Sunday, May 24, 2015 | By: Drotuno

Man Behind the Mask Chapter 26 & Pics

Chapter 26 – Angels Looking After Me
I've been away,
Searching for a reason,
Another purpose to find.
I've sailed the seas,
Fought my many demons,
I've looked to gods in the skies.

I've stood in hell,
Where many had to suffer,
I stared the devil in the eyes.
Walked many roads to witness ancient idols,
And found the great gates of fire.

Had many storms question my conviction,
Gave armies reason to rise.
The hangman's searching for bones he can borrow,
While I escaped in the night,
Fight or flight.

Live again,
All roads end,
I'll be coming home.
Tend your light,
'Cause on this night,
I'll be coming home.

Escaped the hail of calculated mortars,
Then drank the blood of a king.
The desert rain has washed away direction,
Had angels looking after me,
So it seems.
“Coming Home” – Avenged Sevenfold
EDWARD
“You know, we could let Felix go home, Edward,” Bella stated, watching the man in question guard the door of the VIP lounge at the airport in San Francisco.
“Humor me, angel,” I pleaded, cupping her face. “Right now, he’s just about the only one I trust to keep you safe, aside from myself or Emmett.”
She sighed, her face breaking into a placating smile. “You’d think that the shock of it all would’ve worn off by now.”
Chuckling, I took a seat on one of the benches and pulled her to stand between my legs. “I did kinda throw it in their faces on global TV, baby.” When she chuckled, I pulled her in to kiss her inked finger, then that beautiful heart shaped E, and finally her lips. “Worth it, though,” I murmured against her lips, pulling back to look at her. “I’ll make a deal with you. Once you’re home safe, with my dad, Garrett, and Harry around, then you can give Felix a break, okay?”
“Good, ’cause he’s got a family he misses.”
“I’m aware. He’s also being paid very well to watch over the most important thing to me, so… He’s not exactly complaining, Bella. He’ll be able to put that kid of his through college without batting an eye. Plus, he likes you, respects you.”
She smirked my way, and I opened my mouth to continue to plead my case, but she placed her fingers over my lips. “I get it. We’re riding out the storm, Edward. I get it.”
I relaxed a little, because the word storm was right. The media, who had taken our “leaked” wedding pictures and run with them, were now a speculating machine. Bella was pregnant, she’d stolen me from Heidi, she was using me for her own monetary benefit… The list was endless. And the list was fucking stupid.
However, there were multiple opinions on it. The fans loved her. They thought she was adorable and sweet, shy on camera, which was true. They thought she made me happy. Also true. And they thought my speech at the VMAs was the sweetest thing ever, which Bella said was true.
Then there was the Heidi side of it all, which was why Bella had Felix with her ever since the VMAs. Heidi had been pissed, but she’d been pissed because when I got backstage at the awards show, I’d pulled her aside and called her out on everything Aro had put her up to. I’d called her out on her cheating, her quick dismissal of our relationship, and the complete and utter bullshit that she continued to feed to the media. She’d blamed me for it all, which was totally a Heidi thing to do. She cheated because I was never home, which was again bullshit, since she cheated with my fucking drummer, who was gone just as much as I was. When she’d blamed me for her floundering career, I’d laughed, and I’d still been fucking laughing when we’d been shoved out onto the stage that night.
The final straw for Heidi had been the sight of my wedding band. The man she knew never wanted marriage. Masen was a free spirit and a party animal. He couldn’t be bothered with a wife or kids. The man she knew had been an unstoppable flirt, a musician solely focused on his career, and someone who never wanted to be tied down. Which just went to prove… Heidi never really knew me at all, nor had she ever bothered to get to know me.
It was Heidi’s fans who’d caused the need for Felix to join us in L.A. They’d been vocal about me, about Bella, and about the whole damn thing. They were fucking snowed by Heidi’s lies and rumors, but it didn’t do any good to fight them. They’d learn to get over it. But in the meantime, they were loud and aggressive and rather foul, so Felix was my wife’s shadow when I couldn’t be with her.
