Second-place winner for the "To Go Amongst Mad People" contest.
Disclaimer: La Meyer owns La Twilight. The rest is La Mine.
The screen door slammed hard against the wood siding of the side-hall shotgun house as I nearly stomped my feet through the floorboards. Two bags of shoes over each shoulder, my huge purse, and the heaviest suitcase known to man dragging behind me, I barreled toward the waiting cab.
"Baby," he crooned, thinking his bullshit would suffice. I was ashamed to admit that it had in the past. He had followed me out the door, walking his usual confident and languid pace, and stopped on the last step to pose against the railing. "I'm sorry. Whatever I did..." WHATEVER HE DID!? Motherfucker.
I stilled, slowly rotating so that the bags on my shoulders would remain in place. My eyes zeroed in and set their gaze to "kill." "Seriously? Like it escaped your attention that your dick was caught in Victoria's disease-ridden snatch less than 5 hours ago? Or maybe you're just under the impression that I didn't notice. Earth to asshole: I did."
He ran his hands through his hair, a play at appearing ashamed. Which he clearly was not. He reached to grab my shoulder, but I spun, too fast this time, and bags three and four went spilling to the walkway. I heard the driver jump out of the cab and scramble around to help as I fought angry tears. Fluid images of colorful shoes and cement morphed before my eyes like a kaleidoscope, but my mind was sliding through the grime of this morning's memory. I got home this morning following my shift at the bar and breakfast with the girls to find that redheaded slut impaled on my boyfriend. In our bed. Wearing the Mardi Gras beads that hung from my vanity. My daddy had given me those beads from the first Mardi Gras he'd ever attended. They weren't the family jewels, but they meant a lot to me. Especially after he died last spring.
The driver whispered, "I'll put these in the trunk, ma'am. I suggest you get in."
A brief chill whipped through me before I felt a hot hand grip my bicep. "You're not leaving, Mary Alice," James growled. "You're mine. I told you a thousand times she doesn't mean a thing to me."
I tore my arm from his grasp. "I have taken care of you for over three years, James. I've cooked for you. I've done your goddamn laundry. I've worked and supported you when you were 'pursuing the dream of music,'" I hissed, even using the fucking air quotes. I picked up my purse, the only bag left on the ground and stood tall again, looking him dead in the eye. "You've given me nothing but a surefire visit to the gynecologist and a fervent hope I don't have gonorrhea."
I stalked to the cab, flinging the door open so hard it bounced back and slapped me in the ass. I jostled, threw my purse on the seat and leveled my last glare at James. "By the way, I called my lawyer this morning and the house will be up for sale by the end of the week. I suggest you get your shit out."
The trunk closed, the cabs shocks bounced comfortably. The driver stepped around to help me at the same time James approached with a vicious sneer setting his lips. I could feel his menace radiating like steam rising, and for a second I was actually afraid. As if sensing my fear, the driver blocked me and popped the door out to catch James right in the junk. I must've missed something from my viewpoint, because immediately James crumpled forward. He seemed propelled backwards with incredible force, landing hard on the ground behind him. "The lady's said her piece, mister. Good day to you."
I half-expected him to tip his hat at James's prone form. My door clicked shut, the driver rounding back to his side and getting in. He paused briefly, lifting his curling leather cowboy hat and running a hand through the muss of blonde hair beneath it. I snapped my eyes to his bright gold irises in the rearview mirror.
"GO." He took no pause. The car was in motion before I could take another breath.
We were driving down Magazine Street for a few minutes before I could register his question. "Ma'am? I, uh...is there anywhere in particular I should head toward?"
The fog and slight panic circling my head lifted. "I...I don't...know, I can't...can't you just drive for a while?"
"Well, ma'am, I can, but..."
"Listen, pal," I said and leaned forward, pressing my nose lightly to the airholes in the plexiglass. "I got $500 in my wallet that's yours if you just drive."
"Yes, ma'am." Gotta love it. Money always talks.
