"For the Love of Jasper" One-Shot Contest

Title: A Better Place To Be

Pen name: EJ Santry

Existing work: N/A

Primary Players: Jasper/Alice, Jasper/Bella

Disclaimer: Stephenie is the stage. I am merely a player. Further inspiration comes from Harry Chapin's song by same name as title.

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/

The cold air of February whipped around Bella as she walked up the sidewalk to the door of the White Lion Pub. She stuck the tip of the middle finger of her thick wool glove into her mouth, and pulled it off, so she could fish her keys from her pocket. Quickly, she unlocked the door, and walked inside the warmth of the small bar. It was a Tuesday, and though she hated not being home when her kids got home from school, she needed the money, so she had picked up the shifts that no one wanted at the local pub. She turned the lock behind her, and set her coat, hat, and purse in a little nook behind the bar before getting to work setting up for the day. When four o'clock rolled around, she flipped on the neon 'open' sign, and unlocked the door for the patrons.

She had barely made it around the end of the bar, when she heard the ting of the bell announcing her first customer of the day. She turned to see a tall piece of man walk through the door pulling off his navy blue ski cap, and trying to shake the snow out of his curly blonde hair. She grabbed one of the mugs she had washed earlier, drying it as she watched the man stuff his hat in his pocket, and hang his coat on the rack they kept by the door. It was common to find coat hooks around here, because in the Snow Belt, you could always count on some sort of weather requiring you to wear a coat. The man made his way to the end of the bar furthest from the door, and had a seat.

"So, Jasper, what can I get for ya?" Bella asked with a smile.

"How did you know my...," he started, but Bella answered him by nodding towards his name tag sewn onto his shirt. Bella recognized it as being from the muffler place up the street.

"Oh, right," he said. "Jack, straight up," he said, as he looked back down at his hands.

"Coming right up," Bella said quietly grabbing a glass and the whiskey from the shelf behind her. She walked over and pulled out a napkin, and placed his drink before him. She was just getting ready to say something more, when the bell dinged again.

"Hey fellas," she said with a smile as three of her regulars from the first shift at the mill made their way in and sat in their usual seats. "The usual?"

"You know it, Bells!" The tallest of the group said as he sat. "You're lookin' good girl, what have you been doing with yourself?"

"I've been working my ass off, Emmett," she countered, "and you better cool your tongue before I let Rose know you were making a pass at me. Trust me, you do not want to infuriate a pregnant woman."

"Trust me, I know!" Emmett laughed as Bella handed him and his friends their drafts.

"You guys want SportsCenter?" She asked picking up the remote to the small TV that was mounted above the corner of the bar.

"Yeah, I want to check the scores from yesterday," Seth said.

"You want to see if you lost your bets, you mean," said Emmett with a slap on Seth's back.

Bella turned on the TV, and quickly punched in the channel numbers for ESPN. The TV was rarely on a different channel unless there was an Indians, Browns, or Cavs game on somewhere. Now that she had the guys settled, she glanced back down the bar at Jasper. He just kept staring at his nearly empty glass with a far off look in his eyes. Bella made her way back down the bar, and stood in front of him waiting for him to acknowledge her. He didn't.

"Would you like another?" She asked softly. He just glanced up at her, giving her a slight nod, before finishing off what was in his glass and sliding it towards her. Bella dropped the empty glass in the sink full of sudsy water, as she grabbed another, and filled it up for him.

"So Bells, where are the kids tonight?" Emmett asked.

"They are with my dad," she answered. Jasper looked over at her hands resting on the bar, and the glowing lack of a wedding band left him wondering.

"How is your dad?" Emmett asked.

"Oh, he's good. His diabetes flares up from time to time, but he's good," she answered.

"Is that son of a bitch paying his child support now?" Emmett asked like a concerned big brother.

"I don't really want to talk about it, Em," she said softly.

"Bells…" he said hitting the bar and shaking his head.

"Please, Emmett," she said plastering a smile on her face, "not today."

She walked back towards Jasper at the end of the bar with his whiskey, clearly looking to end that line of questioning. Bella approached him, and set down a fresh napkin followed by his drink.

"It's been a while since you've been in here, Jasper. Everything OK? You look like someone ran over your dog."

Jasper didn't even acknowledge that she had said anything. He just took a drink and continued to stare blankly ahead.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to bother you. Call for me if you want another."

"Bella," he said so quietly that she wasn't sure if he had even said it through the din of the basketball scores. "You aren't bothering me. I've just…I've just had a rough week."

"I've been told I am a pretty good listener," she said with a soft smile, and she thought she saw some resignation in the look on his face. "Let me top these boys off, and I'll be back."