“Angel, look at me,” I whispered, smiling when those deep-brown eyes locked on my face. “We’ve got a few more shows before the last one in Seattle. Then I’m home. Home, baby,” I said emphatically. “Home to you, the studio, just…fucking home. Okay? I just need you safe until I get there. That’s it. That’s all. The paps can kiss my ass, but they need to stay the fuck away from you.”
Bella broke out into a sweet, patient smile, cupping either side of my face. She kissed me softly, but I wanted more. I was about to put my wife on a plane to Seattle, and I wouldn’t see her for another couple of weeks. Radiant Eclipse had San Francisco, Portland, and finally Seattle to go before the tour was done. Slipping my hand into her hair at her neck, I took more. I kissed her, claimed her, tasted her, and smiled against her lips when my girl moaned.
“I love you,” she said, brushing kisses slowly across my lips.
“Love you, too, angel.” I took a deep breath, pulling her to sit beside me on the bench and facing her completely. “Talk to me about the apartment. You sure you don’t wanna wait until I’m home?”
“No, no…” she said with a grin and a fervent shake to her head. “I want to do this. It won’t be that bad, baby.”
Narrowing my eyes at her, I tried to see if she was covering up something, but she seemed happy to be going home. “Just…seems like a pain in ass, Bella. That’s all. I can pack up my own shit, you know.”
She laughed and leaned in to kiss me again. “Moving is always a pain in the ass, no matter the circumstances. Besides, you owe me, Mr. Cullen, and I plan on collecting that as soon as your feet step through the door of our apartment. The more I get you moved in, the less you have to do when you get there, which in turn leaves me plenty of time to collect on some selfish honeymoon time.”
Laughing, I nodded, because honestly, who could argue with that logic?
“Right…sleeping in, ordering delivery, no clothes… Yes, ma’am. Got it.” I grinned at her, but God, I loved her. “I’m gonna fucking miss you, though,” I sighed deeply, kissing her again. “Well, do me a favor… Don’t rent out the apartment until I come home. I just… I want to see who you put up there. ’Cause…you know, that last guy…” I teased her, rolling my eyes. “He was trouble.”
“Don’t I know it.” She laughed, raising an eyebrow at me. “But he gave good perks to his landlady.”
“Which is why I wanna see the next asshole you put up there!” When she cracked the fuck up, I shook my head. “I guess I should be happy my dad’s moving out, huh?”
She smiled again. “Yeah, I guess they reconciled in Vegas.”
“Hmm,” I hummed, leaning to kiss her forehead. “Apparently what happens in Vegas…goes home to Seattle…Mrs. Cullen.
“Yeah,” she sighed wistfully.
That face. That one, right there. She was so damned beautiful when I called her by her new name. She wore it with pride and love and honor. She made me want to don armor and fight dragons. She made me feel like I was bigger than life itself. She made me better than I ever thought I could be.
I kissed her again, knowing for a damn fact that time was ticking. I needed to be at the arena for sound check, and her flight was approaching fast. Just as the thought hit my mind, her flight number was called.
Pulling back, I cupped her face. “I love you. I’ll check in after the show tonight.”
“Don’t forget to charge your tablet,” she reminded me, and suddenly the list of requests came out of us both, reminding me of the first time I’d left her.
“Don’t answer a damn question the media asks you. Let their asses wonder.”
“Don’t drive Rose crazy; she’s just trying to get you through these last few weeks.”
“Don’t overdo the moving thing, angel. If it’s too much or you’re not sure, just wait. We’ll figure it out.”
She stopped and stood up, pulling me with her. She hugged me fiercely, mumbling into my chest, “We always do.”
“Yeah, we do,” I sighed into the top of her head, because it was damned true. We did always figure it out; no matter how frantic we’d get, we’d find a way through whatever it was.
“I gotta go,” she groaned, pushing back but tilting her face up.
“I know,” I sighed back, sounding just as forlorn.
“Love you.”
I kissed her soundly. “Love you, too.”
She stepped away, picking up her carry-on backpack, and Felix pushed away from the door to follow her. He gave me a smile and a nod before opening the door for her to head into security.
It felt strange being the one seeing someone off. Normally it was the other way around. I pulled my baseball cap on and shoved my hands into the pockets of my jeans, making my way back through the San Francisco airport to where Tony was patiently waiting in the car.
