Disclaimer: I do not own the characters. I do however own the story line.
A/N: Hi Everyone! Sorry this was so long coming. Please note that this story is un-beta'd as my beta isn't currently able to edit. Hopefully there aren't too many mistakes.
I must have dozed off again after Lola left in her rage. I vaguely remembered throwing myself backward onto the sofa and praying to whatever greater being was out there that I somehow could contract some horrible plague and be unable to attend dinner with Mrs. Mendez. The next thing I remembered was the god awful ache in my neck and the blinding ray of sunlight sneaking through the gap in the curtains. I moved my leg and winced as my sweaty calf peeled off the leather. Damn leather furniture! The clock on the DVD player was flashing two-thirty and I squeaked in surprise at the late hour. I was supposed to meet Jasper in an hour and a half.
Jasper. A smile involuntarily graced my lips and I physically forced the corners of my mouth to droop once more. I couldn't find such obvious joy in a simple thought of him. I reminded myself once again of the committed relationship I was in. And then I imagined the shadow from the peak of his ball cap hiding his eyes even as he looked up at me when I opened the door. His left hand that had been sitting idly on the table would lift in greeting, and then he'd turn and order for me. It wasn't a long lived ritual, but one I could get used to.
Damn it! I needed to stop thinking about him in a good way or a long term way. I needed to tell him I couldn't see him anymore. I knew it would hurt, but it would hurt a lot more to tell him later. Better to do it now so I had some recovery time before Carlos returned. I shuddered to think how quickly I'd allowed Jasper to become an important part of my life.
The drive to the café was too short for my liking, afternoon traffic never moved into the city. I pulled slowly into the parking lot, heart pounding an uneven rhythm in against my chest. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans and cringed as the denim darkened under my grip. I stared numbly around, trying to find Jasper's truck to see if he'd arrived first. The truck was parked three spots to my left and I stared at him, glad my nervous eyes were hidden by my sunglasses. He quirked the left side of his mouth in greeting and I watched him turn and get out of his truck. I turned to rest my forehead on the steering wheel. Get a grip I thought to myself as I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I would tell him, I had to tell him. It's what was best for everyone involved. I took a few more cleansing breaths, trying to channel my chi or something and when I opened my eyes he was staring intently in the passenger side window. He raised his eyebrows slightly and tapped the glass. I tapped the button to unlock the doors and I felt the cool gust of wind as he opened the door and slid in.
"Mind telling me what's going on in that pretty little head of yours?" he asked, just barely above a whisper. I felt the rough pads of his fingers against my neck as he brushed my hair off my shoulder. "You've been off since you left on Saturday."
I chanced a sideways glance at him and noticed the serious set of his mouth. His eyes looked concerned and a bit confused. I forced a smile and shook my head.
"I'm fine," I squeaked back.
"That's a load of shit and we both know it," he responded, his tone soft but his words harsh."I want to take you out for dinner to meet some of my friends. I think you need to be shown a good time. I however, will not have a good time if you're like this, and neither will you. You have got to tell me what's wrong."
I took a deep breath, looked straight at him and nodded. "I'm fine. I'm better now. Just stressed." He only looked more worried and he reached his hand out to trace my cheek bone below the rim of my sunglasses. I felt the cool of dampness being spread over my skin and raised my own hand to my face. Tears? I'd been crying?
"Why are you crying?" Apparently I had been crying.
Because I can't see you anymore. Because my life isn't even ruined because I don't have a life to ruin. Because my boyfriend's sister is a nasty bitch who basks in my misery. Because in less than a week I have to sit across from botoxed-Barbie mama and it's going to be hell on earth. Instead of saying all of that I just shrugged.
"Evasive little thing aren't you?" He sighed heavily and unsnapped my seatbelt. "Out you get. I'm driving." He tipped his chin towards his truck, eyes never leaving me. "And you won't need these," he muttered, taking my sunglasses off and folding the arms. "Sun's setting." He gave me a wry smile and turned to push his own door open. "Come on, let's go."
The Carlos-cheerleader in my mind was scolding me on how Carlos would have come around and opened the door for me, but her voice was weak in comparison to the Jasper-cheerleader telling me to get my butt out of the car and into the game.
You have to tell him now, the Carlos side of my mind chided me. She was right. She was. I knew it.
He's taking you to meet his friends. To dinner. Like a date. It will be fun! The Jasper side made a good point. I needed to have fun. We could be friends. Carlos wasn't even in the state. What he didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
He knows everything, the Team Carlos' cheer bimbo reminded me, waving her pom-poms in my face.
He obviously doesn't. You've kept this part of your life secret for months. He doesn't know about your time at the café, so he definitely won't find out about one dinner with Jasper.
