We Heart It O/S Contest from the TwilightFic Zone Blog. It didn't win, but you can go here to check out the other entries: http:/www (dot) fanfiction (dot) net/u/2718251
And thank you to my beta Dellaterra (who also entered the contest as well.)
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
"I swear, if I have to move back home, I'll slit my wrists."
"Alice, that statement concerns me. But for the time being, we'll set it aside. It sounds like a euphemism, but I have to take self-harm very seriously." Suzy or Marcy or something ending in a y tapped her pencil on the notebook and gave me her most practiced sincere look.
I rolled my eyes at this new psychologist. I couldn't keep track of all of them. What's-her-name was number four or five this year. Every new school had one. And I was sent to them all.
"Let's talk about home for a minute. When was the last time you saw your mother?"
They were always so calm to the point of condescension. Did they learn that insipid voice in school too?
"I don't know. Three, four months ago," I sighed, bored with the conversation. "She looked pretty clean, but she does that occasionally. I think my grandparents threaten to cut her off when she gets too bad."
I learned ages ago that the quicker I talked about this shit, the quicker I could get the fuck out. These rooms were all the same with the old, musty pillows and a hotel-looking pink lamp meant to add "soothing lighting" over the harsh fluorescents.
"Well, Alice, I see from your records that you've been in quite a few schools over the past three years. That sounds like it would be pretty tough." Again, with the sycophantic voice.
"It is what it is." I shrugged my shoulders but caught myself before I rolled my eyes again. "You'll also see from my records that I do just fine in school. Look, Mary is it?"
"Uh, Shelly, actually." She was momentarily stunned and looked potentially nervous at what my next words might be.
"Right, Shelly. I knew it had a y. Anyway, I've done this all before. Many times. Again, check the records. It's fine. I'm fine. My mother is a mess, and the state took me away. I have no desire to find another 'permanent' family, hence my moving a lot. I just have to get through this year, turn 18, and I'm done with the system." I leaned forward as if letting her in on a secret. "I'm not trying to be difficult. Really. But I don't need help. This," I motioned between the two of us, "is lovely but I'd honestly rather get back to class than sit and talk about my feelings. All of which I'm fine with."
I sat back and glanced at the clock. I knew I would miss the rest of this period, but if I could leave now, I could at least get today's work I missed.
Shelly sighed deeply as she set her pencil and notepad on the small table. "That's understandable. I'm here though. And you can make an appointment with me anytime you need to talk. It does seem that you've kept up with all your work despite being moved around to different schools, and I see no reports of problem behavior."
With that I stood up and grabbed my bag. I might have been damn near homeless, but I still had manners. I reached out to shake her hand and tell her thanks, but she cut me off before the words left my mouth.
"But Alice," again with the name, "I really think you could benefit from some counseling. Everyone could. You're clearly very bright, and I would hate to see your… unfortunate circumstances… affect you negatively in the future because you didn't fully deal with them."
I smiled a tight-lipped smile and finished my thank you. I almost threw in "I'll think about it" but it didn't seem necessary as her parting words had dropped all the pretension of her training. She knew I wouldn't come back.
As I walked out of her office, the first bell was ringing for seventh period. Ah, sociology. Hopefully, we would just watch some movie. Mrs. Goff was all about "alternative" teaching methods. I was so busy calculating whether I had enough time to run to my missed class that I almost missed the boy sitting outside of the school counselor's office. His hair was wavy and hung to his chin obscuring most of his face. With his toes pointed inward and his arms wrapped around his body, he nearly folded in on himself, which I suppose was his intention.
As I glanced in his direction, he lifted his head slightly to shake his hair out of his face. Despite my desperation to get away from Mrs. Cope's office, I couldn't help but focus on his sharp cheekbones and strong jaw line. He had such pretty, deep eyes that I found myself staring. When he looked in my direction I couldn't look away. But he didn't look at me. He didn't even look past me. He looked right through me. I normally didn't try to make friends, let alone get to know anyone, but for some reason, I wanted to know this boy with shaggy hair and a goatee. And for the first time in years, I suddenly felt very sad and alone in this world.
I didn't want to think of the boy I had seen, but he was that perfect combination of hot, dirty, and totally aloof. He would be a horrible distraction, or a really good one. But based on the fact that he didn't even see me, I doubted I would have to worry too much.
