Pick A Pic Challenge
Title: Sixteen Again
Rating/Disclaimer: M / I don't own the characters or I'd be the rich one... *le sigh*
Summary: Jasper heads back to Forks for his yearly visit with his best friend. It's a tradition he's started and refuses to give up, no matter how hard it is for him to complete because he will not let his friend down again...
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A/N: I just have to say thank you to my fantastic team of pre-readers on this fic, you know who you are and you know how much I love you all. Also, a special thanks to Tiffaninichole and Handsandfingers for all their support and hand holding. Also a huge thank you to MandaLyn for beta'ing this for me on short notice... I appreciate it more than you know! Please don't forget to let me know what you think! Also, I've been told it's unfair not to issue a tissue warning so this is your warning, this story has made people cry...
'Welcome to Forks'
Every year it's the same damn thing; I pass that sign and my heart sinks into my stomach and breathing becomes more difficult. I only come back to Forks once a year, it's all that I can handle, but it's a tradition I've started and I refuse to give it up, no matter how hard it is.
I see the first gas station on the main road and my car pulls in as though it's on auto-pilot. I head in the doors, straight back to the coolers and pick up a six-pack of some random beer. When I get to the front counter to pay, I recognize the girl ringing me up is Jessica Stanley, a girl I went to high school with.
"Hey, Jasper," she says as she scans the bar code. "Is it that time again already?"
My eyes stare downward at the counter and I take a deep breath, everyone knows why I'm here. "Yeah, it comes around too soon..."
"I know it sucks, I'm sorry..." she says softly. I can't handle this, the pity from people around here, it's why I left and only come back once a year. People think they know how I feel, but really, they have no idea how bad it is.
"Uhm, can I just pay for the beer?" I ask as I shift uncomfortably under her gaze.
"Sure, that'll be seven dollars even," she tells me, taking my money and handing me the change quickly.
"Thanks." I muster a small smile, grab the beer, and head back out to my car quickly. I really hope this is the only encounter I have to endure while I'm here.
I start the car and pull back out onto the road, taking the winding road up to the my final destination.
As I pull through the iron gates and drive slowly to the spot I know all too well, my mind starts to spin and I feel a bit dizzy. It doesn't take long and I'm pulling off into a designated parking place and getting out of the car.
I hate this place so much, it breaks my heart knowing that my best friend will spend the rest of eternity here, and the best I can do is visit once a year. Now I know what you're thinking, I could come back more than once a year, but what good would that do anyone? I know it wouldn't do me a bit of good, this trip sucks enough as it is.
I walk slowly up to his resting place, taking in the the beauty that is his headstone. I've never seen anything like it before and it fits, because Edward was one-of-a-kind. It's an angel kneeling on a flat rectangular surface, her upper body draped over a gigantic heart. The words engraved inside that heart take the breath right out of me, even though I've seen it many times before.
'Edward Anthony Cullen
Beloved Son, Brother, and Friend
Unfairly Taken Too Soon
Loved and Missed By All'
I take a moment to compose myself, running my fingers along the edge of the heart before I sit down against the tree next to his plot, place a beer on the edge of his headstone, and pop the first one open for myself.
The first drink is bitter as it slides down my throat, quenching a thirst I wasn't aware I had. "Hey, buddy..." I say out loud, my voice cracking the tiniest bit. "Time for our yearly visit."
I put the bottle back up to my lips and take a few bigger gulps before I start speaking again. "I can't believe another year has passed already. It's been ten years, Eddie... ten fucking years since we were sixteen."
I close my eyes and rest my head against the tree. "Where should I start? I'm doing okay this year. Haven't really been seeing anyone, but the new job I got takes up most of my time and I'm pretty okay with that. Can you believe I actually fucking got a job with National Geographic magazine? They send me all over the world to take pictures of amazing places and beautiful animals and I can't help but think 'Edward would love this place' every time."
I let out a sigh because it's really hard for me to sit here and spill the mundane details of my life when my best friend doesn't even have a life anymore.