Bella walked down and refilled the glasses of the three men sitting in the middle of the bar, while she bantered playfully with them. Jasper chanced a glance up at her as she laughed at something someone had said. He noticed the slender form of her arms in contrast to the curves on the rest of her body, evidently from having children. He wondered what path in life led her to be working at a bar on a Tuesday night. As she turned to walk back down towards him, he became immersed in his glass once again.

"So what's your story, morning glory?" Bella said with a smile.

"Do you know 'Big Al's Diner'?" Jasper asked.

"Sure do," Bella responded. "They have the best breakfast."

"Yeah, well, I was in there for dinner last Saturday," he started. "I'm a single guy, and I don't cook anything beyond a frozen dinner for myself, so I treat myself to Al's on Saturdays. So, anyway, I sit down at my usual place at the counter, and order my usual fare. I was in the middle of my pot roast when I looked up and caught her reflection in the aluminum splash guard on the wall."

"She was so beautiful, and seemed to be out of place in a place like Al's. She was a tiny thing clad in jeans and a tight little green sweater with a colorful scarf draped around her neck. Her black hair was cut short and was spiked out around her. She looked more like something off of a cover of a magazine, than someone you see around this neighborhood. Yet, the look on her face was in such contrast to the vibrancy her outward appearance. She had that long past lonely look that I recognized from my own reflection. I continued to exchange glances with her while we ate."

"I spent that entire meal trying to work up the nerve to talk to her," he added.

"Psssh," Bella said at this. "Like you are the kind of man who has trouble getting women."

"Believe it or not, I am quite awkward when it comes to women," he said quietly. "I had a girl once. Maria. We were high school sweethearts. I joined the Navy after high school, because I wasn't going to college. She said she would wait for me, so off I went. The second year into my tour is when I got the letter. I guess she didn't want to wait after all. I was so in love with her. I mean…she was it for me. Since I've been back, well, it's just been me chasing the ghost of the future I should be livin'."

He tossed back his drink, and tapped the side of his cup. Bella took it, and poured him another two fingers. She paused to switch the TV to the Cavs game and refilled the drafts of the others before returning to Jasper. He took a sip of his refilled drink, and continued on with his story.

"I sat there, while I ate, trying to work up the courage to say something to her. I started stealing sideways glances at her. Finally, around my tenth glance, she looked my way. I think I stuttered out a hello and my name. She just sort of looked through me and said, 'Alice'. She went back to eating, and I tried to say something else, anything else, but the words stuck in my throat, so I turned back to my own meal. When I was done I tossed a couple of bills on the counter for the tip, gave Alice a smile, and went to the register to pay."

"There was a couple in front of me in the line, and I waited, staring at my hands, for them to finish their conversation. That is when I heard the small voice behind me, almost a whisper."

"If you want me to come with you, that's alright with me. I'm not goin' nowhere, and anywhere's a better place to be."

"I paid for my meal, motioned outside with my eyes, and I strode out the door. The sun was beginning to set and began to cast the otherwise gray day in a blanket of warm color. A moment later, Alice came stepping out of the diner as if drawn forth by the breeze that rattled the door. Her eyes seemed to glow with the contact to the brisk air, and her colorful scarf whipped and danced about her. I smiled at her sheepishly from where I was leaning against the hood of my old Cavalier. She gave a half-hearted grin, walked around the car, and climbed into the passenger seat. I took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly as I sat down and started the car."

"I was thankful for the cold that day, because my gloves masked the white knuckles that lay underneath. I was so nervous, that I had to clutch the wheel to keep my arms from trembling. It had been so long since anyone had touched me, not only physically, but I could feel a slight thaw of my long frozen heart."

"I drove her back to my apartment, a small efficiency at the top of an old house that has been divided up into three apartments. It's not much, but I don't require much either. She followed me up the long staircase in the back of the house to my door. I held it open for her, and she walked inside looking around the space. Stepping in, I tossed my keys on the table while closing the door behind me. My apartment was cast in a warm glow from the sunset, as I briefly walked her through my small space pointing out the obvious kitchen, living area, and bedroom."

"Mind if I freshen up a bit?" She asked.

"Not at all," I choked out around my nerves, while pointing to the bathroom.

"She took off her coat and scarf, draping them on the back of one of my kitchen chairs. She then bent down to untie her boots, and set them underneath the same chair. Giving me a small smile, she disappeared into the bathroom. When I heard the click of the lock, I fell back onto my couch, exhaling the breath I had been holding. I pulled my knit hat from my head, and began wringing it in my hands, while my leg bounced nervously. Finally, I heard the click of the lock from the bathroom door, and jumped to my feet. Alice turned the corner and smiled at me, and that is when I realized some time had past, and most of the room had fallen into shadow. I turned, and reached for the solitary lamp that sat on my rummaged side table.

