Friday, May 1, 2015 | By: Drotuno

Man Behind the Mask Chapter 21 & Pics

Chapter 21 – The Price of Evil
Dragged ya down below
Down to the devil's show
To be his guest forever
(Peace of mind is less than never)
Hate to twist your mind
But God ain't on your side
And old acquaintance severed
(Burn the world your last endeavor)

Flesh is burning
You can smell it in the air
Cause men like you have
Such an easy soul to steal
So stand in line while
They ink numbers in your head
You're now a slave
Until the end of time here
Nothing stops the madness,
Turning, haunting, yearning
Pull the trigger

You should have known
The price of evil
And it hurts to know
That you belong here, yeah
Ooh, it's your fuckin' nightmare
“Nightmare” – Avenged Sevenfold
The stack of papers and mail and receipts on my desk was scary. They overflowed out of my inbox, cascading to the desktop. Glaring at it with hate, I then sighed in defeat. I knew it needed to get done before my shift tonight. Otherwise, Tori and Garrett wouldn’t get paid, the lights would get shut off, and my bar would close.
Snorting at that last thought, I tried to find something bad in that, and my aching heart couldn’t do it. I missed Edward too much, and I’d only been back home a few days. My mother had picked me up from the airport, much to my surprise, but we’d stopped for dinner on the way home. I’d had an amazing time on tour with Edward, despite how cramped and nerve-racking it was. I wanted to go back. I wanted him home. I wanted anything that involved making time fly by in order to see him again soon. However, the reality was that I couldn’t.
Now, reality was staring me in the face, stacked up in a mountain. And reality sucked. Hard.
With a cup of coffee in my hand and my hair pulled back from my face, I turned on some music, opened my laptop, and sat down at the desk in my apartment to get to work. I was working on my ledger when my phone bleeped. I smiled down at a message from Edward.
I want you back. No one cuddles as good as you do.
I had to laugh…and tease him back, just because he was so silly sometimes.
Well, don’t cuddle with my brother. He kicks in his sleep. He has since he stopped sleeping in his crib.
Is that why I woke up with bruises?
No, those were from me. ;)
Oh, yeah…
The phone rang, and I giggled when I answered. “If you snuggle with Jake, I want pictures.”
His laugh was loud and a beautiful sound over the line. “Not a chance, angel. If you think Taco Bell is a bad idea when he’s awake, then just imagine how bad it is when he’s sleeping.”
“Eeew, Edward!” I groaned and laughed at the same time. “You know, that entire trip blew the whole rock gods image out of the water. I saw things no one should see.” I shook my head slowly because that was no lie – men would scratch, burp, and fart for hours if unsupervised.
He chuckled softly. “Yeah, I bet. I miss you, angel.”
“Me, too. My desk looks like a hurricane flew through it, though.” I sighed, leaning back in my desk chair. “And the pile doesn’t seem to be getting any smaller,” I grumbled, ignoring my work for a moment. “Where are you?”
“Um, North Carolina? Or maybe it’s South… I’m not sure,” he replied, and I could just about see him in my mind – hand in his hair, glancing out the bus windows in order to figure out where he was without asking. “Oh, South!” he proclaimed, sounding very proud of himself.
Giggling, I shook my head. “Fuck, I love you.”
“Love you, too, angel. I just wanted to hear you laugh. I’ll let you get back to work.”
I glanced up at the clock. “Yeah, I’ve got so much to do today, but…we’ll see how motivated I continue to be.”
“Okay, baby,” he said softly. “I’ll call you from the hotel room.”
We ended the call with the usual declarations of love, and I got back to work. The numbers were bugging me, where they never did before. But I kept the bar open in my dad’s memory, and now I wasn’t so sure it was the smart thing to do. Despite the fact that Radiant Eclipse’s video filming had been shot there and business had picked up a little, I was barely breaking even. Just as I was tossing my pencil down in frustration and in victory that at least all the bills were paid, there was a knock on my door.
My eyebrows shot up at who I saw through the window, but I smiled when I opened the door. “Mrs. Cullen,” I greeted Edward’s mother.
She tsked at me, wearing a sweet smile. “Esme, Bella…please.”
“Esme,” I agreed with a smile back, opening the door wider. “Come in, please. Coffee?”
“That would be lovely. Thank you.”
After taking her coat and hanging it up, I grabbed my mug from my desk and turned off my stereo, pouring us both some coffee. I sat down across from her and noted she looked nervous as she stirred sugar into her cup.
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
She smiled before tearing her gaze away from her cup. Nodding, she said, “I…I’m… Well, first, I know you just got back, so I just… How are my boys?”
Grinning, I nodded. “They’re good. Busy and tired, but very good. It was fun traveling with them for the week, but goodness, I don’t know how they do it all the time.”
Esme laughed softly. “Me, either. I’ve joined them once or twice but never for very long. It’s exhausting to watch them.” She met my gaze, her smile falling a little. “I try not to pay attention to those gossip shows, but…” Her nose wrinkled a little. “Are you… Is everything…”
“It’s fine. Edward and I are really…good,” I promised her. “Don’t pay those things any attention. I’m not quite sure that the band’s record label doesn’t skew those things a certain way. Here…” I got up from the table and grabbed my phone, scrolling to my pictures from my trip. “Here’s what it was really like. Just swipe to the left…”
It was funny to watch her face as she seemed to drink in the sight of her boys. There were pictures from New York and Christmas, the shows I’d watched from the best seat in the house, not to mention silly pranks and laughter on the bus, and even some of Edward and me playing around with selfies and silly faces. I did manage to capture Edward’s squished face, which I threatened to leak out to the Masen fans of the world, and the next picture was a blur when he tried to grab my phone away to delete it. He didn’t succeed, if only because he was so easily distracted with kisses and touches.
