Anything but the Truth: A Story That Begins at the End

A Jasper and Bella, Human Fic

Bella looked up at him, her dark eyes framed by thick coal lashes.

He hadn't seen her in months, maybe even years. They had grown apart as friends often do. She was still the same in every way in Jasper's eyes. She had her long, beautiful hair. Her deep eyes. Her pale skin, her petite body. Not willing to break the silence between them, he stepped out of his doorway, watching as Bella backed to the wall across from his loft. He wasn't willing to wake his wife.

She kept looking at him, her soulful eyes wide and sweet. "You broke your promise, Jasper."

It was the last thing he'd ever wanted to hear, and it was the only thing he'd wanted to hear for years. He closed his eyes, trying not to show her how she'd left him. She was like a hurricane, leaving only destruction in her path. Did that matter to him?

Of course not. He loved her. "Bella."

She'd gone away, gotten married to a man named Edward, who Jasper had been good friends with. Edward, at the time, had been everything Jasper had not been: steady and dependable, safe, but he had never loved Bella the same way Jasper had. Jasper had been passionate and infatuated, drawn in and drowning in her before realizing that she had moved on and taken his life preserver.

She moved closer to him, trying to touch him.

Like a moth drawn to her open flame, he let her. His exhale was uneven. Her fingers were smooth as paint gliding across an untarnished easel. God. Her touch reignited that same flame that he had burned for her.

"Edward left me." The way she said it, like it was no big surprise, rocked him to his core. Edward had loved her, maybe not all the parts of her, but he had loved the whole. He had loved the fact that Bella could put on a good house wife face for all of his colleagues, and that she was easily one of the most beautiful woman in New York.

Those words changed the way he looked at her. No longer was she Edward's Bella, though looking at her clothes he would have guessed she was still very much his girl. She wore dark jeans, expensive and hanging low on her waist, and she wore a black sweater that hugged her curves, but she wore no rings, no jewelry. She was suddenly... attainable, as she had never been. Bella had always been in a relationship or moving on to her next relationship. She was only ever his muse, the one woman who inspired not only the artist in him, but the man in him. He had never found a moment that was perfect. Never found the perfect space in his puzzle to fit her piece. "Why are you here?"

She moved a blond curl from his face, smiling demurely.

He drew back as if she'd physically hurt him. "Stop."

"What?" Her fingers rested on his cheek. He felt as if his skin was burning under her touch, yet all she did was stand there, looking at him. When her fingers slid from his face to his arms, marked by injection sites, Jasper wanted to yell. He wanted to escape the confines of his own skin and get so far away from this woman that she would never come back. He jerked back as it was, pressing his back to his own apartment door, where his wife slept. "Why are you doing this to me?" Her voice broke. She had always been great at playing the victim and doing a pretty convincing job. "Edward left me, and I came here, hoping you would help me."

Jasper caught her fingers in a too tight grip. He had been clean for two years. The same amount of time that had passed since he had last seen her. If you thought about it that way, then Jasper supposed you could blame her for why he had taken the drugs, because if he could escape thoughts of her for a single moment, he had been happy. Being high on whatever it was he could get... That had been the ultimate freedom from her.

"I love you, Jasper." She blinked, her fingers trying to flex in his grip.

He felt like he was on sensory overload. She smelled like peonies.

"Help me." That didn't mean what it would appear to mean, and he knew this. He knew this phrase meant that Isabella Marie Cullen was preparing to take something from him, some part of himself that he could never get back and then turn around and walk away from him. Just like she had done to him four other times. Each time walking away with a little more of himself until all he had to go by were the pictures where she lay and the memories that she haunted. He was no longer himself. He was her version of him. Damaged. Hurting. Broken.

"I can't help you." Jasper said, pushing her hands back toward her body and dropping then. "I have nothing left to give."

"You've never given me anything." She whispered fiercely, her hands shaping themselves into fists. More softly then, "I need you."

