Disclaimer: S. Myer owns all, but what I wouldn't give for a Jasper of my very own-sigh.
A/N- If you thought the last chapter needed a tissue warning…well, let's say even I got teary with this one. Thank you for sticking with the boys. Songs to listen to….Let it Be, Imagine, Yesterday, Long and Winding Road, Ooooh Child, and of course, Maybe I'm Amazed.
This chapter is unbeta'd, all mistakes, grammatical and otherwise, are mine.
Now Edward's pov
If on a winter's night we hadn't found ourselves in times of trouble…
It was done.
We were done.
The second Jasper snapped his hands from the mine, the second I saw anguish flood his blue eyes, I knew it was too late. The words were already out, I couldn't take them back. Instantly, my heart broke into pieces as I witnessed his confusion and shock, varying emotions quickly etching and erasing on his face before settling on agony. At first I thought he wouldn't believe me, that he would shake his head and laugh and ask me if Riley was as good a kisser as he looked, but he knew, my boy knew I was telling the truth.
He just didn't know why.
I wasn't sure I did either. I didn't set out to hurt Jasper, I didn't ask Riley to kiss me, but if it was the one thing that set Jasper free of his burden from a life with me, then any amount of pain I suffered would be worth it. Part of me wanted to explain, tell him why I wasn't good for him, why he needed to be as far away from me as he could get, but before I could speak, he bolted upright, his hands anxiously rubbing his thighs. Looking up at him, I didn't pretend or try to hid anything, I let him see how much pain I was in, the shame I already carried inside me, the regret from having just hurt the most important person in my world.
Fuck, he was my world, and no amount of distance or time would ever make that untrue.
"I gotta go," he mumbled as he looked away and stepped around my chair.
My heart sank at the click of his ring on the doorknob. The tears began to roll faster down my face, but I had to know one thing.
"Did you make States?" I whispered.
The door swung open and his footsteps echoed down the hall as he ran, just like I had wanted him to. I heard the front door open and bang shut alongside my heart. My head hung, my chin on my chest as the sobs began to wrack every inch of my upper body. Useless legs remained lifeless, mocking the rest of my body as it shook uncontrollably. Clenching a fist, I slammed it onto my thigh, waiting, praying, to feel the pain that should have rocketed through me. There would be a bruise in its wake the next day, but the pain still eluded me. I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping it would stop the constant flow of tears, but they escaped from the sides, traveling down my cheeks and neck in rivers until absorbed by the cotton of my shirt. Again and again, I hit my legs as hard as I could, not caring about what marks I was leaving behind.
I just wanted to feel the pain
I just wanted to fucking feel something.
The door squeaked behind me, and I sucked in a shaky breath. He'd come back.
Everything was going to be okay.
Just as I wiped my eyes, he spoke.
It wasn't Jasper.
The sobs began again, shaking me so hard I wasn't able to answer my father, tell him to go away, that I was fine. Instead, he was by my side, his hand on my shoulder as the air filled with his concerned silence.
"Why-won't—they- work?" I choked out between shallow breaths. "Why—the-fuck-won't-they work?"
He didn't speak, but he kneeled in front of me like Jasper had, his surgical fingers wrapping firmly around my wrists, pinning them to my thighs. Keeping my blurry vision on his thumb stroking the back of my hand, I continued to let the agony fall. My shoulders shook, my chest heaved and my father held me, attempting to calm me in the only way he knew how. Before I could protest, his arm was under my knees while his other snuck behind my back. Not as swiftly as Jasper, he stood, lifting me with him and taking the few steps to my bed. As he set me on it, I wanted to tell him I hadn't done my nightly routine, but even if I could have gotten the words out, he wouldn't have listened. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he took my hand in both of his again, clamping them around mine.
Heavy and weary, my head relaxed against the pillow. I tried to pry my swollen eyes open to look at him, but I couldn't. Instead, I focused on his even breaths and the feeling of warmth emitting from him. He didn't undress me, but he did cover me with the fleece blanket on the end of my bed.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked once my own breaths had ebbed from shallow and shaky to deep and trembling.
I couldn't tell him. I couldn't tell him how I'd hurt Jasper, how he was too good for me. No, I couldn't tell my father I'd broken my boy's heart, and mine right alongside it. I couldn't tell him about Jasper, Riley, or how his only son was not only crippled but gay too. I was broken enough in his eyes, I couldn't make it worse for him.
Within seconds exhaustion hit me. I shook my head, unable to even raise the energy to say no. I wasn't sure how long he stayed with me, but I fell asleep with his hands covering mine.
The room was dark when my eyes fluttered open weakly. I felt cold and alone.
But I wasn't alone.
Drifting my gaze to the corner, I saw the darkness, its wispy fingers curling in delight and eager anticipation as it grew larger than ever before.
"Please," I begged in a whisper, willing Jasper to be by my side to fight the battle I was surely going to lose. I swear I felt a familiar warmth next to me, fingers tangling with mine, a head leaning against mine.
"I'm here," he promised softly.
I watched the shadows twist and turn, working up my bed, nearing my feet. My heart pounded as I waited for Jasper to fend it off, to beat it back like he did every other time, only nothing happened. The warmth was gone, my hand empty. Giving up, I didn't even turn away when the darkness gripped my still legs. I felt it envelope me, surround me. It might as well have me, I didn't have any reason not to give in.
Daylight pierced my closed eyes and I struggled to open them. I felt heavy and weak. Normally, my first few seconds of consciousness were my favorite part of the day, the only part of my life when I thought I could still walk, but that day, walking wasn't the first thing I thought of. Instead, my first thoughts were of Jasper and the horrible dream I'd had. Just as my mind woke enough to call him, I remembered.
The nightmare was my reality.
My phone sat on the bedside table and I reached for it, blindly fumbling I tapped Jasper's number and held the phone loosely to my ear. I wasn't sure why I was calling, I didn't expect him to answer, I certainly didn't know what I was going to say if he did answer.
"Hey, this is Jasper, you know the drill…"
Then I knew why I had called. I needed to hear his voice, smooth and velvet, reassuring in its timbre. Even if I couldn't see him, I knew he was still there somewhere. Exhaling a long breath, I disconnected the call and toss my phone on the bed. Sighing, my head lolled to the side and I let my eyes close, returning to a fitful sleep.
Someone was shaking me. Hoping it was Jasper, I used all my strength and opened my eyes.
"Your father said you were staying home from school today, but I wanted to check on you," my mother smiled at me before placing the back of her hand against my forehead. "You don't feel feverish."
"Stomach," I groaned quietly.
"Were you sick last night?"
Not in the technical sense.
Ignoring my lack of response, she looked down my body. "Why don't you go do your routine, I'll get a few things for you."
She left, leaving my door open. The sounds of her movement in the kitchen carried down the hallway and into my room. I could barely move, much less get into my chair, push to the bathroom, and use a catheter on myself. Instead, I closed my eyes, letting the images of Jasper swamp my thoughts and run down my face until I fell asleep again.
The hand was as gentle as my mother's but more insistent, firm.
"Have you used the bathroom today?"
With my eyes closed, I shook my head. "Can't," I mumbled.
I heard his movement in my room, my eyes vaguely tracking him behind my lids by the sounds he made, footsteps around my bed, opening boxes, tearing paper. There was no resistance when I felt the bed dip. Keeping my face away from his, I pretended I didn't know what he was doing.
He was silent as he inserted the catheter into my dick.
A few minutes later, the bed shifted and I heard him leave the room, then a toilet flushing in the distance before he returned.
"Do you want help changing?" he offered and I shook my head.
I didn't want any help.
"I got you out of school today, but I don't think I can hold her off tomorrow," he told me quietly.
"Tell her I'm sick," I begged weakly.
"She's not going to buy it for more than a day or two."
"Fine," I sighed, not wanting to raise suspicions anymore than I already had. "I'll go."
