A/N: My dearest SorceressCirce, I wish I could make all your Christmas wishes come true. I wrote you some sweet boy-love just for you, because you rock, and I love you.
Merry Christmas, my sweet. I hope you enjoy your story.
Many thanks to pippapear and kimberlycullen10 for prereading, and atypicalswan for beta'ing.
Thank you, also, to ChristagBanners for making the blinkie for 12 Days.
(check out my blog to see it)
As always, I don't own Twilight. The boys just keep telling me these lovely stories.
"On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me..." Alice sang along to the the Muppet version of that traditional song as it played on the radio while we put the finishing touches on the tree. She'd been a trooper, helping me out all day in order to get the place decorated, since Jasper wasn't here to help me do it this time.
She nudged me, grinning, silently asking me to sing along with her, so I did. By the time we'd gotten to Miss Piggy's first round of five golden rings, Alice handed me the very last ornament to hang up - a pewter ornament frame with a picture of Jasper and me kissing under the mistletoe on our first Christmas as a couple.
I held it lovingly in my hands, a silly smile on my face at the sight of Jasper in his customary elf-hat. Never a Santa hat; it had to be an elfish one. I never had understood the reason for it, but it didn't matter. It was tradition for him, and I had to admit he looked too cute for my own good when he wore it.
"God, has it really been six years, Ali?" I whispered, tracing the image with my fingertip.
Alice put her arm around my waist, her eyes focused on the ornament. She giggled and glanced up at me with a mischievous grin. "Yep! You're getting old, my dear brother."
She paused, stood on her tiptoes, and ran her fingers through my hair above my ear, then plucked sharply at a strand as she said with a gasp, "Why, is that gray hair I see?"
"Ouch! Alice!" I grumbled. "Watch it. You're only four minutes younger than me, if I'm old, so are you."
She grinned. "Ah, but I am still younger than you."
I narrowed my eyes at her, then leaned down with a frown, my fingers trailing through her hair much like she'd just done to me. "Hmm, looks like you need to touch up your hair dye, sis. I'm starting to see roots."
Alice slapped my chest - hard, I might add - and glared at me. She squared her shoulders, feet firmly planted as she put one hand on her hip, and wagged her finger at me. "You see no such thing! I only went to get it done three days ago!"
I chuckled, ruffling her hair. She really was much too easy to rile up. It was very important to her to look 'just right' as she always put it. She was a news reporter at the local ABC station, so always in the spotlight.
Pulling her into a hug, I kissed the top of her head. "Sorry, Ali. You're right. You look perfect, as always."
She harrumphed, but hugged me back. Alice never was able to stay mad at me for very long. She gave a long suffering sigh, patted my back and stepped back, her eyes on the ornament still in my hand. "So, you going to hold onto that, or actually give it a prominent place?"
I rolled my eyes at her, but turned dutifully to the five foot tree, already decked out with all the precious memories from our past - both joint, and separate, as both our parents had given us a stock of holiday decorations when we got our own place. The tree was a mismatch of things, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Neither would Jasper.
With a sigh, I hung our picture at the front of the tree, facing the couch at about eye level - at least if you were sitting down. I rummaged through all the boxes, wanting to make sure we'd gotten everything, even though I knew we had.
Everything but the angel was already in its place. I sat down heavily on the dining room chair, staring at the beautiful red and gold angel. She'd been in Jasper's family for years, though you'd never be able to tell with how well kept she was. He had inherited her when his gran had passed away four years ago. Unlike angels you could get nowadays, this one had a porcelain head, and hands.
It was always Jasper who'd place her carefully on the top of the tree, but he wouldn't be here until Christmas Day this year. His work had sent him to Burlington, Vermont, where they'd opened a new office. He and eight others had been temporarily relocated there to help set everything up, and assure that the new management had everything under control before coming back to their regular jobs here in Seattle.
Alice came to stand behind me and wrapped her arms around my neck, resting her chin lightly on the top of my head. I placed my hand on her arms where they crossed, and sighed. "I miss him, Ali..."
She squeezed me gently, and said, "I know, Eddie. He'll be back soon, though."
I nodded. "Yes, but only for a few days. He has to be back in Burlington by January second. He won't be coming home again until he's finished there, after that. Another two months, maybe."
My heart sank at the thought of being apart from him for so long. He'd already been gone since late August, since he'd been one of the ones who'd been sent to recruit people for the new office. We'd only seen each other a handful of times while he'd been gone, because I couldn't get time away from my job as a teacher. I'd considered taking a sabbatical, just so I could be with him, but he wouldn't hear of it. "Save that time for when you're really going to need it, baby," he'd said.
Part of me had been upset with him for turning me down like that, though the rational side of me understood.
"So do you want to put the angel up now, or wait until Christmas for Jasper to do it?" she murmured.
I thought about that for a moment, my eyes fixed on the box holding the angel. Sitting up, I reached for the box and resolutely closed the lid on it. "That's Jasper's job. It can wait. It would look wrong to have her up without him here."
It already feels wrong to even have decorations up when he's not here to enjoy them with me.
"Alright, sweetie. C'mon, let's get everything straightened up real quick, and then I'll have to go or I'll be late."
I nodded, and after carefully putting the angel aside, began clearing off the table. Alice helped me put all the empty boxes back in the closet in the spare bedroom, then followed me back to the living room. We stood in front of the tree, just admiring our handiwork of the day. She smiled, and I felt her shift next to me and next thing I knew, all the lights had gone on.
"There," she said, "now we're done."
I smiled at her and kissed her on the top of her head. "Thanks again, Ali. I couldn't have done it without you."
More to the point, I wouldn't have done it without you.
She rolled her eyes, knowing full well what I meant. It had taken both Jasper, Alice, and our mom a lot of talking to convince me to even bother decorating. I'd simply not been in the mood, which was how it had ended up being almost two weeks later than normal before getting my ass in gear and agreeing to do it.
Normally Jasper and I always started getting the place ready the day after Thanksgiving. It was our preferred method of spending Black Friday. The only thing we'd go out of the house for was the tree, and then we'd go right back home again. We'd set the tree up that day, and then spend the following week getting the rest of the apartment ready.
That's how we'd spend the holiday season for the past six years, and I hated the fact that we'd been denied it this year. Of course, it didn't help matters much that the holidays had always been special for us, because we'd met seven years ago today.
"Oh!" Alice said suddenly, as if remembering something, and effectively pulling me from my musings. She went over to her bag by the door, and pulled out a wrapped rectangular box, bow and all.
She grinned widely at me as she handed it to me, and said, "Jasper asked me to give you this today. He said to tell you not to open it until you were alone, and to follow the instructions that go with it."
