Eavesdropping is wrong. Not only does it violate the trust and privacy of the person you are listening to, you really never hear anything good about yourself or anyone else. Eavesdropping is doubly wrong when you go sneaking down the stairs so you can get in a better vantage point to spy. Doing both of those things is bad enough. However, when you are hiding in the darkened den to eavesdrop on your own parents, I'm pretty sure that's just about the worst thing you can do.
Not that any of those thoughts stopped me from doing it. I suppose I could have just asked one or both of them what was going on later, but I didn't. Over the past few weeks, everyone has been really tense, like there's something happening just below the surface. Mom and Dad are both worrying constantly, Rose is bitchier than usual and even Emmett has picked up on everyone else's anxiety.
Then there's Jasper. He's…well, he's starting to get very strange. Not that Jasper hasn't always been a little different, but things have changed with him. Before, I had a pretty good idea of what he could and couldn't handle, and I felt pretty confident that I knew which way he would jump in any given situation. Now, well, now things are different.
The worst part about it is, everyone keeps pretending that things are normal. No one even seems to wonder about the fact that Jasper isn't doing any of the things he usually does, good or bad. It's enough to make me wonder sometimes if I'm the problem, and everyone else is fine.
To be fair though, I didn't notice the changes in Jasper at first either. He talked less and slept more, but I had just assumed that his not talking was the result of him not sleeping well, which was why he seemed to be in bed early more and more often.
Except I could usually tell when he was having trouble sleeping. My bed was almost directly over his and Emmett's room, and I was usually still awake when he started with one of his night terrors. His screaming filtered through the heat register, distorted by the vents until it sounded more like a howling animal than anything else. The past few weeks had been quiet, though.
Still, I knew that I didn't know everything that went on downstairs, so I hadn't thought much of it. Jasper sleeps restlessly even when he isn't having nightmares, so there was no way for me to be sure about him. Those thoughts barely skimmed my mind before they were forgotten. I just wasn't in the habit of thinking too much about Jasper and his problems. Usually, I left that task to Alice and my parents.
No, I hadn't really noticed anything until last week, when I had found him in the kitchen doing his homework at the table. Jasper has the amazing ability to know exactly where everyone in the house is, so I had assumed that he knew that I was behind him. Apparently he hadn't, because he freaked out when I slapped him on the back.
Almost as soon as I touched him, Jasper shot to his feet, swinging wildly. I stumbled backwards as fast as possible, but he still managed to clip me both on the shoulder, and in the gut. His panic passed as soon as he touched me, and he dropped his eyes, pressing back against the counter.
I would have apologized for scaring him, and let him know that I wasn't upset with him, but he had knocked the breath out of me. Before I could even begin to catch my breath, Jasper spun around and fled the room. I spent the next two hours looking for him, without any success. It wasn't until dinner that night that I finally saw him again, and even then he wouldn't look me in the eyes.
That was the sort of behavior I had expected from him when he had first arrived, not now. That was when I really started watching Jasper.
Mom and Dad might think that they have secrets, but very little goes on in this house that we kids don't eventually find out about. I knew that Dad had talked to Jasper about staying after his birthday, and I knew that Jasper had managed to avoid the question. I didn't get it personally. Dad was offering him a free place to stay, schooling that he probably wouldn't be able to continue if he moved out, and a chance at a real family. All for just letting things go on as they had been. How could he even consider giving that up?
But Jasper was. Almost from the exact moment Dad asked, he started to pull away from us. He stopped coming up to my room when I was present, even though I had made it clear that he was welcome to practice any time he wanted. It was actually better if I was there, because I could correct his mistakes immediately, but he would only come up when I was at school or with Bella. I knew he was still practicing, because he still played through the piece each night, and I could hear it from the second floor.
He's not as enthusiastic about playing ball as he used to be either. He's the best catcher in the family, and we were counting on him to be able to play in the tournament next month. He wasn't that fast, considering his limp, but hey, no one's perfect. He really seemed to like practicing for a while, but now he's always tired, or needs to do homework, or isn't feeling that good. If he didn't want to play, he could have just said so, but I don't think that that's it. He does want to play, just not with us. He likes us, but he's afraid to get that close to us.
