Bella narrowed her eyes and stared at Jasper's lanky form, which vibrated with barely concealed anger. She had no clue why he would be so furious. At worst, she figured that he'd be annoyed at her decision to be so open and trusting with the Cullen's.
"What are you doing here?" she asked calmly.
"I drove your car, remember?" He rolled his eyes. Bella nodded in acknowledgment.
"You know what I meant. Why are you here a day earlier than we planned?" she asked in annoyance.
"This might be a conversation better held in private," he said snidely and looked over his shoulder at Edward, who was still standing by the doorway with his face still a mask of annoyance and confusion. She caught his eye and smiled slightly, trying to let him know that everything was okay, but she wasn't expecting the frown that marred his beautiful face. She shot him a confused look, but he was already staring daggers into Jasper's back.
Her head turned when she heard a commotion from the kitchen. The door swung open and Jack flew out of the room towards his uncle.
"JAZZ!" he yelled as he threw himself into Jasper's arms. Jasper laughed and hugged the little boy tightly.
"Jack-O! I missed you, kid! Have you been behaving for Mom?"
Jack hopped down to the floor and put his arm around Bella's waist.
"Yes, sir. I sure have."
Jazz grinned then ruffled Jack's hair.
"Where's Allie?" Jack asked. Bella smiled at him.
"She was held up at the shop and will be here tomorrow," she said quietly. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Esme and Carlisle standing off to the side. She smiled and grabbed Jasper's arm and lead him over to Jack's grandparents.
"Esme, Carlisle," she started, "this is my good friend, Jasper Whitlock. His wife, Alice, is my best friend and partner in the boutique."
The Cullens smiled at Jasper and welcomed him warmly.
"It's a pleasure to meet you both, Mr. and Mrs. Cullen," Jasper responded, adding on his Southern accent to smooth things over. Bella rolled her eyes slightly at his attempt to charm them. Esme grinned and Carlisle reached out to shake his hand.
"Please call us Esme and Carlisle! Of course, it's wonderful to meet you, Jasper. We've heard so much about you and your wife from Bella and Jack. You're very welcome here. We were just about to make breakfast, if you'd like to join us."
"Thank you, ma'am. I am a mite hungry after driving all night. Do you mind if I borrow Bella for a few moments, though? We have a few things to discuss." Jasper smiled at Esme.
Esme smiled and turned to Bella.
"Of course, dear. Feel free to use the study if you need some privacy. Jack and I will finish breakfast. Is that all right with you, Bella?"
"Thank you, Esme. We won't be too long." Bella gave Esme her best smile and nodded.
"Take all the time you need, dear!"
Jack and Esme disappeared into the kitchen while Carlisle made his way over to check on Edward, who still hadn't moved from his spot across the room. Bella turned to Jasper and jerked her head in the direction of the study.
"Let's get this over with," she grumbled and walked to the other room. Jasper followed quietly.
The door to the study slammed closed behind them. Bella whirled and glared at Jasper. She was furious and embarrassed at how he acted earlier.
"I can't believe how stupid you've acted, Bella! What happened to working as a team?" he asked angrily. "You could have been hurt. Have you said anything that would jeopardize your guardianship of Jack?"
"Really, Jasper?" Bella yelled. "Do you really think that little of my intelligence?"
Jasper grimaced and fought to keep the stern look on his face. "You still don't get it, do you? You put not only yourself, but Jack in danger. You should have waited until Alice or I got here. Anyone could have opened that God-damned door! And staying here? That's a monumental screw up, in and of itself!"
Bella stood with her arms crossed in front of her chest, seething in anger. She took a step towards one of her best friends in the world and shoved her finger into his chest. "Granted, it may not have the best idea to come here by ourselves, but don't you dare accuse me of being reckless with Jack. My instincts and judgement have brought me this far. You should trust me by now!"
"Bells, it's not your judgement that I'm worried about. How can you trust these people? You don't even know them."
Bella stopped and took a deep breath in through her nose.
"I know them well enough, Jazz. I know that that man out there loves his son desperately and has been in heartache for five years. I know that Esme and Carlisle are two of the kindest people that I have ever met. Jack has an entire family that loves and adores him. They never asked for any of this!" Bella's chest was heaving after her rant. Jasper looked at her in astonishment. "Are you finished?" he asked coldly.
