A/N: I stole the characters from Twilight and the plot from Love Actually. If I owned either, well, I wouldn't be writing ff, now would I?
My Best Friend's Girlfriend
It's hard to be happy for someone when you want everything they have. Well, that's not entirely true. I don't want Em's job. And his Jeep? Forget about it. I'll keep Cherry, thank you very much. Okay, so maybe I don't want everything he's got. Maybe it's just the good stuff.
The first time I saw her, it was snowing. She walked into my bookshop, out from the cold and brushed herself off. Long, dark hair, and cheeks flushed with winter. She had a red scarf over her grey pea coat, and there was nothing I wanted more than to talk to her.
So I did.
"Can I help you?"
She smiled and her whole face lit up. She was beautiful. She pulled off red gloves and unwound her scarf. "You must be Jasper," she said, and put her warm hand out for mine. I touched her and it felt good. Great.
Before I could ask who she was, or why she knew my name, Emmett pushed himself through the door, shaking the snow out of his hair like a dog. She turned to see him and her shine got a little brighter.
"You must be Bella," I said, and I remember being happy, in that moment. I was happy for Em, happy that this girl, who I'd liked right off the bat, was the one who'd brought the smile back to his face. After two years of sleep walking, he was smiling. What kind of an asshole would begrudge a friend that?
Bella smiled some more, leaned up on her toes to kiss Emmett's cheek, and then turned around to take in my shop. Her brown eyes went wide as she looked over stack after stack of books. She walked toward one of the shelves, her fingers trailing along the spines. She bent down at the front case, taking in the rare, out-of-print, and first editions. When she looked at me, her eyes were shining.
"This is yours? It's wonderful."
My stomach did that funny flipping thing that it does when someone who gets it admires my shop. And this girl definitely got it. I liked the way her fingers hovered just over the glass. She was looking at an early, illustrated edition of "A Little Princess" with something like love on her face.
"You a fan?" I asked.
She gave me a wistful smile. "It was my very first favorite book. I reread it every year."
I smiled and nodded and noticed Em standing there, staring at the two of us.
"Let's head out," I said, nodding toward the door.
We walked over to the bar and I lost track of how many beers I drank.
"…and I said buddy, you couldn't handle half of me. Meanwhile, I had pina colada running down the side of my face." We all laughed as she concluded her version of how she and Emmett met. I'd heard it before -I'd heard all about this girl – but listening to her tell it is different. I can picture the scene and it's hilarious. Bella, feisty and fighting off a handsy guy, and then turning on Emmett when he tried to intercede.
I finished my beer and excused myself to the rest room. I caught myself in the mirror and realized I was still grinning. I wasn't expecting to like this girl so much. Too much, maybe. I shrugged it off. No point in going down a dead-end road.
Bella Swan can only ever be Emmett's girlfriend. I tell myself again that I'm happy for him, and leave for another fun-filled day of 'couples in love.'
I'm at Emmett's house, and a few of the crew are there: Pete and Char, Bree and Riley, Carm and Eleazar. Kate and I are the only uncoupled couple, and she and I both eye each other, knowing it's a set up.
I've seen Kate around plenty of times. She's tall, strawberry blonde with light blue eyes. She's tight with Char, and sometimes makes it to drunken karaoke nights. I think this is one of the few times I've seen her in the daylight, and she's pretty. I sip my mimosa and try to relax into the day, see where it takes me.
An hour later, I'm sitting with one hand over my gut and the other unwilling to let go of my fork. There's still food on the plate, and this brunch, cooked up by Bella, is one of the best things I've ever eaten.
Everyone around the table is moaning and looking regretfully at the food still on their plates.
"Damn, Bella. That's the best red-eye gravy I've had since I left home." I watch as she blushes, then smiles at me.
"My roomie in college was from Appalachia. She taught me half of what I know about cooking, but she taught me everything I know about Southern cooking."
"Oh yeah? Where'd you go to school?" I lean forward and take another bite of potato. I don't know where it's going to go, but the symphony of peppers, onions, cheese and butter is not to be denied.
It doesn't take long to become engrossed in conversation. She got a Lit degree in Seattle, and worked part-time for a caterer. Part-time turned to full when she graduated, and eventually she opened up her own joint. We're talking about favorite foods, and she's wowing me with her Christmas morning breakfast menu.
"It's French toast, but so much more decadent. You add egg and cream to the casserole, and instead of it being eggy, it comes out hot and custardy and so damned good, you'll lick your plate."
"Sounds amazing. But a little rich."
"Yeah, that's why I serve some of that thick-cut, apple wood smoked bacon with it."
"Oh yeah, I can see how adding bacon to eggs and cream would cut the richness." I give her a half grin to let her know I'm teasing and she smiles back at me.