His warm hand rested on my shoulder for a few seconds before it was gone and I heard the clicking of my closing door. Reaching for my phone on the bed next to me, I ignored the text message alerts and habitually dialed Jasper, tapping speakerphone and letting the ringing fill the empty room before his voice mail answered.
"Hey, this is Jasper, you know the drill…"
The tears started fresh when I hit end and silence once again overwhelmed me. Seconds later, the darkness skittered across the floor, weaving around the posts of my bed before floating over the mattress toward my helpless feet. I refused watch it wrap itself around my legs again.
There were kids everywhere, chatting and laughing, lockers slamming, doors closing, and bells sounding for class, and yet, I barely heard any of it. Everything was far away and too close, the sounds muffled by the thoughts still racing through my head. Even though I knew I wouldn't find him, my eyes constantly scanned for his blond waves above everyone else. Their faces blurred into each other, and I never found the one I needed most of all.
The ache in my chest, the one where the gaping hole was, increased impossibly as I slowly pushed my chair down the wide corridor. There were no classes for seniors that day, we were only there for graduation rehearsals. I could almost feel him beside me, shaking his head.
"Do they really think we can get ourselves into college, but need three days of learning how to walk in a line?" he asked, his waves swinging in his disbelief.
"Well, it is alphabetical," I chuckled and he whacked my shoulder.
"Hey, Edward," Bella greeted me as I entered the gym for the senior assembly. "Where's Jasper?"
"How the fuck should I know?" I snapped, instantly regretting it when her eyes flickered in surprise.
I should have apologized, but I just rolled away with the darkness by my side instead of Jasper.
I couldn't even say his name aloud, much less talk about him to someone else. Exhausted, I'd barely made it to school on time, even after having skipped my morning shower for the second day in a row. After waking long after my alarm had gone off, I moved to my chair and used a catheter before using my remaining energy to change into clean clothes. I remained silent for the ride to school, barely containing the emotions surging through me. I didn't want to face any of them, I didn't want them to see the guilt surely showing on my face. They would know how I'd cheated, how I'd hurt Jasper, but they wouldn't know it was for his own good. With the darkness next to me, I went through the day, hardly speaking a word to anyone and ignoring the constant looks of worry from Bella.
The day ended early, and I didn't remember any of it as I coasted down the ramp to my mother's car parked in the bright blue handicapped space. Staring out the window the entire way home, I didn't hear a word she said. I only heard the strengthening darkness, its many promises of comfort in the numbness it offered me. It would protect me, keep me safe from heartache and those who looked down on me. It volunteered to build a wall around my broken heart, one that could never be penetrated by anyone ever again. Weakly, I sighed, almost nodding to myself as I agreed to the conditions.
I would simply give myself over to it.
Anything had to be better than the constant pain I felt coursing through me.
Pulling into the driveway, my mother shifted into park and got out. Once my door was open, I transferred to the chair and pushed away from her toward the ramp. My chin rested on my chest as I slowly pushed up the incline. Reaching the door, I paused.
A familiar feeling washed over me, temporarily shooing the darkness away. Hopeful, I turned toward the feeling, squinting in the midday sun as I searched for the source. It had to be him, he was there, but I couldn't see him. No, he wasn't there, the feeling was nothing more than wishful thinking. Turning the knob, I pushed the door open and entered the house.
Within in minutes I was in my room and parked in front of the window. I think it was sunny outside but it was dark in my room. Everything lacked color and meaning. The blackness around me shook its airy head, scoffing at how dramatic I was being. Jasper was nothing, it told me. He had only remained with me out of pity, not because he wanted to but because he had to.
Closing my eyes, I nodded. I knew the smoke was right, I had no doubt Jasper had stayed by my side only out of obligation to our relationship. Of course, part of me knew Jasper would have never stayed with me if he didn't love me entirely, but that part of me didn't matter anymore. That part of me was gone.
The hours blended into each other, I had no idea how many had passed. I'd barely noticed night had fallen outside. I remained in the chair, my eyes blankly staring at nothing. Around the wheels of my chair, the blackness danced and wafted, greedily feeding on my misery, filling my emptiness with doubt. Pulling my phone out of my pocket, I called him again.
"Hey, this is Jasper, you know the drill…"
"Hey, this is Jasper, you know the drill…"
"Hey, this is Jasper, you know the drill…"
And again and again and again.
Part of me was desperate for him to pick up so I could hear him, maybe, just maybe, I could tell him I was sorry and ask for forgiveness.
Maybe we could…
There was a tightening around my chest, a pressure that stole the air from my lungs and crushed my heart. My eyes looked down to find the darkness wound around me, its sheer tentacles laced together to grip my body, my soul. I clasped the phone in my hand, my lifeline to the one person who could save me. Gasping, I held my breath, waiting for the ache to ease. Gradually, it loosened, but never left. Every breath I took it claimed as its own. It seemed hours before I was able to breathe deeply, freely, without the constriction around me.
The phone fell from my hand and dropped to the floor.
The day was a repeat of the one before it. I woke a shaking mess, my eyes stiff from the many tears that had fallen during the night and my hair was greasy and plastered to my head. I probably reeked of body odor, but I didn't care enough to shower. Rubbing my eyes, I glanced at the corner, relieved to find the darkness faint and still. Not that it mattered, it already possessed me. Every muscle that could ache did as I sat up and moved to my chair. I barely remembered getting into bed the night before, vaguely recalling my mother coming in and asking about dinner and basketball practice. When I had called Jasper, I'd seen messages on my phone from Riley, but I hadn't been able to bring myself to text him back. It was too soon.
Dressed in the same clothes as the day before, I rolled down the hallway of school once again heading to the gym where the seniors gathered before rehearsals. I felt Jasper next to me, his presence faded but there. If I concentrated hard enough, I was sure I could feel the weight of his hand on my shoulder and hear his chuckle as he shook his head.
I had just entered the gym alone when Mr. Bradshaw approached me, a clipboard in one hand and a pen in the other. "Edward, just the person I wanted to see," he greeted. "I've rearranged the order of speeches, and now you will be going after Mr. Giles"
Confused, I furrowed my brows and looked up at him. "What?"
He wrote something down on the paper. "That's what I like, Edward, a valedictorian with a sense of humor."
I had to write a speech to deliver to my fellow classmates and hundreds of guests, and I needed it done in a day.
"Mr. Bradshaw, I've been pretty sick and haven't—"
"I'm sure it'll be wonderful, Edward," he smiled, "after all you've overcome."
He walked away before I could say anything else.
"Fuck," I murmured.
"Edward," Mr. Harter smiled as he neared. "I've got great news."
I tried to muster the energy to care, but only managed to lift my eyes to him.
"The committee met and reviewed your application, and have awarded you the music scholarship." He was practically bouncing with excitement.
I should have been too but without Jasper to share the news with, it didn't matter. None of it did.
"That's great, Mr. Harter, thank you," I managed weakly.
He tilted his head, looking slightly confused, but my understated reaction wasn't enough to squash his energy. "I'll email you the details after graduation. Congratulations, Edward."
I shook his hand limply before he walked away.
"… haven't seen Jasper at all, have you?" a voice said behind me. Cocking my head to the side, I listened.
"No, but Mandy saw him running yesterday," another giggled. "He's so hot."
"Why isn't he here? Did he not graduate…"
Whipping the chair around, I pushed it as fast as I could toward the exit, barreling into the bathroom across the hall. Once inside, the cold metal door swung closed. Rolling to a stop in front of the sinks, I burst into tears. Jasper was leaning against them, his image fragile and transparent, but he walked over to me, dropping to his knees in front of me, his smile small as he worriedly pushed my hair back.
"Babe…." he sighed right before he faded away. "Why are you doing this to yourself?"
Sobs turned to convulsions as I desperately tried to salvage myself and claw for something to hold on to.
Just then, that something spoke.