~oOo~
“Here, sweetie,” Tanya urged, taking my empty water bottle away, only to set a warm mug of tea in my hand. “Jesus… At this rate, you’ll have no voice by the time we get fucking home.” Her nostrils flared as she shook her head while packing up our stuff in the dressing room. “Aro and his brilliant fucking tour schedule. You guys are worn out.”
“There’s only the Seattle show left, Tanya,” I rasped, flinching when she rounded on me.
“Doesn’t fucking matter, and stop talking. Just drink!”
I huffed a laugh at her temper, but I couldn’t argue with her, so I did as she told me. I also couldn’t wait until this damn tour was over…for several reasons. I was anticipating the end of our contract with Volturi with bated breath. I was ready to be home in Seattle not only with my wife but my parents, as well.
My dad was doing exceptionally well, and he was almost back to a full schedule at the hospital. He also had maintained his appointments with Dr. Banner, hospital schedule permitting, and my mother continued to go with him once a week. Apparently it took my wedding to Bella to finally show my mother that life was good, that it was going to go on, despite the DUI, the accident, and my dad’s lies. She’d finally admitted her denial of my dad’s drinking and that she’d lived under the assumption that he had cheated on her, when he really hadn’t. She had to let go of the resentment, had to forgive, and she had to move on, or we’d all be stuck in the limbo she’d created. She also found out about my dad’s part in the James-Aro-Bella fiasco, and the fact that he’d stepped up to help Bella showed just how far my dad had come.
And she’d also begged and pleaded for us to be home for the holidays.
The VMAs had been toward the end of summer, so fall was fast approaching. The Seattle show was next…and last. Thank fuck. This would be the first time in a very long time that the boys and I would be home – with no schedule, no recording sessions, and no itinerary – since we’d signed with Volturi Records. We needed a band meeting, but I knew how that shit would go down. We’d re-sign Mike, simply because he was a damned good drummer and he fit in without any problems whatsoever. It would be a longer, better contract, especially since I could see him helping with the writing process. We’d all agree to wait until after the end of the year to even consider setting foot in the recording studio. And the studio… It would be a brand new experience doing it for ourselves. Harry and Demetri had already promised to help, and Jasper and I agreed they’d be amazing teachers, since the two of them had been in this business probably way before any of us were even born.
Wiping the sweat from my face with a towel, I glanced up when Rose stepped into the room. Her face was fierce and angry, and I tried like hell to remember if I’d done anything wrong. There was no telling. Nothing came to mind; I’d kept a pretty low profile since Bella left us in San Francisco.
“I just got off the phone with Caius,” she started, directing her fierce gaze to me. “You have an interview with Music Mania Magazine.”
“Now?” I asked, and it came out almost a whisper, so I sipped the tea Tanya had given me when she raised a deadly, threatening eyebrow at me. Clearing my throat, I asked, “Is it Jessica Stanley again?”
“Yeah, but her photographer isn’t allowed in here. I won’t have Laurent in the same room with my band.” Rose folded her arms across her chest. “If she wants pictures, she can either take them herself or we’ll be happy to supply them for her, but that paparazzi schmuck isn’t coming in here.”
I snorted, looking over at Emmett as he stood by the door. His face was amused, but he wasn’t budging from his spot.
“All of us?” I verified, because the last interview was only me, simply because I’d just left rehab.
“At first it was just you, because you know how she is, Edward. She fan-girls all over you. I told her she had to interview everyone in the band if she wanted anything other than the prewritten bullshit I hand out.”
Alec grinned, shaking his head. “When, Rosie?”
“Now.” She sighed, shaking her head. “Better now than in Seattle. You guys will blow away to the four winds once that show is over. She can, at the very least, get a real discussion.” She pointed to me. “And she’s gonna be all over you, Mr. Newlywed.”
Grinning, I shrugged a shoulder. “Fuck it.”
Jasper laughed but sat down beside me, nudging me with his elbow. “You wear marriage like a badge of fucking honor, dude.” When I chuckled, it was raspy, and he frowned. “Take it easy talking, yeah? Just one more show, Ed.”