It's sort of a catch-22. Jasper needs some space to figure everything out, but how can I remind him how much we want him to stay while I'm trying not to crowd him? Not to mention I'm not that good at expressing my feelings anyway. So I've basically spent the last week skulking around like some sort of stalker, wanting to help, but having no idea how to do so.
Which brings me to tonight. I wasn't sleeping; I never am at this time of night, so I heard my father go stomping down the hall, sounding like an entire herd of horses. It worried me, so I crept down the stairs and cracked open the door. It wasn't spying, exactly, it was just checking to make sure my family was alright. It only became spying when I didn't go back upstairs after Dad said that everything was alright.
I know, I know, I should have just gone back upstairs then, but my curiosity got the better of me. Especially when he wouldn't tell Mom what was going on in there. I waited until they started downstairs before nudging the door the rest of the way open and checking Emmett's room myself. Didn't look like there was anything going on in there except Emmett's snoring, so I gave up and followed my parents downstairs.
So here I was. I had gotten of the stairs, just in case they decided to come back upstairs. I listened as Dad recounted his dream that Jasper had committed suicide and the discussion that followed. Could it be true? Was Jasper so unhappy he would consider taking his own life?
I didn't think so. Not because I didn't think he was extremely unhappy, because he was, but because suicide would require way too much effort from Jasper. He might think about it, but he would never have the guts to actually do it. After all, what would happen if he tried and failed? He would never be trusted again. We would be watching him constantly, never letting him have privacy or a moment's peace. There would be more therapy, pills, constant observation. There was no way he would ever let that happen.
I wanted to tell Mom and Dad that, to ease their worries a bit, but I didn't. Doing so would not only reveal my presence, but they wouldn't believe me. They're great parents, don't get me wrong, but sometimes they forget that they aren't the only ones who know what's going on. They were as guilty as any other parents of forgetting the simplest truth imaginable: the kids knew what was going on, because we had already been there. I could tell them most of what went through Jaspers head, because it had all gone through either my head or one of my sibling's heads at one point or another.
Luckily, they came to the same conclusion on their own. Ok, maybe they aren't as stupid as I sometimes think they are. Then they started getting mushy, and I had to step away. I mean, who want to hear their parents confessing their undying love. Then they were headed back upstairs, giggling and touching like a pair of teenagers, and I had to prevent myself from throwing up.
Now that they were gone, I found myself with very little left to do. I wasn't tired, even though this was usually about the time I settled down. They had given me too much to think about to sleep right now. I decided to raid the kitchen and see if they had left any of the tea behind.
Not much, but enough to make a cup as long as I poured a generous amount of milk in with it. I sat down on the counter with it and a few Oreos, not bothering to turn on a light. Now I would never go to sleep, but who cared. I could come home after school tomorrow and take a long nap, which was how I preferred to do things anyway. Damn, I couldn't wait until I was out of school and could set my own schedule.
The house was nearly silent, which was why I heard the soft footsteps coming down the stairs. I cocked my head and listened intently. Too light to be Emmett, too slow for Rose. Alice was at a friend's house and my parents were otherwise occupied, a thought that made me shudder. Seemed the man of the hour was about to make an appearance.
"Hey, Jasper." I spoke as soon as he came into the room, since I knew he couldn't see me in the dark.
He jumped anyway, his eyes squeezing shut in anticipation of…something. Me yelling? A blow? Hard to tell with him. He pulled it together though. "Hey."
I flipped the lights. "What's up?"
"Uh, I was just a little hungry. If I'm bothering you, I can leave."
There was really no way to make him understand that the house was as much his now as it was mine. "Nah, it's cool. What do you want to eat?"
"I don't know. Is there any dinner left?" He leaned against the table, squinting in the light.
I laughed. "Are you kidding? As soon as you left, Emmett finished your plate and everything else. I could make you a grilled cheese or something. You know, if you want."
"Sure, but I can make it myself." He stretched absently, scratching at his shoulder.
"Fine with me, you want me to stay and keep you company?" Hopefully he would say yes. I didn't want to be pushy, but I did want Jasper to feel like he was wanted.