“My God,” she whispered, shaking her head as she pressed a hand to her heart. “I…I’m… Edward looks…so happy.”
Tears welled up in my eyes, as did hers. “I hope so,” I barely got out with the lump in my throat. “He’s um…” I swallowed thickly, smiling a little. “He’s amazing.” I laughed when she held up my phone, showing a picture of his sweet grin as I kissed his cheek.
“That’s my boy,” she stated proudly. “That’s what he was like when he was little. He was full of laughter, teasing his brother until Emmett would tackle him in the yard. He was light and free, like a spring breeze. And music… God, Bella… The music flowed through him. I couldn’t keep a piano instructor for him. He surpassed them all.” She shook her head as she wiped at her tears, thanking me when I offered her a napkin. “His father and I never wanted the band, but…” She smiled my way when she handed me back my phone. “They obviously knew better.”
She was quiet for a moment, and I was wondering if we were getting close to what had brought her to my door. She sipped her coffee, finally meeting my gaze.
She seemed to debate something silently but finally said, “I went to see Carlisle.” When my eyebrows shot up, she smirked a little, and I could see where her boys got it. “Family day,” she added with a nod. “We are…far from reconciliation.”
Wrinkling my nose, I nodded sadly. “How is he?”
“Good,” she sighed, “and just about to try leaving again, which is why I’m here, Bella. He says Edward okayed him to stay at his place.”
“He did,” I hedged, shrugging a shoulder.
“You sound…tentative.”
Chuckling, I nodded. “Not… Not for the reasons you’re probably thinking. As Edward’s girlfriend, I’m perfectly fine with it. I have no problem with his dad staying up there. As Edward’s landlord and the owner of the bar downstairs, I worry that temptation will be too much.”
Esme grinned. “From what I hear, you’re not afraid to…ermm…voice your opinion toward my husband.”
My cheeks heated. “Yeah, sorry about that. I just…he made some offhanded comments that made me a little…prickly.”
“Don’t you dare apologize for protecting my son, Bella. Just don’t even do it. You and Rosalie are very similar that way, and I wouldn’t change it. I’m well aware that’s why you came to the country club that day with Edward, so…”
I laughed, because Rose and I were not exactly shy. “Is that why you’re here?”
She nodded again. “I just… I wanted to make sure you were okay with it. I’m not… There are more things to contend with, concerning my marriage, aside from the obvious issues. I’ve agreed to try, and Carlisle’s agreed to give me space and time. Once he’s out of Serenity, he’s supposed to see a therapist. I’ll be joining him occasionally. We’ve known Dr. Banner for years.”
“That’s good. The boys will be happy,” I told her.
“I wasn’t… I didn’t want to get their hopes up.”
“Just be honest. Tell them you’re trying. Nothing more, nothing less. They don’t expect rainbows and sunshine. They’re worried for you, but they also know what happened was just a big mess.”
She laughed a little harshly. “Yeah, a mess is right.” She reached for her purse, pulling out a stack of envelopes. “I was going to give these to you. Edward’s mail still comes to my house. Some of it, anyway.”
Smiling, I stood up and grabbed a ring of keys off the hook by the door. “C’mon. You can drop them off yourself and see his place.”
I pulled on a coat and then handed hers back, leading her outside and up to the third-floor apartment. Stepping back into Edward’s apartment was like going back in time. I didn’t really come up here often. I would to check on things occasionally, but it sat untouched, really, and that included the bed that still sat with twisted sheets and memories of his last night home. He’d said to leave it, and I had.
Esme walked around with a small smile, taking in pictures and awards, sheet music, and strewn clothes. “This isn’t my son’s doing. The decorating…”
Laughing, I shook my head. “No, Tanya and Kate helped him.”
She nodded knowingly but set his mail down on the kitchen table. “I should get going. I…” She turned to me, hugging me closely. “Thank you, Bella. I’ll let Carlisle know to come see you.”
Smiling, I walked her to the door. “I’ll be here.”
Tori stifled a yawn as she took a seat at the bar. Garrett was chatting softly on the phone as he paced on the other side of the room. It had been somewhat of a busy Friday night, most of our business coming in from the hotel around the corner. However, I had closed the bar a few minutes early.
Garrett finished his conversation, and I fought my smile when I heard him tell Maggie that he loved her before pocketing his phone. When he took a stool next to Tori, I met his gaze.
“When does she move in?” I teased him.
“Shut up, Bella,” he answered with a laugh and slow shake of his head. Though, his grimace gave him away. “Next month.”
Tori and I laughed at him, but I finished up counting the drawer and putting the deposit together. Normally I’d have left it for the next day, but I’d closed early for a reason. It was rare that we all three worked together, so I needed to take advantage of it. I didn’t know how long it would take, and I was expecting a video call from Edward tonight. I wanted to get finished. I missed Edward to the point of madness, and time seemed to be creeping along. I’d been back from touring with him for a few weeks now, but it felt like forever. Though, I was glad it was almost February. I needed his face on the video chat and his sweet voice telling me he loved me, and I was pretty fucking sure I couldn’t sleep until those things happened.
