"For the Love of Jasper" One-Shot Contest

Title: I Always Knew

Pen name: InsaneGrizzlies

Existing work: N/A

Primary Players: Jasper, Alice, Maria

Disclaimer: I do not own. Never have, never will. I know, I know - so sad.

To see other entries in the "For the Love of Jasper" contest, please visit the C2:
www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/community/For_the_Love_of_Jasper_Contest/72564/

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Okay, so this is my one-shot entry for this contest. I have only recently started dabbling in writing about Jasper, and it's fun. Got on a real kick with this story, too. I hope you enjoy.

JPOV

I knew from the first day I saw her that I was never going to love another girl like I loved her. I was seven, playing pirates with my best friend in the front yard, when the moving trucks pulled up. We both stopped to watch for a while, before Mom called us inside to eat lunch.

When we came back outside, the movers across the street were no longer of interest, and we continued our game. We were locked in a heated sword fight, when suddenly a small whirlwind threw itself into our fray. It was Jimmy, my friend, who realized it was a girl and called off the fighting.

She planted her hands on her little hips, glaring from under her black hair and pirate hat, which was slipping down her forehead. Her foot stomped in frustration. "I'm not a girl, I'm a pirate!"

Jimmy and I looked at each other, before he shook his head. "You're a girl, so you can't be a pirate. Only boys are pirates. Girls get rescued from pirates."

She stomped her foot again and glared at him. It was an intimidating look, even at such a young age. Jimmy shifted uncomfortably.

"I am a pirate," she said with distinction and a low growl. "Not a girl."

"Okay," I said agreeably, making her straighten and look over in surprise. After a moment, a huge grin lighted her face.

"Really?"

I shrugged. She had been saying she was a pirate, so why was she asking me?

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she exclaimed, rushing forward and wrapping her arms around me. I froze unsure what to do, and looked at Jimmy in a panic. He looked just as scared by her as I was.

"Uh…" I said slowly. "I don't think pirates hug."

Jimmy nodded his fervent agreement, and the girl immediately stepped away, scowling and nodding. "Of course. I knew that," she insisted.

So we played pirates. She didn't tell us her actual name, just that she was Captain Jillyweed. Jimmy was Captain Boogeyman, and I was Captain Nightmares. So we essentially ended up playing until it got dark with a girl who didn't know our names, and who we didn't know the name of. My mom stepped out onto the porch to call us in, but paused when she saw our newest pirate member.

"Hello," she said slowly. "And who are you?"

"Captain Jillyweed," the girl had responded, shoving her hat back again. She was constantly doing that.

Mom smiled at her. "Well it's nice to meet you. I'm Jasper's mom. Where can I find yours?"

After getting the direction of a pointed finger across the street, Mom had smiled and gently grabbed her hand. "Jimmy, Jasper, go inside and wash up for dinner."

Jimmy had gone inside, but I had hesitated. "Mommy, is Captain Jillyweed in trouble?"

Mom smiled slightly. "No, Jasper."

I nodded, then rushed inside.

The next day, while Mom had been making me help her weed the garden, a tall woman showed up with the girl from yesterday at her side. Introductions were finally made - the girl was Alice.

That was the start of it all. Alice came over to my house all the time to play with me and Jimmy, or Howie, or sometimes Freddie. Whoever was over, she just threw herself into a game with. She didn't act like the girls in school, but that was one of the ways she made me love her. I loved how she didn't freak out when we picked up worms, or dislike the dirt we always ended up covered in, and that she didn't insist on tea parties or dolls.

That summer, my dad and hers built a fort house in Alice's backyard. We spent our whole summer up there, sometimes even sleeping outside. Alice said we could take over the world from our fort, and I would be her general. I agreed readily, because by that point, I just knew. I was always going to do what Alice wanted.

School started. Alice was two grades below me, but we had the same lunch. I always hung out with her when I could, which led to some teasing, but after a while, even the other boys in my class agreed. Alice wasn't like other girls.

Years passed easily, slipping away without a care. I was in sixth grade, Alice in fourth, when things began to change.

The boys began to pay more attention to Alice as a girl. Not as Alice who played pirates with us when we were in second grade, but as a girl. Like all the other girls. Timmy, some fifth grader who rode our bus, always wanted to sit next to Alice. I always made sure he didn't. I didn't like the way I overheard him and his friends talking about her. They didn't know her, they just thought she looked pretty.

