up straight and letting go of my shoulders.
“You know how the music business works, but you have no desire for the fame, though it’s coming at you anyway. And you let it roll right off you. You have any idea what Edward’s last girlfriend was like?”
I wasn’t expecting the question, so the laugh that snorted out of me was loud and ugly, but Carlisle grinned.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” he sighed, still smiling as he rolled his eyes. “Pretty thing, but my God, she was shallow.”
“And responsible for a bunch of leaks,” I added, and he grimaced at that. “She’s still trying, but…” I shrugged a shoulder. “No one is really listening.”
“Good.” He smiled, reaching up to tap beneath my chin. “Bella, I’m not upset with what you said. To be honest, I’m glad my son… Actually, I’m glad both my sons have very strong women in their lives. I just…” He sighed deeply, holding his arms out, only to let them fall back to his sides. “I have no idea how to correct my mistake with Edward. To come clean to authorities would get him into more trouble, and I can’t have that. I could pay him back every dime he put into it all – the medical bills for Bree, the car, the insurance, the thirty days in this place…”
“Edward doesn’t want your money. Hell, had you owned up to it, he would’ve probably helped you.”
“I know,” he sighed again. “I… What can I do?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe…ask him?” I offered, shrugging. “Ask him what you can do… He’ll be home for almost a week, come February. You can ask him then. I’d offer to do it, but I think…it would be better coming from you, from his dad.”
Carlisle seemed to mull that over for a moment but then let out a breath and nodded. “Okay,” he said softly. “I’ll do that.”
I relaxed a little, seeing a touch of the real Carlisle Cullen. He was so much like Edward, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Where Edward had his music, had Masen and Radiant Eclipse to pour his heart, his soul, his ache into, Carlisle turned to alcohol. It happened every day, all over the world, and the earth still turned.
“And the apartment?” I asked him, starting for the door.
“I don’t know, Bella,” he said, sounding honest and sincere. “I’d like to think I can fix my marriage, but…I have to face the possibility that I may not. And it seems…so damn wrong to take from my son…again. So…I’m not sure.”
I studied his face that was pinched in the painful truth he was saying. I smiled his way. “It’s a roof over your head, if only until you figure something out. Just…let me know. And keep in mind about Christmas…”
“You won’t be there… Got it,” he replied with a smile and reached out to tug my sleeve. “Thank you, Bella…for coming. For everything you said. You… It meant a lot. Truly.”
I hugged him, and I smiled, simply because he smelled like a dad – like aftershave and peppermint. He made me miss my dad’s hugs, but I pulled back, nodding up to him. I walked down the hallway to get my things from the locker. By the time I stepped outside, the snow had slowed down, but I could tell there was more to come. I got into Edward’s car, simply because he’d asked me to drive it occasionally, taking a deep breath of the smell. That was the smell I’d missed. Edward. Leather and cologne and something woodsy.
The drive home was slow, icy, but when I pulled into the alley beside my bar, I gazed up at the third floor. A little over two more weeks. That’s it. I laughed softly to myself, shaking my head. My life before was boring, with long nights pouring drinks, chatting with customers, and going home to my apartment. I had fun moments with my brother, and I missed him, too.
However, I’d never thought I needed anything, until that beautiful man, covered in ink and leather and the sexiest blush I’d ever seen, came stumbling into my bar. Now…I missed him like I’d miss a limb, and I knew I wouldn’t change a thing – not the media or his family problems or his crazy job. But I did wish I could force time forward. I just had to get through the next few weeks.





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