He cut his eyes over at me, no doubt trying to see into my mind. Did I really want to keep him company, or was I just being polite? "Ok." It was tiny and uncertain, but he was at least indicating he wanted me to stay.
"Cool." I grabbed a plate, tossing on a pickle and a few Doritos, which were Jasper's favorite chips. Jasper pulled his sandwich off the stove just as I poured him a glass of milk, completing the meal. "Thanks."
I knew that he hadn't gotten much dinner, and probably hadn't really tasted what he had gotten, so I was relieved to see him eating. I was skinny, but Jasper just looked underfed. Most of the time he ate well, but he either hadn't quite grown into his body yet, or his stress levels were so high he was burning huge amounts of calories through nerves alone.
He turned the plate in my direction, offering me a chip. I waved it off, hoping that he would finish on his own. We didn't say much to each other, but that was fine. Neither one of us felt the need to fill up the silence with meaningless words. I love Emmett and all, but the guy never stops talking. It was nice to just be able to enjoy Jasper's company, without having to do much or share him with the rest of the family.
All too soon, though, he was eating the last chip and finishing his milk. "Thank you for keeping me company, Edward. I know I'm keeping you up."
"Nah, it's cool." So what if I couldn't get up in the morning? It wouldn't be the first time, nor the last. This little moment it with my brother sort of made it all worth it in the end.
When he smiled at me, it was one of the best things I had ever seen. A real smile, one that allowed me to realize he had a dimple on one side. Not that strange, nervous smile that showed too many teeth and looked more like a growl. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Maybe not the morning, but I'll be home right after school." I put our dishes in the sink and turned off the light. The entire walk up the stairs, I debated whether to say what I was thinking or not, but finally decided to go for it. "Jasper?"
He paused outside Emmett's room, his eyes dark in the poor light. "Hm?"
Now that the moment was here, my voice stuck. Just spit it out, Edward, you've come this far already. "I'm glad you decided to stay." Hopefully that wouldn't scare him too badly.
He stopped dead. "You are?"
Did he really not understand how much we cared about him? "Of course."
"Cool. At least someone wants me around." The words were muttered mostly to his chest, and I was pretty sure that I wasn't supposed to hear them. He lifted his head. "Good night, Edward."
"Night, Jasper." Apparently he didn't understand how much we wanted him to stay around. "I'll see you tomorrow."
The situation bothered me the entire way back up to my room. We all tried to make Jasper feel like he was part of the family, and that we wanted him to stay, but he wasn't understanding us. He didn't feel like a part of the family.
Because he isn't. The thought was painful in its clarity. But that was silly, of course he was. I might not enjoy the close relationship with Jasper that I have with Emmett, but I did consider him my brother.
Do you really? My inner voice had a distinctly mocking quality to it. You don't even know why he's upset, and its right in front of your face.
After a few minutes thought, I had to conclude that my subconscious was right. I didn't know why Jasper was upset, or how I could fix it. I curled up in bed, turning it all over in my mind. Everything, from the minute Dad called a family meeting to Jasper meeting me in the kitchen tonight was turned over and over in without success. I knew the answer, but what was it?
What do you have that he doesn't? What do all of you have that excludes him? Come on now, Edward Cullen, you're smarter than that.
In a flash, I knew exactly what the problem was, and had no idea why it had taken me so long to figure it out. Cullen. We all had the name Cullen, and he had the name Whitlock. Mom and Dad had not only told us they wanted us with words, but by adopting us and making us legally theirs. They hadn't done that for Jasper. As far as I knew, the subjected had never even been brought up.
Honestly, before today, I had never even thought of it. We had never intended to keep Jasper, he was clearly noted as "foster only" in our file. It was only after we had met him, and realized he was what was missing around here that we ever considered letting him stay. But without our last name and a binding attachment, we could decide at any time that we no longer wanted him, and he would be out on the streets. Jasper was brilliant; undoubtedly he understood all of this.
Good job, Edward, now what are you going to do about it?
