Chapter 1-On the Road Again
"Aw, fuck. I'm not playing this with you anymore if you're gonna cheat," my brother whined in a very unflattering tone of voice. His enormous body was stretched out on the small leather couch that we had unfolded into a bed of sorts before we left Daytona. I sat beside him, with my back leaned against the overstuffed cushion mounted to the wall. There was just enough room between us for the three decks of cards to be displayed in their carefully constructed groups.
"I'm not cheating, you just suck. I completely understand now why Jasper won't let you go to Vegas with him anymore."
"Now, that was just mean. Your deal…," he huffed out. A loud snore from three feet behind us stopped his words in their tracks. We both snapped our heads toward the grumbling and laughed quietly. JP was stretched out on a leather sofa behind us, his right leg slung over the back of the couch, his mouth hanging wide open. There was a thin line of drool attached to his cheek. He stirred briefly and snorted once more before he fell quiet again
"Is this at all what you thought it would be?" His giant hand made a sweeping gesture around the interior of the bus that we rode.
I looked into Emmett's completely sincere face and laughed a little harder.
"I have honestly never given a moment's thought to what this would be like. But I guess I would have to say 'no'." It was true enough. I had never, in more than one hundred years, ever given any consideration to what it would be like to travel with a rock band. But if I had, I would have been in agreement with Emmett.
The previous five days had not been the wild parties and outrageous behavior that one typically thought of when they envisioned musicians on the road. There had been no drunken outbursts or lewd pranks or naked women sneaking onto the bus. Granted, JP tried his best to bed as many women as humanly possible, but even he was somewhat tame in the confined space that was the EverClear tour bus.
I glanced down to the peacefully sleeping beauty that was stretched out against my right leg. She had laid her upper body against my thigh and had wrapped her left leg over mine. Her head lay in my lap, with her palm tucked under her cheek. The wound between her thumb and fore finger had all but healed and was now covered in a small band-aid rather than the gauze that Carlisle had originally wrapped it in. I stroked her hair, fanned out behind her, very softly. She wiggled her way slightly closer to me and let out a small sigh.
She was exhausted. Her eyes were ringed with violet circles and she was pale, even for her normally alabaster skin. Even as she slept, there were small creases on her forehead and a small indention between her brows. The last several days had been tough on my intensely private, somewhat shy wife. The explosive Atlanta performance had triggered a swarm of unexpected events, the least of which had been a rather stressful meeting with the executives from Epic. What had truly stressed her out though was the maelstrom of press that seemed to have crawled out of the wood work over the last week.
I glanced up to see Chip, clad in a blazing orange knee length kimono striding down the aisle of the bus. His gray hair was flat against the right side of his head and his ever present glasses were hanging from a chain around his neck. He, too, showed signs of fatigue.
I nodded as he made a motion toward my brother and me to scoot over. I slid my left hand behind and then under Bella's back and picked her body up slightly. Emmett reached across my legs and slid his hands under her legs. Together we picked her up just a few inches and placed her between my legs, her head still in my lap.
She never stirred a muscle during the readjustment.
"You can put her in the bed with Marcus if you want to, I can't really sleep," he sighed as he flopped onto the folded out mattress to my right.
"No, I'd rather her be here." I knew that the silly smile I'd worn for the last several days had probably reappeared, but I simply didn't care. I was happier than I'd ever been in my existence and I didn't care who knew it.
He just nodded and smiled down at her sleeping form. He reached out and stroked the back of his hand across her cheekbone. It was a loving gesture that you'd expect to see from a parent as he watched over his sleeping child and I was once again filled with gratitude toward the man that had been her everything for so long.
"Did she eat before we left?"
"No, she told me she ate with you and Marcus while I got our bags packed and loaded onto the bus."
"She's such a liar. Are you going to yell at her or do I get to?" His brow was furrowed as he looked at her sleeping form. I was sure that my face wore an identical look of concern.
"Why do either of you have to yell at her. She's a grown up. If she's not hungry why does it matter to either one of you?" Emmett snorted.
Chip and I looked at each other briefly before we rolled our eyes at him.
"I'm just saying, if she's not hungry then why…"
"Oh shit, Edward, you need to look at this," Jasper's voice cut into the monologue Emmet was dying to unleash on us. His tone was strained and his thoughts were a jumble of images.
I looked over to my brother sitting at a table with my laptop in front of him. Jasper had comandered my computer when we boarded the bus, hence leaving me to my card game with Emmett to pass the night hours quietly. He lifted the small black computer off the table in front of him and walked the two steps toward us. He sank onto the edge of the mattres at Emmett's feet and placed the laptop on his knees with the screen facing Chip and me.