Jasper flinched, stepping forward. "How can you say that?" He reached out, drawing her shoulders into his hands. "I've given you my art, where you lay on every canvas." There was one painting of her that struck him. It was after the time she had made off with his body. She lay in his bed, looking ethereal and serene. "I've given you my body, which only you've ever explored with a paintbrush." She had first introduced him to drugs. She had been his most passionate and longest lover. He had let her paint him as she saw him. "I've given you my mind, where you ghost along the pathways of my thoughts." He didn't ever stop thinking about her. Ever. "I've given you my very being, and you keep me locked up to you."

She stepped away, frowning. "Thats not true." Bella's eyes were wet and glistening. "You've got to help me."

This time, Jasper was adamant. "I have nothing left, Bella."

Bella looked up at him. "What about me?"

"What about you?" Jasper said, irritated that this had to be about her. Everything had always been about her.

"I've given you everything." She insisted, her nose held high.

Jasper laughed loudly, startling even himself. He sounded mad. He sounded sad. He sounded like a raving lunatic. She had never given him anything. This relationship, for her, had been about convenience and the influence she could have over him. When he had ended up dragging her into his life, of art and drugs, she had simply been able to turn away. "You've given me nothing."


"I have nothing, Bella." Jasper was tired. Jasper was weary. He wanted to go crawl back into bed with his wife. "I'm sorry you feel you've lost so much of yourself to me." He shook his head, hand on his doorknob. "You haven't though. You still lead a normal day to day life, you move on. I can't do that, Bella." He smiled ruefully at his broken and battered door, feeing a kinship. He was broken too. "You've taken every bit of me you could salvage and disappeared."


He looked into her chocolate brown eyes, having turned around. He looked into her eyes and saw the truth, as she saw it. She had done nothing wrong. She knew this was a destructive relationship so she had left. As he saw it, that was no excuse. Look at Alice. She was beautiful and smart and hard working and tenacious and she stuck by him. He sighed, leaning a hand on her shoulder and kissing her cheek. "I have nothing left to give you, Bella."

She left quietly, taking his life with her.

It wasn't cold, but Jasper sat on the bench on a street in Soho, shivering. He knew that this could have been from any number of things. It could have been his sense of foreboding at the discussion that he was about to have with the woman he couldn't bear the thought of losing. It could have been the sense that he was about to lose her. It could have been that last night he got drunk off his ass and woke up not feeling so great this morning. He'd ended up barfing. Anything.

He clutched the coffee closer to his body, slouching lower on the bench in a vain attempt to put more of himself under his jacket.

"You look like hell," she sat down next to him, her cell in one hand, her sunglasses in the other hand. It wasn't even sunny. This should have been the first indication. She'd just graduated from Dartmouth, literally about an hour ago. Her thick coat was short and stylish, something that his Bella wouldn't have worn.

He couldn't stop himself. "You look beautiful." As he watched her tough exterior, it softened for a brief instant. She was thinking about something really hard, he could see it. He could see it in her liquid eyes, so easy to read, and her red lips, so plump and sweet. "How was it?"

She looked at the ground for a long moment, biting harder still on her lip. She looked miserable and relieved all at once. "It was great. Carlisle and Esme came."

Once upon a time, Jasper had met Edward's mom and dad. They were both in their thirties and so young looking people frequently doubted their age. Carlisle had a weariness about him that came from years as a surgeon. Esme had a heaviness about her that mingled with her youth. She was beautiful, if there was nothing else to be said about her, but of course, there was. They were both into charity and orphans and all that crap, and Jasper found it irritating. No matter how perfectly you presented yourself to the world, you still have problems. Endorsing a new charity wasn't going to fix that. He sighed, hanging his head. "Good." She deserved nothing less.

"Can you promise me something?" Bella suddenly looked up, her brown eyes hypnotic and marred by the dark circles under them.

