Stephanie Meyer owns all things Twilight.
She looks so broken.
She stands beside the large hotel window, dwarfed by the dark expanse of glass. Far below, the Mississippi dances an enticing evening invitation. An invitation to lose yourself in the night life or submerge your troubles in the swirling water.
Be the pebble is the message the river speaks to me.
Uncover our secrets is the message Alice hears.
Few people realize how fragile she truly is. Everyone remarks about her confidence and strength, never glimpsing the scared little girl underneath. I know, however. I know all of her; inside, outside, every intimate detail. It's my greatest privilege.
At this moment, she is the picture of barefaced need. Even without our intimate connection I would feel her pain. I feel it reverberate through her body until it radiates outward, inundating the room.
At this moment she has given herself over to the pain.
As much as it would hurt me to watch, I wish she would allow herself to let go long enough to vent some of her despair. No one sees the stoic discipline behind her smile. Only I do.
She is so absorbed by melancholy that my calls to her go unnoticed until my lips are at her neck.
"Jasper, it's okay. I'm okay, " patting my hand, she moves her head a small distance.
Although she knows the guise is not necessary with me she's still trying to be strong. How reflexive so many of our reactions eventually become.
We cannot lie to one another, however. This is a blessing to our union where it might be a handicap to others. We have been uniquely matched since the moment we met. I've never been able to surprise her; she cannot hide anything from me.
I'm nearly overwhelmed with the need to erase her distress.
To reassure her. Comfort her. Renew her.
I catch her hand, tugging gently until she's facing me, my hands rubbing her upper arms to emphasize my point.
"I've never known you to not be okay. This is me, Alice. Let me in. I can make things better than okay."
She sighs, rising on tiptoes to gently caress my jaw before walking to the bathroom. The door shuts behind her with a muffled click.
This is the darkest I have ever seen her.
The day had started with a modicum of hope. Hope which had been building since we checked into the Biloxi Marriott the previous evening. Hope that today would be a new beginning.
This trip was the culmination of two years' effort. Two years of lawyers. Twenty-four months of filing papers and making phone calls, all the while concentrating on the process without daring to dream about the result. Certain that disappointment would rise like a viper at any moment.
I learned on our first date that Alice was adopted. When our relationship escalated quickly, I proposed exactly a month after our introduction, Alice felt compelled to outline her doubts concerning our future.
"I'm not sure that I can be nurturing enough to give you a family, Jasper. I don't know how to do that. I don't even know what that feels like.
I was fifteen before Harry and Sue adopted me. I'd been in foster care for nine years by then. It's a myth that it's easy for little kids to get adopted, you know? I don't remember my life before I went into foster care. I have a feeling that I didn't want to remember but I can't be sure. So, I apparently went for years without looking adults in the eye much less carrying on more than a two word conversation. They couldn't even get me to smile. I finally got a caseworker who told me that other kids were finding permanent homes because they were easier to deal with. All I knew was that there was a big ball of sadness in my gut."
"Alice, that was unnecessarily blunt of her." I had struggled to control my agitation.
"She probably didn't use those exact words. She got my attention, though." She tilted her head to the side with a small shrug. "I have no idea why I responded to her when I had ignored every one else." Eyes on her lap again, a wry smile teased her lips. "I like to think it was serendipity. She was the right person at the right time. Mrs. Webber called me Project Alice and worked with me every day after school to socialize me. She showed me that taking an interest in other people pushed the melancholy aside and I met the Clearwaters soon after that. I was thrilled that I would finally have a home.
Sue and Harry have been wonderful to me; I couldn't imagine living with two better people. They're as close to family as I've ever known but, even today, I part of me feels like an outsider. I haven't told them any of this. This's on me, not them."
Her voice had become progressively quieter until she seemed to say that last sentence more to herself than to me. She paused there and I was surprised to find that my eyes were moist while hers were not. I was at a loss for words but sensed that physical reassurance was what she needed most. I pulled her close, rubbing her arms and back.
When she continued her voice had returned to its usual timbre.
