Chapter summary: Do you know what a stone going into the Sol Duc River at high velocity sounds like? It sounds like gunshot.
"So," Alice said, perkily, as she pranced onto the scene, towing her Jasper along.
Alice surely has 'perky' down pat.
And Jasper? He strode onto the scene like a lion. He strutted like a peacock.
Or he tried not to. 'Tried' being the operative word. Despite Jasper's ever serene and thoughtful façade, he is just such a man. It seems like his whole existence boiled down to: 'yeah, I just fucked a girl! I'm good!'
Men: always thinking with their dicks, because that's what they are. Dicks.
And the scents coming off them? They had both showered, but it didn't help me one bit. Alice was just so full of Jasper's caramel scent she could have opened her own coffee shop. And Jasper with not one — but three! — new bite marks that gave off a distinct heady valencia aroma?
Disgusting. I'm surprised Alice could even walk, or more correctly prance, without limping. It was given to understand by a particular pixie that Jasper was … gifted in more ways than with just his empathy. On our outings Alice just so loved to share, dropping subtle hints about Jasper's prowess that were anything but subtle.
"… what are you two up to?" Alice finished.
She was just glowing. I wonder if Bella noticed the newcomers had changed into a new set of clothes.
So I was more than a bit inclined to be annoyed, not only had they interrupted our moment after so obviously proclaiming that they had completed theirs, but then Alice was just being so Alice.
Do you ever notice the type? The type that's all perky but just has to know everything? You ever notice how the gift reflects the given? Alice just has to know everything so she gets the gift of knowing even the future. But is that enough for Miss Nosey?
No, it's not. She also has to know everything going on with everybody. All the time.
I have a theory about perkiness in people, and minding their own business. Alice tells me I have a theory for everything. After that little conversation when I shared one of my theories, and Alice shared back about my theorizing … well, we weren't on speaking terms for a while.
Until Esme put her foot down.
I suppose that taking a paint brush and dividing the house in Stowe where we lived at the time went a bit too far for Esme. I have no idea why: Emmett thought it was a riot, which, at the time, didn't help the situation nor my mood any.
But I suppose I can see Esme's perspective: on rare occasions I tend to get a bit righteous about things.
Just a bit.
"Nothing," I answered Alice's question coolly.
But my cool cover was entirely blown by Bella's simultaneous answer of "Nothing!"
Unfortunately, Bella's 'nothing' was nothing like mine: it was delivered in that quick, nervous way of hers that screamed LIE! so loudly that I'm actually surprised I didn't see Charlie's cruiser coming down our drive so he could throw his own daughter into the clink for every licentious crime that he didn't want ever to imagine nor to dare breath a word of.
Alice's eagle eyes got their laser focus and at the same time she took in a whiff of the air, tasting it.
So did Jasper: 'Oh, God!' he groaned under his breath, in agony.
The same breath had an entirely different effect on Alice: her eyes shifted from Bella to me and back, weighing us, but then they widened in shock, and shifted downward, first disbelievingly examining Bella's crotch, and then flitting to mine.
"Oh, my … God!" Alice exclaimed breathlessly, vibrating in place, and even clapping her hands together a few times.
I closed my eyes and sighed and felt my head sink with the weight of the whole world pressing down on me.
Yes, my kissing Bella seems to have affected her … and me. Venom had … well, leaked out from … me.
Vampires don't need to wear panties. We don't leak involuntarily, and we don't need to protect ourselves from chaffing, and the venom on my jeans where they pressed against me had evaporated nearly as soon as it touched the denim, so it left a stain unnoticeable for a human.
But Alice isn't a human. She had obviously noticed.
And as for Bella … well, she is wearing panties. But that didn't help at all, because they were still a bit … damp. And the scent just wafting off from her and particularly from a certain part of her body …
I could just imagine the scenario that Alice was imagining had occurred with Bella and me under this shady tree.
"But … but …" Alice stuttered, sounding delighted and disappointed at the same time. "I thought … that is, I didn't see this happening until later today … I mean …"
"See what happening?" Bella asked in confusion, looking perplexed.
Alice's eagle eyes narrowed on Bella, and she marched right up to her, looking utterly terrifying in every inch of her purposeful 4'11" pixitude. Bella took a step back, cowering from this now glowing Greek goddess, sparkling in the patch of sunlight.
"Alice," I warned quietly.
Alice ignored me. She actually pushed up her sleeves and craned her head back, looking right up into Bella's fearful chocolate brown pools.
