Chapter Five: Liberation

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a.p.o.v

After a rousing ten minutes in the hotel lobby, Jasper kindly offered to walk me up to my room. I had long since forgotten about my encounter with Bella and was instead enjoying my time with Jasper. He stood behind me in the elevator, languorously kissing my neck as his hands rested firmly on my hips. I felt like a puddle of goo in his arms, revelling in the heat of his body and the way his lips made my skin swell with goose bumps.

I lost myself in his touches, tilting my head back against his shoulder as I ruefully watched the elevator ascend to my floor. I wished for a power failure or something equally as helpful, but nothing happened to trap me in the confined space with Jasper.

I was upset and disappointed when the doors opened on floor seven.

Jasper nudged me out, tagging close behind me as I made my way down the hall. I giggled as he tried to tickle me and ran ahead, warning him that I would use brute force if he didn't knock it off, immediately.

"And you think I'm scared of you?" he asked sarcastically.

I put my hands on my hips, reasoning, "You should be. I'm very scary."

Jasper rolled his eyes. "Uh-huh...you're, what, five foot zero? Sweetheart, I don't see much that's frightening about you," he said with a chuckle, "I could bench-press you."

I laughed initially at his statement, but the more my mind comprehended the idea of Jasper bench-pressing me, the more I found it obscenely arousing. Imagining the way his arms would look as he lifted me was enough to sell me on the idea.

"You could try to bench-press me," I suggested, "if you wanted. I don't think I'd mind."

Jasper's gaze flickered from my eyes to my lips, the smile leaving his face as he bent down to kiss me. "Don't tempt me, Alice," he whispered against my mouth, "I might just take you up on your offer." My face flushed in excitement and he sighed, "You look so sexy when you blush."

Everything in my mind floated out with his words and I cupped his face in my hands, pulling him in for another kiss that set my heart on fire. His hands slid down my back and over my ass, squeezing gently as his tongue languidly moved with mine.

"Is it...bad, that I...want you to come...inside?" I asked through insistent kisses.

Jasper paused, pressing his lips to the corner of my mouth. "Not as bad as how much I want to," he replied. He rested his forehead against mine, taking a deep breath before he offered quietly, "But I can't. I like you, Alice, I really like you...and I don't want to be disrespectful. I want to take you out on a date or...or have dinner with you or something."

I smiled coyly at how he wanted to 'woo' me and said, "Jasper, you have to be the sweetest guy I've ever met."

I wrapped my arms around his torso in a grateful hug, feeling the heat of his lips on my skin as he kissed my temple. We stood like that for a long time, my head on his chest as he pressed his cheek into my hair, slowly rocking us back and forth. The serenity of the embrace relaxed me, and though I was standing, I was positive it wouldn't be hard for me to fall asleep like this.

I was so comfortable.

"I should go," I murmured, "it's getting late."

I felt as Jasper nodded, pressing his lips into my hair once more as we parted. He asked me to spend the day with him tomorrow before his afternoon shift at the hotel and I readily agreed, eager to see him as much as I could, in any capacity. I gave him my phone number so he could call me and he said he would do so in the morning.

That night, Jasper left me with a sweet, chaste kiss and the most beautiful view as he retreated. He smiled at me as he waited for the elevator, unleashing the full force of the sexy dimples that punctuated his handsome face.

When he disappeared through the elevator doors, I let out the girly sigh I had been holding in.

Ass-grabbing and neck-kissing aside, Jasper was the perfect gentleman.

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The day I spent with Jasper was...surreal. It was a massive, amazing blur of talking and laughing and enjoying the warmth of Seattle in the summer. We walked around the city for most of the morning, learning everything there was to know about each other.

I told him my best and worst moments, explaining the situation with Edward and why I high-tailed it out of the Terrace so quickly last night. In return, he did the same, telling me about his life...even the parts that were unpleasant and messy.

I found that I was comfortable talking to him about the painful things I had experienced in my life; the hurt I had suffered and the people I had lost. It was just...easy...with Jasper. I didn't feel self-conscious when I spoke or like I was saying too much.

Jasper took it all in, giving me just as much of himself in return.

