Sunday, May 10, 2015 | By: Drotuno

Man Behind the Mask Chapter 23 & Pics

Chapter 23 – I Dub Thee Unforgiven
With time the child draws in,
This whipping boy done wrong.
Deprived of all his thoughts
The young man struggles on and on he’s known
A vow unto his own,
That never from this day
His will they’ll take away.
What I’ve felt,
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown.
Never be.
Never see.
Won’t see what might have been.
What I’ve felt,
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown.
Never free.
Never me.
So I dub thee unforgiven.
“Unforgiven” – Metallica
We faced the tables that were now completely full, and Bella walked to hug her brother, who was looking pretty pissed off, but I could see he was just simply relieved she was okay. He spoke softly to her, and she answered him with a small smile and nod.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this meeting, but I was prepared for just about anything. The only thing I wanted to make sure of was that Bella was protected in my absence. Outside of that, I didn’t give a shit what I had to do for the next six months.
Giving a quick head count, I could see only one person wasn’t there.
“Where’s Alec?” I asked, taking a seat next to my father and pulling Bella to my lap.
“With Carrie,” Rose replied with a smirk. “She’s close. He’s out of the tour…for now, anyway.”
“Okay, so we need a keyboardist,” Jasper stated with a nod. “Did you call in—”
“I’m…reluctant to call anyone in from the studio,” Rose stated firmly, glancing around the table. “So…we have a lot to cover. However, the temp keyboard player is the least of our worries, so let’s get started.”
Rose’s uncle sat forward, and I smirked at the ruthless bastard. Honestly, he was a pitbull of a lawyer. And he adored his niece, for which we were all grateful, never mind that taking us on as his clients had made him a shit-ton of money. Therefore, his loyalty could not be swayed. Ever.
He was a large man, with sharp eyes and a round face, and he slapped down a notebook and pen. He also pulled his laptop closer, only to look at his watch.
“Jenks, please tell me you’ve figured some shit out that will help us,” Jasper stated slowly, folding his arms across his chest as he kicked back in his chair. “Despite the fact that this occurred here, after Bella has been so gracious to allow us to film here, but this happened specifically toward her. Never mind that she didn’t deserve it, but because she’s with Edward, she’s now one of us, so I feel personally…attacked, J-man, so…”
“It was a personal attack. And we’re gonna use that against Aro,” Jenks answered sharply. He pulled a stack of papers out of his briefcase and set them down on the table. “Since neither the music industry nor Aro have morals, there is no morals clause in your contract. However, I made sure when you guys originally signed this thing in the beginning that should Aro be unable to do his job, another executive would take over.”
He sighed, smiling a bit. “You boys signed a decent contract. It was an excellent start for a new band; there were only a few things that Volturi insisted upon, and we fiddled with them until everyone was happy. Aro wanted control of the albums – what was on them and how they were listed. He also wanted control of marketing, and despite how he’s manipulated certain aspects of your personal lives via the media, he hasn’t broken the contract, but neither have you. Everyone made money, the band has gone well beyond what had been expected, and your reputations in the music community are phenomenal.
“Now…” he sighed, flipping through our old contract. “Now we’ve reached a snag. As you may or may not know, Volturi Records was started by two brothers. Aro and Caius. Caius prefers the quieter side of the industry – money management, marketing, and…contract negotiations.” He smiled at that last one. “I know, as your lawyer, that Radiant Eclipse will not be re-signing with Volturi Records. In fact, I’ve as much as said so to Caius. And…I’ve told him why. What he doesn’t know is I’ll be filing not one but two restraining orders against both James and Aro.”
“For who?” I asked, but I was pretty sure I knew what his answer would be.
“Isabella Swan.”
Bella stiffened in my arms, and I merely held her closer, rubbing the outside of her thigh to soothe her, saying, “Good. At least she’ll be safe.”
There were murmurs of agreement around the table, which made Bella fall quiet.