"But with the maple syrup-"
"Mmm, and warm butter-"
"Damn, why don't you two just get a room?" Emmett's voice sucks me out of my food fantasy haze.
"Sorry, Em. Didn't mean to monopolize your girl. It's just so rare to find someone who appreciates a good meal."
I chuckle and step away to fill my glass. I feel warm, a little soft at the edges and sated. It would be nice to curl up in bed for a long nap, in the arms of a pretty girl. When my mind conjures Bella for that role, I look at my glass of juiced up champagne and then pour it down the drain. I think I've had enough.
Us guys are all watching football, while the girls are helping Bella clean up in the kitchen. I feel like a chauvinistic ass, so I go over and ask if I can help. Bella's talking to Kate, and I hover at the edge of the kitchen, not wanting to interrupt.
"I can't help it; I know I sound like a schoolgirl but he's just…"
"No, Bella, I think it's great. Em's a great guy, and we're all – well we're all just happy to see him so happy."
The smile on Bella's face stretches wider and her cheeks flush a little. She looks good, in love.
"Can I help?" I ask, and quick enough, Bella's got me in an apron, drying dishes while Kate washes. Lauren is successfully supervising, which is par for the course with Lauren. When we finish up, Bella squeezes my hand and thanks me, looking right into my eyes. Self preservation kicks in and I look away. I feel like this girl can look right through me, and that's not someplace that I want to be.
Bella takes to stopping by the shop in the late afternoons, hanging around and waiting for Em to open the bar, just across the street. Sometimes she buys something, and sometimes she just looks. Mostly she tries to talk to me, but I make it hard for her, because with every word out of her mouth, I find more to like about her.
I think if she was just pretty and smart, it would be okay. But she's funny, too, and that kind of does me in. There's something about sharing laughter with someone that warms you to them, and her self-depreciating manner makes it even easier to like her.
"I've brought pie today," she says, and sets a slice of chess pie down on the counter.
I stare at it a moment, because, when done right, chess pie just this side of heaven. When done wrong, though, it's a lot closer to hell as you try to down over-sweet, sticky forkfuls for the sake of being polite.
"Looks great," I say, because it does. She plops a thermos next to me and pours a cup. "Coffee with chicory. You can't eat that pie without it."
I'm not a coffee fan, but she's right. No self-respecting Southern man would eat a bite of chess pie without something strong to cut the sweet.
I dip my fork into the custard and steel my face. No matter what, I will tell her I like this. Then I chew and realize that I do like it. It's perfect. I sip the strong coffee and smile at the girl.
She beams and then blushes. "I'm so glad you like it," she says. "It took me years before I got Lizzie's seal of approval."
I take another bite and close my eyes. It tastes like my childhood, and I'm drawn back to Texas, sitting at the kitchen counter with my Gram fussing over me while my mother and her sisters gossip in the living room.
Bella giggles and I look at her. "Oh, you should have seen your face!" She laughs and then snorts, and that makes me laugh. "Jasper, you looked like I was asking you to eat poison! Oh my god, it was so damned funny!"
I snort back to her through my laughter and she colors, and then we're both leaning against the counter to hold our bodies up while we clutch our stomachs.
When Emmett walks in on our scene, I can't help the feeling of guilt that washes over me. I want this girl, I want to feel her body shake with laughter, and know I'm the reason for it.
But she's Emmett's girl, so I eat my pie and sip my coffee and look away when she slips her hand into his.
I learn more about Bella every day. She's a small town girl, close with her folks, but happy they live too far away to just drop in. She loves books and reading, but cringes at the idea of becoming a teacher. When she thinks no one's looking, she sings and sometimes dances to the music that I play from my iPod dock.
For every reason I have to want to talk to this girl, and get to know her better, there's the one, single reason why I have to stop: she's in love with my best friend. And he's in love with her.
Bella and Em have been dating a few months when I realize that I can't be her friend. It happens one night when she drops by the shop. She's brought dinner for Emmett, and in a series of plastic containers, something for me, too.
I open it to find a feast: barbecued chicken, potato salad, baked beans, corn bread, and pineapple upside down cake for dessert.
"I had extra," she says. "Besides, you look like you could stand to put on a pound or two." She pinches at my stomach and I catch her hand in mine. I'm in the middle of pulling her toward me, I'm five seconds away from kissing her and when I realize it, I drop her hand like a hot poker.
"Thanks, Bella." I don't meet her eyes. "This looks great."
Two days later she stops by and I have her containers washed and ready to go. She tries to chat me up, but I claim paperwork and hide out in my office. The same thing happens a few days later, and a few days later, until a month goes by and I realize that Bella's finally stopped coming around. The part of me that's scared is relieved, and the part of me that likes her wants to close shop and head to McCarty's just to see if she's there, sitting at the bar.