Jasper, trying to avoid the question, shrugged. He took a long drink of his hot coffee, waiting for the clarity that caffeine usually afforded him. When it did not come or wasn't coming as quickly as he wanted it to, Jasper shook his head, rubbing his fingers mindlessly over the little needle pricks that lined his arms. Couldn't Bella see that he wanted her so badly it hurt? Couldn't she see how much she'd already cost him? Looking up, he caught her gaze, holding it.

Putting himself out, putting himself at risk for hurt, made him hope that Bella could see what she'd done to him. She only ever came back to him to take more of him with her. It wasn't enough that they had had a passionate and destructive love affair while she dated Edward. It was as if she needed to cling on to him, drag him through her life with him. "I can't promise you anything."

She bit her lip, shaking her head. Her eyes filled with tears too rapidly for Jasper to even fully comprehend what was happening. "Why did you say that?" Her mouth parted, red lips wide. "I love you."

Jasper shook his head, reaching out to wipe tears from her soft cheeks. "I love you too." Even now, just touching her cheeks, brings him back to every moment they spent intimately. She was always so unsure in bed, but so sure outside of it. She knew how to lure him in, still does, and she still manages to spit him back out every time. And he manages to be surprised. He loves her more than he cares to say, more than he cares to think about.

When her tears stop falling, Jasper's hand is freezing, made colder by her tears. She is shuddering, and he tentatively puts an arm around her. She snuggles against his side, her hair smelling of strawberries. "Promise me you won't paint me anymore." She whispers into his ear.

Besides being intoxicated, Jasper shudders, not willing to make that promise. He has yet to find another woman that inspires him the way she does. The implications there are endless. He won't be able to think about her or call her late at night to invite her over or imagine her body or put any of these thoughts on canvas. This means no muse. This means no outlet for his frustrations. "Bella... I can't promise you that."

She moves from his body, holding his face in her hands. Leaning forward, she kisses him ever so lightly. Just a caress of her lips. Jasper's hands betray him though, moving to her waist. He swipes his tongue along her bottom lip, sensing the goodbye just beneath her surface. She allows him entrance, and he feels something hard on her finger swipe against his neck.

"What is that?" He murmurs, trying to find her hand.

She keeps her hands around his neck, tightened in his hair. "Promise me." Her eyes are bright with the future. Her future. "Just forget about me." She whispers, not moving her hands.

Jasper shakes his head. "Its not that easy, Bella."

"Please." Her voice is so naked with grief that he yanks her into his shoulder. "Let me go." She begs.

Lost, caught up in her emotions, he nods, willing to do anything to quiet her grief, make her see that things will be alright. "Bella, I promise."

She moves back, pulling away, and looks past him for a long moment. When she opens her mouth to voice what she has come here to tell him, Jasper knows they will never be the same. "Edward proposed." Her voice could've been mistaken for the wind she is so quiet.

Jasper suddenly realizes that she has come here to let him go. She has come here to tell him that their futures are not going to continue as they had been, together. That future in her eyes is not his to seek out. "Bella-."

"We're moving to Forks, Washington, Jasper." She looks down, seemingly sad. "They have a hospital there."

Trust Edward to steal the one thing Jasper really needed. Edward had always had a knack for being a selfish bastard. Feeling as if he is adrift in a huge ocean comprised almost totally of hurt and anxiety, Jasper shakes his head. "Why did you come here?"

She shakes her head, reaching out to him. Just like she always does. Hurts him, then reaches out to him. He imagines that if a woman was married to an abusive spouse it would be something like this. This same cycle of hurt and comfort, but always waiting, always wondering what will trigger the next cycle of hurt. He jerks back, stepping off of the bench. "I didn't come here to hurt you." She insists, her voice small.

"Right." You just came here to sever every heart string I have. Not saying this costs him, and she rises. "Wait."

"I love you." Her smile is rueful. "Even if you don't believe me. You'll never know how much I love you Jasper." She whispers, more quietly still.

Jasper is silent, already craving his next dose of drugs. He can forget if he can get his hands on those drugs. He nods, broken, first and foremost.