Pretty didn't even begin to cover it I thought. But I never told anyone that.

And then came the day that was a big one in my young life, and remained so for years and years afterward. I was sitting on the bus with Alice, when Jimmy suggested playing Truth or Dare. Of course everyone agreed, because only wimps said no. Timmy immediately whispered something to his friends, and I narrowed my eyes when his friend glanced at Alice and nodded.

Because Jimmy had suggested the game, he got to go first. And because we were best friends, he chose me.

I chose Dare. They made me sing a girly song, which had everyone doubled over laughing. I grinned at Alice, who was leaning against the seat, her legs crossed in front of her, staring at me with tears in her eyes.

That made it my turn. I paused, then raised a brow at Alice. "Truth or dare?" I knew Alice. She wouldn't pass up the chance to do something outrageous.

"Dare," she said firmly, meeting my gaze happily.

The words came out of my mouth before I could censor them. "Kiss me."

Whistles and comments of all sorts came from the other players, but I was still staring directly at Alice. Her hazel eyes had widened, but because it was a dare and this was Alice, she was only shocked for so long.

She leaned forward and pressed her lips quickly to mine.

When she pulled away, we were both blushing, not really looking at each other. I dared only one glance at her, and she was staring at her hands in her lap. After a few moments, Jimmy broke the tension.

"Your turn Alice."

The game continued, but neither Alice nor I were really into it after that.

We got off at our stop, and walked down the block towards our houses. Unusually, we didn't say anything. Alice stared at the ground, and I peeked glances at her. When we reached the point where she ran across the street, she didn't say anything or still look at me. I walked inside, angry and hurt.

The next morning, I didn't sit next to Alice. She didn't look at me when she got on the bus. She went to sit next to Timmy. Jimmy sat next to me, glancing at me then back at Alice, but never said anything. My anger simmered all throughout the day as Alice avoided me. I wasn't just angry at her, though, but myself for saying that stupid dare and even Jimmy for suggesting the game. By the time I got off the bus that day, I was truly mad at Alice. I'd never been mad at Alice before, not in the entire four years I'd known her.

"Jasper," she said, pausing before crossing the street.

I glared at her. "Don't talk to me!" I snarled, and turned towards my house, making sure I didn't look back. If she could ignore me, I could ignore her too.

It wasn't twenty minutes after I sat myself at the kitchen table to do homework that my mom came in, staring at me with hints of anger. I carefully set down my pencil, running through the past few days. I hadn't forgotten any chores, had I?

"Jasper, I just got off the phone with Ms. Brandon." That was Alice's mom. I couldn't help the anger that simmered up at the thought of my former best friend, and glared down at the table.

"She said Alice came home in tears today and shut herself in her room. When Mrs. Brandon finally got Alice to talk to her, she said that you hated her. Now, I told Ms. Brandon there had to be some misunderstanding, but she requested that I ask you." Mom raised a brow, arms crossed over her chest. After a moment, the other brow joined the first. "Well?"

I picked up my pencil and angrily began scribbling the answers to the questions in front of me. "What?"

Mom took a seat across from me, just watching for a few minutes. It made me uncomfortable. Finally, she sighed. "Talk to me, Jasper. What happened?"

I made the mistake of looking up. I think my mom had a super power. She could pull the truth out of you with a single look. The whole story spilled out, though I carefully avoided saying why I had asked Alice to kiss me (besides it being a simple dare) and the whole Timmy thing. Throughout the whole story, Mom just nodded, listening, not inserting any comments or demands.

"Maybe she was embarrassed, Jasper."

I scoffed. "That doesn't make sense, Mom."

She smiled slightly. "Jasper, you dared her to kiss you. Maybe she just didn't know how to act after that."

I grumbled, staring down at my mostly finished homework. That still didn't make it cool that she ignored me for Timmy.

Mom reached over and patted my hand. "She really is feeling bad, Jasper. Whatever the reason she wasn't talking to you today, she obviously was trying to earlier. Hurting her feelings doesn't make things any easier for either of you. Two wrongs don't make a right."

I rolled my eyes. What a Mom thing to say.

"Are you going to apologize?"

