A/N: Ahem. Here we go again!
Dedication: This fic is dedicated to Ausha. As you know, I don't have much of a belief system, but if anything were to make sense to me, reincarnation makes sense (I swear this has a point). It explains a lot of things, not the least of which is why sometimes you meet a person, a total stranger, and instantly feel like you've known them forever.
Love you, Ausha. You're my person.
Ausha asked for: E/B run into each other in Disneyland, each wearing one half of the Leia/Han Solo I Love You/I Know shirts without the people they bought them with. They both live in San Diego.
"What can I get you today?"
"A fucking time machine." Bella leaned one arm on the counter, scrubbing a hand over her eyes. "I'm going to go back in time and kick Walt Disney's ass."
Silence descended as the barista stared blankly at Bella, blinking slowly. "He put Disneyland in Orange County. Like, who goes to the middle of an orange grove and decides to build a theme park? And if he was going to do it, I'm sure he could have found a grove here in San Diego at the time. Who wouldn't want to put the happiest place on Earth right next to the ocean? Wouldn't that have made more sense?"
"Um. Sure?" The barista looked a little wide-eyed, as though she thought Bella might possibly be out of her mind.
Bella sighed. "I'll have a venti coffee with two pumps hazelnut."
The barista flashed a relieved, brilliant smile. "That's two thirty-eight please."
A minute later, Bella stood at the counter, adjusting the cream and sugar level of her sweet nectar of the gods. As she stirred in just one more sugar, her skin began to crawl and an eerie, claustrophobic sense came over her. She whirled and stepped to the side, away from the creeper who'd decided he could get into her personal space.
Said creeper leered. "Didn't mean to startle you. Just, you said you love me, so I figured I'd better come say hello."
Bella narrowed her eyes. "Excuse me?"
The creeper pointed to her shirt, which did, indeed, proclaim "I love you."
"Oh, man." Bella had to struggle not to roll her eyes. "Buddy, it's way too early for this crap." She pointed to the figure on her shirt, a silhouette of Princess Leia. "Don't tell me you're one of the three people on the planet who hasn't seen Star Wars? Leia says 'I love you,' Han says, 'I know.'"
"I'm just saying, I can be your Han Solo, baby."
Christ. "You think I'd buy a shirt like this without having someone for the other half? My boyfriend has the Han shirt. My boyfriend whom I'm about to go meet at Disneyland. So, if you'll excuse me." With that, Bella turned and headed out of the coffee shop.
About two hours later, she was in Anaheim, turning into the parking structure. She bounced a little in her seat, humming to the music. Disneyland, her favorite place on the planet, and her favorite person. Today was going to be a good day; she could feel it.
Once she was passed security and headed to the trams, Bella fired off a quick text to her boyfriend.
Babe, the suckers let me past security. You at the usual spot? ;)
As she boarded the tram, her phone chimed.
Yeah, I'm here.
Bella frowned at the three words. Weird. Jasper wasn't one for quick, impersonal texts. That and, at Disneyland, he was more playful than usual. That was why she'd started bringing him here. He always had the weight of the world on his shoulders everywhere else.
Since she was going to be right in front of him in another five minutes, Bella resisted the urge to fire off another text asking him what was wrong. She also had to stop herself from bouncing her leg. A weird, twisty feeling had begun to curl right in her gut.
Finally, she was able to get off the tram. Moving as quickly as she could around the hoard of people also about to get their Disney adventure on, she speed-walked to the main entrance plaza. She stopped short when she caught her first glimpse of Jasper.
She'd been eighteen when she met him. He was in a Philosophy class she took as part of her general education courses. From that day, nine years ago, he'd always, always, had long, scraggly hair. That first day, it was loose and flowing. She'd seen it in a ponytail, a bun, spiked up in an outrageous mohawk, and held back with a bandana. But never like this.
His beautiful hair was shorn into a crisp, clean, business-like cut. It was so damn short, it was almost military-length.
He also looked tired. Tired and defeated. He sat on the edge of a huge planter, his shoulders slumped, and his bowed head in his hands.
Yeah. The knot in her stomach got bigger.