“Boss?” Tori asked when I braced my hands on the bar top across from them both.
“When are we closing?” Garrett asked suspiciously, smirking when my gaze shot to his. He folded his arms across his chest, tilting his head at me. “Gimme a break. I know you, Bella,” he stated, tapping his temple and then pointed to me. “You look like you’re trying to gnaw off your arm to get out of a trap. So…talk to us. What’s the plan?”
Suddenly, tears welled up in my eyes and I sagged. “I don’t know!”
“Oh, shit,” Garrett hissed, and he was instantly in front of me, lifting me up and setting me on a stool. “Aww, dammit. Bella…”
Tori wrapped her arms around me, whispering, “You’re scarin’ the shit out of us, boss, so c’mon, spill it.”
Garrett dragged his stool so that he was directly in front of me, cupping my face. “You gotta tell us what you want.” He wiped away my tears that didn’t want to seem to stop, smiling warmly. “You and I both know you only kept this place for Charlie. I don’t know what he was thinking, leaving it to you, but you seemed happy with it. Now…” He grinned, huffing a laugh. “Things have changed. If anyone in the world knew what it was like to go with the flow, it was Chainsaw Charlie Swan.”
The mention of my dad only caused me to cry harder. I was tired, I was stressed out, and I was beginning to wonder if I was collapsing under the pressure. If that was the case, then the entire tour – the next almost six damn months – would be pure torture.
“Bella, stop,” Garrett said firmly. “This isn’t you. You don’t fall apart over a guy.” When I glared at him, he grinned. “There she is. See?” He winked my way, reaching for a beverage napkin and setting it into my hand. “This isn’t about Edward…Masen…whatever you want to call him. This is about your dad…and this place. You’re attached to it, I get that, but I wonder if you’ve held on to it for too long…and for all the wrong reasons.”
Letting out a slow, shaky breath, I gazed around the place. Most of the remodeling that the video crew had done was still standing. The place looked good. It was a shrine to my dad, though, and I wondered if Garrett was right.
“Maybe,” I muttered, my gaze falling to my lap as I tucked my hair behind my ear.
“Maybe,” Garrett repeated slowly, narrowing his eyes on me. “Bella, you fought and scratched to keep this place. Why?”
“Because he left it to me.”
Garrett scoffed. “That’s true, but why else?”
I looked to Tori, who had been quiet, but her eyes were watery and warm. She wiped at my tears, saying, “It was all you had left of him.”
Nodding, I sighed deeply, my breath hitching a little. “I dunno. I just… I’m tired, and the numbers…and this place…”
“And your heart is thousands of miles away,” Tori finished, giggling when I looked to her. “Aw, sweetie… It’s okay. It’s not like you saw him coming. Now shit has changed. You just have to tell us what you want.”
“You could do whatever you see fit with this place. Change the hours, close it down, or turn it into a dentist’s office, for fuck’s sake. But you can’t kill yourself over it. And you can’t tell me it’s booming, either. I make the deposits, too, you know.” He cupped my chin to make me look his way. “Or…you hire one more person so you don’t have to be here as much.”
“And I swear to God, if you say you’re worried about our jobs, I’ll snatch the hair outta your head,” Tori added, smirking at Garrett’s chuckle. “We’ll live.”
Sighing, I nodded and swallowed around the lump in my throat. I got up from my seat and grabbed the ledger. “Our deadest nights are Sundays and Mondays. I think…maybe we should close those nights. Cut the costs there?”
“Okay, that actually makes sense. What else?”
“Fuck, I don’t know. Let’s just start there. I’ve got to go see Phil, have him tell me what options I have.” I groaned at the thought of seeing my stepfather. It wasn’t that we didn’t get along. We did, but I just wasn’t sure I wanted my mother to know what I was considering. “Second, I want to have a few people perform before I decide what I’m doing. Harry Clearwater has agreed to come play here. We can promote that, but then…”
“And your next trip?” Tori asked, and when I shot a glance her way, she laughed. “Just fucking go! If we’re closed two nights of the week, then G and I have this place covered. So…what’s the fucking problem? Even if you only managed it, we’d be fine. Tell us the dates, and we’ll cover. End of story.”
I looked to Garrett, and he nodded and smiled my way. “He’s a lucky bastard, Bella. I remember a time I’d have given my right arm for you to look at me the way you look at him. And fuck, that man is done. Stick a goddamn fork in him.”
Giggling, I hugged him. “Thank you. Both of you. We’ll start this coming Sunday and Monday. No other decisions need to be made right away. I just…” I gazed around the place, feeling a little bit lost, a whole lot overwhelmed, and tremendously strung-out.
My phone lit up and started to vibrate across the bar, and Tori pushed it my way.
“Nothing else needs to change right this very second, but you shouldn’t worry about this place. Answer it. I’m willing to bet he’s just as frazzled as you are,” she said with a laugh.
“We’ll lock up,” Garrett agreed, pushing me toward the back.
I swiped my thumb across my phone to answer. “Hey,” I breathed, sighing in relief as I rushed out the back door and up the stairs to my apartment landing.
“Angel,” Edward said tentatively. “You… You weren’t on for video chat…”
“I know, I’m sorry. I just walked out of the bar,” I told him, unlocking my apartment and leaning back against the door once I was inside. “I… I kept Garrett and Tori for a meeting.”
“Are you… Baby, are you crying?”