I shrugged, thinking it wasn't likely. Mom sighed, getting up.

"It's okay, I suppose. I raised you to be a gentleman - you'll do what's right."

By the time dinner was over, my guilt had consumed me, which I suppose is what Mom wanted. She always did know how to guilt trip someone into getting them to do what she wanted.

I trudged across the street and knocked on the familiar door, shoving my hands deep into my pockets and staring at the welcome mat. You could hardly read the greeting on it any longer.

The door opened and Ms. Brandon smiled slightly down at me. "She's out in the fort."

I nodded, stepping inside and staring at the floor again. My guilt quadrupled as I realized that even though I'd hurt her daughter, Ms. Brandon wasn't going to mention anything about it. Did Moms take classes on how to do this kind of stuff or something? Was there a handbook? Or was it just naturally wired into their brains?

I exited the house into the backyard, glancing up briefly at the fort. A light was glowing up there, probably the huge flashlight that we'd left up there for when we'd spend the night in the structure. With a sigh, I started climbing the ladder; when I reached the top, I got inside without looking at Alice.

This was awkward. We'd never once had a fight before, and I didn't know how to go about making it better. If she were one of the guys I was friends with, I'd have just brushed it off, or if it were really bad, I'd have gotten them a magazine they really liked or something. How did you make stuff up to a girl? Especially a girl like Alice?

Neither of us said anything, just sat on our separate sides. The fort was growing too small for us; within a year or two, we'd not be able to fit up here at the same time anymore.

Finally, I did the only thing I could really think of. "I'm sorry," I murmured.

Alice looked up at me, and she smiled slightly, a little waveringly. "Me too."

We both pretended that the game on the bus never happened. That none of it had. Water under the bridge, my dad would say. For the next couple of months, things were good again. The only black mark was that I would be moving to the middle school now, while Alice was still in grade school. I'd ride a different bus (which would leave her alone with Timmy, unfortunately), get home a little later, and by the time she got into middle school, I'd be in high school. We weren't going to be at the same school for another four years.

It was the first week of summer that things changed the entire course of life as I knew it and expected it to happen.

I was over at Alice's house late one night, watching a movie with her that made me throw popcorn at the screen (which in turn made Alice through popcorn at me) when the phone rang. I listened as Ms. Brandon answered the phone, but tensed as dead silence rang out. Then her voice came again, but it was… wrong. It sounded almost horrified, sad most definitely, and my gut suddenly clenched. Something was wrong.

Ms. Brandon hung up and walked into the room, meeting my gaze only briefly before looking away. I frowned, and Alice watched her in concern as she turned off the TV.

She took a deep breath before speaking, closing her eyes as if that would make it all go away. Later, I would be able to relate to that feeling.

"There's been an accident. A drunk driver hit your parents' car, Jasper. I… I'm sorry. They didn't make it."

I think my mind shut down then, because it took me a full minute to comprehend her words, and then another to figure out what to say. She just watched me sadly, waiting patiently.

I finally managed to croak, "Didn't make it?" back at her.

"I'm sorry," she repeated.

I didn't realize I was crying so hard until Alice's arms wrapped around me, and Ms. Brandon told me that she'd go make some hot cocoa.

I had to move to my aunt's house in Houston, Texas. That was exactly 793 miles, which was just below 12 hours of driving, from Atlanta, Georgia. I had to leave all my friends, all my teachers, all the people I knew.

I had to leave Alice.

My aunt was never home, but her husband was. I didn't like him. He was always drunk and angry, and I was pretty sure he hit my Aunt Raquel when she was home. I made sure not to be home too often so that he had a chance to hit me. For a while, I managed it, but finally he seemed to realize he had a kid in the house.

I wasn't stupid. The instant he'd laid a hand on me, I'd gone to the authorities.

Turns out he was the nephew or something of the mayor. No one believed me, even with the bruises as evidence. Apparently, I could have self-inflicted them. I would do this because "I was acting out in anger and grief over my parents unexpected death".

I learned how to avoid him, how to stay out of the house until late at night when he was usually passed out drunk. I left early in the mornings and slept on a bench at school until people started arriving. Sometimes I'd get in trouble for it, but detention just made it easer to avoid the bastard.