She slowed down to a crawl. She had the worst feeling that she wanted to prolong this moment as long as possible.
But Jasper looked up, and her time ran out. He stood, his eyes drawn and sad. Bella had to swallow down a lump in her throat. "What's going on?"
He took her hands, pulling her close enough that he could rest his forehead against hers. He let out a shaky sigh. "Yeah. We have to talk."
"Let's sit down." He lead her to the planter and played with her fingers while he tried to find the right words.
"Kinda going out of my mind here, Jazz," Bella said.
"I know." He raised his head, looking her in the eyes. "I need you to listen to everything in going to say, okay, because I know how it's going to sound."
"Oh, okay. Dude, you know you're making this so much worse."
He smiled, ducking his head. "Yeah." He took a deep breath. "My mom got into a really experimental treatment program."
Bella blinked. That was incongruously good news. Jasper had moved from San Diego to Orange County to help take care of his sick mother four years ago. "That...I mean, that's a good thing. Right?"
"Maybe. Obviously, we want it to be." Another deep breath. "But the doctors are in Texas."
Bella's heart skipped a beat. "Oh." Jasper was from Texas. In fact, it was his parents who'd followed him a few years after he fled Texas for California.
"That's not all," Jasper said.
"God, after everything, I really don't know how to say this." Another huff. "No matter what happens with my mom, I'm going to be in Texas for awhile. A long while. I'm going…" Deep, fortifying breath. "I'm going to take over the business."
Jasper had been twenty when they met. He was a Freshman like her, but it had taken him a few years to get on his feet after his parents cut him off for wanting to major in music.
When his parents moved to California in part to reconcile with Jasper, the business had remained a point of contention. Their relationship had improved much since his mother had gotten so sick. But he'd been firm for five years. He didn't want to be in an office. He didn't want to wear a tie. He didn't want to cut his hair like his parents thought he should.
"I know it's not what we planned," Jasper started.
"Not what we planned?" Bella hated the way her voice ticked up. "Jasper, literally all our plans have been about avoiding an office at all costs."
He grimaced. "I know. It's hard to explain. Everything in Texas is such a mess. I didn't realize how bad things had gotten."
Bella crossed her arms over her chest, staring at him. "Babe, you know I'm not unsympathetic to this whole thing with your family's business. But you can't let it dictate your life. You know that."
"That's the thing. I know how it sounds. I've spent the last twelve years fighting this, but…" He tried to take her hands, but she yanked them away. "I need to do this. I need to."
His eyes pleaded with her. Whatever the hell was going on here, as crazy as it all sounded, Bella knew her boyfriend. She knew the look on his face. This was what he wanted. It felt right to him.
Bella stood up and started to pace, running a hand through her hair. "Okay. I can accept that you feel that way. I mean...whatever. I don't get it, but if this is something you need to do, fine. But Jazz, you've got this whole thing planned out, and you're telling me how it's going to be. This is something we should have talked out together."
"I had the conversation in my head. It's not like I didn't know how it would go."
Bella arched her eyebrows. "Are you kidding me? That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works."
He made an exasperated noise. She could see he regretted the words, but he was never one to get derailed when he had a point to make. "Look, let me get through the hardest part of this."
A wave of nausea rolled through her. "We haven't hit the hard part yet?"
"God." He ran a hand over his face. "Baby, come here. Please."
"Don't baby me right now, Jasper." Bella held her ground.
He went to her. He took her hands. She yanked them away, but when he took them again, she let him. "Bella, you know I love you, okay. Please understand that this is not about that."
Bella bit the inside of her lip hard, trying to bite back the sting in her eyes. She didn't look at him. She was already reeling, and she could sense it was about to get worse.
Jasper squeezed her fingers. "You know you have to stay here. I know that. You have a year and a half left of grad school, and you know you want to get into that doctoral program here. You belong here.
"I think we have to be realistic. I'm going to be so swamped in Texas between the business and my mom. Baby…" His voice cracked, and he took a deep breath, steadying himself. "I think we need to call it. I think that's only fair."