“No! Yes! Maybe,” I rambled, snorting into a sniffly laugh at myself.
“You okay?”
“Yes, Edward. I promise.”
He was quiet for a moment, finally asking, “I wanna see you, angel. Please?”
I tossed my keys and jacket onto the kitchen table, walking to my bed, where the tablet was charging on my nightstand. Swiping quickly, I connected to him. His face appeared on the screen, and he was in his usual spot on a hotel-room bed, shirtless, beautiful, and freshly showered damp hair as we both set down our phones. But his green eyes darkened at the sight of my probably splotchy face and red-rimmed eyes.
Suddenly, he huffed a humorless laugh. “Jesus, even crying, you’re the prettiest fucking thing I’ve ever seen,” he murmured, shaking his head slowly. “What happened? Talk to me.”
I leaned the tablet against the pillow he’d have used had he been there, curling up on my side. My whole being literally ached to have those colorful arms wrapped around me, to have that sweet face in front of mine, but I took what I could get at the moment and started talking. I told him about the numbers, about being tired, and about the meeting with Garrett and Tori. I told him I needed to see Phil but that I also wanted to have some of my dad’s old friends play before I made any rash decisions. I rambled until he was practically shaking his tablet to get me to shut up.
“Bella…angel… Wait, wait, wait!” he was yelling and kind of laughing at me. “Baby, stop. You don’t have to do anything, you know. If the place means that much…”
“It’s not that, Edward.” I sighed, swiping away the fresh tears. “I’m stubborn, you know.”
“No!” he gasped, grinning at my sniffly giggle.
“I held on to it for my dad, but at what cost? I dunno…” My voice trailed off, and Edward seemed to shift on the other side of the world. “Where are you, anyway?”
“Jacksonville, Florida,” he answered quickly, propping his tablet up and leaning on his elbow. But he waved a hand. “It doesn’t matter where I am, angel. This conversation is important, so I’m right here.” He pointed toward the camera, sighing deeply. He seemed to debate something silently but then licked his lips. “Tell me why you’re so upset. The truth, Bella. I mean… I get that you’re tired, I get that it’s never been a money thing for you, and I understand that you…you want to relieve yourself of some of the responsibility, but…if in doing all of that makes you like this, then I don’t see a benefit.”
I drank in the sight of him because God, I’d missed him. We talked and played games and texted on the phone all the time, but he’d been on the road for a few days, and this was the first hotel he’d checked into this week. We seemed to save video chats for those nights alone. Something private, something just…us. He looked exhausted but so very sincere about what I was dealing with, not to mention he looked absolutely gorgeous.
Swallowing, I frowned a little. “My dad opened that bar to stay close to me. He wanted a home base of sorts. It was a place I…and eventually Mike…came to stay with him every other weekend or so. He opened it to give his friends a place to play, those who didn’t get the big record deals or…or…even the steady studio work. It’s…all I have left of him. When I moved into my apartment, when I started college, it made him happy. He was never in a position to be a full-time dad when I was little, so once I was there, he tried so hard. I…I guess he knew he wasn’t healthy, because he’d put the whole damn place, every dime he’d ever made, not to mention the rights to his music, in my name before I’d even turned eighteen. Edward, his…his heart attack was right there at the bar’s front door. The media had trapped him right there, wanting to know all about the big name he was working with at the time. Right where you were trapped…”
“Oh, baby,” he groaned and sighed, shaking his head slowly.
“When he died, several people tried to fight me on it. My mom never wanted me to keep it, much less run a bar. Several of his musician friends wanted it, thought they should have it, because they’d worked with him for decades. I stood my ground. I dug in, and I told them all to go to hell.
“Phil helped me – despite my mother’s protestations – set up accounts, and he monitors my money. The place barely breaks even, Edward. I wasn’t kidding when I told you I used the apartment’s rent to manage. It’s the truth. I own the building outright, but…expenses versus income…”
Edward grinned a little. “Well, I’m glad I paid you a whole year, baby.”
Giggling, I balled my hand up into a fist, because the need to touch him made me ache from head to damn toe. Toying with a wrinkle in the sheets, I went on. “My dad left me enough that I don’t have to work, but I wanted to keep the place…”
“In his honor,” he finished for me.
Nodding, I added, “Yeah, I mean… Look at how you reacted when you first realized it.”
Edward laughed, and it was soft and deep and beautiful. A warm smile stayed on his face even when the laughter died out. “I guess my question is, angel… Why panic, why all this…now?” He held up a hand. “And don’t say because you want to free up time for me, Bella. You were thinking about this on the bus. So…something tells me that deep down you were already looking for an out…or at the least a change.”
“And maybe you stumbling into my bar that night was the catalyst for that change?” I asked teasingly.
His grin was a stunning flash on his face. “Maybe. Was it?”
That sat between us on the screens of our tablets for a moment.
“I miss you,” I stated softly.
“Oh, angel…you have no idea how much I miss you, too,” he said with a slow shake of his head. He looked around his hotel room, only to meet my gaze again. “You know absolutely nothing has to change right this very second. No decisions are necessary today…or tonight…or fuck, even tomorrow. You say you’ve decided to close two nights out of the week, and that’s good. You could use the break.”
“I know,” I sighed, smirking his way. “The selfish side of me just wants to run to you. Stay with you.”
He chuckled. “I’m all for fucking selfish, Bella. And I’d love that, but I don’t think you’d be happy just following us around full-time, angel. But Jesus, you’re welcome anywhere and any damn time.” He leaned closer. “Baby, look at me.”