"And lose the 'ma'am' shit; it's driving me nuts."
"Sorry, ma—, uh...sorry. It's an undeniable habit. Southern upbringin' an' all." I noted the half-cocked smile in the mirror. I couldn't help the smirk that crawled across my lips in response, whether he noticed or not. "May I ask your name, then? If my momma were alive, she'd whup me good if I just went on callin' a lady, 'hey you.'"
Snickering, I leaned back into the seat, watching the Garden District pass by. "You may absolutely call me Alice, but only if you tell me your name. I'd whup your ass if I was forced to call you 'sir' when you are clearly decades away from social security!"
A strangled chuckle erupted, and he coughed slightly, bringing his hand to his mouth. "Of course, Miss Alice," he said, in somewhat of a croon. "I wouldn't dream of forcing you to call me such a thing. My name is Jasper. Jasper Lee Whitlock."
"Very nice to meet you, Jasper," I said playfully. "I'd curtsy, but it'd be a bit awkward from here."
I watched a toothy grin light up the mirror as he turned and made for the on ramp for the I-10, headed west. I didn't comment; I still had no idea where I was going. I had everything that meant anything to me in my shoulder bag or in one of the beat-up pieces of luggage in the trunk, if not on my person. I loved that house, but after this morning, it felt desecrated. And now that everyone I'd ever loved had left this city, whether by plane, train, or because they'd left their body behind, I had no reason to stay behind anymore. Just needed a kick in the ass. Thank you, Victoria.
As New Orleans shrank into the background, I started to wonder what the fuck I was going to do. With no family left to speak of, and any close friends I'd had scattered to the winds (thanks for that, James), I was completely overwhelmed. Tears rounded and sprang over the edges of my lids, too heavy and fat to even take the time to roll down my cheeks. My hands balled into fists, grasping and letting go, as the drops splashed on them.
I am so fucked.
"Alice." Jasper spoke with caution, but his voice seemed to roll over the abrasions on my heart like a miracle salve. "You did the right thing."
My body leaned forward almost involuntarily, into the smooth tenor of his voice. I watched my palm rest against the divider and felt my temple do the same, my eyes gazing past the stickers and scratches on the passenger side windows, and even the concrete and steel as it passed by. "I know," I whispered, too low for him to hear. "Sometimes it takes me a while, but I always do...eventually."
I zoned out for a little while, letting the thick mass of a storm threat focus and blur. It would be raining soon, but unlike a lot of people, I loved the rain. The curtain of shimmering silver as I stared out, sitting on the back porch. The scent of salt powerfully tangible in the air and settling on my tongue as the sea was churned up in the gulf. The thundering pelts dancing on the roof like millions of combat boot-wearing squirrels practicing for Riverdance. I giggled to myself, but stopped short and quickly reversed my smile remembering how I'd described just that to James one afternoon in bed. The skin on my forehead pinched as I twisted my gaze down to the trampled carpet on the floor of the cab. It wasn't all bad, I told myself. There were good times. Right?
I was grateful to Jasper for the silence he seemed to know I needed. I was reading far too much into this gentle stranger, but I was grateful. I believed in angels on earth, so why not in the form of a gracious gentleman cab driver (who happened to look downright edible, if I was being honest)? I felt the anxiety bleeding out ever so mercifully, and wondered if he had pure oxygen being piped into the back seat through the air conditioning vents.
I threw my head back with a snap. "So where should we go, Jasper?"
"That's up to you where I go—uh, I mean...where I take you, Miss Alice," he laughed softly at his misstep. "I'm at your disposal."
I watched his lips in the mirror, pursed and smirking. "Perhaps," I hedged, "but I'm looking for suggestions. My roots have been ripped up; I need a new place to plant."
His tight smile loosened and fell in thought. "Well..." He paused for a while. "I have lived in many cities and towns in my life, but I've found I have quite a fondness for the west. I love my home state, but I don't know what you're lookin' for, ma'a—shit, I mean, Alice."
