A/n: So this was written as an entry in the Loving Bellsper contest. It was kinda last minute, but I had fun with it. Hope you enjoy.
Disclaimer: SM owns the characters. Jackson Rathbone owns that fuckhot tattoo. I do own a Stitch doll that tells me to "fetch me my dinner and be quick about it."
"I search your profile
For a translation
I study the conversation
Like a map
'cause I know there is strength
In the differences between us
And I know there is comfort
Where we overlap,"
Overlap, Ani DiFranco
Now, I'm not what one might call a sensitive man. At least, I don't feel like I am. Alice used to tell me I had a soft heart, but that's a different story to my mind. Either way you looked at it, I wasn't usually the type to get teary-eyed at all, let alone over sappy, slightly cheesy, country songs.
But, in this case, I just don't think anyone could blame me.
My Alice - my everything right in the world - passed about a year back, suddenly, leaving me alone with our one-year-old daughter.
Charlotte. She was the only reason I kept breathing after Alice left us. Our beautiful, raven-haired, little cherub was my salvation. She looked so like her momma, much more and more each day.
Now, Alice purely loved sappy, slightly cheesy country songs. She filled our whole house with them some days - especially when she was irritated with me. She used to sing them to Charlotte to get her to settle. I remember like it was yesterday sitting right in that very same spot, watching Alice dance around the living room with Char swept up safely in her arms. As she danced she sung softly in her voice that was just like a piano being played quietly on those keys that kind of tinkled. She twirled and crooned Lee Ann Womack's song about how she hoped her little one danced when she had the option.
And our Charlotte - well, dance she did. Every chance she got. As soon as she got to standing, she got to dancing. She especially loved to dance to what she called "Momma's song." She loved having it on repeat and could listen to it all day long. She listened to it until I thought I couldn't stand it anymore, but when she begged me for 'Mo' Momma's song, Da, peas!" - how could I resist my little darling?
So, I was sitting there on the couch, watching her twirl about. My baby - she was all clumsy like any two year old was prone to be, except when she was dancing. Then she was so like her momma my heart threatened to burst and twist up into tangled knots at the same time. It hurt so bad, especially when she was singing that song, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. She had the same tone as Alice - beautiful and tinkling - even though her baby-speak made the words a little unintelligible. That was when I got a little teary-eyed, but I think anyone would understand why.
It wasn't the song - not really. It was that the song triggered the memory of Alice. And good lord, how that hurt. That pain was so bad I had to breathe real deep and slow until it passed. It left me dizzy - that spiraling emotion I felt. I'd wager it was because my world, without Alice, was off kilter. I had yet to get my bearings. It felt like I was on one of those kid wheels you see at the playground - the one that goes round and round while the little ones scream with delight? It was like when you spun on one of those that was going so fast - too fast. The dizziness overwhelmed, and all you wanted in the world was to get off.
But I couldn't. No. I had my baby girl to think about. So I tried to breathe deep until the world was only wobbling.
I remembered back to the last time I heard that song when Alice was still alive.
"I don't understand why she has to hope that the kid is 'still that small when you stand beside the ocean'. Why not just take the kid while he's that small?" I asked.
Alice laughed at me. "The words are 'I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,'" she corrected.
And as I was remembering, I got to thinking that Charlotte hadn't ever seen the ocean. Alice and I had talked about it, but it was one of those lifetime worth of things that she would never get to do.
I had to try real hard then to not let the sense of complete injustice wash over me. She should be there - dancing around in the living room with our daughter.
Coulda - shoulda - woulda. It didn't matter how much I wished it differently, Alice was gone. Charlotte was here, and I had a responsibility to be her daddy. The last thing Char needed was a broken daddy, given that her mommy had been robbed from her.
So, I swept my little girl up and danced around with her because that's what her momma would have done. She giggled and shrieked because daddies have a tendency to dance too fast and accidentally dangle their daughters by the ankles instead. When we were both worn out from laughing, I plopped down on the couch with Char in my arms. I lay back, cuddling her close and letting my fingers comb through her soft, fine hair. Everything about babies was soft unless it was sticky.
"You want to take a trip, baby doll?" I asked her. "Do you want to see the ocean?"
She lifted her head and stared at me with curious eyes. "Osen?" she echoed.
"Momma loved the ocean," I told her, sighing and remembering playing with Alice in the tumbling waves.
Charlotte looked contemplative. "Where izit?"
"I suppose we could just go to Corpus but..." I thought about it. It would be nice to get away for a while...well away from Houston. How long had it been since I had a proper vacation? "Maybe California," I mused out loud. I'd always hated humidity in Texas, and Florida was about a million times worse.
