Chapter Nine: Gray and Blue
Awake unto me….
Jasper paced back and forth at the rear of St. Luke's Anglican Church. It was a tiny church across the street from his home. It was the church Carlisle had attended since moving to Biloxi from London. It had dark pews, with the varnish worn to a dull brown from years of use.
Alice should be arriving any minute. Esme had wanted to help her get dressed since her mother was dead, but Mr. Brandon had said he had taken care that Alice would be helped by an old family friend. He had been lying – Jasper could tell – but he had absolutely no idea why Mr. Brandon would lie about something as trivial as that. What had been the point? However, it was the last straw in a large pile of hay, and Jasper was getting anxious.
Where did Alice live? She wasn't at Mr. Brandon's home because one afternoon Jasper had tried to surprise Alice by calling on her. He had made other inquiries in the neighborhood, but now one had seen Alice since she was a child.
Why did she speak so little? He could understand her reluctance to speak in front of a man who seemed to care little for her. Jasper had been around enough bitter and disunited families in his youth not to understand that Mr. Brandon – despite his seeming spinelessness – might be a difficult man to be around. Living with the Cullens had dulled his memories though, and it had come as something as a shock to realize that there were people like that even outside of Texas.
Why did she still look sick? Mr. Brandon said that she had recovered from whatever illness she had suffered from when she was a child. But Jasper didn't miss the careful scrutiny of Carlisle whenever Alice was near him. He had been trained to ignore what people told him. When illness was involved, emotions tended to get in the way and people made a great point of either denying anything was wrong or blowing a simple ailment into the most tragic terminal disease. Instead, Carlisle paid attention to what his five senses told him. And something was telling him that all was not right with Alice. Knowing this, Jasper felt worried.
But, more importantly, why did she seem so afraid?
That was the big question. Oh, Jasper couldn't really define it as fear – after all, there was no hint of color, nothing to suggest to him that what she was feeling was fear. It was as if her actions were the outer skin of a void, like a balloon filled with nothing. The exterior was there, but there was nothing – no emotion – on the interior to match what his eyes were telling him. She looked afraid, but she didn't feel afraid. Like Carlisle, Jasper knew what his eyes were telling him, but he had no idea how to put the pieces together.
Where did she live?
What did she speak so little?
Why did she still look sick?
Why was she afraid?
Jasper almost bent double when Alice walked down the aisle of the church. The ribbons flying from her were so powerful that his vision blanked. Carlisle, Esme, Emmett and Edward disappeared. All he could see were tangled yarns of gray and blue, tinged with black, red.
Colors he knew to be fear, pain, hate and anger.
He back hunched and he rubbed his fingertips into his temple. He wasn't sure what he did at first, because he had never encountered anything like it before, but he tried to push the ribbons away. As hard as he could he concentrated on yellow and white and green ribbons … colors he always associated with contentment, peace and serenity. For a moment the yarns tangled even further, making a garish knot of varied colors. Finally, the grays and blues faded somewhat, diluted by the whites and yellows.
Jasper was shocked when the girl looked at him and smiled. It went against everything he had ever learned to associate with the ribbons. The ribbons coming from her, although dulled, were still strong. He could see them clearly against the edges of his eyes, and not just as an afterglow when he blinked. Although muted by her veil, he could clearly see that she was smiling, but it was hard, pulling the thin skin of her cheeks taunt.
Jasper looked more closely and saw her eyes. They were wide and gray against her too-pale face … and they triggered a memory deep within him – a memory that reared up from the mud of France. He had done everything he could since meeting Alice to eradicate the images of the Great Massacre from his mind. But Alice's white face merged with another face, like two reflections facing each other through a window …
A vague, blurry picture of a young soldier filtered across his eyes. He had been a kid really. He had just lost his entire unit. All his friends. All his comrades. All his mates. There had been an instinctive frenzy deep within his brown eyes, although his face had been quiet… calm. Jasper had wondered, in a vague way, if the kid blamed himself for being the only one to survive. Or if maybe the grief was so powerful it gave him a new strength – if that was why he could maintain such serenity. But then Jasper had gone back to thinking about his own troubles and forgot about the kid. It was only after the kid died that Jasper finally realized what he had missed seeing in the kid's eyes.
His eyes were like those of an animal trapped in a cage.
Jasper didn't understand what the look meant until he had seen the kid's still body beneath a white sheet later the next day. He had pulled the blanket back from his face. He lost count of the bullet holes shattering the kid's body (damn machine guns … damn trenches … damn war….). After seeing the kid's eyes blank in death, Jasper kicked himself for not feeling the emotions, for not understanding, for not noticing. It was just that war was one hell of a place for an empath to be, and he had trained himself to ignore the ribbons that bombarded him with such strength that the taste of fear and boredom in his mouth became normal. Now he wished he had paid more attention, both to the kid and now to Alice.
Because the same look was in her eyes.
He felt frightened. Her smallness seemed frail now, her narrow shoulders and thin arms barely filling the crème-colored material of her wedding dress. He had never seen anyone look as helpless. But he was more afraid of the impotent frenzy and rage and fear that glittered in her eyes, making him think of that poor kid who wanted so badly for death. But just like with the kid, Jasper was no nearer to knowing why she wanted death than those years ago when he had first seen a kid walk back to the encampment alone.
As she walked closer, the emotions became even more powerful. But Jasper had no idea how to proceed. As he took her arm and walked her closer to the minister, she stiffened. She held herself as far from him as possible, barely touching the skin of his hand with hers. It was difficult to see through her veil, but he noticed that her eyes weren't focused on anything. Her face was blank, as if she had no idea where she was.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the sight of God…" the minister began. Jasper could see through his peripheral vision the happiness on Esme and Carlisle's faces. Missing a gift like Jasper's, they had not noticed Alice's distress. Indeed, who would? Alice looked perfectly calm and almost happy now. Only there was still the same terrifying blankness in her eyes. And Jasper was barely able to control the lines of pain and fear and helpless rage coming from her.