I had only been at this new school for about a week. During that time I kept my head down and my nose in a book. I don't think I had seen half of the kids in my classes. For all I knew, this kid could have been in one of them, but I was pretty sure I would have noticed him. He had that "bad boy" draw to him like James Dean that I'm sure made all the girls take notice.
Imagine my surprise when I walked into my last class of the day. Two senior girls were sitting on one of the couches whispering to each other. Though they tried to make their conversation appear exclusive, they were clearly loud enough for anyone in a ten-foot radius to hear.
"I hear he's been in juvie. He was in my math class and I think he was stoned. He looked totally out of it. Freak."
"And what's with that poser Jared Leto grunge look?"
"Right? Like, he probably gets high and pretends to play the guitar or something."
The two squealed over their witty observations and giggled with their heads together. I wasn't sure who Jared Leto was, but I was pretty sure they were talking about the boy I had just seen in the office.
Poser? Freak? He was gorgeous. And without having had an actual conversation with him I could pretend he was deep and brooding. Maybe he did play guitar and wrote his own lyrics, or poetry.
For the first time, I found myself paying a lot of attention to the other students around me. I usually avoided that since I wasn't around long enough for it to even matter. Carlisle and Esme seemed nice enough to stay with for the rest of the school year, but I definitely wouldn't be staying in this tiny town of Forks after graduation. So why I was observing these kids and trying to figure them out now was beyond me.
I took my usual seat and Mike walked in. He had introduced himself the first day like some one-man welcoming committee. I tried to be polite enough, but I had no intention of encouraging him. Apparently that didn't earn me any friends. While the girls were jealous of his attention toward me in the first place, they seemed to be just as offended that I didn't fall all over myself to get to know the blond Mr. Popular.
It occurred to me that Angela, Bree, and the rest of them in this small-minded town wouldn't see my dark horse as such; they would only see the surface. And around here, Mike's quintessential looks would be considered favorable. It almost made me sad for my guitar-playing, poetry-writing, tortured-soul boy. This little place would never give him what he deserved, what he needed. It was beyond me why I thought I could provide it for him. I could barely understand my desperate need to be the one to provide whatever "it" was for him.
Over the course of the next few weeks I learned that my pensive loner's name was Jasper Hale. His family had just moved here and he had two brothers and a sister. They were all clearly related, with the exception of Jasper. His sister Rosalie was beautiful and expertly put together on a daily basis. She attracted the attention of both boys and girls of all classes. She smiled brightly to everyone and tossed about her smooth blonde hair, but it was clear she was better than all of them, and they knew it. Emmett was a year younger than Rosalie and, like Mike, he fit right into the football crowd. He had commercial good looks and a simple charm that easily swayed the masses, despite his age. Edward was the youngest of the four. He was tall for a freshman but still had a baby face that gave away his age. Like his siblings, he was well dressed and seemed comfortable enough, considering they were new to the school that everyone else had attended since before kindergarten. Edward was a touch more aloof, like Rosalie, and a bit of a loner, closer to Jasper, but he still found easy popularity among his classmates. It was really only Jasper who didn't seem to belong to this family.
Second quarter began with several new electives. I chose a basic art class, figuring it would help to round out my academics for college. Before I had come here, the only thing on my mind was getting through school and into college. DCF would pay for college for kids who stayed in foster care until 18, but only a state school. Not that they weren't wonderful and all, but I had no plans to stick around Washington. And since I was neither athletic nor very creative, straight academics would have to be my path.
When I was living with my mother, I was the only one who pushed myself to succeed. She was usually too blissed out on painkillers and vodka to even notice what month it was, let alone keep up with my school work. It probably wouldn't have been so bad if she had stuck with that combination. But at some point she was introduced to heroin, which is a lovely little drug. I believe it was around this time that my father left. It's hard to remember exactly because he was rarely around anyway. I'm sure he knew that I existed because I continued to receive birthday and Christmas gifts from him for a while. Sadly, they didn't last long as my mother was quick to pawn them for more drugs.
I thought I was doing a fairly good job of keeping up appearances, with the exception of my weight loss. Apparently someone noticed that things were off though. I have a suspicion it was the older lady at the pawnshop. I imagine she was no stranger to the type of clientele that sold their possessions (and most likely, others') but I think she became concerned when I got out of the car one day to see what was taking so long. Why she cared, I'll never know. I can't say if it was for the better. As I had said to Shelly and every other counselor who asked, it is what it is.