I stared at her, completely baffled. Jasper was known to pull off surprises from time to time, and Alice was usually his go-to culprit, so that really shouldn't surprise me much. What did surprise me was the timing of it, and I wondered just what Jasper had in store this time. It didn't bode well for him to want to make sure I'd be alone for the unveiling of this gift.
Frowning, I nodded, "Okay, Alice. Thank you."
She hugged me tightly then, and I did the same.
"I love you, Eddie. I'll talk to you in a few days, okay?" she said.
I smiled, nodding again. "Alright. Love you, too, Ali. You'd better go, or else you'll be late for your make-up call."
I winked as she shot me a glare, which held absolutely no venom behind it thanks to the grin she was failing to hide. I locked the door after she left, and went to sit on the couch. For several minutes, all I could do was sit and stare at the tree, wishing Jasper were here with me.
With a sigh, I turned my attention to the gift Alice had given me, and with some trepidation I opened it. I had no idea what he was up to this time, but it wouldn't have been the first time he'd done something that ended up making me feel a little embarrassed. Though I suppose that was why he'd insist on me being alone - to minimize any reactions to that effect.
I frowned a little when I saw it was a frame, but when I turned it over, my eyes widened - and not just because of the image of Jasper's half-clad legs with his elf-hat dangling in front of his crotch was staring me in the face.
The frame I was holding was a digital one. Not just that, but one that allowed people to send pictures directly to it. I knew it, because we'd looked into getting these for his parents and sister this Christmas. Rosalie was pregnant, but since she and Emmett lived in Portland, and their parents here in Seattle, we had thought it a nice idea for them to be feel more involved with everything.
They weren't cheap, but well worth the expense, so we'd ordered them. To my knowledge, they hadn't arrived yet, but apparently Jasper had been sneaky and gotten one for us as well.
Wondering just what Jasper had in store, I stared at the picture again. I had to swallow hard, because the image vividly reminded me of that first Christmas, when Jasper had come into our bedroom wearing nothing but that hat. And it hadn't been on his head then, either.
I squirmed, tugging at my jeans to get more comfortable, and tried to will away the hard-on I was getting from remembering how...naughty...we'd ended up being that night.
Oh, if Santa only knew...
I chuckled softly, shaking my head at myself. In an effort to distract myself - I really had no interest in dealing with anything without Jasper there - I searched through the wrapping paper for the instructions Alice had hinted at. Sure enough, there was an envelope stuck to the inside, somehow Jasper had managed to either tape or glue it to the paper.
After pulling it out carefully, I opened the envelope to find a Christmas card inside of a typical Vermont winter scene, complete with a couple snuggled under a blanket in a horse drawn sled with sleigh bells. I noted with some amusement that the couple consisted of both men. I chuckled softly to myself. Looks like someone found a niche in the market there...
Opening the card, I saw Jasper's tidy scrawl and I couldn't help but smile as I imagined him sitting at his desk, penning this card just for me. I let my fingers brush over the text before settling in and reading. There wasn't much, but I want to savor this connection. It might seem strange, and maybe it was, but with everything going so fast and over the internet these days, it was rare to get anything handwritten anymore.
I wish I could be there with you to trim the tree, and decorate the apartment, but I have faith that Alice will do a great job helping you. She always does. I know it won't be the same for you, sweetheart, so I wanted to try to make this special for you somehow.
Seven years ago today, we bumped into each other's lives - literally. I remember how pissed off you were at first, when the picture you just had framed for Esme fell, and the glass broke. It wasn't until after I'd offered to pay for it to be fixed, as well as take you out for coffee while we waited, that you calmed down.
I know that the picture in this frame isn't quite of the same quality, but I thought it was a fitting way to commemorate one of my favorite memories of you.
You know what kind of frame this is, Ed, so I won't go into a lengthy explanation on how to use it. Everyday, from now until Christmas, a new picture will appear - each one will have a special meaning. It's up to you to figure out what it is - and what awaits you when you do.
I love you with all my heart.
I stared at the words for a moment, a goofy grin on my face as I let them sink in. A new picture every day from now until Christmas? And they'd amount to a surprise waiting for me in the end?
"Jasper Hale, what on earth are you up to?" I muttered, glancing at the picture again.
As if on cue, the phone rang and I answered without checking the caller ID. "Hello?"
"Hello, yourself, darlin'."
I smiled, sinking back into the couch as I placed the frame flat on my knees. "Hey, baby. Aren't you supposed to be working right now?"
A glance at the clock told me it was later than I'd thought, so I cleared my throat. "Never mind. I keep forgetting about the stupid time difference."
Jasper laughed, and the sound just made me miss him that much more. He sounded so free and warm and beautiful. Beautiful, because whenever he laughed like that, his whole being seemed to light up from within and draw you to him like a moth to a flame.
"How's our tree looking this year, darlin'? Alice left already, right?"
I sighed, running my hand through my hair as I looked up at the tree, my eyes falling on the photo ornament I'd hung up last. "It's..." I cleared my throat again, frowning as I opted to answer his second question, instead. "Yeah, she left about twenty minutes ago."
Jasper sighed softly, and I imagined him leaning back in his chair, swiveling back and forth. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. I wish I could've been there. Soon though."
"Yeah, I know, babe...it's just...it doesn't feel like Christmas without you here..."
I frowned, plucking listlessly at a thread sticking out from the seam of the couch cushion. "I don't care if it makes me sound like a clingy fuckin' schoolgirl or whatever..." I huffed.
Jasper chuckled, and I couldn't help but give a chuckle of my own in response. I'd told Jasper on more than one occasion that he was it for me. My one and only - my forever. And he'd always said it was the same for him - though he'd tease me often about being a sap.
"Yeah yeah...I love you, too. So I trust that Ali's given you your gift?"
I narrowed my eyes at his picture in my lap. "Yes, she did, you little sneak. Where are Rose and Helen's frames?"
Jasper chuckled softly. "Don't you worry none, lover. Ali has them."
"Of course she does..." I mumbled.
"Hey now, don't you be givin' my favorite partner in crime a hard time. She just wanted to make sure you had a good Christmas, darlin'."
"I know, I know..." I sighed.
We sat and talked for another half an hour, and he hinted again at there being a surprise on Christmas Day that I had to figure out from the clues he'd be sending me. I was dying of curiosity, and tried several times to get him to give it up, but he wouldn't have it.
"Darlin', you best be putting your energy to use figuring this thing out, or you might not get it at all," he threatened. "And there's not a chance in hell you'll weasel it out of me...or anyone else!"
