I sighed happily as we pulled up to Aunt Charlotte's home in Seattle. I have fond memories of staying with her throughout my early college years. She welcomed me into her comforting bungalow with open arms my freshman year at UW and we have been very close ever since.
I looked over to Alice in the passenger seat and I could tell she was absolutely terrified of meeting my Aunt. She gave me an apprehensive look and smiled. Her nerves threw me a little because Alice has never been nervous about meeting new people at all. We have been dating almost a year and she was always the bright, cheery soul every time we have been together. She had no reason to be scared, I've already told her plenty of times today, but her fears were still visible all over her face.
I grabbed her hand and pulled it to my chest. "Sweetie, stop worrying. Everything will be fine. Charlotte will love you." I kissed the inside of her palm and Alice sighed affectionately. I looked into her warm hazel eyes and smiled. "I love you Alice Cullen very much."
"I love you Jasper Whitlock," my little angel chimed in.
Alice glanced down and picked at the hem of her dress. She fretted all week about what to wear today. After many lengthy discussions, she decided on a simple bright green (Alice called the hue, "Kelly green") knee-length dress with a light pink cardigan sweater (yes, Alice did have to teach me the term "cardigan"). Apparently it's more delicate than just a pullover sweater.
Whatever, my girl could parade around in a potato sack and she would still be as stunning as always. Alice loved to dress to impress, I know. She always possessed the grace and poise of an old Hollywood movie star. My girl had the confidence of a queen, balanced with a heart as kind as Mother Teresa's, yet the unassuming nature of a down-to-earth girl. Alice truly was the whole package to me.
We decided to make a weekend getaway of out of our Seattle trip. I booked the North Room at the Inn of the Twin Gables. Alice picked it out because she said "it looked gorgeous in a cozy way." I was impressed when I saw that the Inn was an old Victorian style home, that had been converted to a bed and breakfast. I especially appreciated the Mission-style furniture in our room. Our bed had a simple wooden frame that looked handmade, finished with a natural cherry stain. Alice knew my passion for home architecture and craftsmanship. She really understood me like no other person, except for my Aunt maybe.
Alice Cullen truly changed my life for the better. We supported each other and made each other better. The two of us, together, truly were greater than the sum of our parts. It seems we made a subconscious vow to never walk alone, like the King himself sings about. If I wanted to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro, or Alice wanted to shop on Rodeo Drive, we would be there, side by side. Alice loved to sing that song from " Grease"-"We go together" and said that song was written for us. Honestly, she was so right. The last two years of simply having this amazing creature in my life, made me feel so fulfilled. We just fit so well together in an unexplainable way.
"Yesterday was amazing, Jazz. I loved taking in the sights with you. Even though I've done the same things with my family. It was really special to do them with you," Alice cooed and kissed me breathlessly on my cheek. I had to shift my pants a bit, my Alice had no idea the power she wielded with her bewitching voice and coy smile.
"I always have the best time with you, baby girl," I answered.
She snickered a little and said, "the rose petals in the bathtub were very nice. Did you do all that yourself? Or did you pay someone?"
"A magician does not reveal his tricks," I chided her as I stroked her chin and pulled her in for a deep kiss.
She burst out in giggles when our lips broke free, "C'mon, babe, tell me. Did you really do all that for me?"
I stroked a wayward hair of hers and twisted it around my finger. "I will tell you this baby girl. Whatever I do, it's because I love you and you deserve it. That's all I will say."
She smirked and said, "you are impossible" while shaking her head at me. She came in close to my face and whispered, "you are too much and I love you for it."
I grinned and whispered back, "you better, Darlin', because there's a lot more where that all came from. We still have that sandalwood scented body oil, we never got to use last night, because we-"
Her hands flew to my mouth, "Hush, Mr. Whitlock, we are headed to church today," Alice scolded me.
I smiled playfully under her fingers and kissed her hand gently, "Last night was a holy experience all its own. Where'd you learn to do that thing with your mouth?"
"Shut up! Jasper!" Alice slapped me playfully and said, "we are about to visit your Aunt. Show some decorum, please."
I chuckled and said, "My apologies, ma'am. From now on, I will be on my best behavior." I gave her a little salute.
Alice's eyes twinkled and said, "thanks babe." She took a deep breath and rested her hand on the door handle.