“Exactly,” Jenks stated. “It’s already done. James Allen, should he be bailed out of county, and Aro Volturi won’t be able to come within a hundred feet of Isabella Swan or her place of residence.” He smirked, looking directly at me with a raised eyebrow. “Which just so happens to be your place of residence, as well, Masen.”
Grinning, I nodded and looked to Bella. Something about that bit of information made my angel puff up a bit with a prideful smile. I couldn’t help but chuckle at my protective girl.
He checked his watch again, then his phone. “I’m waiting on one more person…” he muttered, glancing up when there was a knock on the door of the bar.
Emmett stood and cracked the door open, only to open it a little wider to allow someone to come in. I recognized him instantly.
“You can’t be fucking serious!” I snapped, starting to push Bella to her feet so I could stand up, but the man who’d just joined us held up his hand. When Bella turned to look my way, I sneered in his direction. “Bella, meet Caius…Volturi. Aro’s brother. They started Volturi Records together.”
Her eyebrows shot up, but she watched the man in question take a seat next to Rose. He was almost the complete opposite of Aro – blond hair, feminine features, casual clothes. Though he had the same hardened gaze as Aro, it wasn’t evil, just…angry, most likely at the situation.
There were murmurs around the table, but Jenks glanced down to Caius. “Thank you for joining us, Mr. Volturi.”
Caius rolled his eyes. “Only my brother likes to be called that. Please call me Caius.”
Jenks nodded once. “I’m surprised you came without a lawyer, Caius.”
He was shaking his head. “I am a lawyer, Jason. I don’t need one present. And I…” He sighed deeply, rubbing his temple. “I’m well aware of my brother’s actions, so if we could please just get on with it.”
The man sounded tired, embarrassed, and his voice was softer than his brother’s.
Jenks looked his way for a moment before flipping through his notes. “I called this informal meeting because I feel my client’s contract was breached,” he stated, looking over at Caius’s impassive face. “If you’ll allow me to let a few witnesses explain what happened last night with Aro…”
“Well, since my brother won’t exactly explain the details to me, I have no choice,” Caius stated.
Jenks turned to me. “Masen, as hard as it’s going to be to hear it again, I need to know – from the people present last night – exactly what had happened with Aro and James. So I need you to please stay calm. I understand your…anger, but in order to proceed, I need to hear it.”
Nodding, I dropped a kiss to Bella’s shoulder. “Carry on, man.”
For the next few minutes, he listened to Bella, Dad, and Tori, even Garrett and Harry. The only one who wasn’t there was Felix, but he’d watched over us all damn night, and when Rose mentioned that to Jenks, he waved it off.
“It’s fine. I can talk to him later, if we need it.” He set his sharp gaze on Harry. “What exactly did you say to Aro before—” he smirked a little “—before you escorted him personally from the bar?”
Garrett and Harry froze for a moment, shooting a glance to Caius, who smiled a little, but it was Harry who spoke. “I know Aro. I know what he can and will do to musicians. He essentially finds talent and bleeds them dry. I’m not saying he’s not good at his job, but he pushes his clients to the point of exhaustion. Charlie…” He pointed around the bar at all the memorabilia from Chainsaw Charlie’s career. “Charlie knew him. Worked with him a couple of times but never signed a contract. Charlie was my good friend, my brother, and he stopped me once from signing with Volturi. No offense, Caius,” he added, and the blond man merely nodded. “And I simply showed him a taste of what would happen should he come anywhere near Bella again.”
Jenks studied the older man, and then he nodded once. “Fair enough. Now…James Allen has been charged with possession of rohypnol, which carries the possible fine of up to five thousand dollars and jail time up to three years. He’s being held with a pretty low bail, but no one has yet to go get him.”
“Aw, hell…” Emmett groaned, shaking his head. “So…Aro uses James to his bidding but won’t bail his boy out? That’s cold, dude.”
“James is under my brother’s employ, not Volturi Records,” Caius corrected. “When it was brought to me that he had broken his nondisclosure agreement with our biggest name, I released him from Volturi. My brother, however, kept him around for what he said were personal reasons.”
