Chapter One - Friendships
Watching my fiancé as he moved forward to collect his certificate of graduation was a moment of pride for me. I sat in the audience with his family and my own sisters, clapping maniacally as the Dean shook his hand and he turned to beam at us all. Today was the culmination of all his hard work and his determination to make a good life for himself; for us. Two days previously, our roles had been reversed and he had sat here watching me as I graduated from my English literature course. Both of us had succeeded in our chosen courses and now we were moving onto the next phase of our lives; a career and of course marriage. One month from today Peter and I were going to become husband and wife and the thought of it sent a surge of contentment through me, combined with nervousness. I couldn't imagine sharing my life with anyone else but the man who had been my best friend since my freshman year of high school. We had lived through each other's awkward teenage years. We had endured each other's attempts to date someone outside our own personal little circle of friends and we had ultimately given in and decided that all we needed was one another; no one knew us the way we knew each other. We decided we were meant to be.
The ceremony ended and Peter was soon by my side with a casual arm around my shoulder as he was being congratulated by his mother and father for his achievements. The grin did not leave his face as my sisters, Alice and Rosalie, added their congratulations to the mix; hugging him tightly and giving him a brief peck on his cheek to show their own pride.
"So we're both official graduates now Peter." I smiled up at him gently and he returned with his own chuckle of relief.
"Thank goodness. I didn't think we were ever going to get to this day Bella. It feels like we've been in some form of schooling for forever."
"Too right… and this means it is time to celebrate," Rosalie's boyfriend, Emmett piped up from the sidelines and we all turned to look at his excited face. "What? You have to agree that this has been a long time in the coming. The last two of our little group are finally finished and we can introduce them to a world of adulthood where exams and study aren't foremost in their heads."
I was about to give a quick retort back when a new voice joined our conversation and Peter reeled around in surprise.
"I totally agree. Graduating without the celebrating is not the done thing. As long as I am invited, of course."
"You have to be kidding me. Jasper Cullen, what are you doing here?" Peter stepped forward to clasp the tall man I now recognized as his closest male friend from childhood. "I wasn't expecting you for a couple more weeks."
"Yeah well I thought that your best man should make an effort to come on out here and spend some time with you before the wedding and when better to arrive than at your graduation. Congratulations man…on graduating. I know you've worked hard to get here."
I took a closer look at my fiancé's best friend while they continued to discuss his surprise visit. He was tall; about 6'3'' and had honey blonde hair that hung over his forehead. I had seen photos of him of course, but we had never met in the flesh and his pictures had not done him justice. He was quite an attractive man to look at and when I noticed Alice doing her own checking out I knew she was in complete agreement with my appraisal. I smiled at the possibilities. Alice deserved someone nice to get close to and I knew from Peter's constant praise of his old mate that Jasper Cullen was one of the good guys.
"Bella, I want you to finally meet my good friend Jasper. Jasper this is Bella, my fiancé."
Jasper took my hand and grazed his lips softly over the back of it, smirking at me with a cheeky glint to his eye. The action made me feel instantly at ease with him.
"More than happy to finally meet you, Bella Swan. This guy here speaks of nothing but you when we get to talk and when we get together for our boys weekends away, it is no different. I can see that you are everything he has described. Talking to you on the phone is just not the same."
"Thanks Jasper. I have heard a whole lot about you too. Thanks for coming all this way."
"Wouldn't give up the opportunity to spend time with my closest friend and get to know his beautiful fiancé at the same time. The military has given me some extra leave so here I am."
Peter proceeded to introduce Jasper to Alice and Rosalie and I could tell that he was extremely happy to have his friend here with us on this special day. Emmett clapped Jasper on the back and enquired after his family. Emmett knew Jasper's family through his friendship with Jasper's older brother Edward, back before the Cullens had left New York to have a sea change across the country. Jasper and Peter had gone to school together and Emmett and Edward had been two years ahead of them. The Cullens had left before my own family moved to New York so I had never encountered them except through second hand stories and the knowledge that Peter had retained a solid long distance friendship with Jasper throughout the years that I had known him. I was looking forward to learning more.
Mr and Mrs Wood excused themselves so that we 'young ones' could go off and enjoy our celebrations without them. Peter, Jasper and Emmett were reconnecting since it had been about eight months since their last little get together over in Seattle, so I took the opportunity to give my sister a little bit of teasing.
"Like what you see Ali?"