"Watch." He pressed a button and the screen came to life. The overly coifed head of Mary Hart filled the screen, earning a snort from not only myself, but Chip and Emmett as well.
"Entertainment Tonight? Why were you watching…," Emmett couldn't contain his amusement, not that he was trying very hard.
"Shut up, just listen."
The screen showed the hostess standing in front of a large video screen with the word "EverClear" emblazoned across it. The logo faded away into a video clip of a scene from just yesterday afternoon as we'd left the hotel in Daytona. Several journalist and several men with large shoulder cameras stood on both sides of the sidewalk that led from the front entrance of the lobby to the waiting bus we currently occupied. The members of EverClear were pushing past the people hurriedly, each one trying to shield themselves from the cameras. The last people out of the doors were Bella and I, a long brown coat over our heads, hidden from the cameras.
She had been shaking like a leaf as we wrestled our way out and into the crowd of shouting reporters. She had actually gripped my shirt with enough force to tear the collar slightly as she clung to me. Even hidden from the people surrounding us, she had tucked her head against my chest and her body temperature had risen with every step we took.
The obnoxiously chipper voice of the hostess blared out over the shouting of the reporters on the screen behind her.
"The word on the lips of everyone in the music industry right now is EverClear. Long time staples on the heavy metal club circuit, the band has enjoyed some commercial success, but have yet to break through to the next level in the music business. But that may have all changed six days ago. After an emotion packed show in Atlanta, the band has become an internet sensation thanks to videos downloaded onto YouTube. The ameture films show a powerful reunion between the band's lead singer, Bella Swan, and the long guessed at mystery man of her lyrics, now identified as Edward Cullen. In less than a week since the video was shot, YouTube has received more than 10 million hits from people dying to see this rock and roll love story unfold. Known for her shyness as much as for her powerful voice and heart wrenching lyrics, Miss Swan has never publically revealed the identity of the man featured in so many of the band's songs, although there was some speculation regarding the front man for EMD, Sebastian Steele. Long time aquaintences, insiders have speculated about a secret relationship between the two singers for more than two years. But all the secrecy flew out the window during the band's show at Atlanta's Blood Lust less than a week ago. Grab your hankie and take a look at this."
The screen was filled with a grainy image of us standing atop the platform wrapped in each others arms. She began the bridge of "Like You" and I watched as first I then Bella dropped to our knees, clinging to each other as she sang the song. There was an audible gasp from the person holding the phone as it recorded the rest of the performance, Bella and I staring into each other's eyes and gripping each other desperately.
"To further fuel the intense interest in this dynamic couple, Mr. Cullen joined EverClear on stage at the end of their performance. The couple sung the band's most successful single "My Immortal" together and then treated the audience to a blistering kiss. Only twenty four hours later, the couple returned to the stage together and at the end of the show Mr. Cullen introduced Miss Swan as his wife to the crowd of more than three thousand. Sources have not been able to confirm the marriage so far, but what we do know is that when the band left Atlanta, Mr. Cullen accompanied the band as they left for a string of shows in Florida. With the band's second album "Open Door" set for release this week, we can only assume EverClear's stock will continue to rise even higher. Neither the band nor Epic has issued any type of statement concerning the events of last week, but with the sensation surrounding them, industry insiders are expecting a reaction from the label any day now."
As the screen went dark, we sat in stunned silence. It seemed none of us knew what to make of the newest round of media coverage. It had been slowly building over the last several days. It had begun with local papers and then spread from there. I had no idea why there was such an intense interest in disecting every facet of that performance. What I did know was that Bella was not going to be pleased it had reached a national level when she woke up.
"Man, did the suits from Epic tell you guys how they were going to handle this? This shit is getting bigger and bigger." Emmett's generally light hearted tone of voice was serious and concerned. His most prominent thoughts were of our family and of Bella, as were mine. This needed to die down. Quickly. As thrilled as I was that they were getting the exposure that their talent so richly deserved, I did not want to draw attention to our family. And every new article in a paper or story on a news show drew the unwanted spotlight closer and closer to us.
"No, Bella and JP wouldn't let them handle it. Their idea was to parade us out like show horses and Bella wouldn't have anything to do with it. She and JP agreed to let things die down without any reaction from the band or the label and just let things progress naturally," I answered his concern.
"I don't know if they are going to be given the choice for much longer. If this gets much bigger, Epic will have to respond." Chip's voice was steady and smooth, but the wrinkles in his forehead confirmed his nervousness.
The tiny body stretched out in my lap shivered slightly. She pulled her legs up toward her chest and adjusted her head so that her cheek was against my hip bone.
"Chip, hand me a blanket?"