That made me pause. Anyone else? Who, besides Alice, was involved with this little scheme of his?
Almost as if realizing he'd said too much, he said, "Ah, never you mind. Point is, you need to do this on your own, sweetheart."
I heard something in the background, voices murmuring, and then, "Edward? I'm sorry, baby, but I gotta go. The guys just came to get me for dinner. Love you, and I'll see you soon."
"Love you, too, Jazz. Have fun, and tell the others I said hi."
My fingers traced the frame in my lap after I hung up. I wondered where I should put it, then got up to our bedroom and placed it on my nightstand, figuring that would be the safest place. God only knew what kinds of pictures would end up there.
I spent the rest of the night doing some last minute work on the assignments for tomorrow, so I'd have less to do during planning. By the time I went to bed, I'd almost forgotten about the fact Jasper had planned another surprise - one I'd have to figure out on my own - until I came back into our room and saw the leg-shot again. I lay there for a while, trying to imagine what I could expect, before finally falling asleep.
When I woke up, the first thing I noticed was a blue light flashing somewhere close by. It took me a minute to register that it came from the picture frame, and then another couple of minutes to realize that meant there was a new photo waiting for me.
I sat bolt upright, grabbing the frame as I settled against the headboard. I had to blink several times, to make sure I was awake. Whatever I'd been expecting to see, it wasn't the picture of Alice and me on Christmas morning...fifteen years ago. We were sitting next to each other by the tree, cross-legged and with our knees touching as we gazed up at what I knew to be Dad as he had handed out gifts. I could vaguely see my cousin Jane just on the edge of the shot.
How the hell did he get this? And why on earth would he give it to me?
Shaking my head, I put the frame back in its place, and sent Jasper a text wishing him a good day, and that I missed him, as well as thanking him for the picture. I couldn't fathom why he'd added it, but throughout the entire day, as I went from class to class, and later to do the grocery shopping for everything I'd need in order to bake for the potluck on Friday at school, I kept thinking about that Christmas.
It had been the last one with Grandma Platt, as she'd passed away a couple of months after. She'd made it a point to give all of us grandkids something to keep with us always, to remind us of her. She'd always been very crafty, and had used the months since her cancer diagnosis making each of us a quilt, with pieces of our family history sewn into them, like the different family crests, pictures printed out on fabric.
Alice and I still treasured those gifts, and when I got home I felt compelled to pull my quilt off the display rack that housed it. Sitting down on the edge of our bed, it covered my lap even as my fingers trailed over the stitches, written words, and images she'd worked so hard to put together for us.
I wondered if Jasper remembered the significance of that year, and if so, whether that was why he'd used it. With a sigh, I carefully folded the quilt back up and hung it in its place before taking a moment to look at the pictures he had given me so far.
The rest of the night, I spent puttering around the house, getting ready so I could bake the following day after school. I didn't really want to go to it, but I'd promised to bring several dishes. Usually this was something Jasper and I did together, too, but I'd have to manage on my own this time.
By the time I was done cleaning and getting things ready it was time for bed. With one last glance at the new addition to my nightstand, I fell asleep - my arms around Jasper's pillow in lieu of the man himself.
The next morning, I woke up feeling very tired, having spent most of the night dreaming about Grandma Platt. With a groan, I sat up, picking up the frame once more and smiling in anticipation as I waited for the newest addition to the photos.
The picture slid from the second one Jasper had sent, to the new one. It was me, sitting at the small wrought iron table of a little bistro downtown. My eyes were closed, and my face was tilted up at the sun, one hand wrapped around a cappuccino cup, while I knew the other rested on my knee, though you couldn't see it from that angle.
Jasper had been running late for our date, and I hadn't realized he'd finally arrived - I'd simply enjoyed one of the rare times the sun had been out that spring.
I thought back a moment, wondering why Jasper would have chosen this picture, one that he had taken on the sly before letting me know he'd arrived. And then I remembered what had happened at the end of our date. We'd been together a few months at that point. We wanted to take things easy, neither of us interested in jumping into things we weren't sure we were ready for.
But that day had been a changing point for us. Jasper had asked me to move in with him. I'd said yes, of course, never even letting him finish trying to talk me into it. It hadn't even been a week later that my things had been moved to his small apartment, and I'd signed my lease over to Alice, who had been looking for a place for herself for a while, having gotten tired of her roommate Heidi.
I stared at the picture for a while longer, lost in thought, until my alarm went off. With a sigh, I put the frame back in its place, and texted Jasper to wish him a good morning, and to let him know I loved him. I was showered and dressed by the time I got his answering text wishing me a good day.
The day went by without too much bother. The kids were mostly well-behaved, working on the various projects we had going. One class was a bit more chatty than the others, but that was largely due to the fact they had to work together to write fan-fiction as a writing exercise.
Angela stopped by my class room right after the last students filed through, wanting to know if I was still good for the potluck tomorrow.
I smiled at her, running my fingers through my hair as I mentally went over all the things I'd have to do that night. "Yeah, I should be fine. It'll be a late night, but it should be okay."
She grinned, "Will you be making your...what are they called again? Those brown cookies?"
Nodding, I chuckled. "Yeah, I'll make some brun kager, just for you, Angie. Remind me to give you the recipe, okay? About time you learned to make those yourself."
She stood on her tiptoes and kissed my cheek. "You're the best, Ed."
"Yeah, yeah, you just like me for my cookies," I mock-groused.
Angela had to stifle her giggles behind her hand as we were interrupted by another teacher, asking her to help him with something. I picked up my papers, and made my way out the door with a wave as I passed her classroom. I'd already stocked up on everything I'd need, so that I could go straight home.
When I got out of the elevator on our floor, I stopped and sniffed the air as the familiar smells of stollen bread and cookies met my nose.
What the hell?
I hurried over to our door, put in my keys and turned, only to find it already unlocked and swinging open. As soon as it did, I heard, "In here, sweetheart!"
My eyes widened as I registered the smells from the kitchen at the same time as my mother's voice. "Mom?" I said as I walked into the small kitchen. "What are you doing here? How did you get in?"
Mom was standing with her hands in a mixing bowl, her arms were covered in flour up to her elbows, and several stray strands of hair fell haphazardly around her face, having escaped from her bun. She offered me her cheek, which I obligingly kissed even as I surveyed the room. From the look of things, she'd been hard at work for at least an hour already.
She smiled up at me even as she continued to work on whatever dough she was preparing. "Well, I would think it was fairly obvious what I'm doing here, Son. As for how I got in...Jasper left me his keys so I could come and help you tonight."