So far though, this place had been the best. Not the town; that sucked. There was nothing around but a lame little townie diner and the woods where the kids partied and made out. Even though Carlisle and Esme were cool, they were a little overbearing sometimes. Apparently they couldn't have their own kids, so they took in foster kids from time to time. It was really too bad that Esme never had babies. She would have been really good at it too. Definitely one of those motherly types- loving, sweet, and strict. I didn't mind her strict demeanor regarding cleanliness and curfews, seeing as I didn't do anything. I didn't go out, I didn't have friends, and I didn't even have an attitude, for the most part.
It turned out that Jasper was in my art class. I stared at him every day. Some days he was there, some days he wasn't. I liked it best when he came in early. Then I could arrange myself around him. On those days his eyes were deep and clear, his skin was smooth, and his hair was soft and blond. He looked at me like he really saw me. On the days when he came late his eyes were vacant, his hair was greasy, and his face was pale. I still loved to stare at him.
We never spoke that whole time. But I had memorized his jaw line, the shape of his eyebrows, the slope of his philtrum as it curved into his pink upper lip. I thought about running my finger over the space and feeling the little dip. Sometimes he had hair there, but mostly it was clean. He wore oversized black hoodies and pulled the hood around his neck. He hooked his thumbs into holes in the sleeves. If they weren't already there, he would cut them. He wore skinny leg jeans and big chunky DC's. He carried his skateboard to class, but never a bag. Occasionally he brought a sketchpad and pencil but he often left it in class. I never saw him carry books.
The semester was passing far too quickly, and soon our shared time would be over. I was in advanced classes so electives were my only hope. Christmas break was coming up and I hated that I wouldn't get to stare at that face for at least two weeks straight. I had never generally stayed somewhere long enough to encounter two holidays. At many of the foster homes I lived in I stayed at the house while the family went to relatives if it was Easter or something. I had little interest in joining anyone. I wasn't trouble; I just wasn't social.
The Cullens seemed to recognize that, and we had a very small Thanksgiving dinner. Some relatives had dropped by for pie later on, but I was allowed to hide out in my room by then. Apparently, however, Christmas was to be a big affair. Especially since I was still around.
I walked around the back of the three-story Victorian house. The walk had been shoveled and I preferred to enter through the kitchen. It felt a bit cozier than the sterile, grand foyer. Although the kitchen was pretty sterile too, Esme's presence softened everything.
"Alice dear, you're home!" She always sounded surprised, despite the fact that I walked into the house at 3:15 every day. "I'm making cookies. The sugar cookies are over there," she said, pointing to the island, "and they're cool enough to decorate."
Technically, I could have declined, though it wasn't really an invitation. I set my backpack down to the right of the door and hung my jacket in the mudroom. Although she never asked, I always took my shoes off too. It just seemed like that kind of house.
I had now been here since the middle of September. For some reason I kept getting moved further and further from Seattle. I only had to until March. I would no longer be a ward of the state after eighteen so I was determined to stay put. The Cullens made that fairly easy. It's not that I had been kicked out of other places, but many families only fostered a child, especially a teenager, for a short time. Most places weren't bad. It wasn't exactly home, but I wasn't abused or starved or put to work. Except for the one place where the lady had six children under the age of ten. I was expected to be her live-in nanny, without pay. That didn't fly for more than a week. But because I was female and quiet and very little trouble, I was easily placed. I preferred it to being at the state facilities which were more like prisons sometimes.
I climbed up on a stool and Esme danced over from the oven. "There's red and green frosting, and sprinkles, and those little silver balls, though I don't think you're supposed to eat them," she said more to herself. "But you're creative, just do Christmassy things."
She breezed back to the other end of the kitchen just as she had come. "Alice dear, for Christmas we'll be having a party. It's a fairly big event, lots of people from the hospital and whatnot. I thought we could go shopping this weekend for a dress. Did you have any other plans?"
"Um, no?" First of all, I never had plans. That alone threw me off. But shopping? I wasn't stupid, I knew she didn't expect me to buy it. I had no money. If I was going to attend this party, I would need something, but letting her buy it for me? That was too much. I knew the state sent the Cullens money for fostering me, but that money was for food and basic needs. I wasn't proud of it, but I tried not to think too much on it.
"Esme, I don't think, um, I, look…" How do I say this without sounding ungrateful? "I'm just gonna say it, this is kind of awkward. I haven't done a real 'holiday thing' for a while. I generally, just… This isn't coming out right."