Bella shook her head and sighed. She stepped closer to him and pressed her palm to his face. "Jasper, I love you. You're like a brother to me. I'm thankful to have you in our lives, but you can't protect us from every single thing."
"That doesn't mean that I wouldn't die trying, Isabella."
She laid her head against his shoulder and felt her anger slowly draining from her body. Her head knew that he was only trying to protect her and Jack, but another part of her felt indignant that he'd go off on her like that.
"Oh, Jazz," she whispered against his shirt. He reached around and wrapped her up in a tight hug.
"Dammit, Bella. I don't meant to trample on your Civil Liberties, but you two are my family. The thought of you out here all alone with no one to protect you made me see red. I love you guys."
"J, while I can understand protecting the people you love, I'm really upset that you just barged in here like that. It was rude and unfair. I'll tell you the same thing I told Jack the other day. I'm a grown woman and I don't need anyone to protect me. I can stand up for myself."
Jasper pulled back and looked down at her, with an odd look on his face.
"Why would Jack need to defend you, Bella?" he asked, suspiciously.
"Shit," she muttered under her breath. Jasper's eyes widened and his body tensed up.
"Number one, what happened, Bella? Number two, is it going to piss me off?" he asked in an angry voice.
She pulled away from him and walked over to a row of pictures.
"Well, regarding how you came in here guns blazing, I'm sure whatever I have to say at this point will piss you off."
Jasper put his hands on his hips and narrowed his eyes at her.
"Bella, this situation is precarious enough as it is. Do not make it any harder. Please tell me everything."
She sighed and sat down in one of the wing-backed chairs while she relayed the past two day's events to him. By the time she was finished he was looking at her with his jaw on the floor.
"Are you kidding me? Are you fucking kidding me right now, Bella?" he asked incredulously.
Bella bit her lip and looked over at him with wide eyes.
"What?" she asked, innocently.
He shook his head and ran his hands roughly through his honey blond hair.
"Do you have any idea what kind of fire that you're playing with? You should have waited for us. You're too sweet and trusting. That can be used against you. If these people choose to take you to court and fight for Jack, it can get very ugly."
Bella's eyes widened in disbelief.
"What do you mean, Jazz?" she asked quietly.
"Bella, Jack's adoption was based on the fact that he was abandoned. If the Cullens can prove that Victoria kidnapped him or was at fault 100% for his abandonment, the pendulum swings in their favor. You've said yourself that they never would have let him go. Are you really that naive to think that they'll just let you walk out of the front door and not have any legal claim to him themselves?"
Bella swallowed and looked down at the floor. When she met his gaze again, she had tears in her eyes.
"No, I'm not that naive, Jasper. I thought of every scenario before we came here. The potential benefits and positive outcomes outweigh the negative. I've gotten to know them a little and I've come across nothing that points in the direction that they'll take Jack from me. They love him too much to rip away the only mother he's ever really known. I know everything that can happen. I've had nightmares about the worst case scenario and I've daydreamed about the best. There's nothing you can say that will change my mind. I know I'm doing the right thing, even if there's a possibility that it will hurt me in the end."
Jasper dropped to his knees in front of Bella and wiped her tears away.
"Don't cry, Bell. Please. I can't stand this uncertainty and feeling like the floor will drop out on us at any moment. I don't want either of you to get hurt, and I'm sorry if I came on a little strong earlier. I was scared that something bad would happen, and I wouldn't be there for you."
A knock sounded at the door and Jasper called for them to come in. The door opened and Edward poked his head in. A look of pain flickered quickly over his face before settling into a blank mask. He cleared his throat and looked at Bella.
"I just wanted to let you know that Mom said breakfast was ready and also to see if everything was okay," he responded, somewhat awkwardly.
"Everything is fine," she answered quietly, giving him a small smile. He nodded and left hastily.
"I wonder what has him so worked up?" she pondered to herself. Her eyes flashed to Jasper when she heard him let out a small guffaw.
"What? What's so funny?" She asked. He shook his head and smirked at her.
"Really? You don't see it?"
She looked at him in confusion. "See what?" she asked.
"We're kind of in an intimate setting," he said as he motioned towards where he was still kneeling in front of her. "My money is that he thought I was your boyfriend and he was disappointed."
Bella's eyes widened. "You've got to be kidding me. Edward doesn't see me like that," she declared adamantly.