Things changed when I entered high school. I was the lowly freshman that avoided making friends. I didn't want to know anyone down here. I wanted to move back to Atlanta, to Jimmy and Freddie, and hell even Timmy.

And most especially Alice.

I'd promised her when I'd left that we would write and call each other. And I was pretty sure she had. But Hank, the bastard Aunt Raquel had married for whatever inconceivable reason, didn't let me on the phone. He played interference with the mail, as well. I was sure she'd given up on me now.

Once, I had tried sneaking downstairs to call her. Of course, it had been so late that no one had picked up, so I left a message to call me back as late as she could the next night.

Hank found out. I didn't try again.

But once I got into high school, I finally met someone who forced themselves past my barriers. She was a tenth grader, tough as nails, and unlike anyone I'd ever met.

Maria.

After a few months, she told me I was taking her on a date to the movies. I tried to argue, but the thing is, you just don't disagree with Maria. So I took her to the movies. After that, we started dating.

It didn't mean much of anything to me. A way to stay away from the house more often. Maria, I had a feeling, knew what was going on there, but she never brought it up or seemed like it bothered her. Unsure if I liked that or not, I followed her lead and let it be.

A few months after we started dating, "I" took her to a party. There was alcohol there, and Maria got wasted. Everyone there did, except me. I felt like such a sore thumb, and Maria told me that I would have fit in just fine if I had at least sipped at one cup.

I had to drive her home, and she barely managed to get up the steps to her house without falling over. When I got home, Hank was awake and waiting with a vicious grin.

I'd learned that hitting him back only made him angrier, more violent, so I gritted my teeth and resisted the raging urge to slam my fist into the center of his throat. Or a knife.

Over the course of the next two years, Maria clung to me as often as she could. She took me everywhere. She pleaded with me to try things with her. Because she was the only person I had now, I did. I drank at the parties. I tried the drugs. I stayed away from home for days at a time. My grades dropped because I ditched so often.

"Jasper," Maria purred, leaning into me as we sat in her car the morning after one of the more wild parties. She always had me drive, and I honestly loved her car. It was fast, it was good-looking, and it was fun.

"Hm?" I asked, looking down at her. Her pupils were dilated, but that was usual. I'd have been more surprised if they weren't.

"Jasper, I'm graduating in a month. I'm not staying here…. Come with me."

I frowned slightly. "Where to?" I asked.

She grinned slowly, revealing perfect and white teeth. "Does it matter?' she asked huskily, licking up my neck, nipping the underside of my jaw. "There's nothing for you here, Jaz. Nothing but your uncle and that school. What are they worth compared to me?"

I sighed, lifting a hand to rub my forehead. "I need a high school diploma at least, Maria."

She rolled her eyes. "Get your GED instead. Or, I don't know. Can you finish all your credits by the end of the summer? Independent study or whatever?"

I shrugged. I didn't know, and I wasn't all that motivated to find out. Maria moved so she was straddling my lap, her hands running over the front of my chest.

"Please Jaz," she breathed, staring at me. While her voice was soft and coercive, her eyes were hard and I knew that I didn't really get a say in the matter.

I sighed. "Yeah, okay Maria. I'll follow you."

She grinned that grin of hers, the one that sent chills down my spine. When she graduated, I packed my bags of my few belongings and got in her car with her. We traveled west and south, first to San Antonio, then to a town just on the border of Mexico called Laredo or something.

Maria was into a lot of bad shit, and she dragged me along with her a lot of the time. She kept insisting that at least life with her was better than what I'd had. I wasn't so sure. Both were terrible, both left me wishing I had been in that car with my parents. Both left me wanting an out that didn't exist.

I knew Maria was cheating on me, but it didn't bother me. Though if I were to do the same, she'd be pissed and go after the poor girl (and then me), we both knew we weren't really in a relationship. Still. Maria was the only person in my life who really gave a fuck about me. She was the only person I knew any more. In that way, I loved her.

Maria loved to gamble. Especially in underground fighting. Before I even realized what was happening, she had me fighting. I hated it, because these people didn't care if they killed you or if you were hurt so badly that you were never the same. Maria told me I had a talent for it, and pointed out how I always seemed less sulky afterward. That was her reason that she gave for pressuring me into the fights. She made money off of me, and then she spent it on drugs, alcohol, and Lord knows what else.