When I did, I saw how serious he was.
“I’ll be home soon. I just need you to hang in there for me for a couple more weeks. I know it’ll only be for a few days, but after Miami, we fly home to Seattle.”
“I can’t wait.”
“Me, either, but you gotta hang in there, and we can figure this out. Angel, you’re very independent, and I fucking love and adore that about you, but…I will help you. Here…there…on tour, you just have to let me know. I won’t always be gone.” When my tears started again, he smiled sadly but gripped his hair in frustration. “I know it feels that way. Trust me, I have my own impatient moments, baby. And you’re fucking killing me with the tears; I wish I was there right now, but it won’t always be this hard.”
“Okay,” I finally conceded, feeling so much better that I got it all off my chest, even if nothing had been decided. “I love you.”
His smile once again lit up his face. “I love you, too, angel. More than anything.” He huffed a humorless laugh, raking his hands through his hair again. “Now…I’m worried with what I’m about to tell you will only add to your stress.”
“What?” I asked. “What is it? Are there more fucking rumors going around?”
He barked a laugh. “Aren’t there always rumors going around, Bella?” he asked rhetorically. “No, angel. I just… I talked to Dad today. He’s getting out in two weeks. He’s… Well, he’s going to come see you about getting the key to my apartment. I mean, I know Mom came to see you, but…he’s being released just about the time I’m coming home, so…”
“Oh!” I smiled and nodded. “Okay. I’ll get up there and straighten up for him…and clean out the fridge of beer,” I tacked on just to see Edward grin, but he looked nervous, and it made me laugh. “Edward, just because your dad is up there doesn’t mean you can’t stay with me for the time you’re home.”
“Oh, thank fuck!” he gasped, his head falling back. “I was gonna offer to sleep on your damn front doorstep, angel. Not even fucking kidding.”
“Shut up, Edward.” I cracked up, shaking my head. “I thought we were a package deal.”
His head popped up from where it had fallen back to the pillow, and he sighed sweetly. “We are, Bella. For as long as you want.”
“Good, then send your dad on.”
“’Kay,” he sighed, shifting to sit up, and he picked up his guitar. “Now…I want you to relax, angel.”
I didn’t even bother to undress for bed, just kicked my shoes off the side and curled up so that Edward’s voice, notes, and love settled my heart.
“I thought closing two nights a week was supposed to make me less busy,” I grumbled, cracking open Edward’s fridge to empty it out.
Tori chuckled as she wandered around his place. She loved to fan-girl on Masen, but she respected Edward, simply because she respected me. Even the first time she’d set eyes on him, she’d kept his privacy. At the moment, she was eyeing all of his awards and pictures on the far bookcase.
“It did, but it seems to have allowed you to fill up said free time with other shit,” she teased back, grinning my way when I sighed deeply.
She was right, though. After my long, emotional conversation with Edward via tablet, things had calmed down for me a little, but I found that I remained just as busy, only with different stuff. I went to see Phil, and despite my small panic attack, the bar was doing okay. We weren’t in jeopardy, but it wasn’t booming either. Just like I’d told Edward, I was pretty much breaking even between his rent, the income from the bar, and the interest I earned from my other accounts versus all the expenses. Phil didn’t seem worried about any of it but offered his assistance when I needed it. He also promised not to tell my mother until I was ready to make a decision.
I’d also gone to see Harry. He would be playing at Charlie’s Pub in a few nights, which made me shake my head, since everything seemed to be building up to that same night. Edward would play the Miami show and fly out that same night. Carlisle was due to get out of Serenity the same day, and I’d put off cleaning up Edward’s place as long as I could. As much as my sweet, sexy, sentimental rock god of a boyfriend wanted to come home to his own place that was in the same disarray as we’d left it, it wasn’t possible. I understood it, but the thought of Edward’s father seeing that ransacked bed made me blush. When I’d told Edward, he’d laughed but said we could do just as much damage to my own bed.
Fuck, I couldn’t wait for that. Not only did I miss his arms holding me, but I missed how he made me feel when we were alone, together, connected in every damn way.
Between the garbage can and the box I’d brought up with me, I cleaned out Edward’s fridge of spoiled stuff and alcohol. The beer, a couple of bottles of wine, and the small half-empty bottle of vodka he’d had forever were going down to my place. Edward didn’t drink much, and I served the shit all day, but occasionally we’d have a drink together. However, it couldn’t be in this apartment when Carlisle came, simply because to tempt the recovering alcoholic would be cruel. And I honestly believed Edward’s father was trying his damnedest to get back on his feet.
After rechecking cabinets and the freezer, I focused on the bed. I stripped it down, and Tori helped me remake it. We also gave the apartment one last walk-through, just to make sure it was ready for someone else to stay there other than its sweet owner.
My eyes drifted around the room. So many memories with my dad were up there. He’d lived sparsely, so with Edward’s belongings filling up the space, it barely looked like the same apartment. And the newer memories were almost overwhelming! Edward was everywhere in that space – probably stemming from how much I missed him. He was in the kitchen, where he’d stack pizza boxes until I teased him. He was in the living room, where he’d lounge back with his guitar. He was even on the piano bench, where he’d first played me to sleep. Oh God, and the bed… He was all over that bed, with pleading, loving green eyes, sweet words, sensual touches, and endless toe-curling kisses…everywhere. Then there was the treadmill. Shaking my head to clear it of shirtless, ink-covered sweaty skin and a fiercely concentrated face as he ran, I turned to Tori.