The voice was soft, gentle and coaxing.
"Are you okay?"
I wanted to shout it, lift my shirt and expose the fresh wound where my heart had formally been. I wanted to show my shattered life. I shook my head and she immediately rushed to me, crouching in front of me with one hand on my lap and the other tenderly threading my hair. Through watery eyes, I could see the outline of her big brown eyes and long hair.
"It's Jasper, isn't it?" she said knowingly, already having put his absence and my devastation together. "Is he okay? Did something happen?"
I couldn't speak, I could scarcely acknowledge she was in the boys' bathroom with me. Quiet, soothing sounds came from her as she attempted to calm me. It was no use. After several moments of telling me it was going to be okay, she took my hands in hers.
"I'm getting you out of here," she said with determination.
I didn't know if she meant the bathroom or the school or the town, and I didn't care, I would have followed her anywhere if she took me away from the pain.
I have no idea how she did it, but I was being pushed down the corridor, the tiles passing quickly under my wheels. At the exit, she slammed the handicapped button, waiting impatiently for the doors to open before pushing me through them and down the ramp. The air was warm and humid, my dirty clothes already sticking to me. Stopping next to her beat-up truck, she opened the passenger door and then looked at me.
"Shit," she muttered.
I outweighed her by at least fifty pounds, there was no way she could lift me into the cab of the truck. She wasn't Jasper.
"Mike? Can you meet me at my truck for a minute?" I heard her ask before shoving her phone in her pocket. "He's coming."
I didn't even care that Mike was going to see my crying, or have to help my feeble body. He seemed to appear only a few seconds later, not so gently lifting me and setting me in the cab. Before I could say anything, he closed my door and Bella was climbing behind the wheel. The darkness sat between us, leaning against me, reminding me she wasn't him, she had no power.
"Fuck off," I snapped quietly at it.
"What?" Bella asked as she pulled onto the main street to my house.
"Nothing," I sighed, closing my eyes and resting my forehead against the cold window.
The ride was rough, Bella was still trying to get the hang of driving a manual shift, but I was grateful to no longer be at school. When we stopped and I heard her door open, I cranked my eyes open just in time to see her at my side opening my door. Placing the chair as close as she could, she waited for me to slide to the edge, then slid her hands under my arms and supported me as I basically fell into the chair, landing with an awkward thud. My arms landed by my sides, too weak to grab the handrails. Kicking the door closed with her foot, Bella pushed me up the ramp, clumsily opening the door and getting me inside and down to my room. I rolled to the window, stopping in front of it, my eyes working to focus on anything outside. Bella closed my door and walked over to me, crouching in front of me once again.
"What's going on, Edward?"
How could I tell her? How could I tell her I had broken Jasper's heart and I wasn't sure why. The darkness told me it had been the right thing to do, Jasper was better off without me holding him back, and maybe that was true. For weeks following the accident I had tried to push him away, forcefully telling to leave me alone, even hitting him, and yet, he'd stayed no matter what I had said or done.
What I had done, what I had let Riley do, hurt Jasper far worse than any harsh words or fists. I just…I just hadn't thought it through enough to realize how painful it was going to be. That it would feel as though my heart was being ripped from my chest, twisted and torn and bleeding. The agony was far worse than any I had suffered after the accident. Even being told I would never walk again didn't hurt as much as not having Jasper by my side.
I blinked away the tears that pricked my eyes and kept staring at my lap as Bella patiently waited for me to answer.
"It's over," I mumbled barely aloud. "Jasper and I are done."
Somehow saying the words made it all too real.
"What?" she gasped. "Why?"
"He deserves someone better. Someone who isn't broken," I said in a shaky whisper.
"Edward," she demanded softly, "look at me."
I didn't move.
Her fingers were on my chin, lifting it and forcing my eyes to hers. Tears brimmed the edges of chocolate eyes as she stared at me. I'd dated Bella long enough to know she wasn't going to let it go. She might not have been as stubborn as Jasper, but she had a quiet strength about her that had never let me down. Even though the darkness had claimed she wasn't powerful like Jasper, it had retreated to the corner in her presence.
"You listen to me, you are not broken. You are a beautiful person inside and out. This," she motioned to my legs, "does not make you broken. It makes you stronger than anyone I've ever known, including Jasper. You didn't give up, Edward. You fought to get your life back, and you succeeded."
"I didn't," I choked out, my breaths quickly becoming rough.
She didn't understand. My life was a failure without Jasper in it.
"I don't know what happened, but you can make it right, Edward," she said surely.
"I can't. He's gone," I murmured. At the finality of the words, a sharp pain pierced my heart, forcing the air from my lungs and I panted for breath.
Bella sighed. "Edward, Jasper will never be gone, don't you know that? No matter how far apart or for how long, he's yours for the rest of his life."
"I hurt him," I cried.
"Then you can fix him," she assured me.
I wanted to believe, so fucking much I wanted to believe her, but deep inside my decimated heart, I knew otherwise.
"What can I do?" she offered.
"Just stay," I begged.
Rising up, she kissed my forehead. "Always."
For the remainder of the day, she did as she had promised. Not even changing position, she held my hand and rubbed my thigh. In vain, I tried to absorb her strength like I so often did with Jasper, and while I knew she had it, I couldn't access it like I could with him, but the longer her hands were on mine, the more the ache dulled. She only spoke when my mother came in to check on me, putting on a cheery voice and pretending all was fine. Then she returned to me, giving me a sad smile.
"I think you should call him," she suggested.
"I tried, he won't answer."
Not that I blamed him.
"Have you tried his house?" Pulling my phone from my pocket, she handed it to me and raised a brow.
I found myself pressing the numbers to his house phone and panicking when it began to ring.
"Hi, Mrs. Whitlock…is Jasper…there?" I tried to sound normal.
"He's sleeping, Edward, want me to wake him?"
"No, thanks. I'll call him later," I rushed out, partly relieved.
"Do you want me to give him a message?" she offered.
I need him.
"No, that's okay."
"Edward," she hesitated before switching to her mom voice. "Is everything okay?"
"Yeah," I lied again. It was getting easier. "I just called to see if he knew what time rehearsal is tomorrow."
"Okay, I'll have him call you," she said. I could almost hear her mind putting the clues together. "Take care, Edward."
"You too." Pressing disconnect, I dropped the phone into my lap and sighed. "He's sleeping."
"Promise to try him again later?" Bella half asked, half demanded.
Hoping to appease her, I nodded.
"I need to run home, I told my dad I'd make dinner, but then I'm coming back."
"It's okay," I tried to smile. "I'm fine."
"Bullshit," she replied.
"I just need some time," I said, repeating what I'd heard people say in the movies. Bella eyed me, judging my words and taking in my disheveled appearance.
"I'll call you later, and you call me if you need me," she said, cupping my cheek.
"I will," I vowed.
Satisfied, she stood and kissed my forehead again. "It'll be okay."
I don't think Bella had ever been more wrong.
A minute later, the door clicked closed and I was alone with the darkness. My fingers tightly clutched my phone, holding onto it for dear life. I didn't have to look at the corner to know the smoke was stirring to life, readying to crawl to me, to welcome me into its grasp once again. The only way to stop it was Jasper. Barely looking at the phone, I tapped his cell number and lifted the phone to my ear.
"Please help me," I begged in a whisper.
The blackness grew, thickening the closer it got, flittering around the dirty clothes on my floor. Snapping my eyes shut, I refused to watch it engulf me.
Then there was a sound, muffled, weak breaths as shaky and defeated as my own.
"Jasper?" I choked out.
I love you.
There were more breaths, and a sob. "I sacrificed everything for you," he spat suddenly.
The anger shouldn't have surprised me. He had every right to be angry, but I felt my heart break even more. Around my feet, the darkness swirled, encouraging me as it wound up my legs. Jasper was right, he had sacrificed for me, but he'd never asked me if he could. He never asked me if I wanted him to.