"What's not to like Bella? You never told me that Peter had a hot best friend that has remained a mystery to all us girls for the last eight years. Why the hell hasn't Peter had him come to New York for some of these boys weekends away? I have to say your fiancé has been very selfish in not introducing his favourite sister in law to be to his male bestie; very selfish indeed."
I laughed at Alice's tirade and flicked my eyes back to the boys. I guess it was somewhat odd that the person Peter was closest too, besides me, was an enigma to us after all these years but I blamed it on Jasper's chosen career and Peter's desire to make things easier for Jasper when they did get their infrequent moments to meet up.
"Jasper is a marine, Alice. He is overseas a lot and I think when he comes home Peter makes the effort to go and see him, rather than the other way round, so that Jasper can still be close to his family. Seems reasonable to me." I shrugged my shoulders at her and she grimaced.
"Yeh, reasonable, but completely unsatisfying for little ole moi. That boy is heaven on a stick and I want to get to know him. It should have happened a long time ago."
"Well now is your opportunity, little sis," Rosalie sighed before raising her voice a little so that the boys could hear what she was saying. "because I do believe we are all up for a big night tonight if the boys expressions are anything to go by,"
The boys turned enthusiastically back to us with beaming faces. "You guessed right, beautiful. Jasper, Peter and I think that Peter Macmanus is the go for a night of good company, food and drinks. Are you all up for it?"
The bar Emmett had just suggested was a regular place for us to meet and I couldn't think of any reason why it wouldn't suit us for tonight. "Sure. Let's go and celebrate my fiancés new status as an architect. He deserves a few drinks, for sure, for getting through that grind."
"Says the young lady who graduated ahead of time, with honours, in her literature course, by taking on way too many subjects all in one sitting. You are the brains in this relationship my sweet Bella. You're not kidding anyone,"
I blushed as Peter grabbed me to his side and planted a chaste kiss on the top of my head. He loved the fact that even though I was a year behind him at high school, I had used my determination to work hard to finish my course ahead of time, so that the two of us were now graduating concurrently, rather than a year apart as it should have been. He had been at university for five years and I had been there for four. We had well and truly earned tonight's promise of fun and relaxation.
"Ok, ok. We all know that my sister is a genius but that isn't going to help us get ready for tonight's festivities. How 'bout we girls meet you boys at say ….seven at Peter Macmanus. That should give us enough time to make ourselves beautiful and be ready for a great night out." Alice took control of the organization as she always did and we all fell in with her plans. It was no use for me to try to go against her; she always won, which was probably just as well because otherwise I would be happy to live in jeans and t-shirts. I wasn't the girly type as Alice an Rosalie were, but having them as sisters definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone on a daily basis.
"Are you sure this is alright Bells? I know we thought we would go out, just the two of us, to celebrate but I kind of feel like Jasper has come all this way and I shouldn't ditch him on his first night here." Peter had taken me aside to have a quick word and I grinned up at his concerned expression.
"Don't be silly Peter. Of course we should be spending time with your best friend. I am actually rather looking forward to it. From everything you've told me it should be an interesting night. We have forever to be doing things on our own."
"You're the best, Bella. You know that right?" Peter leant down to graze his lips softly across mine and I enjoyed the warm, safe feeling it always gave me. "How did I ever get lucky enough to be able to spend the rest of my life with my best friend?"
"You're marrying Jasper?" I asked, tongue in cheek and then laughed at the shocked expression on his face.
"Get out of here Peter. I will see you at Macmanus'. Enjoy your afternoon with the boys."
The bar was bustling when we walked in, searching for the boys. They weren't hard to spot at all, being so tall and Emmett being particularly hulking. He waved at us from their spot down the back and I followed Rosalie as she led the way back to where they had saved spots for us.
" You all look lovely ladies," Emmett complimented as we sat down, ready for our first drinks.
" Sure do," Jasper agreed, but his eyes were mostly appraising Alice who was trying to not show her own interest so blatantly. "So what would you girls like to drink?"
I gave Peter a kiss of greeting before answering Jasper's question. Once he was armed with everyone's choices for drinks he disappeared over to the bar while the rest of us perused the food menu.
Light hearted conversation followed as Jasper returned with our drinks and our orders of food were placed. I was completely relaxed and it made me really happy to note that Jasper fit in perfectly with our little group of friends. Angela and Ben were missing because they had other arrangements for the night but I was pretty sure he would get on with them too. I should have known that a man who could retain his long distance relationship with my fiancé for so many years must be pretty special.