Good question. I had to talk to Dad, there was no two ways about that, but should I do it now, or in the morning? I hated to wake him up again, but this was important. He'd forgive me, right?
On the other hand, Jasper was already in bed, probably asleep. Even if I bothered Dad, there would be no time for him to talk to Jasper before morning, and then there would be two of us losing sleep over Jasper. No, I couldn't go to Dad tonight. We would all be here in the morning.
Despite my late night wanderings, and confused mind, or perhaps because of them, I fell asleep very quickly, only to rouse a few short hours later when the alarm started blaring. Stupid damn thing. I swatted at it until it shut up, and rolled back over to try and drift off again. It might have worked, had I actually turned the alarm off instead of just hitting snooze. It started shrilling again, just as I was relaxing. I fumbled until it turned off, only to hear my mother calling. "Edward Anthony Cullen! Right now or I'm coming up there with a cup of ice in my hand!"
She had only carried out that particular threat on a few occasions, but the last time was near enough in my memory that I rose immediately. "I'm up!"
I tossed on my nearest clothes and grabbed a windbreaker from the back of my futon. It was finally edging into spring, but it was still chilling and windy in the mornings. My backpack was propped against the door, and I scooped it up. There, now I was ready for the day.
I hadn't forgotten the events of last night, and I spent most of my trip down the stairs steeling myself for talking to Dad. It wasn't that I thought he wouldn't believe me, or that I thought he might be angry with me; it was just that I hated it when he felt bad, and I knew he would feel terrible about this. He always thinks that he should know absolutely everything that happens with us kids, even when we're doing our best to hide it from him.
My stomach was a little bit clenched with anxiety, but I forced it calm. This will only take a few minutes, then I can get on with my day. After all, this is for Jasper, to try and fix things with him.
"Morning, baby." Mom is making chocolate chip pancakes, which means she's in a really good mood. Emmett is plowing through a stack as large as his own head, his eyes half closed in bliss. Jasper himself was happily drenching his pancakes in enough butter to satisfy his entire daily requirement for dairy. I gave Mom a quick kiss and took a stack of pancakes for myself.
"So, who would like to confess to leaving dirty dishes in the sink last night? Not to mention the teapot is ruined because someone forgot to turn the burner off."
Oh shit. I had been about to turn it off, but then Jasper had come downstairs and I got gotten distracted talking to him and…yep, I had never turned to burner off. I was opening my mouth to confess when Jasper beat me to it. "It was me, sorry."
I cut my eyes at him, only to find him looking back at me. One eyebrow quirked, and I could read his face as clearly as I've ever read anything. Don't worry about it, bro. I've got you covered this time. "I woke up last night, and I was hungry, but there wasn't any dinner left. I made a grilled cheese, but I guess I forgot the clean up."
Mom softened immediately. "Honey, you need to be more careful. You could have started a fire."
He looked down and whispered. "I'm sorry."
She kissed the top of his head, and I was surprised to see him lean into her instead of backing away. "It's alright. Just try and remember to clean up after yourself."
"Ok." He went back to eating his pancakes.
I wouldn't have gotten off nearly as light, and we both knew it. So when he looked at me and smiled a little, I grinned back. It was then that I realized that the one person I wanted to see wasn't anywhere to be found. "Where's Dad?"
"Work. Some huge pile-up on the highway early this morning and they called all available surgeons in. Why, is it something I can help you with?"
For about a nanosecond, I considered unburdening myself to her. She'll understand, she always does. But I just couldn't. Dad is the one who needs to do this with Jasper; I knew that deep in my bones. Dad is the one he respects, and the one he fears. In his mind, Dad was boss, and he needed to hear that the boss accepted him.
"Nah, its guy stuff. I'll just talk to him later." I tried to keep my voice as nonchalant as possible.
Luckily, Emmett is always willing to jump in and humiliate me. "Is it about sex? Because I could tell you about sex, what do you want to know?" He wiped a pretend tear from one eye. "Our little Eddie is finally becoming a man."
My face flamed. "Shut up, you asshole. It's not about sex." Why did he always have to humiliate me in front other people? Especially Mom! As far as I knew, no one had ever said anything about the camping trip and what we had discussed, but I wouldn't put it past him.
