Title: Rocky Shores
Word Count: 5,553
Summary: Treading water is no longer an option. When a handsome stranger intervenes, will brokenhearted Jasper sink or swim? AH.
I drove in silence as I raced north on route 95.
I wasn't sure exactly where I was headed. I suppose it didn't matter.
It was cold, raw, a Thursday in March that should have been unremarkable, and probably was to the majority of the world. But for me, it was the day after my make-believe world came crashing down.
To be fair, it was my own fault. But telling a heart not to love is not an easy matter.
And so I drove as quickly as I dared, away from home, away from my stupidity and delusions, and away from him. I had to find me. Somewhere along the way, I'd gotten completely lost.
I swung a right north of Portland, choosing to hug the rocky coastline.
A few more rights and I was headed onto one of the many midcoast peninsulas. One or two additional turns and I found myself turning into a parking spot in a state park at the edge of the ocean.
"Popham Beach" the sign read. More like "Fuck-him Beach," but close enough.
I got out of the car.
I brought nothing with me but my car keys. I'd turned off my phone when I'd crossed state lines. It was locked up in my glove compartment. Now it was just me and the huge fucking ocean. Bring it, I thought.
I walked out onto the sand. After taking a moment to relish the feeling of sand beneath my feet—it never got old—I turned my attention to a large pile of worn down rocks out at the water's edge. It seemed as good a destination as any. I quickly jogged out and climbed to the top, watching my step on the slippery seaweed.
Once I'd scaled the boulders, I sat and faced the gray sea. It was angry today. Fitting.
The wind whipped around me, stirring up the water, sand, and memories, though perhaps the latter had never settled to begin with.
I pulled a loose stone from my side and threw it angrily into the water. The splash was unsatisfying; the way I'd cursed my stupidity while doing it was at least a bit more more gratifying.
I tried again, this time choosing a larger rock, and throwing it farther out into the surf. "Fuck you, Peter," I yelled. "Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you!"
It felt good to be angry with him as well. After all, it wasn't all my fault. Granted, I was the ass who fell in love with my best friend, but it took two to tango. And two to go to ball games. And two to go for coffee and sit there talking for hours. Two to go for drinks and movies and volunteer at the homeless shelter on Tuesday nights. And it took two to travel to places one wouldn't have gone alone.
And fuck me. Fuck me for falling in love and staying that way for three fucking long years. Fuck me for not walking away after he'd made it clear on several occasions that he wasn't interested. Fuck me for saying it was worth it to just be best friends. Fuck me for turning myself into what I thought he wanted. And fuck me for convincing myself that he'd come around, change his mind, that we were meant to be.
Fuck him for leading me on and fuck me for not moving on.
Fuck him for dating and falling in love with someone else and not having the balls to tell me. Fuck him for hiding it. Fuck him.
And fuck him for making a fool out of me. I'd been stunned when an acquaintance mentioned it in passing. I'd thought we were best friends. But friends would have told each other about significant relationships, hell, about any relationships. Had I dreamed up our friendship as well as our happy ever after?
Fuck him. Now I was a heartbroken fucking mess minus one best friend, if I'd had one to begin with. How could I have meant so little when he meant so fucking much?
I'd long before run out of stones to hurl into the Atlantic and had moved on to broken shells and other debris that had washed up on and between the large rocks where I sat.
That was okay though. I'd run out of steam and was content to just stare at the endless sea. My mind was vacant. Empty. Numb. I needed numb.
So I sat. And I stared. Occasionally I shivered from the icy ocean breeze. But mostly, I just stared.
I'm not sure how much later it was when a voice pierced my angry silence.
I turned to the sound.
"Hey! How were you planning on getting back to shore?" A stranger stood on what was now the coastline and was calling out to me. I looked down. My rock pile was now half submerged in water. The tide had come in.
Right. Tides. Shit.
There was now more than a hundred feet of water between me and the shoreline.
I studied a little more closely the boulder on which I sat. Judging be the seaweed, my rock pile was going to be totally covered in water at high tide and was halfway there already. Fuck.