"So Jasper, Bella tells me that you are a marine. Where have you been based?" Alice leaned towards Jasper where he sat right next to her and even though he smiled at her it didn't quite reach his eyes. I found this odd considering he had been flirting non stop with my sister up until this point and I had seen no evidence of any kind of wariness.
A slight tightening of his eyes, as he answered, made me realise it was his job that made him react slightly negatively, not my sister. "I have just returned from Afghanistan actually. My home base is Camp Pendleton, California which suits me because it's reasonably close to my family." He looked down into his plate of food and fiddled with his fork with nervousness. Alice looked at me questioningly and I shrugged my shoulders. She diverted her gaze to Peter and he shook his head ever so slightly. Alice took it as a cue to change the subject.
"So you are close with your family then Jasper?"
Jasper's whole demeanor changed and it was with relief that I saw it was in a positive way. "I guess you could say that," He stated brightly. "My mum and dad are really cool; the greatest parents ever. I have a younger sister Camille who will be seventeen in a few months time and an older brother, Edward who is good friends with this great lump over here." Jasper pointed at Emmett who sat grinning. "Mum, dad and Camille live in a small town called Forks and Edward lives everywhere; his current location is Paris. He moves around a lot for work."
"Ahhh so that is why Emmett's so called best friend is so elusive," Rosalie ascertained "I was beginning to think that he didn't even exist and that Emmett was just using him as an excuse to traipse across the continent to get away from me."
Emmett guffawed. "And the photos around our apartment are?"
"I don't know…maybe just some good looking model that you got pictures off the net of, and put up to make me think Edward existed."
"Quite an intricate way of getting away from the girlfriend for a few weekends each year I would say," Jasper laughed.
"Well desperation makes us do funny things," Rosalie said with a deadpan face before bursting into her own laughter. "I am looking forward to meeting Edward though. I've heard he was quite the ladies man back in high school."
"Ah babe I think you have him mixed up with me actually," Emmett interrupted, flexing his muscles a little to make a point.
"Um…babe….I think you are forgetting that I was there for your senior year of high school and I know exactly how much of a ladies man you were."
"Hey that's only because I had seen the error of my ways and was holding out for the hottest girl around – you,"
"Lies, Emmett McCarty. You were mooning around after that stupid try hard Jenny Waterhouse and it wasn't until we were at University that you saw what I had to offer you – class and intelligence; not to mention my amazing ability to fix your car for you. It took you long enough I have to say."
"He just never thought he would have a shot with the beautiful Rosalie Swan," Peter laughed at the interaction between his two friends. "It took us ages to persuade him that he might actually have a chance if he tried hard enough."
Jasper nodded. "Even I know that from Edward. He used to say that Emmett was all hung up on some girl and couldn't understand why he didn't just go for it. Happy to see that it all worked out in the end."
Everyone chuckled at the comical look of horror on Emmett's face as he denied having chats about his crush to his male friends all those years ago. Obviously he didn't think that was very manly but I thought it was kind of cute that they all had that kind of relationship.
"Yea well it's been working for five years now so we must be doing something right," Rosalie tried to ignore Emmett's denials and threw a straw at him instead. "Isn't that right babe?"
Emmett nodded as he took a deep swill of his beer and then leant forward to give her a quick peck on her cheek. Emmett and Rosalie were the kind of couple everyone expected to last. They just got one another and it wouldn't surprise me if they followed Peter and I down the aisle sooner than later.
Jasper turned to me and grinned his cheeky grin that I was beginning to see was his normal way. "So Bella. How did my boy here do with the whole asking you to marry him scenario? I feel like I've missed out on all the important parts of his life so spill…."
Peter was shaking his head good naturedly at his friend and I could feel the blush rise into my face.
"He did well." I stated softly.
"Uh ah. No way Bella. That is not good enough. You need to tell me exactly what went down. I'm his best man. That is the kind of stuff I need to know."
I looked at Peter for some assistance and he sighed dramatically. "You might as well just tell him Bells. It's more than a little difficult to stop Jasper getting anything he wants."
Alice raised her eyebrow at that little bit of information and it was duly noted by Jasper who smirked and spoke to her in a teasing tone. "Not yet anyway." Alice grinned back at him but kept her mouth closed which was quite a trip away from the norm for her and a move I knew was very deliberate. I would think about that later.
Everyone relaxed back into their seats as I began to relate our story to Jasper. As I spoke the memories came surging up into my mind and I smiled contently. Peter really was one in a million.