"I've never asked Sue to find anything out for me. Once I turned eighteen and could have pursued this on my own I thought it was better to leave it be. Jasper, now that I've met you, I'm even more confused. I think I need to learn where I've been before I can see where I'm going."
She didn't have to finish her thought. The fear was right there, large enough to engulf us if we allowed it.
I gathered both of her hands in mine. I had never been more sure of anything in all my life.
"Alice, all I know is the woman I've spent the best four weeks of my life with. From what I've seen, this woman could move heaven and hell if she put her mind to it. I believe she could do anything."
I scooped her up, she looked unfathomably fragile, and cradled her on my lap for hours. It was the only time I've seen her that vulnerable.
By the time I took her home that evening she was facing the world with radiance and grace again. She believed those traits to be superficial, her personal interface with the world. I knew that she also had startling depth as well as courage. And that all four qualities went clear to the bone.
We married two months later.
Our lawyer had finally given us a name and address in Biloxi three days ago. I felt Alice beginning to allow herself to hope.
The rental car's GPS navigated us to the beige frame house seamlessly. Alice's disquiet was palpable to me although her face glowed with excitement. Placing a light hand on her arm before she could leave the car, I kissed her earnestly. Resting my forehead against hers, I squeezed both hands within mine. "You can do this."
I joined her at the foot of the sidewalk, allowing her to lead the way to the front door. My hand on her shoulder, she took a deep breath and rang the bell.
A fair haired woman in her early twenties answered the door. If Alice expected a family resemblance, we had not discussed her expectations for today, she was being disappointed.
Her smile was as radiant as Alice's, though, as she held the door in welcome.
"Hel-lo! I'm Mary Margaret, please just call me Maggie. You must be Mary Alice and Jasper, although I think you prefer being called Alice, is that right? Come on in and make yourselves at home."
Maggie was full of southern charm as she offered us sweet tea and snacks. She sat in an arm chair while Alice and I sat together on the sofa, glancing around her tiny but impeccably orderly home.
We made small talk for forty-five minutes or so as the girls exchanged pleasantries about their lives. Alice's smile expanded by several kilowatts the longer they talked.
Then Alice remembered the small gift bag she carried.
"I don't know if there's etiquette for meetings like this but I wanted to do something to say thank-you for having us here. My lawyer said you were very gracious when you agreed to our request. Coming here means a great deal to me."
"I'm not gonna lie, I was a little shocked to find out I have a sister." She chuckled mirthlessly. "For all I know, though, the way Momma was, you might be the first of a whole slew of reunions."
That was all it took to broach the subject we came to discuss.
"I guess that's the whole point for me. I have no idea what my mother, our mother, would or wouldn't have been capable of. I'm hoping you can give me some insight."
Maggie nodded her head, face turned toward her lap with a solemn expression. She was silent for what felt like a long stretch of time but was likely only a few moments. "I'm not sure 'insight' is the right word. I can tell you what I remember but I'm not sure that you'll thank me for it."
She looked up and tossed herself backward into the overstuffed chair, looking for all the world as if she had been pressed against it. Her eyes darted to meet Alice's.
"You were disappointed to hear that Momma was dead?"
This was more statement than question. Alice nodded her agreement.
"I figured. You know, a big part of me wants to assure you that you're better off that she's gone. I was mostly raised by Gran since Momma was in and out of the locked ward so often. She'd be fine for long periods of time, then feel like she had her demons beat and go off her meds again. I spent my whole childhood wondering how long I'd be with Gran before Momma showed up again."
"It sounds like that's one thing we have in common. I didn't stay in one place long, either." Alice's eyes are riveted to Maggie, hanging on every word.
"I'm more than a little pissed at her right now over you. I don't even know if we have the same father because I didn't even know you existed!"
Alice's voice drops, "Are you close to your father?"
Maggie snorts her answer, "No, Momma had no clue who he was. She was never at a loss for company, though, let me tell you. She was very pretty and, when she was manic 'cause she'd been off-med for awhile, she was a hoot to be around."
An uncomfortable silence settled over the room as we considered our discussion so far.