“You ready? I think we’re done. I’m just gonna take this stuff to my place.”
She nodded absentmindedly, her eyes on the shelf of awards and pictures, and she tapped one of them. “I watched this show…the night he got this one.” She tilted her head at it and then turned to face me. “He went with Heidi to that one. Did you know?”
“Yeah, I’m sure he did,” I said, shrugging a shoulder.
“The rumors are pretty thin, but they’re still trying to put him with her. Did you know that?”
I snorted, shaking my head. “Honestly, I try not to pay it much attention. Ignorance is bliss. Rose usually sends me stuff that I need to know, but otherwise, I trust Edward.”
Tori smiled, and we both jumped when my phone bleeped. Grinning at a text from Edward, I held it up. “Case in point…”
Angel, watch out for paps over the next few days. They know I’ll be coming home soon. ;)
He’d sent a link, which had a quick interview with Edward and Jasper about how the first leg of the tour had gone. Sales on the new album were up, the tickets were flying out of the box offices on the next leg, and both boys looked exhausted but proud.
“And…” I sang sarcastically as I texted him back. “It just keeps coming.”
Tori chuckled, picking up the box that we were taking. “C’mon, B… We’ve done all the damage we can do here.”
The next few days, my phone never shut the hell up. Happy, hyper texts came in from Edward, who sent pictures from just about every inch of Florida, including the beach, which I told him was cruel since Washington was still damned cold. Calls came in from Serenity, verifying that Carlisle had a place to go, and I even talked to Edward’s dad to find out if he needed to be picked up, but he’d said no. There were a few from everyone else I knew, and my cell phone battery hated me.
I was about to head down to the bar to start setting up for Harry’s performance, when my phone went off again. The groan of want and aching need echoed out into my empty apartment. Edward and the rest of the gang were on some white, sandy beach. The water was blue and choppy. There were greasy, sunburned tourists behind him as it showed his silly-sweet self lounging in a beach chair. His skin was darker, his ink seemingly brighter with the obvious suntan lotion he’d put on, and his nose was pink. He looked like sex and love and all the things I needed back home, even though it would only be for a few days.
I texted him back quickly. You’re cruel, Edward Cullen. It’s still fucking freezing here.
I’ll be home to warm you up soon, angel. Promise.
I groaned again, hating him slightly for teasing, but it lasted for only a split second, because damn it all, I couldn’t wait. I typed back that I loved him and that I’d see him in the morning. His flight would be long and tedious, and he would most likely arrive home well after I’d gone to bed tonight. I’d already told him to come straight to my apartment.
I locked my door, catching a glimpse of the paparazzi across street. Luckily, they didn’t see me before I opened up the back door of the bar and went on in. I shook my head at it all. They were ready for Masen to come back home, and I honestly couldn’t blame them.
Once inside, I got to work. I made coffee for myself, as well as the poor security guard who would arrive soon. It didn’t seem long before everyone started to show up: Garrett, Tori, and the security guard I’d gotten to know. Felix was enormous, but he was also very calm and mellow. He never drank anything other than soda and coffee, and he was a brand new father, which meant he was happy to show off pictures. His little boy looked like a ball of chunky arms and legs and giggles.
Felix took his usual mug of coffee and placed himself outside the front door. Garrett and Tori stocked up the bar of ice and glasses, and I opened up the curtain on the stage so that Harry could set up when he got there later. Just before I was about to tell Felix to go ahead and let people in, he stuck his head in the door.
“Miss Bella, there’s someone out here asking for you,” he said with his deep, rumbling tenor. “A Carlisle Cullen.”
“Oh, let him in, Felix. He’s good.”
He opened the door wider, and Edward’s dad thanked him when he walked through the door. My eyebrows shot up at how different he looked. He was healthy, with pink in his cheeks and a half smile that he’d genetically passed on to his sons. It was his eyes that told me how much better the man in front of me was doing. They were bright-blue, sharp, and sparkling with what I would’ve loved to have said was happiness, but maybe he just felt better.
“Look at you!” I gasped, grinning when he chuckled, because his face reddened just like Edward’s, and I laughed a little more. “You know, your youngest son blushes like that. I was wondering where he got it.”
“Bella, it’s really good to see you,” he greeted, pulling me in for a hug.
“You look…” I started, and he grinned again.
“Yeah, I feel it, too. I’m…” He took a deep breath and let it out as he gazed around my bar.
“Too much?” I asked him, grimacing a little when he shrugged a shoulder. “C’mon, we’ll go to my office for a minute. I promised you coffee, didn’t I?”
He almost followed me but then grabbed my hand gently. “Bella, wait. Let’s um… I need to get used to it.”
“Not all at one time,” I argued gently.
“I’ve hidden long enough.” He smiled again, gesturing to a table in the corner. “This is…real, Bella. It’s life and reality, and I have to find a way to push through it. I have to.”
The pride I had for him, for the huge amount I could see he had in himself, was palpable. “All righty, then… Sit, and I’ll bring the coffee.”
Garrett and Tori manned the bar as people started to trickle in, and I set down a mug for Carlisle. “I’ve got Edward’s place all set for you.”
He smiled and nodded. “I appreciate that. He’s due back…”
“Oh, probably the middle of the night,” I answered, my face heating when I continued. “He’ll be staying with me.”