"I asked you a question, Bella," Alice growled, "and I expect an answer." Then little Alice clarified with a snarl: "What's up?"
"What?" Bella asked, terrified at Alice's sudden seriousness. "N-nothing! I was just skipping rocks, is all; I was just …"
"No!" Alice commanded. "What were you two doing right here!"
Then with a forceful downward thrust of her hand, Alice pointed to the patch of ground at their feet.
"Alice," I growled myself. Scaring Bella to death would do what, exactly?
And what really ticked me off was that I knew why Alice was angry, the little Miss Has-to-know-it-all and … voyeur: she thought she missed out on the hot steamy girl-on-girl sex in her vision, because she and her man were too busy at the time in their own little bitey bumping and grinding.
Leave it to Alice to want to have it all. I wonder if she's unknowingly more than just a bit bi-curious, "accidentally" leading us into that NYC dyke bar and all.
"What? Jeez, Alice," Bella complained defensively, "so we kissed a bit, too! Is that a crime?"
"'Kissed a bit'?" Alice demanded right back. "Are you sure that's all?"
Bella blushed hard, "Well," she admitted, "we …"
"Bella," I interposed: "So Alice is sticking her nose in other people's business, as always. But are we going to kiss and tell to the little pixie just because she's pushy?" I asked quietly, just a hint of the reproach I felt seeping into my voice.
Bella really needed to learn how to take a stand for herself, or she's spend forever being pushed around by any and every person she encountered.
Bella swallowed, and, if it were at all possibly, blushed harder, turning away from Alice.
Alice gasped, but not at Bella's blush.
Alice's hand flashed out to Bella's chin, and turned her head so that her neck was exposed.
I was on my feet, really snarling, but in the subsonic registers so as not to further startle Bella, but I ready to act.
Alice eyes widened to saucers, and she took two quick steps back, looking utterly shocked.
I was at Bella's side in a flash, my arm wrapped around her side, supporting her. My shoulder was just ahead of hers. Alice had backed off, but was it to spring forward again? I was absolutely ready for anything, even if that was to shred my own sister if she was overcome with a sudden bloodlust.
Jasper was right Alice's side, facing me implacably, utter calm and purposefulness just radiating from him.
I would have shaken my head at this tableau if my awareness could have spared itself for the irony of it all: three vampires in a Mexican standoff over a little human. And we had the gall to call ourselves 'civilized,' but look how quickly we instantly became glowering — and gimmering — monsters!
Alice slowly raised her hand and pointed past me to Bella: "You… you kissed her there?" she asked breathlessly.
The way Alice asked it sounded as if it would have been a much more humdrum thing if I had thrown Bella to the ground and humped her senseless.
Hm! The image of that … no, focus, Rosalie: protect Bella from the bad vampires.
That thought made me grimace: bad vampires … I should be counted in that group, too.
"Yeah," Bella said, "I had a bite there, so …"
I didn't have to be Jasper to sense that Bella was just so totally oblivious of everything going on around her.
… and of the impact of her words. Now Jasper's eyes widened with shock, too as he saw the discoloration on Bella's neck.
I sighed and interjected: "… a mosquito bite …"
"Yeah," Bella continued, cluelessly, "and I felt a little scared at first, but then …"
Alice squeaked in surprise.
Bella seemed to be catching a clue. "What?" she demanded.
Jasper was the one to answer. He held up his hands — 'peace' — and wrapped them around his Alice, comforting her.
"Bella," he said gravely, "if it had been I, or any other vampire, you wouldn't have felt fear."
He looked toward her significantly, but then he sighed. I could just tell he couldn't believe anybody could be as stupid as Bella.
"You would have felt pain, and then you would have felt nothing, because you would be dead," he explained.
I could feel Bella's creased brow, "But you guys …" she began slowly.
Jasper completed her thought: "… are vampires, Bella. That's what we are: we're vampires."
"But," I heard Bella grappling with something she just didn't understand, "… I thought that since you're Cullens …"
Jasper held Alice a little closer, getting comfort from her now.
"Yes," he said sadly, "since I've become associated with the Cullens, I'm supposed follow that life, but …"
And Jasper's words, I felt a stronger solidarity with him, my 'twin brother,' than I had ever felt before. He didn't say that 'since I am a Cullen.' He said that he had 'become associated with the Cullens.' I saw that he saw himself as the outsider to this 'family' that we purported to be.
Just like how I felt.
Bella noticed something else entirely: "You said 'supposed to'?" she asked quietly.
Jasper looked away for a second, dropping his arms, and then said "Yes" regretfully.