"I never asked you to," I sighed weaker than ever.
"No," he agreed in a whisper, "you didn't. I did it…I did it all because I love you."
Love, not loved.
Hope rose in me, a brief swelling inside me that maybe it wasn't completely over, but just as I went to speak again, the phone line went dead. He'd hung up.
With tears streaming down my face, I whipped my phone at my bed. Then I reached for the next closest thing, a book, and threw it at the wall. More books followed, then dvds, pictures, anything I could pick up and throw with force. Each time something shattered against the wall or the floor, I felt a pang of satisfaction. Snickering all around me, the darkness cheered me on, growing denser with each item I broke. Breathless, I continued, tears streaming down my face as I gritted my teeth and threw a basketball trophy, the fake gold pieces snapping from the marble base and cheap plastic stand.
I had no use for basketball anymore.
I had no use for anything.
As I reached for the next victim, there was knock on my door.
"Everything okay?" my father asked through the wood.
"Fuck off," I growled.
At my computer desk, I dragged my arm across the surface, wiping everything off it and watching it fall to the floor. Turning the chair, I went over to the nightstand and picked up my lamp. Lifting it above my head, I smashed it to the floor. My alarm clock was next to meet the same fate. Suddenly exhausted, I fell forward onto the bed. As angry as I was, the tears had never stopped. Sniffling, I crawled from the chair onto the bed and collapsed onto the pillow. Not caring my legs were twisted, I closed my eyes. The storm that had raged through me slowly dwindled, the fury easing into the numbness I'd been promised.
I felt his hand on mine, his sweet breath on my neck, and I clung to it.
"Sing to me," I whispered.
Baby, I'm amazed at the way you love me all the time,
and maybe I'm afraid of the way I leave you.
Maybe I'm amazed at the way you pulled me out of time,
you hung me on the line.
Maybe I'm amazed at the way I really need you.
Baby, I'm a man, maybe I'm a lonely man
who's in the middle of something
that he doesn't really understand.
And to the most beautiful voice in the world and in the mirage of his arms, I fell asleep.
Early morning daylight struggled to stream through the window. Tired and sore, I slowly opened my eyes. For those first seconds, I expected him to be next to me.
Where else would he be, it was graduation day.
We were supposed to have been up all night planning how we were going to tell our parents about our relationship. Jasper should have been in bed next to me all night, helping me write my speech, reassuring me when I doubted its quality or importance. His head should have been on my chest with his arm around me as he snored.
None of those things had happened, and it was my fault.
Pain collided with guilt, both equally tearing me apart with no hope of putting me back together. Sighing sadly, I rolled onto my side. It should have been one of the happiest days of my life, but instead I found myself unable to move, and I still had a speech to write. Opening the nightstand's drawer, I reached inside for a pen and something to write on. Feeling some paper, I pulled it out.
Congratulations! After careful review of your academic credentials and other accomplishments, we are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to Oregon State University….
It only took a few seconds to tear up the letter and watch my future fall to the floor in white scraps. I scanned the room, destroyed at my hands the night before. Broken pieces of glass, trophies, splinters of wood, along with books and clothing were strewn all over the floor. My alarm clock was upside down, but the red numbers were still readable. It was a little after six. Pushing myself up, I transferred to my chair and rolled over the pieces of the acceptance letter on my way to my door. I opened it and went across to the bathroom, staring at nothing as I went through the motions of my morning routine. I hadn't really had anything to drink, and had eaten even less. After using a catheter but skipping digitation, I debated on showering. There was no way my parents were going to let me get out of going graduation, especially not in anticipation of my speech. Deciding a shower wasn't worth it, I returned to my room and navigated through debris on my floor to the window where I waited to the darkness to join me.
"Edward," he sighed heavily, "what are you doing?"
I tried to ignore him, but he was kneeling in front of me, his blond waves falling over his eyes. His mom had wanted him to get a haircut before graduation, but he refused because I liked his long curls. Tentatively, I reached up and fingered the ends.
"Just like silk," I mumbled, letting the pieces fall through my fingers.
He gave me a sad smile. "Babe, you need to take care of yourself."
"I'm fine," I argued.
"Fine?" he asked, raising a brow. "You call this fine?" His eyes roamed the messy room. "You need to get it together. It's graduation day."
Slowly, I lifted my eyes to meet his. They were shiny and clear and honest. "It was supposed to be our day."
"Your day. You wanted to walk on stage today," he reminded me.
"I wanted to make you proud," I sniffled.
"Aw, babe," he said, cupping my cheek. "You make me proud every day."
"I…" I couldn't speak anymore. My rational mind knew he wasn't there, I was talking to the darkness. It was trying to lure me into its world. Jasper grew faint, his image quickly disappearing. Trying to hold onto him, I reached for his hair again. "Don't go!"
"You can do it, babe…."
He was gone.
Hanging my head, I closed my eyes. I didn't want to watch the black smoke take Jasper's place. As it worked up my legs, I tensed. When it reached my hands, I flinched, waiting for its hold on my chest. It came seconds later, the ache increasing with the pressure. I looked around the room, the torn letter, the broken pictures of Jasper and I, the trophies he'd seen me earn, and the bed where we'd spent countless hours naked and in each other's embrace. I was surrounded by him but I couldn't feel Jasper anywhere. So many things in my room held his memory but with the darkness around me, in me, the memories of Jasper were gone. Sucking in a deep breath, I snapped my eyes open.
I needed to see him.
Before I let him walk away forever, I needed to see him.
After putting my phone in my pocket, I gripped the handrails and backed the chair up, crunching the debris on the floor. Opening the door, I went down the hall to the kitchen. The house was silent other than the coffee maker percolating. My parents and Alice wouldn't be up for at least an hour. Spotting my mother's handbag on the table, I dug around for her keys. Before I could change my mind, I went out the front door and down the ramp, coming to stop at my mother's car. After getting the gas and break control from the trunk, I went to the driver's door and opened it. Moving the seat back as far as it would do, I bent over and attached the controls to the pedals, making sure the washers were tight before transferring to the driver's seat. Then I lifted each leg into the car, crossing my ankles.
"Fuck," I sighed, looking at my chair sitting next to me in the driveway.
Jasper and I hadn't gotten any further because I had a panic attack. I didn't have a choice, I had to get it in the car, I would need it to find Jasper. Twisting my upper body, I reached down and popped off one wheel and while balancing the chair with one hand, put the wheel on the passenger seat. Awkwardly, I was able to take off the other wheel and place it with the first. Then I folded down the back of the chair before reaching under it and lifting it into the car. I pinched my hand between the steering wheel and the metal of the chair but I managed to get it inside and into the backseat. I moved the car's seat forward, pushed the key into the ignition, and exhaled a long breath.
Anxiety raced through me, my palms sweating and my heart racing regardless of the ache holding it prisoner. But none of those things mattered. My fear didn't matter, seeing Jasper did.
Turning the key, the car roared to life. I looked out the back window before shifting into reverse. Relieved when the car didn't move, I slowly let up on the break using the lever until I began to roll backwards down the driveway. When I reached the end, I turned the wheel and backed out onto the street.
Holding my breath, I shifted into drive and pushed the lever to the gas pedal. Slowly, the car crawled forward. I felt slightly light headed and my eyes darted around the road in front of me, looking for anything that might be heading for me. I made it down my street to the stop sign. The lever was awkward but not hard to use. It was just a matter of knowing how hard to press on the pedals to sped up or break. Looking both ways about ten times, I finally pressed the gas and turned onto the main road. If I was going to pass any cars at that early hour, it would be on that road. Keeping my eyes glued to the view in front of me, I gripped the steering wheel with all my strength, surely making indents with my fingers.
Then it happened.
A car was driving toward me.
Unlike when I was with Jasper or my mother, I wasn't on the other side of the car furthest from the oncoming traffic, this time I was right next to them.
