'Love Actually' Contest

Title: Heart of Stone

Characters: Jasper, Rosalie, Edward, Emmett, Alice, Carlisle, Esme

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight and all its characters. No copyright infringement intended.

Image that inspired you: prompt 17

Jasper

"Are we at the ocean, mama?"
"No, Rosalie, honey, it's a lake."
"But it's so big..."

My earliest memory. My only memory of her.

If it wasn't so clear, I might have thought by now it was a dream. Perhaps there had been shards of colors, fragmented shreds of words before, and always, always woven through each whisper, every half-remembered nuance was the feeling of Rosie, of her presence. This, though, was the first thing I could recall with solid clarity; standing together in shared wonder, wriggling our bare toes in the black sand. We stared out at the waves.

Her hand fit perfectly in mine in the flawless, frozen moment that I would guard forever.

Before we left the shore that day I bent down and picked up a jet-black pebble, impeccably smooth. I held it up, watched it glisten in the low evening sunlight. I remember how disappointed I was to pull it out of my pocket later to find its surface dried to ashen dullness, but I kept it all the same.

I wound up keeping that pebble with me through all the bad shit that happened over the next few years, moving in and out of half the kids' homes in Sacramento, CA. At least, it surely felt like half the homes in the world to me, aged four... five... six… seven years old. Through everything, I clasped that pebble in my closed hand and squeezed it so tightly my knuckles hurt, to balance out the aching in my heart - guess you could say it came to symbolise her somehow.

I never felt the loss of my mama anywhere half as bad as it burned me losing Rosie. Being placed in separate temporary care from her immediately after the car accident was searingly, white-hot painful. It sounds crazy, but when the big lady wearing yellow came and told me that mama had gone to live with the angels it didn't seem so bad to me after that. I had never needed much besides my Rosie, anyhow.

I asked the big lady if me and Rosie could go and see the angels, too, together, but she had gotten a sad look on her face as she bent down to me.

"Now Jasper, honey. You're going to need to be a brave boy..."

Nowadays, I understood better why things had fallen back down how they did after everything was thrown upwards with the impact of the crash. If she was anywhere half as close to pretty as I remembered her sweet little face and golden ringlets, it was no wonder that she had been snapped right up for adoption like she was.
Not like me.

I was a wiry little kid with too-big, too-intense eyes that made adults uncomfortable. Grown folks used to whisper to each other that I seemed to look right through them, left them feeling chilled. Eyes too old for his face, that one. Guess it made no sense that two kids should sit and rot in care when one could be given over to a loving family.

Though I ask you, all the same – what kind of sick motherfucker would rip a pair of twins apart, when they were all the other had in the world?

At only four years old?

Though I tried a thousand times since until my brain ached with the effort, I never could remember anything about the crash that killed our mama, or actually saying goodbye to my twin sister.
It's strange, but that was the truth of it. I could only guess it broke up my heart so bad that it shut up my mind as well. After that I got sent around a lot from place to place, but all the time I clung to my only memory of her as tightly as I held on to that small black stone.

Then, one day, everything changed for me as suddenly as the wind, all over again. That was the day that Esme showed up from out of a clear blue sky to get me. I was seven at the time and I truly thought she was an angel.

The other kids clamored for the sweets she brought us, but I hung back, pre-empting the disappointment I already knew would come. The few photographs I have of me back then show a kid with a strange, intense face, never looking as joyful as a child rightly should. Then there were the screaming nightmares I was prone to, the ones where I would run blindly thorough whatever building I was in, just endlessly searching for Rosie. It scared the grownups, and they would ask that I be moved along.

I quickly learned that grown people were scared by stuff they didn't rightly understand, and that in turn, fear made people angry. That's why when the angel arrived with her sweets and kind words I just stayed sitting with my back to her on the far side of the recreation yard. I thought I was dreaming when I felt a warm hand on my shoulder.

Turns out that Esme and Carlisle Cullen were my saviours.
As soon as they could after that first meeting-day, they took me home with them – Esme had lost a little boy of her own and couldn't have any more children, but the Cullens' hearts were just too damn big not to find some other lost souls to give some of all that love to. By some miracle, Esme must have seen something in me that told her I was supposed to be one of them.