I looked at the stranger helplessly. "I guess I'm swimming," I yelled back. Great. The Atlantic Ocean in Maine was never exactly warm. In March, it was cold enough to freeze your balls off.
"I guess so," he yelled back. "Come on. I'll wait to make sure you make it across."
I appreciated the sentiment, but was quite sure I was going to make a giant ass out of myself when I felt the cold water and screamed like a little girl. I sighed. Fuck me.
I started to climb down the rock pile on the side closest to shore, but the stranger soon directed me to a point toward my right. "It's straight down on that side," he called, pointing. "You won't cut yourself on the rocks."
I paused wondering how he knew such a thing, but when I took in the golden retriever by his side and the flannel on his back, I pegged him for a local. I had to trust him.
I was not particularly pleased by this revelation. I'd partly come to be alone and partly to reassert my self-sufficiency. I was not in the mood to rely on anyone. But what choice did I have?
I looked down again at the water. This was going to fuckin' suck.
"Come'on," the stranger called. "It's just going to get worse."
I nodded, looked down, and flung myself into the water.
Millions of icy cold needles stuck my body from every direction. I gasped for air, mine having been pulled from my lungs by the frigid waters. I was stunned, barely able to move, except to keep my head above water.
I was tall and knew that the ocean floor was probably only a foot or two out of reach. I just had to swim a dozen feet or so toward the shore and I'd be able to touch bottom. That became my goal. I forced my frozen muscles to comply, and began moving, if mostly because the waves tossed me in that direction.
Soon, I was able to feel the sand beneath me, and not much later I was able to walk towards the stranger on dry land.
I dragged myself up out from the waves and up to the sand, clumsy, unbalanced, and more than a little in shock.
I approached the stranger, and nearly collapsed on the ground when I reached him, but instead, he grabbed me and supported me so I remained upright.
"Now you're wet too," I said.
"It's okay. I'm just glad you're safe. I'm Edward, by the way," he introduced himself.
"I'm freezing. I mean, Jasper. I'm Jasper," I replied.
The wind against my cold wet clothing and skin was nearly as bad as the ocean itself and my teeth were starting to chatter. This wasn't good.
"Okay, Freezing. Where is your nearest change of clothes?" he asked, leading me away from the water and up toward the parking lot.
"My car," I said.
His dog trotted up and stayed closely at Edward's side.
I realized then that I should relieve this stranger of whatever sense of duty he felt toward me. "Um, I'll be okay. I have dry clothes in my car. You don't need to..." I trailed off, unsure of how to finish the sentence without sounding like an asshole.
"Oh, well, that's okay. I was going home anyway, so I'm also headed to my car," he replied.
"Oh." What else did one say in these sorts of situations? I guessed he wasn't sure either, because neither of us said anything else until we reached the parking lot. "Well, thanks," I said.
"Sure. Are you staying somewhere close by? You really do need to warm up," he commented.
"Oh, yeah, I am. I'm not sure where yet exactly, but I'm sure I'll find a hot shower and a bed somewhere though. It's not like there are that many tourists this time of year. I'm sure there are plenty of rooms available," I replied.
"Yeah, but a lot of places are closed right now. My mom has a B&B that's open year-round though. Do you want to stay there? It is only 20 or so minutes from here. I'll show you the way. I can call her from the car and let her know you're coming," he offered.
"Oh, that's okay, you don't have to do that..." He'd done enough already. I didn't want to inconvenience him.
He raised an eyebrow. "Seriously, it's no problem."
I relented. It sounded pretty great considering my current cold, wet, sandy, directionless state.
"Great," he said, before jogging over to a nearby beat-up truck. He pulled an old blanket out and brought it over to me. "Sit on this so you don't get your car all sandy. And turn your heat on. You can follow me there, but promise me that you'll flash your headlights if you are feeling dizzy or woozy or need to stop, okay?"
I agreed, touched by his concern, and got in my car as he went to his and got inside it with the dog at his side.
Sure enough, twenty odd minutes later we pulled up in front of an elegant Victorian mansion just outside of Phippsburg. We looked to be the only vehicles parked in the lot. On the way to the front door, Edward commented that the place was otherwise empty of guests, but that his mother, Esme, was glad to have me.
