A/N: This fic was written for WD_Den_Mum in the "Make the YuleTwi'd Gay" fic exchange. Her prompt:

Edward/Jasper. Human. Longterm couple near break up but reconnect over the holidays. Annnnngst. A little tenderness/romance is fine, but please, no men acting like 15 year old girls with their feelings and thinking of you gifts.

Do you see all those N's in the word Angst up above? That's a LOT of angst being requested. Consider that your warning before you read!

Special thanks to urmistaken70 for pre-reading this & listening to me chat away about it. :)

If you like a little music with your fic, here are some beautiful winter songs that fit with some of the feelings E & J are going through: (also with thanks to urmistaken70 for her musical suggestions! :)

River: http:/www(dot)youtube(dot)com/watch?v=4tMHb7Gg3HM

Song for a Winter's Night: http:/www(dot)youtube(dot)com/watch?v=HLGSZisx7ks&feature=related

Wintersong: http:/www(dot)youtube(dot)com/watch?v=Fg79xPJrwYI

As always: All copyright and trademarked items mentioned herein belong to their respective owners. The remaining content is all mine. No copying or reproduction of this work is permitted without my express written authorization.


We started with a kiss.

And we ended with a kiss.

Or maybe I should say he ended it with a kiss. Since it wasn't me he was kissing.

The annoying squeal of the tape dispenser, as I pulled it across the top of the last box, echoed loudly in the half-empty apartment. Half empty because it was only my things that were gone.

I stood up, but my feet didn't want to move just yet. Instead I surveyed the apartment one last time. There were so many good memories held within these walls . . . and now, sad ones as well. Seven years and all that was left? Bare spots on walls that had once held happy photographs, naked coat hangers hanging in a now-cavernous closet, indentations in carpet where a favorite chair had once been. And one naked finger that would always feel empty without his ring.

The rush of the wind outside rattled the window, bringing me back to reality. I crossed the room and looked out the window one last time. The snow—icy sleet, really—was pinging against the window, the wind blowing it forcefully against the old glass. Sighing, I realized it was time to go. It looked like the storm was coming in faster than they had predicted and I needed to get on the road before the worst of it hit. It was for the best anyway—bemoaning missing things and past memories would not change the present.

I walked back to where my box sat on the empty floor. Shrugging on my coat I placed the cold metal key on the counter, grabbed my box, and walked out the door.

• • • •

"Looks like that brutal Christmas storm is blowing into the Chicagoland area much faster and with much more force than expected. At least a foot of snow will be on the ground before it is all said and done. The police and emergency departments are advising everyone to stay where you are if at all possible. The roads are extremely dangerous and visibility is near zero in these blizzard-like conditions . . . ."

I turned the radio down and flipped the window wipers up to their highest speed, not that it did any good. Great, I thought to myself angrily. If Chief Gerandy had let me work over the holiday like I wanted, I wouldn't be fighting my way through this mess.

I was over half way through my first year of residency at Cook County Hospital. Residency for doctors (well, doctors-to-be) meant long, grueling 16 to 24-hour shifts, lots of coffee and very little sleep. I had especially thrown myself further into work the past three months, not only working my own shifts, but also sometimes filling in for other residents. The Chief had noticed and forced me to take a mandatory four days off. I tried to protest, knowing there were other residents with spouses and kids that should have the time off before a . . . single guy like myself, but there was no budging him. I had worked too many hours the past two weeks and I wasn't allowed to work any more—both for the hospital's liability, the patient's safety and my own health and well being. He threw me out, saying he didn't want to see my butt walk back through those doors until Monday.

So instead of eating rubbery turkey and congealed gravy in the hospital cafeteria for Christmas, I was on my way home to spend the holiday with my parents and younger sister. It was normally only about a two-hour drive to the small town of Rockford from the city, but I'd already been on the road an hour and a half and had barely covered any ground. I made it out of the metro city limits at least, but I could barely see the road ahead of me, much less any landmarks to know where I was. I should have stuck to the interstate—I-90 was the most typical route but when going home I tended to take smaller back roads to avoid the traffic. With the storm, I-90 would have been the smarter choice, but well, obviously my mind was still distracted, and on autopilot I had taken my normal route.

My phone buzzed, it was Dad. When I told him what road I was on, he told me to pull off at the next chance for a hotel. Before I could even answer my mother grabbed the phone from him.

"Edward Anthony Cullen you listen to your father! The highway patrol has closed a lot of roads and I don't want you risking your life just to make it home tonight. I don't want to spend my night worrying about you being stuck in a ditch or worse . . . ."

My mom was sweet and loving . . . and a worrier. I had to promise three times that I would stop before we hung up.

I sighed heavily, pissed off that I was now going to have to stay somewhere for the night. It was so dark and snowy I actually wasn't even sure I was going to find anything; it was just too damn hard to see.

A huge gust of wind kicked up, I could actually feel it rock the car. It cleared the snow on my windshield so forcefully that I spied some lights up ahead. When I finally got close enough, I saw spotlights shining on a snow-covered sign. I could just barely make out that it was a sign for a bed and breakfast. Not sure when or if I was going to come across another place to stay the night, I turned into the drive.

When I got out of the car, the force of the wind blew me back against the closed door. It was all I could do to keep moving forward toward the front door of the B & B. Otherwise I might have paid more attention to the familiar truck parked two spaces down from me.

Instead, it wasn't until I had stumbled in through the front door with my duffel bag twisted around my arm and shaking snow off of my hair, that I saw him.

• • • •

It was my sophomore year at Northwestern and I was looking for something to get involved in that would be a fun diversion but also not take too much time away from my studies. I loved to ski so I joined the ski club. It was perfect because there were only a few meetings a year and all activities were mostly limited to the winter, when there was good powder at some of the area ski resorts. The big event in the middle of ski season was a four-day trip to Aspen, Colorado, right before everyone went home for Christmas.

It was at the first meeting earlier that year that I discovered Jasper Whitlock was also in ski club. I walked in the door and he was over in the corner of the room, talking to two other students. He was sitting casually on a desk, chatting comfortably. When I walked in, he surprisingly recognized me. He stared at me for a moment and then a smile crossed his face and he raised his hand in a brief wave of acknowledgement.

Jasper and I were from the same small town and went to the same high school, though we didn't really run in the same social circles, so to speak. I had a few close friends and participated in some school activities to look good on college applications, but other than that I pretty much concentrated on my classes and schoolwork. Jasper was a little more popular than I, and we had an occasional class together over the years, but that was about all I remembered of him. I didn't even know he had gone to Northwestern, not that it was surprising—living so close to Chicago, a lot of our classmates had landed here or at some of the other Chicago-area schools.

After the meeting, I was out the door and halfway down the hall when I heard him yelling after me. He was actually jogging to catch up, and so I stopped, since he was making such an effort to talk to me. We exchanged a few minutes of the typical pleasant small talk of two people who only slightly knew each other—"Hey, how you doin'?" "How do you like Northwestern?" "What are you studying?" "Have you skied much?" "Looking forward to hopefully lots of snow this winter."

As I looked into Jasper's eyes it was hard not to be attracted to them—he had these beautiful, crystal-clear blue eyes that you just wanted to stare into for hours. He had shaggy, dirty-blond hair and a genuine smile that lit up his whole face. I didn't know how I hadn't paid much attention to him in high school, because he was absolutely gorgeous. And I didn't know why he was being so friendly now, but I appreciated it.

Throughout the first couple of ski outings, he would usually make a point to chat with me and once or twice we skied together in the same group. Jasper was such a social butterfly—well at least compared to me. He was friends with everyone in the club, so he usually flitted about, hanging out with everyone in the group. But even when he was hanging out with others, I would occasionally catch him looking over at me. If I caught him he would usually just smile slowly and wave or nod. But he never looked away. I was always the first one to turn away, uncomfortable in his gaze. Uncomfortable, because I felt something when our eyes met—a tingle, a spark, an intense pull that I was sure he didn't.

Finally, first semester came to an end and it was time for the big outing to Aspen. The trip that year started out well enough—long day of good solid skiing the first day and exhaustion leading to a good night's sleep.