I wanted to laugh at the expression on Caius’s face. It was pure disgust and maybe a little disbelief.
“I’m here to assure Caius that Radiant Eclipse has every intention of fulfilling every bit of their contract, until the very end. However, once I’ve spoken to the police and James, I’m fairly certain that Aro will not be able to meet his end of the contract. He will be unable to do his duties as your producer…from jail.”
“What exactly do you think you have on my brother?” Caius asked, leaning forward.
“Conspiracy.” The word came unhindered from Jenks, and he smiled. “Oh, yeah. James’s contract with Radiant Eclipse may be over, but it wasn’t over with Aro. If your brother abandons him now, that little weasel will scream…and scream loud. Not that it will get him far; he still attempted to drug someone, never mind who told him to do it. He’s still facing those charges, no matter what.”
“My brother will claim he had no idea what James was up to, Jason, and you know it. That they were merely out together seeing a musical act,” Caius countered, but there was no animosity behind it, just the simple truth.
“I’m sure. However, if he ignores James, then the whole world will know.”
“I will handle James, I assure you,” Caius vowed, almost in a hiss. “However, threatening my brother is useless. You have no leg to stand on.”
“Actually, we do,” Jenks countered calmly. “All that my clients are asking for is the removal of Aro Volturi as their Volturi Records representative. Per the contract that everyone signed four years ago, you can reassign someone else to Radiant Eclipse, should Aro be deemed unable to perform his duties. He will be wrapped up in James’s legal problems for quite some time. End of story.” He smiled at Caius. “You and I both know that there will be no re-signing, but release Aro from Radiant Eclipse, and there won’t be any going public, either. Everyone stays happy. Otherwise, I’m going to the real press with this entire story.
“The problem with that, though, means every-damn-body will be involved and several shows will have to be cancelled. No one wants that. Everyone sitting at this table merely wants this contract over and done.”
“And I will sue you for going against the non-disclosures that you’ve all signed!” Caius snapped back.
“There are five people at this table who’ve not signed a damn thing, Caius,” Jenks argued, his face reddening. “They have, however, been a witness to and a victim of your brother’s actions. They were innocent in it all, simply in the wrong place and wrong time, and I’d be willing to bet they’d speak on Radiant Eclipse’s behalf! And they would be completely free to do so. I believe I have a list of journalists who would love to hear this story.”
Caius scanned the table, most likely sizing up who had or hadn’t signed a nondisclosure contract. One of them was perched on my lap, glaring daggers at him with dark, angry eyes. And he countered her gaze with his own.
“Caius!” I snapped, and the whole table jumped. “We’re not asking for anything other than for Aro to leave us the fuck alone! That’s it. I had every intention of finishing our contract with you, but I’m telling you…I fucking promise you, that asshole comes anywhere near me, anyone in this room, or…oh my fucking God, if he even looks Bella’s way… He won’t walk away with some simple bruises and scratches. I’ll put his ass in the hospital, and I won’t be the only one.”
Garrett and Harry nodded a little, but it was Mike who sat forward. “That was my sister he tried to hurt. I realize I’m new, but…she’s my family. I’ll kill him.”
“Mikey…” Bella sighed, shaking her head, but I patted her thigh to soothe her.
Caius shook his head. “You only have until the end of the tour… And I’m telling you, my brother will never see the inside of a jail cell.”
“I can…and will force this clause,” Jenks stated, pointing to our contract. “As of this morning, there is an order of protection against your brother and James Allen on this bar, the apartments behind it, and the owner, Isabella Swan. I’m sure the boys here would completely agree with me that this makes an absolute perfect meeting place for the band. Which means your brother can neither attend the meetings nor do his job.” Jenks’s tone was laced with sarcasm and menace. He meant that shit.
“There are other places to meet. My brother could join the band on the road.”