God! I'd never had to do this with any other family. And if I was at a residence during the holiday, the workers tried to drag you out of your room, but it wasn't mandatory.
"It's fine." Esme interrupted my rambling, and I was so thankful I could stop embarrassing myself. I hadn't had a mother in a while, and I didn't realize that I was missing one. "Alice, it would make Carlisle and me very happy to not only spend Christmas with you, but to be able to introduce you to all our friends. We really want you to think of this as your home. I know I speak for Carlisle when I say that we want you to stay as long as you want. It's been so nice to have some life in the house. With Carlisle working such odd hours I'm often alone. So, thank you."
I knew this trick. They reveal something in hopes that you will open up too. I didn't necessarily think Esme had it in her to be that deceptive, but it still felt weird. I didn't open up to kids my own age, and I was pretty sure my social worker had just filled in the blanks with speculation.
"Um, right. Thanks. So, uh, this weekend is fine. Or whatever works for you. I don't have plans." So I didn't open up. It wasn't exactly painful to say thanks and agree to her shopping trip though. Saying yes seemed to make her happy. For some reason that felt important.
I was still quiet and shy during our trip to the mall. I figured I would just let Esme pick out whatever she wanted to get me and smile about it. After all, she was the one paying for all this. Who was I to argue?
As we walked around, I noticed all the kids hanging out. Apparently Port Angeles was the place to be if one wasn't staying in Forks. The mall here seemed pretty decent, but I was less interested in the stores and more interested in who might be in them. It had been two days since Christmas break began and I hadn't seen Jasper since then. I hadn't even considered that I would see him, but now that we were surrounded by kids, I had a glimmer of hope.
The day went by quickly. Esme brought me into store after store. There were a few shops that I would have felt far more comfortable in, but when I tried to alert Esme, the look on her face told me that she wouldn't dare set foot into those cheap places. Despite my initial reluctance, I ended up having a good time. Esme was an expert when it came to color and style, determining what would look best with my coloring and petite stature.
It was like playing dress-up with princess clothes. I was mortified the first time I realized I had been twirling around in the dresses as if I were Ginger Rogers. My foster mother endeared herself to me even more when she simply clapped and told me how perfect I looked. My own mother had never been much for compliments. It's hard to compliment or even curse someone when you don't realize they exist.
We decided on a simple white, shimmery thing. I felt a bit old for the purity of the fabric and the glittery bits, but Esme simply tossed her wavy hair over her shoulder and shushed me. She assured me it was perfect for the party and even more so, perfect for me. I felt lovely, and almost loved.
While I thoroughly enjoyed my day, I still kept a sharp eye out for the Hales. Any of them might mean that Jasper was nearby. I knew I was behaving like a silly adolescent with her first crush, but in reality, I was nearly an adult with her first crush. There was simply something about that boy that got me giggly and blushing and thinking of sharing things with him that I had never said out loud.
Rosalie looked like a shopper. I doubted Jasper would be one to go shopping, but maybe he was just one of those kids who hung out at the mall. Maybe he had that kind of family where they did everything together and he was just dragged along.
I never went out in Forks on my own, but perhaps this holiday break was a good time to start. Otherwise I might never see him again.
I was disappointed to not have seen Jasper, but I suppose I didn't really expect him to be at the mall anyway. I thought of my other plan regarding seeing and being seen in Forks. I wasn't quite sure what the hell I would do, but there had to be a library or something. Really? The library? I'm sure Jasper would be even less likely to be seen there than at the mall. I was beginning to think the diner was my only hope.
"Alice?" Esme pulled me out of my reverie.
"Um, call me Ali, please."
"Ok, Ali." I could tell she was testing out my preferred nickname by the whisper and shy smile. "They've opened a little coffee shop down the way," she said, pointing to where we were heading, "and there's tea there too. Some exotic kinds as well. Would you have any interest in going?"
Not that I minded at all, but it appeared that Esme already had her heart set on it. Again, I couldn't disappoint her. "Of course Esme. Thank you. I thought the only place around here was that crappy little diner." I turned and looked toward the shops on Main Street. Suddenly, it occurred to me what I had just said. "Oh!" I gasped, my eyes wide, and my hand shot up to cover my gaping mouth. "Esme, I'm sorry. I didn't… I mean… it sounded as if I were…" I was so embarrassed that I had essentially just insulted her town. At this point I decided silence was best. I folded my hands on my lap and looked down.