And there it was. Bella's throat closed and her stomach dropped down to her toes. She yanked her hands violently out of his and turned around. She pressed her knuckles hard to her mouth.
"Don't fucking call me that!" Bella whirled on Jasper, furious tears streaking down her face. She growled in frustration, glancing around at the people staring in her direction. It took all her willpower to lower her voice. "I can't fucking believe you. I drove two hours, to the fricken Happiest Place on Earth for you to pull this crap? We've been together for nine years, and you're calling it overnight? You were fine when we talked last night."
"Ba—" Jasper closed his eyes and tried again. "We got the news yesterday morning. We have a flight tomorrow morning. I had to think everything through before I talked to you."
"Because it's not like it's our life. Our life that we planned together. You can decide to end it on your own."
He sat down, running a hand over his eyes. "Bella," he said so softly her heart would have broken if it wasn't already splitting straight down the middle. "It's just… We talk about this all the time. Love isn't the problem. Sometimes people are in different places. It's timing. It's just happened to us now instead of the beginning of our relationship. Come on. It's been so hard being 90 miles apart. Do you think we would have survived a bigger separation?"
"You don't even think it's worth trying? Jesus Christ. Who are you right now?"
"I told you. I thought about it a lot."
He paused, and her eyes went wide. "Holy hell." Again, her eyes stung, but these weren't angry tears. She wrapped her arms around herself. "How long have you been feeling this way? Because, you know, using your sick mother and the family business as an excuse for your own bullshit is a dick move."
The hurt that flashed across his face didn't feel good, but she didn't apologize. Despite the growing ache in her chest, she was still mostly angry.
"You know me better than that," he said quietly.
"I thought I knew you."
"It's not that I want to not be with you. This isn't about freedom or anything like that. I'm not unhappy with you. But it's not the first time I've thought about the fact we were so young when we got together."
Bella balked. "Are you about to pull some bullshit about how we should see other people? Because we can't possibly choose each other when we don't know what we're missing?"
He huffed, his brows drawn together. "Crap. This is what I meant about this coming out all wrong. That's not what I'm saying. It's...maybe it can be an upside, I guess. I don't know. I'm trying to find an upside to this, but regardless, it's not the main thing. It's not the reason why any of this is happening.
"The main thing is, I didn't see how we could be an us about this. Not when we want such different things. Our plan takes our lives in a whole different direction than the one I need to be on. And yeah, we could have discussed it. But what then? You were never going to come to Texas, and I wouldn't have wanted you to. Not because I don't want you, but because I want the things we planned for you. You've worked so hard to get where you are. I wouldn't want you to let go of that."
"So, not only are you making that choice for me, but you're saying all the things we planned for you, the things I want to see you do and the progress you've made, don't matter anymore."
Again, he was infuriatingly softspoken. "What I want has changed. Texas is what I want, at least for that portion of my life."
"And you want the freedom to see other people."
"No. I—" He shook his head. "Bella, I'm trying to be honest here. I'm trying not to waste your time, or mine for that matter, just because I'm too selfish to let you go. I don't know what's going to happen at the end of the road I'm on right now. It's a road full of things you don't want for you; things you don't want for me; things you definitely don't want for us. So if I drag you down that damn road, chances are you're going to hate me when we get to the other end, wherever that is.
"But if I let you go, there's a chance we can find each other again when we're both on the same page. If we're ever going to have a chance, I can't let it get to the point where you hate me."
"Yeah? Well, guess what? You already blew that chance out of the water." Bella grabbed her bag from where it sat near their feet and stalked off.
"Don't fucking touch me," she hissed under her breath, pulling away before he could grab her. She glared at him through eyes that blurred with tears and spoke through clenched teeth. "Don't follow me into the park. Have enough decency to at least not ruin that for me."
She didn't stop to listen to any response. She turned on her heel and stalked away.
He didn't follow.
A/N: Quick note, because I know my WiP list is getting ridiculous. Three of my fics are close to finishing, and I meant to finish them in June, but, ya know, life. LOL. So I'll post the second chap to this asap (gotta meet Edward!), and then it might be a (hopefully short) stretch until ch 3.
So. What do you think?