Nodding, I sipped the tea, and Tanya handed me another one. This time, it was in the Jack Daniels bottle. Chuckling, I poured it into my mug. Fuck the pretenses. This long-as-hell tour and contract were just about up. Which reminded me…
“Tanya,” I called to her, and she frowned down at me. “Wait…” I swallowed thickly. “You and Kate should get the hell outta here. Remember last time Jessica was here?”
Tanya’s face broke out into a slow, evil grin. “Oh, yeah…” She pointed a finger my way. “You grabbed my ass for that!”
Laughing, my head fell back to the sofa I was sitting on. “I’m aware. And I believe you reminded me that I was the reason you preferred pussy.”
Tanya laughed, especially when Kate, who had been quietly packing stuff up let out a giggle. “Well, not you specifically, Edward.”
Jasper snorted into a soft laugh. “Just men in general, I take it.”
“Meh,” she scoffed, giving me a wink. “You’re probably right, though. You’ll have enough to deal with as it is; she’s gonna want to know all about Bella.”
“She can know what I feel she needs to fucking know,” I stated, and it came out rather harsh, but it was the truth nonetheless. “My wife’s privacy is non-negotiable.”
“Good boy,” Kate whispered, kissing my forehead. “But don’t talk too much. You’ll be okay in a day or two, but…no need to push it. Okay?”
Nodding, I sat back next to Jasper, waving Rose on to let the journalist into the dressing room. I shook my head at the fact that the last time I talked to Jessica Stanley was the very same night I’d met my angel. Things had a weird fucking way of coming back around.
Mike and Jacob stepped out of the shower room fully dressed, and the former asked, “What’s going on?”
“Interview,” Jasper answered. “Music Mania Magazine. Just cop a squat somewhere, Mikey.”
“Okay.”
While we waited for Rose to bring Jessica back into the room, I texted Bella to let her know I’d be late back to the hotel room and why. Jake called Leah for a brief talk with his dad, and Alec checked in with Carrie. Tanya refilled my mug with more tea, giving me another raised eyebrow warning, before taking a load of stuff to the tour bus. At this rate, I wouldn’t be getting a shower until the hotel. I was still shirtless from the end of the show, but I couldn’t care less, really. I did, however, cover up my sweaty hair with a baseball cap, turning it around backwards so I could see.
Bella’s reply came back instantly: No Tanya and Kate to save you this time, married man. ;)
I grinned and answered her back. You already saved me, angel.
Love you. Call when you’re finished. And STOP spelling dirty words on our game!!
I chuckled to myself, my head falling back to the sofa. It wasn’t that the words themselves were dirty; it was that I’d elaborated on each one once I played it. Seemingly innocuous words would become taunts. I played the word “knee,” typing in the chat box just how delicious the back my wife’s knee was and that I planned to make up for missing it the last few weeks once I was home.
Mike dragged a chair over close to me. “So…what’s with this chick?”
Shaking my head, I sighed, sipping my tea before clearing my throat. “Just…keep to the band and the music. She’ll try for personal stuff…and some of it’s fine. Just don’t let her drag you into gossip-rag shit.”
“The last time she interviewed Masen,” Emmett started with a chuckle, “he skirted all around the rehab shit. He flirted to get it done, only to use Tanya and Kate as groupies to shoo her off. This time she’s got to talk to all of you, so…I don’t think you’ll have a problem. She’s okay, just…a little smitten.”
I snorted into my mug but shook my head. “I’m too damned tired to flirt.”
“And too damned married,” Jacob jabbed, grinning when I threw the towel at him.
There was a knock at the door, and Emmett cracked it open to let in Rose and Jessica. She was exactly the same as the last time I’d seen her. She was dressed comfortably but casually professional. Her press pass was around her neck, and in her hand was Laurent’s camera.
“Jessica, you know the band… Alec, Jasper, Masen, Jacob, and the newest member, Mike,” Rose introduced, going around the small semicircle we were all in.
“Mike, it’s good to meet you finally. You’re doing well,” she told him, shaking his hand, and he thanked her softly. She smiled, gazing over every last one of us. “I know you guys are tired after the show. Just…give me a few minutes, and I’ll get out of your hair.”