"Are you sure? Because I could-"
"Emmett, enough." Mom to the rescue! She didn't raise her voice, but only a moron would push it now. "Don't all of you have to get ready?"
We could all take a hint, and finished quickly. I grabbed Jasper's plate, leaning towards him to whisper "Thanks for covering."
He didn't say anything, but he did give me a minute nod. I knew him well enough by now to know that anything else I tried to say on the subject would just end up embarrassing him. Still, I liked to imagine that he was telling me not to worry, that it was just what you did for your brother.
Things got kind of crazy then, with all of us trying to grab our last minute things and get out to the Jeep. Alice had to rush back and give Jasper one last kiss, which he accepted gratefully, and then we were off.
It was just the three of us in the car, so we were able to stop and pick Bella up on the way. Actually, it was out of our way, but the no one complained about suddenly having to leave a half hour earlier in the mornings. For a family that enjoyed bickering about the smaller things in life, we certainly knew how to pull together when it counted.
She came racing out of the house, stumbling twice as she came down the drive. She had to be one of the clumsiest people I had ever met, but it was all in an endearing way rather than an irritating one. The door popped open and she settled in next to me. "Hi, Edward."
I leaned over and kissed her, since I knew she liked it when I made the first move. "How was your night?"
"It was fine. Charlie and I went out to the Rez to see Billy and Jake."
There was just something about Jacob, oh excuse me "Jake" that put my teeth on edge. Not only was I fully aware that he had a huge crush on Bella, but he knew that I knew, and enjoyed absolutely tormenting me over it. I forced myself to be polite. "Oh, really? How is Jacob?"
She giggled. "Finally hitting his growth spurt! He's always been the shortest boy in class, now he's one of the tallest. He has a girlfriend, now, so I probably won't get to see as much of him."
It was hard, but I managed to contain my smile of joy. I was groping for the right reply when she shrugged. "I guess that's fair, though. I have you and he deserves someone too." She put up a hand and traced my face, gently running a finger under my eyes. "You look tired, didn't you sleep well?"
The rest of the family might notice, but only Bella would ask. "I slept alright. I went downstairs to get a drink, and ended up running into Jasper, so we stayed up and talked longer than we should have."
Emmett crowed from the driver's seat. "I knew it wasn't Jasper who left that burner going! He's never drunk a damn cup of tea in his entire life. So tell me, Eddie, was Jasper down there at all, and how did you get him to cover for you? I mean, I didn't hear him leave the room last night."
"With the way you were snoring, I'm not surprised. Good God, Emmett, I can practically hear you up in my room." I was doing my best to change the subject.
Unfortunately, Emmett can be like a dog with a bone. Once his attention locks on one thing, it's next to impossible to sway it to anything else. "The only reason you can hear my snoring is because of the way the vents are set up and you know it. I would think the Crying Ghost would have taught you that."
Oh, God, he had just brought up one of the more humiliating memories of my childhood. Shortly after arriving at our house, Emmett had found out about the way the vents ran. I strongly suspected Rosalie had helped him, since she and I were at each others throats constantly about that time. However they figured it out, they managed to hatch a plan that had me terrified and confused for weeks.
Emmett would stand on a chair with his face pressed to the vent, making soft whimpering noises. Then, once he was sure he had my attention, he would cry and whisper to me softly. The vents made his voice so indistinct that I couldn't recognize it, and I found myself sitting on the floor, talking back to the voice for hours on end.
To be fair to Emmett, I hadn't really been afraid then. I had actually been kind of impressed. After all, there were four kids and two adults in the house, and the ghost had chosen to talk to me, out of all of them. Emmett saw it as nothing more than some teasing of his gullible younger brother. What Rosalie saw it as was a bit more of a mystery, but probably nowhere near as nice.
Then, late one night, it had stopped being fun. The ghost had been quiet that night, despite my repeatedly asking it to talk to me. Suddenly, a terrible thought had occurred to me. The ghost was my father. He wasn't talking to me because he liked me best; he was talking to me because he wanted to torture me. He was furious because I had lived and he had died. He was in the vent now, but I wasn't stupid enough to think he would stay there. Maybe one night he would come out and come get me.
