A/N: Thank you so much to MsKathy for organizing TwiFans for Haiti benefit and to all of you who contributed to help – whether it was in the form of money, time, or creative energy. I am honored to be a part of this, I'm extremely proud of our fandom today, and I truly hope that our efforts will help the people of Haiti get the care and supplies they need.
I thought that perhaps a bit of innocent fluff was called for to lift spirits – I hope you enjoy this little taste of burgeoning first love.
My knee bounces impatiently as Dad drives to the outskirts of town, my bare thigh sticking to the fake leather seat of his police cruiser. It's the first time my mama agreed to let me go to the fair alone, and I just know that if we don't get there soon, she'll call my dad to tell him she changed her mind – he has to stay after all.
Of course, I'm not really going to be alone anyway. I'm on my way to meet Jasper. His family owns a ranch that borders on our property, and Mama says that we've been together since we were knee-high to a grasshopper.
Jasper does a lot of work on his family's ranch, but every day in the summer, we meet up beneath the oak tree that stands in the middle of the fence separating our land. I bring him a picnic lunch, and we sit around for an hour or so telling stories and making jokes. It's been that way since the day our mamas decided we were old enough to make the trip. We can just see the roof of my house from the deep shade of the old oak, but Jasper's house is too far away to see at all.
I never gave much thought to Jasper, really, other than knowing he was my best friend and that he could make me laugh like no one else could. He was just…Jasper. No more, no less.
That all changed at his birthday party earlier this summer, when Jessica Stanley decided she saw a lot more to Jasper than I did. I walked into the kitchen to get another drink and nearly stumbled right into her kissing him. She had him backed up against the counter, all pressed against him with her eyes closed, but his were open – and they opened even wider when he saw me.
I was surprised when I felt…something. I still didn't really know what it was, but I was mad. Jasper was supposed to be mine, not hers.
I hadn't said anything and neither had he – not that night. The first few times we met under the old tree after that had been a little weird, but then he'd made a joke about Jessica, puckering up his lips and sucking in his cheeks, crossing his eyes while he waved his hands by his face like gills, and we were alright again.
I can feel a little smile on my face as Dad stops the car in the dusty parking lot. He cuts the engine and clears his throat, but he doesn't say a word. He just looks around, searching for Mr. Whitlock, I guess.
A little drop of sweat rolls down my cheek, and I brush it away, about to ask Dad if he can start the car again, but then Mr. Whitlock's old beat up Ford pulls into the parking lot, and I rip open the door, hopping out of the cruiser. I hear Dad's gruff voice behind me, and I stop, turning to look at him as he rolls down the window.
"Now, your Mama told me to remind you to stay in the fairgrounds. Don't go wanderin' off anywhere, got it? I'll be back at 8:00 to pick you up." I watch as he glances over at Jasper, his eyes narrowing slightly. "Make sure you're ready."
I frown, unsure why my dad's acting this way. Jasper's been like the son he never had our whole lives. He's gone camping and fishing with us, and for the longest time, there wasn't a weekend that passed that one of us wasn't sleeping over at the other's house. But for the last couple of months, Dad's been wearing that little frown, and his forehead's been getting all wrinkly. I wonder if he's turning into an old man.
Before I can get too worried, he flashes a smile at me. He grins broadly at Mr. Whitlock, waving as he cranks the car and starts away. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice that he pulls up beside Mr. Whitlock's truck, and the two of them roll down their windows, but I don't focus on that. Instead, I'm focused on Jasper, who's half-walking, half-jogging toward me with a grin.
His wavy blond hair is a mess, just like always, and he's wearing his favorite shirt – a green plaid button down with short sleeves and a hem that's starting to fray. His mama keeps threatening to throw it away, but Jasper manages to sweet-talk her out of it the way he does with everything else.
When he gets closer, my heart does that weird little flip-thing it's been doing sometimes when he smiles at me – ever since I saw him kissing Jessica. He stops just in front of me.
"Hey, Bella," he drawls, and I smile at him. I want to reach out and hold his hand like I used to do, but it's been weird this summer. I'm not really sure I'm supposed to do that anymore, and before I can decide, Jasper shoves his hands in his pockets.
I fidget with the shirt my cousin Alice put me in. It's one of hers, and it's pink and fits me a lot tighter than I usually wear. My face feels hot as I blush when I realize I'm still wearing the mascara she made me try, but then I see Jasper's eyes light up, and I just don't care. He's smiling at me like maybe he thinks I'm pretty, and I kind of think that maybe I like that.
"Hey, Jasper," I answer, still playing with the edge of my shirt.
