Epilogue: Fumbling Toward Ecstasy
Dedication: Dear Melly - this was actually a very rewarding journey. What was intended to be a light, humorous story took on a mind of its own. You can't say I don't love ya.
Disclaimer: SM created these beautiful creatures, and I am endlessly grateful that I get to play with them.
"All the fear has left me now
I'm not frightened anymore
It's my heart that pounds beneath my flesh
It's my mouth that pushes out this breath
And if I shed a tear I won't cage it
I won't fear love,"
~Fumbling Toward Ecstasy, Sarah McLachlan
When Jasper bought the house in Forks, he'd still been clinging to dreams of filling it with a family. Even through all the years he'd lived there alone, he never gave up imaging the spare room filled with toys and a growing, giggling child or two.
His dreams, it seemed, had finally come to fruition, and even though it was not Jasper's own family that made his old house a home, he was glad he was there to see it.
When he put his house on the market two years before, Carlisle had snatched it up. Though Carlisle typically purchased and remodeled vacation homes, Jasper's house was too good an investment to pass up on. When Esme unexpectedly became pregnant, Carlisle sold his home in Seattle and moved his little family permanently to Jasper's old Forks house.
Today, the house was filled with extended family and friends - and the giggling of not only the children, but the adults as well.
"You're a traitor, Tia," Edward teased his tiny, eighteen month old niece. He was holding her as she strained in his arms for Benjamin. "Aren't I your favorite uncle?"
"Nooooooo," the little girl cooed, tittering as Benjamin held her hands, pretending to engage Edward in a tug of war. They ended up stretching her between them, Tia shrieking with laughter as they swung her back and forth.
When Edward let go of her legs, Tia clung to Benjamin. When she was situated with her arms safely around his neck she scrunched her nose at her blood-related uncle. "Mine!" she declared.
Edward turned slightly, giving Carlisle a slightly petulant look. "Is this the way you're raising your daughter?
Amused, Carlisle merely slung his arm around Esme's shoulders and grinned innocently at his brother. "Don't look at me, I'm just the father."
Seated between his spread legs on the room's recliner, with her back against his chest, Bella laughed at the scene before them. With a contented sigh, she leaned her head back against his shoulder, her nose tickling the skin of his neck. "Do you miss this place?"
"The house or Forks?" he asked, distracted as his fingers played with hers.
"I miss Emmett and Rosalie," Jasper admitted, looking over to where his two friends stood in the kitchen. Emmett was trying to grab cookies right off the tray and Rosalie was smacking his hand with a spatula. "But no, I don't miss Forks or this house." Twining his fingers with hers, he brought their joined hands inward, wrapping his arms around her. "I was alone here."
He felt her lips curl up against his neck, and she kissed him there quickly. He closed his eyes briefly. With Bella in his arms and his friends – old and new - all around him, Jasper couldn't have imagined being happier than he was right at that moment.
"God, you're disgusting." Jasper opened one eye to find Edward standing over them with his hand on his hips, and a smile threatening the corner of his mouth. Edward made a show of rolling his eyes. "We're all very well aware how desperately in love you are."
Bella lifted foot to kick her friend's leg. "Shut up. You're just jealous because your boyfriend absconded with your niece and you're the only one who doesn't have anyone left to cuddle." She clucked in sympathy. "Odd man out again."
"I'll cuddle you!" a cheerful voice chimed in.
Edward laughed, putting his hands on his knees so he could lean down to Tanya's eye level. "Well thank you, sweetheart, but it looks like you have your hands full."
Indeed, Tanya's arms were full – as they always were when she visited – of Liam McCarty, Rosalie and Emmett's two year old. She had become instantly enamored of the little boy after Carlisle and Esme moved in – the couple watched the baby during the day while Rosalie and Emmett worked. Despite the fact Liam was sturdy lad and half Tanya's size, the eight year old never let him go if she could help it.
Jasper always teased Edward that Tanya had taken up with Liam on the rebound from her heart break over him.
Tanya worried her lip between her teeth looking from her old love to her current one. Liam, taking after his father, strained one hand toward Edward while he kept the other wrapped around Tanya. "There's 'nuff of me for both!" he exclaimed with a dimpled grin.