It had been about that point that I freaked out and went running down the hallway, tossing myself into my parent's bed. I had been crying so hard that it took nearly 20 minutes before I could speak at all, and an hour more before I could make them understand that I hadn't had a nightmare, that I had actually been hearing voices in the vent.
From that point, it was fairly easy for Dad to trace the vent back to Emmett's room, and figure out what had happened. In all the years I had been their son, and even to this day, I don't think I have ever seen my father so furious. He had hauled both Emmett and Rose out of bed and proceeded to yell at them for nearly an hour, letting them know exactly how he felt about having some of his kids tormenting the others.
Emmett had first turned ashen, then almost started crying himself. He was a goofball, and always ready for a prank, but he was never cruel. In his mind, he was just having fun. He hadn't meant to scare me, and he certainly hadn't meant to make me cry. His apologies had been profuse, and after that he had made a much more concentrated effort to treat me like an equal, rather than an annoying little pest who followed him around and got in his way. Since I pretty much worshipped my new big brother anyway, it wasn't hard to forgive him.
Rose had been much less contrite, though she was more to blame than Emmett. She didn't even attempt to lie about it, but she didn't see the big deal either. She had scared me, so what? I hadn't been physically harmed; no one was bleeding, so why was everyone so upset?
Her indifference got her sent back to therapy, where she either figured out what the problem was, or just became much better at pretending she did, depending on which family member you asked. I had always been suspicious of her, and this just confirmed that she was up to no good. It didn't do a whole lot for our relationship, that was for sure.
"The crying ghost? What's that?" Of course Bella wouldn't miss it.
I gave both Emmett a death glare, then muttered. "Oh, it's just some stupid thing that Emmett used to scare me with when I was little." Please God, don't let her do the math and figure out I was 10 years old instead of five.
Either luck was on my side, or Bella had more grace than to say anything, because that was all that was said on the subject. This turned out to be a mixed blessing, as I didn't have to worry about Emmett further humiliating me, but it left me with nothing to do but think about what I was going to say to Dad when I got home.
How do you tell your father that he's fucking up with your older brother? That everything he's trying is wrong, and he needs your help to fix it. Not that I thought Dad would be upset with me, but I hated to see him upset at all. This is for Jasper. It's not about you or Dad. The thought didn't provide much except a sort of cold comfort.
The day flew by, just like it always does when you don't want to go home. Bella had to stay after for a make-up test, so it was just the three of us. It would have just been Alice and I, since Emmett had plans for tonight, but someone needed to drive us home. The fact that we were cutting into his time with friends made him a little irritable, and the ride was spent in an uncomfortable silence.
It wasn't until we got home, and Alice kissed his cheek, whispering "Thanks for the ride, Em" that he softened. No one could stay mad at Alice for more than a few minutes. He turned his head. "No problem. I won't be home for dinner, ok? I'll see you tonight."
Great, that got rid of him, and if I remembered correctly, Rose was still in class. Alice would be up Jasper's ass the minute we got in the door, which took care of both of them. Now I just needed to get Dad alone, and we could have our talk.
For once in my life, luck was totally on my side. Mom was planning out the garden, and was completely absorbed in packets of flower and vegetable seeds. She barely even acknowledged me, other than a token "how was your day?" I mumbled back a "fine" and started looking for Dad.
He was in the living room, playing chess with Jasper. Damn, I knew my good luck wouldn't hold. Dad gave me a quick smile. "Hi, Edward. Do you want to play the winner?"
From the look of the board, it was going to be Jasper, which was no good. "No, thanks, I have a ton of homework. Dad, could you give me a hand when you're done here? No rush."
His eyes met mine, and I knew that he recognized how important this was. "Sure, son. I shouldn't be too long; I think Jasper is just toying with me now."
The tiny quirk of Jasper's lips told me that he was right. I didn't want to hover and crowd them, so I grabbed an apple and headed off to my room. Jasper would be merciful now, since he knew someone else wanted Dad. Otherwise he could draw it out for hours, letting Dad think he had a chance, then taking him out. Dad had complained the other day that if General Lee had had Jasper to man his troops, we would all be living under the confederacy.