"Alice, Charlotte will love you," I assured her.
"Just hope my ASL is good. I don't wanna look like an ass in front of your favorite family member."
"You won't babe, we love each other and we are happy. That's all she cares about."
Alice gave me her trademark enchanting smile, kissed me sweetly and said, "Okay, let's go."
I swooped over to the passenger side door and helped Alice out of my Toyota Forerunner truck. I actually bought this truck from Charlotte my first semester of college. She gave me a great deal on it so I couldn't pass it up. Charlotte was always willing to help people who helped themselves. As soon as I saved up enough money to pay off the note, she let me buy it from her. She didn't believe in handouts. She moved out to Seattle ten years ago and opened her own bakery, completely on her own.
A few years later, she became the premier specialty cake designer in the area. She had two hearing girls that knew ASL work the cash register and handled the special orders while Charlotte did all the baking. It was the perfect job for her and she loved it. Charlotte said I got my cooking bug from her. Being spoiled by freshly baked muffins everyday before jetting off to class might have had something to do with it.
As Alice and I approached Charlotte's front door, I grabbed Alice's hand and squeezed it. She smiled at me timidly. I pressed the button that makes her lamp in the living room flash on and off- a Deaf person's doorbell- and stepped back. After a minute, she opened her front door with a big smile on her face. She was tall in stature and always had her short, spiky, salt and pepper hairstyle. She always wore kooky, wildly painted glasses around her neck for reading. She was dressed smartly in a white and grey top and matching pants, the kind of style that most women in their 50s wear. I think she told me at one time her favorite store was Chico's. I don't know, it sounded like a Mexican restaurant to me.
She welcomed us into her home and we stepped in. Charlotte was beaming ear to ear. I looked over at Alice and she was wearing a matching smile. I could not help but smile. My two most favorite people in the world finally meeting, I couldn't be happier.
Charlotte signed, "hello Jasper and who is this beautiful girl?"
Alice smiled bashfully and looked at me, waiting for my response.
I'm sure I had a goofy expression on my face. I signed, "Charlotte, this is Alice, my sweetheart," to her and then I turned to Alice and signed, "Alice, this is my Aunt Charlotte." I did not use my voice, because Alice insisted I use straight ASL, to help her.
Alice took a deep breath and signed, "Hello Ms. Whitlock, it's nice to meet you, finally."
Charlotte had a frown on her face and looked around the room. Alice's face fell a little, she started to get scared.
Then, Charlotte signed, "Who is Ms. Whitlock? That's my mother, not me. You call me Charlotte, just like Jasper." She said as she patted me on the arm and smiled at both of us.
Alice sighed and giggled, completely relieved and then signed, "Nice to meet you, Charlotte."
Instantly, Charlotte gasped in joy, threw her hearty arms around Alice and hugged her so tightly, it knocked the wind out of her. As Charlotte let go, Alice let out a little squeak of air and she smiled at Charlotte like she was fine. Then Charlotte wrapped her arms around me and I reciprocated.
Charlotte signed to me, "Good job, Jasper, she's goregous."
Alice blushed again and I signed, "Yes, I think so too."
Charlotte checked the clock and signed, "I think we need to go, there will be plenty of time to chat after church. You two are staying for lunch, right?"
I nodded and signed, "Yes, we will have lunch with you."
"Great! Now, let's go," Charlotte said as she held the door open for us.
As we approached the church's front door, Alice grasped my arm and gave me a nervous look. Charlotte was walking behind us and saw Alice's reaction. She grabbed Alice's other arm and hugged her again, tightly.
Charlotte signed, "Don't worry, you are with me, and you are going to be fine, honey."
Alice relaxed a little and smiled at her. She signed, "thank you."
I opened the door for my two lovely escorts. As usual, everyone was congregating in the sanctuary, having coffee and pastries. All eyes fell on us, and we were approached like the Prodigal Son in the bible tale.
Charlotte was already making the rounds, introducing us as "her favorite nephew and his girlfriend." She explained that we both know ASL, so "no funny business." She warned them playfully, "I'll be watching you, so behave." She chuckled heartily as she helped herself to some coffee.
Alice gripped my hand tightly and looked at me. I said to her, "babe, I'll have to let you go, so I can sign."
"Oh, sorry, I forgot," she apologized.