Once again, my eyes widened as I took that bit of news in. He hadn't mentioned a thing about any of that, but it was something very typical of him - and of my mother. Kissing her cheek again, I smiled. "Thanks, Mom. I appreciate it."
She smiled brightly at me, then tilted her head to my bag and said, "Go put that away and change into something more suitable for baking. We have a lot of things to take care of. I figured since we were already making things, we could do double of everything, since I promised the girls at book club some goodies Saturday morning."
"Sounds like a plan to me. I'll be right back."
Within ten minutes, I was changed in lounge pants and an old shirt, and sporting the Christmas apron Jasper had gotten me last Christmas, saying "Santa's Helper". Mom had found my binder where I kept all my recipes in. Some of them were ones that had been handed down through the generations, like the brun kager Angela always requested. Or the stollen that was already in the oven. Both came from mom's side of the family, which heralded from both Denmark, Germany, and The Netherlands.
Dad's family originated from England, Scotland, and Wales. I'd always loved to have such a rich heritage, and our parents had always tried to incorporate as many traditions as they could. Not everything had survived over the years, of course. Mom's family had been in the States for a few generations already, while Dad was the first in his family to make it here. We still visited with his family there every few years.
One thing that both sides of the family had in common, was a love of food - and cooking and baking, of course. That was something I'd inherited, whereas Alice couldn't boil an egg no matter how hard Mom had tried to teach her.
Jasper's family was also rooted in England and Germany, but even so, we'd found several traditions over the years the other hadn't known about. Likewise there were certain dishes that were new to us. Lucky for me, Jasper knew his way around the kitchen just as well as I did, and we'd had a lot of fun over the years learning from each other, and incorporating the things we each loved best from our family traditions and start some of our very own.
Mom and I worked side by side for hours, only pausing long enough to order Chinese, and eventually eat it when our order arrived. We chatted easily, reminiscing about Christmases past, and all the things we still had to do before the twenty-fifth. By the time Mom had to go home, we had twelve different kinds of cookies, three different cakes, two types of bread, and even some homemade candy.
I helped Mom bring her portion of it all to her car - something that ended up taking us three trips. She closed the hatch of her Mini Cooper, making me wonder once again just how we managed to fit everything in that tiny thing. She stepped up to me, hugging me tight and patting my back lightly. "Thank you for tonight, Son. It was nice to spend some time in the kitchen with you again."
"Thanks, Mom. For everything. I love you. Tell Dad I love him too, okay?" I said, smiling as I hugged her back. It really had been nice to spend time with her, and I made a mental note to get together with her after the holidays for some cooking. Maybe we could do a big dinner every so often. I was certain Jasper would love that, as well.
"I will, sweetheart. Now, you'd better get inside and get warm! It's freezing out here." She scolded, rubbing my arms.
I laughed. "Yes ma'am. Drive safe, and let me know you made it home okay?"
She assured me she would, and as soon as she had driven out of my sight, I went back upstairs. I spent some time getting everything ready for the morning while I waited to hear from Mom. By the time she called to let me know she got home safely, it was already well past midnight. I crawled into bed, remembering to change the time on my alarm, and fell asleep quickly. The last thing I saw was the picture of Jasper's legs.
The next morning, I woke up with a groan, my alarm having gone off half an hour earlier than normal. I wanted to roll over and go back to bed, but the blinking blue light stopped me from following through. Curious, I sat up slowly, scrubbing my face in an effort to wake up. I picked up the frame, and smiled when I saw the latest photo slide into place.
This time, it was again a picture of me, but I was asleep in bed. I looked peaceful, and sprawled out over Jasper's half of the bed. I wondered when this was from. When I looked a little closer, I noticed the little Christmas bear I'd given him in his stocking that first Christmas, sitting on his nightstand. I knew it had to be from that year, because he'd never put it there again, having decided to give it a home on the mantle of the fireplace every year thereafter.
I frowned, wondering why he'd chosen another picture of me, and not one of himself - or at the very least one of us together. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what the possible message was he was trying to send me, but I appreciated that he was thinking of me all the same.
Sending him my customary good morning text, I hurried to get showered and dressed. I needed to get everything loaded into my car and then brought into school before classes started. I didn't want to have it all sitting in the car for hours on end.
When I got to school, Angela was waiting for me and helped me bring everything inside. To show her my gratitude, I held out a small tin to her and her eyes lit up. She looked like she was trying not to bounce on her feet, her hands tightly clasped together as she said, "Is that what I think it is?"
I laughed, nodding. "Yes. I saved some just for you. I even printed out the recipe for you, it's in the lid," I said, winking.
She squealed and flung her arms around my neck. "Thank you, Eddie! You are awesome. Oh man, Ben'll flip."
I frowned at her, trying to keep a straight face, "What? That you ate all of them before he had the chance to try one? Again?"
She made a face at me and stuck out her tongue. "Haha, very funny. One time! I swear...neither of you's ever going to let me live that down, are you? I was pregnant, for Christ's sake! I can't be held accountable."
I hugged her again, grinning. "I know, Angie, I was just teasing and you know it."
She rolled her eyes. "Yes yes, I know. Hey, when's Jasper getting back? Think you'll be able to stop by our new place in the New Year? It's been forever since we've hung out."
I sighed, leaning against the counter in the small kitchen off the teacher's lounge. "I don't know exactly. He's supposed to be back in February or March, so may be a while. But yes, it's been too long."
Angela tilted her head, looking at me carefully. "You okay, Edward?"
I smiled, nodding. "Yeah, I just miss him, is all."
She hooked her arm through mine as she stood next to me. "Does that mean you'll be my date today? Ben couldn't get off from work, so I'm going solo, too."
"I'd love to. Thanks, Ang."
She patted my arm, and then went off to her classroom. I walked over to mine, bringing a small platter of cookies - I had one arranged for every class that day, as I always did. I didn't even make any attempts at teaching today, the last day before the winter holidays. Everyone was too excited, and I couldn't blame them. I remembered being that young and looking forward to all the thrills of Christmas.
Throughout the day, several students came up to me with cards, handing them to me with shy smiles before hurrying off again. I was surprised to see that some had gone as far as making the cards themselves.
At the end of the day, after the last bell had sounded, and the last of the students had been safely seen off to the buses or awaiting parents, I went to the teacher's lounge. A few of the other teachers had already started to set things up for the potluck, so I lent them a hand. It didn't take us long before things were ready, and Christmas music was playing softly in the background.
This was something the principal had arranged for at least as long as I'd worked here, and I enjoyed it a lot. It allowed for us to get to know each other outside of the classroom setting, and helped us all unwind.
