Even though they tried to hide behind masks of indifference, after thirty years of being among them, Bella could read their emotions on their faces as she walked in the door. Alice would have warned them of her coming and what she had done, and though she had braced herself for the onslaught of pity and comfort, she did not want it.
Instead of rushing to her side and hugging her, coddling her, and soothing her in the manner that he had always done, Edward sat still at the piano bench. His face betraying the disappointment he felt, his eyes never fully meeting hers.
She turned from him, glancing around the room and trying to meet the eyes of at least one of her family members. Though their faces showed emotions ranging from pity to the same disappointment Edward had shown, they said nothing to her.
When her eyes finally found Jasper, leaning against the wall, his body strangely relaxed in the tense environment of the room, she found that unlike the others he was looking back at her.
As his golden eyes met her crimson ones, she saw nothing of the emotions that the others had shown. She saw only understanding.
"Bella…it's okay, we all love you, we're here for you," Edward finally said, his smooth voice distant to her ears, her concentration focused on the depth she found behind Jasper's stare.
Bella felt guilt wash over her, the same feeling she had felt countless times before when she had slipped and taken a life. She knew Jasper felt it too, because without breaking eye contact with her, Jasper spoke for her, his tone almost that of a warning, "Not now Edward."
Edward stood up as if to protest, but an overwhelming feeling of calm complacency swept the room and instead of moving to Bella as he had originally intended, he sat back down. Glancing at Jasper who had been the source of the change, a frown swept over his features.
The room was silent for a moment and Bella expected the onslaught of words to come tumbling out at any moment, but nobody seemed inclined to speak first. They looked at one another, but still nobody turned to look at her. Only Jasper remained fixated on her with steadfast deliberation.
Instead of fully entering the room and submitting herself to the comforting words she knew were coming, she turned and walked up the stairs. After entering her library and shutting the door, she stood and waited for the sound of their voices or for the footsteps on the stairs that she knew were inevitable.
She waited a few minutes, and when her expectations failed, she turned around and sat on one of her overstuffed arm chairs, picking up the book she had discarded on the small table beside her the day before.
Finally the faint sound of footsteps came from the floor beneath her, steadily growing louder as the person approached her door. Her eyes left her book, watching the entryway and awaiting Edward's appearance.
The door slid open, a tuft of blonde hair the first thing that Bella was able to see. Not Edward, Jasper. His eyes met her once more and she couldn't help but smile, a wave of relief crashing over her.
He waited there, the door ajar, staring at her expectantly. "May I?"
Sitting up more fully in her seat she attempted a more inviting smile, trying to convey that his presence was welcome to her, even though she knew he could feel what emotions had come over her when he had entered the room. "Yes of course."
Coming fully into the room and shutting the door, Jasper did not come to sit beside her; instead his eyes surveyed the room with appreciation. "I haven't been in this room since you added the upper section of bookshelves. It is a very fitting room for you."
"Oh?" Bella questioned, feeling slightly amused at his conversational tone.
He walked from one end of the room to the other; stopping at the ladder propped against the middle of the wide bookshelf and resting his elbow on it. "Everyone needs their place to go where they can just be themselves. No expectations, no pressure."
"What if we don't know who that self is?" Bella asked quietly, surprised at the question once it left her lips.
Jasper smiled, a small huff of laughter escaping his throat. "Well it's a good thing that we have eternity to figure that out huh?"
Bella laughed, shaking her head at him. "Even that doesn't seem to make it any easier."
Instead of responding, Jasper just nodded, moving away from the bookshelf and settling into the chair beside hers. He looked down at the floor as if in thought for a moment and Bella studied his face. Tracing the line of his jaw with her eyes, she mapped the contours of his features in a way she had never done before.
Still raking over his face with her eyes, almost without thinking she said, "I didn't want to kill that man. I'm sorry that I did, but I wish…"
She looked down at her hands, unable to find the words she needed to finish her thought.
"What do you wish Bella?" Jasper prompted his voice almost a whisper, his eyes turning from the floor to bore into hers.
Bella stared into his eyes, watching the thoughtful glistening of his butterscotch irises intently. She found herself studying the intensity behind his gaze, and looking at him in that way caused her to lose her train of thought.
A long moment passed, a moment in which any other person would have looked away from the eye contact, but neither of them moved.
Suddenly she remembered what they had been talking about and her eyes shifted down to her open palms resting on her lap. She took a deep breath as if preparing herself for what she was about to say, though unlike when she was human the action wasn't necessary.
"I wish…they knew, that they could feel what is inside me and just know…know what it's like, know how to respond."
Her eyes never left her palms as if she was searching for the answer within the granite lines of her skin. She knew Jasper could feel the pain and uncertainty that had begun to creep through her.
Jasper moved imperceptibly from his seat to the floor in front of her, gently taking both of her hands within his own. He looked up at her downcast face, his eyes searching her for a moment before he leaned forward, cocking his head to one side trying to meet her eyes.
Running his thumbs in smooth circles over the back of her palms, he exhaled deeply. "I can feel what's inside you, Bella."
A low sarcastic laugh left her lips, and she bit her bottom lip. "Of course you do, you can't help but feel what we all feel."
"No," he said quickly, "Of course that plays a part in it, but it isn't just that. It's so much more than that."
Bella felt her breath catch in her chest and she was suddenly aware of Jasper touching her. Though they had touched before, this was different. It was a touch filled with intimacy and understanding, a feeling that Bella had not experienced in a long time.
Looking up from her lap, and down into Jasper's face she tried but failed to scrutinize the emotion that was built up behind his eyes. Suddenly she felt that she could confess anything to him at that moment and he would implicitly understand her, even without allowing for the emotions he felt emanating from her to factor into it.
After all of the years she had spent with Edward, after many conversations well into the night, the deep looks and quiet moments alone with one another, he still was not able to fully understand what she felt or thought. She had tried in vain to explain her troubled mind to him, her yearnings and wishes, talking until her human voice would have gone hoarse. She loved him, and yet she couldn't help but think that maybe they had rushed things, that they hadn't fully considered what they had in common when it all began, their minds clouded with the initial dizzying breath of love and nothing more.
She could not help but think that she hadn't understood exactly what forever had meant.
She gasped quickly, pushing the thought from her head as if Edward had been able to listen to her and would hear her doubts.
"I've slipped more times than I can count," Jasper spoke, interrupting her thoughts. "I've seen the same disappointment in their eyes, especially in Alice's eyes, even though she thinks she is able to hide it. What they think is a reflection of what they see in us."
"Edward sees perfection in me, I don't understand it and it and in some ways it isn't fair."
"It isn't," Jasper agreed.
"He babies me. He treats me like I am the seventeen year old girl he met all those years ago. He is trying to maintain my innocence, but look at me I am too far passed that."
She looked down at Jasper expecting him to respond, maybe to agree with Edward's protective response to her or at least to excuse it in some way, but he said nothing. Taking a deep breath she continued. "He doesn't see me, the real me. He doesn't understand. Nobody does."
She had said it so quietly that it had come out in little more than a breath but she knew he had heard her clearly. The earnestness she saw in his eyes made her feel embarrassed and she looked away from him then, her eyes focused on the wall, waiting for the familiar creep of blush to her cheeks that she knew would never come.
Jasper moved one hand from her palm to her chin, turning her head towards him with little resistance and meeting her eyes, taking in the bright red irises without flinching. "I do."