Eventually, she had a few other guys who fought for her. She had a just-above crappy house that we all lived in. The other guys mainly hated me, because I was her favorite. The favorite fighter, the favorite lover, the favorite in fucking general. They didn't know how fucking lucky they were not to have so much of her attention.

Two years of my life was spent like this. Fighting. Drugs. Drinking. Maria. Fighting. Maria. Drinking. Drugs. Maria. It was monotonous, unfulfilling, and I spent much of my time when I wasn't doing one of the aforementioned staring into space and trying to ignore the aching hollow in me.

This time I was lying on the couch, staring blankly at the TV screen. Some sitcom was on, but I had the volume on mute and had no fucking clue what was going on. Maria and most of the other fighters were out, while I'd gotten a day off.

Whoop-de-fucking-do.

I grabbed the remote and began flipping through channels, hardly paying any attention. A fly buzzed by my face, then back again, and I paused to swat at it in annoyance. When it came back, I actually used the remote to hit the damn thing. I waited, but it didn't come back, thankfully.

I shifted to get comfortable again, and glanced up to the TV screen.

It was on a news channel, and it was about some idiot who had killed some girl on a college campus in Georgia. My gut twisted painfully. I hadn't really thought much about my past past these past couple years. There was no point; I'd been away too long, and been too cut off. Why bother?

But the longing that hit me at just the thought of returning to Georgia was enough to make me wonder. Maria had asked me what was in Houston for me when she'd asked me to leave with her. The answer had been nothing.

I asked myself now what was here for me, and I came up with the same answer. Nothing was here for me, with these people. If I stayed here, I'd die of something or another eventually, or get sent to jail for one thing or another. If I struck out on my own, truly on my own for the first time….

Part of me couldn't believe I was doing this as I got up from the couch and turned off the TV, walking back into the room that I called mine. I pried out one of the boards of the ceiling, grabbing my more important possessions and the cash I stashed up there. I knew where Maria hid her money, or at least some of it. If I scrounged around, I could probably find some of the other fighters' money as well.

By the time six o'clock rolled around, I had a backpack with cash, clothes, and a few possessions packed and on my back. I grabbed Maria's keys from where she hid them, and went out front, unlocking her car and throwing in my bag. I paused just before I sat myself inside, looking at the place that had become my life for a couple years. Looking back, I knew it was wasted time. Maria had had me so wrapped around her finger, though, and I'd been so depressed, that I hadn't cared. But I did now.

I wasn't going to ever come back.

The trip to Atlanta was over 1000 miles. If I drove non-stop, I could make it there in sixteen or seventeen hours. A man had to eat and sleep, however, so I stopped twice to pull off of the road and buy cheap fast food. It was about a day and a half before I got to Atlanta, and at that point, I was wondering what the hell I was thinking. What I planned on doing.

I didn't even know if they lived there anymore. Alice would be in - fuck, college now, right? I thought back. No. High school. I think. I shook my head - it didn't matter. For all I knew, she and her mom didn't live there anymore. For all I knew, if they were, they wouldn't want me there.

I ditched the car on the road and walked towards the suburbs I'd grown up in. It was a long walk, but that didn't bother me. I couldn't help but notice all the subtle changes, and feel a sense of disconnection. I felt like I'd been put in a time machine, and the past several years had been a horrible nightmare. It seemed that even when I went to the one place in my life where I'd felt comfortable, I no longer felt part of anything. I was an outsider no matter where I went.

It was about four in the afternoon when I reached the block. I paused in front of the house that I knew well, staring at it. An unfamiliar car was parked in the driveway. Toys were scattered across the porch. A bike was in front of the garage, chained to the side of the house. The trimming was a different color. The garden was gone. There were curtains in the windows. But it was still the house I'd grown up in.

Slowly, I turned around. The house across the street… my second home as a child. I hadn't seen in in seven years, but it still looked the same. I swallowed as I realized that the car in the driveway was the same one from before, if I remembered correctly.

So what if they still lived there? It didn't change the fact that I had no fucking clue what I was doing here.

I sat down on the curb, my head falling into my hands, and for the first time in years, I gave in to the pain that always hid in the dark depths of my mind. Being here, seeing it all, my whole life came crashing down on me. All the shit I'd done, the stupid things, Maria, Hank, dropping out. I'd gone from a good kid to the kind that moms always warned their children away from. I was such a fucking failure.