"Oh God," I mumbled, fighting the urge to close my eyes. "Please, please, please…"
The black SUV approached me and I swear as it neared, my body tensed for impact, the sounds of shattering glass and crushing metal echoing in my head. The SUV passed without hitting me and I released a breath. Blinking a few times to clear my head, I focused on the road.
I had to find him.
I had to tell him I loved him, that I was sorry. Even if he didn't take me back, I had to tell him how I felt one last time. I didn't bother turning down the street to his house, I knew he wasn't there. Turning left, then right, I pulled out onto the two lane highway, trying not to remember as I got up to speed what had happened last time I'd driven on a highway.
"Look at you," he said proudly from the passenger seat, his long legs curled up around the wheels of my chair. "You're driving!"
"I'm scared shitless," I admitted.
"Nothing wrong with being scared, babe," he reasoned. "Means you're alive."
I couldn't even glace at him to see the pride I knew would be in his eyes. Concentrating, I pulled off the road and shifted into park. Finally able to turn to Jasper, I was sad to see him gone, but at least the darkness wasn't in his place.
I opened the door and then pulled the chair out from the backseat, squeezing it in front of me, swearing when a screw scraped along my chest. Twisting again, I unfolded the back before attaching the wheels and locking them. By the time the chair was reassembled, I was out of breath. Nervous, I transferred to it, unlocked the wheels, backed it up from the car, and closed the door. Spinning, I turned toward Jasper's truck and almost smiled. The fact that I knew he was going to be there on that day at that time was proof of how well I knew my boy.
I pushed between his truck and my mother's car and eased my way down the small incline to the opening of the trail. It wasn't anything I hadn't done before, but in my exhausted state, I wondered if I would even make it halfway up the trail.
But I had to try.
With one big push, I began the accent up the trail, forcing the chair through rotting leaves, new weeds, and fallen branches. Whenever I got stuck, I bent over and pulled out the tangled grass or sticks in the wheel. More than once I felt the chair was going to tip over, but I stayed upright. My arms burned, sweat ran down my face into my eyes and my tee shirt stuck to me.
I ignored it all and continued.
The brush grew thicker as I reached the halfway point. The sounds of the forest were around me, small animals scurrying, birds singing, trees creaking in the wind. My dirty hair clumped to my forehead and I licked salty sweat off my lips as I grunted and pushed the chair, each turn of the wheels bringing me that much closer to him.
It seemed hours before I finally reached the top. Leaning against the back of the chair, I took a few deep breaths. I couldn't quite see the meadow but it was only a few pushes away. My heart was already pounding from the exertion on my weary body, but the thought of seeing Jasper made it pound even harder. I wasn't surprised the darkness hadn't followed me there. After all, it was where the bond between Jasper and I was the strongest, the darkness wouldn't have a chance in the meadow.
Closing my eyes, images of our past visits flashed by, from our first date to lazy summer days of planning, to two reunited boys dancing in the winter's moonlight, and finally to one boy asking the other to marry him. Before I could stop them, a few tears escaped and steadily rolled down my cheeks, mixing with the sweat before dripping down my neck.
I couldn't see him, but I felt him. He was near.
Using sore, tired hands, I grabbed the rims and pushed forward, the wheels crunching the twigs and leaves under them. Entering the meadow, I noticed its dullness. The flowers normally blooming bright by that time of year were lacking life, the green grass was pale. Immediately, my eyes were drawn to him.
My heart stopped.
Sitting with his back to me, I could tell he had his legs drawn up to his chest and his arms wrapped around them. His shirt stretched tight across his shoulders and I could almost make out the muscles I knew so well. The fingers of one hand fiddled with the worn leather bracelet still around his wrist. The breeze blew wisps of his hair, swirling it around his head before letting it fall into its messy place. Even at that distance, I could see his defeat, his sorrow hovering around him in a dark aura. His head moved slightly, and I knew he knew I was there.
Keeping my eyes on him, I pushed the chair through the thick grass until I was only a few feet behind him. Never once did he turn around.
"How did you get here?" he asked quietly, still not looking at me.
"I drove," I answered just as quietly.
He said nothing.
"Jasper, please," I begged. I honestly didn't know what I wanted to say to him. How could I explain that no matter the amount of pain we were both in, he would eventually thank me for releasing him.
"What do you want from me?" His voice had deepened, roughened.
"Look at me," I requested firmly.
He hesitated, then sighed and slowly looked over his shoulder at me. I gasped at his appearance. Normally vibrant blue eyes were lifeless and empty, dark circles marring the perfect skin beneath them. Like mine, his hair was greasy and flat, his curls lacked their bounce and silkiness. Formally soft lips were dry and cracked.
Just like me, he looked broken.
He was as affected by our separation as I was.
Arching a brow at me, he waited for me to speak, only now that I was there with him, I didn't know what to say. I hadn't thought that far ahead. In typical Jasper form, he saved me.
"Don't you know I would go to the end of the world for you?" he whispered.
"Don't you know that's the problem," I sighed.
Shaking his head, he turned away, taking my heart with him.
"Why did you do it?" he murmured. "Was it me?"
"No," I answered quickly, even loudly.
"Then why? I don't…I thought we were forever, Edward," he said in a trembling voice.
"We were, but the accident, it changed me. It changed us," I countered.
Lowering his head, he put his chin on his knees and sighed. "Because you let it."
"How could I not? I'm not the same person, Jasper. No matter how much you love me, I won't ever be that Edward again." Didn't he understand that I had died in that crash? The boy he…loved no longer existed. In his place was half a man, useless and bitter.
He whipped his head around and glared at me, his eyes coming to life slightly. "I don't give a shit if you changed, I love you regardless and you fucking know it," he growled through clenched teeth.
Love, not loved.
Pushing closer, I gaged his reaction, almost waiting for him to bolt like a cornered animal, but he remained in place.
"You kissed someone else," he said with venom as he turned away again.
"He kissed me," I corrected. "I stopped him before—"
"Before his tongue was down your throat?"
Even though he wasn't looking at me, I nodded. "Riley just…"
"What?" Jasper asked harshly.
"He just gets it, okay?" I snapped. "He understands what I'm going through, the frustration, the loss. He knows exactly how I feel. He's been through it all, he's lost his dreams too."
Guilt washed over him, draining what little color he had. His eyes closed and I watched a tear travel down his face. "You didn't lose your all your dreams, Edward," he whispered defeatedly, "you still had me, you had us."
Opening his eyes, he looked at me, he let me see the anguish he'd been suffering. "How can you ask that?" he asked, sounding more hurt than ever before.
I shook my head. I wasn't sure how I could ask it, how I could have questioned Jasper's reasons for staying with me. But as much as I knew Jasper's heart was pure, I couldn't help but let the darkness's doubt seep into me. Someone like Jasper deserved more than never having sex, or having to carry his boyfriend up stairs, or making sure every place he went was wheelchair accessible. He simply deserved better and I didn't know why he couldn't see that.
Narrowing his eyes, his hands curled into fists, containing the sudden rage growing in him. "Don't you fucking tell me what I do and don't deserve. I deserve to be trusted that I know what I fucking want and not have someone else decide that for me," he sneered. "And I certainly don't deserve …."
He couldn't bring himself to say it.
Swallowing, I hung my head, accepting his stinging words as my punishment. My hands loosened on the rims and my aching arms fell weakly by my side.
Shaking his head in disbelief at my silence, he looked away and exhaled, reeling in his anger. Staring straight ahead, he spoke again. "Don't you think I want to understand, Edward? Why do you think I did all that research? Did it ever once occur to you maybe I worry you don't want me because no matter how much I want to, I can't possibly understand what you're going through?"
His sharp words sliced through me.
"What you did, what you say about Riley, it's…" his voice faded and he ran a hand through his dirty hair, "it's my fucking worst fear."