I giggled as his bright eyes caught mine in the mirror. I found myself cuddling in the comfort his voice held, and in the back of my mind, I was scheming a way to stay in his car longer. There was nowhere I needed to be anymore. "I just..." I stopped myself, and retracked. "Where would you go, Jasper?"
His lips tore apart as his jaw dropped, and a quick breath rushed sharply past his teeth. An air of strange tension filled the cab. "I...I honestly don't know. I haven't been in one place longer than a year in a very long time." He seemed lost in memory.
"You sound like you're from Texas. Am I right?"
I could feel him relax, see his shoulders release. "Yes, ma'am. Sorry, that one is set in stone."
"Well, would you go home? Somewhere in Texas hold your fancy?" This question brought his eyes back to mine in the rearview. I raised my eyebrows, but again, his expression fell slightly before he recovered it and raised a mask.
"You can never really go home again," he answered quietly, before clearing his throat. "At least, what I mean is—what was home for me isn't there anymore. Family, friends...my house, that...stuff." He seemed to tack the list on as an excuse. It wasn't really my business, so I switched tactics.
"I suppose you're right. My house was left to me by my daddy, and since he's gone, and everyone else I really cared about...well, that's why I figure I can go anywhere. I was born in Biloxi, but we moved to New Orleans when I was a baby. That was where my daddy was from, anyway." I swallowed hard, forcing the tear-inducing nostalgia down. "I'm babbling again. Okay, so where would you suggest? Anywhere. Somewhere with life, possibility...I don't know."
I felt rushed with frustration, and my head dropped to my hand. Mentally, I was doing my best to untangle the knots in my mind when I felt my muscles unravel and loosen, having forgotten about the physical tension I'd been carrying along like a separate set of luggage. My mind felt free again, or at least open to the possibility of what I was doing. I was instantly confused. How on earth could I shift that easily?
"You seem like a fashionable lady," Jasper broke into my thoughts. "I suppose L.A. might—"
"Are you doing that?"
He stopped abruptly, snapping his focus to the mirror yet again. I began wondering if he looked at the road enough. "Uh, what's that, Miss Alice?"
My mind shook itself straight. What was I suggesting? That he was making me feel better like some sort of magic? How fucking ridiculous. People can't manipulate emotio— "Um, nothing. Never mind."
He reached up, grabbed his hat and tossed it to the seat next to him. "Maybe you need somethin' to eat, darlin'...you seem all outta sorts."
Darlin'? I giggled again, feeling a rush of blood to the head, filling my cheeks and making me dizzy. Long, pale fingers threaded his honey-blonde curls and brushed the hat shape out. "Um, yeah, I suppose that'd be a good idea, sweetie."
He chuckled. "I'm just gonna say 'sorry' now for all future improprities, Miss Alice, OK?"
My smile was so big, it hurt my cheeks. "All good with me, Mister Jasper." Without my permission, I felt myself wink at his gaze in the mirror. Slow the fuck down, Brandon. You just broke up with your boyfriend. You don't jump ship to ship. But for him? Hmmm...
By this point, we were nearly to Baton Rouge, so Jasper said he'd just head into town since there was a tiny "greasy spoon" that had some of his favorite pizza on the planet. It wasn't until the mention of food that I realized I hadn't eaten all day. Coming home off of such a late shift to the violent mindfuck of which I was the lucky beneficiary this morning kind of threw my appetite off. I put a hand to my stomach and felt the snarling rumble of hunger that had gone unnoticed for God knows how long. I wonder if he could hear that? Nah, that'd be superhuman or something.
Twenty minutes later, he pulled up to Fleur de Lis. It was a pale peach-colored building with curved edges, archways topped with fleurs de lis, and an oddly placed glass block window. The old neon twisted along the chipping paint, spelling out "ROMAN PIZZA" and "Cocktail Lounge" even bigger than the name of the place. Jasper was holding my door open for me before I had time to process the car was parked. His hand was held palm up, waiting to help me out of the car. I internally scolded myself, because even though I'd grown up in the South, I never expected the courtesies that came along with the "Southern gentleman" legend. I suppose that was what I thought of it: legend, not truth. I wanted to blame James for that, but I guess he wasn't the first.
