Disclaimer: SM owns all things Twilight. I own the rest of the words, a stuffed frog and a plastic fork. Man I can't wait for summer! ;)

A/N: Hello, my lovelies! Long time, no see, I know! For that very purpose I shall shut up and let you read.

I just have to say that this chapter is dedicated to ethans mom with lots of love. Recover quickly, my friend!

Chapter 31: Perspective


It felt like days since my world was once again turned upside down, but in reality it had only been the night before. Edward held me until I fell asleep, but when I woke up he was gone. He's such an internalizer, and I knew he felt bad about what happened, but it wasn't his fault. He wasn't the one who sold his teenage daughter to the highest bidder. No, that was Charlie. I used to wonder if he could sink any lower, but after the previous several weeks, I couldn't imagine what could possibly be any lower, nor did I want to. The encounter with James was almost child's play compared to the news of my enslavement, and I didn't even want to think about what would've happened to me if it hadn't been Carlisle on the other end of that transaction.

Alice had informed me when I woke up, that Edward had gone out with Carlisle to run some errands, and that she was to make sure that I didn't see it as anything other than him going out on errands. I guess my insecurities had garnered a bit of a reputation around here. It was actually quite amazing that I was able to sneak off out to the deck without anyone noticing. It was far from warm outside, but I was cocooned in a fluffy blanket and curled into one of the large, cushioned deck chairs. I felt safe in my hiding spot as I watched the clouds churn and threaten rain. I needed to think, and my room, and even the library felt too claustrophobic.

The crisp, fresh air felt like the first oxygen that had entered my lungs since we were sat at the traffic light the previous night. The trees at the forest's edge swayed in the gusty breeze, the rustling leaves mimicking the sound of ocean waves. Squirrels rushed to forage out the last of their winter stash, as the last remaining birds called to one another on the wind. It was so simple out there, and it was so not simple in here. Human beings are capable of such kindness and love, yet also capable of atrocities so unspeakable the mind cannot comprehend it. I envied the squirrel as I watched it scurry and hop from branch to branch. He had no idea how free and easy his life was.

I sighed and mentally chastised myself for allowing my mind to wander to such ridiculous places. What was the point? I could wish I was a squirrel all day long and it still wouldn't change the fact that my father sold me. It hurt in a way I never thought possible. I knew I should've felt happy that I was out of that house, but for some irrational reason I still felt rejected by him. More so than by any other thing he'd done to me. Even when he allowed his officers to punish me by… even then, he kept me. He must've wanted me on some level. I just couldn't understand what I had done to make him want to send me away. I had tried so hard to please him. I followed his rules. I accepted his punishments. I did everything I could to make his life easier. Why?

On the outside, warm tears rolled silently down my chilled cheeks, as everything from anger to despair grappled for dominance on the inside. In the end, it all just exploded into a patchwork of confusion. I wanted to scream, cry, hit something, run, and be held all at the same time. But I was also stunned, so sitting there and quietly crying was the most I could manage.

I'm not sure how long I had been there before I heard the rhythmic thump, thump of a basketball being dribbled, the soft clang of the hoop as shots were attempted and missed, and the swoosh sound of the net as shots were successful. One pair of rubber soles scooted around the paved court, and after twisting slightly in my chair, I could see that it was Jasper who was taking advantage of the clouds' reluctance to release their pent up moisture. From where I was sat, I had a clear view of the hoop and could see most of the court, but I didn't know whether or not he would be able to see me.

I watched him with wonder. I knew that deep inside his heart, a darkness, not far from my own, brewed, but outwardly he appeared normal. He seemed as free as the squirrel as he shot the ball and ran about collecting his own rebounds. It gave me hope and overwhelmed me at the same time. Rosalie and Jasper were both proof that great tragedy could be overcome; I just wasn't sure how I was going to survive long enough to achieve what they had, or if it was even possible.

"Jasper!" Emmett's muted bellow suddenly erupted through the serene morning. It sounded as though he was behind the garage. I waited for Jasper's reply to identify his whereabouts, but instead he just tucked the ball under his arm and broke for the stairs that led up to the deck - the very deck that I was perched on, causing my heart rate to spike. I wasn't ready to see anyone yet. There was no way he could know I was there, so I hoped he would just head straight into the house. He took the stairs two at a time and when he hit the top step, to my astonishment and dismay, he headed right for me instead of going inside, his expression betraying no sign that he was surprised to see me there. Grinning and winking at me conspiratorially, he placed one finger to his lips to indicate I should remain quiet as he ducked down beside me. I was completely confused, but remained silent as Emmett came into view on the basketball court.

"Dammit Jasper, I know I heard you playing basketball!"

Jasper's hushed snicker was only loud enough for me to hear as we watched Emmett turn and head back the way he came, a very loud and disgruntled "GAH!" the only thing left in his wake. After a few seconds, time I could only assume was to make sure Emmett had actually gone, Jasper stood from his crouch and took the seat opposite me.