When we got inside, a soft-spoken woman met us, and handed me a key. "We'll take care of the details of signing you in later, Jasper. Let's just get you to your room. Edward, would you like to show him the way? Let's put him in the Captain's Quarters."
"Sure, mom," he replied and motioned for me to follow him.
The room was pretty amazing; masculine with deep blues and dark wood with just the slightest touch of a nautical theme. Plus it had a fireplace and had the always-desirable ocean views out the window. "This is perfect," I said, taking the key.
"Great," he smiled. "I'm staying for dinner. Maybe after your shower you can join my mom and me for dinner? We'll eat in about an hour," he offered.
"Oh, I don't want to intrude," I replied, but he stopped me before I could make additional excuses.
"Please?" he asked again simply.
In truth, I was starving, didn't know the area, and many places I'd passed on the way were still closed because it was too early in the season. So yet again, I found myself agreeing with the stranger, who seemed to repeatedly know exactly what I needed.
"Great. I'll see you in an hour," he said, stepping out into the hallway and shutting the door behind him.
I dashed into the bathroom and peeled off my sandy clothes and shoes, and soon stepped under the deliciously hot spray of the shower. I scrubbed my skin with the complementary soap and watched as bits of sand and seaweed and dirt combined with my residual hurt and anger and brokenness, swirling about together until they were eventually washed down the drain.
I had thought I sought solitude along Maine's rocky coast, but instead I found myself enjoying dinner with the stranger named Edward and his mother.
I was ravenous and the food was delicious. Conversation was surprisingly easy, possibly due to the wine that flowed freely, especially after it was decided that Edward would also stay at the inn overnight instead of driving home.
These new friends were nice, I decided, especially considering how my last friend had just ripped me to shreds. Esme didn't seem like she had a mean bone in her body. And Edward, he had a certain charm about him. Once I was warm and dry again, I was able to appreciate that the man was ruggedly handsome. He had beautiful deep green eyes and messy hair and enough stubble to make my mouth water. Plus, he was clearly nice enough to go way above and beyond in terms of helping out a complete stranger. I wondered vaguely if he was gay. My gut said yes, but then trusting my feelings had gotten me into a steaming pile of pain.
Edward was special. I'd known him for all of two hours, but it took less time than that to figure out. It was really too bad I was such a disaster at the moment, hollow and raw. Though admittedly, Esme's mashed potatoes had gone a long way towards filling that gaping hole in my chest, and the wine had me breathing freely for the first time in two days.
After dinner, we played a round of Scrabble before Esme said goodnight and left Edward and me chatting by the fireplace in the common room. Another round later, and we decided to call it a night.
I was surprised, however, when Edward followed me to my room.
When we approached my door, I turned to him. I wasn't sure what to say. Certainly I enjoyed his company and I was undeniably attracted to him, but I was certainly not in the right place for some one-night stand with the guy. And even if I had been available, he deserved better than that. But luckily he spoke up before I opened my mouth and embarrassed myself by informing him of that fact.
"I'm staying in the next room," he said, pointing out the door to the right.
"Oh," I said, shifting awkwardly before realizing I needed to dig out my key to get inside my room. But as Edward went to disappear into his, I stopped him. "Thank you," I breathed.
He nodded. "You're welcome," he said with a soft smile. "Goodnight."
I was sitting in front of my fireplace deciding whether to attempt to light it about 45 minutes later when I heard the soft knock on my door.
Surprised, I got up quickly and opened it, only to find Edward standing outside it looking a bit sheepish.
"Hi," I greeted him.
"Hi," he said back. "Are you busy?"
I shook my head.
"Get your coat, and come with me," he said.
I thought for a moment. I trusted him. "Okay."
I grabbed it and he led me out into the hallway, and to my surprise, into his own room, which turned out to be a full suite. Finally, he led me to a glass door at the edge of his room. He slid it open and we stepped outside into a balcony and into the frigid night.
I followed, shivering a little.
He looked apologetic. "I know it is cold but... well... if you're okay to be out here for a moment, I think it might help."
Before I had time to question his meaning, he flicked off his interior light and shut the door behind us. "Give your eyes a moment to adjust," he suggested.