Mid-afternoon of the second day, I was going a bit too fast on one hill, caught a bit of air coming off of one swell of ground and landed wrong. Before I knew what had happened, I was on the ground. When I tried to stand up my ankle protested, and I immediately fell back on the snow. I was cursing and groaning and thoroughly pissed off, and to make matters worse, Jasper had suddenly appeared out of nowhere. I was embarrassed to have fallen and for him to know I fell, but he seemed genuinely concerned. I gamely tried to stand again but the grimace of pain gave me away.

Jasper made me sit back down and immediately went for help. An emergency rescue crew came, I was taken back to a first aid cabin, and then to the ER—all which came to the same conclusion; it was just a bad sprain.

I felt silly for all the fuss that was made for just a sprain. When I finally got back to my room at the resort we were staying at, it was dinnertime. I was exhausted and planning to go straight to bed, when Jasper appeared again, with a knock on the door. He wanted to check in, see how I was doing and he brought me some dinner. I vaguely remembered from earlier, in all the hubbub, hearing him offer to go to the ER with me, but the rules were that our ski club faculty advisor was required to go with me.

Anyway, I was surprised to see Jasper again, but thanked him for bringing me some food. He offered to go get something to eat himself, and eat with me in the room to keep me company but I told him to go ahead I was probably just going to eat and go straight to bed anyway. Which I did.

At the ER they had given me crutches and they were incredibly awkward to use, but I did manage to hobble downstairs for some breakfast, well after the others had all headed out to the slopes. Afterwards I made some phone calls inquiring about changing my flight to go home early—now that I couldn't ski anymore, there was no sense staying. The problem was, our flight cost had all been part of this special package deal we got and the cost to change my flight home was ridiculously expensive, so there I was, stuck on a skiing trip and I couldn't ski.

I spent the rest of that afternoon reading down in the lounge/sitting room area of the resort. There was a warm fire and lots of windows looking out at the snow. The windows also allowed me to see when my fellow ski club members were coming in and as soon as I saw them approaching, I headed back to my room. Skiing was the only thing I really had in common with these people and since I wasn't skiing, I didn't feel like sticking around to hear how "rad the trails were" today.

The resort had elevators, thank God, but my room was clear at the other end of the hall and I was still clumsy on the damn crutches, so it took me a while to make it inside my room. I had just collapsed into a chair, when there was a knock on my door and he called out my name. It was Jasper, again. He bounded into my room, still in his ski gear, bringing the mingling scents of sweat and the crisp outdoor air with him. His cheeks and nose were a rosy red from being outside in the cold for so long and his eyes were bright and shiny. He looked youthful and childlike and yet the strength of his chiseled, stubbled jaw portrayed the truth—he was all man. My stomach did a little flip-flop and I had to force myself to pay attention to what he was saying.

He was headed back to his room to shower and change and wanted to know if I was going downstairs for dinner. I told him I had been down in the lounge most of the day and just planned to stay in my room for the evening and order dinner in. His smile dimmed a little and he said okay and left.

An hour and a half later came the knock on my door that I assumed to be room service.

"Come in," I called out.

The door opened and a cart was wheeled in by . . . Jasper. I stifled a loud sigh. As sexy as he was, I couldn't believe he was bothering me . . . again.

I cocked an eyebrow. "Working for the resort's room service now, Jasper?"

He stood up straight with a sheepish look on his face. In a second it was gone, though, and he was wheeling the cart again over closer to where I was sitting. His voice was lightly stern as he spoke.

"Actually I went down to get something to eat myself when I saw one of the staff with the cart. I asked if it was for your room and then had them add my dinner to the cart and told them I would take it up. If you don't mind I thought I'd eat with you."

"Um, sure, if you want."

He sat down and we busied ourselves uncovering our plates and situating everything around on the cart top. It was he who finally broke the silence.

"So, why do you spend so much time alone, Edward?"

He caught me by surprise with that question. I was expecting typical dinner small-talk like "It sure was cold today" or "How about those Bears?" (not that I had time to follow much sports, but still). Apparently Jasper liked to cut to the chase. When I didn't answer immediately, he continued on.

"I mean, you joined the ski club, but you never hang out much outside of the meetings or the trips. And ever since you sprained your ankle, you've kept yourself cooped up in this room."

"Well, I joined ski club because I like to ski. Period. I wasn't looking to socialize, necessarily. And as for staying in my room, it's fucking hard to get around on those damn crutches. Plus, I figured everyone's just going to be talking about how great the skiing was and I have nothing to contribute about that now."

Jasper's face softened and he titled his head. "Come on, Edward, we do talk about more than just skiing. There are some great people in the club, you should get to know them better." He paused and turned his attention back to his steak. "I would say that's just an excuse but now that I think about it, I remember you were kind of quiet in high school too."

I about choked on my food. I didn't know he remembered much about me from high school. It took me a minute to craft a clever comeback.

"And if I remember correctly, you were always very social in high school, always had a group of friends around you. So why are you up here eating with me and not downstairs with the others?" I sent right back to him, my tone cooler than it should have been.

He stopped with his fork and knife raised above his plate, and looked me directly in the eye. "Because I thought maybe you'd like some company after being alone all day. Now is it okay that I'm here or would you like me to go?"

I swallowed hard as his eyes bored into mine. Those damn eyes were going to be the death of me. Even though he had started this conversation, he really was only trying to be nice by joining me for dinner. And even though I originally hadn't wanted him to stay, I had to admit it was better than eating alone.

"No, you don't have to go."

A few minutes passed in silence before I spoke up again, my head down, facing my plate. "Thank you, actually. It is nice to have some company."

"You're welcome. Could you pass the salt please?" I had to look up at him to fulfill his request and he was smirking at me with the cockiest grin. Shit.

Conversation flowed easier after that, as he told me about how the skiing had been (I actually brought it up first) and we talked a little about school and classes and how different it was from high school. When we were finished, he wheeled the cart out into the hall to leave it to be picked up. But he didn't seem to want to leave. He stood there for a few seconds as if he was trying to find the words of what to say next. Just as I thought he was finally going to say his goodbyes and leave, he spied the chess set in the corner of the room. His face eased into a smile again, as he asked if I played. I thought briefly about lying and saying that I didn't know how to play so that he'd leave, but I decided to be honest.

He immediately pulled the set out and started setting the pieces up. We played two games and I won both, naturally, but Jasper was a worthy opponent. I really had to stay on my toes and pay attention. I'm not ashamed to admit a couple of his moves even caught me by surprise.

After he finally left for the evening and I was in bed, I found I couldn't sleep. Every time I closed my eyes I saw his face, his smile, those eyes. Shit, this was not good. I could not be thinking of him in that way. Jasper was just trying to be nice, to be my friend. As far as I knew he was straight—and the last thing I needed was to develop a "thing" for a straight guy I could never have. It wasn't so easy to tell that to my cock though. It twitched with delight every time I thought of him.

I woke up late the next morning and was groggy and moving slow. I'd tossed and turned all night, sleeping only in short fits. By the time I had showered and dressed it was lunchtime. I was still tired, I'd missed breakfast, had no coffee, and I was in a foul mood.

So naturally, who at that moment decides to knock on my door? I decided to ignore it. When he called out my name I didn't answer. After a few minutes of silence, I called in a room service order, satisfied that he was gone.

Two hours later I was sitting by the window, happily reading, when the knocking started again.

"Edward? Are you in there? Are you okay?"

Sighing loudly I yelled for him to come in.

His brows were furrowed in concern but then his face eased as soon as he saw me. "Hey, I came by earlier but you didn't answer. I thought maybe you were downstairs, but then when I didn't see you there either I got concerned. Everything okay?"

I tried really hard to keep the frustration out of my voice but I knew I still came off snippy. "I'm fine, I'm just tired. I didn't sleep well. Jasper, why aren't you out skiing? It's the last day." Thank God, I thought to myself, I couldn't wait to fly out of here tomorrow morning.

"Oh I've had more than enough skiing time in to last me for a while. I wondered if maybe you'd like to play some more chess, or maybe watch a movie?"

Sigh.

We spent the afternoon playing chess, flipping through the TV channels, watching A Christmas Story and talking. Jasper slowly chipped away my walls and we shared back and forth—details about our families, favorite movies and music, even "what we wanted to be when we grew up." It was actually a very easygoing and fun afternoon. I didn't even realize how much time had passed until my stomach grumbled rather loudly. Jasper laughed heartily.