"Don't be silly, Ali. Besides, I agree. It is a little townie diner." She smiled and winked at me. "You probably think I grew up here. Neither Carlisle nor I was born here. We're from the East Coast and when the hospital position came up, I assumed Seattle at the very least. I probably should have paid a bit more attention and done some research rather than just listen to Carlisle. I assumed Forks was a smidge closer to Seattle than it really is. It's part of the reason I enjoy throwing parties. We aren't exactly socialites or anything, but I do enjoy getting out. And I agree, the diner is not quite my taste. So that's why I thought we could try this place out." She had already pulled over and put her Mercedes SUV in park.
I got out of the car and looked up at the little shop. I half expected to see lace curtains and doilies with cucumber sandwiches and little old ladies. Walking in though, I was overwhelmed with a sudden giddiness. It was perfect! Absolutely perfect! It wasn't commercial like Starbucks, nor was it too trendy, or trying to be overly hip and attract the "young crowd." It was dim with subtle, eclectic lighting fixtures throughout. There was a long bar area with a glass case behind it filled with unique pastries that were clearly hand made. The ceilings were high and it appeared that there was a loft somewhere, though I couldn't quite see where the curved iron staircase led. The building was old, and the owner had kept the original woodwork, including a large fireplace with an ornate mantel. The furniture was a hodgepodge of couches, large floor pillows and plush chairs perfect for two to snuggle in. I so wanted to curl up in one of those chairs with Jasper and read one of the worn-looking books off their distressed bookshelves.
I could picture the two of us here, laughing, talking. Me sipping Monkey-Picked Ti Kuan Yin Oolong Tea (whatever the hell that was), or maybe just some Jasmine Dragon Tears (that sounded a little less primate involved); he would drink coffee. Something strong, maybe black, and I would read books to him while he read his own poetry to me. We'd discuss Middle Eastern politics and how it might affect our trip to Europe. Others would talk of marriage but not us. We would know that we didn't need it. Our love would be strong, but we would know that we couldn't have that kind of restriction. In fact, while on our trip to Europe, I might take a lover. And perhaps Jasper would join us, or maybe not. Either way, he wouldn't mind because our connection would be deeper than what most could understand.
Esme got one of the fancy fruit teas, and I stuck with a French vanilla coffee. Maybe I would be more daring if I came here with Jasper. We sat in a cozy little corner and watched as the snow began to fall. It was pretty until the plows came by and muddied it up. I figured I'd enjoy it while I could. The easy silence turned awkward as the minutes passed.
"So Alice, you've been with us for a while now. How are you enjoying things?" Esme looked at me directly. Out of respect I couldn't turn away, but all I wanted to do was study the cracks in the old mug I had.
"Um, it's cool. I mean, I like it fine. Everyone's been very," I paused trying to think of what to tell Esme, "welcoming." I imagine that in high school Esme was very popular. I think I could have been if I tried. Not popular really, but I definitely think I could have had friends. There were usually girls who at least smiled at me when I first started a new school. I smiled back, but getting to know people took work, and I was too busy for that. Besides, by the time I was a teenager, I had learned to protect myself by just staying quiet. When I first entered the system I tried, but everyone generally looked out for number one: themselves.
Esme raised her eyebrows at me and let me know she wasn't stupid, despite her beauty. "So, have you at least made any friends? I noticed you don't usually go out." She was direct if nothing else.
"I'm usually pretty busy with school work and stuff. I'm not really one for parties or anything and it seems that's kind of what the kids do around here. Without getting into things too much, uh, I uh, have no interest in drugs or alcohol or anything and I'm kinda sure that's what goes on in the woods."
I was so uncomfortable with this conversation. As I had said to the last counselor, I don't want to talk about this. Anytime I had to defend why I wasn't social, why I wasn't a "normal" kid made me think of my mom and how she had fucked me up. I hated talking about my mom. I hated seeing her. I hated what her addictions had done to her and I was afraid that if I ever opened my mouth about any of this the word vomit would leave me dry heaving on a dirty bathroom floor.
"I understand." She patted my hand and then left it there, lingering. I think it was supposed to be reassuring but the contact was weird; just another one of those things. I pulled my hand back and cupped my mug. What did she want me to say? I wished the swirls in my coffee had the answers, like tea leaves.
"So, when is the party?" I had to make small talk. I could do this.
Esme only looked flustered for a second then her cool demeanor took over. She was silk and cashmere and pearls and cool water. Everything looked so effortless for her. She even wore her discomfort well.