It was a clear, crisp night and sure enough, a multitude of stars quickly became visible. It was stunning.
"Perspective," Edward whispered. "The stars give me perspective, anyway, and you looked like you needed some."
It was true. I had sought the ocean for the same reason. Perspective.
At least I was unlikely to be swept out to sea at high tide while watching the Milky Way. Though when I shivered again, I realized that I could probably freeze to death doing either.
After some minutes of silence, and a few more shivers, Edward called an end to our stargazing and we went back inside. It was probably a good thing. I'd had enough cold for one day. I said a silent goodbye to the far-off galaxies.
Once inside, he motioned toward his fireplace. "I'll light it if you want to stay and talk?" he offered.
I looked at him. I had to be crystal clear with him. "Edward, I'm broken."
"I know," he replied. "Happy people don't stare dejectedly at the ocean for two hours cursing and hurling rocks."
"You watched me?" I asked, stunned.
He shrugged. "Well, I was walking Bella and you were there when we started off and still there when we came back. That's when I started to get worried. Well, that and the eight feet of water that had come up over the rocks you were sitting on was also a bit of a concern."
"Oh," I replied. I'd been saying that a lot.
"But... I might have watched you anyway," he admitted softly.
"Oh." There it was again. Maybe I wasn't clear. "Edward, I'm bro—"
He cut me off. "I know. Want to tell me about it?"
I hesitated. And then I asked the unaskable question. The one that had plagued me but I'd been unwilling to admit even to myself until the combination of red wine and green eyes loosened my lips.
"It's just... why not me?" I asked quietly, looking at the ground. "Why didn't he choose me?"
He sucked in air. "So that's the problem. Well, he didn't choose you because he's obviously a fucking fool," he said quickly. "And an ass."
I looked down. "That's the problem. He isn't a fool. Peter is brilliant."
"I don't care how brilliant he is, if he let you walk away, he's a fool," Edward said again.
I shook my head, unwilling to hear him. I was still shattered and wasn't ready yet to begin attempting any sort of reassembly.
"Thank you," I finally said, allowing him that much.
He nodded and opened another bottle of wine. We talked until the early hours of the morning.
I awoke early the next day to the sound of light snores. I quickly rolled over and sat up and surveyed my room. My eyes focused quickly on the unexpected presence of Edward. He was sleeping half-sitting up on the loveseat that sat along the far wall of my room. The piece of furniture was far too small for his lengthy frame and he looked anything but comfortable. I didn't remember ever returning to my room, or why Edward came with me, but judging by the fact that we were both almost fully clothed, I assumed the impromptu sleepover was an innocent one.
As he slept I studied the morning sun that danced through the various brown and bronze shades in his hair.
He had to have been taken, attached. I recalled him alluding to a past boyfriend last night after his third glass of wine, so that was one mystery solved. But he hadn't mentioned his present status. I puzzled about it for a moment before deciding that it shouldn't matter in the least. Even if he was single and for some reason interested, I was unwilling to let him be a part of any rebound.
I rolled over and covered my head with my pillow and tried to fall back asleep. It took some time before I was successful. Whereas before there was one man that tormented my thoughts, suddenly there was another one dancing along the edges.
When I woke again an hour or so later, I was alone, save for a note setting by my car keys.
I read it immediately:
I had to go to work. I hope you enjoy your day today. I don't know what your plans are, but we'd be glad to have you stay a second night if you are going to remain in the area. I'll be back for dinner again. I hope you'll join us.
It was polite, but with little trace of the emotion I'd felt from him the night before. But then, things always looked different in the light of day.
I put the note down and headed for the shower, hoping to wash away more of the grit and pain from my life if I could only scrub hard enough.
Afterward, I packed up and left the inn, taking my belongings with me. My plan was to head further north, further away from everything I was trying so very hard to leave behind. As kind as Edward's offer was, I couldn't impose on them any longer.
It was a dreary day complete with occasional bouts with cold rain. I drove again in silence except for the steady rhythm of my windshield wipers.