They had a couple of bigger kids already there when I arrived – both aged ten. Happens that Edward and Emmett had been at the same home together before the Cullens adopted them. Edward was lean, painfully withdrawn and bookish; Emmett was an ox of a boy, noisy and boisterous, with a bad-tempered streak.
Both were pretty broken, truth be told, much as Esme and Carlisle tried with them.

Much like me.
Still, life was better than I could have hoped for in the big white house where Dr Cullen lived with Esme and her three lost boys.

While the adoption papers were being prepared and they were fixing to take me home with them, Esme made me a tapestry with my name on it and hung it over the bed. I couldn't tell her then that the reason it made my throat close up to see it when I first arrived was because by rights there should have been another name next to it. I turned it to the wall, but she never said a word about it, just smoothed my hair and kissed me softly goodnight.

A few days later there was a little oil painting of a boat there instead.

I was only there for a few nights before the nightmares started up again, but even that was different here. I was surprised to find that Esme and the doctor didn't beat me when they found me running wild-eyed through the house in my pyjamas. Esme's hands were cool against my forehead as I thrashed against my bed, night after night, while she sat and hummed to me until I was calm enough to properly see her again. She really did look every part the angel I had first thought her to be, there in the dim light of the whitewashed room she'd got ready especially for me.

It still took six months of the dreams and the screaming before I told her one night about my Rosie. I wasn't even sure they would believe me about her but Carlisle and Esme, being the good folks that they were, surprised me again by promising right away to help me to look for her. Esme drove all the way to the records office in Carson City to see if she could turn up any information but it all came to nothing in the end, and I was glad that just like when I was younger, I hadn't let myself get too caught up in hope.

And so I grew up; boy to young man. Better cared for than I rightly deserved, but still... Always missing something.

Part of me was absent with her. In my dreams I made it up, filled in the blanks – all the shit I knew should be there, all the recollections I should have. I felt cheated – I wanted my memories of her, dammit. I dreamed her a thousand different ways.

The pebble always lay under my pillow, held tightly in my hand each night as I strained to see her face in the dark. Esme changed my bedding each and every week, but the pebble always stayed in the same place. She never mentioned it to me, and I never spoke about it to her. That's when I really started to love her.

Carlisle and Esme tried so hard to help us three boys to shake our pasts and become whole, healthy people, and with Emmett and Edward it seemed to be working. But sometimes things are too broken to be properly fixed, no matter how much money, time or love you throw at them.

That's how I felt.

I guess that every day things got a little better – with each time they told us they would pick us up, or be back at a certain time, or just in keeping all the myriad little promises that parents make to kids, and they always came through. It helped a lot with the trust, yet I spent a lot of my time feeling like I was part of a play without really knowing my lines.

So. The years wound by and we had all traveled some way closer to being a family. Still, I couldn't belong wholly to them, much as I knew Esme wanted it, when I wasn't whole myself. Edward and Emmett were seventeen and although they bickered some they always had each other, in a way I wasn't part of.

I was the gawky fifteen-year-old who stayed out of their way.

High school was a lonely place – the kids tended to avoid me much the same as the adults always had, though things got a little better after Edward started silently making room for me at the lunch table.
That was the summer that Edward started getting into trouble pretty bad, hanging out with a girl that even Emmett called Bad News. From the little Edward said, it sounded like her home-life was all types of screwed up. I heard Carlisle call her 'a pretty conflicted young lady' to Esme when they thought that nobody was around one time.

In Carlisle-speak, I knew that meant that she was as cracked in the head as the three of us boys.

Carlisle got called by the police to go pick up Edward more than once that summer. Strangely, though, the minute he had threatened to make it difficult for Edward to see his new partner in crime, the phonecalls stopped and Edward started arriving home in time for curfew. He'd never had a friend before and I guess he wasn't prepared to risk the one he had.