I tell myself it's good riddance, but it's not. I miss her. Which is why, I guess, that it really is good riddance.
Things are going well with Bella and Emmett, but things with me and him go bad. Not bad, maybe, but off. I stop dropping by the bar when I see her truck parked out front. I avoid group gatherings, as much as I can, and when I can't, I tend to keep to myself. I don't think anyone notices until the two of us are hanging at the batting cages one afternoon.
"Fuck's your problem, lately?" Emmett asks, chasing the ball with his bat.
I listen to the crack and then eye my own pitch.
"What do you mean?" I'm not having this conversation.
"I mean, you're never fucking around anymore. What's going on? You seeing someone?"
It's an out, and I should take it. I should make someone up, name her Annie or Maria, and tell Em that I'm in love. It's dawning on me lately that the last part of that lie is the truth, but that means facing something awful, so I ignore it.
"Sorry man," I say. "Things are getting busy at the shop."
It's bullshit, and he knows it, and I know it, but there's nothing to be done about it now.
"Just don't be a total fucking stranger," he says. I lie, and promise that I won't.
Christmas is approaching fast, and Em's in the shop, looking for a book for his mom. He runs through the list of gifts he's got going:gardening things for his mom, a new golf club for his old man, typical stuff.
I ask about Bella, because he hasn't mentioned her name yet, and he shrugs. "I was thinking a necklace or something? Earrings? I don't know." My stomach does that squeezy thing because he's buying her jewelry, but not that jewelry, so it settles back down. Then I realize he's an idiot and going to blow it, so I do what a best friend does. I help him.
"You know, Em, I think I've got something here that she'd really like."
"Yeah? Yeah – she is into books a lot. She's got a ton of them stacked up on her nightstand."
I block that image right out and go to the front case.
I pull out "A Little Princess" and hand it to him. He looks it over with the cautious eye of someone who doesn't really get books.
"Isn't this a kid's book?"
"Yeah, but I caught her checking it out a time or two." I want to tell him that it's her favorite book, and that she reads it every year. I want to explain to him about books and how they become friends, especially if you're a nerdy kid who doesn't have an easy time making friends anyways. Emmett saves me though by asking how much.
"Family discount," I say, and ring him up at half price. I really want her to have it.
"Maybe this, and earrings?" he asks. I want to deck him, because never in all the time I've known her has Bella worn any jewelry other than a ring on her right hand. But then I think, do I really know her? So I smile and nod, because, fuck, he's probably right. Girls love that shit.
"So what are your plans?" he asks.
I shrug. "The Major and Mom are still in Germany, so I'm not sure yet,"
"Oh. Oh, shit man, I'm sorry. Bella's bringing me home to her dad, or I'd totally have you over to my folks. You know my mom loves you. Let me just call and see if they're cool – you can still hang with them."
"It's good, Em. I was kind of looking forward to a chill day."
He eyes me. He knows there's something I'm keeping from him, and it's a first between us, but he's also letting it go. For now.
New Year's Eve and Em's bar is the place to be. He's closed it down for his own private party, and all of our friends and all of their friends are here. He's kept the lighting low, though it gleams off of the wooden tables, and the wait staff are circulating tray after tray of fantastic food.
There's mistletoe hung all over the place, and as the night goes on, as the drinkers get drunk, people get sloppy, kissing everyone, twice. Emmett is wearing a sparkling gold top hat with his tux shirt, who knows where the jacket went. I brought the camera my folks shipped from Germany – a nice digital SLR model. I told Em I'd be his photographer, and it lets me stay out of the way, away from the notice of others.
Bella stops by my corner to visit. I'm civil, because it's the best I can do. She's beautiful. Her long hair is up and her shoulders are bare. She's wearing this strappy silver dress and it makes her legs look really long, even though she's not that tall.
"You've been hiding over here all night, Jasper. Come on and join the party!"
She smiles and tries to draw me out, and the pit of my stomach squirms. "Come on," she says, and takes my hand. She leads me out to the dance floor and swings her hip into mine. It's a fast dance and she's terrible, but like everything else about her, it's endearing. For those few moments it's just us and the sound of the music. She tosses her head back and laughs.
"Uh-oh, Jasper. Better look out," she says, pointing to the ceiling. "Mistletoe."
Then she takes my hand in hers and she leans up against me and she kisses my cheek. "Thank you for the book," she says. Her voice is low and soft in my ear. I look at her and notice she's wearing earrings. They're diamond and sapphire and dangly.
"Em picked it out," I say, dropping her hand. She looks abashed.
"Oh. I thought…." Now we're both looking at our shoes.
"I gotta get back to it," I say. "Food's great, Bella." I don't turn and look at her, and I don't smile.