"Christmas Eve. There will be a crew there tomorrow and Tuesday setting up the lights, tables, and decorations. The caterers will be in Wednesday morning, and the guests usually start to arrive around six. You'll do great." I saw her hand twitch and knew she wanted to reach for me. Her phone began to beep alerting her to a phone call.
"I'm sorry Alice dear, it's Carlisle. Do you mind?" Ever the epitome of manners.
I shook my head and nodded, indicating that she should answer it. She stood up and walked toward the back of the cafe. I took this as my opportunity to gather my shit up and let her know we could leave. This was lovely and all, but it was beginning to feel like a bit much. I needed some space and solitude. I wasn't quite sure what I was feeling, but it hurt. I jingled Esme's keys and pointed out the window. I had to get out of here.
As soon as she acknowledged me, I grabbed all of our belongings, leaving Esme's coat, and headed outside. The crisp air let me breath momentarily. I filled my lungs and shut my eyes.
The precious breath I had taken was now causing a dry drowning in the middle of Main Street. I opened my eyes, flustered, unsure, and off balance. Stumbling a bit, I used the wall to brace myself.
My name. He knew my name. He knew my name and he was using it to address me. Talk you fool!
"Uh, yeah, just... hi." I sounded like an imbecile. If I could just take one more deep breath maybe I could make it through this. His eyes were so clear. This close up I could see the color, but still couldn't name it; grey, blue, green I was staring. I couldn't make myself stop.
"Jasper. Hi. It's um, pretty warm in there so I just needed some air. Are you going in?"
"I was. Are you leaving?" He was smirking. His hair fell down over his left eye. He looked up at me again and tucked it behind his ear.
"Yeah. I was here with um, Esme Cullen, my foster mom."
"Cool. Cullen, huh? So you live there, I mean, with them?"
"Since September." This was not the conversation I had planned in my head. I didn't want to talk about my foster parents. About the fact that I lived with other people because my own parents were shit. At least not here, outside of a coffee shop in the cold. This was awful.
"I guess they're doing this big Christmas party. My parents were invited. Will you be there?" He was looking everywhere but at me. He was making polite conversation. Where the fuck was Esme?
"I just went shopping with her. I guess it's supposed to be a pretty big deal, you know, ball gowns and tuxedos. So, will you be there?" The only way my behavior could have been more childish and cliché is if I was twirling my hair and toeing the ground.
"Yeah, my parents will probably drag me along." He hooked his thumbs in his back pockets looking bored.
"Oh." I played with the keys again to give my hands something to do. This boy was unwinding me slowly with nothing more than a nod of his head and a slow smile. I just wish that any of it was for me.
"I am so very sorry, Alice!" Esme blessedly stepped out of the cafe. I was dying, drowning, choking on my own inadequacies, and Jasper was witnessing it all. "It's just that Carlisle is going to have to work a double, so this was his only chance to talk." She was waving her hands frantically in apology. Surprisingly, she noticed that my silence was more awkward than usual. She turned and saw the boy standing behind her.
"Hello, I'm Esme Cullen." She lifted her right hand to Jasper. He shrugged slightly as he pulled his hand from his back pocket. He took hers and gently shook it, then tucked it back into his coat and used the pockets to wrap it around himself tighter. There went my chance for contact.
"Jasper. Jasper Hale." He looked incredibly uncomfortable and I watched his pretty eyes dart around for anything to save him. I wanted it to be me. But again, I couldn't even save myself.
"Oh!" Esme's face lit up with recognition. "Jasper! How lovely to meet you. Your mother works with my husband, Carlisle Cullen. I hope you'll be joining them at our party this week?"
And there it was. Like her offer for me to decorate cookies, it was less a question, more like an expectation. But I was secretly thrilled that she had asked. I would never have had the courage to.
He looked around for something, anything to save him, but I couldn't do it. I was practically bouncing on my toes, like a little girl getting a present, waiting for his answer. I suddenly had no idea who I was. Gone was the girl who only cared about her school work and staying invisible. I wanted his answer, and his hands on me, and my hands in his hair, and meadows with sunshine and flowers, and his heart, and I desperately wanted to give him mine.
But for now, I would settle for a yes. I got so much more than that though. He smiled slowly as a dimple emerged and his pretty eyes became even more inviting. I noticed his eyes sparkle because for the first time, he looked right at me. It was only for a split second, but I caught it. He shifted his focus back to Esme and shook his head.