Again, with no real destination, I just drove north, hugging the coast. After about two hours, I found another beach and decided I was in the mood to stare at the ocean a bit more, though this time paying better attention to the changing tides.
But after walking along the beach for a while, I felt increasingly unsettled. The view wasn't the same and the ocean wasn't working its magic. Eventually the rain picked up again and I ran back to the car.
I tried another beach 30 miles away where I found another large outcropping of rocks to sit on. But again, solace proved elusive. This time when I headed back to the car, I decided to quit fooling myself
If Popham Beach was where I needed to be, it was where I would go. I turned the car around and headed back south onto the peninsula. This time as I got closer, I studied the various inns that dotted the landscape, looking for those that were open despite my off-season visit. I found a few as I drove, comfortable I wouldn't be stuck imposing on Esme—or Edward—a second night in a row.
By the time that I arrived back at the state park, I convinced myself that I should at least walk in the opposite direction as I had the day before. I didn't want to return to the same rock pile. But after taking about three steps in the other direction, I realized that it was pointless. There was an inexplicable draw to the exact same place I'd sat before. What was the point in fighting it?
I jogged across the damp sand until I reached the waterline, which I observed cautiously. Once I determined that the tide was still heading out, I wasted little time scaling the boulders and perching again on the uppermost rock. Almost immediately, a strange serenity blanketed me.
And so I stared out at the ocean, lost in its majesty. But this time, I wasn't numb. I couldn't help but think, and process, and start to shift thoughts and file lessons learned. It was time to start to rebuild and repair.
I made a few decisions. I would distance myself from Peter. He was in love with another and never would be with me. Acknowledging that fact left me raw and ragged. But knowing that, I knew I needed to get over him and that required separation. It would hurt us both, but any other option would destroy me. And I was trying to be done destroying me.
Next, I decided I would return home the next day. Forever running from my past was not an option. I had to deal with my past to begin moving forward.
And finally, I would under no circumstances rebound with the gorgeous stranger with the deep green eyes and a jaw that begged to be traced with my tongue. It was not an option.
Besides, I didn't want to be with someone who was constantly saving me. I needed to stand on my own two feet and make my own decisions. But then, Edward didn't technically save me. He just sort of pointed out that I needed to get it together and get back to solid ground before I was swept away by the sea. I did the work on my own. He was just there afterward to help make things a little more comfortable.
Goddamn it. Life was such a tease, dangling someone like Edward in front of me.
Here, Jasper, here. Here is Mr. Perfect, and he might even be the tiniest bit interested, but you can't have him because you're all kinds of fucked up and can barely even tie your shoes right now. But it's too bad, because how fantastic would it have been to love and be loved by the beautiful man who instinctively knew exactly what you needed at every second though he didn't even know your last name?
It would have been a hell of a lot better than pining after Peter for three years, I knew that much.
A cold drizzle began falling once again. I debated whether to stay or go. After all, it was just water and I'd survived worse than a little rain in the past few days.
I ignored the weather and focused instead on the pounding surf and the thoughts that swirled through my head.
But when it began raining harder, I decided it was time to go. The rocks were already slippery and the tide was coming in anyway, bringing the water's edge back in my direction. I climbed down carefully, knowing the last thing I needed at this point was an injury. When I reached the sand below, I turned to head back to the car.
And there he stood, a few dozen feet away, watching me. Edward.
I stared at him, unsure of what to say. He stared back.
"I thought you'd left," he said after a moment.
"I did. I just... had to come back. I guess I wasn't done here," I replied, shrugging my shoulders.
He nodded and wiped rain from his face as I walked toward him.
I shivered involuntarily as I approached, cold from the rain and wind.
"You're freezing," he said. "Again."
"Yeah," I replied.
"I'm kinda cold too," he admitted.
"I can imagine," I answered. He looked as wet as I was. I wondered how long he'd been standing there.
"I think...I think you could warm me up," he said, so softly that I could barely hear him.
I shook my head slowly. "I'm a mess, a wreck. I will not drag you down with me."
"What if I want to be broken too?" he said. "I think it would be worth it, if it was with you."
"No," I said more firmly. "I could not do that to you."
"Oh." He looked like he was in pain. I understood it well. I'd become quite acquainted with rejection myself.