Carlisle laughed, shaking his head at me. “Do not be embarrassed, Bella. Please. I realize my timing is impeccable, and I’m kind of hoarding in on your space here. So… My son loves you, sweetheart, so I assumed he’d be coming straight home to you.”
“Okay,” I said with a chuckle but looked up when Felix stepped up to our table. “What?”
“I know there are a few people that I’m supposed to watch for, Miss Bella. I just… There’s an Aro Volturi here…along with James Allen. They’re asking to see you personally.”
My lip twitched, and something deep inside me was immediately on edge. “Why?”
“They’re here to see the show,” Felix replied, stepping aside so I could see the two men in question.
Aro was just as skeezy-looking as ever. James looked pompous and smarmy. My stomach clenched at the two of them inside my bar, not to mention the mere thought of having to speak with them.
“Bella?” Carlisle called softly. “Isn’t that…”
“That’s Radiant Eclipse’s record manager…and former drummer,” I muttered back, sighing deeply. “I was wondering if they’d ever show up here…again. If I piss off Aro, he could make trouble for Edward. James is just a pig.” I turned to Felix. “I would like it if you stayed inside the front doors tonight. Can you do that?”
“Yes, ma’am, but… If you want, I can see them out.”
Sighing, I shook my head. “It’s tempting, especially James. Aro won’t do much to me, not with this many people around. Plus, I doubt he wants to piss off Edward.”
Carlisle chuckled, but his phone bleeped. “It’s the hospital. I’m trying to get back to work. Is there…?”
“C’mon. I’ll show you up to Edward’s apartment. You can talk there.”
We stood up from the table, and Aro stepped forward, holding out his hand. “Miss Isabella Swan,” he greeted me. “I’m a huge fan of your father’s. I don’t think we’ve ever met officially. I’m Aro Volturi. I believe you already know James…”
“I know who you are,” I told him, but I did shake his hand, which was cold and clammy. “And yes… James.” I locked gazes with the guy in front of me, and he gave me a wolfish grin that had the hairs on my neck standing up.
“Bella, won’t you join us for a drink?” he asked.
“I wish I could,” I lied easily, smiling as I pointed around the bar. “But as you can see, I’m getting busy, so if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get to work. Enjoy the show. Harry is very good.”
I shot a look to Felix, who nodded once, leaning back against the wall by the front door. I showed Carlisle up to Edward’s apartment, handing him the spare key.
“Bella, are you okay?” he asked before I could head back down to the bar.
“Yeah, I just…” I laughed a little, shrugging a shoulder. “I just want today to be over. I miss Edward…so much so, that everything else seems to pale in comparison to it.”
He smiled, but his brow furrowed. “Sweetheart, are you sure about…?”
“Aro and James?” I asked, and he nodded. “Edward will be mad that they’re here, but honestly, letting them stay is easier than the trouble they could stir up should I offend them.” I wrinkled my nose. “Edward’s got six or seven more months left to go under Aro, and he could do plenty in that time. I’ve seen what happens when the man isn’t happy with the band. That’s how Heidi ended up in the video, so really, if letting them stay and watch and then leave keeps them quiet and appeases them, then…” I waved a hand. “I’ll be too busy to deal with them anyway.”
Carlisle’s phone beeped again, and I hugged him again. “It’s really good to see you, and I’m right downstairs if you need anything. Feel free to use the bar’s back door to avoid the media. And that goes for when your son is here, too. Okay?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied with a chuckle.
I came back through the kitchen to behind the bar to see Harry had arrived with his small band. He gave me a huge hug and a loud kiss on my cheek. I pointed to the stage, and he went on up to get started.
The place was pretty full, and the three of us were manning the bar. I wasn’t completely unaware that Aro had placed himself by the stage, nor did it go unnoticed that James was at the end of the bar. He’d tried numerous times to get Tori’s attention, only to gain Garrett’s instead. Occasionally Felix would walk through, but mainly he kept his sharp eyes on the entire place. The only time he didn’t was to come to the bar for a refill on his coffee. This time, I poured one for myself, grinning when he clinked his to mine and walked away.
“Uh, no…I don’t think so,” I heard Tori’s sarcastic tone, laced with her derisive laugh.
Sipping my coffee, I walked down to the other end of the bar to stand in front of James. Harry was on a small five-minute break, and I leaned a hip against the bar.
“James,” I said slowly, softly. “I get why he’s here.” I pointed toward Aro. “What I don’t get is why you are.”
James chuckled, and it made my skin crawl. “Why do you think he’s here?”
Grinning, I sipped my coffee again. “He’s not exactly happy with me or my relationship with…Masen.” I used Edward’s stage name on purpose. “He’s tried like hell to mess it up. He’s here as a warning. It won’t work.”
James sneered. “Masen,” he scoffed, rolling his eyes. “That motherfucker owes me.”
“Not from what I hear,” I countered. “How’s that court thing going?” I asked him, smiling when his face reddened. “Now…leave my staff alone, or I will have you removed from my bar. Felix has been downing French roast coffee all damn day, so he’s got a little extra energy to burn. I’d love to see the headlines when the paps outside catch pictures of him tossing you out to the curb.”
“Aw, Bella…don’t be that way. I… I’m sorry. I just wanted to apologize for the last time I was here,” he drawled, grinning up at me with probably his best smile. It most likely worked on the weak-minded and shallow girls, but I wasn’t buying his bullshit.