When I look up an hour later, she's in Emmett's arms. They're swaying close together, her arms around his neck and he's bent around her. Now and then he kisses the top of her head, which rests over his heart.
I can still feel the spot where she kissed me, on the side of my face. I wonder if there's lipstick there, but I don't want to wipe it away.
A few weeks later, Emmett calls.
"Hey, Jas, you gonna be around for a while?"
I look around the shop. It's always slow in January, but I don't mind it so much. I like the quiet.
"Yeah, what's up?"
"Bella's putting together some promotional stuff for her website, and she wondered if she could use some of the photos you took on New Year's Eve."
"Oh, man. I don't know that I've got much. I haven't even looked at it." I glance down at my computer, where a slideshow of the night is playing. Every day I play it, and every day I tell myself that it'll be the last time. But she's too beautiful, and I can't stop myself.
Before Emmett can reply, the door above the shop rings and Bella walks in, looking flushed and beautiful and a little intimidated.
She waves and smiles at me, then starts walking toward me.
"Hey, Em, she's here now, so I'm gonna go."
"Cool. Hey Jas?"
"Be nice, would you? I really like this girl."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Just…I know she's not your favorite person. But she's really great once you get to know her."
"I gotta go."
I hang up the phone and Bella is smiling at me. She's holding out another plastic food container. "Pineapple Upside Down Cake?" she asks, proffering the box.
The silence hangs between us and she sets the box town on my desk.
"Did Emmett call?" she asks.
"Yeah, I told him I don't—"
We both start speaking at the same time, then stop, looking at each other. I raise my hand to indicate that she should speak, and she nods.
"Look, I don't…I don't know what I've done to offend you, but I'm sorry for it. Can we maybe start over? At least for Emmett's sake. He misses you, you know."
The hollow feeling that's in my stomach every time I see her is expanding, enveloping my heart, my brain. I'm not sure I can speak, and I feel panic start to thread through my blood.
"Bella, I don't dislike you. I don't-"
She gives me a sad smile and holds up her hand. "It's okay, Jasper. Anyway," she says, "I'd really love to see your photos from New Year's. You were pretty busy, and I'm just hoping there's a shot or two with the food."
"I don't, uh, there's not much," I say, but she's already coming around the desk to look at my computer.
"Oh," she says, leaning over. "Oh, these are beautiful." She stares. Images of her float by. Bella tasting a crab cake. Bella smiling over a glass of champagne. Dancing with her arms in the air, looking over a tray of finger foods, talking to the wait staff, massaging the back of her neck, looking exhausted. Bella. Bella, Bella, Bella.
I bow my head. There's nothing I can do to explain myself, nothing that's not an absolute lie, and there's no lie ridiculous enough that she would believe it.
I feel like my heart's been laid bare, in front of her.
She turns to me. The space in the office is small, and suffused with the smell of her.
"But…but you don't like me," she says. "You avoid me." She looks confused and hurt, and I want to take her into my arms and press my mouth to hers and tell her that I love her.
"Why would you do this?"
"You, ah..." I look at the image of her rubbing the back of her neck. She looks exhausted. "What were you thinking about, right there?" I ask.
"That I was tired," she says, without pause. "Sometimes it's hard always being the one in charge, putting on a smiling face even when things are hard."
I nod, because I knew that, but she's still staring at me, looking for some other kind of answer.
I look away from her, and back to the pictures. My finger reaches out and traces the curve of her neck, on the screen.
I hear her gasp.
I look over at her and she's touching the spot on her neck, like she could feel my fingers touching her.
"You are so beautiful," I say. "Perfect."
She takes a shaky step forward, and I shake my head and back into my file cabinet. "I just, uh…" I stumble for words. "Emmett's my best friend," I say, by way of explanation. "And you make him happier than he's been in a long time."
She steps forward and takes my hand, and we look at each other for a beat. I think about kissing her, and how that could lead to another, and how that could lead to bed and babies and her in a white dress and me shaking her father's hand.
Then I take my hand back, and she looks away.
The silence fills the space between us, and we're both looking at our shoes.
"Do you think you could email me some of these? I'm buying some advertising and I wanted new images."
I clear my throat. "I'll send you what I have. What's your email?"
She fumbles in her purse for a card. She holds it out to me with her fingertips, and I take it with mine. I can feel the heat of her skin though, and I want, but I don't take.
She looks down, defeated and rejected. When she turns to leave, her face is tilted toward the floor. I don't want this, I don't want her feeling bad, or blaming herself for anything.
Her hand is on the doorknob, and I call out.
She breathes deep before she turns to look at me. Her brown eyes are wide and they could pull me under, if I give her half a chance.
"It's – I'll get over it, you know? I'll try harder. For Emmett."
There's a sad smile on her face as she nods her head. "For Emmett."
