Chapter 1: Gathering the Pieces
Mason never thought much about losses throughout his life. He was always the kind of person who just got back up and kept going no matter what. But now, as he sat on the plane headed back home, he could not help but think about all the things he had lost in his life.
First, there was his wife, Linda. Before he thought everything was going all right before he left. As with any couple they had their issues, especially due to the age difference they consistently suffered scrutiny from others including Mason’s parents. They felt he was unwise in his relationship decisions, which was putting it lightly.
Their biggest concern was the age difference. Linda was in her late twenties and had a ten-year-old daughter from a high school boyfriend. While this gave his parents great concern Mason pushed these to the side causing an explosive argument and him leaving his family for her and getting married shortly after. At the time he felt this was his best course of action due to the love he felt not only for Linda but her daughter Natalie.
While he believed this with all his heart, sometimes belief is not enough to carry a relationship through when one party has an ulterior motive. It was easy enough for him to think about now flying through the sky hundreds of miles away and having months to think about the past while in Obin.
His thoughts were always brought back to his daughter, Natalie likely the real reason he decided to
marry Linda. She meant the world to him, and he would have done anything for her, even deciding to end his professional career based on a promise to her. But when Linda filed for divorce, she didn’t just take his money, she took Natalie from him too.
He hadn’t seen or heard from either of them in months, not since he had left on tour in Obin, and it had been tearing him apart inside. Each call sent to voice mail or message left on read sent a pang through his heart until he finally got a call from his best friend explaining what he found out.
Even with everything Mason heard he held onto hope, for whatever reason that Linda would still allow him to see Natalie when he arrived. But in the end, he knew better than to get his hopes up. Linda had made it perfectly clear that she wanted nothing to do with him by ignoring every attempt he made to contact her, and so he was prepared for the worst when he arrived.
But first, he was going to have to figure out a way to survive and see his daughter again. Linda took everything in the divorce which was confusing to him Linda wasn’t a lawyer; she was a stay-at-home mom. So how could she have gotten everything? Especially in a case I wasn’t even in the country for? I had no ability to speak my side or even see the documents.
Frustration and anger began to wash over him as his thoughts continued to roll back to the pain and anguish Linda had caused him.
Mason’s thoughts were finally interrupted by the captain as the plane began its descent into Calia guided in by the towering skyscrapers the plane had to pass through to reach the runway.
He hadn’t been back home in months, and now that he finally returned the realization was washing over him. He looked down at the city below as thoughts began to roll through his head.
Starting from nothing, all over again.
He shook his head as he collected his things and prepared to disembark the plane. No matter what happened, he was determined to make things right again. He would get his daughter no matter what it took, but that was going to take time and money that he didn't have the few thousand he was able to get before leaving Obin would only last for so long.
While he wanted to show up at his old home and demand to see Natalie, he was sure Linda had already moved. Garrett had told him the house was empty a few weeks ago and even if he hadn’t that would likely make things worse than they need to be. He needed to come up with a plan and he’d need some help first and another source of income.
He exited the airport and hailed a cab; Mason's mind was already racing primarily with frustration as he entered the cab face lightly flushed.
"18th street pub." He stated as he got in, maybe someone would recognize him there and get a start somewhere, at least he could get a drink in the interim. The driver began without a word, the declining lack of social niceties had always bothered Mason, but he wasn't about to make an issue of it in his current state, he was more likely to punch the driver in the head than have a civilized conversation.
Mason took out his phone and attempted to call Garrett for the third time since he got on the plane, but it still went straight to voicemail. He was getting worried; Garrett was his only friend in Calia, and he had no one else to turn to aside from an apartment share or hotel and that would burn through his cash fast.
"Garrett, I'm back in town. I tried calling you a few times, maybe I lost service or something. Anyway, I'm heading to 18th if you have any time tonight, I guess I'll either see you there or talk to you whenever you get this."
Mason ended the call and slid his phone into his pocket, leaning back into the seat letting out a deep sigh as the cab snaked its way through the narrow city streets.
The city had changed, mainly in the amount of people walking around much like the cities in Obin. People from all over the world flocking to the major cities for the ability to live and work.
