Disclaimer: Not mine, not profiting, etc.

Second Best

Jasper sat across from stranger number three and fiddled with the hem of his charcoal sweater.

"You're not from around here." It was a statement rather than a question; Pacific Beach was on the same scale as Forks, so everyone tended to know everyone.

"No, I'm not," Jasper replied and left it at that. Number three- no, Ryan- smiled at his reticence. And for a moment, as the sun set a soft fire to his hair and he studied Jasper with eyes washed in crisp green, the resemblance was uncanny.

"What brings you to our quaint little town?" Ryan leaned closer across the table, situated cozily in the back corner of the slightly dilapidated, yet comforting coffee shop.

"To get away from… things." Jasper found himself feeling a little guilty about his ambiguity, maybe because Ryan seemed genuine, and genuinely interested in him.

"From something? Or someone?" At his startled look, Ryan chuckled softly, projecting empathy over sympathy. "I've been there before to say the least."

The words fanned Jasper's guilt higher, burning a dull, quiet trail through his chest. He could feign interest. He could even come to enjoy Ryan's company but, in the end, he would still be using Ryan as a means to an end. He couldn't recall when he had become so Machiavellian. Ryan interpreted his silence as anger and added hastily, "I'm sorry, it wasn't my place to…"

"No, it's… fine. Fine." Jasper wasn't sure whom he was reassuring.

He looked down at Ryan's hands, placed beseechingly on the table, and ran his eyes down the graceful lengths of curved fingers. His mind teetered on the edge of a memory, of pale skin and piano keys. It had been Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor before the last fall.

"You don't fool me, Edward." His voice carried above the gentle notes. The music stopped on a half beat.

"I'm not trying to fool anyone." But his hands stayed still in his lap.

"Don't play games with Bella. She loves you, you know."

"And I love her. You have no right to doubt me."

"I have every right, or didn't you know, Edward? You said you loved me too and look where I am now." Jasper let his right hand lift and fall through those last five words while his left hand shook in a fist at his side.

"It's not the same." Edward's voice mimicked that right hand, rising and falling until it couldn't fall anymore. "It was never the same."

Now he sat in front of a stranger who looked like Edward, even talked like Edward if the room was loud enough, and all he wanted was to keep on pretending. He didn't bother to remember when righteous had become ironic because there was the least shame when it came to self-preservation.