"Goodbye, Jasper." She walks up to him, her eyes watery and clear all the same. "I love you." She says, her hand on his arm. She turns, walking away.

Jasper drops his coffee, running to her. "Don't leave me." He pleads, grabbing her arm. He hauls her to him, kissing her with everything he is feeling. Her tears are salty against his lips. Her hands clutch his forearms where they are framing her face. "Stay." He murmurs, wondering if she could make his life better. Wondering if she can fix all she broke.

"I can't. I promised Edward."

"Fuck him." Jasper whispers, wishing he didn't get a mental picture of her doing just that to him. Edward had to be good in bed. He was good at everything else. Bella had to get pleasure from him. "Please. You can't leave me like this."

"I have to." She leans into his hand, kissing the center of his palm. "I have to leave."

"Come to my show tonight." She's never missed one.

"I can't." Until now. She disengages from him, smiling sadly. "I'll miss you."

"Love you." Jasper whispers to her back. Her heels click, fading, on the cement.

Jasper wonders if he will ever see her again, if he will ever stop loving her. He feels the jagged tear line in his chest, like a fault line. He is expecting the earthquake. It hurts more than he expected to watch her walk away with his love hidden in her back pocket. He wonders if she will think of him. If she means what she says.

He watches her walk away, hands in pockets. She walks quickly, slipping into a silver Volvo, taking his love with her.

"Hey." She leans against the door frame, her Japanese silk robe pulled tight over her shoulders. They live in the same apartment, much to Edward's chagrin. She lives one floor down. "What are you up to?"

Jasper smiles, putting the paint he's holding onto the end table, before looking her up and down. Tonight she went out on her first date with Edward, though Jasper doesn't know what this means for them. She has always been his muse, his friend, his reason for making art. He hopes this means that their relationship will gain that scandalous nature that so many artists search so long for. He hopes this means she will love him all the more fiercely for sticking with her and giving her the things she needs. "Nothing." Jasper sweeps aside the door for her, letting her into his room. "What are you doing?"

She shuts the door behind her, not turning to face him. "I went on a date with Edward." She is murmuring to his bitterly broken door. The last owner of this room wasn't as careful with it as Jasper was. It is now clean with modern furniture and warm colors on the wall, thanks to his parents and his art.

"How was it?" It is the polite thing to say, not the thing that he wanted to say, not really something he wanted to know, but something that people asked their best friends. He leaned against the wall, watching her shoulder blades and the elegant curve of her neck and back, the sway of her hips. "You don't have to tell me-."

She threw her arms around his neck, pressing her silk clad body closer to his. "I don't want to talk about him." She whispers, her breath moving against his neck.

Jasper is conscious of how he is not wearing a shirt in that instant. He has always made sure to cover the tattoos and the injection sites by wearing a shirt, at least until they are somewhere dark. He squeezes her tighter, not wanting to let her go. Afraid she may go back to Edward. Afraid she'd see just how messed up he really was. They'd only been friends for two years, after all. "Okay." Jasper lets her go, watching as she walks to his couch, lighting up and sitting down. She smokes the cigarette like no one hes ever seen before, like someone from an old movie. All elegance and grace.

Tentatively, he sinks down next to her, trying to turn the worst of the injuries away from her. Tonight he is surprisingly sober. No drugs, no alcohol, but he should probably thank his parents for that. They just left after visiting for the day, and he hadn't had time to go take out his stash. "What do you want to talk about?" Jasper murmurs, staring at his beautiful wooden coffee table.

Her robe has ridden up, and he can see the ridiculously creamy texture of her thighs and the dark hair that is hiding her womanhood. "I want to talk about you." She looks at him, her lips quirked into a smile that is uniquely her. All assurance and strength, bitterness and sarcasm. "How was your day?" She snubs out the cigarette, crossing her legs and turning to look at him.