“Not if I go with them.” Bella’s voice was firm, her gaze fierce as she raised an eyebrow at him. “If I go, he can’t come within a hundred feet of me…no matter who I’m with…”
My head spun to look at her, and my girl was pissed, not at me but at the entire situation. She linked her fingers with mine, turning back to Caius. The mere idea of her coming on the road with us was too good to wish for, and I couldn’t quite tell if she was only threatening or if she meant it. As protective as Bella could be, it wouldn’t shock me if she came along just to keep Aro at bay. And she wasn’t finished with Caius, either.
“Look, I get all this shit… Contracts, nondisclosures, and whatever. I realize everyone has a job to do. I also realize that as an outsider, I have no vote or say. But as a woman?!” she exclaimed, shaking her head. “Your brother and James had every intention of drugging me, possibly assaulting me, if only to exploit it, and if you don’t think I won’t sit down with someone and let the world know exactly what happened in my bar last night, then you’ve sorely underestimated me. I despise the media for the things they did to my father, for the things they continue to do to…Masen, but I’m telling you now, I will tell everyone who will listen.”
Jenks looked at Bella like he could kiss her, but he pushed the contract Caius’s way. “We don’t want to break the contract, Caius; we’re merely requesting another representative from Volturi. That’s it. What happens between you and your brother…or even the authorities…is none of our concern, though Bella has a point. Had someone not stepped in last night,” he continued, giving my father a nod, “then we’d really have some ugly shit to deal with. As it is, our request isn’t all that hard to grant. I don’t want to force your hand, but obviously I will if I have to.”
The man in question was quiet for a moment or two, finally leaning forward to rub his eyes with the heels of his hands. “Maybe my brother needs to retire,” he mumbled behind his hands. “He’s brought me more trouble than he’s brought us clients.” He pulled his hands away from his face. “Actually, he’s put all his efforts into Radiant Eclipse.” Caius sighed again, shaking his head. “Fine, done. I’ll remove him as your rep.”
Quiet cheers ran the length of the tables, and Bella practically collapsed against me. I hugged her tightly from behind, pressing kisses to her cheek.
Caius glared at Jenks for a moment, but his gaze raked across the table to me. He sniffed, wearing a small smile. “I was the one who saw you first. Not my brother. Radiant Eclipse was playing a gig across town in a small bar.” He huffed a laugh, shaking his head. “I knew what we could do for you. I dragged my brother to see your next show. He approached you without my knowing.” He sighed deeply. “Somewhere along the way, my brother forgot why we started Volturi Records. It used to be about the music, the talent. Now…he only sees the money.” He stood up from the table, straightening his shirt.
“I’m sorry you won’t be re-signing with us,” he stated directly to me. “If I thought I could change your mind, I’d start negotiating now, but I’m pretty sure I’d run into a brick wall. You’ve outgrown my brother’s archaic ideas, he’s abused his position with you, and you’ve established yourselves as a band that could – and probably will – hold their own. I hope that works for you.” He smiled ruefully. “I wish you success, if only that it will teach my brother a rather…hefty lesson.”
He turned to Rose. “You’ll finish out the contract with me, personally. Should you need anything, please call me or my secretary.”
“Yes, sir,” she replied. “Before you go, I have a question… There’s the media to contend with, Caius. They know of James’s arrest, and they’ve seen Masen arrive. We…”
“Yes.” He narrowed his gaze to the floor. “My brother’s made a mess of that, as well. He has too many ‘friends’ in the media, but he forgets that I do, too. I will attend to James Allen and see to it he stays quiet. I trust you, Mrs. Cullen, to come up with a vague blanket statement that keeps everyone involved safe from journalistic…harm,” he worded carefully, but he wore a sly smirk on his face.
“I… I think I can come up with something that will appease everyone involved.”
“And Heidi Summers?” Bella asked suddenly before Caius could leave, glancing over her shoulder to me. “She’s been seen with James, so she’s going to…”
Jenks laughed. “It would seem Heidi has moved permanently to Los Angeles.”
“Figures,” Tanya scoffed. “Let me guess… The bitch can’t be reached for comment. It’s the rehab incident all over again. Stupid fuck bucket.”
