The college campus showed the progression of time everywhere. As I stood outside the Student Union the evening before Rosalie and Emmett's wedding, I was both surprised and sad by how many things had changed around the campus. It was little things: different pavers on the walk, new tables on the patio. Or perhaps I had never noticed them to start with. In the time that it had taken me to complete college, here I was, four years out, and so very different than I had been when I started there eight years prior. None of us were the same, really.
During both the rehearsal and the dinner, I'd glanced at Jasper, wondering if we'd find a quiet moment to talk. We continued with Tuesday Night Dinners the month leading up to the wedding but we were always together and it was really the only time the six of us had a chance to catch up together. But finally, I knew the time had come to talk and I'd prepared myself as best I could for it. I had no idea how the actual conversation would go but I wasn't scared any longer, just anxious.
That's how I knew I was ready.
I had seen Jasper leave moments before and thought that I might be able to catch him, might be able to have a chance to finally talk. Edward's eyes had followed him as well and I caught his gaze, nodding once before slipping out of the restaurant. But when I'd gotten outside, all I found was the empty patio outside the Student Union and disappointment.
Walking along the path, I noted the different lamps that had been put along the route; the gravel road that had lead to the facilities yard was now paved. Little things that stood out and the smallest changes somehow made the biggest differences in my mind. As if on autopilot, I found myself in the courtyard; somehow my subconscious knew where to find him.
He sat on the bench where we first met, though it looked like even that had been replaced; it was now a new plastic, made to look like wood and a shiny metal plaque in the middle of its back. In his hands, two coffee cups from the coffee bar, one of the few things that was still open of the campus, despite the majority of the students being away for spring break. He held one up, offering it to me and I took the cup from him, before seating myself on the far end of the end.
"Am I that predictable?"
"You've never been predictable, Bella. But… I hoped we'd finally get a chance to talk. And sure enough, here we are."
I couldn't exactly agree with him on my being unpredictable but maybe that's because I knew myself and my standard way of going about things.
He fell into silence with me, as we sat sipping our coffees. It was strange it be back here, as ourselves, only not who we were all those years before. When there's a breakdown in communication between someone you considered a dear friend, no matter how long you were friends, you think back on certain times and opportunities and wonder why you didn't say anything. When you finally do have the opportunity to say something, sometimes you don't know where to start.
"They painted the doors, haven't they? Weren't they red?" We both stared quietly at the now-black doors, looking anywhere but each other's eyes.
"I can't remember," he murmured, shrugging before taking a sip of coffee. "I remember a lot of other stuff about this courtyard, but not the color of the doors." He looked around. I could tell he wasn't really taking anything in but he was thinking. He took the lid off his coffee, letting the air hit and the steam wafted up, before he spoke. "Man, I thought I knew everything about everything back then, didn't I? I was a cocky bastard."
I let out a sigh at his self-depreciation. "I didn't think so. I thought you were… the most interesting person I'd met here." I amended my statement because it didn't seem like enough. "The most real person I'd met here."
He shook his head slowly, quietly, and I could tell he was thinking about what I had just said. "Life was easier back then."
"It was, but it really didn't feel like it was at the time, did it? I guess the passing of time has a way of skewing things. I wonder if we remember things happening the same way."
"Probably not. Three sides to every story, right? You know, after the concert, I asked if you'd ever thought about us, about that night in"—he pointed up to the window of the room he and Peter occupied all those years ago—"that room. But I think that I asked the wrong question. "
Curiously, I looked at him. "I'm not sure what you mean."
He gestured toward the window again. "That right there was the end. And man… there are so many things I'd do differently about that night. But what I really should have asked was do you ever think of us here, on this bench, where we first met? Do you ever think of us running through the streets of New York, when we were late to that show?" I smiled at the memory I hadn't thought about in awhile. "Or do you think about when Emmett cracked my head with the CD player and if only it were a few years later, because I'd have an iPod instead of a-"
"Do you?" I interrupted.
"Do I what?"
"Do you still have a scar?"
He pushed his hair back and I could see it there, the faint silver scar. A mark of the day that we'd met one another. Maybe we were each other's internal scars. Reminders of the past and visible only to those who knew where to look for them. "It's healed."
"Anyway, that's what we should have talked about that night after the concert. Because as much as we've seen each other in the past six or seven years, we lost our friendship after that night. And I guess I kept focusing on that night because that's when it ended and that's where things went wrong. But… I realize now that I really miss what was right with us. I miss being us together, being friends. You know, friends – not just moving in the same circles like we are now."