Edward was always out now with the crazy chick, though I never saw him bring her to the house. I wondered if they were off doing drugs, or having sex or somesuch, until one night from up in my room at the front of the house I overheard Edward out on the porch smoking. Emmett's teasing voice floated up to me.

"So, bet she's crazy wild in the sack, huh? The little nuts one... You're hitting that, right?"

The glowing ember of Edward's finished cigarette flew like a tiny firework as he flicked it out into the dark and I strained to hear his low voice when he replied.

"It's not like that, man. We're cool. She only acts out because her family's so fucked up to her. We help each other. We hang out... It's just cool." The note of genuine caring that he wrapped around each word in took me by surprise.

Life continued, dragging me along with it, until the day that I would later think of as my personal day of reckoning. That particular day was much like any other – Emmett and I were fighting. Nothing unusual there: Edward was normally out these days and tended to give me a wide berth when at home, but Emmett...

Well, Emmett seemed to think it was his brotherly duty to Toughen Me Up. He set about it by relentless taunting and arm-punches that hurt, although I would have rather died than show it.

We were having dinner in the kitchen. A news report murmured at low volume from the TV on the wall about some dude going crazy in downtown LA with a gun. Seemed he had his family holed up in his apartment, threatening to smoke them all. Without looking up from his desert, Emmett snatched the remote with no warning and switched the channel to sports.

"Thanks for asking if anyone was watching that, Emmett. Win." Edward rolled his eyes and put his plate in the dishwasher before heading silently upstairs to his room.

I stared at Emmett. "Why do you have to be such a dick? You're not the only person who lives here." Emmett just threw back his head and laughed.

"Have you started to get your period, Jazzy? I hear PMT is a bitch." He snickered. "Dude. Chill the fuck out."

He followed me out of the kitchen when I left, up the stairs and into my room where he now lay lounging on my bed, teasing me about being a girl in his normal dumbass juvenile way. Suddenly, he was holding up the pebble.

"Dude, did you know you've got a stone in your bed?"

I felt time freeze around me.
"Give that back to me, Emmett." Even I could hear the tremor in my voice. It would be sure to catch his interest.
"What, this?" He looked at me carefully, then back to the small black item in his hand. I was hardly breathing.

"What the hell is this? Huh? Piece of moon rock or something?" Emmett tossed the stone casually in the air, watching me all the time as he caught it expertly. The sight of it in his big stupid fucking hands was making me feel seven shades of crazy.
"Give it back, Emmett." I took a step towards him, hardly breathing, without really knowing what I intended to do.
Emmett grinned broadly and stood up, holding it up above his head. Way out of my reach. The room was fading out for me, a silent crescendo of panic rising over everything. I stared up at his hand. A low buzzing started in my ears, vibrating through my chest. Emmett's voice reached me again, muffled by the noiseless hum when he spoke.

"Aw, c'mon on Jazzypants, don't be a such pussy. Don't pee your pantyhose over an itty bitty stone. We'll make a soldier of you yet, girl!" He gave a mock salute, grabbing his crotch at the same time. His stupid, leering grin made me wild.
''Emmett! Give!" I made a desperate lunge for his hand and what happened next appeared to unroll in slow motion.
Laughing, Emmett tossed the pebble and it sailed out of the window. It flew like a bird, escaping from my sight. Lost.

An angry scream ripped away from me and I sprang at him. Edward came running from his room straight away when he heard me shouting but still it took both him and Esme to pull me off of Emmett, despite the fact he was damn near twice my size.

"Emmett! You stupid bastard! You stupid great big shitting bastard!"

My arms were flailing and I beat against his chest, clawing up at his face. I didn't give a damn about the look of stunned surprise he wore or that Esme would hear the raging hurricane of cuss words that were howling out from somewhere deep inside me. I shrugged out of Edward's grasp after he caught hold of me and ran unseeing down the stairs, feeling the sobs starting to bubble up like a lava flow. Flying out of the house, I smacked straight into a slight, wiry girl with a shock of black hair on the steps of the porch before I could pull up.