Grinning, I hid it into Bella’s shoulder, which was shaking a little with her laughter.
“I said she moved, not that she can’t be reached,” Jenks stated with authority.
“Good to know,” Caius stated. “Miss Summers will be subtly reminded that her involvement the day of the video shoot has not been forgotten. If I’m not mistaken, Mr. Milton, the director, has already warned his friends in L.A. about her.” He nodded once Jenks way. “We’ll be in touch, Jason,” he said before leaving the bar.
Bella and I locked gazes for a moment, but my dad, who had been listening intently throughout the entire meeting, sat forward.
“Mr. Jenks, I’m aware that I’m an outsider, and I know I’m ignorant of some things regarding this business, so… What does that mean for my boys?” he asked warily, but he seemed pretty damned concerned.
“It means that thanks to Aro’s involvement last night, the band will no longer be under his control. Whether or not the authorities can pin anything on him or not is yet to be seen, but according to Radiant Eclipse’s contract signed almost four years ago, Aro will be too busy to perform his duties, thereby releasing himself…or really, Caius will take over.”
A low whistle met the air from Harry. “Boy oh boy, remind me to never piss you guys off, especially Dizzy Izzy here.” He shot my girl a wink and a playful punch to her chin, which made her laugh softly.
Jenks cracked a smile. “Just doing my job.”
“So…wait!” Bella piped up, glancing at me and then back to my lawyer. “So…Aro can’t hurt them anymore? He can’t…punish them?”
“No, ma’am, not if I have anything to say about it. As much as I hate what was done to you last night, it actually worked out for the best. Working with Aro was a miserable experience, but he wanted the band, so I had to do the best I could. I’m not completely unaware that Masen’s relationship with Heidi Summers boosted sales for the last album, which was what Aro was banking on again, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out the same this time.”
Her relieved giggle erupted out of her, and it lightened up the whole room. I couldn’t help but pull her to me, mumbling about close fucking calls and beautiful brunettes with sharp tempers.
“You’ll be the death of me yet, angel.”
She laughed but kept her arms around me when we faced the table.
“Okay, so…now here’s where my job comes into play,” Rose stated seriously. “With Aro out of the picture, the media will lose their ‘source.’ With James’s arrest here at Bella’s, they’re gonna be like sharks drawn to blood. We need to position ourselves as a united front. You two,” she continued, pointing toward Bella and me. “You will most likely be the target of a lot of questions and curiosity. They’re gonna watch your every move, every step. Your fans love you…as in, they love the fact that you’re together. They’re still calling you ‘Rock’s Royal Couple,’ but that’s the fans. The media will look for other shit – cheating, partying, Heidi, and so on – so watch yourselves. If you need protection, I suggest you take Felix with you. Keep him here when you’re working, that sort of thing.”
Bella and I nodded, and the tension between us prior to the meeting completely evaporated.
“Okay,” Jasper sang, wearing his lazy-ass smile. “Ding dong, the asshole’s gone…”
He grinned when we all laughed, but a feeling of something easy, something light seemed to fill the room. Without Aro’s manipulative ways, the rest of the tour would be nothing, just long and tedious. And we all seemed to feel it. I wanted to fucking scream it, but with all the legal shit still pending, I was just grateful we’d gotten this far.
“But we still need a keyboardist,” he added.
“If I may,” Harry said, holding up a finger. “You said you weren’t comfortable using a studio musician, which is understandable all considering, but I may know of someone. He’s a damn good piano player, and you can trust him. He could use the work, too.”
“Who?” Bella asked, tilting her head at him.
“Demetri Stewart.”
“Dad’s old friend,” Bella whispered, and then she turned to me. “He’s good. Amazing. Can play anything from children’s songs, to Beethoven, to Led Zepplin.”
Grinning, I kissed her. “Okay, then. Call him. Set something up soon, because we leave for Chicago on Tuesday.” My brow furrowed at that, but Bella squeezed me closer.