Jasper cocked an eyebrow playfully and shook his head.
"Whatever you say, Bells. Now, can we go grab some grub before my stomach claws it's way out of my gut?"
Bella laughed. "It's your own fault for going all 'Knight-in-shining-armor' and driving through the night. Aren't you exhausted, by the way?"
She looked at him a bit more closely and noticed the light blond stubble on his chin and his slightly blood-shot eyes.
"Yeah, but I knew I wouldn't be able to get any kind of rest until I got you guys, so I figured 'what the hell?' and just kept on driving."
Bella shook her head and stood up, taking his hand and leading him over to the door.
"Well, then, let's get you fed, my friend."
When Jasper and Bella made their way into the Solarium for breakfast, she notice immediately that Edward was missing. Carlisle, Esme and Jack sat around the large table, tucking into pancakes and bacon.
"I'm afraid that I need to apologize to you, Mr. and Missus Cullen," Jasper drawled out, laying his charming accent on thick. Bella fought the urge once again to roll her eyes.
"I was was very rude when I barged in here earlier. Not that it's any excuse, but I was worried about my friends."
Carlisle waved his apology aside and stood to shake his hand.
"It's not a problem, son. I can certainly understand being protective of your friends," he responded. Esme nodded her assent from across the table.
"Bella and Jack are like your family, correct?" she asked. Jasper nodded.
"Yes, they are. Bella is the sister I never had and Jack is my nephew." He looked over and smiled kindly at them.
"Well, then, how can we be upset? Our grandson is lucky to have had such good people looking out for him."
Esme motioned for them to have a seat at the table. Bella sat down next to Jack as Jasper sat across from them. Esme quickly noticed that Bella's eyes searched the room before sitting down and she had to hide her smile.
"Edward wasn't feeling too well, so he went back to bed," she said quietly, answering Bella's unspoken question.
Bella turned and shot Esme a confused look. He had seemed fine just a little while ago. She looked over at Jasper who cocked his eyebrow at her knowingly. Bella shook her head at him and began to fill up her plate. Carlisle and Esme engaged Jasper in conversation while Bella was consumed with her own thoughts, which tumbled over each other as she sat there and contemplated what Jasper had said to her earlier. Could Edward really have been upset that Jazz was her boyfriend? It didn't make sense to her. After a few minutes of poking at her food, her thoughts were interrupted by Jack.
"Did you hear that, Mom?" he asked excitedly.
"Hear what, baby?"
"Today is Dad's birthday! Can we make him a cake?"
Bella's eyes widened and she looked at Esme, who only smiled sadly at her.
"Oh! For real? Today is his birthday?" Bella asked, somewhat stunned. Esme nodded.
"Yes, today is indeed his birthday. Your showing up when you did was such a blessing. We haven't really celebrated anything in years."
"Huh," Bella muttered quietly as the wheels started to turn in her head. She turned to Esme once again.
"Would you mind if I helped Jack make him a cake?" she asked. Esme's smile was blinding.
"Of course! I don't mind at all. I think he would love it."
Bella chanced a look at Jasper out of the corner of her eye. He was looking down at his plate with a blank look on his face, so she had no way of gauging his reaction. Jack was thrilled, so that was the only thing that mattered to her at the moment as she smiled at her grinning son.
Esme and Jack cleared the dishes and Carlisle wandered off to check on Edward, leaving Bella and Jasper alone. He leaned back in his chair and gave Bella a thoughtful look.
"I think I understand now. They are completely disarming, aren't they?" he asked. Bella smiled slightly and nodded.
"They're good people, Jazz."
Jasper nodded, still contemplating what he wanted to say. After a moment, he took a deep breath and let it out.
"I still don't agree totally with you deciding to stay here, but I guess I can see why you would. You need to try and see things from my perspective, Bella. Not only am I one of your best friends and Jack's uncle, I'm your lawyer. I want nothing more than to protect you two."
She sighed and leaned forward to rest her forearms on the table and rubbed her forehead with her palm.
"Jazz, I understand where you're coming from. Really, I do. But I need to follow my heart and my heart says that the Cullens need this as much as Jack does. They're his family; part of his heart as much as I am. I'm sure we'll figure this out as best that we can, so that no one is left out."