Of course, Charlotte didn't know what the hell I was talking about. I got up and went over to my computer desk, settling her on my lap. She was excited. She loved being able to touch the computer. I let her rest her chubby, little hand on mine as I moved the mouse. I googled a map of the United States and pointed out where we were in Texas, then showed her where California was.
"We go now?" she asked, excited.
I had to roll my eyes at myself. It always left me surprised when kids displayed their total lack of distance and time comprehension. Hoping this would be one of those times her memory was worse than a goldfish's, I pulled up one of those waste a little time game sites. She liked watching whatever little game I was playing.
Luck was with me - Charlotte was distracted...especially when I let her do the clicking. My score suffered, but that was a small price to pay.
It took me two weeks to research and plan a vacation. Cynthia - Alice's sister - had an absolute fit when she learned of my intentions. Of course, Cynthia was inclined to think that I was doing everything wrong when it came to my daughter.
Cynthia was a shrew, and I enjoyed ignoring the manners my parents drilled into me to tell her exactly what I thought about her opinion.
I suppose that's how I ended up having to take Charlotte shopping for clothes she'd need. And of course, being that I was woefully inept at that kind of shopping, I did manage to forget something rather essential.
I didn't figure out that she was missing a swimsuit until we were in our suite, getting ready for the beach. Luckily for me, I'd chosen to stay in Orange, CA. It was halfway between the beach and Disneyland - in case I went insane later.
Maybe it was bad dad behavior, but I was not informing Charlotte how close we were to Disneyland until I was sure I was able to handle it.
In any event, our suite bordered The Block, which, as one might infer, held a block's worth of shopping establishments for every flavor. I never would have been able to drag Alice out of it. Being California, it was pretty easy to find tiny bathing suits, but surprisingly difficult to find suits for tiny people. I was trying to figure out where to start when Char started fussing.
"Daaaaaaaa. Da. Lilo! Da!" she cried, struggling to get out of her stroller. I was only lucky I'd buckled her into the damn thing.
"Calm down Char, what do you want?"
She pointed one chubby finger at the store window in front of us, her eyes almost glassy with the oncoming craze of the gimmies. "Lilo," she insisted again. "Can I have it?"
I looked at the display, completely confused. Now, I knew what Lilo was. Lilo and Stitch was one of the few animated movies I could actually stand so I always tried to divert her attention to it when she needed cartoon time. But the store seemed to be some type of Hawaiian themed clothing store. There were no Lilo print things anywhere.
"It's the dress," an amused sounding voice interrupted my quickly rising panic. I hated it when I couldn't figure out what Charlotte wanted. I turned to find a woman with a soft smile watching my daughter and me. "The dress in the window…it's just like Lilo's in the movie."
With that mystery of the universe settled, we were finally on our way to the beach - with the munchkin now in full Lilo gear.
Charlotte was iffy about the ocean at first. She watched the waves from the safety of my arms for the longest time, just soaking it all in. Then she demanded I put her down. Wearing what had to be the most determined face a two year old could possibly have, she grabbed my hand and marched us toward the water.
That was my girl… facing her fears.
The morning was actually really idyllic. It was one of those pieces of time where being a parent was surely worth all the hard stuff. Charlotte loved the water. She clung to my hand and splashed, giving me a full commentary on the sand between her toes. She found shells and gooped together sand … hills. She giggled as she played in the waves.
And then…then came naptime. And all hell broke loose.
If you knew Emmett Cullen, you would have guessed that his spawn would be of the devil himself. Emmett's brand of bratty hyperactivity outmatched Tigger's by far. You would expect it to get worse with each generation.
Luckily, for me anyway, Peter Edward Cullen was one of the most sedate three year olds I'd ever met. Oh, he liked to have his fun like any kid, but it was a calm kind of fun. None of the screeching that Emmett made as a child, at least, according to Esme. He was much more like his uncle and namesake. So much so that it made my heart ache at times to watch the kid.
I glanced down at Peter, who had one hand in mine as we walked along, and the other around a Stitch doll that had seen better days. Of course, it had been around since well before Peter's birth. It had belonged to his uncle.
The shrill sound of a child mid-meltdown pulled me out of what was sure to be an epic brooding fit. I turned slightly, finding the source of the shrieking cries almost instantly.
A tiny, black haired little girl stood in front of a man who must have been her father. Her little face was so red, it almost matched the color of her sundress. I felt a pang of sympathy for the blond man who was crouching in front of her, hands on her shoulders as she twisted away from him. He looked frustrated to high hell as he tried to get the girl to calm down. Well, he didn't need me staring at his troubles.
I tried to lead Peter away but he wasn't having it. "Bewwa," Peter whined, tugging frantically at my hand. "I can help!"
"Petey, I don't think they'd appreciate being interrupted right now," I tried to explain, but the kid was persistent.