Bella shook in his arms as she cracked up laughing. Jasper looked around, not for the first time musing about the children. Precocious, energetic, bold Tanya. Charming Liam with his father's smile and his mother's outrageous beauty. Baby Tia – quiet and thoughtful, like her parents, with the Cullen streak of stubbornness.
He wondered what a child of his and Bella's would look like, act like. He'd been thinking about it a lot lately. But then, he was getting ahead of himself.
Bella shifted in his arms, making the item he'd hid behind his back dig painfully into his skin – another reminder of what he was going to do today.
"Jasper… are you okay?" Bella's concerned voice snapped him out of his thoughts. He looked down to find she was looking at him, her eyebrows and lips set in a serious line.
"Yeah," he answered, but his voice cracked slightly. He cleared his throat to cover it. "Why?"
"Your heart is pounding. I can feel it," she reached up, putting the back of her hand against his cheek as if checking for fever.
Catching her hand with his, Jasper kissed her fingers. He searched her eyes, finding the courage he needed in the adoration and devotion he always found reflected back at him when he looked at her. "I have something for you," he said finally.
Her eyebrows furrowed adorably with confusion, and Jasper had to smile. It still confused her when he gave her gifts just because he was thinking of her. She still fussed on her birthday and on Christmas. Jasper put a finger to her lips, stopping the inevitable protest. She pursed her lips and sighed, nodding that he should go ahead and give her the present if he absolutely had to.
Jasper felt his throat go dry as he sat up slightly, reaching behind him to pull out the book that had probably left a bruise on his back. It was a big, fancy thing. A hardback collection of the works of Shakespeare. He smiled softly at the absolute delight that crossed Bella's face. No matter how many times he gifted her with books, her reaction was always just as enthusiastic. It didn't even matter that she had most of these plays and poems in separate books at home, that the book was put together in a different way was enough for Bella to be ecstatic that she had it.
But there were other treasures tucked away in the pages - more to the surprise. Not wanting her to flip directly to the page that had his stomach twisting, he pushed her hands away from the book, opening it to one of the earlier pages.
The first half of the collection were sonnets and poems. As she flipped through the first pages she noticed right away that some passages, or a line here and there, were highlighted in his customary green. She chuckled with delight, giving Jasper a meaningful look. Since the months they spent apart - when they communicated only through other people's words - it was their habit to highlight passages that applied to them or their relationship. Jasper always used green, and she always used blue.
When she got into the plays, Jasper's heart sped up again. He watched her run her finger over a line he'd highlighted from Romeo and Juliet.
Her I love now
Doth grace for grace and love for love allow;
The other did not so.
When she got to the comedies both their breaths caught. As Bella flipped to Much Ado About Nothing she came to the pages he'd purposefully glued together so he could cut a section of pages out. Not many. Just enough to hold the single item that appeared beneath the most important section of highlighted text.
Give me your hand before this holy friar.
I am your husband, if you like of me
Nestled in the cutaway pages was a diamond ring.
Jasper watched as Bella gasped, her hand going to her mouth. Her eyes scanned the text in front of her several times before she raised her teary gaze to him. He reached around her, plucking the ring from its hiding spot.
"This is fascinating." Neither Jasper nor Bella acknowledged Edward as he spoke. Jasper heard him, of course, but he was too wrapped up in the emotion that was welling between him and the woman he loved. "How are they doing this without words?"
Jasper raised an eyebrow at Bella, holding the ring up slightly with a questioning look.
"Is he... proposing to her?" Benjamin said, sounding perplexed.
A gasp Jasper easily recognized as Emse's told him that their audience was growing. He still didn't take his eyes off Bella.
Slowly, Bella dropped her hand, revealing the wide grin that had spread across her face. She grabbed for her purse, blindly digging around for a moment before producing a blue highlighter. Then she flipped through the book,expertly tracking down the page she needed in Henry IV. He watched as her trembling fingers held the highlighter as carefully as possible, marking out a single line.
Love for thy love, and hand for hand I give.