"Hey, do you remember that time we were supposed to be practicing for the baseball tryouts, but instead we were underneath the bleachers trying to see up the girls' skirts?" I laugh for the first time in awhile because it's pretty funny now, but back then it wasn't such a great outcome for us. "Bella and Alice were so pissed off at us that they wouldn't even talk to us for three whole days. Wasn't it crazy how that seemed like an eternity?
"Oh, and then there was the time we nearly fell asleep in Banner's biology class because we had stayed up way too late the night before playing video games and looking at porn. Remember how we had to keep elbowing each other to stay awake and Banner was giving us the evil eye the entire time, but never said a word to us?
"And of course we can't forget the night that we both had sex for the first time. I still can't believe you made Alice and I use Emmett's bedroom, promising me he would never find out. That black eye hurt like a bitch and made me an ugly fuck for like two weeks, and you just laughed your ass off at me every time someone at school asked me what happened. What was I supposed to say, 'Oh, my prick of a best friend made me use his brother's bed to have sex on and when he found out about it, he punched me in the face'?" The chuckle that escapes my lips actually feel real, natural even. It's weird though because I feel a slight pang of guilt for being able to laugh, but I continue talking to him. "I'm sure Alice would have loved that. Did I ever tell you she wanted me to let her put make-up on my eye to cover up the bruise? Yeah, she was a bit crazy that one."
I quickly shuffle through the memories we have made together and settle on one of the best ones. "It's so hard to pick out the best times we had together because we had so many of them. Edward, you've been my best friend since we were six. I'm sure you remember the day I moved in next door to you, I was so mad at my parents for making us move to this dreary, rainy place but when I first saw you and you asked me to go play cowboys and Indians in your backyard, I was suddenly okay with being here. Now, I can't stand this place; anywhere I look and everywhere I go there's a memory linked to you. It's more than one person can handle, or at least someone as weak as I am."
I can't find the words to express what I'm feeling to my friend at the moment, so I down the rest of my first beer and pop open the top to the second.
"I remember how fucking picky you were about your car; you treated that thing better than you treated your girlfriend at times. It was kind of hilarious when you backed into that pole at the grocery store and I thought you were going to hyperventilate because you scratched the damn bumper. You didn't even dent the damn thing but you acted as though your life was over... god damn drama queen you were."
It's much easier to laugh about the good times now, probably because I can feel the alcohol making it's way through my veins, loosening me up a bit. I have to be careful not to drink too much, because I still have a long drive back to Seattle tonight; no fucking way am I ending up stuck in this town for longer than I need to be.
"God, those were the fucking days, huh? If we were sixteen again, I'd suggest we do a lot of things different, like studying more and causing a lot less trouble. We thought we were hot shit back then... and I suppose we were. Popular with the ladies, everyone looked up to us, and the teachers even knew not to fuck with us; those were some good times, old friend. Here's the thing though, I'd give it all up, go back and be nobodys who had to work hard for everything if it meant you'd still be here with me..."
I have to fight back the tears, but I do because Edward wouldn't want me to cry and I refuse to let him down again.
"I failed you, buddy. Going to Mike's party that night was the worst decision we ever made; we should have stayed home and blown some shit up on the play station or watched some movies and gorged ourselves on pizza and bread sticks. That would have been the smart thing to do but of course, we were pretty stupid back then. We both drank more than we should have, all things considered, but I was in far better shape to drive than you were. I know you were upset about Bella cheating on you with Jake, but I should've been a better friend. I should have stopped you from drinking so much or done every-fucking-thing in my power to get those keys from you and drove you home, but I didn't want you to be mad at me and you had that fucking sick attachment to your car.
"Damn it, Edward, you were more than a best friend to me, you were my brother for fuck's sake and I fucking let you down. I got in the passenger seat and let you drive your car right to your death; the whole thing is my fucking fault. I'm sorry, E, I'm so fucking sorry..." The last few words come out more as a whisper because I've run out of breath.
I close my eyes and try to regain control of my lungs, but that's an even worse idea as I see the whole scene replay again in slow motion behind my eye lids.