"Sounds like we better get some food into you!" he teased as he stood up.

I reached over to grab the phone and was even about to ask him what he wanted, assuming he was staying, when I suddenly felt his hand on mine. It was brief but I still felt a spark.

"Oh no, no more room service," he said as his hand gently forced mine into putting the phone back in the cradle.

"Come on, Edward, it's Christmas Eve, you're not going to stay in this room. The rest of the club is eating together tonight and probably everyone else at the resort is too. I think the kitchen is doing a special meal and then everyone is gathering for a party in the lounge." He smiled at me and tipped his head towards the door.

Sigh.

Once again I acquiesced. I was uncomfortable about walking with the crutches in front of him, but to his credit, he didn't say a word and he didn't try to hurry me. He walked alongside me, slowing his pace to keep up with me. I was almost to the elevator when I moved a crutch wrong and before I knew it I was wobbling and pitching forward.

"God dammit!" I cursed loudly in anger. I was so upset it took me a second to realize I hadn't fallen. Strong arms had wrapped around my chest and pulled me upright.

"It's all right, I've got you." His voice was soft and soothing against my ear. He had pulled me up against his body and I could feel his chest against my back, his legs on either side of mine . . . and his hips against my hips. My whole body heated up instantly and my heart started racing. I could feel my cock starting to respond and my mind started screaming that I had to move before he noticed how I was reacting to his body. At the same time I realized I had to move, I also realized he still had a hold of me. And unless I was mistaken . . . I was feeling a similar response from his body against my backside.

Although the whole interaction (including my stumble) probably only lasted a minute or two, it seemed like so much longer. I quickly steadied myself on my crutches and he slid his hands from my chest. One hop forward and we were no longer connected. I was surprised at how instantly cold my body felt, but it was surely for the better. I mumbled a "Thank you," but did not turn to look at him. He said nothing and we continued on our way.

Downstairs, finally, I was pleasantly surprised at the warm reception I got from our fellow ski club members. Everyone appeared genuinely happy to see me and asked lots of questions about how I was doing. I caught Jasper's eye once and he raised his eyebrow in a "See? I told you," kind of expression.

The evening was filled with good food and lots of laughter and fun conversation. I still mostly listened rather than joining in, but I did have to admit I really enjoyed myself.

After dinner everyone gathered around the fire and soon everyone was singing Christmas songs. Someone had a guitar and I was surprised when it landed in Jasper's hands—he began to play and I was shocked; he had never said that he could play the guitar.

His voice was warm and rough, a mixture of honey and sandpaper, and I swear it felt like it melted right into me and warmed my whole body. I was glad his attention was on his performance and the others listening. It gave me an unabashed opportunity to really watch him—how his eyes sparkled and his smile got a little wider the more he sang, how his strong arm gripped the neck of the guitar, how his fingers confidently manipulated the strings to make them sound how he wanted. I couldn't help but be entranced by the man that he was—inside and out. It didn't help that every few bars he would glance over at me intently with those eyes that just made my heart drop to my stomach.

As I watched the others, they were just as enamored with him—happy smiles on their faces, some singing along, some simply enjoying his songs. Everyone applauded when he finished and I was overcome by the effect Jasper's performance had on me and how he had brought everyone together. I was in awe and a little envious. Jasper was so easygoing and likeable and everything I wasn't. I watched as one of the girls in our club—a short skinny little thing, Alice, I think was her name— climbed into his lap and threw her arms around him, kissing him on the cheek. They looked good together, natural. The pang in my chest surprised me and as I realized what it was, I started mentally kicking myself. Even though I thought I had felt something in the hall earlier, I needed to stop these thoughts I was having. I needed to keep my thoughts and feelings about Jasper strictly in the "friend" range because that was clearly all he was ever going to be.

It was about 11:30 when everyone started to disperse, and head up to their rooms. Our group especially, had an early flight tomorrow and most people wanted to get to bed.

Jasper accompanied me back to my room and I thankfully had no more embarrassing stumbles with the crutches. After I opened my door and turned around to say goodnight he had that same look about him that he had last night, as if he wanted to say something but wasn't sure if he should. We stood there awkwardly just looking at each other.

"Umm . . . do you want to come in for a while?" What the hell was I doing? I couldn't believe the words had just come out of my mouth. After the little bit of sleep I got last night and having to get up at the ass-crack of dawn tomorrow, I really needed to just go to bed. Surely he would too, right? Please say no, please say no . . . .

Naturally a big smile lit up his face as he answered yes.

Sigh.

I needed to go to the bathroom so I headed toward the other room, leaving him to close the door and fend for himself. I took my time, not that it was an easy feat with crutches anyway. Finally, when I realized I couldn't stall any longer, I sighed again and headed back into the other room.

My mouth nearly dropped open.

Jasper had started a fire in the fireplace and was sitting on the floor in front of it, his shoes off, some pillows strewn about. He smiled up at me as he heard me enter the room.

"I think the wind is picking up outside and it's awfully cool in here, you don't mind the fire do you?"

I shook my head no, having no other words at the moment. As I headed toward the chair, he spoke again.

"It's really much warmer by the fire, do you think you can sit comfortably on the floor?"

I felt like an idiot robot, doing whatever he told me, but I was just so unsure of what this was all about. If he were gay I would say he was definitely trying to seduce me, but Jasper wasn't gay, right?

It took some maneuvering, but I finally made it to a sitting position on the floor. I held my hands out toward the fire. He was right, it was warmer down here.

"You're right, the fire feels great. Good choice." As I glanced up at him again I met those eyes, they were intense again, darker, somehow this time. Neither of us said anything until he spoke.

"So, five more minutes and it's Christmas."

"Yep." Yep? I never said "yep." I was clearly still tongue-tied.

"Do you think Santa will bring you what you asked for?"

I couldn't help it, I snorted in laughter at his question. "Umm, I think I'm a little old to be asking for something from 'Santa.'"

The sexiest smirk was slowly spreading across his face and I suddenly felt very warm (and not from the fire.) I decided to turn his silly question back to him. "Do you think you're going to get what you asked 'Santa' for?"

"Oh I definitely think I am, I've been a very, very good boy this year."

He moved suddenly so that he was sitting next to me—very close to me, in fact. My heart was hammering as I turned to look at him. His adam's apple moved as he swallowed and I could hear the pace of his breathing pick up. Never tearing his eyes from mine he trailed one finger lightly down my cheekbone to my jaw, then over my lips. The small clock on the mantle chimed, announcing that it was midnight, but his concentration never wavered.

"Merry Christmas, Edward," he whispered in a voice so low and rough I think I stopped breathing myself. When his lips met mine, I felt the heat everywhere.

• • • •

Jasper looked up at the noise I made coming in the door of the B and B. His eyes widened momentarily before his brows furrowed in what I was sure was a mirror image to the emotions running through me at the moment. What the hell was he doing here? Our families did still live in Rockford, so I suppose he was doing the same thing I was—heading home for Christmas. When we used to travel home together, we always took this same route too, so . . . I sighed loudly. Of course we would both get stuck on the same road, in the same storm, at the same B and B.

The older lady behind the check-in counter was babbling away and as my anger and surprise at seeing him here began to settle down, her words started to filter through.

"Oh my, isn't that storm out there just awful! Come on inside sir, Welcome to the Cascade Manor Bed & Breakfast. And oh dear, I hate to tell you this, but I've just rented our last room to this young man, here . . ."

Neither Jasper nor I had stopped staring at each other while she prattled on, but as soon as she said there were no more rooms left, I shifted my bag higher onto my shoulder and grabbed for the door handle. "I see, no problem, ma'am . . . ."

"Edward . . . ."

"Wait, sir!" She called after me at the same time Jasper spoke my name and her voice died out in shock as she looked back and forth between he and I, realizing that we knew each other.

• • • •

Being with Jasper was the most wonderful, easiest, happiest thing I'd ever done. After that first kiss that night in the ski lodge, we ended up fucking and making love and fucking some more until we were exhausted. The next morning I admittedly crawled back into my shell a bit. I wasn't sure what Jasper wanted or expected—was this just a one night thing? Or did he want more? I was so exhausted I fell asleep on the plane and when I woke up, as we were starting to descend, I found my hand being very securely held by his. He was smiling at me and as he reached over and brushed my hair out of my eyes, he said "Good morning sleepyhead," right before he kissed me.