She leaves, but her scent lingers, and I decide fuck it. I stare at her pictures and I try to get inside her head while I revel in her scent. One last time.
Three months later I head across the street to have a beer at Em's bar. True to my word, I've been trying. I show up whether she's there or not. I show up and I drink and play darts and pool. I show up and I laugh and bitch about how the peanuts are stale again.
I show up.
I sip my beer and sit at the bar. Bella's not around, but I see Kate hanging out in the corner, so I'm guessing Char and Peter will be by later. Em puts a dish of pretzels down in front of me. He's been lingering near me all night, and from the looks of it, he's got something to say. I think I'm prepared for what comes next. I think he'll comment about how I'm spending more time around and how he's happy about it. I think he might say something about how he's getting closer with Bella. I'm prepared for that. I'm prepared, I think, even to hear that they're moving in together. What he says though, stops me cold.
"So," he says, leaning over the bar at me. "I heard from Rosalie Hale today."
I take a long, slow sip of my beer.
He sighs and shrugs and pours another pitcher for a rowdy group at the other end of the bar.
While he's gone, I start thinking. Thinking about how he loved that girl, and how wrecked he was when she left. Thinking about how she's the only woman I've ever wanted to hit, thinking about Bella, and wondering how much she knows, and if he's told her.
He walks back over with a shrug. "I don't know, man. She said she was working the twelve steps and wanted to apologize. For everything."
I rolled that over in my head. Rosalie Hale, sober. "How long's she got?" I ask.
"A few months." He shrugs again. "I don't know, I'm glad for her and all, but…I can't really see myself being friends with her, you know?"
I nod at my beer and after a few minutes, I join Kate in the corner.
It's the first night we go home together, but not the last. I don't tell her any lies, or make any promises, and neither does she. She knows it's not love, not even close, but it's warm and it's friendly, and neither of us is wasting the other's time. That should be good enough, right?
The first time Bella sees us holding hands, she gets this funny look on her face. She stares at us a long while before bringing over a round of tequila shots, and she hits them hard. When I ask, she says it was a rough day and her face closes to me. I don't let myself think about what that means, because she's Emmett's girl, and I promised her that I'd try.
It's four in the afternoon on a Wednesday in May. I haven't had shit for business all day, so I pop up the closed sign and walk over to Em's. When I walk in, it's quiet, just a couple at one of the back tables. Em's standing against the bar, on the phone. He's got a face-splitting grin going and then he chuckles softly. He looks...tender. He looks like a man in love.
I give him a nod and sit a few seats away. I wave at the phone, which is shorthand for "tell Bella I say hey." He looks embarrassed and turns his back to me. A minute later, he hangs up. He pours a beer for me, and one for himself. He cracks open a new jar of peanuts and pours them into a bowl before he finally comes over to talk to me.
"Business slow?" he asks.
"Yep. Usual. It'll pick up again around graduation." We both appreciate the cyclical nature of our professions.
I take a breath. "How's Bella?" I ask. "She coming by tonight?" I don't want to ask, and I still don't want to know, because being with her, being friends with her, is the hardest thing I've ever done. But I promised her I'd try.
Emmett looks…embarrassed? Ashamed? It's hard to place the look, because Emmett's a stand up guy, and I can count the number of things he's had to be ashamed of in the last 20 years on one hand.
"That was Rosalie," he says, and doesn't meet my gaze.
"You serious?" I ask. I'm fuming. Rosalie Hale treated Emmett like walking and talking shit, for years. She swore she loved him, then fucked around. She swore she needed him, then left him for weeks on end. She swore he was the only one, and yet every time she drank – and she drank all the time – she did something to hurt him. Rosalie Hale finally left him – left him – for some rich sack of shit who blew through town on business a few years ago.
It took him so long to get over her. So long to admit that she wasn't who he thought she was. So long before he finally smiled again, before he trusted someone new.
He nods at me, still not meeting my eyes.
I slam my glass down on the bar. "What the fuck, Em?"
He shakes his head, finally looks me in the eye. "She's different now, Jas. She's sober. She's working her program and trying. We're just friends, that's all."
I shake my head at him. Just friends, my ass. I know that look. I know what Emmett in love looks like, and that was the Emmett I just saw on the phone.
"Yeah? You told Bella about your new friend?"
"She knows. Yeah, she knows we talk."
I look at him and shake my head. I don't want to judge him for this. I don't want to tell him he's a shit, or that he's a fucking sucker for falling for Rosalie Hale's bullshit. Again. But I can't help it. This is Bella, and I'm not going to watch him break her heart.
"Don't you fuck her around," I say. "Don't you dare."
I stand up, throw a five on the bar and walk back out. I felt like shit doing that, but I know I was right. I know because he was afraid to look me in the eye. Because he got defensive. I know because he didn't call me back, to tell me I was wrong.