The next three hours passed much quicker than I anticipated, since Jasper wasn't here this time. We were all allowed to have our significant others attend, and most of my colleagues had their partners there. Angela and I were one of the few who were flying solo that night, but we had no less fun. We chatted about the students, the play that had been performed the week before, and what everyone's plans were for the winter break.
By the time I was getting ready to go home, there was very little food left, but I made sure everyone had something to take home with them from my offerings, at least.
When I finally came home, I was tired, but mostly happy. I put all the dishes away to be taken care of in the morning, made myself some hot cocoa, and put in White Christmas before snuggling up on the couch under a blanket. I fell asleep before Bing Crosby's character made his appearance on TV to rally his old troops.
The following morning I woke with a crick in my neck, and the movie I fell asleep to playing once again for God only knows what time. I groaned, moving gingerly until I was sitting up, rolling my head and shoulders a few times to loosen my stiff muscles. With a sigh I got to my feet, and chuckled when I realized I'd never even gotten to finish the hot cocoa I'd made for myself.
I stopped in the kitchen to dispose of the drink before heading to the bedroom. I was anxious to see if Jasper had left me another picture. The blue light flashed, and my smile was automatic even before I'd even made it to the bed. Sitting down on the edge of it, I picked up the frame to see what he'd sent this time.
I had to wait for the second, third, and fourth pictures to slide past before today's photo made itself known. It was of us, dancing. We were wearing tuxedos, in honor of Rose and Emmett's wedding four years ago, and Mom had snapped this particular shot. There were other people in the frame, but the focal point was me and Jasper - and we had eyes only for each other, both of us smiling and happy.
Even looking at that image, I felt that same feeling of rightness and warmth spread through me. Out of all the pictures that had been taken that day - and there'd been many, as they hadn't hired a professional photographer and instead chosen to give everyone disposable cameras - this shot was my absolute favorite. I didn't think I'd ever seen anyone look as handsome as my Jasper.
I kind of wondered why he'd picked this photo. Yes, it was one of my favorite ones, but it also had a home on the mantelpiece already. Why add it to this? I pondered over this for a while, but eventually gave up, unable to see where he was going.
Deciding to get the kitchen under control after dumping all the containers and platters on the counter the day before, I changed into something more comfortable and got to it. I didn't take a break from cleaning until the phone rang about two hours later. It turned out to be Jasper, and we ended up talking for about an hour. He made no reference at all to the pictures, aside from asking me whether I'd gotten them okay, and if I liked them.
"Come on, Jazzie...can't you give me a hint?" I pouted. I may even have whined a little.
Jasper laughed. "Sorry, lover. You'll have to figure this out all on your own. I know you can do this."
"You're evil," I grumbled.
Jasper hummed affirmatively. "Perhaps, but you love me anyway."
My eyes flickered to the picture ornament and I smiled, running my fingers through my hair as I sighed. "You know I do."
"I do. And that's why I know you'll get it."
I could almost hear him grinning on the other side of the line. We talked for a little while longer, going over things he was going to look into while he was in Vermont - some last minute local gifts for the family, and then we hung up so he could run his errands. I wished more than anything that I could've been there with him, but since that wasn't the case, I decided to finish my chores and put in another movie. Hopefully this time, I'd be able to finish watching it without falling asleep again.
I managed it, but only barely. It was still early for me to be going to bed, but after the late night of cooking I'd had earlier in the week, I decided an early night wouldn't be a bad thing.
The next few days progressed in much the same fashion. Every day, there was a new picture waiting for me. While my days were mostly spent getting ready for Christmas - doing last minute shopping, baking, and taking care of any other details that needed tending to - Jasper was constantly on my mind. More so because of all the pictures he'd sent. Try as I might, I couldn't figure out what he was trying to tell me, as they all varied quite a bit.
On Sunday, it was one of Gran and Grandpa Cullen's fiftieth wedding anniversary a few years ago which we'd flown over to England for. It had been Jasper's first time over, and my grandparents had made a great fuss over finally meeting him.
Monday, there was a photo of the two of us on the Disney Cruise three years ago. Jasper's older brother Garrett and his wife Kate were supposed to have gone as a last huzzah before their baby was born, but she'd ended up being put on bed rest. They'd given the tickets to us, instead, since I already had the time off from school and Jasper's vacation was around the same time. Kate was a Disney fan, which was why Garrett had chosen that particular cruise. Jasper and I though, weren't as much into it, but we still had fun.
This photo was one of us both wearing the obligatory Mickey ears, and we'd been acting silly. The person we'd gotten to take the picture had gotten lucky and snapped us with Jasper pulling a face, and me laughing my head off.
On Tuesday, the picture was of me sitting next to Alice on the couch, holding her in my arms as she cried. My eyes were closed, and my head was resting on top of hers. Just seeing it made my heart ache again. It had been taken - for whatever reason - after we'd gotten the news about Grandma Platt's passing. This one especially had me wondering why Jasper had chosen it.
Wednesday's picture made me smile, even as I stared at it with wide-eyed wonder. It was a 3-D ultrasound, showing two very distinct babies. I was amazed at the amount of detail it held. I could even recognize a lot of Rose and Emmett's features in them. And it looked like Jasper'd be an uncle to both a boy and a girl, rather than the two girls I knew Emmett hoped for. I wasn't particularly surprised to be getting this image, as I knew Rose had an appointment to get it done last week, and I knew she'd have sent a copy out to everyone.
Thursday's photo was one from Jasper's childhood, showing Jasper, Garrett, and Rosalie opening their stockings. Rose's was pink and white, with her initial embroidered in gold on it. Garrett's was a denim one with white trim, also with a golden initial embroidered on it. Jasper's stocking was more traditional - a deep, dark red, with white trim, and a golden initial.
I smiled as I walked - frame in hand - to the living room to look at the stockings that hung from our fireplace mantel. Jasper still had that same stocking, as did both his siblings. They'd each had a say in how theirs would look, and their mother had made them for them. Something Jasper had always been proud of. My fingers gently trailed over the letter J as I tried once again to piece everything together.
Friday's picture was from another Christmas - last year's, as a matter of fact. We had, as was customary, gone to my parents' house on Christmas Day. We'd long since joined our families when it came to the holidays. My parents' house was big enough for everyone, and they loved hosting big parties. It just seemed right, and the Hales had fit in perfectly.
In this picture, Jasper and I were sitting in front of the couch, me between his legs with my back against his chest as we sang carols. Mom was on the piano, while Alice accompanied her on her Zither. You could just see both of them in the edge of the shot.