I hadn't allowed myself to think of my parents since that first year I'd moved to Texas. It had been too painful, inspired too much anger and grief for me to deal with, so I'd shoved thoughts of them away. But those thoughts came back now.

They would be so disappointed in what I'd become.

I couldn't let Alice and Ms. Brandon see me, see this thing that I was. If they even still thought about me from time to time, I hoped it was good things; I didn't want to ruin that with harsh reality.

Standing, I looked around, surprised to see it was getting dark. I dusted off my jeans, though that hardly helped. They were worn and dirt probably was ingrained into the fabric. I hesitated, unsure where to go. Part of me still wanted to stay here, where it was familiar, but I knew better. If someone saw me and somehow recognized me, that would be bad. I was sure of it. I had to leave. I had no idea where I'd go, but I'd find someplace. Get a couple jobs, slowly work for a GED, maybe even some community college. Try to salvage my life.

Maria's car would be able to get me somewhere at least one more time, I figured.

I started crossing the street just past Alice's house, when an unfamiliar car pulled onto the road and I had to run quickly out of the way to avoid being hit. The person pulled up to the sidewalk and got up, jogging slightly up to me. So I stopped walking and turned slightly.

"Hey, are you okay?"

I nodded, turning to walk away, when she spoke again. My muscles were slowly tensing, preparing for a fight. I knew that was silly, because it wasn't a physical fight I'd be facing. It was entirely emotional and mental.

I knew it was Alice within just that first look of her. Her hair was shorter, her face thinned out, and she looked far more mature than the ten-year-old I remembered. I could only hope she wouldn't recognize me. It was dark, my hair was longer, my skin littered with scars from Hank and the fighters. I didn't look the same. There was no reason she should think I would be here, either. She couldn't, wouldn't, realize who I was.

"Are you sure?" At my nod, she continued, "I haven't seen you around before, do you need any help?"

Definitely still the same girl, I thought, a smile quirking my lips quickly. Blunt and always helpful. Straightforward. Caring. I shook my head, twisting around to walk away. I'd gotten a few steps when she spoke again.

"Um… I don't…." She let out a harsh breath. "I hope this doesn't sound crazy, but do I know you?"

I froze, closing my eyes. I wanted to say yes, more than I could have expected to. Slowly, I shook my head no, though.

"Oh," she said sadly. "I thought…. You just reminded me of someone."

I nodded, turning to go again when another voice spoke up.

"Alice is something wrong?" Ms. Brandon asked, walking down the sidewalk. "I saw your car, but you never-"

I swallowed, and started walking again when Ms. Brandon spoke.

"Jasper Hale, you stop right there. Don't think I won't recognize that guilty stance."

My steps faltered as I tried to think quickly of what to do. They couldn't stop me. I could keep walking if I wanted to.

But that was just it. I didn't want to.

Slowly, I turned around, staring fixedly at the ground.

I listened as Ms. Brandon stepped closer, then stared at the toes of her tennis shoes as she stopped in front of me. Her hand came up and brushed some hair out of my face, and I risked a fast glance up. She smiled warmly, and then her arms were around me in a hug.

"We've missed you, kid."

I remembered her as tall. She was about half a foot shorter than me. But she still had that same warm voice and warm hug and hell I'd swear to her smelling the same as well. After a moment, I lifted my arms and patted her back, then gently tugged away.

She grinned, and I let my lips lift slightly in a smile before glancing at the ground again.

"Were you thinking you could just sneak off without saying hello?"

I shrugged, because basically… yeah, I had. I'd thought that exactly, really.

She laughed. "Fate isn't going to let you get away with that." My lips quirked as I remembered her saying the same thing whenever I'd tried to steal a cookie from the cooling rack. "Come inside, have you eaten dinner?"

I hesitated again, because while it was dark enough outside that most the scars were hidden, inside they would be open to all eyes. Did I tell her no thanks and leave? Did I lie that I would come back tomorrow? What did I do?

A small hand touched my arm, I my eyes shot up at the smooth skin against mine. Alice smiled tentatively at me, and tilted her head toward her house. Silently asking.

I never had been able to deny her something she'd wanted. Not really.