He crosses his eyes at me, and I giggle, and then we're just Jasper and Bella again. "Come on!" he says, nodding his head toward the ticket booth. I bump his arm with my elbow as we're walking – it's on purpose, just to touch him, and he glances over at me, raising an eyebrow as he smiles. My heart does another little flip, and I notice how beautiful his eyes are. They're blue with a greenish ring around the middle and darker blue around the edge.
Jasper buys our tickets, and then his hand is wrapped around mine as he starts pulling me toward the Ferris wheel.
"Uh uh." I shake my head, digging my heels in, and he swings around to face me.
He doesn't play fair, lacing his fingers through mine as he pouts at me, and I frown back, knowing he's probably going to get his way.
"Jazz…" I whine, hoping that my pout will work against him.
"Oh come on, Bella! Please?" When I don't budge, he chews the inside of his cheek, his eyes narrowing before he brightens. "I'll play skee ball with you."
With a groan and a sigh, I start moving again, shuffling my feet through the dust as my eyes are drawn to the monstrosity rising high overhead. The wheel looms larger in my vision the closer we get, and I feel my stomach tighten as I try not to throw up. Jasper has always been a daredevil, and I've always been afraid of heights – not a great combination.
We get in line just behind some kids from school, and I hear Jasper talking to them, complaining about having to go back in a couple of days, but I just can't join in. My eyes are focused on the wheel of death, and I wrap my arms around myself, trying to still the fluttering in my stomach as I bite my bottom lip.
Jasper's arm slips around my waist as he pulls me closer, and I'm just as surprised by how muscular and strong it feels now as I am by his soft voice whispering in my ear, "I'd never let anything happen to you, Bella."
His fingers trace my ribs, and now I'm biting my lip to hide my smile instead of my nerves.
His arm around me helps me calm down enough to see that he's been talking to Lauren, Mike, and Eric, but before I can say much more than "hi" to them, it's time for them to get in their bucket. The wheel swings, and then it's our turn.
I climb in first, the butterflies back full-force when his arm falls away from me. He slides in beside me and sits with his thigh pressing against mine. As soon as the bar clangs shut, locking me in my terrifying prison, I grip it tightly. Jasper's hand covers mine, and I glance at him out of the corner of my eye as we start to move.
My stomach lurches as the wheel swings, pulling me backwards. I turn my head to look over my shoulder, but I meet Jasper's eyes and stop. He's watching me with this silly smile on his face, but it's not the kind that makes me laugh. It's the kind where his eyes are soft, and he's staring at me, and I know I'm blushing, but I don't look away.
I barely notice the way the wheel starts and stops until Jasper whispers, "Look!" His grin is lopsided and perfect, and he turns his face away finally, his eyes bright and excited as he looks out over our little town. My knuckles whiten on the bar, but I force myself to look, nodding and trying to smile when Jasper points out our school.
"Oh, hey, look at that!" I tear my eyes away from where they've focused again on the bar in front of me and follow Jasper's long arm to see where he's pointing. Sunlight glints off the water between the trees way far away, and I study the land around it, realizing that it's our favorite swimming hole just as he says, "Wanna go swimming tomorrow?"
"Can you?" I ask to keep from shouting, "Yes!"
"Yeah, Dad said I can have a day off before school starts. I don't even have to do my chores in the house tomorrow." His hand pushes back the curls that have fallen over his forehead, and he turns to smile at me shyly. "You wanna hang out with me?"
I nod as my mind reels with the possibilities, all the maybes I see in his eyes, but then the wheel turns, and I shriek. Jasper laughs, but I don't care so much because he puts his arm around me. I bury my face in his neck, and he smells different, a little like his dad. I smile and close my eyes, leaving my head on his shoulder.
He doesn't seem to mind.
His fingers rub my upper arm, and he's silent, but I can feel him moving, his head swiveling this way and that as the Ferris wheel spins and his beautiful eyes drink in all the sights he can enjoy only when he's up so high.
I raise my head when the bucket rocks back and forth, and Jasper says, "Come on, Belly Button." I blink, surprised that it's over, and he tickles me, teasing me about being afraid now that we're safely on the ground.
"You know I don't like heights," I accuse, trying not to pout.
"I know." He shoves his hands back into his pockets and starts walking. "But I keep hoping you'll get over it and stop being such a wuss."
His words sting, and I hit his arm. Then I grab it, turning him toward the Tilt-a-Whirl. "I'm not a wuss." He glances at me just as I smooth back my ponytail and tuck the hair that's fallen loose behind my ear. His smile softens, and my heart skips when he reaches out to take my hand. "Didn't I get rid of that snake in the barn last week all by myself? And didn't I jump off th-?"
He puts his hand over my mouth, cutting me off as he rolls his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. You're tough." But his other hand squeezes mine before he drops it, and I can see him smiling.