"Thanks for not giving me up, Bella," he said lightheartedly.

"Ummm… You're welcome?" It came out a question as my continuing confusion colored my tone.

Jasper laughed before he explained. "He's still sore that I've never given him the chance to get back at me for the whole crying thing over a week ago. I really wouldn't mind playing a game with him, but his buttons are so easy to push sometimes that I just can't help myself."

I just looked at him dazedly as he grinned cheekily and shrugged. Of all the things I had thought Jasper was, prankster and button pusher was never among them. But the glint in his eye was that of a carefree youth, not the angry turmoil that usually resided there, and I struggled to contain the small smile that wanted to escape.

"You weren't surprised to see me here." It was a statement rather than a question.

"Sorry, Bella… But did you honestly think you could escape Alice's all-knowing eye?"

"No, I guess not," I sighed. I wasn't sure how Alice did it, but I swear that girl just knew things. It was creepy and fascinating all at the same time.

"I was gonna ask you if you wanted to shoot some hoops; it's a pretty good stress reliever, but then I realized that you probably weren't too keen on getting injured again," he teased.

"Hey!" I tried to be offended, but the truth of it was too obvious, so I just sighed and nodded my surrender.

He chuckled once before his face sobered to the Jasper I've always known. "Seriously though, Bella… Sports are probably my best outlet for stress and frustration. What do you do… when it gets too much?"

His brow was furrowed in concern and genuine curiosity as his deep-brown, almost black eyes regarded me carefully. I'd never had a private conversation with Jasper before, but I was comfortable with him. Like Rosalie, our traumatic experiences bonded us in a strange way that most people would never understand.

"Uh, reading I guess. Getting lost in a good story has always helped me cope."

"Huh. Yeah, I can see that about you. I guess you didn't really have a lot of options though, eh? You can tell me shove it if I make you uncomfortable at all, by the way."

"No, no… you're fine. And you're right. I didn't have many options, and technically reading wasn't even one of them."

"Why, you rebel, you," he smirked playfully.

"Yep, that's me alright." I shrugged, and looked down at my hands. I appreciated what he was trying to do, but I didn't know how to joke about this. The pain was still too fresh.

"It's gonna be okay, you know," he said fervently. "I mean, I know it's far from okay now, and that it really sucks, but I promise, it'll be okay."

Tears welled in my eyes as my chest fluttered with overwhelmed emotion. All morning I had been asking myself one question- why? But looking at Jasper right then had me asking something else entirely.

"How?" I pleaded in a strangled whisper.

"You breathe and you move," he said with a shrug and small shake of his head. "I wish I could tell you there's some magic formula, but there just isn't. When I found out about my parents and about… Rose… I… those first few days… I felt like I was being suffocated. I was in shock and I was so angry I could barely function..." His voice trailed off and his eyes stormed as he was lost to thoughts of those horror filled days. It was painful to watch his struggle against the memories that brutalized his once innocent soul, as his darkened features reflected my own inner turmoil.

"Oh, uh, sorry," he offered with a quick shake of his head as he re-entered the present. He took a deep breath before he continued. "You know, there's gonna be days that it's all you can do just to get through it, and then there's gonna be days that aren't so bad. You just have to take what comes and keep moving forward. One minute at a time, and then an hour at a time, and before you know it… a day, a week, a month, a year… the important thing is that you don't give up."

"I don't want to give up, but some days are just so hard I…" It was my turn to trail off, overcome with emotion.

Jasper sighed deeply. "When I was at military school, once a semester we had to do a five mile hike. It was a beast under the best of conditions, but my third time out I wasn't sure I would survive. The few days prior it had been raining extremely hard which caused a normally shallow creek, that we crossed about a mile into our trek, to become quite swollen. Another cadet and I were ordered to wade across and attach a rope to a tree on the other side, so that everyone else could cross above the water. It wasn't the most necessary of exercises, but it wasn't uncommon for us to be given added tests along the way to assess our skill levels. The problem was that when I waded across the creek my boots filled with water, and within thirty minutes of the continuation of our journey I began to feel the first blisters forming on my feet. Just before the four mile marker I was on my hands and knees, vomiting from the pain. It felt like my feet were being skinned. We were on a rocky and precarious part of the trail. There was no jeep access, and because of the perilousness of the steep and uneven grade, a makeshift litter to carry me on was too dangerous as well. I was going to have to walk.

"My buddy, Peter, stuck with me and helped hold me up as much as he could, and the rest of my squad traded off supporting some of my weight, but I still had to put one foot in front of the other and move forward. I breathed, and I moved. My feet felt like they were on fire, but if I even dared to think that I should just lay down and give up, Peter would start talking about what he hoped was going to be on the chow tray, or asking me about what plans I had for when I saw Alice on the next school break. He helped me see enough of the future that I wanted to get there. And not only did I want to get there, but I wanted to get there on my own two feet. So much so that when we cleared the forest a quarter mile from our target point, I refused the waiting medical jeep and walked the rest of the way.

