The Longest Hours
The house was fifty-three hundred and eight square feet large. There were two hundred and sixty-three tiles lining the counters and wall of the kitchen. Esme had nine packets of instant coffee, four packets of instant decaf coffee, and two boxes of instant iced tea in the right-hand cupboard above the sink. Rosalie had spent the last forty-three minutes and twenty-seven seconds sobbing tearlessly in her bedroom, and Emmett had spent the last twenty-two minutes trying to comfort her.
Alice had been gone for five days, six hours, fifty-two minutes and eighteen seconds.
"Cullen," she said slowly, savoring the sound of the word as it slipped through her teeth. "Alice Cullen. Jasper and Alice Cullen." She smiled and bounced a little in her seat, making entire row shake. "It's a nice name, isn't it, Jazz?"
"It's a fine enough name," I said quietly. One of the old ladies sitting in front of us harrumphed in disapproval.
Alice laughed and leaned across the arm rest to snuggle into my chest. If I could have blushed, my cheeks would have been burning. We were alone sitting on the back row, and I had seen my fair share of lewd activity when I was in the army, but necking in a darkened movie theater – where anyone could see – did not seem very… gentlemanlike.
"I like it," Alice continued, too softly for the humans to hear. "Alice Cullen." She turned her attention back to the screen and watched Rita Hayworth make smiles at some poor boy in order to seduce him and bend him to her ways.
Alice was wearing a yellow dress with bluebonnets embroidered on the collar. I had picked it out for her; the bluebonnets reminded me of Texas, and she looked beautiful in it. She was very comfortable right now. She always was when she thought about that Cullen family. I could only feel waves of love, trust, and hope emanating from her, and all of it was directed at me.
Rita Hayworth's poor boy never stood a chance, and neither did I.
"I've never had a surname," she said suddenly and a bit too loudly. The old lady harrumphed again, but I ignored her. "I was just 'Alice', that's what he called me. Alice without a surname." She pursed her lips. "Alice Cullen has a nice ring to it."
Not for the first time, I felt a wave of pity engulf me when I looked down at her. I couldn't imagine what it must have been like, trying to figure out the vampire life without a guide of any sort, relying only on the certainty of visions that might well have been delusions that she would one day find a family. That she would one day find me.
Gently, I pulled her up over the arm rest until she was sitting on my lap and wrapped my arms around her, planting a kiss on the top of her head.
"Whitlock," I said after a moment's thought. I suppose I could have tried to surprise her, but she would have seen it coming from miles away.
"Hmm?" Alice looked up at me with wide, round eyes as big as saucers that sparkled in the glow from the movie screen.
"Alice Whitlock Cullen." I tightened my arms around her. "What do you think about that?"
I didn't need to see her smile to tell how happy it made her.
I was so distraught that I didn't even notice Carlisle until he crouched in front of me and shook my shoulder. It took all I had to tear my gaze away from my cell phone and look him in the eye.
Carlisle let out a sigh and sat down next to me, putting his arm around my shoulders. Normally I would have shied away from physical contact with anyone but Alice, but I knew I needed this as much as he did.
"Have faith in her, Jasper," he said. His fingers tightened ever so slightly on my shirt sleeve and his emotions wobbled a bit, but he quickly checked himself. "If anyone can get them out of there, it's Alice."
I nodded, but my heart wasn't in it. Just hearing Alice's name made my throat ache and the venom burn behind the eyes that it would never breach. I had faith in Alice, yes, but faith meant nothing to the Volturi. I had seen that first-hand in the south.
"Carlisle… if she – if she di-"
Carlisle made a shushing noise and pulled my head against his chest. If I could have cried, I would have been bawling; as it was, my body shook with quiet sobs, and I clung to him in agony.
I couldn't live without Alice.
The minister who married us was in a grumpy mood during the wedding. I suppose Alice and I could have waited until the morning to be wedded, but we did not want to risk any chance of the sun, and so we had woken up the poor man as soon as we walked into town – at one in the morning – and plied him with cash until he had agreed to marry us. He must have thought we were eloping, or young runaways whose parents disapproved of the match; I did nothing to disabuse him of his ideas, and Alice was so happy she didn't even notice his glares or the fact that he grunted his way through the ceremony.
I knew this was not exactly the wedding she must have dreamed of: we had decided to get married before we met the Cullens – to meet the family as man and wife – and Alice had had a vision that we would meet them the following afternoon. Alice, of course, insisted on being married in a proper wedding dress, so I spent a long afternoon going with her to all the second-hand shops in a twenty-mile radius.
It had been well worth it.
Alice looked… heavenly. It wasn't so much the dress or the hair or the shoes, though that looked nice too. But she looked – happy. Blissful. I could have sworn she was glowing in the light of the lantern as we stood next to each other in the minister's kitchen.
I hardly remember a word that the man said; I was so nervous I could barely bring myself to stutter out the vows. I could not believe I was marrying Alice. I knew I did not deserve her. Even if I had been human and not a murderous monster, I never could have deserved this precious woman.
When the minister finally shut his Bible and declared us husband and wife, I found that I couldn't move. I was bewitched; I couldn't even take her hand. I just looked at her – looked into her eyes – and found my joy and wonder and, most of all, my love reflected in hers. I could have spent an eternity looking into her eyes; as it was, the priest quickly got frustrated with us and ushered us out of his house, but as I walked out, Alice's hand in mine, I knew that I didn't need eternity as long as I had Alice.
Five days, thirteen hours, four minutes and two seconds.
It was the longest I had been separated from Alice since she had found me in that bar in Philadelphia in 1948. The worst days of my life.
I snapped upright when her plane number flashed on the arrival screen. The moments waiting seemed interminable.
Finally, I caught sight of the top of Edward's hair behind a group of old ladies. I was vaguely aware that he had Bella with him, and they both felt like blissful wrecks, but I didn't pay any attention to them because there – there was Alice.
She was carrying a bag and looking at Bella. She was here. She was safe. My breath caught and the world seemed to spin on its axis for one dizzy second. Somewhere in the distance, Carlisle walked by me and clapped his hand on my shoulder, but I was only looking at Alice, and finally – finally, she was looking at me.
Somehow I felt my feet moving, even though I couldn't remember telling them to. They must have, because suddenly I was standing in front of Alice – in front of my wife – and she was standing in front of me, and there was happiness radiating off of her in bucketfuls.
For one long moment, we said nothing; we looked at each other, and that was enough. I gazed into her eyes like I had sixty years ago at our wedding, and I knew that I was never going to let her go again.
Five days, thirteen hours, four minutes, and twenty-two seconds, and the clock stopped.
"You've kept me waiting for a long time," I said when I finally found my voice again.
Alice smiled. "I'm sorry, sir," she said.
And she took my hand, and we walked out into eternity.