His answering grin was painfully wide. His heart pounded then, not with anxiety but with an elation he'd never felt before.
"Think they learned telepathy?" Emmett asked in a stage whisper.
"Shut up," Rosalie hissed. "Don't ruin this!"
Jasper took her hand in his. Pride and deep sense of satisfaction made trails through the boundless, overwhelming love he felt for Bella as he slid the simple, beautiful ring onto her finger. No sooner did he have it settled than Bella had yanked her hands away so she could throw her arms around his neck. She kissed him then - hard, joyous kisses through her bubbling laughter.
"She said yes," Edward informed the watching adults.
"You don't have to be a mind reader to see that," Benjamin laughed.
"Ewwwww," Tanya contributed, coming in and seeing the make-out session.
Bella pulled away from him, her cheeks flushing crimson as her eyes darted to the chuckling, grinning faces all around her. She seemed a little startled to see them, and laid her head on his shoulder, smiling sheepishly at her overzealous public display of affection.
As their friends descended on them, Jasper took a brief moment to appreciate the enormity of the second chance he'd been given. This house that had once held lonely days and blank walls now held the beginnings of not only his own, but the families of the friends he'd gained. He had a support system now - people who knew his troubles and were there to lean on when things got tricky. He had a purpose, a reason to not merely survive but truly live, and a stunning, amazing woman at his side to share in every triumph.
Most of all, Jasper felt the profound gift of hope and the luxury of attainable dreams. Where he had once stood still, desperately wishing for a way to undo his past, his future had been nothing but ephemeral mist slipping through his fingers. Now he allowed himself to imagine what the coming years would bring. First a proper wedding - family and friends coming together to support a good, solid union. Then he hoped to give his bad tempered, improbably named cat a human sibling or two. A pair of children that were a mix of Bella, and himself and yet completely unique.
Ignoring their friends one more time, Jasper put two fingers to Bella's cheek, turning her face back to his. Her eyes shone with happy tears, and he couldn't help placing one more kiss to her lips. "Are you happy?" he asked.
She laughed, kissing the tip of his nose. "A little bit of an understatement." A shadow crossed her face, almost too quick to see, but Jasper caught it.
"What is it?"
"Well," Bella hemmed. "It's selfish really. But I just wish Alice was here." She got a far away look in her eyes. "I wonder if she would be happy."
Alice and Felix were traveling, as they did nearly six months out of the year. They were helping build houses in Haiti at the present time. While she and Bella had lost some of the closeness they'd once shared, they were still best friends.
"She knows, actually," Jasper confessed, quietly. "I uh," he smirked because it sounded ridiculous. "I never thought to ask your dad's permission to ask to marry you, but I did ask hers. I wanted to be sure that she would be there with you, for you."
It had been a sign of respect that he felt he owed Alice. No matter what had happened between them, she was and would always be his first wife, his first love, and, no matter how improbably, the reason he'd met the love of his life. He'd had their wedding rings melted down into a small heart that he'd presented her with - a symbol of the piece of his heart that would always be hers.
"She said that if you thought about planning the wedding without her, she would physically harm you." They both laughed because Alice probably wasn't lying.
Then they had to turn their attention to Tanya who was jumping up and down beside their chair, having just figured out what was going on. "Can I come, can I come, can I come?"
Bella giggled at the little girl. "Welllllll," she pretended to think about it. "I was going to ask Edward to be my flower girl, but I think you would look a lot prettier. What do you say?"
"Yeah!" Tanya cheered.
Laughing, and filled with more happiness than he'd ever known, Jasper held Bella tightly. Once upon a time he lost everything. Now he had more than one man could have hoped for.
A/N: Thank you to jfka06 for help finding the right quotes. I was looking all damn day if you can believe it. ::head desk:: But Jasper was insistent that his girl should get a proposal that was tailored specifically to her.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to the beautiful, talented, awesome sauce Barbaurella for marking up my docs, putting up with my nonsense, and reminding me that I forgot a OH YEAH FUCKING IMPORTANT part of the epilogue. ::face palm::
Thanks to jadedandboring for beta work.
Thanks to all of you who have left me such great reviews. I hope you enjoyed the ride.