When I didn't, couldn't, respond, he continued, "You're so concerned about what I deserve, but you never stopped to think about what I want."
"What?" I mumbled.
He tilted his head back, his eyes squinting in the sunlight, tears glistening on his pale cheeks. "Your happiness. I only want you to be happy, Edward, and if that means you're with someone who understands, then I'll accept that, but don't you for one fucking second think I deserve better than you, because…" He finally turned toward me, "for me there isn't anyone better than you."
Reaching up, I wiped my cheeks, blinking quickly to try to stop the continuous flow of tears. I stared at him as he slowly stood up. His khakis hung low on his hips, his shoulders slouched as he stood in front of me with his pain visible in every inch of him. A fresh wave of guilt crashed over me. Standing in front of me, his gaze not wavering from mine, he let me have the last of his strength. My fingers twitched with the urge to reach out and take his hand in mine, to feel his warmth and…love one last time.
He tried to smile but failed, settling on biting his lower lip instead. Blue eyes gleamed with wetness, his dark lashes stuck together as he didn't try to hide to wipe away his tears. He looked like shit.
He looked beautiful.
In those few seconds, or minutes, or hours, our past and nonexistent future was shared between us. I showed him the first time I had slept at his house, us running and playing basketball together, our first kiss, and first time in the meadow. Jasper tenderly showed me vows exchanged in that very spot, cooking dinner in the kitchen of our first apartment together, him walking next to me as we crossed the campus, our days as a physical therapist and music teacher. Both the past and future were filled with heat and passion and love, comfort and security.
A love I used to think could have withstood anything.
The constriction in my chest tightened, clamping around my heart, only there was no darkness to blame.
As if to gather himself, Jasper closed his eyes for few seconds before opening them. Leaning down, he curled a hand around my neck, his fingers in my hair. My own eyes closed and I felt his forehead press to mine.
"Let it be…" he whispered softly, a few of his tears dropping onto me. Before I could stop him, he released me and walked away. I couldn't see him leave, but I didn't need to.
I felt it in every fiber of me, including my legs.
Jasper was gone.
My upper body began to shake from the sobs that wretched their way through me more powerful. My chin rested on my heaving chest as tears dropped from my eyes and onto my thighs. The already broken heart exploded in a million pieces, shattering completely with no hope of every being put back together, for what held them together had just walked out of my life. Logic told me it was my fault, emotions told me it was the right thing to do, my heart told me to call out for him and beg him to return. My breaths grew short and shallow and I coughed. Forcing myself to calm down, I closed my eyes and tried to breathe deeply.
How had everything gotten so fucked up? Only a week before we were happy and planning our future, and now there was no future. Our fears had eaten at us both, metastasized throughout us, feeding on slivers of doubt until they consumed our thoughts. I understood Jasper's worry about not understanding how I felt, and he was right, he never could.
But did that have to mean it was the end of us?
I felt him in front of me, his hands on mine, his waves chasing the wind as he grinned.
"Yes," I whispered, replying to his unspoken question, the one that would bind us for eternity.
Looking down at my left hand, I saw the empty finger where the ring would have gone. I would forever feel its absence. Perhaps we'd been foolish, naïve to think we could overcome the odds set before us. We loved each other, we were hot for each other, but we were seventeen, and far too young to know what we wanted for the remainder of our lives. It was far too young to burden Jasper with a lifetime of wheelchair ramps and doctor's visits. Not that I had doubted Jasper's love, or mine for him, I'd seen it in his eyes too many times to doubt what he felt for me. It was honest and real and all encompassing.
"I only want you to be happy, Edward, and if that means you're with someone who understands, then I'll accept that…"
Jasper wasn't stupid. He knew I had told him about the kiss to drive him away, to put a wedge between so big there was no hope of him climbing over and saving us again. Regardless of how he felt, of what he said, in time he would realize it was the right thing to do.
Like a film reel, I saw images of Jasper with someone else, perhaps as tall as him with dark hair. I saw them jogging in matching strides, laughing as they sped up together, leg muscles straining. I saw them hiking the mountains, driving in a convertible, swimming in a pool, and finally, a clear image of them in bed. Jasper's lover on all fours, ecstasy on his face as Jasper took him from behind. After, they would fall asleep in a mess of tangled limbs only to wake and do it again. Jasper would lie on his back, his legs spread as his lover pushed inside him, thrusting his hips furiously, making Jasper cry out in pleasure.
He was free to have that now.
Letting him go was the hardest thing I ever did in my life, but if it gave him the future he deserved, that he should have, I would do it.
I would do anything for him.
Sitting there in our meadow, surrounded by his presence in the vivid memories, I said goodbye to my boy… and our future.
"Can you believe we're graduating?" Jessica squealed loudly.
Cringing, I shook my head and backed the chair away from her. My eyes scanned the crowded gym where we all gathered before walking out to the field for graduation. Students dressed in long maroon gowns mingled excitedly. Most of the girls were in dresses and heels while the boys were in khakis and ties, a few rebelled with shorts and sunglasses. No matter how hard I looked, there was no sign of Jasper.
"He'll be here," Bella said with a confidence I didn't share as she put a hand on my shoulder.
After my goodbye to Jasper in the meadow, I had made my way down the trail, not even aware of the time or how late it had become. The drive home was more terrifying because I had no hope of seeing Jasper to focus on. I clutched the steering wheel with an even tighter grip, fighting off the rising fear whenever a car approached from the other direction.
I wasn't surprised when I pulled into the driveway and my father came out of the house. While he walked over, I opened the door and began to put my chair back together. There would be no hiding my red, puffy eyes.
"Are you all right?" he asked, kneeling to help snap a wheel into place for me. I nodded and handed him the other wheel. "Jasper okay?"
Looking away, I lied and nodded.
"I was worried when I woke up and saw the car gone," he chided quietly. "I called your phone."
While he was probably angrier than he appeared, he saw my condition and he wasn't going to make it worse.
"Sorry, I turned it off," I murmured before lifting my legs out of the car so I could transfer over. I hadn't turned it off but I hadn't heard it ring either. "I just had to get out of here for a while." I reached down and grabbed my jeans, lifting my feet onto the pedals.
"Edward, I don't know what's going on, or why we haven't seen Jasper in days, but you know you can talk to me about anything, right?" he offered, his doctor voice nowhere to be found.
I kept my eyes the ground. I couldn't look up at him, I knew if I did, I would tell him everything, all the secrets I'd kept for years and ending with how I fucked up the best thing in my life.
"I'm fine, Dad, just stressed about the valedictorian speech," I lied again.
I hadn't even begun the speech. After little thought the night before, I had decided to wing it, just say whatever came to my mind when I was on the stage. What did I care anyway, it wasn't like I was going to see most of them ever again once I left for Seattle.
I didn't have to look up at him to know he was eyeing me in that way only dads could. "I need to get changed. Bella is getting me in an hour," I said, hoping he would drop the conversation.
He stepped aside, closing the car door when I pushed out of the way. I felt his gaze on my back as I pushed up the ramp and into the house. He was one of many people I had disappointed.
Once inside, I went to my room and pulled out clothes for graduation, then transferred to my bed and stripped out of my dirty clothes before moving back to my chair in only my underwear and darting across the hallway to the bathroom. The hot water pulsed from the showerhead onto my muscles, soothing the soreness from the journey to the meadow but what I really wanted to feel was Jasper's strong hands massaging me. The bruises on my thighs were dark purples and blues, and looked painful. Not that I could tell. As I went through the motions of washing my hair and body, my mind never left the meadow, and the look on Jasper's face.
Pain. Guilt. Love.