He called me several times over the break and our first real date was New Year's Eve. We dated for the rest of the year and moved in together the next year. We were opposites in many ways, but for some inexplicable reason we just clicked. He was everything I wasn't and for some reason he still wanted me. I was a little amazed.

Of course the sex was incredible and intense and blissfully exhausting. But it was more than that—I loved everything about him. I loved how he was so easygoing but could get so riled up when he couldn't fix the leak in the kitchen sink. I loved that he loved spending time alone, just the two of us, but that he also introduced me to his friends and made us go out and spend time with them. For the first time in my life I actually had a "circle of buddies" and I enjoyed hanging out with them. I loved that he knew exactly when I wanted space and needed to be left alone and yet also seemed to know when I needed him. I was not always an easy person to love or to live with and he just seemed to accept it and take it all in stride. So, best of all, I loved that he actually seemed to love me too and was still amazed by it everyday. I loved coming home to him at the end of the day and the feel of the butterflies that still fluttered when I saw the genuinely happy smile he had for me when I walked in the door.

By Christmas of our senior year, however, I was starting to worry about what the future would hold for us. I was sending out applications to med schools all over the country. Of course I was hoping to get into Northwestern's Med School but I also had to be practical and knew that it might not be a given—I could end up anywhere, maybe even thousands of miles away. It didn't help that I couldn't make myself talk about it with Jasper. I was afraid to, and just wanted us to stay "us" for as long as possible. I knew Jasper loved Chicago and being near his family, he had no plans to move. He was getting a business degree so there were a thousand jobs he could get in Chicago in the business world. He never had to move anywhere else.

I tried to hide it, but I knew he felt my anxiety. I'd be lost in my thoughts and not hear something he said, or I'd snap at him for no real reason.

When we went home for holidays, we of course both stayed with our own families. My family loved and accepted Jasper as one of the family as did his with me, but we didn't want to push anything by staying together at one place or the other. There were so many holiday activities with both of our families that we didn't have a lot of time together anyway. I missed waking up with him next to me, though, and it was making me even more edgy.

Christmas Eve night I spent with his family and then he was coming over to my family's the next day for Christmas dinner. His parents and sister had finally gone up to bed, and I was about to take off and head home, when he stopped me.

I was grabbing for my coat on the coat rack, just as I felt his arms wrap around me.

"Don't go just yet, please. Stay a little longer." I felt his warm breath in my ear and my body just automatically sank into his. I let out a very contented sigh, causing him to laugh. "I take it that's a 'yes,'" he said as he pulled away, grabbing my hand and leading me back into the living room.

The fire was still going and the Christmas lights were still on, but Jasper had turned all other lights off. It was very cozy and festive and, with everyone in bed, very still and quiet.

He sat down in front of the tree and gestured for me to sit with him. He reached for something hidden under the back of the tree. His family opened some of their gifts on Christmas Eve but there were still a few presents untouched. As he turned back to face me, I saw that he now looked like the anxious one.

"I have one more present for you Edward."

"But you already gave me my present . . . ." We had made a rule—since being college students meant finances were always stretched thin—that we would each only get one thing for each other and we set a specific dollar limit.

"I know, but this is . . . something special. I wanted to wait until we had some time alone to give it to you." He smiled nervously and handed me a very small, slightly rectangular velvet box with a bow that was almost bigger than the box itself.

I quietly opened the box to find two identical rings—plain platinum bands— inside. I didn't say anything at first because I was genuinely confused. Jasper knew I wasn't one for really wearing jewelry and also, why were there two? I think deep in the back of my mind I knew what they really were and why he was giving them to me, but I couldn't let myself believe it. I had never ever imagined I would have a relationship like Jasper and I had, I just assumed I would always be alone and I couldn't fathom that he wanted to be with me . . . forever. So I continued to play dumb.

"Um . . . they're nice. But why are there two?"

Jasper's eyes widened and then his shoulders sagged as he shook his head exasperatedly, laughing as he spoke. "For someone who is so remarkably intelligent, you can be really dense sometimes, baby."

He looked me straight in the eyes. "One of them is for you but the other is mine, if you want it to be, that is. Edward Cullen . . . will you marry me?"

He said it . . . he said the words. So many emotions overwhelmed me—joy and love and also fear. My mind turned to a jumbled mush as I tried to coherently form words, until finally I gave up trying.

This time when the clock struck midnight, I was the one giving him a kiss.

• • • •

The lady behind the counter finally began speaking again. "Sir, the roads are closed and I won't send you out into that awful storm again, it would haunt my conscience forever! I can gladly make up the couch in the sitting room for you. It might not be as comfortable as a bed, but it's a place to sleep for the night—free, no charge."

Jasper and I were still staring coldly at each other. I really wanted to just get the hell out of there, but the rational part of my brain knew that would be a stupid move in this weather.

I sighed. "Fine, I'll take the couch."

Jasper just frowned and shook his head, turning back to the woman.

"Mrs. Cope, didn't you say there was a pull-out sofa bed in my room? He can stay with me. No reason to cause you more work."

Oh like hell! I cleared my throat. "Um, excuse me? I will take the sofa, thank you, ma'am. I will not be bothering him."

The lady—Mrs. Cope, apparently—opened her mouth to say something but never got the chance.

Jasper was rubbing his face with his hands in agitation and exhaustion. "Oh for God's sake, Edward it's one fucking night. Can we not be adults about this and handle one night in the same room together? You can even have the bed, I'll take the damn pull-out."

"I don't think . . . ."

"Edward stop being such a stubborn ass." He was staring at me again, almost daring me to say no. The woman was looking back and forth between us again with her eyes wide and I hated that we were making such a scene in front of her. And I was cold and exhausted and obviously my options were limited.

"Fine," I uttered through clenched teeth.

Jasper's shoulders sagged and his eyes dulled as he turned back to the woman, to finish up the details.

• • • •

Jasper and I had our commitment ceremony about a month after we graduated, both of us promising forever and never imagining anything different. That summer was a busy one for us but it was also one of the best of our lives. We graduated, we got married, we moved into a new apartment, and Jasper started his new job at a finance firm. And I did end up getting into med school at Northwestern. It was amazing and wonderful how perfect things were going for us, both professionally and personally.

Once school started for me, I really had to buckle down and pay close attention to my classes. This was the beginning for me—finally, no more pretending, no more being an "almost doctor." Jasper was so wonderful and understanding of the time I needed to study, knowing when I needed quiet or when I needed time alone. Working a nine-to-five job, he usually headed to bed earlier than me. When I would finally stumble to bed, usually in the wee hours after studying, I would try to be quiet but he would almost always wake up. Sometimes he didn't even open his eyes, but he would still turn over and wrap his arms around me, mumbling a hello or a "how was the studying," or sometimes it was an "Mmm, I love you," accompanied by a kiss on my shoulder as he nuzzled his face into my neck. If it wasn't too late, sometimes he pulled me forcefully against him and whispered dirty things in my ear about what he'd been waiting to do to me, his cock pressing hard into my back.

On Saturdays, Jasper refused to let me even touch a book, saying that it was "our day" to lounge in bed, go out and do something, have a nice dinner—to just "be" together. Sometimes we would get together with our friends from college or with Jasper's coworkers. I even brought Jasper along to gatherings or parties with my fellow med school classmates. The first party I took him to, he teased me mercilessly that I actually had friends in school. I know I wasn't a natural at being social but I wasn't the hermit I was when Jasper first met me either. He had changed me; I was more at ease now with myself, and with letting people in.

Those first few years we were married were wonderful, happy, easy. We were best friends, we were lovers, we were perfect.

In the meantime I continued plugging away with my med school studies. After surviving the first two years of science classes, med students got to spend the last two years observing and working in a real hospital with real doctors and patients, along with occasional class work. I was completely psyched to finally be getting to work in a real hospital. It was even more work than just studying for class, but it was so exhilarating that I didn't mind. I didn't mind staying an hour later than I was supposed to if it meant getting to observe an unusual surgery, or getting to follow through on the treatment of a patient that had been brought in under my shift.