I took a step forward and both smiled at me, but I could see the questions in their eyes, the slight hurt in Alice's. I'd lied to her about her knowing me.

She really didn't know me, not anymore. But she wouldn't understand that.

I paused in the doorway, then followed the two inside, amazed at how awkward I felt. This house had never equated that emotion in my life, yet suddenly that's all I felt. Awkward. Intrusive.

I glanced unhappily and wistfully outside before closing the door. Ms. Brandon was in the kitchen, and Alice was waiting in the doorway there for me. She smiled when I glanced up, and I made sure I smiled back, though I felt like anything but smiling.

"Jasper, come in from the doorway. Wash up."

I did as I was told, heading down to the bathroom and scrubbing my hands until I was pretty sure all the dirt was gone from them. All the germs. The first several layers of skin.

I sat down across the table from them, staring down at my plate and grabbing the fork all in silence. I could feel their eyes burning into me, curiosity and some horror at the sight of the scars on my arms. Those were nothing; the worst scars were hidden.

Ms. Brandon cleared her throat. "What brought you back up here, Jasper?"

I shrugged. "A whim." I glanced out the window briefly. "I missed it."

She smiled and nodded. "You should have warned us. I would have prepared your favorite dessert beforehand."

"I didn't know if you'd be here," I muttered, scraping the food around my plate a little before finally taking a bite. Delicious.

"So." Ms. Brandon obviously was trying to smooth out the tension in the air. "Where have you been? What's been happening in your life? Your in college now, right?"

I winced; I couldn't help it. This was exactly why I should have kept walking.

After a moment, I swallowed in an attempt to alleviate the dryness of my throat. "I've been in Texas. A little town near San Antonio for a while."

She nodded, waiting for me to elaborate. I didn't.

She took a breath and then turned to Alice. "How was your test?"

Alice made a face, and my lips quirked involuntarily before I glanced back down at my plate.

"Horrible," she grouched. "And then Mrs. Lester threw a surprised in-class essay at us. I wanted to slam my head into my locker."

Ms. Brandon chuckled. "Well, at least your day has improved!"

I grimaced.

"Yeah. It's nice seeing you, Jasper."

I couldn't help myself, I looked up. She was staring at me, her eyes far too… knowing for my liking. I looked down again and started eating faster. The sooner I finished, the sooner I could escape.

Guilt swamped me. If I ran off, it would hurt their feelings. They'd want me to stay in touch, and I wouldn't because I just couldn't and everyone would end up more hurt in the end.

I should have kept walking.

Finally, about halfway through the meal, Alice sighed impatiently and slammed her utensils down.

"Jasper, just tell us what's wrong. Why are you here, really? Why did you show up after seven years of no communication? Why now, why are your arms so scarred, why did we get a phone call two years ago asking if you'd contacted us?"

Her irritation and concern and resentment all blended together in her tone, slicing into me. I closed my eyes, putting down the fork, and rested my head in my hands.

What did I tell them?

The chair next to me pulled out, and then I could feel her slim arm wrapping over my shoulder.

"Just talk to us, Jasper. We love you. We'll help you."

I took a deep breath, bracing myself, and closed my eyes. "The past seven years of my life have been hell." I told them basically everything. I hated admitting to it all, hated telling them how utterly I had failed, how far I'd fallen, but if I left something out, they would find out eventually. I knew these two women well enough to know that.

By the end of it, they were both in tears. I was ready to at least get out of the damn kitchen. So I stood up and walked into the living room, hesitating just a moment before falling into an armchair. I closed my eyes and leaned my head back, wondering at the emotions swirling in me. Part of me was relieved. I wasn't alone anymore, and I knew Ms. Brandon would basically take me in as her own. I was nineteen, no one could tell me where to live and what to do anymore. I was free of that bastard of an uncle. Maria wouldn't know where to find me. I could at least have a safe place to stay if I wanted it.

But I also felt completely worthless. Hearing it all out loud, seeing their faces, their tears, tore me up and proved to me how bad I was.

"Jasper."

I opened my eyes and looked up at Ms. Brandon. She smiled kindly. "The guest bedroom down the hall just needs maybe a change of sheets so they're fresh. Once that's done, you can go sleep. We're all a little overwhelmed right now, and can talk in the morning."