"No, noooooo. It's Lilo. She's crying because I has her Stitch," he seemed increasingly bothered by this and twisted suddenly out of my hand. Before I knew it, he was running full tilt across the sand.
"Lilo, Lilo," he was patting the sobbing little girl on the back. "Don't cry. Look!"
Obviously startled, the black-haired, little beauty blinked at him. Then she saw the stuffed toy in his hands and her eyes went wide. She quickly snatched up Stitch and cuddled it, keeping her eyes on Peter. She stuck a thumb in her mouth and stared.
"Peter!" I cried, finally catching up with him. I turned toward the little girl's harried looking father.
Scruff. That was the first thing I saw. His blond hair was scraggly, falling into his face as he stood up straight. Instead of looking messy it looked tousled - swept in way that looked like the wind, salt water and sun had sculpted it into an ode to sexiness. His eyes were blue-green, like the water. They looked tired, and like he had too many stories to tell. Eyes that told that many stories belonged on old, old men - not the young man he obviously was.
He also had no shirt on and a gorgeous body, but never mind that.
"Um. I'm sorry about that. He got away from me for a second," I explained, gesturing helplessly at Peter.
"No, that's alright. It worked," he chuckled. "Charlotte, what do you say?"
She looked back at her father and then to Peter, either trying to remember or trying to decide if Peter was worth her politeness. Finally, she took her thumb out of her mouth and said, "Thank you," quite primly.
Peter nodded, then turned his attention to the DILF. He scrutinized him in that way that only a three year old could get away with. "Are you David?" he asked.
I had to choke back a giggle.
"What?" Pappa McHot asked.
"Nonni's boyfriend. David. He has black hair. You has yellow hair. My mommy has yellow hair, but once she deaded it black and it smelled yucky and daddy said she looked like a vampire and she bit his neck." He paused to breathe, but only for a second. "But there is no boys in Lilo and Stitch except for David and Mr. Bubbles. You are not strong enough to be Mr. Bubbles."
"Be nice, Petey," I admonished.
"No, he's right," Aye Pappi assured. His chuckle only added to the sexiness factor. "My name is Jasper," he said, offering his hand to Peter. "Thank you very much for helping my little Lilo. But now it's time for her nap."
Charlotte's tiny face scrunched up, and I prepared for another round of the shrill wails when Peter, remarkably, stepped in again. "Can I take my nap with you?"
I had to cover another chortle. I suppose the desire to sleep with a celebrity started young. Before I could try to usher Peter away to leave the little girl and her father - Jasper - in peace, he plopped down on their beach blanket and laid down. Charlotte looked down at him, still holding Stitch in a death grip, and slowly laid down beside him.
"Stitch," she commented, pointing at the Stitch pattern on Peter's trunks. I felt it was a positive appraisal. Her eyes were already mostly closed, and she fell right asleep after that. Peter wasn't far behind her.
"So... I guess I'm crashing your slumber party," I said awkwardly.
Jasper's eyes suddenly snapped to mine as if just remembering I was there. His mouth shut with an audible snap, and he smiled sheepishly. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be rude, I just don't understand how he did that."
Holy hell. He was forgiven. He was beyond forgiven as long as he forgave me for staring. I'd just noticed a tattoo above his belt line. It said, I'm lost.
He offered to watch both the sleeping kids while I went and retrieved a chair from my car. Then we sat and talked.
It was a little awkward at first. Of course, it's almost impossible to inquire as to where the mother of the little girl was without sounding awkward. I wasn't fishing, I just wasn't in the mood to have some shrieking little hellion giving me the stink eye for sitting by her husband.
There was a definite tightness around his eyes before he said, "She's not with us."
I got the hint and let the matter drop.
He asked after Peter's father and it took me a minute to realize he thought I was Peter's mother. No, no. Rosalie Cullen, I most definitely was not. He asked how I knew Emmett and Rosalie and I told him we'd been friends for a long time. It was easier than saying that once, a long time ago, we were supposed to be in-laws.
I think he saw through me, saw that there was more to that story, but he let it drop and we went onto other topics.
When he asked me what I did, I went on for embarrassingly long about my work on the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. I loved what I did, and I had lapsed into what Emmett called my 'Charlie Brown's parents speak' – so-called because he said when I went geeky science girl all her heard was whop waa woo wap - before I knew it. Jasper waved my apology away.
"I used to talk that way about history," he admitted, his look far away and wistful. "I always wanted to be one of those guys you see on the History Channel special explaining things." He put on a serious face, looking both haughty and overly excited as he pretended to hold some unseen artifact. "As you can see by these markings here, this saber was carried by the youngest major in the Texas cavalry." He pretended to look closer. "Unit 12."
I wrinkled my nose at him. "Would you really be able to tell all that by looking at a sword?"
He laughed. "I doubt it. But those people always seemed to be able to tell everything, didn't they? I wanted that."