I jumped as my door swung open. I looked up to find Jasper leaning against the roof looking down at me, bemused. "You're just going to sit there?" I grinned half heartedly up at him and shrugged before climbing out of the car. "Long way up, remember?" he said as he opened the door to the monstrous truck. I grabbed hold of the frame, preparing to hoist myself up into the beast but before I got a good grip I felt strong hands encircle my waist. "Ready?" he murmured in my ear as he lifted me easily into the cab. I turned to face him and he stepped closer to me, his face level with mine. He was so close that I could smell him, all minty mixed with a slight wood scent and something heavier that I couldn't place. It was a smell that was familiar and new at the same time. I really liked that smell. I closed my eyes to breathe him in and when I opened them again a few moments later he was looking at me with the strangest expression on his face. It was like he was looking at me but seeing something else. He looked unsure and nervous and a little bit excited. His hand reached out to brush a stray lock of hair off my face and I leaned into his hand, warm and solid and comforting. His head tilted the tiniest bit and his eyes closed in concentration. I watched as a muscle in his jaw throbbed once as he clenched his teeth. I felt my heart start to beat hard against my chest and the back of my neck was heating up, whether it was from anticipation or nerves though I wasn't sure. He shook his head a minute amount and then his eyes snapped open, deep and determined. And before I knew it he'd leaned forward and pressed his lips to mine. It took me a moment to react and I was pushed back by his force. I hadn't even begun to return the kiss before he stepped back, nudged my knees inside the cab and shut the door.
He walked around the car, yanked his door open, jumped in and started the engine. It took me a moment to realize that I was sitting motionless, my fingers to my lips like a startled teenager. I snapped out of my stupor and pulled my seatbelt across my chest. Jasper didn't say anything as he pulled his truck out of the parking lot and onto the main street. It wasn't until we hit the first red light and the truck lurched to a stop that either of us made to speak.
"So…" I began, unable to handle the heavy silence anymore. He laughed. He threw his head back against the head rest and laughed heartily. I crossed my arms across my chest in a very childlike gesture. "What?" I snapped.
"Is that all you have to say? So?"
"What else should I say?"
"I dunno," he drawled. "What about, 'why Jasper, what great lips you have,'"
I blushed crimson and turned away from him to hide my overheated face. " That was barely a kiss. And that sounds like a line from a kinky Little Red Riding hood."
"No no, that would be 'why Jasper, what a big…'"
"Jasper!" I admonished, slapping his arm. "That is inappropriate pre-dinner conversation,"
He gave me a sly smile and a sideways glance as he pressed the gas pedal. "Would it be more appropriate for post-dinner conversation?"
I blushed deeper and didn't answer.
"Come on Alice, lighten up. You're acting like a seventy year old socially rejected cat lady. Oh shit, wait. You don't live alone with cats do you? Not that I don't like cats, except I don't. I'm allergic."
I laughed for real, something I noted I really only did in Jasper's presence and shook my head. "No, no cats."
He reached across the seat and took my small hand in his much larger one. "We're nearly there. I'm glad you could come with me." He ran his thumb over my knuckles softly. "I really like hanging out with you."
"I like hanging out with you too," I responded, realizing how stupid I sounded after I'd said it. Like we were sixteen and we'd just watched a movie in my parents' living room. My mind drifted briefly back to when I was sixteen and I'd done just that with someone else. I wouldn't have appreciated Jasper; probably wouldn't have given him a second glance. If it hadn't been for his persistence I would never have even spoken to him. I was drawn naturally to the Carloses of the world. Success, classic good looks and a padded pocket book made up what I once thought to be my 'perfect man,' but as I sat there, staring at Jasper's chiseled profile with yesterday's stubble gracing his jaw line, and thought about his environment-killing truck and scuffed boots, I realized that I may have passed by a hundred 'perfect' men and never given them a second glance.
He pressed down the turn signal and eased the truck off of the road and into a parking lot. He didn't say anything as he parked the truck beside a tiny, green Echo. He cut the engine and turned slowly in my direction.
"What are you thinking about?" His drawl was less obvious when he spoke softly. "You look a bit out of it."
I looked up at him and smiled, not a forced smile, but a real, genuine, effortless smile and tucked a loose lock of hair behind my ear. "Nothing. I'm fine. Just….you know, thinking." I mentally shook my head at how ditzy I sounded. "Ready? I'm pretty hungry." I jerked my thumb in the direction of the restaurant.
"You got it." He shoved his door open and jumped out of the truck. I followed suit, jumping down and wishing there were running boards on Jasper's beast-truck. "We need to get you steps," he commented as he came around and took my hand. For a moment it was limp, like a dead fish, and I realized how off putting and kind of disgusting that must have felt, so I squeezed his larger fingers with my dainty ones and hurried along beside him into the restaurant.