I was halfway through my math homework when I heard the tap on the door. "Edward? What is it you need help with?"
"Stuff." Way to go, Edward, sound like a moron right before you try and bring him around to your point of view. "You can come in."
He sat on the edge of my bed. He looked sort of lonely there, so I came over and joined him, our shoulders touching. "So, homework stuff or life stuff?"
"Life stuff." I took a minute to organize my thoughts. "It's about Jasper."
The shadows under his eyes darkened, telling me just how worried he was about our newest family member. "What about Jasper?"
Everything I had wanted to say, all of my carefully rehearsed speeches, flew right out of my head. I hated not being in control, so I was mortified when my stupid mouth opened and blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "How come we aren't adopting Jasper?"
He just stared, his mouth working and no sound coming out. After a few seconds of gaping, he recovered. "Well, son, first of all, we don't know if that's what Jasper wants. Second, you know how long it takes for an adoption to go through, even if the parental rights are terminated. Even if we had started the process the minute he came home, the paperwork would be nowhere near done now. Why are you asking all this?"
This had to be handled very carefully, and I was already screwing it up. I did know that everything he had just said was true, but what I knew didn't matter at all. "He just seems so…insecure. I thought maybe if he felt that we wanted him legally, he would be more comfortable staying. He feels like he's going to be tossed out at any time, I can tell."
Dad rubbed at his eyes. "I know he does. I just don't know how to make him feel like this is permanent, except to show him that it is. He doesn't believe me when I tell him it is."
I picked at the bedspread. "He might like to hear all that." My voice was small, the voice of someone I didn't really recognize.
"Hear all what? That I don't know what to do to help him?" His frustration was obvious.
"Yeah. He thinks you're absolutely perfect, Dad, and he needs to know that you get confused, just like he does. Also, explain again about the adoption thing."
He sighed. "Edward, I just did explain it to you. I know you understand what I'm saying, so why are you suddenly being so difficult?"
My voice was still small, but it echoed in the room like an explosion. "Does Jasper?" I leaned against him, desperate to make him understand me. "Dad, I don't think he does."
It was like I had pulled the rug out from under him. "Oh, God." The words were whispered to himself. I knew that it had never occurred to him that Jasper might feel slighted and left out of the family. He had made the mistake of assuming that if Jasper wanted something, he would ask for it, which we should all know by now wasn't going to happen.
I put my head on his shoulder, offering the only comfort I could. "Just tell him, Dad. Tell him you love him, and you want him to be a permanent part of the family. He can take our last name after he ages out, right?" I was pretty sure he could, and that might be enough of a compromise to mollify him. "Please. If you make him feel like we want him to stay, he will."
Dad stood almost instantly, no doubt to try and rectify this situation. He looked like a man in a daze, and I figured I was as good as forgotten. Sure enough, he was almost out of the room before he remembered me. "Son, thank you for telling me this. I…I need to have a talk with your mother, then with Jasper. Can you keep this between us for now?"
"Of course." I loved having secrets that were just between Dad and I, even after all these years. It made me feel like I was special to him.
"Great." For a second, he wavered in the doorway, just looking at me. Then he came back over and ran his fingers through my hair in a way I hadn't felt in years. "I love you, Edward, you know that, right?"
I sensed how badly he needed me to confirm it. "Sure." I wanted to say more, to tell him that he had to be the best father in the world, but the words sounded contrived even in my mind, so I just smiled at him and went back to my work. I had done everything I could; the rest was up to him and Jasper.
Once again, my thoughts were interrupted by a soft knock on the door. "Dad, I can't do everything for you."
The door eased open to reveal Jasper instead of Dad. "Oh, sorry, I though you were Dad. What can I do for you?"
He leaned against the doorframe. "I thought that maybe we could go over everything again? I still have trouble remembering when to push the pedals."
A part of me wanted to tell him all the technical terms, but I forced it down. I knew I came off as arrogant sometimes, and I was trying hard to fix it. I just liked to get everything right, and for everyone else to get it right too. "Yeah, I'm done here."