"I won't bite," Jasper woke me from myself, yet again.
"Huh? Oh, sorry, I just...got lost in thought." I smiled and took the hand offered. It was cool but comforting, his large hand engulfing my short, thin fingers, and I gasped at the contact.
"I know, my hands are cold." Our eyes met once I stepped out, not looking elsewhere until his other hand found the small of my back and gently pushed me forward so he could close the door. That's when my eyes closed. Something about his touch told me more than I should have wanted to know. That I want to know. That he...
"They got good margaritas? Cuz I think I need a drink, too." Oh, yeah. Bring out drunk Alice. That'll be just what the doctor ordered.
"Ahh, no, but I bet we could wrangle up a hurricane or something." His hand fell from my back, and he loosened his grip on my hand, and it slipped and fell back to my side. I felt heavier all of a sudden.
I tripped through myself to understand my inner moodswings or whatever the bizarre emotional reactions I was having around this man. Trying to give myself the leeway of having had one life-altering hell of a shit morning, I shook off the mental list of questions I was building. I had to allow the fact that I was incredibly comfortable around Jasper. Way more comfortable than I should be, considering my recent track record. I prided myself on being an excellent judge of character, but recently found that I was apparently delusional.
Despite my "heaviness," my body floated ahead of me into the restaurant, which was more of a dive than anything. I just hoped when he said "greasy spoon" he didn't mean literally. An overly perky girl in a uniform pointed to a side booth, saying something, but I was still in a bizarre timelag. Jasper nodded and held his arm out, indicating I go first. I nearly stared at him in awe, but caught myself before the men in little white coats came to take me away. Again with the mannersfail, Alice!
I insisted Jasper order for me since he'd suggested it and was therefore the expert on the place. He eyed me curiously for a moment before ordering a small with hot banana peppers, mushrooms and Italian sausage. I smiled when he looked at me for approval. He quickly added a chocolate malt at the end, winking at me as he said it. How does he know chocolate malts are my fucking favorite? Seriously, I'm almost freaking out now.
"What?" Shit. I'm losing my ability to censor my facial expressions.
"I just...I...well, chocolate malts are one of my, uh, favorite treats. It just...never mind."
"No, not never mind, doll. Don't be shy," he chuckled lightly and leaned in on his forearms. I became somewhat fascinated in the muscles and veins and fine blonde hairs. I continued to watch the sinews stretch and ripple as he tapped the fingers of his right hand.
"It just seemed like you were psychic or something." I had to have blushed. "And I'm not shy," I said as my gaze found its way back to his eyes, those gorgeous topaz eyes.
A smooth, deep laugh undulated within his chest and washed the most pleasant feeling over me. "Psychic? Lord, no. I get so many more things wrong than right."
I cocked my head to the left, an eyebrow arching in contest. My stomach dropped a bit when I saw something dark edge his eyes, sinking into the iris like the teeth of a parasite. The more I questioned with my gaze or the tilt of my head, the harder and darker his eyes became. After a moment, I realized how awkward I was making him feel, and a tingling flushed through my cheeks, tinting them with red. "Pardon me," I said, hushed. "None of my business."
"No, please," he put his hand on my folded set on the glossed wood of the table. Still cool. "I don't mind, but you don't wanna hear about my...problems."
"Major Whitlock!" A gravelly voice burst through the small eatery. Jasper turned to see an elderly black gentleman ambling our way.
"Issy! I didn't think you were here much these days," Jasper quickly pulled his hand back and stood to embrace the man. "You're lookin' good."
"Don't sass me, boy," he replied over Jasper's shoulder, barely meeting his height. "I'm barely held together in this skin. Now, who's this gorgeous young lady you got here?"