We lay on the grass in the front yard for a few moments with the wind knocked out of us both. As soon as I could I was scrambling up to my feet, desperate to find it. My stone.

I can't lose this, too.

I wanted to wail like a baby some more, wanted to heave the great, wracking sobs that were forcing upwards inside my chest to be freed but this stupid girl was here, staring at me like she knew a secret or some shit.

"Hey." She spoke softly; I didn't respond. A small arm shot out, lightning-fast and surprisingly strong. She grasped my arm, staring at me.

"HEY."
I looked back at her distractedly, blinking fast.
"What the hell do you want? I gotta do something." I broke away from her hold and started running frantically around the yard, eyes cast downwards, searching desperately in the failing light for the small black stone that was suddenly all that mattered in the whole world. A strange sound warbled at the back of my consciousness for a little while before I slowly realized I was chanting.

It's okay Rosie, I'll find you. It's okay, Rosie, I'll find you. It's okay, Rosie, I'll find you... My teeth were chattering, eyes blurred by acid-sharp tears until I could barely see.

I had to find my fucking stone.

By this time Esme and Edward had descended the porch steps and approached me cautiously. Emmett hung back with the black-haired girl as they did their best to make me stop tracing the large yard, inch by inch, looking for the damn object that I had suddenly realised I needed to breathe properly. I shook them off: first Esme, then Edward as if neither of them really existed.

They didn't exist.

I wouldn't exist soon unless I found it. I refused to think past the moment where I might have to admit to myself I wasn't going to.

It was fully dark when I finally leant against Esme and let her lead me back up the steps and into the house. I was shaking, empty. She and Edward put me to bed. I heard Edward introduce the black-haired girl as Alice and she even came into the house. His crazy chick friend. Alice touched my shoulder in goodbye before she left with him and I almost felt it.

Carlisle came up to my room when he got back from his shift at the hospital, sitting down by my bed.

"Why can't I remember her, Carlisle?' My voice was cracked, thin-sounding. Hollow.

"Sometimes, Jasper, our minds work in strange ways."

"I want my Rosie. I need her, Carlisle."

Carlisle turned his kind eyes on me then, heavy with pity and sincerity. "I know, Jasper. I know." He stayed with me for hours and in the end I pretended to sleep so he felt that he could leave.

Past midnight, the large dark mass of Emmett crept in and sat down.

"I'm sorry, Jazz. I didn't know it was so important to you. Shit... I'm just sorry."

His face was hidden in the darkness but I could hear the regret in his voice. I didn't say anything. I couldn't. Still, he stayed a while longer before he went quietly away.

Three days merged and slid into one another whilst I lay in bed. Emmett brought me his stash of porn and a crapload of junk food he bought with his own money, but I stared at the wall until he left it all on the bedside table and went again.

On the third night, a Tuesday, my eyes opened to a rattle at the darkened window.

I lay silently, wondering if I had imagined it, then I heard it again, louder this time. Crossing my inky-black room, I pulled aside the curtains as another hail of gravel hit the pane in front of me, catching my breath.

In the middle of the lawn, the crazy chick was standing, her short hair haloed around her. I wondered if I was dreaming. She looked beautiful, standing there in the moonlight; elfin, otherworldly. She grinned when she saw me, and beckoned. Still questioning whether I was awake or asleep, I silently padded down the stairs and undid the locks on the front door.

"What are you doing outside my house in the middle of the night?"

She was smiling at me, hands shoved into the pockets of her jeans.

"I was sleeping, but I woke up. I had an idea and I ran over here to check it out."

Still smiling.

"You're Alice, right? Edward's, uh, friend?" She nodded, and the smile grew even wider.

"And you ran all the way over here in the middle of the night, because you... had an idea?" Confusion trickled into my exhausted brain. Perhaps she was on drugs. Alice took a step towards me; I took one back. Then she held out her hand.

Her pale little hand in the moonlight, holding a little black stone in her upturned palm.

I raised my eyes to hers. Still they smiled at me.

"I woke up, like I said, and well... I suddenly knew. Here." She took a another tentative step closer, talking low all the while, like someone trying not to scare a wild animal.