As the cab pulled up to the 18th street pub, Mason couldn't help but feel a sense of nostalgia as he paid the driver and stepped out into the cool night air. The pub was still there, at least that hadn't changed. It was one of the few places that made him feel at home considering it’s where he got his start in the ring.
He stepped inside and was immediately met with the familiar smell of beer and cigarettes and the heavy
rumble of rock music playing just loud enough to drown out anything unwanted. The place hadn't changed much, unfamiliar faces strewn throughout the bar but otherwise it was the same place that he remembered. He made his way to the bar and took a seat, ordering himself a drink on the bar's app as he scanned the room for anyone he recognized.
Mason continued to scan through the crowd of people, still struggling to locate anyone that he remembered. Finally dropping his face into his hands, his elbows perched on the bar gradually embracing the darkness his hands provided. It wasn't long before he felt a soft touch on his shoulder and lifted his head.
"Looks like you could use this." A soft kind voice rang through his ears as he lifted his face from his hands.
It took a couple of moments for his eyes to focus, and he was able to put a face to the sweet voice he heard. The cute redhead had a modest build and a fiery look in her bright green eyes as she slid the shot he ordered across the bar.
"Thanks, I think I might need a few more of these." He downed the shot and motioned for her to pour him another as he took out his phone and attempted to call Garrett again.
But once again it went straight to voicemail and Mason started to feel a knot form in his stomach as his worry for Garret continued to grow.
"Shit." He muttered as he pocketed his phone and downed the second shot as she poured him another before shotting him a kind smile.
"You may want to slow down a little bit." She stated sliding the new shot in front of him. "I really hate having to cut people off." She finished with a slight wink and a smirk growing on her lips.
Mason chuckled softly as he fidgeted with the shot glass in front of him. "You're right, just dealing with drama."
"I'm sure it isn't anything the great Mason Arden won’t be able handle." The redhead said playfully as she leaned into him. "After all, you always were the strong silent type. Just taking on everyone’s problems even at his own detriment."
Mason froze as he processed what she had said. Slowly he turned his head to look at her properly and his eyes widened in disbelief when he finally realized who she was.
"Julie?" He asked incredulously as he stared at her.
"Hey there, stranger." She said as she playfully punched him in the arm. "It's been a long time."
"Yeah, I guess it has been." He replied still in disbelief that she was here, of all places.
The last time he had seen her was before the wedding, her and Linda never got along so she decided to stay away from the ceremony. His thoughts drifted to their time in high school and all the warnings she, Garrett and Darren gave him about Linda and wished desperately he had listened to them. But if he had, the relationship he developed with Natalie would have never happened.
Mason took the shot in front of him and motioned for her to pour him another as he attempted to collect his thoughts the frustration washing over him.
"May want to make it a beer too, that way you don't end up having to cut me off." He said forcing a small smile.
"Sounds like a good plan." She grinned at him as she grabbed a beer from the fridge and placed it in front of him.
"So, when did you start working here?" he asked as he took a sip of his beer. "I thought you moved out west, Impor right?"
"Yeah, I did," she replied in a frustrated tone. "But I'm just visiting for a few weeks. Dropped quickly to see some friends and got my old job without trying or wanting to."
She giggled sadly before an alert behind the counter went off and she sighed deeply. "Orders call." She said sadly. "I'll be back before you need another." She winked playfully as she turned around and walked away.
Mason watched her disappear into the kitchen before turning his attention back to his beer. He was deep in thought when he felt someone sit down next to him.
"Hey, Mase." A voice said softly as a hand came to rest on his shoulder gripping firmly. Mason turned to see Garrett standing there with a sympathetic look on his face.
"Hey, man." Mason replied as he pulled him into a hug.
"I'm sorry about Linda," Garrett said softly as they gradually pulled away from the embrace. "I know how much you loved her."
"Thanks, man," Mason replied as he took a sip of his beer looking back down at the bar in front of him. "I appreciate it."
Garrett took the stool next to Mason as he pulled out his phone and made an order. "It's good to see you man, I just wish it were under better circumstances."
"Me too, now I have a question," Mason looked at Garrett with confusion and a pang of anger as he took another drink of his beer. “Why didn't you answer your damn phone?”