The tears had finally run dry when I'd been driving home. Sitting alone in the meadow had given me some closure, the clarity that I was doing the right thing for his sake. While my heart would never be whole again, and would forever ache, I sought comfort in Jasper living a full and happy life. Unlike mine, his heart would heal. As I sat in the shower chair, the water running in rivulets down me, the lather from the body wash gathering around my feet briefly before circling the drain. My legs were thin, the muscles smaller than before, their uselessness obvious. I reminded myself that I was saving him from a life of thin legs and limp dicks. Someday he would understand and be thankful. One by one, our dreams of a wedding, college, and living together for the rest of our lives washed down the drain with the soap until there was nothing left.
Then I realized there was one dream left. One dream I could still make come true. I would make it come true for Jasper, it was the least I could do for him.
When the water ran cold, I lifted my head, not noticing the tears on my face as they mixed with the water. Getting out, I dried off, my hair dripping as I went back to my room.
I had just finished putting on the graduation gown when Bella walked into my room wearing a floral dress and her hair partially tied back. Quickly, I pulled the robe down over my legs. She glanced down, but averted her eyes and didn't say anything.
"You look very handsome," she said soothingly, running her fingers through my damp hair and making it stand on end.
I didn't feel handsome.
I felt clumsy as I moved back to the chair and lifted my legs onto the pedals.
"Ready?" I asked her and she nodded. I followed her down the hall, rolling my eyes when my mother insisted on taking pictures of us. Outside, Bella and I wore fake smiles as she stood next to me and my mother snapped picture after picture. I ignored the questions about Jasper.
"Just one more," she kept saying until my father rescued us.
He helped me into Bella's old truck and said he would see me after the ceremony. Then he leaned in the truck and took me into his arms, hugging me tighter than I ever remembered.
"I'm so proud of you," he murmured before pulling away and closing the door. He waved as we pulled away and for the first time in days, my heart lightened just a bit.
In the gym, I shook the thoughts from my head and tried to focus on Jessica's whiny voice but my mind strayed to him as I constantly searched for his blond curls. Bella's hand gripped my shoulder when I hung my head in defeat.
He wasn't there.
He was missing his graduation because of me.
"There's still time," she reminded me when Mr. Bradshaw called us to line up.
After squeezing my hand, she left for her place near the back of the line and I wheeled up to stand next to Claudia Bertell. We were the first and second highest GPAs in the grade, and she eyed my valedictorian sash with envy, nervously shifting her weight back and forth, her hands constantly flittering through her overdone hair.
Once the graduates were all in line, Mr. Bradshaw waved to Claudia and me and we exited the gym and went outside. Instead of our strides matching each other's to the beat of Pomp and Circumstance, she paced herself with the swings of my arms. When we turned the corner, the guests in the grandstands all stood and began clapping. My heart should have been pounding in excitement and maybe nerves, but I felt nothing. Without him there to share it with, I was empty inside. Following Mr. Bradshaw down the paved walkway, I looked out over the football field covered with rows of folding chairs divided into two sections. In front of the chairs was a large stage, a few chairs and microphone set up on it. The families were sitting bleachers overlooking the field. No matter how hard I tried to look, I couldn't see if Jasper's parents were in the stands.
We neared the field and I pushed the chair across the track that Jasper had spent so many hours running on. The clouds from earlier had cleared and the sun shined bright, and yet my world had never been darker. Numbly, I took my special place at the end of one of first row. The metal stage was low to the ground, only a few steps on both sides where the graduates were to walk up one side and down the other. To the right of the stage was a ramp that had obviously been added for my sake.
Ignoring the twinge of pain my heart, I glanced down at my legs covered by the polyester robe. The square graduation cap sat on my head, the maroon and white tassel swaying with each of my movements. I waited while the rest of my classmates marched in and took their seats. I heard laughter and giggling and joking, a few even kids batting around a blown up beach ball. I wanted to enjoy it, I truly did, but I just couldn't.
Then he was crouched next to me, his robe dragging on the ground as he looked me through the waves captured by his cap. Even though I knew he was nothing more than my imagination, my heart jumped a beat in his ghostly presence.
"Today's the day," he joked, "ready?" I nodded and he smiled. Lifting a hand, he cupped my cheek. "I know you're nervous about the speech, but you'll do great, babe."
My eyes went to the ramp on the side of the stage. "I really wanted to walk up there."
"Babe, you just have to imagine you can walk and you will," he assured me before giving me a brilliant smile and standing. When he was sure no one was looking, he winked at me. Looking over my shoulder, I watched him stride down the aisle. The further away from me he got, the fainter his image became.
Facing forward again, I forced him from my mind, I still needed to deliver a speech. I'd barely realized that everyone had sat and the music had stopped. There was quiet chattering as Mr. Bradshaw began the ceremony. He spoke about ends and beginnings, about friends and families and futures. He introduced a guest speaker who said the same things. Struggling to focus, I bit my bottom lip and waited for my name to be called.
"…class valedictorian, Mr. Edward Cullen."
Exhaling a long, sad breath, I gripped the rims with my gloved hands and pushed forward, turning to the right side of the stage. I felt the weight of hundreds of eyes as they stared at me, my handicap leaving marks in the grass. I reached the crude metal ramp and pushed up and across the metal stage to the microphone. Stopping in front of it, I lowered it to my height. The permanent ache clenched my heart. Closing my eyes, I told myself I couldn't do it, just turn around and tell Mr. Bradshaw. I hoped my parents wouldn't be too disappointed.
"You can do it…." Jasper whispered in my ear.
Slowly, I opened my eyes, expecting them to see the few hundred impatient and bored graduates in front of me.
They fell on my boy.
Sitting in the back row with his cap crooked on his head and his curls hugging his face, his long legs stuck out from under his gown. Stormy blue eyes locked on mine and didn't let go. Silent words passed between in a matter of seconds, everything we wanted to say but couldn't. The ache soothed, my heart calmed. It didn't matter we weren't together anymore, that I had hurt him, none of that mattered as he stared at me. He gave me a slight nod of encouragement, the corner of his lip turning slightly in a sad smile.
Then he saved me once again.
"You can do it," he mouthed and I could almost feel his fingers entwining with mine.
He would never lie to me, not about something so important.
Swallowing hard to control the emotions surging through me, I returned his nod. I knew exactly what to say. Then, with my eyes never leaving the blue haze of his, I spoke from my wounded heart.
"Congratulations class of two-thousand-eleven," I began. "In the weeks leading up to graduation, people have asked me if there is one person who inspires me. For me that person is…" I paused, taking a shaky breath, "the one who stuck my side even when I didn't want him to. Six months ago my future was stolen from me, I lost everything I thought was important. But when I found myself in times of trouble, he came to me, reminding me I still had everything I needed. I had friends and my family. Every day he faced adversity with me, and every day I didn't think I would make it, he was the one who told me I could do it. I'm here to tell you all the same thing. When you think you can't make it, when the darkness is shrouding you, reach out and take the hand offered, because it will pull you back into the light if you let it."
The crowd was quiet, surprisingly paying attention to me, but there was only one I looked at, the one who still owned my heart.
Another deep breath and I continued.
"Together we have faced and persevered through four years of high school. These years have taught us so much more than what you can learn in a classroom, they have armed us for our future. A brilliant songwriter once wrote that all we had to was imagine a better world and it would happen. He promised there would be no greed or hunger, that we could live in a brotherhood of man. I think we are all old enough to know not all dreams come true, but perhaps if you believe enough in your dreams and if you have someone believe in them with you, they will come true. So as we graduate today and face our uncertain futures all over the world, remember your home, remember your family, and above all, remember your friends. For no matter where your dreams take you, your heart lies with them."
I watched as a one sun-glistened tear rolled down Jasper's cheek. He stood, as did all the other students, an applauded. Holding my stare, he didn't bother to wipe the tear. It fell in sadness, grieving for what was and for what could have been had that fateful night not happened. The clapping faded, the graduates and crowds disappearing until there was only him and me. I wanted him to come to me and take me in his arms like he always did, but he didn't move. His hands dropped feebly to his sides and he closed his eyes.