"You know I don't like surprises," I whined as Peter put the blindfold on me. "Can't you just tell me what it is and I can pretend to be surprised once I am there?"
Peter chuckled at my wariness as he guided me into the front seat of his car. He was more than aware that I did not like being in the limelight or for him to do anything too fancy or expensive for me. "Come on Bells. It's your birthday and I am your boyfriend. I am meant to spoil you. It's my job."
"I suppose so but I don't understand why I need the blindfold. Are you taking me somewhere special for lunch? Am I dressed alright for whatever you have planned? Oh god Peter you know I hate the not knowing."
"It's going to be fine Bella. Trust me. Today is a special day and I want you to relax and enjoy it."
I decided to give in to whatever it was he was doing and follow his instructions to relax. Before long we were slowing down and stopping. I could hear Peter turn the engine off and get out of his door. Within a minute he was at my side having opened the door and helping me get clumsily out. We moved a few steps forward and then I felt Peter's breath tickling my ear as he spoke softly.
"Ok Bells. Happy birthday," and he gently moved the blindfold from my eyes and I stared at the picture before me.
"What…what's this?" I stammered allowing my confusion to come forth. In front of me stood a beautiful house that was picture perfect, down to the picket fencing.
"Do you like it?" Peter asked nervously and I quickly searched his face for answers. I did not know what we were doing here.
"Well yes of course. It is absolutely beautiful but what are we doing here?"
"It's yours….well actually it is ours if you will take me but I bought it with you in mind. I know that this is the kind of house you've always wanted and I was kind of hoping that…"
"Peter, you can't buy me a house," My voice reflected all the horror I was currently feeling. "That is not something you do for your girlfriend; no matter how rich you are. I can't accept this as a birthday present. It's yours."
I felt mildly guilty when I looked at Peter's face and saw the disappointment there. Surely he knew me well enough to know that I could never accept such an extravagant gift. There was a huge gap between how much money my family had and how much his had and as a result I had always been very careful to ensure he didn't go overboard with his generosity. It appeared that he was not sticking to the game plan on this one.
"Bella…please…just come inside and take a look. I promise it will be everything you have ever dreamed of. You know I can afford this and you know that I would never do this lightly. Please come in."
I couldn't say no to his heartfelt plea knowing he was right; Peter had never used his family's money for his own purposes, always content to live off what he earned with his part time job. It was one of the things I loved about him. Now I was following him into the house and very distractedly looking around me. Every room was completely empty but I could see the potential in every space. Peter truly did know what I would like when it came to a home and I found myself getting excited against my own better judgment. When we arrived towards the back of the house and I saw what Peter had organized for me I couldn't stop myself from throwing my arms around him and kissing him soundly.
"Now this is the perfect way to enjoy a birthday meal" I told him, moving towards the picnic rug that had been laid out beside an unlit fireplace, completely covered with all my favourite foods. I sat down without thinking and Peter followed my lead.
"I thought you would like this bit." He reached back to pull a bottle of champagne out of a box and poured two glasses for us to drink. I sipped at the drink, allowing the bubbles to tickle my nose as I looked around at my environment. The room we were currently sitting in was large with high ceilings and a great view through some glass doors of a lake down the back of the yard. I must have had some admiration reflected on my face because Peter took the opportunity to do some sweet talking.
"See. I haven't put any furniture in here at all because I figured you would like it better if we brought everything with our own money; the money we earn from our jobs after graduation, not my family money. Bella. I know this is a huge deal for you but I don't want it to be. I want you to know that what is mine is yours. I love you and I want to make you happy….. always."
"You do make me happy Peter. I don't need you to buy me a house to do that but…..it really is a beautiful house and I can only imagine how much fun it would be to furniture it the way we want to," Peter's face shone with excitement when I said it and I couldn't help but tease him a little. "Is this your round about way of asking me to move in with you Mr Wood?"
"No…Actually, this is my round about way of asking you to marry me Bella," I gasped as he nervously reached into his pocket and brought out a small black box which he quickly opened to reveal a petite solitaire ring. "I love you and can't imagine ever wanting to be with anyone else but you. I am hoping you feel the same way and that you will agree to make me the happiest man alive by saying that you will marry me."