"Please leave the light off," Alice said quickly. "I don't mind the dark."

"OK," I said turning back to her.

"As my eyes raised up to meet hers, I watched as she sent her clothes fluttering to the floor all around her. The remaining daylight gave way to the night, as I watched her snow white skin become exposed piece by piece. I could feel my heart thundering in my chest. Yet I was frozen in my place, standing there clutching my hat like it was a life line, watching this angel bare herself to me. Finally, standing before me like those ivory statues of Grecian goddesses, she moved forward taking my hand, and leading me to my bed."

"She never said a word as she took my hat from my hand, and tossed it on the chair that sat near my bed. Reaching up, she dragged down the zipper of my coat, and her small hands slid up my chest and up over my shoulders pushing it to the floor. I remained fixated on her and she kept her eyes locked on mine as she began to undo the buttons of my shirt. The moonlight was spilling into the room through the high windows above my bed, and I began to question whether this was really happening. This is the type of thing a guy like me only dreams of. My eyes fluttered shut when the warmth of her palms made contact with my bare chest and arms as she discarded my shirt. I felt her undoing the buckle of my belt followed by the buttons of my jeans, and I tried to articulate something, everything that I was feeling, but I was a bumbling mess of starts and stops."

"Shhh," she soothed me. "I know just how you feel. I've been so lonely, for so long. I need to feel close to someone. Will you let me be close to you?"

"I simply nodded; afraid to speak. The moonlight fell upon her as I laid her down in my bed. I lowered myself down over her, finding safe haven between her outstretched legs. I just laid there at first, brushing her hair back from her face, and getting lost in her stormy eyes. We were frozen there sharing fears and looking for answers in each other's gaze. Then slowly, I bent my head down and my lips found soft purchase on hers. I took my time kissing her, feeling that this was a luxury she rarely found. She tensed at the contact at first, but then as I brushed my lips feather light against hers, and then captured her bottom lip between mine in repeated circuits, she slowly began to relax, and began to reciprocate."

"Jasper, I need to feel you inside of me," she quietly pleaded. I could feel the heat radiating from her, and shuddered when I felt the moisture between her legs coating the tip of my bare dick as she rocked her hips up towards me.

"Shit," I said standing up and walking over to my pants and pulling out my wallet. It contained the only condom that I owned. I couldn't even remember when I got it. I ripped open the package, and rolled it into place, before crossing back to the bed.

"Returning to the bed, I settled back between her legs. She nodded silently for me to continue, and I wrapped her small frame in my arms before shifting my hips, finding my purchase, and slowly sliding into her. She gasped and I paused, until she told me she was fine and to keep going. I began a steady pace of pushing myself in, and drawing back. Her eyes remained clenched shut, but she panted my name and begged for more. So, I picked up my pace, and it had been so long, that I wasn't going to last. Willing her to finish, I soon felt her little body spasming around me, and I released a silent scream into the night as my own orgasm claimed me."

"I collapsed next to her, as we both lay panting. My heart and mind were chaotic. I looked over at Alice as she lay there in my bed, calming from pleasure I had given her. The smile that crept on to my face could not be helped. After a moment, when I was sure I could stand up without toppling over, I released myself from the condom, tossing it in the waste basket next to my bed, and walked over to the closet grabbing a towel and a t-shirt. I reverently wiped clean the evidence of our sex before offering the t-shirt."

"I didn't know if you wanted to stay, but you can sleep in this," I offered shyly.

"Thank-you," she said, putting on the shirt and laying back on the mattress.

"I wiped myself clean before putting on my boxers and climbing into bed next to her. She lifted herself up as I pulled down the covers, and brought them over top of us. I turned onto my side watching as Alice's eyes fluttered, and soon went closed. I just lay there watching her sleep, and before long, she rolled over and snuggled up next to me. I was overwhelmed with the closeness of her small body at first, but found myself wrapping my arms around her, and holding her tight. She slept like a baby, snug and safe from harm. Eventually, the rhythmic pattern of her breathing lulled me to sleep as well."

"The morning seemed to come too quickly. I woke to find Alice still snug and sleeping in my arms. I was afraid to move at first. She looked so peaceful, that I didn't want to risk waking her. So, I lay there, until my stomach started to make its presence known. Gently, I extricated myself from her, and wrapped her up snuggly in my blanket. I walked over to the kitchen, and realized that I didn't have much of anything to offer her when she woke, so I decided to run out and get us both some food."