"My parents came." He nods, trying to make himself remember the finer details of the day, the things that meant something to him. He remembers how they looked around his room, checking for alcohol or drugs. He remembers how he hid the boozes on the top shelf of his closet, and the drugs in the third drawer in his kitchen island. "They asked about the paintings. About you."

Bella blushes prettily, the color painting her breasts too. "Did you tell them?"

He wonders what she is talking about. That they are fucking? No. That she is his muse? Yes. Carefully, Jasper answers her. He is guessing she is talking about the sex. "No, I didn't."

The fight goes out of her, and she sighs, standing. "Come on."

He grabs her hand, trusting her implicitly. She takes him back into the studio, settling down onto the couch. As she sits, he realizes exactly what she wants. He drops her hand, walking to his easel. There, he sets up his paints and his brushes. When he is done, he looks up, seeing her naked on his couch.

The couch is one of those big leather ones, brown and plush. She lays there, as she has a million times, and has her robe slung over the corner. The black silk with the cherry blossoms contrasting rather beautifully with her skin. She has herself spread as she normally does. Her legs are over one arm of the chair, together, and her breasts are perched perfectly against her chest, nipples pebbled. She has her neck elongated and her hair is spread behind her, long and soft.

Jasper walks to her, standing beside her breasts. "Scoot back." She does as he said, spreading her legs in the process. He can smell her, smell her arousal, and it is all he can do to keep standing beside her, not going down on her. "Arms back, above your head." He situates himself over her on the couch, finally giving her the contact she wants. As she struggles to grind against him, Jasper moves his mouth down her neck, pressing kisses to her neck. When he gets to her breast, he pulls it briefly into his mouth, moving down toward her center, overwhelmed with want.

"Jazz." Her nickname for him that would haunt him for years to come. If he had realized that the way she said his name would make him feel so at home, with her, with their relationship, he would have made a rule: no talking. No talking at all. Don't say my name. Don't say anything to me, because it'll become a sledgehammer that you can swing at me. Instead, he breathes out her name, kissing down her snowy stomach as she arches into his hands, needy and eager.

"Bella." He whispers her name just before he licks her slit, giving her everything she wants, just like she likes it. She groans, purring as he licks and nibbles and kisses her. He lets one of his hands grasp her breast, tugging her nipple. Pleasure and pain and one hundred percent Bella. Jasper moans as her nails glide across his back, not worrying about the scars that she can surely see, that she is surely wondering about.

When her hands tug on his hair, so tightly he has no choice but to move his head back, sinking his fingers into her heat, he knows she is close.

"Come here." She moans, her voice cracking.

Jasper kisses up her body, struggling to refrain from going back down on her as her body wiggles tantalizingly.

Her fingers are urgent when she undoes his jeans, sliding her nails across his stomach rights above his penis. He throws his head back, pretending she is a painting. He needs to put every ounce of feeling into her, into this. "Bella."

She pulls his head down, kissing him hard and fast. As he goes back up, he thrusts into her, taking her completely by surprise. Bella moans out so loudly he fears for the neighbors as he lifts her legs over his shoulders, going deeper, thrusting harder. He is pure emotion, pure feeling, pure pleasure and drive and want. She is gasping a climax, but Jasper keeps going, knowing this is what she wants. She is a hundred shades of color and a thousand hues. She is his.

"Come on, Bella." He punctuates what he is saying with brief, hard, thrusts. She arches, twisting and pulling her nipples. "What do you want?" He pants, hand sliding between them to finger her clit.

"You." She pants. "All of you." With a little strength and a lot of grace, he switches them, so she is riding him. She is wet and grinding. "Fuck." Jasper has a single finger behind her, gliding into her anal opening. "Yes. Yesyesyes." She chants, a primal sort of song in her sweet voice.

She is grinding harder now, not lifting as high. Jasper begins to fuck her in earnest, not caring about how swollen she will be in the morning, not caring about what others will think. They are coming together and falling apart and meeting in the middle and retreating to their corners. Watching her toy with her own breasts, her head back, lips open, eyes just begging him to take her, he climaxes, gasping and halting while she follows.