"Does she not get cold sleeping like that?" Jasper chuckled as he looked at his sister lovingly. The ferocious protectiveness that had ignited in him was an unexpected twist. Every time he looked at her, his thoughts turned to her safety. It was almost as if he was trying to eradicate their past by going the complete opposite direction. His interest in her well being was almost as strong as my own by this point He and Emmett had declared themselves, with the band's blessing, heads of security. And more than once in the last few days, one or both of them had terrified a fan they felt were getting closer to Bella than they were comfortable with.
"Are you kidding? She used to put pillows over the vents of the air conditioning units in her room, trying to make them as cold as Edward. If anything, she sleeps better when she has chills," Chip laughed as he pulled a small fleece blanket out of JP's hands, earning another snort, and began tucking it around her body.
My brothers both laughed and cut their eyes at me.
"This one," Emmett nodded in my direction, "used to spend hours sitting in his car because it smelled like her."
Chip just shook his head and looked at me. "Stubborn mules, both of you. Just too damn stubborn for you own good."
I just shook my head. I supposed he was right. All the time that Bella and I could have been together, out the window because I was too arrogant and hard headed to admit that leaving her had been a mistake.
But had it really been a mistake? If we had not been separated, would she have the incredible life that she did? Would she have discovered how talented she was? Would she have Chip and the rest of the guys? Would I have really been aware of just how much I needed her?
The answer to all my questions was a resounding "no". So, I guessed that, painful as it had been for both of us, being apart had made the overwhelming happiness that we had now possible. And I could never consider the events that led us to this point a mistake.
The small black phone still lying on the table Jasper had recently vacated vibrated to life, pulling me from my inner thoughts. None of needed to open the phone to know who it would be. Jasper stretched his long arm across the aisle and flipped it open.
"Hello angel…yes, I pulled it up…yes…hold on, he's right here." He tossed me the phone and resumed the card game that I had abandoned.
"Did you watch it?"
"Yeah, we just finished. What have you seen?"
"Two possible outcomes. One, you ignore this and it gets out of hand. Two, the band and you hold a short press conference and it will begin to die down within forty-eight hours. The choice is yours, but I don't think I need to tell you which option would be better for everyone concerned." Her voice was not stressed or strained, so I understood she was giving me all that she'd seen. This was potentially playing with fire and she understood the ramifications as well as the rest of us. Her relaxed tone told me that she was not holding anything back.
"Ok, so I guess its up to me to convince Bella that she needs to hold a press conference to introduce her vampire husband to the world. No pressure there, sis."
She just laughed.
"You ass, of course she doesn't need to give all the gory details about you. But other than that fact, yes, you need to convince her. I'm sure you can do it Edward. You have a few more tools to work with in the persuasion department now." Her voice had turned very suggestive at the end of her little rant.
"I'll see what I can do," I sniffed as Chip swatted my arm and held out his hand for the phone. "Al, I think Chip wants to talk to you. Catch you later."
I passed the phone to his waiting hand and resumed my favorite past time of watching my wife sleep and listened in on the conversation. Lord help me she was beautiful. Clad in a pair of sweats that had to be ten years old in the tread bare knees were any indication and one of my tee shirts, she was utter perfection.
"Alice, doll, how's New York?"
"It would be more fun if you and Bella were here, but I'm managing."
"Trust me, you do not want to try and do New York properly with Bella. I actually thought I would slap her the last time we were there. Find anything interesting?"
"Oh, I can't wait for you to see some of what I picked up for her. You'll die. Why don't you meet us here for a day or two? Surely, she can dress herself for one show without you."
I laughed. Bella would probably pay to have Chip leave her alone for a couple of days. I had the not so pleasant experience of watching the two of them argue over her costume choice for one of the Daytona shows. I had actually feared for a moment that they would come to blows.
"Well, they only have one show on Friday. Then they travel for the next three days. I might just do that. I could fly out of Miami Thursday night and we could meet them in Houston on Sunday. Let me run it by her and Marcus, you don't mind if he comes do you?"
"Of course I don't mind, what kind of a question is that? Do you want me to tell you what her answer will be or do you want it to be a surprise?" Alice's voice was a squeal with her excitement.
"I'll let her surprise me. Love you, doll. Talk to you soon."
"Love you too Queenie. Kiss my girl for me."
"Will do. Can I kiss your man too?"
Jasper's head snapped up at that statement, his eyes wide and a small smirk on his face.
"Only if you can talk him into it, but I'll warn you, he bites."
Chip's laughter was so loud as he closed the phone that I was afraid he would wake Bella. He wagged his eyebrows at Jasper, who let out a snort of his own in response.
I thought to myself as I watched the exchange that my job of convincing Bella to hold the press conference had just gotten much easier. I would barter fifteen minutes in front of the cameras and microphones for three Chip free days.
I just hoped that would be enough.