My eyebrows shot up a little. She wasn’t the same flirty thing as the last time, which in all honesty was a relief. However, her eyes betrayed her as she scoped out my bare chest. She held up the camera and snagged a shot of all of us, some individual shots, and then thanked us.
Jasper sat forward as she took a seat across from all of us. “You’ll have to forgive Masen. His voice is a little worn out, but we’ll answer as best we can.”
She smiled my way but nodded, pulling out her list of questions and her micro recorder. “Fair enough.” She looked over at us. “Guys, this interview is for next month’s issue. Which means…after your last show in Seattle. I just want to clarify a few rumors.”
“Jessica,” I warned her, my voice thick. “Music…that’s it. We’ve had this conversation before.”
“No, I get that. The rumors I’m dealing with have to do with Volturi Records.”
“Ah,” Jasper sighed, nodding, but he glanced at Rose to see what she wanted us to do or say. When Rose nodded once, he looked to Jessica. “Radiant Eclipse’s contract with Volturi Records is over at the end of this tour.”
“And you won’t be re-signing?”
“No,” all five of us stated at the same time.
She laughed and nodded. “Okay… And would that have anything to do with the arrest and incarceration of James Allen?”
“No,” I answered honestly. “It was a band decision that we’d made prior to even leaving on tour.”
“And the forced retirement of Aro Volturi?”
I smiled ruefully at her. “You’ll have to ask the record company.”
“C’mon, Masen,” she urged, her shoulders sagging. “Something happened at Charlie’s Pub in Seattle… Not only was James Allen arrested, but they took Aro in on suspicion. Your now…wife was involved.”
“And you can’t tell me that those criminal charges aren’t public, Jessica,” I countered. “Gimme a break, honey. You’re not stupid, so stop playing it here.”
She grinned. “Fine… So was that revenge for not re-signing with Aro?”
We went quiet. All of us.
Rose stepped forward. “Jessica, we can’t discuss that with you. I told you that before you came in here. Nothing about that investigation is up for discussion…especially in print.”
Jessica reached down and clicked off the micro recorder. “He really fucked up, didn’t he?”
I laughed, sipping my tea. “In a blaze of fucking glory, Jess. Please move on.”
She smirked, turned her recorder back on, and started to focus on the band. She stuck to questions about how the tour had gone, pointed out we’d had record-breaking sales, asked about our win at the VMAs, and stayed pretty professional the rest of the time…until the end.
“Okay, guys. What’s next – for each of you personally, for the band as a whole?” When none of us answered right away, she sighed with a smile. “C’mon, guys… Alec, you’ve got a new baby… Jacob, your dad, how’s he doing? Masen…you’re married… I saw those pictures. Some say it wasn’t real…”
There it was. I was waiting for it.
“Oh, it was real,” I rasped, clearing my throat again before taking a sip of my tea. “It was very real.” I held up my hand, wriggling my inked ring finger with a smirk, mentally noting her slight look of disappointment when she set eyes on it. “What’s next is a break after this tour. We’ve been on the road now for almost a solid six months. We’ll be taking time off to rest, be with our wives and families, and then the future for Radiant Eclipse is wide open.”
I stood up because I was done. I was tired, my throat was a little better after Tanya’s tea but still sore, and I wanted a shower and a long talk with Bella before I truly rested my voice for the Seattle show. I was only a few days from seeing her, and time seemed to be ticking slower than ever. I rolled my neck to loosen up but looked back at Jessica when she turned to me.
“Masen, your fans just want to know… That’s all.”
Smiling her way, I nodded, tugging off my hat to rake my fingers through my sweaty hair and then put it back on. “What do they want to know, Jessica?”
“They only want to know if their favorite band will still be around. They want to know if they have something to look forward to or if this is the last tour.”
“And?” I urged her, raising an eyebrow at her.
“And…” She blushed a little. “They want to know why Masen – one of the world’s most eligible bachelors, one of People’s Most Beautiful People, and self-professed party animal – finally settled down…and why so suddenly?”
Jasper snorted, folding his arms across his chest and shaking his head. Rose sighed with impatience, and my brother rolled his eyes. I studied her face, and I supposed that was the big question of the year. She wouldn’t be the only one who wanted to know, that was for fucking sure.