There isn't a single thought spared as Bella keeps going.






Making love.


After a time, spent listening to her labored breathing and willing his own heartbeat back to a normal pace, Bella rolls over. Her nipples look red, and she is going to have a bite mark on her stomach, but Jasper likes looking at her like this. She looks passionate and crazy in love, ethereal but not, somehow. She pulls his head up to hers, tasting him.

He tastes of her. He gently moves a hand down to her breast, gently rubbing her sore flesh. She purrs, rolling full on top of him. He sits up, back against the couch, and watches as she fingers herself. "Bella." Makes it way through the misty fog that always surrounds his mind after he fucks her.

She laughs, a throaty laugh that is seventy percent aroused and thirty percent drunk on him, and kisses him again, taking her time to taste every crevice of his mouth, know every movement of his tongue. "Do you love me?" She asks.

He fondles her breasts, waiting as she brings her fingers to his mouth. He flickers out his tongue, holding her gaze. "Yes."

She laugh, a silvery sound this time. "You love this me." She murmurs, before sliding onto him.

In that moment, as he lets her ride him, suckling on her neck and breasts, he doesn't know what she means. There is no other her for him to love. Just this Bella. Just this girl that is vulnerable and breakable and stronger than anyone he has ever met.

In a moment of shocking clarity, spent sucking on Bella's pulse point and hearing her whimpers, he knows that he must have already given her his body without ever meaning to. He had tried so hard to come out this relationship fuller, better. He sighed into her, breathing her in, hoping she would, when she walked away, keep it safe


Her laughter is bright and filled with light as she giggles, turning her head away from him.

"Hey!" Jasper calls, biting back a response to her infectious laughter.

She grins, turning her face back to him with an apology on her lips. "Sorry." She murmurs, going back to gazing sadly off into the distance. This is one of the reasons he loves painting her. In her eyes, you could find the key to her soul if you wanted. She conveyed her emotions through her eyes, hardwired as they were.

Jasper had her sitting on his deck on the brown tiled ground, her legs pulled tight to her chest, her hair swept behind her neck but for a lock that sliced across the severity of her cheek bone and her large brown eyes gazing into the distance. She wore a white button down of his, draped over her shoulders and covering all of the essential bits, as his mother liked to call them.

She didn't have work for the day, and Jasper didn't have any classes, so after much negotiating on his part, he'd finally got her to sit for him.

"Tell me something about you that I don't know." Jasper whispered, scared to shatter this peaceful moment.

Looking at the side of her face as he was, he watched a smile quirk up her lips. "You hardly know anything about me." She blinked, seeming to grasp at straws for a moment before she fully turned to face him. "Something...?"

Jasper looked at her. He didn't really care what she told him, so long as he got to listen to the feminine clarity of her voice cutting through his after high cloudiness. "Anything."

Going back to gazing at the sunset, he watched her swallow, not speaking. "My dad left when I was four." She murmured, looking down at her own lap. "My mom drank herself into an alcohol induced liver failure at age ten." Bella was self deprecating to the core so she followed this up with a laugh, full of mocking for herself. "Explains how I turned out, huh?"

Jasper looked at her, hard, for a minute or maybe it was an hour. When he'd decided how to answer, he knew she would have something to say. She may even laugh at him. "I think you're beautiful," he whispered, hoping she would just smile, leaving the comment to settle between them.

She laughed, as he'd expected. "Right. Gorgeous."

Jasper frowned, dismissing her. "Everyone has secrets."

Her lips parted as the wind swirled her hair around her shoulders. She threw her head back, and Jasper wished more than he ever had that he was a photographer. People who took photographs captured millions of moments, froze them in time. Painters merely froze faces in time. Bella's youth and beauty, her light and dark personality. He laughed with her, putting down his paintbrush for a brief moment as he heard a guitar player start up on the street below.