I would go home and tell Jasper excitedly all about whatever had happened that day. I knew he was disappointed when I was late for dinner or for one of our dates, and I always apologized profusely, but he just smiled and said he was happy to see me so happy. Regardless I always made sure to make it up to him later in our bed . . . or the shower . . . or the kitchen counter.

The last six months were very hectic and stressful, but finally it was graduation day. I had made it. My parents came into the city for the ceremony and to take Jasper and I out to dinner. Then, as was tradition, all of my fellow med school grads were meeting up at a bar later for further celebrating.

As I came out of the bedroom from showering and changing, I found Jasper ready and sitting in the living room. His elbows were on his knees, with his head resting on his clasped hands. From the look on his face he was deep in concentration.

"Hey J, are you ready to go?"

"Edward, can we hold off a minute?"

Concerned, I sat down next to him. "Sure babe, what's up?"

He turned to look at me and smiled, but his eyes didn't quite hold their usual light. He reached over and rubbed his thumb across my cheek.

"I am so, so proud of you baby. Hell, I'm married to a doctor!" We both chuckled and a little of the tension seemed to dissipate.

He wasn't finished though. "I love how much you love being a doctor Edward, I love how excited and involved you get. I am in awe of you that you are willing to go through so much work and schooling to help heal people. But I worry about you too, Edward. You give so much and spend so many extra hours . . . please don't forget that you need a life too, baby. We need a life. I just don't want you to forget there needs to be a balance."

I was floored by Jasper's words, his concern and his love for me and for us. This seemed to be coming out of left field, though. We need a life. I was baffled—I thought we did have a life.

"Jasper, please don't worry, I know I have been busy finishing up with everything these last few months. You have been so supportive and patient and it's just one of the million things I love about you. But you know this is how it is. Med school and residency is a difficult and busy and crazy time. It won't always be like this, I swear. I promise."

I leaned over and kissed him forcefully. "I love you, Jasper. Forever." I pulled pack to look him directly in the eyes to make sure he got the impact of my words.

A beat passed as we stared intently at each other. He scared me for a moment as his face still remained passive and I wondered what he was really thinking.

"J?" Please say something, please say something, I was screaming in my head.

Finally the corners of his mouth turned up slightly and he ran his thumb across my chin. "I know babe, I know."

• • • •

We trudged up the stairs with our bags, following Mrs. Cope. In my mind I was still trying to figure out how this had happened and how I could get out of it. He was the last person I wanted to be sharing a room with.

She showed us into the room, explaining the rules and amenities as she went, but I couldn't focus on anything she said. Jasper pulled the sofa bed out and helped her make the bed with the sheets and blankets she pulled out of an armoire. I stood by watching them helplessly, still processing the facts of the situation.

After she left I walked over and set my bag down on the pull-out bed. I unzipped it and started rummaging around.

"Edward, I said I would take the pull-out. You can have the bed."

"It's your room, you were there first, I am simply a guest." My words were cold and I refused to look up at him, pulling the things I needed for bed out of my bag.

Jasper grabbed his bag and headed toward the bathroom, muttering obscenities under his breath and slamming the door behind him.

When he was done, I took my pajamas and my toiletry bag and went into the bathroom to change, not saying a word or even making a passing glance at him.

When I came out, I found my bag had been moved to the big bed and Jasper was already under the covers of the sofa bed, turned away from me.

I muttered some of my own obscenities, and even opened my mouth wider to protest again, when he spoke up.

"For fuck's sake Edward, just go to sleep."

• • • •

After our discussion that night of my graduation, we went on to the bar to celebrate with my friends. Except, I had trouble really letting go and enjoying myself. Jasper's words kept gnawing at me. I felt like there was some undertone I was missing. He said I needed to find a balance, to have a life. But I did have a life. I had him and I had my work, and I loved them both. Sure, maybe we hadn't been going out quite as much as we used to but that's just life sometimes. I was in the busiest part of my studies right now and I needed to give 110% or I was going to fail, going to get left behind by my fellow residents. I had been accepted into the residency program at Cook County hospital and it was going to be an intense and brutal next three years. All residents know this and are prepared going in. On top of working sometimes 20-30 hr. shifts, working overnight and getting very little sleep, we also had to contend with being low men and women on the totem pole and would be given all the scut work. But, that was how it worked. Hopefully you got paired with an attending who wasn't a complete pain in the ass and you ended up learning something.

I tried after graduation to be more attentive with Jasper, but it lasted maybe two weeks. Residency was just all-consuming. The long hours, the patients and the cases I saw and the procedures I learned, took over my time and my brain, even in off hours. At least the few off hours when I wasn't asleep. After working such long and grueling shifts the only thing I wanted to do, the only thing I could do, was literally collapse into bed and not move for the next six, eight, ten hours—whatever respite I had before I had to get up and do it all over again.

Most of the time when I was home I felt like a complete zombie. If I happened to be home at the same time as Jasper, I usually saw him when I was stumbling to bed, or into the bathroom or the kitchen. His eyes would light up when he saw me and he'd pull me into his arms, kiss me and touch me , even snaking his hands down to my pants, stroking me. The problem was I was so exhausted most of the time even my cock had no energy to get it up. I'd usually pull away trying to explain how tired I was, "not now, baby" and "later, baby I promise, I just need some sleep." He was so good at understanding, at least I thought so, but more and more I saw a discouraging look in his eyes.

The first full thirty-six hour period I had off, I slept for hours, of course, and when Jasper got home from work, he was so excited to see me. He was all over me, so urgent and forceful and wanting. He immediately took me to bed. Everything he did felt good, but I was still decompressing and it took me a while to get my mind into it. When Jasper collapsed next to me, breathing heavily, we didn't even say much, just fell exhaustively into sleep. We weren't even touching when we woke, both of us sprawled out on our separate sides of the bed.

The next night Jasper wanted us to go out. I resisted, wanting to just stay home and relax, but he kept nagging about it, so I finally agreed just to shut him up. We went to a little bar not far from our apartment that we used to go to more frequently before I started my residency. Jasper called some of our friends that we hadn't seen in a while since I was always working.

It happened to be an open-mic night and our friends all wheedled Jasper into borrowing a guitar and getting up to perform. He was great, as usual, and got lots of cheers from the audience. Emmett, the bar owner, who we also knew pretty well, came over and offered Jasper a regular gig if he wanted it, playing a night or two every week—just a little background music for the patrons. Jasper initially tried to turn him down, but our friends encouraged him to go for it. He looked over at me before saying anything, a look of uncertainty in his eyes. I grasped his hand and told him he should do it, that as much as I was working, it would be good for him to get out and do something he enjoyed, instead of sitting around all by himself. I had been noticing an unusual amount of beer bottles and the occasional whiskey bottle in the trash lately, but I hadn't had any time to talk to him about it. Plus he seemed fine most of the time so I just shook it off. But maybe it would be good for him to do this.

I could see the change in him as I gave him my blessing. A smile crept across his face and the excitement lit up in him. As he told Emmett yes, I felt a relief wash over me. This was a win-win situation for both of us. He was getting out of the apartment and doing something he loved and I didn't have to feel so guilty for working all time.

And it worked; except the next problem was that he was always trying to get me to come see him play. I wanted to, I really did, but I'd seen him play lots of times over the years. And there was always an urgent call from the hospital or some charts that had to be finished, causing me to work over, or again, simply that I needed to sleep. He'd always said he understood but the hurt look on his face said otherwise. Eventually the hurt turned into a clenched jaw and I knew he was probably angry. but frankly I didn't have the time or energy to get into it with him, to explain again, for the hundredth time, how busy I was at the hospital or how tired I was.

Several months passed and Jasper and I increasingly had trouble getting our schedules to coincide. We were hardly ever home at the same time. Many nights I was passed out from exhaustion after another long shift when Jasper would come in late from playing at the bar. He said he tried to be quiet but I always woke up. I would get pissed, we'd argue. The next day he'd be gone before I woke up.

