Sorry. Five months is a long time with no updates. But the well dried up. Completely. And I was embarrassed that I didn't have anything for you. I couldn't even fake it. I know that one measly chapter isn't really enough to make up for the absence. It's just that the words aren't flowing out of me anymore. I've never written anything this long before, so I don't know if that's normal or if it's just my brain calling 'Uncle!'...but whatever 'pace' I was maintaining, erratic as it was, maybe just took too much out of me. Whatever, that's just excuses and you all need results, amirite? I do fully intend to finish what I've started here, if that's any comfort. So if you're still along for the ride, I thank you for your dedication...and I apologise for going into hiding on you all.
Chapter 21 - That's How Strong My Love Is
I sat motionless in the driver's seat of the Charger, the steering wheel cool against my forehead. I'd been sitting here for an hour, paralyzed with indecision, raising my head periodically only to stare blankly out of the windshield.
Should I go after Jasper? Try to reason with him? I did get out of the car once, maybe 15, 20 minutes after he had stormed off, thinking I would try to talk to him…then I heard him yelling, along with some weird cracking noises…it seemed safer to let him ride it out. Well. Safer for me. He may have calmed down since then, but did I really want a mouthful of broken teeth for my efforts? I wasn't sure if I wanted to step in the middle of that.
Should I leave him be, then? That didn't seem right. That look on his face…the more I turned it over in my mind, the more I felt like it wasn't just anger. It was something more than that. Maybe fear? If he fled in fear, he's probably not in a position to decide anything, let alone coming back to the car. Whatever caused him to flee is probably still keeping him out there. It didn't seem right to just leave him alone, especially if this was some kind of anxiety attack. Even if I went to him and didn't talk, that would be better than him being alone. Wouldn't it?
The real question was, what did I *want* to do.
I leaned back in the driver's seat and looked out at the forest beyond the parking lot. Leaving him out there felt like giving up on him. It was like saying 'Not my problem'.
But it was my problem.
My confession had set off Jasper somehow, into something well beyond the angry outburst I had been expecting. Just because I couldn't understand where the reaction came from didn't mean that I should just set him adrift out there in the forest indefinitely.
I had been turning my confession over and over in my head for the past hour. The more I mulled it over in my mind the more worried I became for him. I had to help him, even if helping him meant just showing my face out there. If it meant getting a mouth of broken teeth, well, so be it. He had a right to be angry with me. But if I left him alone out there, loving him as much as I said I did, what kind of hypocrite did that make me?
I was a coward at heart, that much I knew. But a hypocrite I was not.
I got out of the car and locked it. The storm had passed; leaving a biting wind that carried on it the faint smell of rain. I strode to the edge of the parking lot towards the forest, in search of Jasper.
The lone streetlight in the parking lot, pathetic as it was, threw faint shadows into the forest, which helped me from falling on my face as I made my way through the undergrowth.
Thankfully I didn't have to walk far to find Jasper. He was sitting against a fallen log, half in shadow, hunched and staring angrily at his hands, taking short shallow breaths through his nose. He flinched at the sound of my footsteps and hunched over more. He didn't look up.
I looked around and tried not to appear as awkward as I felt.
Okay. So here I am. Now what?
Fuck it. Saving face just wastes time.
I cleared some of the twigs and rocks away with my foot and sat down on the wet ground across from Jasper, a short distance away so as not to crowd him. He was still staring at his hands, which in the shadows seemed to be either dirty or bloody, I couldn't tell. I hoped for his sake they were dirty.
I lit a cigarette and offered it to him. He didn't move. I took a drag and composed my thoughts as best I could.
" I haven't really figured out what to say beyond 'I'm sorry'. To be honest, my plan doesn't amount to much beyond just coming out here, so I'm making this up as I go."
I tried and failed to get comfortable on the lumpy, wet ground. Resigned to my own discomfort, I dragged on my cigarette and stared up at the cloudy night sky.
"I guess I just came out here to…well, to let you know that you're not alone. "
I smoked my cigarette for a while, trying to figure out whether I should keep talking or just shut up. I hated talking like this…hell, talking at all… especially something this difficult and awkward. If I stated my intentions somehow, then maybe I could put him at ease, just a little bit. I just didn't want to overdo it. It was a delicate balance, and it was the world's biggest karmic joke that all of this responsibility now rested on my repressed, introverted shoulders. I took another drag and kept talking.
"I know I betrayed your trust. I wish I hadn't kept the truth from you, that I had had the courage to tell you from the start where we stood. It's that awful feeling of regret, of bad choices, 'If I could just change that one thing everything would be okay'. It's a terrible feeling. Which…uh…doesn't lessen what you're going through, but I want you to know…that…well…that I didn't set out to deceive you."
I coughed and rubbed a hand through my hair. God I was tired. After going 10 rounds with Alice…heh, literally…and now Jasper…this day was nothing short of exhausting.
"Look. I just want to say this and then I'll shut up. I know I hurt you, Jasper. I know you're angry. I deserve it. But no matter what you feel right now, you're not alone. I'm still here. And I'm staying here. I'm not going anywhere. I just…I just want you to know that."