He grinned, looking happier that he had in a week or more. "Great." He sat down at the piano bench and started to play.
The music caught me, as it always did, and I found myself transported somewhere else. I saw Bella, her dark eyes grinning at me and her hair spilling over her shoulders. She was out in our meadow, waiting for me to sneak out of the house and come lay with her. We never did anything more than talk and count fireflies, but I could never let my parents find out. It was too private, something for just Bella and I.
Without warning, the music changed and so did the vision. Bella vanished, replaced by an older woman, one who was furious. She was speaking, yelling actually, but I couldn't hear her over the noise of the piano. I wanted to hear her, to understand what was wrong, but she must have decided I wasn't moving fast enough, because her hand came out from behind her back and my stomach dropped to see what it was she was holding. A poker. Without warning, she swung it at me, and I knew I wasn't going to be able to move quickly enough to get out of the way.
I lurched backwards, breaking the spell. Jasper was still playing, but he was pounding on the keys, turning what should have been a light melody into something jarring and frightening. I touched his back, trying to get his attention without frightening him. "Too rough, Jasper. Play it gently."
Sometimes I think I'm not the only one who sees visions in the music. Jasper jumped a little, and when he turned to look at me, I didn't think he saw me at all. His eyes had that hazy, faraway, look that he always gets when he's remembering something. And let me tell you, when he's pounding the keys like that, making something ugly out of something beautiful, he can't be remembering anything good. He blinked twice and seemed to return from wherever he had been. "Sorry."
It wasn't the first time I had been forced to remind him to treat the piano more gently, but I didn't want him to think I was angry. "No problem. You missed the pedal again near the end of the last page." I found my backpack and pulled out a highlighter, carefully marking the passage in bright yellow. "There, that should remind you. Do you want to try again?"
His pause was very slight, but it gave me the courage to push a little. Other than me, Jasper was the only one in the house who could play an instrument, and I had to know what it was like when he did so. "Jasper…do you see things when you play?"
"Sometimes." He was wary now, trying to figure out how I was trying to screw him over this time. I really wished he would take us at face value, just once.
It made me feel a little better to know that someone else felt the same way. "What sort of things?"
He turned around so he was facing me. "Depends. Sometimes good things, sometimes bad things. I think playing is like meditating. Your mind opens up, and then things you pushed away come back and bounce around. I can remember my mom better when I play, but I remember other stuff better too, stuff I would rather forget."
There was no point in pushing him to talk about it, because I knew he wouldn't. Honestly, I really don't think I want to know most of what happened in that house. So instead of asking him to keep going, I mentally went over what he had just said. In just a few words, Jasper had managed to explain what I had puzzled over for years. "That makes sense."
"Yeah, I've thought about it a lot." He leaned back, tipping his head up towards the ceiling. "Listen, Edward…" Now he seemed a little embarrassed. For someone who was so adept at reading other people's emotions, he sure had a lot of trouble expressing his own. It took several minutes and a few false starts before he was able to continue. "You've been a great friend to me, and a really good brother. I don't know if I said that before.
I didn't like how horribly final those words sounded. "You too, Jasper. It's nice to have a brother who doesn't think farts are the height of comedy. Plus, you use the piano for something other than chopsticks and Heart and Soul." I knew I was blushing, a color that clashed rather unattractively with my hair. There was just no good way for two guys to talk about feelings, unless they were in love or incredibly drunk. Since Jasper and I were neither, this was awkward as hell.
Jasper must have been as embarrassed as I was, because he climbed to his feet. "So, yeah. Thanks for listening to me play and I guess I'll call you when dinner is ready."
"Sounds good." Just like every night, I sent a quick prayer upwards that it would be a good night for Jasper, and that he could get the sleep that he so desperately needed but rarely received.
I watched him go, then listened as his footsteps padded down the stairs. The past 24 hours had been interesting to say the least. Jasper and I had taken a giant leap towards becoming not only friends, but brothers. There was still plenty of work to do in that department, but for the first time, I felt like it was a real possibility that he would one day be as much a part of our family as anyone else. Hopefully, that day would be soon.