"Issy, this is Miss Alice. Alice, this here is Isadore. He owns the place." I stood and offered my hand to him, so he kindly took it and twisted my wrist so he could kiss my knuckles. I couldn't help but to giggle like a little girl.
"Nice to meet you, Miss Alice," he said, a sly glint in his eye.
"And you, Issy," I said, smiling back.
Jasper snickered and leaned in to whisper something in Issy's ear. He smiled conspiratorially and smacked Jasper's back. "You got it, son. Back in a flash." Issy winked and headed back toward the kitchen.
"Major Whitlock?" I questioned as we sat back down.
Jasper cleared his throat and looked at me somewhat sheepishly before replying, "Yeah, well...long story." His eyes darkened again, and I felt immediately guilty for asking.
We seemed to stare at one another for an indeterminate amount of time, each looking for something, though I couldn't imagine what exactly. A tall glass filled with a deep pink beverage and ice was set in front of me. "That's my special recipe, Miss Alice," Issy told me before a screech hollered from the kitchen, and he hightailed it back there.
"Thanks, my man!" Jasper called after him. "Issy makes the most incredible hurricanes...but they don't serve alcohol here, so I asked a favor."
A crooked smile overtook me and I whispered a somewhat embarrassed "thanks." I wrapped my fingers around the glass and pulled it to my lips, filling my mouth with the sweet drink. I hummed approval as it chilled my throat and spread its breeze across my chest. "I have had my share of these, but damn...you're right; this is incredible. Where's yours, though?"
He held up the keys and jingled them. "Driving."
Embarrassed again. "Durr." He smirked and chuckled. I shifted my attention to the drink in front of me and slurped away, ignoring the fact that I should wait for some food to absorb all the liquor I was ingesting. I didn't care. The pizza was delivered after a little while, and I immediately dove in, probably embarrassing myself in the process. Fleetingly, I stole glances at Jasper who simply watched me with a bemused and crooked smile on his face.
As I grabbed at my third piece, I noticed he had pushed up his sleeves. A collection of small crescent-shaped scars, so light they were virtually silver against his pale skin, was scattered along his arms, disappearing beneath the fabric. "Oh my..." I gasped, forgetting myself.
His face fell, sitting back and pulling his arms off the table, dropping them into his lap. He didn't attempt to explain.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, ducking my head. "I didn't mean...I just...so, how long have you lived in New Orleans? Did you live up here in Baton Rouge, too?" Since he didn't jump in to save me from myself, I threw my own lifeline and looked up to find his eyes. I wasn't sure he was even listening, but he looked incredibly uncomfortable, almost pained. Words began to form to ask if he was all right, but he called for the waitress.
"You mind if we box this up? We should probably get going." His voice was strained.
"No, of course..." I paused, slightly confused. "But, Jasper, we don't even know where we're going."
"If you'd pick a destination, we'd know." He had progressed to a fairly clipped tone, and the air around me began to suffocate.
I stared at him in awe, my mouth agape. The waitress set a box on the table next to the check, and a cup for the malt. Jasper raided his wallet and handed her some bills before she could walk away.
"Thanks, Sheila," he said softly. "Good to see you."
I dove into my purse and dug out a hundred dollar bill, crushed it in my fist, and threw it at him. I saw the surprise on his face before I stood and rushed out of the restaurant, leaving the leftovers on the table. Once outside, I could almost breathe normally again, but tears of frustration and confusion were building. Fuck, I hate being a girl sometimes.
Jasper wasn't far behind, and soon I felt his hands on my shoulders. "I—"
"Just put my bags on the curb, Mister Whitlock," I snapped, immediately feeling guilty for reverting to a formal address. I shook his hands off, cursing myself silently for mourning the self-imposed loss of his touch. "I'll call another cab."
His boots scraped the ground as he and the hurt I could feel radiating from him stepped away toward the cab, paces away. "Yes, ma'am."
"That's IT?!" I screeched, approaching patrons stopping to gawk. Jasper spun and faced me. "Nothing! You say NOTHING but 'YES, MA'AM'?!"