Just then, Charlotte asked in sign, "You want some coffee? Let's get you some coffee."
Alice followed her and looked back at me. I gave her a loving look as I was tapped on the shoulder. It was Al, Charlotte's old friend. Al was a middle-aged man in his 50s, who I've met a few times before. I think he used to be Charlotte's boyfriend at one time, but I could not be sure.
Al signed to me, "Haven't seen you in awhile. Where have you been?"
I signed in response, "Finishing school, I graduate in May. I've been very busy."
"What are you going to do? for a job?"
"Construction. I want to open my own business."
"Nice, you would be a great interpreter though."
"Yes, true, but I want to be my own boss," I chuckled and Al laughed as well.
"Yes," he signed empathically, "I understand. Who is this pretty girl you brought with you?" He asked as he pointed to Alice. She was with Charlotte getting coffee, chatting with her and some other ladies I didn't recognize.
"That's my girlfriend, Alice," I answered.
"Wow," Al exclaimed, "she's beautiful. You two serious?"
"Yes, we are, so do not get any ideas," I teased him.
He let out a hearty chuckle and signed, "well pretty girls are hard to resist. But don't worry." He held up his hands in surrender playfully.
"Good seeing you again, Al," I said as I shook his hand and patted his back.
"You too," he signed to me. "I'll see ya later."
I joined Alice and Charlotte and helped myself to a cup of coffee. Alice and I stayed up way too late enjoying each other's company and my energy was fading quickly. So, I needed a caffeine boost.
Alice smiled at me and whispered, "How are ya cowboy?'
I whispered back, "that's funny, since you were the one doing all the riding last night." Alice's face flushed bright red. I kissed her temple and uttered in her ear, "I love you and you are doing great."
Alice looked at me and signed, "thank you."
Charlotte was busy chatting with a lady whom she brought over to us. Charlotte signed to us, "Jasper, Alice, this is my good friend, Maggie. Maggie, this is my best nephew Jasper and his girlfriend, Alice."
Maggie was a tiny woman with reddish curly hair and coke bottle glasses. She signed to us both, "nice to meet you. You know sign?"
We both signed, "yes," simultaneously.
"Wow, cool," Maggie signed, " Alice, you are hearing?
Alice signed back, "yes I am hearing."
"Oh, how did you two meet?"
I signed, "we met in ASL 1 class at UW. You know Carmen Feroz?"
"Yes, I do," Maggie answered. "We go bowling together."
"I helped her in her ASL class and Alice was in it. Alice wanted tutoring help from me and we started dating almost a year ago, " I explained in sign and gave Alice a small smile.
Maggie watched us both and signed, "Alice, why did you take ASL?"
Alice signed flawlessly, "I needed a foreign language credit and ASL was the only one available for my schedule. So, I took it, knowing nothing about it."
I was beaming with pride watching her. My girl was doing so well.
Maggie seemed amused, "Funny how that works. So how much ASL have you taken?"
Alice signed, " just completed ASL 2. I do not know if I will continue."
Maggie said, "you should, it seems to come very natural to you."
Alice blushed and signed, "thanks, but I'm very nervous."
"Don't be. You are doing fine," Maggie assured her and grabbed her hand.
Charlotte joined us again after she chatted with all her cronies. Maggie helped herself to a pastry. Maggie asked Charlotte, "did you make these?"
Charlotte answered, "No, Maria did. It was her turn to bring snacks."
Maggie turned up her nose and made a disgusted face, "I don't like Maria's cooking."
Charlotte let out a hearty guffaw and shrugged, "Sorry, I don't bring snacks until next week."
Maggie took a bite and threw the rest in the trash. We all snickered a little and sipped our coffee. Alice seemed to soak everything in. She was observing everyone and watching them sign.
I glanced over at Alice and signed and voiced, "How are you doing?"
"I'm fine. This is amazing, Jasper. This is way better than the classroom. I thought I would be behind since I've only finished ASL 2, but I am learning so much just by watching everyone. That's not rude is it? For me to watch their conversations?"
"No babe it's not. If you take Deaf Culture next semester, you'll learn all about that sort of stuff."
"I do need another anthropology course. It sounds fascinating, who knew the Deaf would have their own culture? But it makes sense because they are so cut off from other cultures. They would have to develop their own just by being how they are and how their language is devised."