"I know," I replied quietly. Everything he was saying was what I'd been thinking and feeling but not expressing out loud. "I… we… we handled things wrong back then. We fucked up."
He let out a short laugh. "We really did fuck up, didn't we?"
My giggling took over and he joined in and we both laughed at the sheer fucked up-ness that was the situation. It was a moment of levity that both of us needed in the conversation that was getting a bit too heavy. It helped me to refocus, and I could only imagine it was doing the same for him. It helped remind us to not only of what we were doing here, how we came to be here, but also to add a lightness that we might not have been able to feel otherwise.
"When you make stupid mistakes in college, they aren't supposed to follow you through life. I'm not saying that you're a stupid mistake, Jasper-"
"And I thank you for that, Bella." And there was the smirk, although not as easy as it once was, it was still him.
I continued on my train of thought, "But how were we to know that things would work out the way that they did, that our lives would entwine like they did?"
"I get what you're saying. One night stands, they happen all of the time in college. Those people that hook up for one night and then fall out of contact? They're the people you're supposed to catch up with on Facebook and look at their pictures to see if they've gotten ugly. Instead, we found Alice and Edward and well… here we are."
"Here we are," I echoed the statement. Playing with the lid on the coffee, I thought about everything I was feeling in that moment. And instead of running, I laid it on the line. "Honestly, I think that what hurt the most is that we never properly said goodbye to our friendship. You were my best friend, Jasper. Even though it was a brief moment in the history of us knowing each other, you were the comfort that I needed to get me through the first semester of college. And then after we reunited, for lack of a better term, we never got back to where we were. It was almost like we never acknowledged it." I took a breath. "You know, until that night of the concert. And now."
"I know, Bella." That short answer told me that he did know; that he felt the same way I did about everything that happened.
"I guess the night of the concert reminded me of how things could have been; it was almost like we returned to what we were only in the present. It felt nice… you know, save the few points where those people kept making comments about us being together…"
"Yeah, that was kind of awkward, right?"
"It really was. I think since that night, I've been just thinking a lot about what if. Edward and I had been talking about the next step and how can I move forward when I keep looking back?"
"So what do you think it is that you're looking back at?"
"I don't know. Maybe my mind returning to the possibilities that never really panned out?"
He murmured a short "Mmmhmm" and the expression on his face reminded me that Jasper had always been an old soul, in some respects, way beyond his years. I knew I was about to get a revelation, much like the one I'd gotten all those years ago. "Bella, this has very little to do with us. Think about it. You're scared. And right now, you're scared of making that commitment to forward with Edward. So your mind keeps jumping back to the last time you were scared in a relationship. That was us."
"How do you know this?"
Unlike all those years ago, when he seemed to have it all together, he then said something that shocked the shit out of me. "Don't you think that I'm scared too? You and I deal individually very similarly to one another. What happened all those years ago, it's really neither here nor there. We fucked it up together, but the most important part is that we learned from it so that we don't do it again." He leaned in as though he was going to tell me a great secret. "Bella, your standard pattern is to run. Mine too."
This was the conversation that we should have had that night after the concert. It was the conversation that we probably should have had long ago but never realized it until more recently. We both needed it and we finally had it. The open wound that we'd left unattended finally had its last stitch and could finally heal, the scar already forming.
Holding out my hand, I reached for his cup. "Are you finished?" He nodded, handing it to me and I aimed for the trashcan. And missed.
"Thanks for the commentary." Determined, I aimed for the trashcan again, this time with my own cup. It sailed over and it hit but bounced out at the last minute. I heard him chuckling as he stood and collected the cups from the ground before depositing them.
"You know, I've really missed this."
"You've missed my spastic ways?" I smiled goofily, but I knew what he meant. "I've missed this too."
"I'm not going anywhere."
We both looked at one another and grinned. The weight of years of non-communication had been lifted and I felt light, happy as this piece in the puzzle of my life clicked into place. It was time for us to get back.
Some might have gone for a hug, a kiss on the cheek, a reassuring grin. Jasper offered his pinky. It was a promise to move forward, to stop running and to take chances; to support one another through it all.
It was a nod to our past and a leap toward our future. Not together but beside one another.
And it was one I was ready to take.
There we go. Closure. It's a glorious thing, isn't it?
Love to my loves – the pre-readers that anyone would be lucky to have in the docs. And (ohhh, she's going to yell) Chris, who is my therapist and big sis. Special thanks to TheHeartofLife on this one for lighting the fire.
Thanks to everyone who has read and stuck with me – even when I didn't want to stick with me. ;)
Reviews are never necessary but always appreciated.