It's a month before Emmett breaks it off with Bella. Three months later, I watch from my window as Rosalie walks into his bar. I don't see her leave.
That night I call up Kate. She comes over and we sit at my living room table, drinking tequila shots. She pretends to like the 70's rock I'm playing, and I pretend not to notice that for every two shots I toss back, she has one, or maybe half of one. By the end of the night though, we're both too piss drunk to fuck, which is fine by me. I have too much on my mind, and it feels wrong to fuck Kate while I'm thinking about Bella.
The next morning, I make her a pot of coffee. She's stayed over enough that, even though I don't drink it, I bought a coffee maker and some beans, for her. I like tea, but, it seemed like the right thing to do.
We sit, silent, sipping from our mugs and downing Tylenol.
"What was that about last night?" she asks.
I grimace into my cup of coffee. It's been months since she's been Emmett's girl, but Bella is still all I can think about.
"Is it…is it Emmett? Are you…? Look, I'm not judging here, but you seem like you need someone to talk to, and I like to think that we're friends. Or could be good friends, maybe. I don't know. Just, if it's – if you're in love with him, it's okay. I won't tell people. You can talk to me."
I choke on my tea and nearly spit it out. My hand shakes as I set the cup down, and I'm already shaking my head.
"No!" I say, with the emphasis on the no. Jesus Christ, haven't I fucked this girl ten ways from Sunday?
"I'm definitely not in love with Emmett."
She cocks her head at me, and a sad smile plays at her mouth. "Bella," she says.
I pick up my mug and stare at the tile. She reaches out and takes my hand.
"Does she know? Does he?"
"I don't want to talk about this, Kate." I can't meet her eyes, because I know what she tastes like, and now she knows the only secret that's ever been mine.
"Hey." Her voice is soft and she squeezes my hand. "For what it's worth? I think she's just great."
I finally look up at her, into her eyes. She has beautiful blue eyes, and right now, they're filled with understanding.
She looks away after a moment.
"I, uh, God. I should tell you that I've met someone."
I squeeze her hand back and it's my turn to cock my head at her.
"Yeah. His name's Garrett. He works the next building over from mine, and we've been having lunch together. Nothing's happened," she says it fast, like I might accuse her of something. Like we owe each other anything.
I shake my head. "You know it's not like that with us. You like him, though?"
She blushes, something she's never done for me, and it's something I'd never wanted from her.
"Yeah. He's…he's really smart," she says. "And he's really funny – he does this thing where – "
And then she cuts herself off. "Sorry."
I smile. "You tell him to take good care of you," I say. "You tell him I'm keeping an eye on you." I wink at her and she laughs.
"What about you?" she asks, and I shrug.
"Nothing for it," I say. "She knew how I felt a long time ago." I raise the cup of tea I'm holding. "Guess I'm not hers," I say, and Kate gives me a sad smile. I shake her off and we gather up her things and I kiss her forehead at the threshold.
"Be good," I say. She nods.
I close the door behind her. It feels like I'm closing a lot of doors these days, and I don't know what to do about that, but it doesn't make me sad.
Summer weathers on, and Rosalie surprises me. She owns it, all of it. She owns her shitty behavior in the past, and she owns the mess she left me to clean up. She asks for my forgiveness, but I don't give it. Not out of spite, but because I'm not ready.
She spent a long time hurting my best friend. He might be ready to forgive her, but I'm not.
Emmett though, he seems happy. He seems happier than I've ever seen him. He opens the bar every night and she is there. She waits tables for no pay when she gets off work. She's temping – something secretarial, and I don't think she likes it, but she does it.
Emmett keeps her in Sprites with a dash of sweet and sour, and she drinks them all night long. I guess working in a bar doesn't seem to bother her. She still goes to a meeting every day, not because she needs them to keep clean, but because she needs them to remind her of what she once was, and what she could be again.
"It's swapping out one addiction for the other," she says, taking a sip of her soda. "I used to drink, now I go to meetings, but it's all the same thing. It's something I need. The booze made it okay for me to be social, for me to be who I thought they all wanted. The meetings make it okay for me to be social, and for me to be…who I am."
I nod at her and she stops there. She tries not to push me too hard, and I try not to let her. Emmett watches us, always, wary. We've sparred a few times, me and Rose, but at the end of the day, she seems to be working double time to make up for the past, and I'm going to let her. She owes him this. She owes us, all of us. For every time we had to see the hurt on his face, she owes us.
I'm going to let her keep paying up.
It's a week before Thanksgiving and Bella Swan walks into my shop.