And then nothing else.
It was Alice who spoke next, and her voice was filled with a quiet pride.
"Yes," she said, "Jasper has only slipped up thirteen times since we joined the Cullens."
She made to kiss Jasper affectionate on the cheek, but Jasper just ever so slightly flinched away.
Alice gasped in surprise.
Jasper looked at her regretfully. "Yeah," he said ironically, "only thirteen times."
The smile on his face was a painful thing to see.
I felt sadness well up in my being. Sadness, and regret, and remorse, and a bitterness that only a hatred of self could generate so powerfully.
I looked to Jasper and felt an ineffable connection to him as his emotions washed over me and over all of us.
Bella gasped, and I felt wetness on my shirt as she wrapped her arms around me and rested her cheek on my shoulder, gripping me for emotional support as Jasper's sadness filled us.
Alice's face was filled with that sadness, but it was also incredulous.
"You mean," she asked in disbelief, "it's more than that?"
Jasper looked at her, then took one step toward the river and scooped up some stones.
"What, do you mean this year?" he asked with a forced lightness, and threw a stone up river.
The stone disappeared from sight after skipping across the surface seventeen times.
"Yes, I mean this year." The absolute seriousness of Alice's voice allowed no room for levity.
Jasper kept his eyes on the river. He wouldn't look back at Alice.
"This year I was too busy, what with the wolves and the Seattle newborns, so that would be none." Jasper shrugged his shoulders and the bitterness I felt soured with melancholy.
"I was a good boy this year," he added unhappily.
Alice went to his side, picking up some stones herself.
"And the other years," she continued, beside him, quietly but relentlessly, "when you weren't so occupied?"
Jasper threw another stone up river, but instead of skipping along the surface the stone drove into the water, and the report of it came back to our ears with a violent tchoo! of it shattering the water's surface and the sound barrier. I saw the splash of the stone as it left a contrail as it shot into the water and buried itself into the riverbed beneath.
Alice waited, but Jasper said nothing further.
"Jasper," she whispered. "Since we joined the Cullens, was it more than thirteen times?"
Seriousness filled the air as I saw the silt stirred up from Jasper's stone as it was carried past us by the current.
Jasper, in answer, threw another stone. Hard.
Tchoo! was the distant answer of the river, taking another one of Jasper's missiles.
Jasper dared to glance at Alice, but then he looked away.
Now I tasted guilt. It's amazing how many emotions tasted bitter.
"Well," he said, looking up river. "I mean, you couldn't believe when I took that hiker I would just stop at him … and well, that other time, …" then he paused and grimaced, correcting himself, "those other times, there were the witnesses and …"
"How many?" Alice demanded.
Jasper was quiet. He looked down at the stone in his hand, and made to throw it up river, but then stopped. He crushed the stone in his hand and let the powder shift through his fingers to the ground.
Alice reached out to touch Jasper's shoulder, but Jasper was just so closed off … so lost in himself.
"Twenty-nine," he answered finally.
Alice drew a breath: "Jasper, it's …"
Then Jasper shook, head to toe, and added quickly: "… if you don't count women and children."
Bella had been weeping silently up to now, overcome by the well of Jasper's sadness, but now she gasped, and blurted out: "Why wouldn't you count women and children?"
Jasper scooped up more stones, still looking fixedly up river.
"Because," he explained patiently to this modern girl, and threw three stones at once, causing the tchoo!-tchoo!-tchoo!-reports to return to us, making Bella start in surprise, "up to the last century, women and children didn't count: not in censii, not for schooling, not for elections, not for anything. They simply weren't consider people."
Jasper looked down at the stone in his hand, and made to throw it.
Alice caught his hand with hers.
"How many, Jasper," she said solemnly, and added, "counting women and children?"
Jasper looked down at Alice's hand holding his. He brought his other hand to remove hers.
"Jasper," Alice said, looking right up into his downcast eyes that refused to look at hers.
A wry smile twisted Jasper's face.
"Fifty-six," he said. "Fifty-six," he repeated, and then shrugged.
Alice kept her hand on Jasper's looking up into his face.
"Jasper," she begged.
Jasper looked at her.
"It's okay," she said.
Jasper shook his head. "How is this okay?" he demanded.
Alice tilted her head to one side, considering him. "I love you, Jas. No matter what. Do you get that? I love you, and I forgive you."
Jasper's eyes slid away.
"Jas," Alice pleaded.
His eyes returned to her. "Did you ever think that your forgiveness makes it harder for me?"