"So I ran over here, climbed up on the porch fence, put my hand in the guttering – man, the slimy leaves up there feel scary at night – and there it was."

I was crying. Alice stepped right up to me then and pressed the stone into my palm, then kept on holding her hand over my own as she spoke.

"Hey. Never give up hope." She stroked a fingertip softly against my face and I stared down at her hand placed on mine.

"Sometimes you find things you thought were gone forever. That's what I came here to tell you tonight."

Looking down at her eyes through the tears I felt an inexplicable surge of hope.

Alice raised herself up lightly on her tiptoes and brushed her lips over mine. Before I had even processed the movement, she pulled the hood up on her black sweatshirt and jogged away into the dark.

:

:

Esme's face broke into a radiant smile when I appeared for breakfast in the morning. Emmett coughed uncomfortably and shifted out of his seat, very deliberately changing the channel from the ballgame to to the news. I nearly half-smiled at him but my attention was snared by the urgent tone of the reporter's voice, announcing something important was happening.

"...And here we have it, breaking news: our sources at the scene are hearing reports that the assailant's daughter, Lia King, is the only person to have been found alive within the property when federal agents stormed the premises in the early hours of this morning... The gunman, Royce King, jr., is believed to have turned the gun first on his estranged wife Susan and then on himself..."

Emmett glanced up from his breakfast to the screen. "

Dude. Lia King may have a dead psycho for a dad but she would totally get it. She's totes hot."

"Emmett." Esme's tone was gently disapproving.

"Emmett, you're such a dick..." I half-turned towards the TV, carrying my cereal to the table.

The bowl clattered against the floor tiles.

The yearbook picture of Lia King only flashed up for a second but that was all it took for me to be stone-certain it was Rosie. When I calmed down to a point where my breaths were coming evenly enough for me to speak, I begged Esme to call Carlisle at the hospital and to ask him to come home. He got straight into his car without questioning her further.

Not one of them doubted me for a second. The four of them were behind me a hundred percent. My family – my parents and my brothers, who trusted me and my judgement... The realization bashed against my heart, leaving a bruise of happiness.

After only the briefest conversation, Carlisle contacted the authorities and within a week, Rosalia King, called Lia by her dysfunctional adoptive family, had agreed to see me.

The morning after the TV report, Esme woke from a dream having figured something about the black sand from my solitary memory of Rosie.

Lake Tahoe.

So close to Carson City, where my birth certificate was from.

She didn't call me crazy when I begged her to drive me there soon as she told me what she was thinking.

That's where we met again.

Esme took me down to the shore while Carlisle drove from Lake Tahoe airport. I was looking out at the waves when I heard his car pull up. Not the same beach as before, but the air was the same, the sand and the sky. I knew this was the place; knew that our beach couldn't be very far away. I studied the waves and the water while she made her approach and focused on my breathing. She slipped her hand into mine and I felt my world click silently back into place.

We stood there looking at the water and she gave me all her memories, pouring them into my head as I held her hand. Things like how she told our mama that she could remember sharing her belly with me. Mama had laughed teasingly, she said, and Rosie knew that she hadn't believed her, but Rosie knew she really did remember. She continued to list the minutiae of our early lives together – getting sick at the same time, the time she lost her shoes and I carried her because the sidewalk was too hot to walk on; the time we sold our mama's best china at our own little yard sale, the time I fell off the porch roof.
I didn't remember any of it, but suddenly that didn't matter, because Rosie did. And Rose was here with me. I looked at her beautiful face, feeling all holes in my life slowly filling up.

It was my turn to share something.
"Here." I took out the small, dull stone from my pocket and slipped it into her hand. I told her then, still staring out at the waves – told her how I had kept it with me all these years since that perfect remembered day.

Rosie's eyes were large with wonder and shining as she turned to face me. "So all this time, you've kept it... This one small pebble has represented losing me?"

I smiled, then. Really fucking smiled at her, showing all my teeth, showing all my heart.

"No, Rosie. Not loss... Love, actually."