One night I was working in the ER and it was a rare slow night. The attending in charge actually sent me home early. I was heading home, half of my brain still thinking about a patient that had come in earlier and the other half looking forward to getting home, to some quiet relaxation and going to bed early. Then I remembered it was one of Jasper's nights at the bar. I sighed loudly. I really wanted to head home to crash, but it had been so long since I'd had a free night like this, and he had been begging me for so long to come see him. I smiled, thinking of the smile that would cross his face when he saw me. So I turned around and headed to the bar, intent on surprising him and catching his performance.

It was apparently a little later than I realized, though, because when I walked in the door, the bar was half empty, only the jukebox playing and a few patrons hanging out at the bar. Emmett saw me walk in and said a bunch of people had headed over to Jake's apartment for a little after party. Jake was another friend of ours, he played with Jasper sometimes and I knew he didn't live far away.

I headed over to Jake's place and when I walked in, there were a lot more people than I expected. I didn't see Jasper anywhere and when I asked a couple people they didn't know either. I headed down a hallway, back toward the bathroom, when I saw him and the air left my lungs.

He was in the shadows, but I knew that blond hair as well as I knew my own. He was pressed back against the wall, head upturned, lips touching . . . another man. Someone I didn't recognize—tall, broad shoulders, dark black hair. His hands were weaving through my husband's hair, caressing the strands, gripping them . . . .

My heart started pounding and I . . . I couldn't move. Jasper broke away from the other man and saw me then. His shoulders slumped and he started to shove the other man away.

My body suddenly woke up and I did the only thing I could. I whirled around and rushed for the door. I heard noise, voices swirling through the pounding in my head. I heard his voice calling me, telling me to wait . . . but I couldn't.

It was only a short distance home but I hailed a cab I saw driving by, so that I could get home, so I could get away faster. It didn't help; the image of Jasper with someone else was now burned into my memory.

When the cab stopped I threw money at the driver and rushed out of the cab and up the steps of our building. My hands were shaking as I finally got the key in the lock and then I just threw everything I'd been carrying on the floor as I flew to the bathroom. My stomach was heaving and I retched violently into the bowl. It seemed to go on and on, I couldn't stop, it was as if my body was trying to purge all of the pain out of my body.

Finally there was nothing left and I flipped the handle, flushing everything away. The stabbing pain in my chest was still there though. I sat up, but couldn't will myself to stand. I slumped against the tub, resting my head on the shower door.

I was in some kind of numb shock. I couldn't believe he . . . Jasper . . .with someone else . . . kissing someone else . . .

I heard the front door and his stumbling steps. I probably should have been embarrassed for him to see me this way, but I still didn't move, I just shut my eyes.

"Edward? Edward?" He was shouting and his footsteps were heavy as I heard him get closer.

Finally they stopped and all I heard was heavy breathing at the doorway. The smell of whiskey surrounded him as he spoke.

"Edward . . . Wait, are you okay? What are you doing in the bathroom? Are you sick?"

"Oh I'm just peachy," I said venomously.

"Edward, Jesus. Look it wasn't . . . ."

I found myself laughing bitterly. "'It wasn't what it looked like' right? God, Jasper, can't you even come up with an original excuse?"

"But it wasn't . . . ."

I held up my hand to stop him, as I finally looked him in the eye. "He was practically swallowing your whole face, it was pretty obvious what it 'looked like.'"

Jasper's jaw was clenched as he tried to excuse himself away. "Edward . . . ."

But I couldn't do it, I couldn't listen to whatever flimsy reason he had.

"I don't even want to hear it, Jasper, not right now. Especially not while you're drunk. I'm sure that's part of the excuse too, am I right?"

"I'm not drunk," he said quietly, but I wasn't listening to any more. I stood up unsteadily and walked through the other doorway that opened into our bedroom and slammed the door. I shut the other door of the bedroom as well, making it obvious I was sleeping alone tonight.

I sunk down on the bed and glanced at the full-length mirror on the opposite wall. I looked like I was the drunk one, my eyes blank and unfocused, my skin pale, my lips dry.

Going to bed was really just a waste of time; I tossed and turned all night. I couldn't sleep because every time I closed my eyes I saw Jasper and that man. I couldn't sleep because I couldn't believe he had reneged on our vows, on our forever. I couldn't sleep because the bed felt so empty and cold.

I finally got up and showered and dressed, I wasn't due at the hospital for a few hours, but I was sure they could use help if I went in early.

As I walked into the living room, Jasper was sitting upright on the couch, his elbows on his knees, staring straight ahead in the still-darkened room. His clothing was wrinkled and his shirt half-unbuttoned. There was a pillow and a twisted sheet thrown haphazardly over the couch.

I walked straight past him to the door but he saw me.

"Edward," he called out to me in a strangled, hoarse voice. I paused with my hand on the doorknob.

"We need to talk about this." His voice echoed in the stillness.

"No you need to talk about this, you feel guilty, you need to cleanse your soul. 'You're so sorry, you were drunk, it will never happen again' . . . Just pick A, B or C. Or perhaps D, all of the above? Which is it Jasper? I really don't have time to deal with this right now, so pick one. There are no words that will change the fact that you were kissing someone else."

Suddenly Jasper rubbed his hands over his face and let out a bitter, maniacal laugh. "You 'don't have time to deal with this right now.' Of course you don't." He leaned back and looked up at me, his hair wild, his face drawn, dark circles under his eyes. Those eyes that once were bright and could send shimmers over my body with just one look, were now dead and defeated.

"Then I guess that's it. If you don't have the time to hear me out, to let me explain, if you don't have time to deal with us, and to fix us, then I guess that says it all doesn't it?"

"I think that kiss said it all." I turned, opened the door and walked out. I took two steps and then at the sound of the lock clicking behind me my knees nearly buckled. I bent over at the waist to take a deep breath against the sharp pain still stabbing me. After a few minutes I forced myself to straighten up. I forced my feet to move, one step in front of the other.

That night I moved into a hotel. Three days later I took off my ring. And three months later I packed my stuff up, prepared to move into a place of my own after the holidays.

• • • •

Waking up in the room of the Bed and Breakfast the next morning was a little surreal as I opened my eyes to see Jasper coming out of the bathroom in nothing but his boxers. Not moving, so that he didn't know I was awake yet, I watched him. He moved silently, unzipping his bag, digging around inside and pulling out clothes for the day. Physically he looked good, as always, not much about him had changed. Granted it had only been three months, but some days it felt like a lifetime since I had last seen him. My eyes traveled up his body, past his firm ass that I had gripped so many times in passion while he was inside me, up his strong, muscled back that I had stroked and kissed so many times. I knew every curve, every plane, every muscle of that back.

The back of his neck was hidden by the silky blond waves of his hair, hair that . . . that . . . I swallowed thickly, my reminiscence of Jasper's body interrupted by that image again of his blond hair pressed up against that wall, being touched by another man.

I sighed loudly and pulled back the covers. The sooner I got up and got dressed, the sooner I could be out of here and back on the road and away from Jasper.

Just as I was coming out of the bathroom, there was a knock on the door. It was Mrs. Cope, letting us know that the state police still had the roads closed and were forbidding all travel. In other words, we were still stuck here in this damn room.

"Fuck," I cursed under my breath. About two seconds later my phone rang, my parents calling to tell me basically the same thing Mrs. Cope just had. Jasper snuck out quietly while I chatted with them.

By the time I got downstairs for the breakfast Mrs. Cope had prepared, the only seat left at the table was, naturally, next to Jasper. I was seated on his left side and I couldn't help but occasionally get a glimpse at his hand. I nearly dropped my cup of coffee when I noticed his finger—he was still wearing our ring. It was surprising and I felt a twist in my chest. I didn't understand why he still wore it, but then again it wasn't my place to know or to care about such things anymore.

Neither one of us said a word to each other through the whole meal. Jasper was, of course, chatting with the other guests sitting near him. I kept to myself, speaking to the others only when required. Afterwards I went upstairs and hibernated in the room. I didn't want to be around Jasper or anyone at the moment.

As the day wore on, it soon became evident that none of us were going to be able to go anywhere today. We were all going to be here another night.

It was a bit later, after lunch, that Jasper finally came back up to the room. I said nothing to him, just continued to read my book. I might have reread a few sentences twice, having trouble giving the book my full attention. Dammit! I thought, Why does he still have this pull on me, why does my whole body respond when he is simply in the same room? He used to feel the same way about me but he seems so unaffected. Then again, he has someone else now so I guess he feels nothing for me anymore.