"How?" Alice asked, dumbfounded.
Jasper turned back to the river, pulling his hand back to himself, and threw the stone.
"There you are, Alice, there you all are, and …" Jasper picked up more stones. "And you're all just so perfect, so forgiving! Even Emmett when he stumbled was just so easily reaccepted and just put his mistakes behind him without a regret in his head. And Edward, … God! I mean, his singer was right there!" Here Jasper gestured angrily at Bella. "But no! Edward is just so strong and perfect that he could resist his own singer! And you all look at me, believing in me so much, and then whenever I came back with my red eyes, forcing us all to move — again! — you just …"
Jasper threw another stone. This time it skipped along the surface, disappearing into the distance.
"How can I live up to that?" he demanded. "I'm a vampire, Alice. I've been a vampire since the War of Northern Aggression. It's just too ingrained into me. I'm not one of you; I can't even aspire to pretend to try to be one of you, and you do this so easily, … no, so joyfully, and I …"
Bella was crying silently on my shoulder again as the very air around us was filled with the fog of sadness.
"It's not okay, Alice," Jasper said regretfully. "It's never going to be okay, because …"
"Jasper Whitlock," Alice's icy voice whipped out, interrupting his self-flagellation.
Alice reached up and grabbed Jasper's shoulders and turned him to her, forcing him to look at her again.
"It's going to be okay, Jasper," Alice explained, enunciating her words, "because we are going to make it okay."
She glared up into his face, her own face hard. "Okay?" she demanded.
Jasper sighed. "Okay," he agreed.
Alice didn't let go of his shoulders.
"Fifty-six," she demanded. "Right? Fifty-six?"
Jasper, being a giant of a man at 6'3", towered over Alice, but somehow he looked tiny: shrunken into himself.
"Jasper? Fifty-six?" Alice demanded when his eyes wouldn't meet hers.
"Well, …" Jasper started lightly, but then he swallowed, and looked at Alice, and said seriously: "One hundred fifty-six."
Alice didn't move, but I could see she was shaken to the core.
Alice breathed in, then breathed out, swallowing this new information, this new understanding of her husband that just a moment ago she was so proud of was now in need of more than ten times her forgiveness.
Alice looked up into Jasper's face. "One hundred fifty-six," she repeated.
"Okay," Alice said.
"How?" Jasper asked.
"It's not," Alice admitted. "It's not okay that you think you have to lie to me or that you think you have to keep something from me, so, Jasper, you and I, we are going to work out a way where it is okay for you to tell me anything."
Alice looked up at her Jasper, the little furious and serious pixie. "And we're going to do that now."
But then her voice took on a desperate edge: "Is that okay?"
"Is it okay with you?" he asked her back.
"Yes," she answered absolutely.
Jasper shook his head. "Why?" he asked in complete disbelief.
Alice took her hands off Jasper's shoulders and glared up at him.
"Because, you big dummy," she snarled, then hammered his chest with her index finger and she shouted, "I fucking love you!"
Jasper looked down at Alice, then he smiled sadly. "Okay," he said.
"Okay," Alice said firmly.
Jasper glanced over at us, and then suddenly the air cleared of the bittersweet sadness, and Alice suddenly seemed to become aware that the world existed, and that other people were present.
Alice looked over at us. "Um," she said.
Alice turned back to Jasper quickly, gesturing across the Sol Duc. Jasper nodded and leapt, easily clearing the river to disappear into the forest on the opposite bank.
Alice took the stones in her hand and threw them up river. Each stone flew off in its own direction. Each stone skipped easily along the river's surface and disappeared into the distance.
Alice leapt, a firefly, a faery in the sunlight, following Jasper, disappearing into the forest.
I turned to Bella. She started at my sudden movement, then sniffled, rubbing her reddened eyes.
Bella brought her hands back to her sides then reached out to me. I put her hands into mine.
"I think I've had enough skipping stones for today," Bella told me with a wan smile.
I looked at my Bella, wanting to say so much, but not knowing what to say at all.
I smiled wistfully at Bella, and said the only thing I could manage: "Okay."
Chapter end notes:
 Sigh. Sometimes, it takes somebody like Jasper to point out to me how far we have come. I mean, we still have a long way to go, but just in this last century we've had women's suffrage and then all that followed. And the ancient Greeks I so admire? Women were non-persons in those times. Sappho was amazing for her work, and that she was even recognized or even acknowledged … being a woman? Yes, we've got a long way to go, but sometimes it's good to look back and see how far we've come.