“Just…leave her alone. Yeah?”
“Fine, fine,” he conceded, though he was still smirking as he held up his empty beer mug. “Can I at least get another beer, Bella? Please?”
Narrowing my eyes at his switch in demeanor, I nodded and set down my coffee mug in order to walk to the beer tap. I poured him a new mug and set it down in front of him. He was holding out money to me, and I reached out to take it. When I did, he grabbed my wrist lightly.
“C’mon, Bella. We’ll start over. Friends?” he asked, holding up his beer for a toast.
Laughing, I rolled my eyes as I pulled my hand back. I wasn’t buying this shit at all, but I picked up my coffee just to shut him up.
I clinked my coffee mug to his beer mug just as Harry started his next set. I thought I heard Felix call my name, but I lifted my mug to my lips. Before I could sip it, another hand clamped down hard on my wrist.
“Bella! No!” Carlisle snapped from beside me. He shook his head. “He put something in it!”
“What?” I asked, glancing from his absolutely ire-filled face to James’s surprised one. I set the mug down on the counter like it had burned me.
Felix worked his way across the bar to catch James before he could slither off the barstool. “You couldn’t hear me, Miss Bella. I tried to…”
I held up a hand that was a bit shaky and simply glared at James. “Felix, call the police.”
“Already done,” he grunted but grinned when James whimpered in his grip.
I spun to Garrett, who’d appeared at my side. “Tell Harry to cut it short. Tell him why. Give him my apologies,” I told him, and he took off for the stage. I rounded on Carlisle, who looked like he was about to punch some-damn-body. “How’d you…? What’d you…?”
“Shh, sweetheart… C’mere,” he said, guiding me to a barstool. “I was coming to thank you for all you did in the apartment…and check on you, to be honest. I um…I spoke to Edward. He said he tried to call your phone, but he knew that you were most likely busy, so he asked me to come down and give you a message.” He glanced at his watch. “He’s three hours ahead, so he’s probably finished with his show. He said he’d call you again before he gets on the plane.”
The doctor in him kicked in, and Carlisle checked my eyes, my pulse, my shaking hands. “I used the back door, like you said. I just… I walked out as soon as you stepped away from James. He leaned over the bar to drop something in your coffee. I’m… I…”
I flew into Carlisle’s arms, hugging him. “Thank you,” I mumbled into his chest but pushed away when I heard the music die the same time Aro’s foul voice met my ears.
“What’s going on here?”
Four of Seattle’s finest walked through the door of my bar, and Felix pushed James over to them.
My eyes narrowed, and my shock had worn off as I glared at Aro’s falsely innocent, wide-eyed gaze. “You rat bastard,” I hissed, pointing to James. “Let me guess as to how you wanted this shit to go down! You bring that pig into my bar, and he… What? Drugs me? Maybe even rapes me, and you have proof I cheated on E—Masen?! Seriously? Is that what you wanted?”
Aro’s eyes narrowed dangerously as the officers led James outside in cuffs. He stepped in front of me, only to be flanked by Harry and Carlisle.
“Careful, Mr. Volturi,” Harry warned. “You don’t want to fuck with that girl. You won’t make it to your precious Aston Martin without several broken bones. I promise you.” When Aro gaze up at him, he grinned. “Oh, I know you. Every musician in Seattle knows who and what the fuck you are…and what you’re capable of. Careful what’choo say to her.”
I knew there were still patrons in the bar. I knew my phone was buzzing like hell in my pocket. I finally pulled it out and handed it to Carlisle when I saw Edward’s beautiful face on my screen. “You talk to him.” I turned back to Aro. “You have no idea what you’ve done.”
“No, you little shit. You have no idea. You think you’re something special, but really, you’re just Masen’s current toy. You think he loves you, but you’ll be left behind in the dust. He’ll drop you like a bad habit for his next whore.”
I laughed, turning when I could hear my Edward over the line yelling at his dad. Shaking my head slowly, I said, “Guess we’ll find out, won’t we?”
One of the officers walked back in and up to Aro. “Are you Aro Volturi?” he asked, and when Aro nodded, he jerked a thumb toward the door. “There’s a James Allen asking for you. We have him in custody. Says you brought him here.”
Aro shrugged a shoulder. “Don’t know him. Sorry.”
I laughed, looking to the tall man in uniform. “Yes, he does. He’s his boss.” Aro rounded on me, and I held up a hand. “Aro, can you make a fist?” I asked, smirking at Harry’s snort, because my dad had taught me this. When the man made a shaky fist with his clammy hand, I grinned. “Good, now go fuck yourself. It’ll be a lot less painful than what…Masen will do to you.”
Aro was guided outside. My tainted mug of coffee was handed over to an officer. And somehow I answered every last question, but I could barely retain much of it. I was terrified I’d just unleashed hell on Edward. I was a little unnerved at what Aro had said to me, and I ached to hear Edward’s voice, feel his arms around me. Instead, it was his father who guided me up to my apartment after it was all said and done.
“I want to talk to Edward,” I whispered, tears welling up as he sat me down at my kitchen table.
“He’s in the air, sweetheart. He’s um… He gave me a message to give to you,” he said solemnly.
My heart hurt at what that message could be. I was so afraid he’d be mad at me for riling up Aro.
Carlisle grinned. “He said… Tell my angel she should’ve kicked his ass, and that I’ll be home before the sun rises.”


Nonita said...

Amazing chapter! Can't wait to more!

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