"I collapsed as I crossed the finish line, and was immediately swarmed by medical personnel. They removed my boots and I could see that my socks were covered in blood, but even as I watched them cut my socks off, I felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. I'll spare you the details of my mangled feet."

I nodded my gratitude and swallowed thickly as he continued.

"The point is, Bella, that even though I was in blinding pain, I just kept moving forward. Did I do it alone? No way. But I did it. I reached my goal with no regrets, because I gave it everything I had. What you're facing is not much different. You're wounded, but you can't be carried - only assisted as you make your way to your destination. You have a future, Bella. And it can be whatever you choose it to be if you will just grit your teeth and keep moving forward. No one would deny that you've been given one of the rawest deals ever in life, but it's not your past that defines you, it's what you make of your future."

Right on cue, Edward stepped through the door, and I looked up into the face of what I very much hoped was my future.

"Hey," he greeted me quietly, as his smile spread warmth through my body.

"Hey," I replied awkwardly.

"Hey, honey," Jasper said in a mock lady's voice, while he batted his long eyelashes at Edward.

"Shut up, Jasper!" I couldn't help but giggle at Edward's annoyance. He cocked an eyebrow playfully at me as Jasper snickered and winked, though I wasn't sure if it was directed at me or Edward. Behind Jasper I could see Emmett through the window of the house sneaking quietly towards the door. He caught my eye, his eyebrows waggling above his smirk, as he held his hands up like bear paws to show me what he was going to do. I tried to look as innocent as I could as he came bursting through the door.

"Gotcha!" he exclaimed, as Edward and Jasper both jumped.

"Geez, Em, what the hell are you doing?" Edward yelled while clutching his chest. "Bella's out here."

"Bella looks just fine to me, baby brother." His huge, cheesy grin made me choke to keep from laughing. "Seems to me, she's made of tougher stuff than you're giving her credit for," he added with sincerity, causing my cheeks to flame.

"You can say that again," Jasper quietly added. I lowered my head to hide the even deeper color that was rising to the surface.

"Seems to me, she's made of tougher stuff than you're giving her credit for." I could hear the smile in Emmett's voice and I peeked up to see his mischievous grin.

"You're such a dork, Emmett," Edward said, rolling his eyes.

"Takes one to know one."

"Seriously, Em?" Jasper's exasperated, yet amused tone had Emmett roaring with laughter.

"You gonna man up and play me, Jazzypoo? Or are you gonna hide all day like a girl? No offense, Bella."

I just held my hands up and shrugged to show him I wasn't offended as Jasper stood up mumbling something about all good things coming to an end. He walked over to the top of the stairs, called over his shoulder, "Alright, I'll play you. But when I win, you'd better not cry," and booked it down the stairs.

"Oh, you'd better run!" Emmett was off like a shot, chasing Jasper to the basketball court and securing him in a headlock. "Who's crying now?"

"I'm not crying," came Jasper's muffled protest. "My eyes are watering from your pit stink!"

Edward just shook his head and took a seat next to me. Jasper and Emmett carried on for a few more minutes before settling into an actual game of one on one. Emmett was bigger, but Jasper was more agile. They both could shoot well so it seemed a fairly even match. It was fascinating to watch them play like boys, when they each carried the weight of a man on their shoulders. I guess we'd all been forced to grow up too fast.

I leaned forward, allowing Edward to join me on the over-sized chair. He slid deftly in behind me and instantly secured me in his arms, something we both seemed to need. Jasper had given me a lot to think about. I would never be okay with what my father had done to me, but Jasper was right about needing to move forward. It wasn't going to be easy, but I had to. This family had proven to me that it was possible; I just needed to figure out how to prove it to myself.

"Are you okay?" Edward's voice was soft and full of concern.

"Not really," I sighed, as I continued to watch the game below. "But maybe someday I will be."

A/N: Massive thank yous to my girls, Hev99, Nostalgicmiss, and CatMasters for being my own little *cough* ok large, dose of Ativan. A greater team of pre-readers has yet to assemble! :)

Extra love to Hev99 for using her Beta skills to wrestle semicolons away from me! This isn't over Bob! :P

And a HUGE thank you to all of you who are sticking with me through this painfully slow process! Believe me, I want it done too! ;)

I've signed up to submit either a one shot or outtake for Fandom for Sexual Assault Awareness. This cause is near and dear to my heart, and when this opportunity presented itself I could not say no. I have an idea of what I want to do, but if you have any outtakes from TMM that you would like to see, I'd love to hear about it. This is a wonderful opportunity to help make a difference in the lives of others while also receiving new works from some of the fandom's most amazing authors (seriously, I don't know what I'm doing on a list with these incredibly talented people). For more information, please visit www(dot)fandom4ssa(dot)wordpress(dot)com :)