"Well then," he sighed, "I guess I'll take off for the hotel. I need to get settled in and call Alice." He grimaced and Bella laughed.
"Good luck with that one," she giggled. "You deserve whatever she's going to throw at you, jerk."
He joined her laughter and stood up, following Bella into the kitchen.
Jack was drying dishes while chatting away with Esme. Jasper bid farewell to her before Bella and Jack walked him out.
Jack ran straight over to Nevaeh and hugged the front end, which caused the adults to break out in laughter. He stuck his tongue out at them.
"What? I missed her."
Bella walked over and ran her hand along the hood.
"I did too, Jack," she said as she ruffled his hair. After exchanging keys, Jasper drove off to the hotel, leaving a promise that he'd bring Alice over as soon as they could tomorrow.
Jack rummaged around for a minute in the back seat until he pulled out his board, smiling from ear to ear. He tucked it under his arm and pulled out one of his bags. Bella grabbed a pair of her own, before shutting the door and locking up.
"We need to take a road trip to sight see tomorrow. What do you think?" she asked him.
Jack nodded enthusiastically. "Sounds awesome, Mom."
"Ok, then. It's a date. Now, let's go see about making a cake, kiddo."
Bella worked on stirring melted chocolate chips for piping words, while Jack spread some fluffy chocolate buttercream over a cooled chocolate cake. Jack decided on a completely chocolate cake for Edward after Esme mentioned to him that his father was a chocoholic. She looked over and smiled at how Jack was trying hard to make the icing perfect and smooth.
Bella placed a piece of wax paper down on the counter before pouring the melted chocolate into a plastic storage bag. She used a pair of kitchen shears to snip the tip and begand piping out the words 'Happy Birthday DAD' and a few small decorative lines. She set the paper aside to let the candy harden so they could place it on the cake later.
She walked over and threw her arm around Jack's shoulder as he stood in front of the cake, looking at it proudly. He looked up at her and grinned.
"Looks good, doesn't it?" he asked.
She laughed and hugged him tightly with one arm.
"Yes it does, Little Bit. I'm sure he'll love it."
Jack looked thoughtful for a moment. "I think I'm going to go up and check him."
Bella smiled and nodded. "Sounds good. I'll finish cleaning up here. You go ahead."
She watched as Jack left room and sighed. Everything was jumbled up inside of her, and she couldn't think straight. After straightening up the kitchen and placing the cake in the fridge, Bella found herself standing in the library. She ran her fingers along the railing as she slowly made her way down the winding staircase. Once she hit the bottom of the stairs, she wandered over to the bookshelves on the left side of the room. There were many of the classics; a good number of them were first editions. She picked out a well-loved Winnie the Pooh anthology, by A.A. Milne, and settled into one of the over-stuffed chairs.
She sunk quickly into the tales of the little bear and his friends. Before she realized it, almost two hours had flown by.
Bella smiled to herself when she came across on of her favorite quotes of all time, which came from The House at Pooh Corner.
Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
"Pooh!" he whispered.
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw.
"I just wanted to be sure of you."
In that moment, she knew exactly how Piglet had felt in that moment. Life comes at you so quickly, that sometimes you just need to be reminded that you're not alone.
She closed the book silently and pulled out her phone to check the time. It was well after four p.m., so she decided to see what Jack was up to and maybe check her email. She stood and stretched her arms over her head. A voice from the landing above startled her.
"You know, I always loved reading that book to my boys at bedtime."
Bella looked up and smiled warmly at Carlisle, who was leaning on the upper railing. His flaxen hair shimmered slightly in the late afternoon sun that was pouring in from the windows.
"Emmett especially loved Pooh while Edward was more of a Tigger fan."
Bella laughed lightly. "I can just picture that."
Carlisle grinned. "Em would run around asking Esme for a "smackerel of honey" all of the time. Once he started that, Edward would be bouncing around the house in no time. I miss those days sometimes," he sighed, but the smile stayed on his face.
"Jack was looking for you a little while ago so I figured that I'd check in here."
She nodded and made her way quickly up the stairs. "Thank you," she responded as she stepped onto the landing.
Carlisle smiled. "It was my pleasure. Last time I checked, he was in the living room watching Dragon Ball CSI."
Bella snorted out a giggle and covered her mouth with her hand. "Excuse me," she murmured in embarrassment.
Carlisle looked amused, but confused at her reaction. "What was so funny?"