He rose, going to Bella. "Dance with me?"

She smiled. "I only know how to bump and grind."

Not caring, Jasper pulled her up, watching as she self consciously didn't meet his eyes for a moment. "Hey." He said quietly, lifting her face. "I used to be addicted to heroine." He murmured, surprised that he had divulged something so personal to her.

Her head whipped up, her eyes wide and sad. "I'm sorry." It suddenly occurred to her that he would have track marks. She met his eyes before moving her hand to his forearm. It took everything in Jasper not to flinch. He had just told her a lie. What if she could tell what fresh track marks looked like?

He nodded, not knowing if he had another option.

When she lifted his black T shirt arm, to look at his wrist and veins, she inhaled quickly. "Oh, Jasper..." She shook her head, biting her lip. "I.. I'm so sorry." She rose on her tiptoes, pressing her very naked body to his. He teetered on the brink of indecision before wrapping his arms around her waist.

"Lets dance." He finally said, pulling back from her grasp. She placed her hands on his shoulders, as Jasper pulled her close to his chest. She was scared to move at first, not knowing quite where to go, but Jasper led her with a confidence that came from ballroom dancing lessons his mom had forced him to take.

He had no idea, as the sun began to set, how long they had been dancing, how long they had stood in silence together. As he thought about though, Jasper found he didn't mind. He found that the girl he was set to go out with tonight meant little to nothing if she wasn't Bella.

"Bella..." He breathed into her hair, surprised when she leaned up. Jasper leaned forward, caressing her hip where he held it, and brushed his lips with hers.

When he broke apart from her, she still looked like she was getting kissed. All emotion and shock. "Jasper. Don't stop." Her eyes opened, focusing on him with a dare hidden in their depths.

Not to be bested, he smiled, leaning back in to claim her ruby red lips. They kissed like they were young lovers, not wanting to miss a second. If he had known that they way she kissed him would haunt him, plague his dreams and his nightmares, he would have stopped her, but he didn't know.

After she left, he went back out to the patio, remembering his barely started painting. He had been too busy with her, enthralled with her to paint, but found that he remembered every detail of her perfectly. Her straight nose and deep brown eyes. Her ruby lips and pink nipples. As he leaned against the deck, pressing the needle into his vein, he breathed out, imagining a world opening below his feet.

Bella had taken him and his artwork by storm. Her vulnerable, fragile exterior made all the more interesting by her sarcasm and mocking. He breathed out shakily, waiting for a high to whisk him away. He didn't want to admit that she had taken his art, afraid as he was that she would somehow ruin it.

The girl who sat ahead of him smelled of vanilla and cigarettes. He knew he had no right, during his freshman year of college, to be sitting in a lecture and wondering if she always smelled this way. Wondering if she had a boyfriend. If the smooth skin of her back also covered every other inch of her body.

Jasper zoned back into the lecture just as the professor finished talking about the required reading. The girl ahead of him laughed quietly, her hands grasping a lighter, flickering it on and off.

Not being able to help himself, Jasper leaned forward, touching her shoulder. "Why are you laughing?"

She turned around and Jasper felt himself draw in a breath. Her eyes were big and brown. Her lips looked so soft he wondered what her chapstick tasted like. Her skin was perfect. "I've read them all." She smiled a private smile, indulgent and sweet.

Jasper smiled too, caught inside her web. "Did you like them?"

She smiled, holding his gaze before touching his arm. "They sucked."

He took her off to the coffee shop after class and spent the day with her, talking to her, telling her about his art. He listened to her talk, transfixed by everything about her. At the end of the day, when he dropped her off he asked her the one question that had been buzzing through his mind all day: can I paint you?"

She laughed. "Why do you want to paint me?"

Jasper had shrugged, looking her up and down. "You inspire me. You're beautiful."

Once back in his own room, he called his mom. When she answered he smiled, sinking into a kitchen chair. "I... I met this girl today. Her name is Bella."