"Look; y'all seem like real nice people so I don't want to sound cruel. I've spent the last three years trying to make peace with my childhood. I thought I had done a pretty damn good job, too. Then I get this call out of the blue and I'm in chaos all over again. I feel so horrible about disappointing you, I'm not sure what you thought was going to happen here, but I don't think I can leave myself open to all of the hurt getting to know you would bring."
Alice's face was a veil of sad understanding but her sudden rigidity spoke volumes to me.
I spoke to ease the stifling tension that choked the room. "Maybe we came here too soon. We should have considered your feelings before setting a meeting so soon after you heard the news."
"That's so kind of you. I could tell right away that y'all are good people. I can't say for sure if that would have made any difference, though. I don't think so."
"Why did you agree to meet us then? If it was going to be so painful?" Alice is grasping my hand like it's her only tether to solid ground.
"I didn't want to let you down completely. Anyway, it wasn't until after I said 'yes' that I wondered what in the hell I was doing. Now that you're here I feel even worse for bringing you all this way for nothing. I'm so sorry to disappoint you. I'm glad we met and all but I'm even more sure now that I don't have it in me to go through all this."
The conversation turned awkward although they continued to speak for a short while longer, Alice clearly reluctant to leave and Maggie unwilling to ask us to go.
Finally, Alice slowly rose and walked to Maggie with her arms extended, her face a silent plea for permission. A barely perceptible nod and Alice embraced Maggie in a fierce yet deeply supportive hug.
I waited patiently for them to mitigate their emotion, fully aware that this may be their only opportunity to do so.
Alice was the first to disengage. Wiping away tears, she used a finger to lift Maggie's chin despite the younger girl being several inches taller.
"If I know anything, it's what being overwhelmed feels like. And what it's like to feel like you've had enough change to last a lifetime. We'll be at the Wyndham until noon tomorrow. I'm not expecting you to call but I want you to feel welcome to. Same goes for after we go home. I would love to get know you. Please know that I will always, always be happy to hear from you."
We were silent for the car ride back to the hotel. I reached out for Alice's hand, knowing that this was not how she had expected today to unfold. I rubbed soft circles with my thumb, wishing that this was enough to heal a woman who has just been cleaved in two.
I'm stirred from my reverie by Alice's return to the room. Shuffling her feet to the bed she lies down, staring at the ceiling.
My first reaction is alarm at her deepening gloom. Then I resolve to fight. Today is not going to be about endings.
"That's it. I've had enough."
Alice looks at me in mild surprise. "Had enough..?"
"I'm not going to let this define you. I've been quiet and supported you in every way I could think of because that's what you needed right then. Now it's time for you to see that all the power you need is inside you. Right now. I want you to see the woman who amazes me every day. Alice, you couldn't want to be a nurturing person if you didn't already have that capacity within you. I see a bottomless ability to comfort, to encourage and be everything for the people in your life.
"Jasper..." Alice looks like she's about to tell me she's too tired to have this conversation.
Telling her not to 'be' a certain way is an exercise in futility. As if change is as simple as that. She needs more than words. Giving her a wicked smile, I dash back to the bathroom, returning in triumph with an armful of ammunition.
"I've had enough of watching you mope. Enough of being quietly supportive. You took a solid blow to your life plan today. It was tough but you're tougher. I'm here to make sure you move on."
Starting at the edge of the bed, I give her a playful leer as I stalk toward her location in the middle.
She shrieks as I run a finger, heel to toe, along the bottom of her foot before grabbing it in both hands to pull it into my lap.
My action surprises her to the effect that she's laying flat on the bed with only her head propped on a pillow when I'm finished. Opening the foot scrub with a flourish, I squeeze a blob onto her foot. She shivers from the cold, a reluctant smile teasing her lips.
"What you need is some serious pampering. Luckily for you, I am an expert."
"Is that so?" She cocks an eyebrow, playing along. "Why don't I already know this?"
"I've been saving it as my secret weapon. Now, shhh, and let me work." Continuing in an infomercial-like tone, I advise, "It's important to start the renewal process by using a good foot scrub. This increases circulation and sloughs off dead skin."
Alice is giggling in spite of herself at the sudden change in mood. The atmosphere in the entire room has changed completely in the past few minutes and I begin to feel my own hope.