I wanted to pull away. I felt like every eye in the place was on me, knowing what I was doing, knowing that I was betraying someone who trusted me. But I couldn't. I could not physically draw myself away from Jasper. I'd driven into town with the intent of telling him that we couldn't see each other anymore, and ended up holding his hand in public as he led me through the dim, crowded restaurant.
"Well look who finally showed up. Late as usual Mr. Whitlock." A large, burly man sat in the middle of the semi-circular booth, pointing at Jasper and shaking his head. "Such a woman." The other man at the table laughed throatily and I peeked over at him as well. He was of slighter build than either the loud, burly man or Jasper, and he was clean shaven, his shirt buttoned a button too high and his hair slicked back far too severely to suit his face. He tapped his fingers impatiently on the table.
"I think you just have a knack for being early, McCarty." Jasper stood back and motioned for me to slide in beside the one he called McCarty and I nervously inched my way into the booth. "Alice, Emmett and Edward." He pointed first to the outspoken one, and then to the impatient one. "I worked on Emmett's roof, and Edward works with Emmett. Where's the wife?" He directed his question at Emmett but Edward answered.
"Ladies room. One beer." He rolled his eyes dramatically.
"And Bella's late as usual," Emmett replied. "He's a fuckin' wreck when she's late, which is pretty much always. You'll get used to the finger drumming," he told me with a wink. "By the way Miss Alice, it's a pleasure to meet you." He held out a meaty hand that was as big as my head and I shook it.
"You too," I mumbled shyly. Who were these people? They certainly weren't much alike, and they seemed nothing like Jasper. I wondered how he could be friends with them. The impatient one looked like he had a stick up his ass and the big one scared me. He was just so loud. I decided then and there that I would never want to see the Emmett one angry.
A familiar looking blonde woman stood at the end of the table looking irritated at the display the one called Edward was putting on. "Think you could let me in?" I knew that voice. I studied her briefly. She was tall, thin with subtle curves and well dressed. Her jeans hung loosely from her hips, straight to her feet, and black, leather toes peeked out under the hem. Her violet blouse bunched and fell in all the right places and as I took in her face I realized how I knew her. The same blue eyes and rosy lips that had spoken to Jasper the other day at the gardens. Miss Hale. What were the odds of such a small world moment?
Edward stood to let Miss Hale slide in next to Emmett and then he plopped back down unceremoniously. He pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and flipped it open.
"Still no Bella?" Miss Hale asked him, shifting to look at him.
"Look around you, Rosalie. Do you see Bella?" Edward's voice was terse and accusatory but Miss Hale just brushed him off with a quick exhale.
"Jasper, great to see you." She smiled her perfectly straight toothed smile and then looked over at me. "Alice, right? We met very briefly at the botanical gardens the other day. I felt so rude just hurrying off like I did, but those kids cannot be left unattended for long." She laughed a funny, tittery laugh and leaned into Emmett. "I'm Rosalie, Emmett's fiancée."
"I remember," I told her. "It's nice to see you again."
Jasper and Emmett discussed Emmett and Rosalie's house loudly, and in great detail. Once in a while Rosalie would chime in with something about wall sconces or venetian blinds. It seemed that Emmett had a soft spot for venetian blinds that Rosalie didn't share. Edward continued to drum incessantly and check his cell phone.
The waitress came so we could place drink orders and I followed Rosalie's lead, ordering something fruity and pink. I wasn't sure what it was, only that one definitely tasted like two and by the time our meals came two had tasted like three and I couldn't remember a time when I'd felt so free and relaxed. My relaxed haze still didn't mask my annoyance at Edward's serious finger drumming problem.
Just as I started picking at my garden salad the drumming stopped. My jaw relaxed slightly and I took another sip of the fruity concoction. I looked up to see what managed to stop the drumming. Hurrying across the restaurant looking frazzled and exhausted was a brunette, rifling through her bag and shoving her dark curls out of her face simultaneously. "I am so sorry I'm so late!" she cried, sitting down abruptly beside Edward and pecking him on the cheek. "My fucking boss is an annoying, overbearing cow and then traffic was absolutely insane." She pulled a blackberry out of her bag, looked briefly at it, pressed some buttons, rolled her eyes and turned it off. "You know I don't answer texts while I'm driving, baby." She looked pointedly at Edward and shook her head. "Anyway, what have I missed?"
She shoved her purse under the table and waived the waitress over, placing a quick order and then turning back to the table.
"This is Jasper's….friend, Alice." Edward gave Jasper a quizzical look and Jasper merely gave a half shrug. The brunette looked at me and her face broke into an almost manic grin.
"Oh my god! Alice? From the park?"
I looked up at her and blanched. It was the nice, jogging girl who had spoken to me a couple of days prior. She looked different in a blouse and skirt than she did in her work out clothes, but she was recognizable none the less.
"Wait. You two know each other too?" Emmett seemed to be having far too much fun with the small world moments at work around the table.