Jasper had a book with him as well, and he sat calmly on the sofa reading it. The room was silent except for the occasional turning of pages from one of us. So when the silence was shattered when he slammed his book shut, my head jerked up reflexively. He'd gotten up and was now standing by the window, peering outside.

Just as I turned back to my book, he spoke.

"The snow finally stopped."

I said nothing. A couple minutes later his phone chirped. He pulled it out of his pocket and glanced at it, typed quickly in response, and then pocketed it again.

"Love message from your new boyfriend?" My voice was snide, the comments out of my mouth before I could stop them.

Jasper bowed his head, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand. "It was from my sister, if you must know. I don't have a 'new boyfriend,' Edward."

A beat of silence passed and I figured all conversation was over again.

"I can't even believe you'd think I would do that." His voice was so low, I almost missed that he'd spoken at all.

"But you did, didn't you?" I was surprised to hear my voice break and I quickly cleared my throat to cover it.

He sighed exasperatedly and spun around finally to face me. His eyes were sad and his voice loud. "No, actually I didn't, but you've never wanted to hear that. You've never let me explain anything. You just . . . threw us away based on your assumptions."

What the hell? I threw us away? I scoffed loudly. "Just how did I throw anything away? I wasn't the one who cheated!"

"Yes, you did Edward." His voice was flat again. "It's just that your mistress was your job. You were always spending extra hours at the hospital, more than you needed to. If we did have plans you were always late or you cancelled them altogether. How many times did I ask you to come see me play at the bar? You always had something else to do. Even when we were together, it seemed like your mind was always somewhere else.

You've been leaving me behind for months."

His words hit me like a bowling ball thrown at my chest. My heart started palpitating wildly and my whole body flushed with chills.

I tried to take a moment to calm myself before I responded. "But Jasper . . . I . . . my job isn't nine-to-five. I can't just take off when the clock says it's time to leave if I've still got a patient on the table or if the ER gets a major trauma in."

Jasper sat down on a chair across from me. He scrubbed his hands over his face. "I know that, and I've tried to be understanding and accommodating. I expected there would be some times your job came first. But then it just kept happening more and more and . . . eventually I just began to feel like you didn't care whether I was there or not."

"And that was a reason to turn to someone else?"

Jasper shut his eyes. I saw his jaw muscle twitch and I knew he was trying not to explode. I was still processing all that he had said, but no matter how he felt, that was still no excuse for what he'd done and I just couldn't let it go.

"I. Didn't. Turn to someone else." Suddenly his eyes snapped back open and they locked with mine. They were bright but with an underlying sadness. "But there was a split second that I did think about it . . . and for that I was wrong, for that I accept complete responsibility for making a bad choice."

The pain in my chest twisted a little bit more and I felt the ache in my hands as they gripped my book so hard my knuckles were white.

Jasper bowed his head again. "He was an old friend of Jake's in town for a visit, I'd never met him before. At first he just seemed like a nice guy. He was at the bar for the show, and when we were done playing, he bought me a drink and was very complimentary about my playing. I enjoyed talking to him, it was nice to have someone interested in me and what I was doing."

His eyes met mine again briefly and I swallowed thickly.

"After we all went back to Jake's, he started coming on stronger—little touches on the arm, specific looks he threw me. And he had had several drinks. I got up to go to the bathroom and when I came out he was standing there in the hallway, waiting for me. He came closer and closer and . . . then his lips were on mine.

I'd only had a couple of drinks, I was not drunk. But I can't lie, for a moment it felt so good—to be kissed, to be wanted by someone—and for that brief second I almost gave in." He looked at me directly again. "I'm not proud of it, and I'm sorrier that you'll ever know."

I couldn't take anymore. "I don't think I . . . ."

"No Edward, not again. You do need to hear this. You need to hear the truth. I should have made you listen before but I . . . ." He sighed. "I was just too exhausted, too tired of trying with you by that point. And I figured if you couldn't be bothered to try by hearing me out, then why should I? I know it's too late to change anything now but I just need you to know."

He frowned. "Anyway, as he started to kiss me, and I realized that everything about it just felt wrong. I couldn't go through with it, I couldn't do that to us. So I immediately started to push him away and that . . . that's when I saw you.

If I could turn back time, re-do everything over, I would, I swear. I would have went straight home, I wouldn't have even gone to Jake's."

It was dead quiet in the room after that, the silence heavy with the remnants of his words, the silence heavy with my own silence. I had been hit with so much from him, I needed some time to think. It felt like his words were echoing in my brain, bouncing around the walls and I wasn't sure I was ready for them to settle. Because I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them when they did.

I don't know how long we sat there in the stillness. It was eventually interrupted by a knock on the door; Mrs. Cope announcing that dinner would be served in five minutes. Jasper got up brusquely and the door closed loudly behind him as he left. I followed a little more slowly.

At dinner we sat at opposite corners of the table, as far apart as we could possibly get. We still kept meeting each other's eyes, in glances as we talked to someone, or as we passed food dishes around. When Mrs. Cope announced that dessert would be cocoa and cookies served by the fire for a little Christmas Eve gathering, since none of us could be home with our friends and families, a cloud of déjà vu began creeping over me—too many similarities to another Christmas Eve spent at a resort many years ago.

Just like that night, I again watched Jasper interacting with the other guests so easily. He was more subdued than usual tonight though. Often I would glance up to see him standing apart in a corner of the room, staring at me with those intense blue eyes I fell in love with that Christmas Eve so long ago.

It was all too much, I needed to breathe. I snuck out of the party and headed back upstairs. I sat on the bed but too much anxiousness was running through me. I decided to shower and get ready for bed.

As the hot water poured over me, I began to hear Jasper's words again.

You just . . . threw us away.

You were always spending extra hours at the hospital.

Then I saw that image again of him kissing someone else.

When we were together, it seemed like your mind was always somewhere else.

My anger rose again.

You've been leaving me behind for months.

How dare he blame this on me.

I just began to feel like you didn't care whether I was there or not.

This was not my fault. This was not my fault, I would not let him put this on me.

I turned off the water quickly and leaned over in the shower with my hand on the wall to support me. I breathed deeply a few times to try and slow my racing heart.

Once I felt my nerves and my anger were settled enough, I toweled off and ran my hands through my wet hair a few times before I wrapped the towel around my waist and opened the door. I hadn't bothered bringing a change of clothes into the bathroom with me because I knew Jasper was still downstairs. Despite all of our years together, Jasper and I had been acting almost as virtual strangers the past night and day, modestly changing in the bathroom and always with the door closed.

When I opened the door, however, I was surprised to see Jasper on the other side. Knowing I was in the bathroom, he had assumed it was safe to change as well. His jeans were half unzipped and barely hanging on his hips. And he had his tank top raised halfway up his chest.

Our eyes both locked on each other's at the surprised intrusions, neither one of us exactly sure what to do. We stood frozen, staring at each other. Finally Jasper moved, lifting his tank top over his head and tossing it on the sofa bed.

All of the calm I had so carefully gathered in the bathroom left again and I swallowed hard as I gazed at his hard chest and down to the well-cut v between his hips. I could feel my cock respond immediately under my towel, whether I wanted it to or not. I never could control my reaction to Jasper's body, to his muscled lines, his strong yet lean physique. And worse yet, the memory of how every inch of him felt under my fingertips was burned into my brain, only exciting my body even more.

Jasper grabbed his pajama pants and toothbrush to head into the bathroom. I tried to move aside to give him enough room, but his shoulder still brushed against mine as he went past. The heat that burned my arm even from such a small connection with him, made me shiver and I closed my eyes as my cock twitched violently.

I heard something clatter to the floor just as I felt another rush of air. I opened my eyes to find Jasper back, in front of me, eyes blazing. He gripped my face in both of his hands and my stomach flip-flopped as I realized what he was about to do. Quickly I turned my face away, missing his lips as they met air instead. I couldn't handle the thought of his lips on mine, knowing they had touched another's.

His jaw clenched and he turned my face forward again, rougher this time. Again I moved. We went through this dance two more times, our faces like the wrong ends of two magnets, automatically repelling each other.