It had been raining and the roads were drenched, which wasn't unusual for Forks in the Spring. Edward was far too drunk and should've never been driving; he misjudged the turn, I screamed at him to slow down and he slammed on the brakes, only to hydroplane right into the guard railing. My air bag inflated, breaking my nose and knocking me unconscious, but his never did. His head slammed hard into the steering wheel and that's the last I remember.
My eyes open because I don't want to see it anymore, I hate remembering. "They told me you died instantly from the snap in your neck, that you didn't feel any pain and for years I wanted to die too, so I didn't have to feel any pain either. I didn't even give a shit about the physical pain, it was the emotional pain I couldn't handle. Being alive when the other half of you isn't is the worst possible thing anyone can go through. And I coulda stopped it from happening... knowing that makes it a thousand times worse. The guilt consumed me and no matter how many different therapists my parents sent me to, or how many times your parents told me that they didn't blame me it didn't fucking matter, I'm still the one who could have saved you but didn't."
My heart is pounding so hard that I think it might break free from its cage and join Edward in his eternity. I would honestly welcome the relief, but I had stopped hoping for that a long time ago. I gave up on a normal life and have settled for a tolerable existence.
"You know, I hated Bella for years... couldn't stand to see her face at school or even hear her name. If she hadn't cheated on you with that asshat from the reservation, you never would have felt the need to get so annihilated and you would still be here with me today. I still don't like her, E, but I've come to understand that I can't push the guilt I feel off onto anyone else."
Pushing the blame onto Bella had helped me for a few years, when the guilt got so overwhelming that I felt I might suffocate from the weight of it all, but eventually even that failed to help anymore. I'd lost Alice over the whole thing, she told me that she was sorry but her best friend came first, and that's where even I couldn't fault her, because I knew I would have done the same thing in a heart beat. The whole situation was so messed up.
So I do the only thing I can think of and tell him exactly what I'd have done differently. "If we were sixteen again, I'd have stood up to you that night and forced you to let me drive you home, even if it meant you would have hated me for awhile for driving your car. I'd gladly take all the hate you could throw at me if it meant that you'd still be here and I could be talking face-to-face with you now instead of to this headstone."
I change my position so that I'm now laying down on top of the patch of grass that my friend is buried under, just to be a little closer. "It's been the ten hardest years of my life living without you, Edward. I love you so God damn much that it honestly hurts to keep on surviving but I do because I know it's what you would want.
"I'm sorry we've never talked about this before, it just never felt like the right time. I still see a therapist whenever I'm feeling especially down about missing you and it's usually around this time of year. I saw her last Thursday and she thinks I need to purge myself of these feelings, so that's why I'm doing it after all these years."
Thinking back, I hate the me that I was after the accident. Everyone tried to help me, but I just shut down completely. I tried to kill myself a few times, pills, alcohol, and once I even contemplated throwing myself off of a bridge before I realized that it wouldn't solve anything and it would only cause more grief for those who were already mourning Edward; I couldn't bring myself to do it after that. My therapist said that it was a major break-through I'd had when I realized that and apparently it was the start to my emotional recovery.
I scoff out loud at that thought. Recovery my ass, I've never recovered or thoroughly come to terms with what happened and I'm not sure I ever will.
I lay there for awhile just letting whatever words I find spill out of my mouth to fill the silence and I never revisit the topic again during my time with Edward―I've said everything I need to say.
The sun is setting behind the treeline and it's starting to get chilly. I sigh heavily knowing that's my cue to leave. "Well, Edward, I've gotta be heading out. You know how chilly Forks gets at this time of year. I miss you and love you and I'll see you again next year, same time, same place."
I have to drag myself up off the ground and force myself to leave him behind once more. I trudge slowly back to my car and once I'm safely inside, I rest my head against the cool steering wheel. The weight of the day is exhausting and I just want to sleep but I know I have to get out of here.
As I make my way back to the main road, consciously avoiding the path that would take me past the accident site because I'm just not ready for that step yet, I can't help but wonder what our life would be like if we really were sixteen again.