I smiled at her. My girl was so clever and quick, she never gave herself much credit when it came to sign, because it seemed so foreign to her. She took the courses so casually, she just wanted to do well. Alice never thought she would use ASL in day-to day life, but she had come along way in a year. Sure we've only been officially dating for less than a year but we've been close for almost two.
Lights started flashing on and off, which signaled the sermon was about to begin. So, Alice, Charlotte and I grabbed a seat in the back. We were getting settled when Maggie, who was sitting closer to the pulpit, motioned for Charlotte to sit with her since she came alone.
Charlotte signed to me, "You mind if I sit up there with Maggie?"
"No, go ahead, we'll be fine back here," I responded.
Charlotte gave us a smile, then pulled a note and pen out of her purse. She signed to us, "here, so you two can pass love notes back and forth."
Alice blushed and I grabbed the pen and paper. I nodded and signed, "go on, then. We'll see you after the service."
Charlotte winked at us and snickered devilishly. She proceeded to join Maggie up front.
Alice said, "she is what you Texans would call, 'ornery.'"
"Ya think?" I chuckled as I placed my arm around her. " Say it again," I pleaded.
I chuckled at her, she didn't say it as a Texan would say it. I pointed out to her, we Texans say, "on-ry".
She giggled, and said, "well, whatever ," and sunk into my side.
Alice grabbed the paper and pen from me. She placed the pink colored paper on my knee and drew a small heart on , I took the pen from her and drew an "A +J" inside the heart. Then she wrote, "for-evah".
I chuckled and said, "damn right."
"Jazz, watch your tongue. We are in the house of the Lord," she scolded.
"Okay, okay," I said as the Pastor approached the podium and began his sermon.
I watched Alice the whole time as the Pastor preached. She watched him tirelessly. She never took her eyes away from him. Her warm curious eyes seemed to absorb everything the Pastor was signing like a sponge. It was enthralling, watching her, because she just took to it, like a fish to water.
After the service, Alice and I were hanging out by the front door, when Al approached us again. He walked right up to Alice and introduced himself in sign.
"Hello, my name is Al. What's you name? and what are you doing with him?" He pointed directly at me.
I chuckled a bit and watched Alice giggle softly and sign back, "Hi Al, I am Alice and this guy cannot get rid of me."
My heart melted a little as she nudged me in the side. I smiled at her and her eyes glistened. Alice could make anyone feel special. She had that gift, but when she did it to me, all felt right with my world.
Al chuckled a little and signed, "Don't lose her, Jasper, she's a good one."
I nodded and signed in response, "oh I know. She's very good to me." I looked at her with all the love I could muster in my blue-grey eyes and she smiled back.
Then Al broke our gaze by tapping Alice on the arm. He signed, "If you decide to ditch him, I'll be waiting." He busted out a hearty laugh and slapped me on the back.
I playfully eyed him a minute and signed, "Back off, old man," and I wagged me finger. Alice was smiling and snickering a little.
Al nodded and signed to Alice, "nice to meet you, beauty. I hope to see you soon."
Alice nodded shyly and signed, "Ok then."
Just then, Charlotte approached us and signed, "You hungry for lunch?"
We both nodded and signed, "yes."
"Well let's go, I don't want to just stand around and talk these old folks," she snickered again and motioned for us to exit the church.
As we got to the car, Maggie approached Alice and signed to her, "It was nice to meet you. I hope you continue in ASL. You seem like a natural."
Alice graciously responded in sign, "Thank you so much. I think I might."
Maggie had a big smile on her little face and pulled Alice in for a short hug. Maggie signed to her again, "Such a pretty face, you are beautiful."
Alice's cheeks turned a faint coral and she signed, "thank you".
We got into my car and drove back to Charlotte's house.
As Charlotte welcomed us back in her house again. I asked her in sign, "What can we do to help with lunch?"
Charlotte answered in sign, "I though we would grill some steaks- Texas style. You mind starting the grill for us?"
"No, I'll start on it," I replied, and I turned to Alice and signed, "I'll be outside okay?"
Alice nodded and signed, "Okay sure."
I smiled and proceeded to fire up the grill on the patio.
Alice joined me outside and brought me the steaks, I asked her, "Charlotte's being nice to you, right?"