Bracing my hands on the back of a chair next to hers, I lowered my head and looked her in the eye. “Radiant Eclipse isn’t going anywhere. We plan to be around a long time. How we do that is yet to be seen, but our fans are the best out there. As for me… You should know by now that not everything you see is the truth; not everything is as it seems. What seems sudden to you was almost a year for me. What I do in my personal life isn’t something I like to advertise, but I met, got to know, and fell in love with an amazing woman. Despite what people may think, there’s nothing secretive about it, nor is it covering up anything. There’s no evil plotting or planning. There’s just my life, my personal life.” I stood up straight, maintaining eye contact with her. “Sometimes people outgrow the reputations they’ve been…assigned, Jess. Sometimes, in order to deal with all of this—” I waved a hand around “—people have to don a mask, they have to play a part, and not only am I personally done doing that, but the band is, as well. We’ll sink or swim, but we’ll do it on our own terms.”
“Can I quote you on that?” she asked in a whisper.
Chuckling, I shrugged, grabbing my hoodie and tugging it on. “Yeah…by all means.”
~oOo~
“Here, Edward,” Alice said, handing me a couple of hangers laden with clothes. “How’s the voice?”
Chuckling at her, I nodded. “I’m okay, Alice.”
She smiled back, because my voice at the end of the Portland show had worried everyone, but I’d rested it the whole time we were driving through Oregon. It was good as new, or as close to it as I could be.
“Just one more show, right?” I asked her.
“Right!” she said exuberantly. “Where’s Bella?”
“She’ll be here.”
I took the clothes from Alice and stepped inside the changing room to get dressed. From the looks of it, we were going with a touch of badass tonight. Chuckling at all black – black jeans, black sleeveless hoodie, and a black Fender T-shirt for underneath it – I put it all on, finally pulling on my Docs. The main dressing room was its usual quiet. The guys were in various states of dress. Jacob was on the phone with Leah, but only because his dad was going to attend this show. Carrie was sitting with Alec in the corner, both curled around baby Tia, who got cuter and cuter every damn time I saw her. Mike was shirtless, drumsticks in hand, using the rubber bottom of his sneaker to practice drum riffs and rolls. I didn’t see Jasper, but he could’ve been getting dressed in the shower room.
Taking a deep breath, I let it out slowly and pulled out my phone. No message from Bella just yet, so I shoved my earbuds in and stepped out into the corridor. Emmett leaned casually at the end of the hallway with Tony across from him.
We’d had no choice but to come straight to the arena. As much as I wanted to go home, we’d been delayed pulling into Seattle. The tour bus had blown a tire just before the Washington state line. The thought made me snort to myself at how frustrating that had been as I let the music wash over me, lull me into the mood I needed to get to in order to do this last show.
Heavy beats, heavier guitar riffs, and screaming vocals filled my head as I paced quietly in the hall. Viper’s Venom was on the stage, and we were next. It was the final show of the tour, not to mention the hometown crowd. It was the final show under Volturi Records. It was the last show where I felt my soul belonged to someone else. We’d paid our dues, we’d done the time, and we’d come out on the very fucking top. It wasn’t like we’d floundered. Hell, no. We’d blown it out of the water. And I had faith in my band, in Harry and Demetri, and I damn sure had faith in my girl that this next step into our future with Chainsaw Records would be the best yet. Jasper and I were already working on some fucking awesome new songs.
I shook my arms, rolling my head on my neck as I tried to calm my nerves. I had a feeling Caius would be attending, though he’d most likely stay away from us. He’d been pretty decent as our rep. I had to give him that much credit. He’d only given us the necessary interviews, the needed photo shoots along the way, but he’d kept his nose out of personal shit. He let the band market itself, rather than using some trumped-up gossip. Without Aro around, the tour had gone smoothly, albeit overly long. But what was booked stayed booked. There wasn’t much we could do about it, even after his removal.
The song changed on my iPod, and I spun to walk the other way, coming to a standstill at the sight before me, a smile spreading slowly over my face as I plucked the earbuds from my ears.
“Angel…” I whispered, and my girl rushed down the hall into my arms. Wrapping my arms all the way around her, I lifted her up so that the toes of her sneakers barely scraped the linoleum of the corridor. “Fuck, baby, I missed you,” I breathed into her neck, inhaling deeply the smell of her.