"I drove to the small market up the street from my house. I smiled to myself as I grabbed one of the red plastic baskets. It had been a long time since I made a breakfast that didn't come from a cereal box, but I wanted to do something special for Alice. I grabbed some orange juice, eggs, bread, butter, bacon, and finally found myself desperately scanning the produce section for something special, in case she happened to be a vegetarian. For the life of me I couldn't remember what she had been eating at the diner."

"You look lost, young man."

"I turned to see a little blue haired lady pulling her little metal cart behind her."

"Yes, ma'am, I am afraid I am," I answered.

"What are you looking for?" She asked.

"I want to make a special breakfast for a friend," I said blushing.

"A lady friend?" She asked with a raspy giggle. I nodded. "You want to start with a cantaloupe."

"She started picking up various melons, weighing them in her palm, and then sniffing the connection point. She explained to me how the weight helped tell if there was good flesh, and you could smell the sweetness of the fruit from where it was connected to the vine. She told me to halve it, clear it of its seeds, and then get some vanilla ice cream and put a scoop in the center. I thanked her for her help, and she wished me luck as I paid and hurried back home."

"There was a lightness to my step as I climbed to my door clutching my paper bag to my chest. I quietly unlocked the door, and turned to toss my keys on the table. I barely registered the sound of the keys sliding across the linoleum top of the table and crashing to the floor on the other side, because all I could focus on was the empty chair on the opposite side of the table. There was no coat there. No rainbow scarf."

"I slowly traversed the apartment and closed my eyes before reluctantly opening them to stare at my bed. It was made. It was empty. Sitting on the bedside table, I saw a small piece of paper. Still clutching the grocery bag in my arms, I walked over and picked up the six-word letter.

"It's time that I moved on."

"I drew my fist closed around the note, and sank down onto my bed. I don't know how long I sat there surrounded by the deafening silence of my empty apartment, but I sat there clutching onto to that bag that represented the hope I had found, and I couldn't bring myself to let it go."

Bella turned from him then, picking up her bar rag, and wiping her eyes. She hoped he didn't notice the gesture, as she looked up at the clock. She gave a cough to clear her voice, and bellowed out, "Last call."

The three men down the bar all took one last swig of their drinks before laying down the tab fare, and waving good-bye to Bella. She grabbed up their money and empty mugs, and began cleaning up.

"You are welcome to stay and finish your drink," she said to Jasper. "I'm just going to start cleaning up. Do you mind if I turn on some music?"

"Not at all," he said his voice rough from his story.

The sounds of Journey began to pour out into the room from the old jukebox in the corner. Jasper raised his head and quirked an eyebrow at her. Bella shrugged a shoulder.

"It's easy to sing along to, and it makes the clean up go faster," Bella said blushing.

"So I am to be serenaded?" Jasper asked trying to hide his smile on the rim of his glass.

"That was not a promise, but a warning," Bella laughed. Jasper noticed how she gave herself over to her happy moments, and how her laughter filled the room.

Jasper slowly sipped his drink while he watched Bella flit around the place putting stools on the bar, and wiping things down. She quietly sang to herself, as she pulled out a broom and danced around it as she swept up the place, and Jasper admired how her body, less nubile than it probably once was, still had that youthful edge to it. Lost in his thoughts, he looked up to see her paused in her motions staring back at him. Just then, the jukebox clicked over to the next CD, and the sounds of Patsy Cline's "Crazy" drifted out of the speakers.

Before Jasper realized what he was doing, he tossed back the rest of his drink, and walked over to Bella. She stood there clutching the handle of her broom as she watched him approach. He reached down when he got to her and she released the broom to him when she felt his hand grip the handle. Leaning it up against the bar, he returned to her, sliding one hand around her waist, and reaching down with his other to take her hand.

"May I have this dance?" He asked softly.

"Yes," she answered while looking up at him with eyes that swam with the unshed tears of a woman who hasn't been asked to dance in years.

They slowly rocked back and forth to the music; their loneliness reflected back to them in the other's eyes. When Bella reached the point she needed to blink she lowered her gaze and laid her head on Jasper's chest and he pulled her close to him. They continued their silent rocking, until Jasper felt her silent sobs. He just held her as she cried and for a moment escaped their isolation in the world. Then softly, she began to speak.

"I wish that I was beautiful, or that you were halfway blind. I wish I weren't so goddamn fat. I wish that you were mine. And I wish that you'd come with me, when I leave for home, because I, too, know about loneliness and being left alone."

Jasper looked down into her tear-stained face and smiled at her.

"If you want me to come with you, that's alright with me. I'm not goin' nowhere, and anywhere's a better place to be."

---------------------------------------------------

A/N: Thank you for reading. My thanks to maganbagan and DefinitelyStaying for encouraging me to finish and submit.