"Oh, about that," Garrett said as he set the phone on the counter with a broad smile on his face. "This is a burner, mine's at home shut off in a blocker bag."
"Do I even want to know?" Mason asked as Julie returned with two shots and another beer for each of them.
"Thanks, Julie." Both men said in unison as Julie began laughing softly.
"You two never change alright?" She said with a smile as she returned to the kitchen leaving Mason and Garrett to their previous conversation.
"So, what's going on?" Mason asked as he gestured for Garrett to continue.
"I had to make a stop before I came over," Garrett said with an evil grin rolling across his face. "I just couldn't stomach letting something I spent so many hours working on stay in the hands of that cold heartless-"
Mason cut him off, "You didn't."
He stated flatly staring at Garrett with his mouth agape as Garrett continued to grin back at him. "Where's it at?"
"A buddies shop downtown." Garrett began to laugh as he took his shot still grinning as he looked back at Mason. "Need to have the tracker changed out and a fresh coat of paint, then I'll have a bill of sale drafted to you so you can have her back just like before you left."
"Linda's going to know it was you, Garrett," Mason stated as he took his shot and looked back at his friend who was still grinning like a madman.
"Hence the burner phone and doing it before you got into town so it couldn't be pinned on you, otherwise it would look weird when you buy an identical one for $5." He said bluntly as he took a drink of his beer. "Besides, that bitch didn't deserve to keep her, I’m sure you’d get it back after the court hearings anyway."
"I don't even know what to say, man." Mason lowered his head. "Thank you, but don’t do stupid shit like this again."
"Of course, man, we're brothers." Garrett continued as he finished his beer setting it on the counter. “There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you, and I promise I won’t do anything else without talking to you first. I just wish it were as easy to do something about Natalie."
"What do you mean by that?" He asked with anger radiating through his voice as his head snapped up and he looked back at Garrett.
"I mean," Garrett started to say before being cut off.
"I know what he means," Julie interjected as she placed two more beers on the counter and leaned over. "That woman is a psychopath and doesn't deserve a sweet daughter like Natalie. She should be with you, no matter what that witch has said convince anyone else otherwise."
"Back for two weeks and it's like you never left, huh Julie?" Mason let out more anger in his tone than he was expecting causing Julie to look away.
Julie and he were good friends throughout high school and there was no reason for him to take things out on her now and he knew that. Mason always found it difficult to control his tongue when he got frustrated, which was the reason he got into fighting to begin with.
"I'm sorry, Julie." He said in a calmer voice as he reached over and placed his hand on hers. "I shouldn't have taken my anger out on you like that, I guess I haven’t changed much over the years."
"It's okay, Mase," she said softly as she looked back at him with forgiveness in her eyes. "I know it's hard on you right now, and I probably know more about the situation than you would like."
"That's my fault," Garrett said bluntly as he took a drink of his beer. "I needed to bitch to someone other than you about all the stupid shit Linda was doing, Julie was it. So sorry for airing shit out like that and for sticking you in its Julie."
"It's all good, guys," Julie said as she waved away the apology. "I just wish there were something that could be done to help you out with the situation, Mase. You're a good man and a great dad and don't deserve what that monster is doing to you."
“I appreciate you both,” Mason said as he sighed and took another drink of his beer. "So, I don’t think any of us need to apologize anymore. But now I need to find a lawyer to deal with Linda."
“What about your dad?” Garrett almost choked on his beer as Julie asked the question knowing the potential ramifications of bringing up Mason’s dad.
“First thing’s first, I need to find a way to make some money.”
"Well, aren't those just the words an old woman loves to hear." The graveled and familiar tone sent a shiver up Mason’s spine as he felt a hand squeeze his shoulder and Julie rushed back to the Kitchen. "All you have to do is say the word and I can give you a fight tonight."
"Tonight, isn't good for him," Garrett responded not allowing Mason time to speak on his own. "He's had too much to drink, maybe next time Kora."
"Whatever you say, sweetheart," Kora said as she removed her hand from Mason’s shoulder and began walking away. "Just don't forget I'm here for you when you're ready to play again Mason."