“Set it up for tomorrow when the bar is closed,” she told him, smiling when he nodded and slipping her hand into mine before looking up at me as everyone at the table started to get up. “Now, just so you know, Mr. Cullen, I’m off the whole time you’re here.”
“Really?” I sang, bending to her ear. “Feeling…selfish, angel?”
She nodded, leaning into me and wrapping her arms around me. “I don’t think I can stop.”
Chuckling, I kissed her cheek. “Guess I’ll have to get used to it.”
Smirking up at me, with her arms still wrapped around my waist, she said, “We have a date, you know.”
My eyes narrowed on her, trying my damnedest to remember just what the hell she was talking about, but it hit me as she pulled back to place a hand on my chest. Her finger traced along my ink.
“Fuck, I completely forgot!” I whispered against her lips. “You still game?”
Her nod and smile were adorable. It seemed that the meeting’s conclusion had taken the weight off her, though I knew she thought most of it was her fault. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I was just about to kiss her stupid, call my friend, and drag her out of that bar like a caveman, but my dad walked to us.
His smile was amused, but his eyes were a little wary. “Son, I… Well, and Bella, too. You… I was… I need…” He was struggling. “With all this, not to mention I’ve got therapy with your mother come Monday…I think maybe…”
“A meeting?” I offered to him, to which he nodded in answer. “You need me to go with you?”
“I don’t want to…” He smiled when he glanced to Bella, who leaned in to kiss his cheek.
“We can both go, Carlisle. It’s no problem.”
He glanced around at everyone milling about but then looked back to us. “I would really like that.”
“Then we’ll be there. Same one?” I asked, and he nodded. Before he could walk away, I pulled him to me by his shoulder. “If I learned anything at Serenity, Dad, it’s that it’s okay to ask for help. Got me?”
He nodded again.
“There’s not one of us who would turn you down.” I raised an eyebrow at him, and he smiled, his cheeks reddening, which made Bella laugh softly.
“Hush, angel,” I chided teasingly.
Bella only laughed again but looked to my dad and then to me. “We’ll go with him tonight, then you and I will go…do our thing tomorrow. We’ll be back to meet Demetri when we’re done. Is that… Will that work?”
Smiling, I pulled her to me and kissed her lips. “Bella, we could be scrubbing the floors, and I’m okay. I’m just happy to be home for a few days.”
Her eyes were filled with a spunky happiness, but we kissed again. “And no more Aro.”
Grinning, I nodded. “And no more Aro.”
I eyed Demetri as he packed up his keyboards, and Jasper sauntered up next to me. The musician was older, with long, dark hair sprinkled with gray strands. He had several days growth on his face, which also had gray in it. He was tall, lean, wearing ragged jeans, and he reminded me of Bella’s dad quite a bit – that old-school, mellow musician who had seen it all, done it all, and came back out the other side wiser.
“What’choo think?” Jasper whispered.
“Fuck, he’s good,” I murmured back in awe, turning to look at my best friend. “Looks like he’s hit some…rough patches.”
“Divorce,” Jasper added. “She took everything and the kids and moved across the country. Harry says he’s clean, just stumbled into some hard times.”
Nodding a little, I let my eyes wander around Charlie’s Pub. My Bella, Mike, and Harry were at the end of the bar – her on one side as Harry and Mike sat on stools. They were deep in conversation, an intense one from the looks of it. I smirked, though, as she favored her wrist where new ink now resided on the inside of it just below the heel of her hand.
A lower-case E. For me. Not Masen, but Edward. It was small, dark, and shadowed to give it the impression of a three-dimensional loop that just so happened to form the shape of a heart, too. My angel had marked herself for me, a permanent symbol of her love for me.
I wanted to kiss it, claim it, dote on it. I wanted to show the whole damn world.