I don't know what I expected. Her hair is longer, and it's pretty, still curling up at the ends. She looks around the shop for a minute, as I make my way out from the back. I'm nervous, and when I get close, I see that she is too. I wonder if she thinks I'm taking sides, or if she thinks I'm still in love with her, or if she thinks-"
"Hey, stranger," she says.
"Hey, Bella. What brings you here?"
"Oh, I'm just getting started on my Christmas shopping." She looks out the window, watching the light snow that's falling, and it reminds me of the first day I met her.
"Well what do you need? Let me see if I can help."
I smile at her, and it feels like an easy thing – smiling at her.
She rattles off a list of items, and I take her around the shop, showing her things that I think she'd like. I didn't forget how pretty she is, beautiful, really. I didn't forget that my stomach gets weird when I look at her, or when she says my name. But what I forgot is how easy it is with her. How easy it is just to talk to this girl, to hear what she says, and to respond, without worrying what she thinks because I know that what she thinks will be okay. What I forgot is how good it feels, just to talk to her.
Three hours later we're standing with the glass case between us. We've talked about her job and how much her business is growing. We've talked about the shop and how my online sales have taken off. We've talked about the weather and our plans for the holidays, and about that one time when she got drunk and Emmett had to pull off the road and so she could puke in a gas station trash can.
We've talked about everything except Emmett, and Rosalie, and Kate.
We've talked about everything, except anything that matters.
My fingertips dance across the top of the pile of books she's got in front of her. Her hand rests on the counter, shuffling a Visa card back and forth between her fingers.
"I shouldn't keep you any longer," I say. "Let me ring you up."
I move to take the card from her and her fingers brush against mine. It makes my heart seize up and my breath catch funny in my lungs. The smile falls from my face, and I have to concentrate to run her card through the machine. I fuck it up three times and am backing out the most recent mistake when she says my name.
She says my name and the world falls away.
She says my name and I feel it, inside of me.
I can't look her in the eye, I think, but then I do.
She reaches out and grabs my hand up in hers. It should be funny, how big my hand is compared to hers, but it's not. It looks – and it feels – right.
"Bella," I say. I don't have anything to follow it up with, but it feels good, just to say her name.
She squeezes my hand. "I forgot how much I like talking to you," she says. "Do you think we could do it some more?"
My eyes flick over her head, across the street, to Emmett's bar.
"I ran into Kate today," she says. "Her and her boyfriend." She looks at me then, and there's courage there, but also something else, like she's accusing me of something, but I don't know what.
"I didn't know you two broke it off."
I clear my throat. "Yeah, it's, ah…it's been a while." I say.
She nods, and then threads her fingers through mine.
"Am I out of line?" she asks. "Am I too late, or…oh, god, you must think…I'm not, you know, I mean, I just…even back then, it felt like, but it wasn't right and Em, he needed me and he made me feel like, but then you and I owed it to us both to see, to know. Oh, god," she says again and tries to pull her hand from mine. I hold it tighter.
"Bella Swan, what are you talking about?"
She meets my eyes then, and she's scared and nervous, but she came here, she came after talking to Kate, and she came here to see me. Me.
I pull her hand up to my mouth, and then I kiss across her knuckles.
Her skin is soft and warm under my lips.
I look up at her, and she's staring at me, open mouthed.
Then her tongue licks her lower lip.
That's all it takes. I lean over the counter and take her face in my hand. I brush my fingers across her cheek, then thread them into her hair. I lean closer, but slow, giving her time to say no.
At the first pass of my mouth against hers, I think it's soft and warm.
At the second, I think I'll stop breathing.
By the time her tongue comes out to lick across my upper lip, I'm gone. I'm breathing hard and heavy, my fingers tight in her hair, my mouth smiling, smiling against hers as I fall into the kiss, into the bliss of her in my hands, her mouth on mine, her breath panting against me, showing me that she wants me like I want her.
I pull back, not because I want to, but because I need to. I need to know that this isn't just curiosity on her part. I need to know that she feels this, feels me.
She opens her eyes and looks up at me. She's so, so beautiful. Big dark eyes, and her pupils are huge, showing almost all black. Her skin is fair and flushed, and I want to lick her, everywhere. I want to know what she tastes like. I want to tell her that she's beautiful, from the inside out. I want to say things she's never heard before, and make her believe them.
I want to love her. I want her to let me.
"Jasper," she says, and it's like a song. She reaches a hand up and sifts her fingers through my hair. It's too long, and I need a cut. Then she cups my cheek in her hand, and she brushes her thumb against my mouth.
"I waited," she says. "I waited and you never came, so I thought maybe Kate, but, you didn't love her. I could see it."
I shake my head at her and then I walk out from behind the counter. With her fingers threaded through mine, I walk to the front door and flick the lock. I twist the open sign to say closed. I guide us through the stacks of books, to the back room, and then up the stairs to my apartment.