The trembling started though as soon as the vows were read.
"Do you, Mary Alice Brandon …." the minister read. "Take this man to be you husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?"
Jasper thought for a long, panicked moment that she wasn't going to answer. She might not have if Jasper had not leaned down and whispered into the pastor's ear.
"Will you, Alice Brandon, take Jasper Whitlock Cullen …" the minister amended.
And eventually she mouthed, "I will."
The pastor continued, "And will you, Jasper Whitlock Hale, take this woman to be your wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?"
His voice rang out into the church as he answered, "I will."
Father Matthew continued the service with words of gentle advice and general words of wisdom disguised as platitudes.
"Love is patient and kind. It is never jealous. Love is never boastful or conceited. It is never rude or selfish. It does not take offence, nor is it resentful. Love takes no pleasure in others' sins but delights in the truth. It is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes," he read.
"I take thee, Alice, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part," Jasper vowed a few minutes later.
He never heard Alice's response, although he read the words on her lips.
"I take thee, Jasper, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part."
In later years, Jasper didn't remember much of what happened after the ceremony. It had been a small wedding – only the Cullens and a few old friends of the family had come. It was only after the ceremony was over and everyone had gathered for a light reception that Jasper noticed none of Alice's family had come at all.
Originally he had wanted a small wedding and reception because the simplicity of the thing pleased him. And Alice had agreed, which became its principle selling point. But after seeing Alice walk down the aisle, Jasper just wanted to get out of there. But they cut the cake and made toasts and had their picture taken. He was focused so obsessively on Alice though that what he saw made fuzzy, almost impressionistic, images in his mind. He knew, in a vague sort of way, that he would remember little of the fanfare and ceremony of his wedding.
It was Alice who stood out with a painful clarity in his mind. She smiled and dutifully did everything tradition required of her (complete with smashing a small piece of white frosted cake into Jasper's face), but her smile was tight, and her eyes still strangely blank.
And she wouldn't leave Jasper's side.
If someone came near her, she stiffened so hard, and her emotions became so powerfully tinged with panic that Jasper had to concentrate with all his might to push the colored ribbons away, to make them resemble something more like peace or contentment (he wasn't naïve enough to think he could make Alice feel happy in the state she was in). Despite not seeming to want to leave Jasper's side, she never really looked at him. Her eyes passed right through him.
He wondered if she even knew who he was.
It wasn't until they were about to leave the church that Jasper felt one tenth of Alice's panic himself. Emmett leaned in to give Alice a hug. He was the only one to come that close during the entire reception (Esme and Carlisle and Edward has seemed content to watch Jasper, who always seemed so remote and reserved, so close to another human being. After all, if they came in too close, they would not be able to enjoy the sight of Jasper's arm around Alice).
But Alice snapped.
Her back slammed into the open door of the church leading outside. She opened her mouth to scream but nothing came out, just short little bursts of breath. All reason, all personality, all emotion leaked right out of her eyes, leaving only an opaque shell of pure, animalistic terror. It was a primal, instinctive, visceral reaction, and it scared Jasper to death.
Emmett had backed up immediately, his eyes wary and strangely pained.
"Oh, I never wanted to see this again," Emmett whispered viciously to himself. "What did they do to you?" he said a little louder.
When all Alice did at the sound of Emmett's voice was to slide down to her knees and pull even tighter into herself, Jasper did the only thing he knew to do. He called for his father, feeling very much like a small child.
"Carlisle!" he cried, in what he hoped was a calm voice (he didn't want to scare Alice any more). Carlisle must have heard the desperation in his son's voice though because he rushed towards them. Esme followed but stopped abruptly when she saw Alice crouched against the door.
Jasper didn't have to explain what was wrong. Carlisle knew.
"Oh my God …" he whispered. He tried to reach for her, but Alice stiffened, and held her arms tightly around her stomach. Jasper's mind numbed with a growing horror.
"What do I do, Carlisle?" asked Jasper frantically.
Carlisle sighed and moved back a few steps. Then he sat down on the steps of the church and started talking to Alice softly. His gentle, compassionate voice whispering encouragement to Alice was the only sound in the church's courtyard for the next few minutes. But it didn't seem to help. Alice just closed her eyes and clinched her teeth.
"Jasper … See if she responds to you," Carlisle finally said in a tired voice.
Jasper knelt down in front of Alice and looked at her until she opened her eyes. They were blank at first, but when she focused on his blue eyes there was a flicker of something more thoughtful in them. Almost like recognition …. Her lids fluttered again as her eyes flicked between Jasper and some point behind him. Jasper peeked behind his shoulder, but all he saw were the shadows cast by the side of the church.
He felt sure now though that the real battle was between Alice's sight of him and whatever she was seeing in the shadows.
"Alice," he whispered, not sure what else to say. As soon as she heard her name, she focused more clearly on Jasper.
He felt the sharp-edge tinge of desperation in her concentration on his face, and he whispered her name again, "Alice."
This time she sighed quietly and her body settled into a more relaxed posture. Her face was still tight, and her eyes focused much too frantically on Jasper's face, but at least now she didn't stiffen when Jasper moved slowly towards her.
"Come on, Alice," he said. "Let's go home."
No one was more surprised than he when she smiled slightly. It was the barest hint of a smile and Jasper would have missed it if he had not been watching for it so desperately.
He murmured her name a few more times before she collapsed against him. He picked her up and carried her towards his home.