"Well, what happened?"
The light in his eyes dimmed just slightly and his smile was a little less wide. "Life," he said simply.
I didn't get up the courage to ask what his tattoo was all about until a few minutes before the kids woke up.
His smile was wan when he answered. He laughed half-heartedly, gesturing at the sleeping children. "Well, seeing as today is in a Stitch theme, can you guess where it's from?"
That was an easy leap. The part in Lilo and Stitch where Stitch calls out into the palm trees "I'm lost," almost made me cry no matter how many times Peter made me watch it. In my mind's eye, Stitch turned into Jasper, lugging the Ugly Duckling book into the darkness and hoping, hoping, hoping. I could hear his rich, deep voice calling plaintively, "I'm lost," and waiting for a family that would never come.
And then I knew that Charlotte's mother was dead.
Some of our interaction was awkward. Not in a totally bad way, but I got the sense that neither one of us had done this in a long while. Getting to know someone new wasn't something I was used to anymore. I suppose I hadn't been all that great with it before, but now making more than polite conversation felt strange. It was like riding a bike after years and years away from it. Sure, it wasn't the same as not knowing, but you wobbled a bit before it came back to you.
It took me even longer to realize that the thrilling sensation, like tingles going down my spine and making like pop rocks crackling in my chest, was legitimate attraction. We're not just talking about physical attraction. I wasn't oblivious to beautiful people, male or female, but they didn't make me shiver like this.
No...I definitely liked Jasper Whitlock.
After the kids woke, we played together for a while in the water. I caught him staring. I was wearing a modest two piece - shorts and an ample bikini top - but he looked almost...hungry.
I expected to feel vaguely grossed out. Instead, I was pleased. Besides, it wasn't like I didn't admire the way the salt water glistened on muscular arms when I splashed him oh so innocently.
And when his shocked face became a grin that personified the definition of ear to ear, my heart started beating in double time and my mouth gaped open a little. Which was how I ended up with a mouth full of sea water when he splashed me back.
It was an all out splash war. The kids got into it, splashing each other in between high pitched giggles as we adults set a good example.
When we were all well soaked and ready to be out of the sun, my mouth moved without my permission. "Would you like an early dinner?"
He seemed shocked, and when he opened his mouth, I could have sworn he was going to say no. Then he snapped his mouth shut and merely nodded.
The kids were ecstatic. They were really getting along famously. A minor squabble broke out at the house when I told them to pick out a DVD to watch. Apparently, little Charlotte was quite bossy. While he was quiet, Peter was also very stubborn when he wanted something. And oh boy did he want to watch the latest Toy Story.
Rolling my eyes, I put on The Incredibles while they bickered in only occasionally intelligible almost-baby speak. They scrambled for a spot in front of the television, and Peter graciously handed over one of his toys for Charlotte to play with.
Jasper and I spoke in the kitchen with one eye on the kids and the other on one another. It was no wonder the first hot dog I made got burnt. Of course, Jasper claimed to like it that way. He was surprised when I laid out a very old blanket on the floor and set both of the kids' plates - with hot dogs cut into bite sized pieces and a helping of carrot sticks on the side - on the floor in front of them.
"For some reason, Peter loves to eat on the floor. He doesn't get to do it at home," I explained at Jasper's perplexed expression.
Adorably, Charlotte looked just as flabbergasted. She looked from the table to the floor as if the concept was utterly horrifying, but in the end eating, next to Peter seemed to win out, and she plopped down next to him.
With full tummies, they drifted off to sleep right on the floor, with their heads pillowed on different stuffed animals and their feet kind of tangled together.
I turned to comment about how stinking cute they were, but anything I was about to say died on my lips when I saw the look on Jasper's face. It was wanting. Nervous, but wanting. And just like that the atmosphere seemed to warm around us. The shivering sensation - like the crackling pop rocks before - turned into full blown heat - like water when it turns into foam on the hot stove top, boiling over and sizzling as it touches the flames.
He scooted closer, and I scooted closer. His hand was on my waist. My heart was pounding so hard and loud that I was shocked he couldn't hear it.
"I'm not looking for anything." My mouth, again not consulting me before moving, seemed to be the only part left of me that was thinking logically. It was only fair that it was clear. I wasn't unwilling, but I wasn't interested in falling in love either.
His eyes ran over my face and I watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed audibly. "I'm not looking for complicated," he murmured.
Then he tilted his head, pressing his lips to mine.
When you weren't looking to complicate your life, it was easy to let one thing lead to another without thinking each decision through. It took us all of five minutes of making out like teenagers before we stood and stumbled toward my bedroom.