At the door, at the top, I say "Is this okay?"
She nods her head and I lead her in.
As soon as the door is closed, she's pressing against me, pushing her body into mine. I kiss her, her face, her hair, her cheeks and her neck. My fingers pull the collar from her skin and my mouth presses against her pulse.
"I wanted you," I say. "I wanted you so bad."
She makes a breathy noise at the back of her throat, and then her mouth is on my skin. She licks and sucks at my neck, and her legs push against mine, like she's trying to climb up me. I pick her up and press her against the door, and her legs wrap around my waist.
"You're beautiful," I say. "You're beautiful, Bella." And then I chant it, because she's here and flesh and blood in my hands, and I need this, need to feel her.
My fingers slip under her sweater and tug at the shirt tucked in to her side. When my fingers meet her skin, she shivers and I moan.
"Yes," she says, "yes, yes, yes."
I push my hips against her and she pushes her shoulders back into the door, pushes herself right up against me. Her arms are wrapped around my neck, and she's gazing at me with heavy-lidded eyes.
My fingers dig into her ass, pulling her closer against me.
"I want you," I say. "I want you. I want you."
She nods and says please. Please.
One word is my undoing, because it means more than just please. It's hello and yes and I want you, too. It's right here, right now, but I don't know if it's tomorrow, too, and I need to know that.
"Bella." I set her down but can't pull my mouth from hers. She makes a soft noise of protest at the lack of contact between us.
"Bella, honey." Her arms are around my neck still, holding on tight. I press my hands against her shoulders and she leans away, then looks at me. Her confusion colors her face.
"You don't…? You said you wanted…."
"I do. Jesus, Bella, I want you. But why me? Why now?"
Her face colors pink, and her mouth is red and puffy and I want to lick her everywhere.
"I…." She knots her fingers in front of her, and stares down at them.
"I know," she pauses. "I know that people think I'm pretty. But no one's ever made me feel beautiful before." She stops and looks up at me. "No one until you."
I'm kissing her again, and she's pressed up against me again and every other word from her mouth is yes and please and Jasper.
"I want you," I say again. "I want you now, and I want you tomorrow and I want you, Bella, I want you."
I'm walking her backwards into my bedroom and I back her right up against the bed. She breaks away from me and looks around herself, then kicks off her shoes and sits on the bed, backing up until she's in the middle of it.
Her teeth catch her lower lip, and I'm right there, pulling it away.
"Let's go back out to the living room," I say. I won't rush her.
Her fingers dig at the hem of her sweater and she shakes her head. "I want you," she says. "I've wanted this for so long. You, this, feels right to me."
I nod and smile against her mouth. "Me, too, baby. Me, too."
She fingers the buttons of my shirt, and then she's pushing it off my shoulders. My t-shirt goes next and I help her out of her sweater, and then I have to stare.
She's just beautiful. Soft, white skin and her dark hair falling in her face. Her skin is flushed from her chest to her cheeks. I push her tank top up and kiss the skin at her belly. I flick open the button on her jeans, and kiss the red marks at her waist. My fingers brush against her skin, and goose bumps rise in their wake.
Everything slows down.
Her skin tastes sweet and I lick it. I scratch my teeth along her flesh and feel her squirm. I push and press and pull and pinch, and she follows suit, breathless. There is no shyness when I take off her clothes, only urgency to feel me, flesh against flesh.
She opens herself up to me, and I want to swallow her whole. But she swallows me, takes me into her mouth, into her body, until all I know is her—her warm skin and hot mouth and sweet smell, the way she bites at my bottom lip, the way her fingers press into my skin, urging me closer, and her breathy pant in my ear, and the way she says my name.
She says my name.
When it's done and we've caught our breath, I pull the comforter up over us and she snuggles into my side, and lays her head on my chest. I like the weight of it there, and how she fits me. My hand rests on the curve of her hip, and my palm fits there like it's a mold, made for me.
I kiss the top of her head, and she sighs.
"You okay?" I ask.
She nods against my chest.
"Thinking about tomorrow?" she asks.
I nod and kiss the top of her head.
"Do you think he'll be okay?"
"Yeah. I really do."
"Me too," she says, and holds me tighter.
Her stomach rumbles, or maybe it's mine, I can't tell. She looks up at me and I look down at her.
"Hungry?" we both ask, in unison.
I nod and smile against her mouth. This beautiful girl is made for me, and always has been. I realize it doesn't matter how we got here. What matters is that we're here, and we're now, and there's no good reason that I can't claim her as my own. There's no good reason not to give her my heart, unfettered, unbound. I am hers.
And she is mine.
AN: If not for FDM, the title of this fic would have been "head out." Yeah. She and Krismom are my Alpha and my Beta. I love them a lot.