I spent most of Friday trying not to think about what all the pictures might mean. It was becoming increasingly frustrating that I couldn't figure it out. Jasper and I had talked every day over the course of the week, and he had been utterly relentless in his insistence for me to work it out on my own.
As I wrapped the last of the presents, and placed them in bags for me to bring along to my parents' place in the morning, I sighed. Tomorrow Jasper would finally be home again, if only for a few days. While getting those photos on a daily basis had been nice and had served as a distraction, I felt his absence keenly. Especially since I hadn't had school to take my mind of things all that week.
When I climbed into bed, I lay staring at the images for what felt like hours before sleep finally overtook me.
The next morning I woke up earlier than I had intended, but I simply couldn't fall back asleep again. I glanced at the frame, watching as image after image slid past until finally, the newest one showed up. It was Jasper, and it was a picture I'd never seen before. I grinned when I looked closer and realized that he'd taken it himself. I could just make out that he was sitting in some sort of carriage, and there was a lot of snow in the background.
Jasper was smiling as he appeared to be blowing me a kiss. My finger traced his face, and I was glad that the long wait to see and hold him again would be over in a few hours. A look at the clock told me he'd be in flight already, and I sent a quick prayer that he'd make it home safely.
Deciding I might as well get myself ready for the day, I got up, showered, and took some time to figure out what I was going to wear. The fact it was Christmas and we always dressed up a little for that was only partly the reason why I ended up wearing my black slacks, and my forest green button down. The fact that it happened to be Jasper's favorite shirt might have played a part in that choice.
Normally, Jasper and I would have breakfast together and exchange our stockings before heading out to my parents' place. This time, I couldn't be bothered making anything to eat. I wanted to get out of here, needing to be with my family so I wouldn't end up driving myself completely nuts.
With that in mind, I packed up my car with all the gifts, and drove over to Mom and Dad's house on the outskirts of Seattle. When I got there, I noticed that Rose and Emmett's car was already there, as well as Alice's Mini Cooper - red, where Mom's was blue with two white stripes in the middle.
As soon as I pulled up in front of the doorway so I could unload everything, the door opened and Dad walked out, followed closely by Emmett. I got out of my car and gave each man a hug in greeting, and then we set about getting everything into the house and under the tree. The minute I'd stepped foot in the house, though, I was accosted by Alice.
A grinning, I'm-hiding-a-secret-and-won't-tell-you, Alice, who in true Alice-fashion eyed me closely, and - before hugging me awkwardly around the varying parcels I was carrying - said, "That'll do nicely."
I stared at her, confused. "Hello to you, too, sis. What will do nicely?"
She waved her hand dismissively and said, "Never mind, never mind. Let's get these things put away."
With that, she took half the things I was carrying and walked off to the tree and began arranging everything. I placed the rest of the gifts on the floor next to her, leaving her to it so I could greet Rose who was struggling to get out of her armchair.
I chuckled, "Rose, if you're just wanting to greet me, stay put. If you need to get up, at least let me help you?"
She glared at me, but settled back down in her chair with a huff before rolling her eyes and holding out her hand. "Up," she said, "I love you like a brother, Ed, but these two are not leaving my bladder a lot of room, so if you don't mind..."
I laughed and helped her out of her seat just as Emmett walked back into the room. He flashed me a grin while Rose half-hugged, half-leaned on me. She pecked my cheek and murmured, "Thanks, Ed," and painstakingly made her way to the bathroom, Emmett hovering behind her. I could hear her grouching at him as they went into the hallway.
Shaking my head, I turned to go back to the car, but Dad came into the living room holding the last of the parcels and tossed me my keys, grinning. "Here you go, Son. I've already parked your car in its usual spot. Better go say hi to your mom, or there'll be trouble. She's been asking for you all morning."
I grinned, giving him a knowing look. "The geese?"
He chuckled. "I'd imagine so."
"Alright. Thanks, Dad."
I watched him go over to Alice and help her arrange everything for a few seconds, and then made my way to the kitchen where Mom was busily watching over some pots and pans. I grabbed my apron off its hook on the pantry door, and tied it on as I walked over to her. When I reached her, I gently placed my hand on her shoulder and kissed her cheek.
"Hey, Mom. What can I do?"
She smiled up at me, though I could tell she was a little stressed by the look in her eyes. She tried not to show it, and I knew she loved entertaining, but it was still a lot to deal with. Especially since Jasper wasn't here, and Rose was also incapacitated. It made me especially glad I'd decided to come over early.
Mom patted my hand and gestured to the fridge. "The geese are in there, if you'd be so kind as to prepare them? And when you've got those started, would you be a dear and check on the pudding?"
I nodded and set to work. The next couple of hours Mom and I worked once again side by side, interrupted every so often by the rest of the family. Helen and Liam arrived, bringing a couple of dishes for dinner. They greeted me both with the usual hugs and, in Helen's case, kiss on the cheek.
Everything seemed to be going fine, but I couldn't shake the feeling something wasn't quite right. I shook it off as simply being because Jasper wasn't here yet. I glanced at the clock and sighed, wiping my hands on a dish towel before grabbing something to drink. I was fairly certain Jasper's flight would have landed already, or would be doing so, soon.
Helen, who had been helping Mom and I in the kitchen since she arrived, came up to me and patted my hand. "He'll be here soon, sweetheart."
Smiling at her, I nodded. "I know. It's just..."
I shrugged. She smiled, patted my hand again, and walked off to find her husband. Just then, my phone vibrated in my pocket, letting me know I'd received a text message. It was from Jasper, saying they'd finally landed, that he missed me, and that he couldn't wait to be home again. I sent him a quick message back to say I Ioved and missed him, and to be safe getting here.
The company had arranged for a taxi service for everyone. I'd wanted to pick him up from the airport, but Jasper wouldn't hear of it, insisting on using the service provided for him so I wouldn't miss out on time with my family. Again, I had felt a little hurt at his dismissal, but I knew he meant well. He knew how much the holidays meant to me, and my family. He also knew how much I hated driving to or from the airport, though I would have done it a hundred times for him.
I felt a little lighter knowing he was at least in town again, and that it wouldn't be long now. Alice walked into the kitchen right as I put my phone back into my pocket, smiling as I did so. She grinned knowingly and said, "Your man's home again."
It wasn't a question, and the gleam in her eyes as she said it did nothing to convince me that there was nothing going on. "Yes, Ali, Jazz just landed. Would you stop looking like the cat that ate the canary already, and just tell me what the hell is going on?"
Her grin widened. "Nope!"