It had been so long since I'd been physically intimate with anyone else, and I found I'd missed the connection. It wasn't the same as making love, not at all. There weren't any pretty words as we unsnapped buttons and pushed off clothing. There were no 'I love yous' whispered. The only sounds besides our bodies moving together and the creak of the bed springs was the sound of the condom wrapper being torn open.
Yeah, it had been a while, but I kept a fresh pack of condoms in my drawer regardless of the current activity level of my sex life. It's just the way I was raised - be prepared and all that.
I suppose, after a truly mind blowing orgasm, I was worn out, because the next thing I knew, I was being poked on the nose and cheek by something that was a lot smaller than anything Jasper had.
"Bewwa," an insistent voice whispered.
I closed my eyes tighter, hoping I was dreaming. There was a dramatic sigh and then more poking. " Bewwa," the little voice growled.
"B'wa," an even tinier, slightly higher pitched voice agreed.
I opened my eyes to find Peter and Charlotte holding hands and staring at me. They both looked so serious I would have laughed if I wasn't so freaking busted. It could have been a lot worse though. As it was, you really couldn't tell we were naked. At some point, one of us had pulled the blankets up to shoulder level.
"Da. What're you do?" Charlotte said, glaring at a spot above my head where I assumed Jasper was peeking out.
He cleared his throat, his arm tightening around my waist. That was nice at least. I had half expected him to push me away. "Char, you know how sometimes when I go read you a bedtime story I fall asleep in your bed?"
Charlotte looked skeptical but nodded.
"You read Bewwa a story?" Peter asked.
I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing.
"That's right," Jasper said. "Now, do me a favor guys and go pick out another movie for us all to watch, okay?"
Luckily, Peter and Charlotte were amenable to that idea. They scampered off, allowing us time to get our clothes back on.
We saw each other a lot that week, enjoying the physical pleasure we found in each other. When he went back to Texas, we exchanged information. At first, we tried to keep to just talking, but ... well, our talking eventually turned dirty.
Three months after his first visit, Jasper found himself back in California for a new contract he'd taken. It was a short visit, and he didn't have a lot of time for me, but we managed to fit in a quickie on a lunch break before he had to go back home. A month after that, he and Charlotte were back. He said she missed the ocean.
It happened so naturally, it hardly seemed strange to me at all. Soon he was visiting every other month or so, whether for work or for pleasure. Well, to be entirely honest, every one of his visits brought us a tremendous amount of pleasure.
"That's what she said," Emmett quipped, cackling to himself when I was talking to him and Rosalie one day.
Rosalie and I both rolled our eyes. Then Rosalie looked back at me. "Bella... this sounds a lot more serious than you're letting on."
"What are you talking about?" I asked, furrowing my eyebrows. "Rosalie... neither of us are looking for a relationship."
She just quirked an eyebrow at me. "Well, it might have found you."
I didn't know quite what to make of that, but I couldn't help but think about it. At that point, it had been over a year since we met. We were, for lack of a better term, best friends with benefits. We called each other or talked online almost every day. When he was frustrated with Charlotte, it was me he called to vent. When I had a bad day at work, he was the one who made me feel better - even if we were across the country.
Yet, as close as we were, we weren't close like that. Not in the way a couple should be close. He still didn't know about Edward, and I didn't know about Alice.
Even though I tried not to let it seep under my skin, I started to wonder why he talked about everything besides the woman that was always on his mind. She was almost a physical presence in his life, and yet he told me almost nothing about her.
Then, one day, a year and change after we met, he was out in California alone, for work. He was staying with me. We were laying quietly together, both lost in thought after the obligatory post coital bliss period.
"Are you ever going to tell me how she died?" I asked him rather abruptly.
I could always tell when Jasper was thinking about Alice. He would go completely silent. His never still fingers would find their way to the nape of my neck where he would run his fingers through just the first inch or so of he hair there. Alice had worn her hair short, at least in the picture I'd seen.
Give me a break. I was curious. Yeah, I suppose I shouldn't have gone flipping through his wallet, but I was only human.
Jasper looked over at me as if he was just waking up, his eyes confused at first. Then he must have processed my words because the corners of his mouth twisted in a definite downward direction. "I shouldn't have come here today," he muttered.
Oh, so it was going to be one of those nights. "What?" I asked, a brilliant response admittedly.
He shifted, sitting on the edge of the bed and running a hand over his eyes. "I don't know what I'm doing here, baby. But it's not good, and it's not right," he said in an agitated voice I hadn't ever heard. He was already pulling on his pants.
I was reeling. What was happening here? "Jasper, hold on. What are you talking about...and where are you going?"
"We have to stop this. I mean, it's been really good. Really good. But it's not fair to you," he rambled without looking at me. He was reaching for his shirt.
I snatched it out of his hands. "Stop," I commanded.