Alice giggled and said, "of course Jasper. Your Aunt is the sweetest." Alice had a puzzled look on her face, "but she is wondering what I am considering doing as a career though."
I slapped the meat on the grill and uttered, "oh?"
"Not that I mind or anything, but she just seems really interested. My mom and dad haven't really asked me about my career choices. Mom always said I would be in design somehow and Dad never wanted to seem like a pest, so he never pushed me for a decision. But Charlotte really is curious, for some reason."
I looked at Charlotte in the kitchen and she was prepping the vegetables. I know my Aunt well, she had a sixth sense about people. She always seemed to give people the advice they needed right when they needed it. Charlotte is up to something I can feel it, but I am not going to interfere.
"Well, babe she is just interested in you. She wants to get a feel for you, I'm sure," I smiled at Alice.
"Yea, I'm sure. I'm going to help her with the salad and stuff," She kissed me swiftly on the cheek as she breezed back into the house.
I watched them intently as they chatted, not really eavesdropping, just getting a sense of the mood and the conversation. It was weird watching them chat as they were prepping the salad. They each took turns as one asked the other a question, the other one picked up the task where the other left off. It was a quite a cute little system they had worked out.
I saw Charlotte ask, "How do you like learning ASL?"
"At first, I had a hard time," Alice said, "I couldn't understand it for awhile. Jasper helped me understand, to forget English sentence and structure and just pick up the language."
I saw Charlotte nodding in understanding. She was still breaking up the lettuce and spinach.
Alice signed, "Jasper explained to me that ASL is like any language, it has its own voice. It's not just hand gestures for English. So I had to think of it like learning Spanish of French. I had to get over learning it as just as "Visual English. That's when it all clicked for me."
Charlotte placed the lettuce in the bowl and I notice Alice picked up chopping up the herbs. I was watching them and trying to make sure I got the steaks just right. If they were not medium-rare for me and Charlotte and medium for Alice, those ladies would have my balls in a vice for sure.
I saw Charlotte sign, "You have a gift for signing Alice. I want to talk to you seriously. I just feel I should tell you. You are a natural skilled signer. You really are, I mean it. It's true."
Alice was still chopping and so she mouthed, "thank you".
Charlotte signed, "No really I want you to think about it. Don't respond, you are a beautiful signer and the Deaf love you- that's important in our world. We have a lot of people who become interpreters, but the 'spark' is not there. It's a job. But, you know what a "calling" is? Some jobs are like "callings,"- meant to be. Teachers, Doctors, Pastors, those are jobs with meaning. Interpreters should have the same "spark" ;the fire in their bellies. You have to love us, the Deaf and the Deaf need to love you. We have to trust you with our Health when we go to the doctor and our Rights if we get arrested or have to go to court. You know what I am saying?"
Alice nodded intently, seeming to hang on every word Charlotte was saying.
Charlotte added in sign, "I am not pressuring you, your life is your choice, but if you were to think about being an interpreter, Alice, you would be such a gift to our world. Really."
Alice's eyes widened. Charlotte took the knife from her to let her respond.
"Thank you for saying that, " Alice signed, " I appreciate your advice and I will give it some thought. But, I am curious, did you ever tell Jasper the same thing?"
Oh this is about to get interesting. As I was letting the steaks rest, I started cleaning the grill, but I wanted to know what Charlotte would say. Honestly, Charlotte never brought up the option of me being an interpreter and I always wondered why.
Charlotte chuckled and put the knife and signed, "Jasper's too close to this world. Believe me, I was doing him a favor by just keeping his contact with the Deaf on a purely social level."
Alice looked puzzled by Charlotte's claim and I was very confused by it too.
Charlotte explained, "While Jasper was living with me, he got a lot of Deaf experiences first-hand. Some of my friends found out about my hearing nephew who knew ASL and started calling me, asking him to help. When he moved in the summer before his freshman year, he would get requests to go to the DMV to help with drivers' license renewals or go to people's houses to help with repairmen and things like that. He would make phone calls for them, book appointments and things. Jasper was always gracious and kind, always willing to help anyone in need, but some people can take advantage of that kindness."
Alice's eyes were fixed on Charlotte as she was signing.