He'd broken the connection between us.
Grabbing the handrims, I backed the chair up from the microphone and turned toward the ramp. One big push later and I was at the bottom of it and rolling in front of everyone again. They were still staring at me, but I didn't care anymore. The one person I wanted to look at me no longer was. I took my place at the end of the row and vaguely listened to the next speaker. When Mr. Bradshaw stood again, two others stood with him and after introducing them, he announced the first name in the class. Mark Andrews stood and walked to the stage, up the steps and to the middle of the stage where he shook the faculty's hands and received his diploma before raising his hands to the crowd and smiling.
More names were called and I dreaded each one.
"Edward Anthony Cullen," Mr. Bradshaw announced.
Immediately, I broke out in a nervous sweat. Swallowing, I pushed the chair, stopping at the side of the stage, the stairs and ramp side by side. Biting my lip, I closed my eyes and locked the wheels on the chair.
"…you just have to imagine you can walk and you will."
I had faith in Jasper as I reached down and lifted my feet off the footrest, placing them on the solid ground beneath me. Then I leaned down and straightened my right leg before lifting my robe and locking the brace into place. After doing the same to my left leg, I took off my gloves and braced my hands on the chair. I was going to need all my upper body strength to push myself out of the chair, then turn and use it for balance as I stood. I didn't have the parallel bars or Emmett and Jasper to help me.
I was on my own.
My heart pounded harder than it had any basketball game or race I'd ever run.
He hadn't left the back row, but he didn't need to. He was there, his hands on me, supporting me just like he always had. He was beside me, he was behind me, he was in front of me, he was everywhere.
It felt like hours, not less than a minute before I heaved myself forward and up, wavering as I twisted my upper body to hold onto the chair. My feet were awkwardly facing one direction while I faced another. Bending over, I let go of the chair with my right hand and turned my legs one at the time.
It was time to let go of the chair and take my first step.
"For Jasper," I murmured to myself as I stood stall and faced the stage.
Releasing the chair with one hand, I balanced unsteadily. Encouraged, I took a deep breath and let go with my other hand.
For a few precious, dream-like seconds, I stood on my own without any assistance. It was the best few seconds of my new life. I could look everyone in the eye. For those few wonderful seconds, I had my life back.
Before I collapsed, my last thought was of Jasper, and if he'd seen me. Unable to handle my weight even with the braces locked, my legs gave out and I fell, my legs prone as I reflexively put my hands out to break my fall. My shoulder caught the side of the chair and a sharp pain shot through my wrist and up my arm as I hit the ground with a grunt. I overheard the sound of the braces unlocking over the collective gasp of hundreds of people. Landing on stomach, I rolled onto my side, keeping my face buried in my arm, inhaling the sweet scent of the freshly mowed grass as I took shallow breaths. My graduation cap sat next to me. I heard footsteps, murmurs and gasps, each one more embarrassing. As hard as I refused to let myself cry, I saw the droplets staining the arm of my gown. There was the sound of footsteps on the stage, of wondering what to do. Lifting my eyes from the crook of my arm, I saw the front row of graduates, their feet in heels and dress shoes, but there was one pair that stuck out.
I knew them well.
The gown swirled around his feet with his long strides before he broke into a sprint. Reaching me, he knelt next to me, his hands immediately skimming over me, accessing me for any damage I had done to myself. I was sprawled on the ground in front of all my classmates and their parents, yet all I could see was him.
"I got you, babe," he whispered tenderly.
Picking up my cap, he threaded his fingers through my hair before placing it back on my head. My heart halted at the light touch, the spark we shared ignited, and my faith in him grew.
"I failed…" I mumbled in defeat, averting my eyes from his.
"You stood, Edward, fucking stood, how is that failure?" he challenged lowly. "It was pretty fucking amazing."
Slowly, I raised my eyes to his. They were so clear, so certain, not a shred of doubt in him. He was exactly where he wanted to be.
"But I fell," I stated the obvious.
And I didn't just mean right then on the ground. I had fallen when I had doubted us, him. It wasn't an apology, it was a confession.
He tilted his head, the tassel swaying as he did so. "And I'm going to pick you up. Just like I always will. Just like you pick me up."
I was shaking my head before he finished. "I can't pick you up," I reminded him.
"Babe, you pick me up every single day," he said softly, choking back his emotions, "every fucking day."
Then without asking, his snaked an arm under my knees and another under my middle, swiftly flipping me until I was nestled against him. Habitually, my arm went around his neck and I laid my head on his shoulder and gripped his robe with my free hand. I could feel his heat through the layers of clothing, the rough grown scratching my skin. Even with the extra weight of the braces, Jasper stood, easily lifting us both, his pulse beating strong and sure.
There was complete silence as Jasper turned to the stage, and without hesitation, walked up the steps. Everything that had been wrong was righted.
It was in his arms, and only his arms, I felt whole, a complete man even if I was a broken one.
Lifting my head, I saw fresh tears on his cheeks and his airy curls blowing in the breeze. My angel was bathed in a halo of sunlight. It might have been Jasper's legs supporting us, but he shared them with me. I didn't need to walk because Jasper did it for us both. I didn't need to walk for Jasper to love me or be proud of me.
He already was. Every day.
I didn't take my eyes off him until he stopped in front of Mr. Bradshaw. He held my diploma out to me, and releasing my hold on Jasper, I took it.
"Congratulations, Edward," he said, shaking my hand. Mrs. Barnes and Mr. Caldwell also shook my hand.
In Jasper's arms, I was in our bubble and the outside world didn't exist. It was like our meadow. I only felt and saw him, the feel of his body, the strength of his arms, his earthy scent, the silk of his hair, the intensity of his eyes, the deep tone of his voice.
The love in his heart that filled us both.
When Jasper stepped away from Mr. Bradshaw, I reached up and wiped the tears from his pink cheeks. Dipping his head, he rested his forehead to mine. Besides a few gasps, it was quiet enough to hear a pin drop, but it didn't matter. All that mattered was I was in his arms.
"Baby, I'm amazed," he murmured softly.
"I love you," I breathed right before I pressed my lips to his, gently sweeping over them with mine.
His arm around my back tightened, his fingers digging into my side as I coaxed a quite moan from him. My heart raced and my blood heated as it always did in his presence. Everything and everyone disappeared and instead of a metal stage, we were two boys in love dancing alone in a meadow covered with wild flowers. Before his tongue could run over my bottom lip, I pulled back. Heat rose to my cheeks when I remembered we were most definitely not alone.
Turning us, Jasper faced the stunned crowd.
Laying my head on his shoulder again, my arm draped over his shoulders, I waited for the backlash. Whatever we was coming, we would face it together. The journey of the past six months hadn't been about regaining my ability to walk, but about discovering myself in a new way of life, finding a strength I didn't know I had, and a love that, no matter what, would forever be by my side.
There was a single clap and Jasper and I both looked in the direction of the grandstands to find my father standing alone. On his face a smile, the same one I had seen him give Jasper after his race. My father's words from earlier echoed in my mind, and they were no longer just words. The pride I had thought I would never be able to give my father again was clear in his features.
My mother and Alice stood beside him, clapping and beaming. Two more people joined them and Jasper nodded to his parents standing a few rows away from mine.
The roar of applause and cheering was almost deafening and I couldn't help but smile in awe. I don't know if they were clapping because of what I had tried to do, or what I had done, or that we had just come out to everyone, but in Jasper's arms I was brave enough to finally show them all just how beautiful my boy was.
The boy who saved my life every day.
Thank you for reading~
Did that make it all better? Epilogue still to come.
Thank you to C for everything.
If this story has entertained you, thank you, if it taught you, even better. If you take only one thing away from this story…please don't drink and drive.
The next time you hop in your car for a quick drive, think of this wwwDOTyoutubeDOTcom/watch?v=cQraE9xrArw