She danced out of my reach as I tried to ruffle her hair, and laughed as she went to go set the table. With a sigh, I went back to the living room in an effort to be social. The food was pretty much done for the most part, and everything else needed last minute attention, so I was free to be social for a while.
Garrett, Kate, and their little girl Tanya had arrived at some point while I was in the kitchen. Tanya was playing with Liam, who appeared to be using all his grandfatherly wiles to keep the little one from going after the pretty boxes and bags that were under the tree. I stopped by them to give her a hug, and was rewarded with a big sloppy kiss from her, to boot. Ruffling her hair fondly, I made my way over to her parents.
Garrett grinned, hugging me tightly as he chuckled, "You hanging in there okay, Eddie?"
I rolled my eyes at him, suppressing a smirk when Kate smacked Garrett's arm. I knew he was referring to Jasper being gone for so long, so I shrugged. "I guess."
Kate embraced me, and murmured, "Don't pay him any mind, sweetie. Are you sure you're doing okay? I know this hasn't been easy on you guys."
The look of concern on her face was genuine, so I squeezed her hand lightly and nodded. "Yeah, I miss him a lot, but it's only temporary, right? And he'll be home this week..."
She smiled and patted my arm. "Exactly. Call me, though, if you ever want to talk, okay? Trust me, I know what it's like to be home alone for long periods of time, what with that one having been on tour twice."
Kissing her cheek, I promised her I would do just that. I reminded myself that I was lucky that this wasn't a usual thing, and that at least I knew Jasper was safe while he was gone. Kate hadn't had that luxury when Garrett was gone. He'd made it back each time, and he was done now, something we were all very grateful for, but still...
Jane and her husband Demetri, and Alec had also just arrived. Alec's girlfriend Anna had drawn the short end of the stick and was working the holiday shift at the hospital, so she'd been unable to join him. Grandpa Platt, Aunt Lucy and Uncle Warren came shortly after, and we all spent some time catching up.
It had been a while since I'd spoken to Grandpa Platt, so it was nice to talk to him again. He'd moved into a home, finally, after much persuading from Aunt Lucy and Mom. He wasn't doing very well anymore, and it had become too much for them to handle. He hadn't wanted to leave the home he and Grandma Platt had shared for so long. I had to admit, it was strange to think that he'd no longer be living there, and I could certainly understand his reluctance to leave that last connection with his late wife behind.
There was so much noise from everyone talking, and I was so engrossed in my conversation with Grandpa, that I hadn't noticed that Jasper had finally arrived. It wasn't until I suddenly felt arms slip around my neck from behind me, and a cold cheek as well as cold lips pressed against my jaw as Jasper murmured, "Merry Christmas, darlin'," that I knew.
I pulled away at once so I could turn around, scrambling over the back of the couch in order to get to him. "Jasper!"
He laughed and pulled me in for a hug so tight it was almost painful, but I couldn't care less. Especially not when his lips found mine, and I felt whole again. We didn't pull apart until the sound of throats clearing and laughter reached our ears - and a well-aimed elbow nudged me hard in the side.
I blushed, mumbling an apology as I stepped next to him, my arm securely wrapped around his waist, and his around mine. He pressed his lips against my temple, chuckling softly.
"I missed you, too, sweetheart. I'll be right back though. Need to freshen up a bit. It's been a long day already," he whispered.
I only just managed to keep myself from following him to the bathroom, and the glint in his eyes told me he knew. Every eye in the room was on me after Jasper left, making me a little uncomfortable. I blushed, mumbled some excuse about going to check on dinner, and beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen.
Mom joined me, and we quietly got the last few things ready. Dad came in a little later and began to carry everything into the dining room. Jasper found me as I was carving the geese. I paused what I was doing as soon as I felt him step behind me. He slipped his arms around me, and I leaned back into him, reveling in being able to do so again.
"Hey, baby," he whispered, kissing my cheek.
I smiled, turning my face to capture his lips, and murmured, "Hey, yourself. Did you have a good flight?"
He nodded. "Yeah, for the most part. As long as you discount the crying baby that was two rows in front of us."
He chuckled, shrugging his shoulders. "Worth it, though, since I'm here with you."
I kissed him again, and then he let me go in order to help my dad. Before too long, the table was set and the family had gathered around the table. After Dad had said grace, the chatter started, and we all enjoyed the feast I'd helped Mom put together. There was no rush as we ate, talked, and made merry. It felt good to be with everyone again, especially since Jasper was home finally.
When we finally were done eating, we all helped to clear the table. Alice, Jane, and Alec were on kitchen duty, and Mom made coffee, while the rest of us reconvened in the living room. Little Tanya went straight to all the presents, but Jasper scooped her up and told her she had to be a good girl, and wait until it was time.
He sat with her in his lap, whispering stories in her ear to keep her entertained. Every now and again he'd look up at me with a wide smile, and a look in his eyes that had me long for a family of our own.
When Alice, Jane, and Alec were done with the dishes, we all gathered around to listen to Mom and Alice play Christmas Carols. Since Jasper still had Tanya in his lap, I settled down next to him, my arm around his shoulders as my fingers continually brushed along his arm. In between songs, Jasper would lean in and steal a kiss, much to Tanya's delight who'd peal with laughter every time. The mischievous grin he'd flash her every time, along with the conspiratorial wink and a tickle to her sides, might have had something to do with that, though.
After we'd sung a few songs - and Tanya finally became too fidgety to be kept from her gifts any longer, though it was surprising to me she'd lasted as long as she had, Dad announced that it was time for presents. As always, the distribution of them was handled between him and Mom. They'd hand out gifts by age, youngest to oldest - mostly so the kids would have something to keep themselves occupied with. At least, that's what they'd always insisted on, and it seemed to work well enough.
Tanya was transferred to Kate as they opened her first gift - a handmade cloth doll that looked like a miniature version of the little girl. Jasper and I both looked at Helen with awe. She smiled and winked. Jasper turned to me and spoke in a soft voice as he told me about the dolls Helen had made for Rosalie when she was younger.
Rose, who was sitting in the arm chair next to us, smiled and said, "Yeah, they were great. I still have them, too. Ready for the next generation."
Jasper grinned. "You know they won't be wanting for toys, sis."
Rosalie shrugged, then turned her attention to Emmett who had just been handed a gift to open. I was watching, too, when Jasper leaned closer, squeezed my thigh, and whispered, "Have you worked out your clues yet, darlin'?"
I frowned, shaking my head as I slumped a little in my seat, hating to have to admit defeat. For the life of me I couldn't think what he'd been trying to tell me these past twelve days. I huffed slightly, but he simply smiled, patted my leg, and said, "I'm sure you will, sweetheart."