That got his attention, finally. I scrambled over to his side of the bed to sit beside him. "You need to tell me what's going on because I'm confused. If you don't want to answer my question before, I'm sorry. I just...I really care about you, Jasper. I want to understand where you go sometimes."
His eyes searched mine and he seemed so sad I almost wanted to hug him - until I reminded myself that he was trying to ... break up with me. "This isn't fair to you," he repeated. He dropped my gaze to look for his shoes.
I put my hands on either side of his face and tilted it up to look at me. "What isn't fair is you talking in circles and not talking to me. What is going on? I mean, I get that you're trying to leave, but I don't understand why."
He put his hands over mine, wrapping his fingers around my hand and pulling them gently down. "You're so young, doll."
"Jasper," I was bordering on exasperation, "you're five years older than I am. We have enough complications without making age one of them."
"Age has nothing to do with the amount of years between two people," he said slowly, sadly.
When he stood, I let him, angry and confused as to what was happening. He only walked a few steps away from the bed before he stopped and started speaking again. "Alice and Charlotte were in a shoot out two years ago today."
I froze, all the breath leaving my body in an instant. I wanted to go to him. I wanted to hold him, but he was standing straight, his back still to me, and I couldn't move.
"It was totally random. Totally unavoidable. Wrong place at the wrong time and all that. The bullet hit them both," he continued quietly, his tone strangely robotic. Then he turned to me, his eyes trained on the ground. "Imagine that, just for a minute. They were both in critical condition. My wife and my daughter. I didn't know whether I should be in Alice's room or with Charlotte. I thought that Alice would want me with our baby. She looked worse off, you know. She was so tiny. I didn't want Alice to wake up and me have to tell her that I'd let our baby die alone." He took a deep breath, fighting to say the last words. "Instead it was Alice who died alone."
"Jasper," I whispered, at a complete loss for what to say.
He sat heavily on the bed, his head in his hands. "Every hour I spent in that hospital felt like a year. You can't measure anything by my physical age except how many times we've passed around the sun since I was born."
For one minute, then two, I let that information percolate in my head. I felt such sorrow for him - having to go through what he did. I couldn't imagine the fear that everything in the world that was precious to you could be taken away in the blink of an eye.
Then, abruptly, I was pissed. It had happened, and what? That meant that he had to be alone forever? And what about me? Maybe it wasn't fair that I was so angry. Some part of me acknowledged that my sudden fury had everything to do with this situation being close to one I'd already lived. That part of me wasn't enough to shut up the part of me that'd gotten control of my mouth. "So what now?" I asked, my irritation turning my quarry into a near growl. "Do you just wait to die?"
"I'm alive. I live for my daughter, what else can I do?" he asked as if it should be obvious.
I scoffed and he stared. "I hate it when people use their kids as an excuse for doing something stupid. You want to do right by your daughter? Live your life for you. You know why? Because everything you say and do teaches her who she's going to be. Your wife died in a horrible, horrible way…and that really… it really sucks, Jasper. It does. I get that. But every life is a gamble. If you lay down and become a passive passerby in your life – existing only because your daughter needs you – then you're teaching her how to react when the world hands her a lousy hand. You think you're the only one to lose someone you love? You aren't the first and you won't be the last."
He studied me carefully and I tried not to be hyper aware of what I must have looked like then. My face was hot, and my eyes were watering. I was looking anywhere but him.
"When are you going to tell me about him?" Jasper asked finally.
I deflated just like a balloon then, releasing a long stream of air in lieu of an actual response. As usual he sensed too much. "There's nothing to say," I murmured to the carpet.
Jasper sat beside me, not touching me. "It ended badly, then?"
A bitter taste filled my mouth, and I found myself scowling. "Ended badly," I repeated, the words sounding right but inadequate to my ears. "I suppose that's one way of putting it."
"What's the right way?"
I didn't answer right away, and when I did I sounded defeated - angry, but defeated. "He chased a cocktail of pills with enough vodka that he wouldn't throw up. Stupid fucking asshole. He had so much to live for. He had his family... he had me. "
It wasn't his fault. I knew, deep down, that he never would have consciously chosen to leave me. That was the fucked up thing about depression. Brain chemicals were just as, if not more, volatile as chemicals in a chemistry lab. Pills could stabilize them - but if you didn't get the right dosage they could cause an explosion. For Edward, the wrong dosage of the wrong set of pills led to suicidal thoughts - thoughts he couldn't ignore.
Incredibly, Jasper started laughing. It wasn't a guffaw or anything boisterous, but a raw, pained kind of laughter. "You think this is funny?" I asked, incredulous. Jasper was many things but he'd never been cruel.
He shook his head slowly. "No, I don't think it's funny. I think it's hypocritical."
That was another shock to my system. I wasn't sure I'd heard right. "What?"