"Well, just…you better not forget it," I huff.
He tickles me, and we talk and tease our way through the fair. We bump into people we know from school and church, from the grocery store, and even some ranch hands who work at Jasper's place. We talk to other people, and we even ride with other people sometimes, like on the bumper cars when I ride with Angela. Jasper races to a car alone, and he and Ben keep chasing us around, trying to hit us.
When we get out, all laughing, Ben and Angela pull us over to the funhouse, and we find a ton of kids from school there. We race through the first hallway and end up in the huge room full of mirrors, and I see Tyler behind me. His head is stretched in the wavy mirror in front of me, and he looks so silly that I start giggling. He grins at me and widens his eyes, leaning forward, and then his head is squished so that he barely has any eyes but his nose is massive. He laughs with me as I make a face.
Everyone else is pointing at their friends in the mirrors, and I catch sight of Jasper. He's watching me, but there are several people between us, and the group starts moving toward the door. I'm swept along into the revolving barrel, and I don't have time to think about Jasper as I try to keep my balance. There's nothing to grab onto, and my feet keep getting knocked out from under me.
I trip, and I gasp as the floor comes speeding up to my face, but a strong hand catches my elbow. I turn around to grin at Jasper, saying, "Thanks!" but it's Tyler's face I see.
"You're welcome," he answers quietly, tugging at my elbow to keep me moving.
I stagger my way through the rest of the barrel, managing not to fall with Tyler's help, and he stands in front of me, smiling as I smooth my hair back again. "Hey, so-" he starts, and then I feel a pull at my ponytail.
I swing my head around and grin when I come face-to-face with Jasper. His own smile brightens as he says, "There you are! Only you could get lost in a funhouse…" He pretends not to notice Tyler, but I see the way he cuts his eyes at him as he leads me away. I try not to let the swelling of pride I feel show.
The group behind us is talking loudly, deciding that they're going to the Gravitron, and Jasper changes directions, taking my hand and guiding me toward the games instead. He doesn't say anything. He just walks to the skee ball lanes and gets some tokens, handing me a few. It's my favorite game, but it's never very popular for some reason, so we're able to get a couple of lanes right next to each other.
We play in silence for a little while until he accidentally-on-purpose bumps into me, and I miss my shot. After that, we mess with each other, trying harder and harder to make the other person mess up, until I nudge the back of Jasper's leg, making his knee buckle, and his shot flies wide. It goes into the next lane, and I dissolve into giggles as the old, white-haired man running the game frowns at me with his eyebrows pulled down disapprovingly. We straighten up after that, and when we've finally used up all the tokens, Jasper gives me his tickets.
I smile at him, and we take the tickets to the counter, where I pick out a little woven leather bracelet. It's simple, but secretly, I think it's almost like Jasper gave it to me, and I know I'll always think of him when I see it.
Not that I don't always think of him anyway.
My fingers fumble as I try to put it on, and Jasper brushes my hands away. "Here, let me."
And now I'm sure he can hear my heartbeat, which is racing because he's standing so close, and I can see the blond waves on the top of his head as he bends forward, his breath hot against my thumb as he brings my hand closer to his face to fasten my bracelet.
"There," he says finally, looking up, and his face is only a few inches from mine. His eyes widen, but he doesn't back away, and we just stare at each other. He licks his lips, and now my eyes widen, too, and I want to squeal because I think he's about to kiss me.
But then he doesn't.
He takes a step back, and it looks like his cheeks are turning pink, but I can't tell if maybe that's just a reflection from the red teddy bears hanging from the netting of the booth next to us. He turns around, and we start to walk. I follow a few feet behind as he walks to the booth with the teddy bears. The inside is painted bright yellow, and all sorts of stuffed animals hang from the mesh walls. There are alligators and frogs – Jasper's favorite – and teddy bears in all the colors of the rainbow. And then up there, way in the corner, is a cute little stuffed pink pig that I love. It has a curly tail and floppy ears and the most adorable grin on its chubby face.
Jasper doesn't say a word. He hands some money to the guy in the booth – he's young, maybe just out of high school, or maybe he quit. Either way, he doesn't look that much older than us, and he seems bored, handing Jasper three baseballs before he steps back and leans against the post holding up the netting. He picks at his fingernails, and I wrinkle my nose, turning around so that I don't have to see him.
Instead, I rest my backside against the counter and watch Jasper's face. He looks deep in concentration, his blue eyes focused on the fake milk bottles stacked on the platform across the way. He draws his arm back and then it snaps forward, the baseball zipping across the booth. I glance over my shoulder at the clatter of metal, and I see that a few of the bottles have fallen, but one is still standing.