"I'm sorry," I breathed.
He pinched his nose and closed his eyes.
I was wiping rainwater from my face with my sleeve when he opened and focused his eyes on me again. "Well if you won't break me, then at least promise me you won't go."
"Edward, I have to leave. I don't live here," I reminded him.
"But not tonight, I mean. Stay, just for tonight. You can go home tomorrow," he pleaded. "Come back to the inn."
I looked at him. "I'm not sure that's a good idea," I told him truthfully.
"Is it really an option for you not to? Don't you feel this?" he asked, motioning between us.
I looked at the ground. "It doesn't matter."
"Look, I promise to behave," he swore. "Scouts honor. I just want to talk to you some more, and get to know you."
"What's the point?" I asked, kicking at the wet sand. I was going to leave in the morning.
"I'm not sure yet," he admitted. "I just know I don't want to let you go just yet. It's not time. You weren't done here and neither am I."
I paused, hesitated, feeling the decision weigh on my shoulders. This was bigger than deciding where I'd go to sleep tonight.
I took a deep breath. "Okay."
Though I only saw it for a brief second before he turned and silently started walking back to the parking lot, the smile that passed over his lips was breathtaking.
I was somewhat red-faced when I accepted my key again from Esme once we'd reached the B&B, though she greeted me with nothing but kindness. She simply patted me on the shoulder and welcomed me back for another night, ignoring the fact that I was dripping water all over her hardwood floors for the second day in a row.
But another hot shower, change of clothes, and delicious meal later, I was feeling decidedly better about my decision. Within the friendly walls of the Cull Inn, worries, stresses, problems—they just all melted away.
The arrival of evening meant another fire, this time in my room, as well as more wine, and even more hours of talking.
Sometime around 11 p.m., Edward placed a new log on the fire. When he sat back down it was even closer than before. And when he rested his hand over mine, I didn't pull away.
As midnight neared, I found myself studying his profile as he studied the embers and flickers of flame that still burned in the fireplace, though the wood was now running low. The shadows dancing against his profile teased my fuzzy head until my rebellious lips leaned in and brushed against his jaw.
He turned and stared into my eyes.
I wondered what he saw.
"What do you want, Jasper?" he asked.
"I don't know," I answered. I licked my lip unconsciously and watched him watch me as I did so.
"I think you do know," he replied.
"I want to kiss you," I acknowledged. "But I shouldn't."
"What if I kiss you?" he asked. "Would that be wrong?"
"I don't know," I replied, trying to recall my reasons through the haze of the wine and firelight.
"What else do you want?" he asked after a moment.
I looked at him helplessly, staring at his lips. I didn't know anything anymore.
"I know what I want. I think you want it too," he said quietly.
Oh, fuck it. "I want you," I told him. "Desperately."
"I know," he answered, his eyes dark in the soft light.
"But we can't," I said sadly.
"I know," he said again, and I heard his voice echo my own the need wrapped in resignation.
I sighed softly, feeling his eyes on me.
And then he leaned in and pressed his warm lips against my own.
I sighed into the soft, wet caress of his mouth, and kissed him back.
His lips were slick and sweet with just a hint of the hunger hiding beneath the surface.
Breaking away, I stood up. He followed and we moved from the loveseat to my bed and undressed to our underwear before slipping beneath the covers. He curled up behind me, his breath hot on my neck. I clutched his hand to my chest, and turned my head until his tongue found mine.
We were awake long after the fire was reduced to smoldering embers, enjoying careful touches and endless kisses.
I awoke alone the next morning. Somehow it was unsurprising. Neither was the note Edward had once again left behind. This time I showered and packed for my road trip before I opened it.
When I could wait no longer, I unfolded it and began to read:
I've reserved this room for you for a week in late July (on the house). I hope you'll come back. Please say you'll come back. I'll wait for you. And if you're still broken, that's okay. Maybe I'll be able to help you heal.
Impatiently waiting for your return,
I folded up his note and tucked it into my pocket, waved goodbye to Esme, whispered one to the Atlantic, and got into my car. A few left turns and I was headed home.
I listened to music along the way.