After he took me to lunch at a beautiful, little restaurant, we started heading back in the direction of the hotel. He still had an hour until he started work so we ventured around a park down the street, sitting quietly on a bench as we people-watched.

Jasper slung his arm around the back of the bench and I scooted over, laying down with my head on his lap and my legs dangling over the edge. He tilted his head, smiling as he looked at me and combed his fingers through my hair.

I closed my eyes at the slow, gentle movement; it was sweet and methodical.

Although I was incredibly relaxed, I couldn't help the nagging feeling at the back of my mind, the one that was telling me my time was short and I only had one day before I had to leave. One day, and I would have to say goodbye to Jasper.

"What's goin' on in there?" he asked, brushing his fingers over my temple.

"Tomorrow's my last day here," I said softly, turning my head as a slight breeze blew through the park, "I fly back to New York on Monday."

"Yeah," Jasper said with a dismayed grin, "I know."

I felt my heart in my throat as I reached up and twined my fingers with his, pressing my lips to his knuckles. "You make me not want to go back," I admitted. Jasper ran the fingers of his other hand through my hair again, brushing his thumb over my cheek.

"I would do anything to make you stay," he replied intently, "but I know that's where your life is. I couldn't ask you to do that."

I felt sick to my stomach as I asked, "What are we going to do?"

Jasper sighed, "Make tomorrow count."

"You don't work?"

He shook his head, "I never work Sundays, and you have no idea how grateful I am for that right now."

He showed me that amazing smile and I smiled back as I sat up. I braced both hands on the bench, leaning forward slightly as I kicked my shoe against the gravel. I turned my head to look up at him, wondering, "What about after tomorrow?"

He draped his arm around my shoulder, pulling me closer. "We'll make it work," he assured, "I promise. I'd be stupid to let you go...you know, after I've already laid all my ground work. It would be a waste of time," he said teasingly.

I smiled as I elbowed him in the ribs and muttered, "Jackass."

He chuckled softly before his eyes met mine. His face and tone grew sombre as he said, "I'm serious, Alice. I want to make this work, whatever this is. I've had the most amazing time with you. I know you'll be on the other side of the country but I don't like the idea of never seeing you again."

I turned to press a kiss to his cheek, murmuring, "Me neither, but-"

"Nuh-uh," he cut me off, putting his hand over my mouth, "I don't want you to worry about it right now. I like you, Alice, everything else is just details to me. A couple hundred miles is not going to stop me from talking to you."

I smiled and pressed a kiss into his palm.

He always made things easy.

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When I got back to my room that afternoon, I felt like my face was going to crack from smiling so often. The day had been perfect and humbling, and Jasper was more wonderful than I could have imagined. I couldn't explain the way I was drawn to him or how it felt when we were together.

It was indescribable.

I showered and got ready for the reunion dinner, pulling out my cute, black dress and the Prada heels I had brought to go with it. I curled my hair and pinned it back, keeping it from my face as it fell down over my shoulders. I was just applying my make-up when a knock came from the other side of my door.

My first assumption was Jasper, but when I quickly remembered he was working, I figured it might have been Lauren or Jessica. I padded over to the door with my mascara in hand, and when I swung it open, I immediately regretted it.

I was stunned beyond words when I saw Bella – I didn't know what to say.

We just looked at one another, the silence awkward as I gripped the doorframe and Bella shifted uncomfortably.

"Hi," she said quietly, "do you mind if I come in?"

I wanted for the life of me to say no, but with her kind words and friendly demeanour, I couldn't do it. She had obviously gone out of her way to find me and I felt obligated to at least hear what she had to say.

"Sure," I replied, stepping aside and allowing her to enter. Bella walked into the room and I shut the door, watching as she wrung her hands together in front of her and gave me a tentative smile. I waited for her to speak because I literally had no words.

"I just...I wanted to say I'm sorry for last night," she began, tucking a strand of her long, brown hair behind her ear, "I had no idea you were Alice Brandon...and – I'm really sorry that I made you uncomfortable."

I bit my lip. "You didn't make me uncomfortable," I disagreed, "I was just...surprised. Yesterday was sort of overwhelming and you...you weren't what I expected. You caught me off-guard."