Jasper scooted closer to me but didn't look at me. "Look - either I'm wrong for living for my daughter or you're wrong for wanting him to live for you. You can't have it both ways."
"Suicide is selfish," I shot back out of reflex.
"So I've heard." He was quiet for a few heart beats and then, "You know, sometimes I do resent Charlotte. If it weren't for her, it'd be an easy decision."
I stood, suddenly needing to be as far away from him as possible. "Maybe you were right. If you're just going to end up checking out, I'm better off without you."
Having two men I loved commit suicide would have been too much for anyone.
Oh, fuck. I loved him. I loved Jasper.
And he was trying to leave.
"Have you ever thought that maybe it's selfish to want someone who's hurting that badly to stick around?" he asked, sounding so tired. "I mean... that's what you're telling me to do, right? Live for myself? Well, what if myself just wants to not be without Alice anymore?"
Desperation was a funny thing. I wanted to shake him until he saw the beauty of life all around him. I'd been there. After Edward died, I'd wanted to check out, too, because that pain had been unbearable. But you know what, I had things to finish. He was robbed of his life, if you wanted to know the truth about it. If anything, I needed to live for both of us.
And I was feeling that cloying sensation in my chest... the one that wanted me to beg. That part of me would do anything if only he would stay, because I did love him. Once I'd acknowledged that to myself I couldn't deny it. That piece of me whispered that I could convince him. I knew how to do it. I knew what he really wanted.
"I don't want to be Alice," I said finally, knowing I might have been uttering the words that officially ended our relationship, such as it was. "I don't want to be your everything. I want to be your friend, your anchor, and your lover. I want to be your partner through this life. I want your life and my life to be separate but together, like a fucking Venn diagram - intersecting but whole in and of ourselves. That's the way it should be. We compliment each other, and baby, we go so well together… but you're right. As long as you need someone else to give you a reason to take your every breath, you're not what I want."
It had all started to end a couple of weeks before.
Of all places, we'd been at Cynthia's when Charlotte asked when we were going to see 'Mommy' again.
"Char, I just took you to the cemetery today," Cynthia had said.
"Not Momma," Charlotte had rolled her eyes at her aunt, "Mommy Bella."
Cynthia was as mad as a branded cattle. The noise she made was just as bad, too. She sat Charlotte down in front of the TV and dragged me outside so she could yell at me - asking questions about who was this whore, and how dare I try to replace Alice in Charlotte's mind.
Truth be told, it spooked me. Not just because I had no idea Charlotte felt that way. No, what scared me even more was that, for one split second, it pleased me to no end.
That second though - that second was endless. I could see how much I wanted it, but I could see how much would have to change. If I loved Bella, and it occurred to me in that second that I just might have, it would mean giving up Texas. It would mean moving away from all the echoes of Alice and starting a new life in a place I couldn't picture her because she'd never been.
It felt wrong.
Yet... part of it felt...hopeful, I suppose. Like maybe it wouldn't be bad. Off, but not bad.
I kind of stewed in that sauce - like maybe it smelled something awful but the taste was just right. I stewed at the same time I tried not to think about it. I wound up tangled up in more knots than I knew how to handle on my own.
Still, I'd gone to Bella, just like we planned. I'd let myself get lost in her body. I loved kissing her. I loved the way she tasted. I loved the way it felt to be inside her.
And then I had to leave.
Everything she said was echoing around in my head as I drove away from her house. I had no idea where I was going. I didn't have a hotel room or anything. Bella had tried to get me to stay, even if I crashed on the couch, but I had to be away from her. I had to get out because I wanted to change my mind.
I shouldn't. I couldn't change my mind.
I could smell her on my skin. Images and words filled my head. Her smile. Her voice. Her arms around me in the morning. The good-natured arguing. The way that I had taken to calling her whenever I needed someone to talk to. The way she always listened carefully and offered advice when she could, and comfort when she couldn't. The ache of loss spread through my body with every beat of my heart, like it was in my bloodstream.
But it was a shadow of what it could have been - that I knew for solid fact.
Needing to distract myself, I flipped on the radio, hitting the button that would give me a random station.
"You've got to be kidding me," I muttered to myself when I heard the song that came on.
Living might mean taking chances
But they're worth taking
Lovin' might be a mistake
But it's worth making
I brought my hand down on the radio button a little too hard, earning myself the welcome silence and an aching finger. I pulled over to the side of the road and rested my head on the steering wheel, confused and wishing I had a solid answer. "I'm being an idiot, aren't I?" I asked.
I knew I had my answer. I knew it wasn't an accident or a coincidence that song had been playing when I turned on the radio.
Fuck. I was scared. I was so scared. The pain of losing Alice… the pain of watching my daughter struggle for her every breath… I didn't ever want to experience something like that again.