And the next morning, talk we did. Ms. Brandon insisted I stayed with them, and that she helped me get my GED. I hated letting her pay, but the part-time job I got could only cover so much. Slowly, life seemed to become normal feeling again, and that hollow emptiness faded. I was truly cared about again. I was more than someone to make money off of, or an unwilling resident of the house.

By the time Christmas rolled around, I wanted nothing more than to change the way things were with Alice. She treated me like a friend, and I wanted something more so much…. I wasn't sure though. Would that really be appropriate? She was seventeen, I was nineteen and messed up still. I was getting better, true, but I wasn't good enough for her.

Didn't stop me from wanting, however.

Christmas Eve, Ms. Brandon was at a business party, and Alice and I were staying at the house. I'd asked her if she didn't want to go hang out with one of her friends or something, and she'd just smiled.

"Remember how we used to sneak out after being put to bed and open one present?"

I glanced up at the random question, and smiled slightly. "Yeah. We thought we were so clever. Never realized our parents knew about it the whole time."

Alice laughed, and I smiled at the sound. "I know, makes me feel like I was such a silly kid."

I shook my head, but didn't say anything. After a few moments of silence, Alice stood, stretching. I tried to keep my eyes away from the silver of skin revealed at her belly. Smooth, creamy skin.

Dammit.

She walked into the kitchen, and I heard her banging around for a few minutes when suddenly she swore, loudly.

I shot up and hurried over in concern, pausing in the doorway. She'd spilled chocolate powder all over her front. I couldn't stop the chuckle, which made her glare playfully. "Think that's funny?"

I leaned back against the frame, smirking arrogantly. "Yeah, I think it is."

Her lips twitched and she shook her head slightly, stepping closer. "Have I told you that you have a slight accent now?"

I frowned, puzzled. "An accent?"

She nodded, biting her lip. My eyes glued themselves to the action for a good several unnecessary seconds.

"I like it."

I smiled slightly, looking back at her eyes. "I wish I'd never gone anywhere to actually get it, but at least one good thing came of those seven years."

Alice nodded, stepping closer. I went to move a step back when her hand closed around my wrist, holding me in place as she shook her head.

"What?" I asked in confusion.

Smirking just slightly, Alice raised a brow and glanced pointedly up. I looked as well.

Mistletoe. Fucking mistletoe.

I glanced back down, unable to keep from licking my lips in anticipation. Alice's eyes watched. "Ah." I said quietly in response to her earlier silent remark.

Her smirk grew a little and she raised her eyes to meet mine. Beautiful and hazel, so expressive yet mysterious.

"You know the rules."

I nodded, not sure what I should do. Offer her my cheek? Grab her and basically molest her mouth?

Something told me neither were the right options.

Alice took a step closer, hand still around my wrist, and now she was pressed just lightly to my front. I ducked my head down to stare into her eyes as she reached up with her free hand and wrapped it around the back of my neck, her fingers playing in strands of my hair. Gently tugging me down, she raised simultaneously up on her tip toes.

Her lips were soft and full and moist and I decided that I never wanted to feel another set of lips in my life. I never wanted another set of lips to touch either of ours. They should be fucking reserved for each other.

I tilted my head a little more, and she pressed somewhat closer, fingers tightening in my hair.

When we pulled away, she reluctantly returned to just standing in front of me, except for her hold on my wrist. Taking a deep breath, I slid my hand until our palms touched, and twined our fingers together. I smiled at her, stepping back one step and pulling her forward.

"Mistletoe," I said, jerking my head slightly upward.

Alice glanced up and then back at me. "Well what do you know. I wonder where else that mistletoe is hidden in the house."

I smiled at her, leaning down to kiss her again because that was the rules.

"I love you," I breathed, because it was true and felt like the right time.

Alice's eyes fluttered open, and she grinned that grin of hers at me that had always drawn out a response from me whether I felt like grinning or not. Her hand came up and a finger traced the outside of my lips. "I love you too, Jasper. Always have. Always will. I knew you'd be the one for me and I knew you'd come back one day. I always knew."

I was reminded in that moment…. Alice had never been like other girls. I knew from the beginning that I'd always love her. Apparently, she'd known that, too.

So that's just what I did. Forever.

So there you go. My extremely long one-shot. ;)

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