I ground out the butt of my cigarette in the dirt and slipped it into my jacket pocket.
Jasper was looking at me, his face unreadable. I could see the ghost of the earlier fear lingering in his eyes, a sort of panic that wouldn't leave. It was like he was drowning and he didn't know how to save himself.
I took a breath and then carefully, and slowly, crawled on my hands and knees through the twigs and stones over to the fallen log and sat down next to him, as gently as I could. He didn't flinch, or look at me...I took his non-reaction as a good sign.
He was staring at his hands again, unmoving. Now that I was closer I could see that they were swollen and bloody, not dirty, as I had hoped. I thought back to the odd cracking noise I had heard from the parking lot, and now realized that he'd been punching a tree. Maybe the log. I wished now that I hadn't waited so long to come and find him. Gently I reached out and covered his swollen, bloody hands with mine, barely touching so as not to cause him any pain or to frighten him off. His hands were warm, probably from the swelling. The rest of him was ice cold.
He seemed to relax with my touch. And he didn't pull away. I took that as another good sign. I slid closer to him and reached an arm around his shoulder, leaving my other hand still covering his bloody hands. He was shivering, from fear or the cold I wasn't sure, maybe both. With a shuddering sigh he leaned into me, as if suddenly needing all of my warmth and support all at once.
He turned his head and stared up at the sky, his eyes wet, unable to meet mine. He tried to speak, his voice cracked and quiet.
His breathing was still quick and labored, as though he was trying to catch his breath. He grimaced in frustration, closed his eyes and tried again.
"I….I can't…I ---…"
He sat up, bowing his head in defeat. He punched at the ground with his fist, bringing a wince of pain. His face was a rictus of anger and frustration.
I pulled him back into me and rubbed his shoulder. It was like coaxing a boulder. "Shhhhhhh. It's okay Jasper. You don't have to say anything." He was so worked up, just from trying to speak. I was at a loss for what to do for him. "Shhhh. Don't worry. We'll be okay. It's all right. It's alright." I rubbed in gentle circles, until slowly he relaxed again and slumped against my chest. I moved my hand from his shoulder to rest on the top of his head.
His eyes closed, the mask of anger melting away. The shivering stopped, and his breathing slowly became more even.
Beyond the parking lot, choppy waves of indigo splashed repeatedly on the shore of the lake, frantic and unsettled from the earlier storm. I couldn't imagine what was going on in Jasper's head. Anger, shame, betrayal, humiliation…that was what started it…but now? This…anxiety that had come over him…this was something else. I didn't know what he needed from me. I was scared for him. The most important thing now was to get him rested, and then…I guess try to get him to talk tomorrow, see if he can get some of whatever's eating at him out in the open. To what end, I wasn't sure. I'd cross that bridge when I got to it. But getting him to talk it out seemed like a sensible course of action.
If he'll even talk to me, of course.
Ironic. I'd spent all that time being so irritated by his constant openness and soul searching that I'd closed myself off to it…and now it was the thing I needed from him to help him back to some kind of normalcy.
I guess this would be the test of the New Edward.
Trial by fire. Oh joy.
I don't know how much time passed. I knew that my jeans were soaked, I was cold and my arm had fallen to sleep. Jasper meanwhile was in some kind of semi-restful slumber and for all intents and purposes cozy as a lamb by my side in this parking lot/forest in the middle of nowhere.
Time for a change of scenery.
I put my free hand against the shoulder closest to me, and gave a gentle push so that he would be sitting upright. He stirred and looked at me dazedly.
"Time to go home, Jasper. Can you stand up?"
He nodded. Slowly he unfolded himself into standing position, but then a look of pain flashed across his face and he seemed to crumble at the knees. I caught him on the way down as he fell, and levered my shoulder under his arm to support him.
"What is it?"
He grimaced. "Agghhk…Ankle."
"It's not far to the car. Put your weight on your good foot, and use me as your support. Ready?"
But Jasper didn't seem to be in a state to even semi-walk. He was exhausted and barely coherent. It was like dragging a mannequin. After a few steps I decided it would be easier to just carry him the rest of the way, and swung him up into my arms. A decision that seemed smarter in my head.
Reality posed a new, unforeseen set of problems once I actually managed to hoist him into my arms.
Problems like my knees that lacking the necessary titanium reinforcement to bear such a load as Jasper. He was in excellent shape and he worked out regularly, so though there didn't seem all that much to him to look at, all that muscle was well, really fucking heavy. Also my spindly arms seemed barely sufficient to hold him at all, let alone carry him to the car. But buckling under his weight or letting him crash to the ground was hardly chivalrous after all he'd been through. I'd gotten myself into this ridiculous situation; I could get out of it.
Employing serious 'mind over matter' powers, I managed, in the most barely-managing way possible, to get both of us to the Charger without injury. I felt like a contestant on the Wide World of Sports.
Mental note. Don't ever try to carry Jasper ever, ever, EVER again. And chivalry can eat it.
I managed to get Jasper onto the back seat of the Charger without concussing him on the doorframe, a feat in itself. And finally, I was back in the driver's seat of the Charger, keys in the ignition, shifting into reverse as we purred out of that godforsaken parking lot and began the drive home.