We were both breathing heavily, our chest nearly touching. Finally I felt his hold loosen and as I stared into his eyes, I saw the fire start to dim. Inexplicably I felt my hands reaching out, grasping his belt loops and pulling him to me. As I felt his whole chest resting against mine, naked skin on naked skin, I couldn't help myself. I groaned softly as my eyes closed and my head banged back against the wall.

Dear God, he felt so good . . . it had been so long, so long since I felt him this way, since anyone—since he—had touched me this way.

I could feel our hearts hammering against each other, I could feel his hips pushing insistently against mine, he clearly just as hard and straining as I was.

The small motion of pulling him to me was just enough encouragement for Jasper, and suddenly he was attacking again. He sucked and nipped along my jaw and down my throat in a frenzy, causing me to arch my neck forward even more. I felt his tongue swirl around my adam's apple just before his lips latched on, sucking so hard I was sure he'd leave a mark. His hands gripped tightly at my waist before quickly moving upward, greedily tracing every inch of my abs and my chest, before reaching my nipples. He began rubbing his whole palms roughly over them, teasing them, sending sharp electrical shocks throughout my body.

I felt my back slam hard into the wall behind me and I let out an 'umph' of both pain and pleasure. We were both panting heavily, the sound of our breathing amplified in the silent room.

My fingers were still entwined in his belt loops and I couldn't take anymore, I had to touch him. I moved one hand up his chest while my other moved south. His jeans were still undone, and hanging low, leaving easy access for my hand. Not surprised to find him going commando, I ran my fingers along his smooth, hard, length, causing his hands on my body to slow. I wrapped my hand around him and gripped forcefully, provoking his whole body to spasm. He pressed even tighter to me, lowering his head to my shoulder and letting out a groan and a hoarse 'Fuck.'"

His hands left my body completely as he instead planted one of them on each side of the wall beside me, bracing himself as he bucked his hips violently into my hand. I jerked my hand up and down his cock quickly, tugging harshly. I moved lower and pulled hard on his balls. Jasper was biting his lip hard between loud moans and curse words. It was a fine line between pleasure and pain that I was inflicting on him and yet he was reveling in every moment of it. Faster and harder my hand punished him, until finally something snapped and the rational part of my brain came back, calming my movements before I physically hurt him. In fact my hand stopped completely, mid-stroke as I shockingly realized what I was doing. Taking my anger out through physical pain was not something I did.

But before I could fully comprehend what I was doing, Jasper was gripping my shoulders, shoving me down onto the bed. He ripped my towel away and the next thing I knew he forced my legs apart and had wrapped his lips around my cock, sucking and licking and taking me in deeper and deeper with every pass. I let out a loud groan and gripped the bed sheets tightly with both hands. My hips were moving involuntarily and I knew I was shoving my dick down his throat, but I was no longer in any kind of rational control. My brain shut down and my body took over, all I wanted was to feel—to feel the heat coursing through my body, to feel his tongue on me, to feel his skin on mine, to feel him inside me. Oh God, I needed him so desperately at that moment. There was nothing else, no problems, just he and I.

As if he had the same thoughts, he let go of my cock and moved a finger lower to trace and tease my entrance, when suddenly he stopped, breathing heavily.

"Shit," he whispered frustratingly.

I leaned over the side of the bed immediately and started scrambling for my duffel bag; I knew it hadn't been used since the last weekend trip we'd taken right before I started my residency. Sure enough the side pocket still had what we were looking for. I grabbed the bottle and the condom and flung them down toward the end of the bed. Jasper immediately tore off his jeans and clicked open the bottle. His hands were shaking and I soon felt the cold wetness on his fingers stretching me. He wasn't going slow, shoving two and three fingers in sooner than he should. It had been a while for me but I accepted the slight pain, needing this as much as he did.

Soon I heard the rip of the packet and then Jasper shoved my knees up to my chest. He entered me, slowly at first then more quickly as my body accepted him. When he was all the way in I let loose with a loud "Fuck." He stopped, assuming I was in pain, but I was more overwhelmed with the feeling of him hot and throbbing, inside me. Oh God, the sensation was almost too much to bear. As he hovered over me I thrust my hips up to urge him forward and clawed at his back. Jasper immediately pulled out and then slammed back into me, continuing at a fast and frenzied pace.

We had no words, we didn't speak each other's names, there was only the sound of our slick skin meeting, the sounds of our desperate pants and cries and moans surrounding us.

I knew we were both so hard, so on edge, that neither of us would last long. Every thrust from Jasper touched me so deep I was shaking and I had no control. I came hard, all over my chest and stomach, without even a hand on my cock. My clenching spasms around Jasper's cock sent him flying, jerking shakily one last time as he let go with a string of expletives. His arms collapsed, and his head fell to my chest, for a brief moment displaying the emotions still there between us. No matter how we seemed to have grown apart, I realized there were still strong feelings coursing between us.

All too soon Jasper moved out of me, leaning over to dispose of the condom and then collapsing beside me on the bed. We were both spent, exhausted physically, and I wouldn't be so callous as to make him move. Besides he was soon fast asleep, as he always was after a vigorous lovemaking.

Once my emotions had settled down, however, I was the complete opposite on this particular night. I couldn't sleep. There was too much occupying my brain, too much to mull over. Again I kept coming back to our earlier conversation, and all that Jasper had said. And then I would look over at his sleeping figure in the darkness, and remember all of the rest of the times we shared a bed—the first night we were together (after we'd finally moved from the floor), the night we came back to college from Christmas break our senior year when we were finally able to celebrate our engagement. And of course our wedding night, and honeymoon and all the nights since. How had it all ended like this, how had we drifted so far apart?

Apparently I must have finally fallen asleep at some point in the night, because the next thing I knew I was opening my eyes to a room that was no longer dark. I looked over to see Jasper leaning on the wall, looking out the window, a cup of coffee in his hand. Staying awake until the wee hours must have put me out like a light because I hadn't even felt him get out of bed. He was dressed, wearing his tank top and pajama pants.

He must have heard me move, as he spoke up quietly.

"The roads are clear and open now. You're free to finally leave now. Merry Christmas." His voice had a cold, flat tone to it.

You're free to finally leave now.

The pain in my chest appeared again at his words, but it was hollow and dull this time. It was no longer the sharp pain of anger and hurt, now it was the pain of sadness and loss. Somewhere in the night the anger had dissipated and been replaced with resignation of the truth.

I realized, finally, that I had taken him for granted. All those late nights at the hospital I never once gave a second thought to how it was affecting him. I knew he would be there when I got home, that was what the ring on our fingers meant right? I had let myself get caught up in my studies, in my career, assuming I didn't have to think about Jasper or our relationship. That piece of the puzzle of my life was already in place.

With sadness I realized he was right, he'd been right all along. I was just as responsible for tearing us apart as he was, maybe more so. He tried to warn me when I graduated med school. I knew something was off and I ignored it, I didn't want to deal with it.

It didn't matter who did what. We both were wrong in the things we did and the things we said. And we were both going to be the ones who lost, in the end.

Then again, it didn't have to be that way . . . if it wasn't too late.

I threw back the covers, shivering in the coolness of the room temperature. Jasper never moved at the sound of me rustling around and throwing on my boxers as I crossed the room, closing the cold space between us.

I stood in front of him, as close as possible without touching. He forced himself to look at me. His eyes were bleak and filled with sad defeat, dark circles under them despite the night of sleep he'd gotten.

I reached over and touched his face gently, my thumbs tracing the circles and lines under his eyes, and then, as I moved closer still, I ran them back and forth over his lips. I needed to ask forgiveness. I needed to tell him I was wrong and that I finally understood. I needed to tell him I still wanted him, I needed to know that it wasn't too late. But I was afraid to waste time with the words; I had already wasted too much time. I needed to tell him everything now.

I felt his breathing pick up as I leaned forward.

I placed my lips on his.

And then I kissed him.

For a split second I felt nothing. His lips were cool and unmoving.

It was too late. But I couldn't give up; I wouldn't give up this time.

I swallowed hard and moved my lips again, with more force this time. Pulling on his bottom lip, caressing it with mine.

And then . . . I felt it.

His hand slipped gently around my back, and with slight pressure, his lips began to move with mine.

We started again, with a kiss.