I shook my head. "Not really. We met very briefly the other day." I took another long sip from my drink and sliced a tomato in half with my fork. Jasper slung his arm around my shoulders and dangled a long, thin fry in front of my face.
"No wonder you're so tiny. Tomatoes are rabbit food."
"I think rabbits eat lettuce and carrots more frequently," Rosalie informed him. "My younger sister had one and those were definitely its preferences."
"I think Rose is right," Bella interjected, placing her beer back on the coaster. "Tomatoes might be too acidic for rabbits."
"See," Jasper told me as I placed the tomato in my mouth and chewed. "They're acidic. They'll rot your stomach. Have a fry." I snorted at the absurdity of the conversation and took another sip of my drink.
"You need to slow down, little one." Emmett warned. "You're pretty tiny to be downing that as quick as you are."
"Shut up, Emmett," Rosalie reprimanded. "I think Alice is the female equivalent of Edward here." She jerked her thumb in Edward's direction. "She needs to loosen up a bit. Relax."
"I cannot believe you go out in public with your hair looking like that," Bella lectured as she turned and ran her fingers backwards along Edward's scalp. "The gel is like cement. What'd you do? Glue it down. For Christ's sake, Edward. Leave it alone." She ruffled his hair once more and sighed.
"Your sex hair preference isn't exactly professional, Isabella," he replied with a slight smirk.
"And for God's sake unbutton your shirt. I mean, I'm all for people not ogling you but I'd like to." She popped the button on his shirt and pulled the collar open. "There. You look slightly more presentable now. Alice, I'd like you to meet my extremely handsome stick in the mud, Edward Masen."
I giggled far more loudly than I should have and Jasper chuckled beside me. I felt his breath on my neck, warm and moist as he leaned down and ran his nose along the side of my face. "I like it when you laugh," he muttered so quietly that only I could hear. "You don't laugh enough."
I blushed at his innocent comment and fiddled with my napkin.
"That's Doctor Masen to you," I heard Edward say lowly and I snapped my attention back to the conversation. Rosalie laughed, and when she laughed she sounded slightly like the hyenas in the Lion King, which made me giggle just a bit more.
"Does he make you call him Doctor?" Rosalie asked Bella, with a coy look. Bella laughed in reply and nodded vigorously. "Emmett too." Rosalie rolled her eyes towards the ceiling.
"That's because I am a doctor, Rosie," Emmett boomed, squeezing her shoulder vigorously.
"You're a head doctor, Emmett," Rosalie retorted. "You don't cut people open to save lives."
"We help people open their minds, to heal," Edward informed her, a haughty, prideful look on his face.
"Way to make our profession sound manly, Ed," was Emmett's response. "Jasper here roofs houses and hammers nails, and we 'help people open their minds to heal'. We sound so macho. I love my job, but that description does it no justice."
"Do you have a better description?"
Emmett thought for a moment, scratching his head with his huge hands and then shrugged. "I'm a fuckin' psychiatrist. I'll think of a cool catch phrase later. Anyone want another round?"
Everyone placed another drink order and the conversation continued. "Rose?" Bella asked, poking at the foam on her beer with her finger. Edward pulled her hand out of her drink and kissed her knuckles, but gave her a warning look none the less. "Is Emmett very in tune with your feelings? Does he want you to open the lines of communication for a better and more wholesome relationship?" Her mimic of Edward's voice was nearly perfect and I wondered how long they had known each other.
Rosalie shrugged and gave Emmett a coy smirk. "Probably, but when he starts spewing the psycho babble I just take off my top." I nearly spit my drink across the table. I tried to imagine Carlos's reaction if every time he began talking mergers I removed an article of clothing. He'd probably not even notice, or he'd ask me if I was too warm. My mind wandered to wondering what Jasper's reaction would be to me removing my shirt and I felt my face flush with embarrassment….or what I thought was embarrassment anyway.
"Hey little one," Emmett turned to me with a sneaky grin on his face. "Are you thinking dirty thoughts?"
"What? No! I can't believe…why would you….No!" I sputtered, crossing my arms over my chest. I barely knew the man, how he felt that asking questions like that would be appropriate was beyond me.
"Just checkin'. You had the same look that Bella gets when I know she's having dirty thoughts. Rose doesn't get it, probably because she has dirty thoughts all the time, but I know that look."
"I absolutely was not!" I exclaimed, perhaps a bit too loudly. Everyone, including Jasper laughed heartily.
"Want to think about getting out of here?" Jasper's low rumble was in my ear, his stubble was scratching against my cheek and his hand was placed carefully above my knee, rubbing tiny circles with his fingers on the inside of my lower thigh. A tiny voice in my head told me no, but the much louder and more excited cheerleader shouted "Hell yes!" and unconsciously, my head nodded. I felt him grin and he sat up and called for the cheque.