He kissed my temple and then let out a soft whistle of appreciation at the nicely crafted, personalized toolbelt - complete with tools - Emmett had just unwrapped. Emmett was thrilled, since he'd been telling Jasper and Liam for a while now that the set he had wasn't very good anymore.
It was Rose's turn next, and I smiled at Jasper when I realized it was our gift to her she was opening. He winked at me, then turned his attention back to his sister as she let out a soft sigh. She smiled, her finger tracing over the image on the screen of the frame she now held in her hands.
She handed the frame to me with a tired smile. "Thanks you guys. Ed, would you mind putting it on the coffee table for me so I can still see it? I can't quite reach."
"Sure," I smiled, taking the frame out of her hands. She gave my wrist a little squeeze before settling back into the chair. I took a minute to look at the different pictures Jasper had loaded up already. They were all of Rose and Emmett's wedding.
I turned to look at Jasper, who was watching me with a curious expression. I couldn't quite make out whether he was waiting for something, disappointed, or...something else - anxious? Before I could ask him what was wrong, he shook his head a little, and just like that he was all smiles again. He leaned in, pecked my lips, and then turned to accept the gift Mom was holding out to him, murmuring, "Thanks, Esme."
Frowning slightly, I watched Jasper as he opened his present, unveiling a navy hand-knit winter set of a scarf, hat, and gloves, courtesy of my mother. Jasper immediately wrapped the scarf around his neck, and got up to hug and thank her.
It was my turn next, but as I went to accept the gift Dad was holding out to me, I realized I was still holding onto Rose's frame. I bent forward to put it down as she had asked, when a picture slid into view of a caketopper. Something was off about it, but with Dad waiting to give me my gift, I didn't linger on it and instead took it from his hands.
Carefully unwrapping my present, I gasped as I took out the soft, black leather bound planner. "Thank you," I whispered. It was beautiful.
My fingers traced the embossed letters. The way they'd been done was quite clever, if a bit confusing. Both Jasper's and my initials were on it, like a monogram. It was reminiscent of some that I'd seen while we'd traveled in Denmark, but I couldn't quite place the significance.
I was starting to get a little annoyed, feeling like there was something right in front of me, but just out of my reach. Something told me that this was important, connected, somehow, but I couldn't understand how or why.
Dad patted my shoulder, smiling softly at me and then went back to get a gift for the next person. As I was looking up to see who was next to get a present, my eye fell on Rose's frame again. This time, the picture was of Jasper and me, dancing - the very same picture he'd sent me earlier in the week.
What the hell?
I glanced over at Jasper, who seemed to be trying not to look at me as he spoke quietly with Garrett who was standing right behind us and was leaning over to talk to his brother. Turning my eyes back to the pictures, I began to pay more attention to each of them.
Me, dancing with Helen.
Jasper, dancing with Rose.
Hands clasped together to cut the cake - only I realized it couldn't be Rose and Emmett. For one, I was certain the cake wasn't the same as what they'd served. And for another, neither of those hands looked to belong to them. Emmett's hands, at least, were much bigger.
And then the cake topper slid back into the frame. My jaw dropped slightly at the two black tuxedo'd groomsmen.
It felt as if everything was suddenly going in slow motion as everything began to fall into place. All the pictures. Both mine, and Rose's. The planner with the monogram on the front.
I turned to my left to ask Jasper what he was doing, but my voice wouldn't work... and he wasn't next to me anymore. Confused, I blinked, looking around to try to find him. He was walking back to me from the tree with a small, black velvet box in his hand.
All I could do was gape at him as he knelt down on one knee in front of me, a nervous smile on his lips, his eyes flickering between my own. He cleared his throat slightly, and took a steadying breath. The whole room had gone eerily quiet and I could practically feel everyone watching us.
"Edward," Jasper breathed, then - raising his voice a little so he could be heard, "I know these past months haven't been easy for you, being apart for so long. Being away from you, it brought home to me something I've known for a long time now. I love you, with all that I am. You're the love of my life, sweetheart."
I swallowed hard as he took my hand in his, squeezing it lightly as he continued.
"Edward, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want you now, and every day here on out. I don't just want your future, or even the present, I want to share your past, too. Everything that is you, that makes you the man I want to wake up to every day. I want to share in your laughter, and your tears. More than that, I want to give you reasons to laugh, and if I make you cry I want them to be tears of joy."
I gave a quiet snort as I fought to keep the tears from falling right here and now. I couldn't quite believe he was actually doing this, but I could not get my voice to work. Jasper seemed to understand, though, as he smiled and squeezed my hand again, his own eyes shimmering with emotion, too.
He took another steadying breath, opened the small, velvet box, and said, "Ed, I want to give you everything that is in my power to give. Make every one of your dreams come true if I can. Will you let me? Will you become my husband, Edward?"
All I could do was blink as his words slowly sank in. My gaze fell on the ring nestled in the silky confines within the box. It was beautiful in its simplicity - brushed titanium with a thin silver band in the middle, with three small diamonds.
"Marry me, Edward?" he whispered, his thumb brushing soothing circles on the back of my hand.
I had to swallow several times as I tried to speak, my brow furrowed with more concentration than I thought should be needed as I whispered, "Yes, Jasper...God, yes, I'll marry you."
The smile that lit his face was so wide, his eyes sparkling with so much love and delight, that it made me laugh and shake my head as I was overwhelmed with the same emotions. He took the ring from its holder and gently placed it on my finger, kissing it lightly before pulling me to him and crashing his lips to mine.
The entire room burst into applause and cheers and shouts of "Congratulations!" and "It's about time!" When we finally pulled away, we were both laughing and crying at the same time, neither of us caring very much about the display we were making.
He combed his fingers tenderly through my hair, and sighed softly. "God, I love you, Edward. Thank you."
Wiping my eyes, I cleared my throat and said, "I love you, too, Jazz. So much."
I glanced around at everyone, then looked at him again. "Did everyone know?"
He nodded sheepishly. "Yeah, I asked your dad for permission first, and since I was out of town, I needed help setting everything up. Do you mind?"
He looked concerned for a moment, as if worried that I was somehow offended. I smiled, cupped his cheek, and shook my head. "Not at all. I'm surprised they were able to keep it a secret though."
We both laughed at that, and then our little bubble was truly broken. The family would no longer be denied the chance to congratulate us both, and we were hugged and squeezed and slapped on the shoulder so many times I lost count.
The rest of the night was spent in a bit of a haze. I was barely paying attention to what everyone else had gotten for Christmas, as I kept staring at the best present I could have asked for - Jasper, my future husband.
Merry Christmas, everyone!