"Anyway, the favors got to be more often and frequent. They never asked him outright. My friends always asked me first, when he was busy in school and his studies. I would tell everyone, "no". They all understood, but then the next responses were, "when he becomes an interpreter, he can help me all the time. It's natural for the Deaf to feel that way. It's so treasured to find someone that can help them. They think it's the answer to all their problems. Some people don't realize that helping everyone and trying to have a life of your own can be very time-consuming.
That's when I knew, Jasper would always be at their beck and call. Jasper would never tell any of them 'no'. He is too tied to the world personally. Jasper, is a giving soul and a workhorse. He feels good contributing to the world and his fellow man. That is who he is, but I never wanted him to feel obligated to help. I never wanted that for him."
"To be an interpreter, you have to be tough, even with the Deaf, they'll respect you, because it is your job and they want you to be very professional. If they know you personally, before professionally, that's where the lines can get blurred."
My Aunt was protecting me, I always thought I was the one helping her, but she had always wanted me to lead my own life. Being an interpreter was not my path, so she would never will it to be true. She never wanted me to become something out of necessity. She wanted the best life for her nephew and that was his own life.
Charlotte never ceased to amaze me.
Alice signed to Charlotte, "Wow, I had no idea."
Charlotte replied, "Jasper has no idea, so don't tell him. It's our secret." She nudged Alice in the elbow and they shared a laugh.
I hurried up and cleaned the grill and banged on the glass door. Alice nudged Charlotte and I motioned to them to join me outside.
Charlotte had a small deck that I built for her one summer. She and I designed it ourselves. We used pressure treated Cedar lumber for its natural beauty and durability. It was only three years old and still looked brand new. I was mighty proud of that accomplishment.
As Alice was setting the wrought iron black table I asked, "Charlotte, how is the deck holding up? It looks good."
Charlotte smiled and said, "yes, I know. Still love it. I have my coffee here every morning, rain or shine."
I answered, "even when it rains?"
Charlotte nodded and signed, "yea I just pull out my umbrella for the table and sit under it." Charlotte tapped the table to get Alice's attention and signed, "You know Jasper built this deck for me."
Alice mouthed as she was setting the salad out,"no way! really?"
Charlotte nodded and I know I blushed a little. I signed sheepishly, "It was my first big job. Charlotte was willing to take a chance on me."
Charlotte looked at me and signed, "always, handsome boy" and playfully tapped me cheek. "Now, let's eat. Jasper, I hope you cooked my steak right," she chided.
"Yes ma'am," I signed.
As we were eating Charlotte dropped her silverware and smacked her forehead with her palm dramatically. She signed to Alice, "you need a sign name."
I signed and nodded, "yes she does, Alice doesn't have one yet."
Alice squealed and signed, "no I don't, would you give me one, Charlotte?"
Charlotte signed emphatically, "of course and I have just the sign name for you."
Charlotte made the letter, "A" with her right hand by closing her hand almost to a fist with the thumb on the side. Then took her "A" hand and made a circle around her face. In ASL, that motion stood for beauty. I smiled and nodded.
Alice signed, "thank you, but why?"
"Because you are beautiful on the inside and out."
Alice's cheeks went coral and she signed, "thank you so much"
"You are welcome, dear. I should be thanking you for making my favorite guy so happy."
Now it was my turn to blush.
As we said our goodbyes, Charlotte hugged me tightly and I signed, "Will I see you at graduation?"
Charlotte replied, "of course, I would not miss it."
Charlotte turned to hug Alice and asked, "Will I see you at Jasper's graduation too?"
Alice signed, "of course. I'll see you soon, Charlotte." Charlotte gave her a big hearty hug. Alice giggled and got in the passenger side of the car.
I walked around to the driver's side and signed, "I'll talk to ya soon, ok? Text me, if you need me."
"Oh, I will. I'll see ya in a few weeks. I love you," She signed in that universal one handed sign with the pinky, forefinger and thumb sticking out.
I mouthed, "I love you too," as I signed it back to her.
Then Charlotte peeked into the passenger side window as I climbed in. Charlotte mouthed, "Alice, Love you," and signed the sign to her as well.
I heard Alice gasp and whisper it too as she signed back to Charlotte, "love you too."
As we pulled away from the curb and turned onto the main road, Alice said, " Jasper, I'm going to see if I can take ASL 3 and Deaf Culture as a summer course."
My Aunt would never steer anyone wrong.