Mason sat at the bar nursing his beer as he thought about what Kora had said. He knew that Natalie deserved better, and he could make all the money he needed fighting. But Mason made her a promise before his tour in Obin that when he returned, he wouldn’t fight anymore. She would understand, wouldn't she? It was a way they could be together again even if it were a way she wouldn't like.
"Don't even think about it, Mason," Garrett said as he finished his beer and set the empty bottle back on the counter. "Natalie will kill both of us if you start fighting again after you promised her you would quit but I may have another option for you."
"Fighting’s all I know," Mason said dejectedly as he finished his beer. "I made that promise assuming I would have enough money to support the three of us without it going forward." Mason was filled with so many different emotions as he thought back on the girls. But even through the anger and hurt that Linda caused his primary concern was Natalie and how she would feel and react. He thought about how much he missed her and what she would say if she saw him with bruises on his face again.
"Alright, what's this other option?" Mason finally asked as Julie brought more beers for them. "If it involves anything illegal-"
Garrett cut him off with a laugh. "The furthest thing from illegal you could imagine; I already expressed my desire to keep breathing."
"Says the guy that just got done stealing my car from my ex-wife's garage carrying a burner phone so he couldn't be traced?" Mason finished with a light chuckle as he began drinking his beer again.
"You wanna not say it so bluntly man?" Garrett said looking around the bar to see if anyone was paying attention.
“You’re the one that told me about it in a crowded bar.” Mason replied laughing harder this time. “If you
were that worried about it, we should have talked at your place.”
“Yeah whatever.” He said taking a heavy drink from his beer. "You remember my brother Darren, right?"
"Absolutely, he was always fun to spar with even if he was on the lighter side." Garrett began laughing as Mason finished.
"He isn't on the lighter side anymore," Garrett said smiling at him. "He's been running security for a senator in Impor."
"Really?" Mason said setting his beer down. "I'm impressed, he never seemed like he wanted to do much more than hang around the gym and do drugs while he lived here."
"I guess it took getting out of town for him to get his head right," Garrett said as he took a drink still smiling. "I guess they need another person on to watch over the senator's daughter. He offered the
position to me, but I didn't feel like leaving at the time."
"I'm not sure it would work out," Mason said putting his beer down and looking at Garrett. "I want to stay close to Natalie even if Linda won't let me see her."
"You need money, right?" Garrett said with a sharp tone looking deeply at Mason. "Consider it temporary until you can get a good lawyer. While you're gone, I'll try to get a message to Natalie with your number and to call you, we aren’t even sure if their still in Calia or if they left the city."
"A bodyguard?" Mason said picking his beer up and taking a heavy drink. "For a senator's kid?"
"Everything I've heard says she's a good kid, respectful, and listens to her parents and the security personnel around." Garrett began as Mason continued drinking his beer. "Seems like she may have gotten a stalker, some letters have showed up and the parents are getting worried."
"What kind of letters?" Mason asked as he finished his beer and put it down as Garrett did the same.
"Can I assume that means you'll do it?" He asked with a broad smile.
"I don't have much of a choice, now do I?" Mason’s question was rhetorical knowing he had no other options as Julie came back to the front of the bar.
"Almost closing time can I get you, boys, another?" Julie asked with a playful smile taking the empty bottles away and placing her hand on Mason’s.
"No thanks Julie, put everything on my tab," Garrett said as he stood up and grabbed Mason's arm. "You're gonna crash on my couch, I already got you a ticket to Impor first thing in the morning."
All three of them began to laugh as Julie walked away calling back. "I'll see you, boys, later."
Mason glared back at Garrett. "Did I ever have a choice in the matter?" He asked with mild frustration even though he knew he shouldn't, his plan was always to stay with Garrett but already having a ticket to Impor was a mild shock.
"Sure, but it would have been the wrong one and you know it," Garrett said as he handed Mason his duffel bag. "Get some sleep you have an early flight in the morning, alternatively I'm sure you could stay with Julie tonight. I can always stop by her place and pick you up in the morning." He said with a sly grin as Mason looked over at her behind the bar.
"Nah, you're right. I should get some rest." Mason replied as they both stood up exiting the bar and making their way to Garrett’s apartment for the evening. It wasn’t long after their arrival before Mason passed out on the couch and Garrett retreated to his room to sleep himself.