Peter's forehead furrowed with worry as he took in my face and I realized that I must have a huge look of shock on it. I hadn't expected this at all, although deep down I knew it would be the way we would go eventually. Peter and I belonged together because we knew each other so well. We were comfortable with each other in a way I had never been with any other person and even contemplating him not being around made me ache with a sorrow that I couldn't ignore. With our closeness it was inevitable that we would marry and I knew I needed to put the poor guy out of his misery.
"Yes. Of course I will marry you Peter. How could it possibly be any other way? I love you," The excitement in my voice made Peter smile in relief and then complete happiness. I did that to him. I made him happy and hoped I would always do that. I spattered his face with small kisses of joy. "Yes, yes, yes. I will be your wife."
Peter slipped the ring onto my finger and I looked at the sparkling diamond that now graced my hand. It was perfect for me and I knew that Peter would have chosen very carefully to ensure it would be my taste. I sighed with contentment that I had just agreed to marry the man who knew me so completely. We didn't have to second guess each other; we just knew.
The memories faded as I took in my current audience and I smiled, somewhat embarrassed that I had gone into such a trance while I was telling my story. Peter was looking down at me with understanding in his eyes. That day had been so special to the two of us. He squeezed my shoulder lightly and then grinned as Jasper spoke.
"Whoa smooth Peter. Buying the house and then proposing. She had no chance against that little maneuver."
"I think it was a sweet move," Rosalie stated with conviction and gave Emmett a meaningful glance that he caught and quickly smirked back at. Buying Rosalie a house before they got married was not likely for him and they both knew she was teasing him without malice.
"I didn't say it wasn't," Jasper said. " I was just saying it was smooth. It's a lot to live up to for all us other guys out there."
"Hmmm. So what would you imagine would be a good way of proposing, Jasper Cullen?" The teasing tone of Alice's voice was not missed by anyone and we all held our breath wondering how Jasper was going to respond to her blatant flirting at such an early stage of meeting one another. He did not disappoint.
"Well that would depend on the lady I fell for, wouldn't it Miss Swan?" I almost laughed out loud when I saw the dumbstruck look on Alice's face as Jasper edged closer to her and leaned across her body to pick up the salt shaker before casually returning back to his spot at her side. I was sure she was going to hyperventilate with the light touches his very deliberate move made against her body. He winked at her before popping a French fry into his mouth. Touche. Alice had met her match. It was about time someone could give Alice a run for her money.
The night proceeded with a whole lot of laughter, trips down memory lane and the very distinct feeling that Alice and Jasper had something going on that went beyond two people who had just met. I was fascinated by that instant palpable chemistry as it was not something I had ever experienced. My love for Peter had been born out of a very close friendship and our complete knowledge of one another. Here was Alice and Jasper, who had never clapped eyes on one another, sharing a connection that was all about instant attraction and maybe something a little bit more. It was a hard thing for me to get my head around but I had to admit I loved the romance of it for my sister. I always wanted her to be happy and right at this moment in time I don't think I had ever seen her happier.
As the night moved into the early hours of the morning we eventually agreed that our time for celebrating and catching up should come to an end and the boys moved to help us on with our coats. As Emmett and Rosalie shared their own apartment they said their goodbyes and grabbed a cab, heading home without us. Peter and Jasper helped Alice and I into a cab and the four of us were soon driving back to Alice and my apartment. When the cab pulled up outside, Peter leant in to kiss me goodbye, wishing me sweet dreams and Jasper made Alice swoon when he took her hand gently in his hands and brushed his lips against it. Alice took a few seconds to recover from his touch and then gave him a tight goodbye before stepping out of the cab. I knew Peter wouldn't let the cab leave the curb until he could see we were safely inside so I guided Alice up the stairs and into the building before we both turned and waved at the guys.
Once inside the apartment Alice leaned against the door and sighed heavily, making me grin about her dramatical entrance.
"Oh my god Bella. He is divine," Alice looked at me intently and then closed her eyes, sighing again. "I think I might be in love,"
If I hadn't been there with her tonight I would have thought she was having me on. If I hadn't seen the connection the two of them had experienced I would have told her she was mad. She was waiting for any one of those reactions; I could see it as she looked nervously at me through her half closed eyes …and surprisingly I was not going to give her either.
"No kidding, Alice. No kidding."
The two of us looked at one another in surprise and then fell into very girly giggles. The weeks leading up to the wedding were going to be very interesting indeed and I congratulated myself silently that my marrying Peter had brought Alice and Jasper to meet one another. I hoped, with everything I had, that it would all pan out.
It was important to me. Love….we all deserved it, didn't we?