"Oh, um, it's called Dragon Ball Z Kai. It's a cartoon that he likes."
"Eh, Esme is the one who's hip, not I." Carlisle laughed lightly and shrugged.
Bella patted him on the shoulder comfortingly. "It's okay Carlisle. It's hip to be square," she said as she walked out the room. She grinned as his laughter followed her down the hall.
A little while later, Bella hid inside of the kitchen, along with Esme and Carlisle, waiting for Jack to bring Edward in for a surprise. Esme quickly lit the candle on top when they heard Jack's voice come closer to the kitchen.
"Come on, Dad! Please? You know you want ice cream, too."
Bella laughed as she listened to her son pull out his charm. It was usually devastating.
"Ugh, you're going get me into trouble, aren't you?" Edward sighed and then quickly laughed.
As they entered the room, Jack shouted, "Surprise!"
Edward's eyes widened as he took in the scene before him. His gaze came to rest on Bella and his face broke into a wide smile. Upon seeing that, Bella felt her chest warm and tighten. The fact that something so simple made her happy was a cause for concern to her. She had only known him a few days, but she was becoming attached to him as quickly as she had his son. The Cullen charm was definitely not working in her favor.
"Wow," he said, in awe. "Thank you so much. It looks amazing."
"I helped Mom make the cake, and I frosted it. She did the writing, though. Her's is prettier."
Edward looked down and Jack and smiled before looking up Bella. "Thank you," he mouthed silently to her. She nodded shyly and looked down.
After the cake had been cut and eaten, Esme suggested that they have a movie night. Jack, who loved that idea, rushed upstairs to get change into his pajama's and brush his teeth. Bella watched Edward leave the room and heard the front door shut shortly afterwards. Something twinged in her chest and she suddenly felt sad. She looked up and noticed that Esme was watching her.
"You know," Esme said to her kindly, "I think he might be a bit overwhelmed. I'm sure there's lots of things on both of your minds. Maybe you could scratch each other's backs?"
Bella raised an eyebrow at Esme. She was beginning to think that the older woman was trying her hand at Cupid. She shook her head and let out a small sigh. She bit her lip and her eyes found themselves locked on the door that he had walked out of.
'What the hell,' she thought to herself, before setting down the towel she was holding and followed his path. She opened the front door and found Edward staring off into the distance, while seated on one of the front porch swings. Upon hearing the noise from the doorway, he glanced over in her direction and gave her a small smile before resuming his viewing. Bella walked over and sat down next to him. She turned and leaned her back against the side, pulling her right leg up and underneath of her. He turned his head slightly and smirked at her.
"How does it feel to be an old man?" she asked, trying to hide her smile.
He smiled widely and shook his head. "I'm not old."
Bella laughed and shook her head. She noticed that his smile fell as he stared off into the sunset. She nudged him with her foot and he turned to give her a small, sad smile.
"In my mind, I feel like I'm still 22," he sighed. "I haven't really celebrated a birthday in almost five years. It never felt right. It always hurt to realize that another year passed without him."
Bella's chest ached and she reached out to squeeze his shoulder in comfort. He swallowed quickly and attempted to change the subject.
"I'm surprised that your boyfriend didn't hang around longer."
"Oh!" Bella said in surprise. "Jasper isn't my boyfriend," she laughed. Edward turned to look at her in confusion.
"He's not?" he asked. His voice sounded much lighter than before.
"No, he's more like a brother. He and his wife, Alice, are my best friends. They were supposed to drive up together, but she was held up by work."
His face relaxed and the tension seemed to ease from his body.
"Oh, okay," he said quietly. A breeze picked up and the wind blew a few strands of her hair across her face. Edward reached out tentatively, almost like he was afraid to touch her, and tucked her hair behind her ear. His hand lingered for a moment and her breath caught in her throat. His eyes had darkened and taken on a deeper quality. He took in a deep breath and closed his eyes.
When he re-opened them, she saw that they had changed, but she couldn't quite decipher the new emotion showing in them. He pulled back and smiled at her.
"Well, I guess we have a movie to watch?" he asked as he stood up and reached for her hand. Bella glanced at his long fingers before looking up at him shyly from under her lashes. She smiled and placed her hand in his.
AN: As always, Teasers get sent to everyone who reviews! Love you guys and see you next week!