Eyes closed, he paused and staged a deep breath. When he opened them, his gaze stuck to the pavement, but he stepped toward me. "I apologize, ma'am. I didn't mean to upset you."
I felt my shoulders twitch. I realized I was completely tense. As he got closer, I started to relax. Traitor tears fell as I looked up at him, now only a couple feet away. The back of his fingers ghosted over my cheek to wipe them away, leaving a trail of fire in their wake. He uncrumpled the bill I'd thrown at him and tucked it into the front pocket of my purse. "Why...?" I couldn't form a complete question. I let myself go silent as his despondent eyes captured me.
"I don't live in New Orleans," he answered. "And I don't talk about my scars. And if you want me to get you another driver, I will."
"Where do you live?" The words croaked out somehow.
"Wherever I end up."
"I don't want another driver." I couldn't help the skip in my heartbeat when his lips quirked into a subtle half-smile. "But I am sitting in the front this time." His smile grew to full wattage.
A strange, yet comfortable silence blanketed us for a good half hour. Jasper headed west like before, and offered me control of the satellite radio. I played for a while before I settled on a station when Echo and the Bunnymen's "Lips Like Sugar" tickled my ears. I heard Jasper chuckle quietly.
"Don't care for the Bunnymen?" I mused, peering at him through my lashes.
"No, it's not that," he replied. "It just...reminds me of good times."
"Tell me," I pleaded casually, turning to lean my head against the seat and face him.
"The song...it reminds me of times with family and old friends." His lips pursed, and he flicked his eyes to me before dropping them to his lap and back to the road.
"You miss them terribly," I stated. The longing was pouring off of him like a waterfall. He nodded, maintaining his gaze on the horizon. "What happened to them?"
"They died." His tone was clipped, and though he'd revealed nothing, I realized he was starting to push back.
"Mine, too," I offered as compassionately as I could. I continued, in case he wouldn't ask. "Daddy died about five years ago. Lung cancer. He owned a hole-in-the-wall bar in the Marigny district called Danse Toujours. It was fantastic," I giggled softly at the memory, bouncing in my seat a little. I noticed Jasper smirk and watch me out of the corner of my eye.
"He'd make me Shirley Temples and root beer floats and slide them down to the end of the bar like the movies, and I'd catch 'em. I didn't have a lot of friends, save one boy my age. He was so quiet, none of the other boys would hang out with him. He'd come in with me sometimes and have a Coke, or a float. Daddy let him play piano on slow afternoons. He used to joke and say we'd have our wedding reception at the bar." I laughed at the memory.
"What was his name?" Jasper's question was almost a whisper, as though it was painful to speak louder.
"Do you still see him?"
"He went to live with his mother in Chicago when he was thirteen. I haven't talked to him since high school." My vision went blurry as I remembered my friend. "I heard he got really sick and died before he graduated. He would've been around seventeen."
"I'm sorry..." There was a strange tone to his voice, and he was looking away from me.
"I'm not sure, I just..." I took a deep breath, accepting the sentiment anyway. "Thanks."
We were silent again until he spoke. "I haven't felt at home anywhere...in years. So, I've never stayed anywhere very long. The cab's mine," he explained, "I just know a lot of people that will hire me out for a small cut, so that when I feel like I need to move, I do."
"How long have you been in New Orleans?"
"A few weeks."
"You think you might ever find that feeling of home again, Jasper?" It was a pushy question for a stranger, but I didn't feel like he was. He felt like...well, I thought he was...comfortable with me. More than he would be with any old paying customer. Somewhere along the road we traveled, or perhaps it had been immediate, he'd become much more than just my driver.