She looked down to her feet, nodding silently before her gaze met mine again. "Either way," she said with a shrug, "I'm sorry. I felt awful after you left."

"It's nothing, really," I replied. Silence plagued us once more and I pursed my lips, wondering if she had come all this way just to tell me she was sorry for startling me. "Is...that all?" I asked hesitantly.

"Uh...no, actually," she said as she motioned to the bed, "can I sit?"

I nodded, "Sure."

Bella sat down on the edge of the bed, running her fingers through her hair. I leaned up against the television stand, crossing my arms over one another as I waited for her to continue. She let out a small sigh and looked up at me, compassion clear in her eyes.

"I came to apologize for last night," she started strongly, "but I also wanted to apologize for Edward."

"Ah," I said with a humourless laugh, "so he sent you to do his dirty work."

Bella frowned, her forehead creasing. "No," she opposed, "he doesn't even know I'm here. Look, I just...I know that he was an asshole in high school. I know that he broke your trust and humiliated you...and I wanted to say I'm sorry for how he acted."

I cleared my throat, "I can see where you're coming from with all of this, and I'm not trying to be rude, but it's not your responsibility, Bella. You have nothing to be sorry for."

She sighed, "I know it's not my responsibility, but I wanted you to know that he regrets the way he treated you. He was hoping to tell you himself, but based on last night, I figured that you weren't exactly up to seeing him. I just didn't want you to leave this weekend without knowing that."

"Oh," I said dumbly, feeling as my eyes widened, "oh...uh, well...thanks. I-I really don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything," she replied, "but I would have hated myself if I had never come here. You deserve to at least know that he's sorry, even if it's coming from me."

"Well, thank you," I said sincerely, "it...it means a lot to me." Bella gave me a small nod and I mused, "You're really...nice. I wouldn't have expected someone like you to be with someone like Edward."

She laughed, "People tell me that all the time. He can be...difficult, but he's not the Edward you knew in high school." She paused as she lowered her voice, "To be perfectly honest, I hated Edward when we first met. He was arrogant and self-righteous...I couldn't stand him."

"What changed?" I asked curiously.

She shrugged, "He did, I suppose. I'm not really sure what it was...but he became this whole other person; a better person."

"Well...I'm glad he smartened up," I said with a small half-smile.

When Bella laughed in response, the tension between us disappeared.

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Dinner for that night was held in the Georgian, an elegant hall with lavish decorations and crystal chandeliers that lighted the room. I caught up with countless old friends, enjoying the great food and the classic, eighties music. I sat with Lauren and her husband during dinner, unfortunately suffering as Tyler Crowley graciously decided to join us.

He was just as unpleasant as the night before, touching me inappropriately despite my attempts to pull away from his unwelcome advances. Lauren shot me apprehensive glances as we ate but I didn't want to make it a big deal. I'd had the most amazing day with Jasper and a great conversation with Bella.

Nothing was going to bring me down.

I excused myself after dessert, breathing a sigh of relief when I escaped Tyler. I chatted with a few other classmates, but for the most part, I just really wanted to see Jasper. I hated that I only had tomorrow to spend with him and I had been thinking about him non-stop since we'd parted earlier in the day.

I headed back to the now empty table and sat in my spot, taking a moment to gather myself. I took a sip of my water and looked around the room, lowering the glass from my lips when I met Edward's gaze.

He just looked at me, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his dress pants, and I stared back. When a minute had gone by and neither of us had blinked, I lifted my hand and waved. He did the same, his lips pulling up into that same, crooked smile I had always remembered.

As I smiled back at Edward, I knew that I had accomplished what I had come here to do. I may not have talked to him like I had promised Rose but I had gotten the closure I needed; Edward acknowledged the fact that he had hurt me. He realized he'd made a mistake and he was sorry for what he had done.

It was all I had ever wanted; an apology.

Even though I felt confident enough to go over and say hello, I realized that I didn't want to. I had finally made peace with Edward Masen and I was in too good a mood to ruin it with painful memories. I looked away from him, and just as I was about to stand, my eyes were covered by large, warm hands.

I gasped, placing mine overtop as a deep voice whispered, "Guess who?"

I smiled, rubbing my finger over the ring on Jasper's thumb.

He was just the person I needed to see.