But Bella was right…. No other motherfucker on this planet got a guarantee. A sure thing could not be bargained for, crafted, or lucked into. It just didn't exist. If I didn't let myself love again, that didn't guarantee that Charlotte wouldn't trip down the stairs, or get struck by lightening, or one of billions of possibilities. It didn't protect her and, thus, didn't protect me.
And if something horrible befell my little girl – and surely, no life was without its moments of grief and hardship no matter how small – how could I tell her to get up, dust off and get back on the horse when I hadn't?
Surviving wasn't enough. It wasn't what I wanted for Charlotte, and so it couldn't be what I accepted for myself.
In California, darkness was impossible, so I closed my eyes and tried to black out my mind. I leaned my head back against the seat rest and asked myself one question.
What did I want?
Instantly, images of Alice came to mind. I imagined her with our almost four year old – laughing and so proud of the child Char was becoming. I imagined her in our bed – her eyes blinking awake in the morning and her gentle smile when she saw me watching her. I imagined the future I thought I'd have the day I married her – growing old and gray together.
I closed my eyes tighter, making a conscious decision to push aside those beautiful fantasies. As much as it made me dizzy with how badly I wanted them, it was never going to happen.
Emptying my mind again, I asked myself the question one more time. What did I want?
Two minutes later a need had built in me that I couldn't ignore. There was an irresistible pull in me, but unlike my wishing for a future I could never have, this pull had a polar north.
I don't even remember the drive back. It was like black, blank time before I suddenly I was on Bella's doorstep, banging furiously on her door.
The door flew open, revealing Bella standing there in her robe. Her hair billowed out all around her, messy from my hands earlier that evening. Her eyes were red rimmed from crying but furious, like she was a breath away from yelling at me for trying to bang her door down.
I caught her face between my hands, whatever she was about to say dying on her lips with a little squelch of sound. I had so much to say to her. Too much. I opened my mouth to say I was sorry – for leaving, for banging on her door like a madman, for being so fucking lost that I might have fucked this up for good.
Instead, I kissed her. Hard, hungry kisses.
For so long she didn't move, didn't respond to my kisses. I almost started to back away from her, sure it was too late. Then she made a noise - a little whine at the back of her throat, and her arms wound tightly around my neck.
It was all the conversation we really needed. Our fear at whatever was changing between us translated as desperation. She pulled me inside without letting our lips part. We kissed, Bella pressing me back against the door, until both our chests were heaving with the exertion of holding our breath for too long periods - one right on top of the other.
I lifted her up into my arms and all but ran to her bedroom.
My kisses rained over her face and hair even as my hands slid the robe off her body. I pulled her close against me before she could get my pants all the way off. I just needed to feel her body against mine.
I kicked my pants off and away even as I laid her down on the bed. Her legs parted as I settled myself over her, looking into her eyes to try and find stability when it felt like my world was wobbling wildly. My firsts thrusts inside her were almost frantic. I might have worried that I hurt her except that her legs came up, wrapping themselves around my waist as she drew me in deeper.
I was lost in her. I was found in her.
After the first few thrusts our rhythm slowed to something more tender and gentle. Looking into her eyes as we moved together was all the conversation we needed to have. Our fears - and there were many. So many complications. So many things that had to go right, or could go terribly wrong. So many questions it was impossible to answer.
But also, promises. I could face those questions and rise to the many challenges ahead if she was there to hold my hand. I wanted to find peace in the spaces we overlapped.
As we brought each other closer to the second orgasm of the evening, something powerful passed between us. It was a strength I didn't know I still had. It was like a door opening to a world of possibilities I'd never even considered.
I slipped out of her almost reluctantly, wishing I could stay but realizing that I was trembling. It might have been embarrassing, except that I found being vulnerable in front of her wasn't uncomfortable. I let myself pull her into my embrace as we lay on our sides, leaning my forehead against hers as I caught my breath by breathing in her salty-sweet scent.
It took me forever to figure out that I was talking under my breath. No, not talking. More like chanting. "I'm sorry. I love you. I'm sorry. I love you." Over and over again.
"Shhh," she stroked my neck, her fingers massaging my shoulders gently. She kissed me sweetly and pulled away slightly before I could kiss her deeper. "Are you sorry you love me?"
I shook my head vehemently, kissing along her hairline.
She pulled away again, looking me in the eye, searching for something. "I can't be your life, and I can't teach you how to live. I barely know myself."
I shook my head again, pulling her as close as I could get her while still looking at her. "I want you," I admitted. "I want to be with you. I don't know how to live my life for myself anymore, but I want to try, and I want you to be beside me." I had to laugh a little as I remembered her words from earlier. "Like a Venn diagram."
She smiled and peppered kisses against my nose, down my check to my lips. "That I can give you."
A/n: Inspired by Twanza and beta'ed by josieswan