I studied his profile for a while as he drove. After a few miles, he turned to meet my gaze. He didn't speak; he just...looked, lips parting. I began to sweat, just a light tickle along the back of my neck, the heel of my palm. Is he doing this? Fuck, I'm this close to straddling his lap. I felt my breathing hitch just as he turned his attention back to the road. I analyzed his posture, his chest was rising and falling somewhat rapidly and his jaw clenching. Suddenly I felt his hand cover mine. I threaded my fingers through his and quickly scooted until the left side of my body was curled into him, his arm draped across my chest, our hands in my lap. I tilted my head and leaned against his shoulder. He said nothing, but I felt the salve of calm hum through his body.
Sleep took me, delivering me the most peace I'd known in years. A dream swaddled me in comfort, love, contentment.
A huge cabin-style house cradled me. The wooden porch beneath my feet was solid. The boards creaked as my steps suddenly propelled me toward the ocean a football field away. Wind was lively and whipped the longer strands of my hair against my face, the tiny stings waking my urgency. I walked faster, impatient. I barreled down the hill on the stairs made of plankwood, skipping steps as I forced my body faster. My bare feet dove into the sand and grass, I closed in on the tall figure standing calf-deep in the water. His sweater was thick and soft; somehow I knew this without touching. Darkened honey curls flew about his head as he turned, feeling my approach.
"Hello, Miss Alice," he said, his slight drawl warming my belly.
Instead of responding verbally, I threw myself at him, wrapping my arms and legs around him tightly. "I can't believe you found—"
My body twitched violently as I started awake, snapping my neck straight. Blinking reality back into focus, I struggled to grasp the escaping grains of my dream as they slipped away. "What?!"
His hand was warm, fingers gingerly moving within mine. "Sorry," he declared, sheepishly. "I didn't mean to startle you. I just had to pull off to fill up the gas tank and—"
"I'm going to the coast," I declared, the words spitting out like an involuntary reflex. Images of the house in my dream flashed. "Pacific northwest, I think." His hand constricted, and immediately loosened. I didn't know what to think of the reaction, but waited to see his eyes. He was scanning the parking lot of the rest stop, never settling on one person or object. After a minute, worry chilled me. "Jasper?"
Finally, he turned and looked at me. "I guess I should get you to the airport, then." His eyes were blank, as though storms had wiped away evidence of life. The gold was dull, a raw gem scratched and muted by sandpaper. My face flamed like I'd been slapped.
"You...you don't want to..."
"That's a few days worth of driving. We're not even halfway through Texas right now." He let go of my hand. "You'd get where you want to so much faster if you flew."
I didn't know what to say. Realizations of what I was feeling for him, and the expectations I'd begun to build just based off how he made me feel, slammed into me. I pushed off his side quickly, and gasped to regain my breath and composure. His shock at my actions filled the cab. The air got thick. Before I could start crying like a freak, I jumped out of the cab and started walking. Fast.
This is fucking ridiculous. I haven't even known the man a day. With the little I knew about him factually, I did know that I'd never felt the sense of comfort with any other man I'd been involved with, lived with, slept with. It was terrifyingly wonderful. Yet, he kept pushing me out. Why the fuck did I keep pushing? It's not as if the cab driver means anything to me.
With that thought, a resounding pain cut through my chest, forcing my near-gallop to stop, and I curled over. My hands rested on my knees as I gulped lungfuls of air. I felt him next to me.
"I can't go with you, Alice," he told me with a resigned sigh. "I...just can't."
"I didn't ask you," I snapped, still panting. I stood upright when he didn't respond. "What do you want from me?" It was crazy. He didn't want anything from me. Maybe I was having a complete psychotic break.
"I have no right to ask anything of you." His eyes cast downward, he scuffed his bootheels on the pavement. "I only want to get you where you need to be."
"That's all." I was asking, but since I knew the answer, I didn't phrase it as a question.
He stared at me for the longest time, contemplating. I watched the dark and flatness morph and polish itself, and soon his gaze was brimming with shining light. They told me, "no," but his mouth said, "Yes. That's all."