She has given so much more to me than I could ever renumerate. I've told her many times that she brought me to life, that I was aimless and hollow before meeting her, but my words never seem to express enough of my feeling. I continue to try but find them inadequate too often. I can see clearly that this is my moment to repay a small amount of what Alice has given me. Somehow, in learning how to live through giving, Alice lost the ability to take.
Concentrating on my work, I find myself enjoying the interplay of the lightly abrasive scrub between my palm and Alice's foot. The texture is unexpectedly sensual.
Using a washcloth I'd brought for this purpose, I carefully wipe the mixture from her feet, alternating between focusing on my activity and watching her eyes, gauging my progress. She watches me intently, her shoulders showing subtle signs of relaxing.
Brandishing the foot lotion, I squirt a circle onto each foot.
"The technical term for this is 'slathering'. My job is to slather your feet in scented luxury." I give her a stern, I-mean-business look, "Your job, Missy, is to lay there and enjoy it."
"Yes, sir." Alice closes her eyes, a quiet hum occupying her lips.
"Do you know that I can feel how tense you are even at the furthest point of your body? You're don't just feel tension, you internalize it." My hands, so large against her tiny feet, convey my reverence as I push my thumbs into her arch, then across her instep, working across the tops of her feel to end at her heels.
Alice's feet consume the lotion as if a long neglected thirst is being quenched.
She slips further down into the pillow bank, eyes still closed, beginning to give herself over to the process.
My eyes search the remaining products on the bed, selecting a weapon for my next assault.
The orchid scented body lotion moves me to laugh softly, shaking my head at my wife. She is herself a corporeal orchid; extraordinarily beautiful and tenaciously adapted to thrive in adverse conditions.
I apply the body lotion to my hand before lifting her lower leg, cradling it in my free hand. Her eyes open languidly as I rub lotion into the taut swell of her calf muscle, across her dimpled knee, upward to the smoother skin of her thigh. Her back arches a reflexive benediction to my ministrations. Alice's change in position drags her free leg along my inner thigh, her toes traveling the entire length of my thigh muscle. Immediately aroused, I warn her to behave.
"Oops," she giggles. "I didn't know I was breaking a rule." Her eyes make a liar of the repentant finger pressed against her lips.
"I said 'behave." I hiss, trying to dampen my burgeoning enthusiasm. "You need to be content to let me do this. When I'm through giving to you, then we'll see what's next."
"I couldn't resist, Jas. I feel so decadent just laying here. It doesn't feel right."
I rest her heel on my shoulder so I can stretch far enough to kiss her nose. "Trust me, I know. Just believe in me and don't over think this." My hands return to teasing the remaining tension from her leg. "Every time you open your mouth your muscles tense up again. No more talking, no more thinking."
"Acting without thinking was what got me in trouble in the first place," she pouts, then becomes serious when she hears my answering growl. "You're right, I give up. I am placing myself in your capable hands. " Fresh giggles are met with another growl. "Honestly, Jas; you're going to have to tell me....ah!...when you got so good at this."
I owe all of my skill to you, hon. You've just been unable to focus.
We've never needed to talk about things in the same way as other couples. There has been a companionable harmony to our relationship since the beginning. A union of souls that goes deeper than words. This is what I'm working to evoke in her now.
My hands return to the soft skin of her thigh, thumbs pressing counterpoint to finger pads. Another degree of anxiety is vanquished.
By the time I've repeated the process with her remaining leg, her entire lower body rests deeply on the mattress. Hands on both hips, I gingerly roll her onto her stomach, careful to preserve her ease with unhurried, fluid movement. Her sleep tee is removed in the same deliberate manner.
The orchid lotion has become my weapon of choice. Warming a glob between my hands, I begin at her lower back, using the base of my palm to push toward her shoulders like a lifeguard expelling bad air.
Alice's breath becomes even and deep although I know she's not asleep. She's intoning a satisfied sound so low that I might have missed it had I not felt the vibration. The skin on her back, even thirstier than the rest of her body, accepts palm fulls of lotion gratefully. With each pass over her exquisite skin, my hands tap into her strength, pulling it to the surface.