Though, she wasn’t the only one sporting a new tattoo. We’d gone just after breakfast. My tattoo artist was away, but hers was in, and we went to see a girl I would’ve never guessed inked people for a living. At first glance, Angela looked like a bookworm, with glasses and a shy voice and demeanor, but when you truly looked at her, piercings and ink and a touch of blue and pink in her hair caught your eye. And fuck, she was good. Like all tattoo shops, she had books and samples, but really, she liked to design them specifically for her clients. And the new one on my shoulder blade couldn’t be more perfect. It was a treble clef with angel’s wings, also a symbol, something that represented exactly how Bella made me feel, like she watched over me at all times.
“Edward?” Jasper called to me with a chuckle. “Demetri, dude…focus. We keepin’ him, or what?”
Tearing my gaze from Bella, I nodded. “Guess we should. He needs the job, and we need the keyboard player. We need to tell Rosie to make it worth his while. He’ll most likely work this next leg of the tour, if not into the West Coast leg, too. Just so Alec can get Carrie and the baby settled in.”
Jasper nodded, and we walked to the table my brother and sister-in-law were occupying, giving Rose the go-ahead. The next few minutes were taken up with explanations of how the tour would work, how long we needed him, and what his contract would entail. Demetri was very grateful, and he gave Bella and Harry hugs before he left.
It wasn’t long after that everyone started to leave Charlie’s. It was Sunday, and we were heading out to Chicago on Tuesday morning. Most everyone wanted some downtime with their families. Harry and Mike were the last to leave, and they both hugged Bella before she clicked the lock into place when they were gone. I took a seat in my usual spot. Watching her quietly clear away a few glasses, I smiled her way when she pointed toward the beer tap.
“Please,” I sighed, sitting forward. “This feels…familiar.”
She grinned, pouring us both a beer and clinking her mug with mine. “Never been so grateful for the media to chase you in here.”
Grinning, I nodded, feeling my face heat. “I’ve missed this.”
Her smile fell, but she broke her gaze from mine, only to soak in every inch of her bar. “Me, too. Even more, since I think it’s time to close it.”
“Angel, no… C’mere,” I whispered, setting her on the stool next to mine, but I pulled her close. “You don’t have to.”
She smiled sadly, tucking her hair behind her ear, and her new ink caught my eye. “I think I need to, Edward. And I’ve already told Tori and Garrett.”
I took her hand, turning it over so I could kiss the center of her palm, though I really wanted to love on that tatt. “Tell me why, Bella.”
Her beautiful face took on a wistful expression as she gazed around the bar. She didn’t seem sad, simply contemplative, but I wasn’t sure. She licked her lips, swallowing a little and finally meeting my gaze.
“I think I need to let him go, Edward. It’s… There’s a selfish part of me that wants to be with you, and then there’s the down-to-earth side that knows that it’s time to… I kept this place in order to hold on to my dad.” She huffed a sweet, light laugh, her eyes sparking with a touch of mischief. “And maybe to irritate my mother a little.”
Chuckling, I kissed her lips. “Okay, so…”
“So…I want to be with you.”
“Don’t do this for me, angel. I’m begging you. Don’t make such a drastic decision on my account. I know we hate being apart, but I know that this is also the last really long, ugly tour, baby… We were surviving it, with the occasional meltdown thrown in for good measure, but…” I grinned at her laugh. “But it… I don’t want this on me.”
She cupped my face, kissing me sweetly and keeping eye to eye. “It’s not on you. It’s on me. I’m not saying I’ll travel full-time. I don’t think I can do that, but… If I list the pros and cons of keeping this bar, the cons outweigh the pros.” Raising my eyebrow in question, I waited until she giggled but answered my unasked question. “The cons…it’s not booming. It’s barely breaking even. It’s treading water…like I was until I met you. I didn’t realize how…how…complacent my life had become. I was hiding, Edward. I was hiding behind the loss of my dad, but… It took meeting you to see that…I wasn’t really living.
“And it’s not like it’ll sit unused. Harry asked me if he could use it to record a few songs. They’ll most likely do it while I’m away with you.”
“So…you’re really coming with me?” I asked in a whisper, not sure if I was worried or excited. It was a toss-up, really. I wanted her with me, for selfish reasons. But I wanted her to want to be with me…not because she knew I’d be fucking ecstatic.