“Me, too,” she sighed, and we stayed buried in our own little cocoon for a few moments. “Edward,” she said, pulling back and cupping my face. Her face was so damned happy. “Guess what!”
Grinning at her, I shook my head and shrugged a shoulder, but I damn well wasn’t letting her go right at that moment. “What?”
“You, Mr. Cullen, are all moved in,” she whispered conspiratorially.
“All of it?” I asked in a laugh, kissing her when she nodded. “Damn, baby,” I hummed against her lips. “You weren’t fucking kidding, were you?”
“Hell, no. I wanted you to be able to just go…home.” Her forehead thumped to mine. “I even drove your car tonight.”
“Mmm, my angel’s in a damn hurry,” I crooned, nuzzling her nose with mine. “Feeling selfish?”
“Oh, Edward…you have no idea…”
I chuckled evilly, about to say something about selfish and home and messy beds, but she put her fingers to my lips.
“Watch it, Cullen,” she warned. “I have a surprise for you.”
She wriggled to get down, and I set her on her feet, but she turned to point to the end of the hallway. Standing there were my parents, together. They were holding hands, looking happier and healthier than they seemed to have been at my wedding. They looked pretty damn comfortable, actually, dressed all casual and shit for my show.
Emmett was a grinning fool behind them, and I chuckled, walking down to them and hugging them both.
“You guys are staying?” I asked stupidly.
“Of course!” Mom said with a smile as she cupped my face. “We just wanted to see you before we took our seats.”
I gave Emmett a crooked smile. “Guess I gotta clean shit up a bit.”
“For more than us, son,” my dad said with a laugh, stepping back to reveal someone I hadn’t seen in over a year.
“Bree,” I whispered, a grin spreading over my face at the little girl I’d watched being toted away in an ambulance the night of my dad’s wreck.
“Masen!” she squealed, rushing to me.
I knelt down to hug her, despite the fact that she had to be pushing twelve now and she’d grown like a damn weed. Her dark hair was still long, almost to her waist, and her sweet smile was healing to see, and not only for me but for my dad, as well.
“Look!” she said, holding her right arm up. “No more cast. But they let me keep it, ’cause you and Jasper signed it. I only have that scar left!”
Grinning, I looked at the tiny spot on her wrist she was pointing to, where they’d had to put a pin in her arm to help the bones mend. I picked up her hand and kissed her small scar.
“Good!” I looked to Emmett and jerked a chin at him to go get Jasper. He was going to want to see her. “You’ve gotten taller!” I accused dramatically with narrowed eyes, and I chuckled when she blushed and nodded. “You gotta be drivin’ the boys crazy,” I teased her, grinning when scowled.
“No way! The boys in my class are dumb!” That made everyone around us chuckle, but she caught sight of Jasper behind me and was rushing to him. “Jasper!”
“Kiddo! How’ya been, darlin’?” he sang to her, picking her up in a big hug.
I wasn’t sure what it was about little Bree, but Jasper and I felt the need to spoil her. Maybe it was my dad’s wreck. Maybe it was the giant fucking cast she’d had to wear for months. Or maybe it was because, despite all the drama surrounding that wreck and the cast and what I’d claimed as my fault, Bree loved us unconditionally.
I stood up straight, kissing the side of Bella’s head. “Now I really have to clean shit up,” I whispered to her, which made her chuckle. I turned to look at my wife. “This is it. Last show. End of the tour, angel.”
She smiled, cupping my face. “I know. I’m… I’m so proud of you, Edward,” she whispered, nodding a little. “You’ve… Not everyone could’ve persevered through everything you did this last year, but…you did. And you did it amazingly well.”
I was shaking my head the whole time she spoke softly. “Not without you, angel. I wouldn’t have survived it.”
“Maybe, though I don’t think you give yourself enough credit, rock star,” she allowed, grinning when I laughed softly. “We’ll get out of your hair. I know you need a second or two before you go on. I’m sitting with your parents, Bree, and Jake’s dad.”
“Okay, baby. Just come on back when we’re done.”