I open my mouth to tell Jasper that was a great throw, but something in his face stops me. He seems almost angry somehow, his lips pressed into a thin line and his forehead all wrinkled. He takes aim at the next set of bottles, and the next. He still doesn't speak as he hands the carnival guy some more money, and I watch as he tries again and again with the same result. It's always the bottle on the left that's still standing.
While he plays, I indulge myself in a fantasy of Jasper winning and turning to me, telling me to pick out whatever I want. He'll hand me the stuffed pig and lean in close, and my heart will do that little flip thing as he kisses me. I'm sure that's why he didn't kiss me before and why we're standing here as he plays this stupid game, so I wait patiently, letting my imagination run free.
He buys one more round of baseballs, and I play with the end of my hair, looking at my split ends as I try to decide whether or not to tell him I think that last bottle might be glued down. I sigh, biting my bottom lip.
This time, the metallic clang is accompanied by a "Yes!" When I glance up, there's a beaming smile on Jasper's face, and I turn to find that all the bottles are down.
"Awesome, Jazz!" I hold up my hand for a high five, but he's already pointing at one of the prizes. The guy running the game hands him a stuffed frog, and Jasper shoves it under his arm. This time, there's no mistaking the slight blush on his cheeks.
He doesn't comment, but he mutters, "You wanna get a snack or something?"
I hide my disappointment the best I can. My heart drops into my dusty, scuffed shoes as I shuffle behind him, my good mood from earlier disappearing. I realize suddenly that I'm not really okay with being Jasper's-best-friend-Bella anymore. There's something else I want, and I'm scared to think that maybe that something else will mess us up. What if I can't be happy unless he's mine? And what if he doesn't want to be mine?
He glances over his shoulder at me, and I try to smile, but he sees through me. He sighs and drops back, his warm hand wrapping around mine the way it always has. But then he weaves his fingers between mine and gives my hand a squeeze, whispering, "So what do you want, Belly Button?"
For half a second, the word "you" is on my lips, but then he nods his head at the row of food booths, and I swallow it back. "Cotton candy," I say instead.
He rolls his eyes. "You know that's nothin' but sugar, right?" I shrug, and he says, "You think you ain't sweet enough?" His voice is teasing, but his eyes aren't, and I feel my cheeks flame.
I can't speak, so we walk to the booth in silence. I dimly hear the sounds of the carnival around us – kids laughing, teenagers screaming on the Tilt-a-Whirl, parents calling out kids' names with a "It's time to go! Now!" – but all my attention is focused on Jasper and the way his hand is a little bit sweaty but nice.
"Blue, please," I hear him say, and I grin as he remembers. He always teases me when I say it tastes better than the pink, but…it does.
He gets our cotton candy, all baby blue like his eyes and soft-looking like his lips, and he holds the cone in his free hand with the frog still wedged underneath his arm. He leads us to an empty picnic table beneath a lonely pecan tree. We sit on the table top with our feet on the bench, and his thigh is pressed against mine again as he puts the cotton candy between us, handing me the cone. I pull some off and pop it into my mouth, moaning quietly when the sweetness melts on my tongue.
I'm licking the sticky residue off my thumb when Jasper says, "Hey, Bella?"
"Hmm?" I turn to look at him, my thumb slipping from my lips. A smile flits across his lips as his eyes lower to my mouth before meeting my gaze again.
"I know you don't really like them, but...umm…well, I thought maybe when you saw him, you'd think about me…" His voice is weird, kind of husky, and his cheeks are pink again. He puts the stuffed frog into my lap, and I blink. I blush, embarrassed when I give a little gasp, but I forget that when he turns toward me.
He stretches out his arm, putting his palm on the table behind me, and I see his eyes darken a little as he leans closer. My heart starts beating faster, pounding behind my ribs, and I panic. I have no idea what to do, so I sit there frozen, but my eyes close on their own. I feel Jasper's hot palm on my cheek, and his thumb brushes along my cheekbone before his soft lips meet mine.
He pulls back just slightly, and I listen to his shallow breathing as I lick my lips, moistening them. This time, I kiss him, and I feel him smile as he tilts his head, pressing his lips harder against mine. His hand leaves the wooden table top and moves to my hip, and we sit there for the longest time while I marvel at my first kiss.
When we finally part, his blue eyes are sparkling in the colorful light of the sunset, and the fluttering in my stomach has quieted as I look into the face of my best friend and my first love.
A/N: This was clearly not JOotG Bella or Jasper :) Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it! I truly appreciate my readers, and I wanted to say thank you so much for all the support and love you have given me.
For those of you waiting on JOotG, I promise, it is coming. Hopefully within the next week, assuming that Bella keeps talking to me. I adore you all – thank you so much!