“Yes,” she said through a giggle, kissing me again. “After what happened, I really just… I’d like to take you up on that kidnapping offer, Edward.”
Laughing softly, I dropped my forehead to hers, but that wasn’t close enough. Lifting her to my lap, I hugged her. “For as long as you want. There’s more to this closing place, though, angel.”
She smiled, setting her elbows on my shoulders so she could toy with my hair. “I think closing it will help your dad. With our leaving…”
My heart wanted to burst at how sweet that was, but I countered it with a bit of truth. “Angel, if he’s gonna drink, he’ll find a way. There are bars and liquor stores…”
“I know, but it won’t be in his face when he comes home. I’m so…proud of him for asking for a meeting yesterday… He’s doing so well, so I just want to help him. That’s all.”
“Me, too! That was…a huge step, really. I…” I trailed off, nodding a little. “I just hope therapy will help while we’re gone.”
“Yeah,” she agreed softly. Her face reddened a little. “I also kinda thought – and it’s Harry’s fault, really, for bringing it up – that if…you know…Radiant Eclipse needed a place to record… I’m a pretty cheap date.”
My mouth fell open. “Is that what you want, Bella? To turn this into a studio?”
“I’d love to keep it for music,” she said firmly. “It’s what my dad bought it for, what he’d want, I think. Though, knowing my dad, he’d tell me to go with my heart.” She smiled at me. “The fact that Harry has a few new musicians he’s trying to help…” She shrugged a shoulder. “It made me realize that when your tour is over, you guys will want to do things yourself. Harry’s really good at it – production, I mean. He was always involved with my dad’s stuff. He was also the one friend of my dad’s who didn’t want to take this place from me. Demetri, either. I just…” She sighed, looking at me with those dark, beautiful eyes. “Edward, it’s time for a change. I’ve surrounded myself with a shrine to my dad, when I could be really doing something.”
“I…I’m… I want to help you…with this,” I offered, nodding and running a hand over her head and down her back. “Seriously. It could…be a really awesome thing.”
She smirked. “A partnership?” she asked, her voice a touch raspy but extremely sexy.
“Aren’t we already?” I asked with a grin, but inside, I wanted the ultimate partnership with her. I wanted her. Always. Mine. Forever. I wanted the whole world to know that “Rock’s Royal Couple” wasn’t going any-damn-where. I wanted her to be mine, take my name, and to smash the rumors into oblivion that still ran amuck through the tabloids. “I think we can come up with some sort of…plan.” I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from grinning like an idiot when she nodded.
“I want that. And I want to go with you Tuesday.”
“Done. And done.”
“I don’t know how long…”
“Doesn’t matter… I’ll take however long you wanna go,” I told her honestly. “I’m actually glad to get you out of here while all that shit goes down with Aro and James.”
“So…we’re good? We’re…”
“We’re doing what we said we’d do, angel,” I whispered, kissing her before meeting her worried gaze. “We’re finding our normal. I, for one, am pretty fucking happy we’ve come this far.”
She giggled and nodded. “Me, too.” She slipped down from my lap and walked around to the other side of the bar, taking a big chug of her beer before grabbing a marker and a piece of paper. With a roll of tape in hand, Bella treaded softly to the front door of the bar. Opening it, she tacked the paper to the outside, stepping away with a happy, sweet grin when I walked to her.
“Okay?” I asked her, wrapping my arms around her from behind and kissing her cheek.
She nodded. “Yeah, I really am.”
I stared at the sign but nodded. There was a touch of sadness seeing it, but my angel had held my hand through a million changes. It was my turn to do the same for her.
“Good.” I closed the door and locked it, letting the sign say it all.
Charlie’s Pub Closed Until Further Notice.


LittleBella13 said...

Awesome chapter as always!! I'm sad Bella closed the bar but I'm excited to see what this will mean for their relationship and for her to join the tour for a while!! Can't wait for the next chapter :)

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