She nodded, kissing my lips and whispering that she loved me. Bree hugged me one more time, kissing my cheek, and now she was burdened with a shit-ton of souvenirs – t-shirts, posters, drumsticks, and who knew what else.
I listened for a second to see where Viper’s Venom was in their set. They had a song or two left, so I put my earbuds back in to shut everything out for just a moment. I cranked up the volume, losing myself in music. I shut out reality for a few. There was no worry about the last show. There was no worry about the media, the paparazzi, the mass opinions that didn’t matter to me whatsoever. And there was no worry that as of the last note played tonight, Radiant Eclipse would be responsible for our own future.
None of it mattered, because none of it was impossible to overcome.
Up and down the hall I paced, practically with my eyes closed. On stage, I was Masen. When I left the arena tonight, I’d go back to Edward. Though, slowly, I was beginning to see what Bella had tried to tell me all along. I was both men. As Masen, I was bold and shameless, using him to entertain. As Edward, I was a son, a friend, a brother…and now, a husband. Masen was the shield that protected everything that Edward deemed important. Once tonight was over, nothing about that had to change. I could be both men. And I’d do it, knowing that my angel would be there through it all, because she loved us both.
My guitar appeared in front of me as I made one more pass. Smiling, I pulled my earbuds out, handing them and my iPod over to Tanya.
Marcus, who’d come out to the hall with her to give me the guitar, smiled back, and he was usually quiet, but he slapped my shoulder, saying, “It’s been a good tour, Masen. Call me when you’re ready for the next one.”
“Wouldn’t use anyone else to manage our tours, Marcus,” I vowed, giving his shoulder a squeeze before taking my guitar from him and securing it across my shoulder.
Turning around, I faced my band. As usual, the crowd was ramped up in the arena. The whole building seemed to shake and breathe and rumble with every cheer and scream and chant. It caused chills to flicker down my arms, down my spine. It always did.
“Last one,” I stated, holding my hand out flat, and my boys followed suit, slapping theirs on top of mine. “After this, it’s all us. After this, we’re on our own.”
“After this,” Jasper added with his lazy grin, “no one can fucking stop us!”
“That’s what I’m sayin’,” Jacob drawled.
“Let’s do this!” we yelled, turning to follow Marcus down the halls to the stage.
The lights had gone down, and that skin-crawling, hyped-up feeling took over. Jake started bouncing on his toes. Mike rolled his head on his shoulders, shaking his arms to loosen them up. Alec was quiet as he shifted from one foot to the other, eyes closed. And Jasper gripped my neck in a rough hug.
“Hometown, Masen,” he stated in my ear as the lights, lasers, and rumble grew to a fever pitch. “Last show of this hellacious fucking tour. Let’s give ’em every-damn-thing.”
I nodded, slapping his back and bouncing from one foot to the other. Mike, Jake, and Alec ran on stage when introduced. Jasper was next, and the crowd was insanely loud. It made me grin, it made me happy we’d ended the tour at home, and it made my skin itch with the desire to give them a good show, despite how I had to clean it up a bit. That last thought made me snort, but when my name was called, there was nothing like the sound that erupted out of the audience.
Rushing out to center stage, I soaked it in. All of it. Every scream, every chant of my name, and the rumble of the music that the boys started. But one chant started to take over the whole arena. Glancing down at the VIP section, I saw my family, Bree, and Jake’s dad, but above all else, I saw my wife, my angel, my saving fucking grace. And she was chanting right along with them, a spark of love and happiness in her dark eyes.
Welcome home. Welcome home. Welcome home.
Grinning at Jasper, who was laughing as he played opening riffs, I dragged my tongue along my bottom lip before leaning into the microphone.
“Seattle, Washington!” I screamed, forgetting all about my voice. They could have it all tonight. “Hell, yes, we’re home!” I stated, meeting my wife’s gaze as the place exploded in cheers. “I’ve never been happier to be someplace in all my damn life! You ready to rock?!” I asked, grinning as I backed away from the mic and placed my fingers on the guitar.
With one jump, the pyrotechnics blasted hot and bright, kicking off the last show of the tour, and it represented the beginning of a new life, where I’d go home with my wife, my angel. It represented freedom and love. And I couldn’t wait to get started.





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