I'm so caught up in my activity that I barely register Alice's movement until she has turned completely over to fan her delicate hands across my chest. Her lips brush mine gently, gaining fervor with a second pass.
My body responds instinctively until my mind clamors to regain control.
"Alice this is supposed to be about you right now."
"It is, Jas. Believe me, the most selfish thing I can think of right now is to ask you to stop what you're doing. I promise that we'll work on me staying patient and quiet when we get home. I'm so selfish right now that I can't lay here anymore without touching you."
She drags her fingers very gingerly along the waist of my sleep pants, knowing full well that this will aid her petition. I'm unable to stifle the groan which follows and help her to remove my pants.
She pushes herself to her knees, dancing her fingers in airy touches up my arms to wrap them intently around my neck. Her blue eyes lock mine, communicating everything I need to know about tonight and our future.
Alice moans when our lips meet, testimony that she's experiencing the increased intensity which grips me. Our communion begins at our lips and works its way down the range of our torsos as if we are pieces of cloth seamed tightly for endurance.
Alice's kisses are more fervent, more insistent than ever before. As if the renewal that began at the soles of her feet has caught fire and rages to devour her from within. Her eyes assure me that she's unafraid. So long as I am with her, an inviolate brace, she can burn to ash with confidence that she'll rise again.
We've withstood a test of spirit together today and been found worthy.
Hips buffet hips as she settles herself into my lap, rubbing slowly from side to side until she finds her perfect fit, reminding me of dovetail joints on antique furniture; a precise, enduring joint. Her fingers urge me to possess her, eager for the completeness she only finds with me, through me. I am equally impatient to be perfected. I am a broken vessel without her to make me whole.
Eager to fulfill our need, I rise quickly, cupping her head to lay her gently against the mattress. Her head rolls backward, using the mattress for leverage as her pelvis seeks the missing piece. Guiding my turgid arousal, I fit into her with firm, confident strokes.
Alice answers her delight with pledges of devotion while my movements within her resound with our new found fervor. I am confident that she feels my worship.
Our joined position gives Alice the perfect angle for the copious open mouth kisses she visits on my chest. Her mouth against my nipple is a revelation, sending shudders through my torso that threaten to disrupt my rhythm. Alice's short nails lightly abrade the length of my back, leaving no mark on my skin but tracing the practiced indentations she has already pressed on my soul. Her touch causes my hips to thrust more urgently until I'm panting from their intensity.
Before today, our experiences together have been enthusiastic but reserved. The Alice lying beneath me is an wholly new incarnation and I find myself rising to match her pitch.
Alice acts as through seized by a craving, her movements frenetic and uncoordinated. She's a vision of pure sensation, well beyond anything I've experienced with her before. Her face displays a mixture of wonder and exhilaration. There will be no going back for us now. It's no longer about taking or giving, Alice or Jasper. There is only us and our union.
Her persistent vocalization has left her voice dry and hoarse as she tries to alert me to her impending orgasm, "Jasper.."
Her face has already told me everything.
The only words I can manage to force from my lips are, "I'm with you" before tumbling headlong into a thundering climax, dazed by the bright, bright light obliterating my sight. I feel Alice spasm around and below me, her hands desperately clenching my arms to galvanize our bond. We remain joined, relishing our overwhelming contentment. It was beyond rapture.
Kissing her soundly, I allow my weight to fall to the mattress, rolling Alice over until she's on top of me. Her answering giggles spark something similar in me and we're soon rolling the length of the bed. Our teenage laughter is cathartic, a wax-hot seal to our pact to each other. We are still, in many ways, the same couple we were this morning. In even more important ways, however, we are so much stronger.
Alice runs a finger thoughtfully along my jaw, her eyes sparking. "I don't know what I did to deserve you, Jasper."
"You didn't have to do anything. We deserve each other."My hug is vehement, filled with urgency to underscore and amplify my words.
Reluctant to move, even to clean up, we touch and kiss, giggling and sharing long into the night. Eventually, we fall asleep entwined like a mass of ivy, prepared to face our tomorrows.