I fell. Inside, I fell away, torn. I shuffled back toward the car and felt his presence diminish. Once I reached the cab, I got in the back, first retrieving my purse from the front seat. I stole a glance at him, a hundred yards away, his back slumped in under the weight of centuries. My heart broke in two. I tried to slide back into my body, into myself, and shake off the multiple personalities I felt like I'd put on today. I was asking too much of this man, this kindhearted man who drove me hours away, with no promise as to where we were going, where I was going. Though I felt something from him that I'd never before shared with someone, I decided I couldn't trust it as anything more than wishful thinking. Wishful thinking on the curb of a very bad relationship. James had been a rebound, I couldn't make that mistake again.
Steeling myself to find the courage, I cleansed my lungs a few times before Jasper finally rejoined me in the cab. He didn't speak, but as soon as he sat in the driver's seat again, the atmosphere changed again. It was cold, destitute. I wanted desperately to cry until I was purged of every sin. He drove without sound. If I hadn't noticed the wheel moving occasionally, I'd have thought a statue was sitting up front.
Within a couple of hours, he was pulling up to the airport drop-off in San Antonio. He'd never uttered a word. Neither had I.
Before I could think, he was opening my door. My bags were on the sidewalk, on a trolley. "Wow," I muttered. "Can't wait to get me out of your cab, can you?" Melancholy washed over me in a bizarrely gentle way, caressing my curves like a lover. This was it. Suddenly, I was completely on my own again.
"I'm just doing what I'm supposed to do, Miss Alice," he whispered as he inspected the ground, hands in his pockets.
"What do you want to do, Jasper?" Again with the Tourette's. A lot of things felt out of my control around him.
In a blink, he was kneeling before me, his eyes dark. The sky was black and littered with stars, but nothing reflected in his irises. I felt his cold fingers through my shirt, wrapping my biceps. "I want you to have a ridiculously happy life, Alice. I want you to get everything you want, everything you deserve. Children, roots, a job that fulfills you...whatever it is that you need."
Tears trailed down my cheeks. This time, I just let them go. "What if what I want is..." I gulped, afraid to put it out there, because I knew he was leaving in that cab. Without me. "What if what I need is..."
Before I could continue, his crushing kiss enveloped my senses, body and soul. His lips were strong, and I couldn't feel anything outside of him. I was burning from the inside out, but he was shivering until I kissed him back. I funneled every strange and spectacular feeling I had experienced that day into the force and push of my lips and tongue against his.
All too soon, though it could have been an hour later, he set me on my feet. Only then did I realize he had lifted me off the ground, capturing me within his arms to kiss me. But now he'd stepped back, holding his face in his hands. "I wish you love, Alice. All the happiness in the world...should be yours..."
"You," I said, finishing my disjointed question.
"Not me," he sighed, as though completing his thought. "It can't be me."
I watched his face as minutes passed. It never moved, or twitched, but the tempests were raging within dark irises; so dark, they may have gone black. Suddenly my dream came back to me, clear and bright. He will find me. He will.
The trolley felt light as I pushed toward the doors. As if it were the only car for miles, I could hear his taxi drive away. Overwhelmed with the sensation of being incomplete, I broke down into a sobbing, perplexed mess as soon as I found a row of chairs inside the doors. No fighting it, I let it all ebb away until I was empty and taxed. I was utterly exhausted and likely a visual nightmare when I stepped up to the counter.
"Seattle, please. One way." The look on the attendant's face was comical, but I was way past caring. As she took my information and my money, I thought back over the last moment with Jasper.
His body, his face, his countenance told me goodbye. I knew better. I threw myself against him, his body remaining immobile, but slowly his arms moved to hold me. "I will see you again." The confidence in my voice was shocking, even to me.
"No, Alice," he told me. "I can't say you will."
"Wanna bet?" I teased, though my voice cracked and betrayed me.
He laughed humorlessly. "How do you know?"
I leaned back, resting my hands on his chest, slipping my palm over his heart. My toes stretched to help bring my lips near his, so I kissed him softly. "I don't know how I know. But I will see you. You'll come home."
A/N: Please review!