"Yes, I suppose they'll bring me and my siblings. I'm actually waiting to meet my brother here. Edward is taking piano lessons around here." He turned his head to glance at the buildings around us.
I followed suit, though I had no idea what I was looking for. Part of me was looking for an out. I couldn't very well squeal like a five year old in front of him and I could hardly contain the goofy smile that had plastered itself to my face. It felt like we had been standing out there in the freezing cold for hours, or maybe it had only been minutes. If Esme was ever a teenaged girl, she had to see what was going on. I was telepathically begging her to get me out while the getting was good. He said yes, he had smiled at me; I hadn't made a total fool of myself. Now Esme! Now!
And, like an angel sent to save me from myself, she tossed her hair, pulled her gloves out of her pocket and turned to Jasper. "Jasper, I'm so glad to have met you. I can't wait to meet the rest of your family soon. Alice, are you ready?"
"Yes. Thank you. Bye Jasper. See you soon." It was the most I could get out without a face-splitting smile utterly embarrassing me.
I imagined that a real mother, at least mine, would have thrilled to call me out on my obvious crush. But Esme said nothing. She smiled as we got back into the car and commented about how perfect the shoes were that we had chosen. I nodded in agreement, but I couldn't think of the shoes or the dress or the upcoming party; all I could think of were his eyes and his dimple and the fact that he looked right at me.
I hadn't previously cared much about the party. In fact, I was practically dreading it. I still wasn't exactly thrilled about having to be around so many new people, but the prospect of seeing Jasper in a social setting made my body tingle and my brain turn fuzzy. I had no idea of Jasper's intentions toward me. He probably didn't have any, but I couldn't help imagining it. I'm almost positive that he was only being polite by engaging me in conversation at the cafe the other day. If I hadn't been walking out, and looking incredibly stupid, as he was walking in, I'm sure I wouldn't have spoken to him. I doubt he would have come up to the table and said hello if I were still inside. Unless, course, I had had a panic attack right there at the sight of him and passed out on the floor. Maybe then he would have glanced in my direction but other than that, he probably would have ignored me, much as he did in class every day.
All of the signs of Jasper's disinterest didn't give me pause as much as I figured they would. I was a woman possessed. Or obsessed. It was hard to tell. I didn't even give much thought or attention to people who did show interest in me. I had no clue where this sudden desperate need to connect came from. I tried to tell myself it was only natural that I finally found someone I wanted to get to know, but I knew it was more than that. It was something deeper, more real, more perfect than any other two people had experienced. If I were a poet or a painter, he would be my muse.
I wanted to be just as perfect for him. I was so very thankful that Esme had taken me shopping and insisted I get my nails and toes done the day before the party. As the day of reckoning loomed on the horizon, I was filled with vomiting butterflies. I would have preferred them to be having a party, but apparently they were just as nervous as I was.
The morning of the party, the caterers began to set up the hot and cold stations that would display concoctions I had never even heard of. A large bar was designed to fill a corner of the sitting room and a second one was set up on the lower level, where there was a variety of televisions, video games, a pool table, and a dart board. Apparently it was expected that even the kids were going to drink at this party.
I was ready hours in advance, sitting on my bed in my underwear. I felt like a small child that had begged to don her party dress but was denied so she wouldn't ruin it. Esme gave my door three small taps.
"Come in," I called.
"Alice, I mean, Ali, you look completely on edge." She smiled, attempting to comfort me. "Did you still want me to help you with your hair and makeup?"
"Um, yes please. I don't usually wear much, so I didn't really know what was appropriate. And, I'd like to leave my hair down."
My hair was a security blanket for me. Years ago, at one of the foster homes I had stayed in, my foster mother had had enough of dealing with my "rat's nest," as she called it. So while tears streamed down my puffy, red face, she pushed me down into a chair. She held up large chunks of hair, and hacked at it with dull scissors till it stuck up in different directions. It looked terrible, and I was so ashamed. When my worker saw me and I told her that I had had a haircut, I was pulled from that particular home. The lady at the next place I was in tried to fix it, and it looked decent enough. I finally stopped fighting about going back to school. Ever since then, I had grown it long and kept it that way.
"Of course. It will look lovely with just some curls." I wondered if Esme ever got angry or frustrated. I couldn't picture her hurting anyone's feelings, let alone physically hurting a child. The vomiting butterflies settled momentarily, but their wings turned to stone and I got a heavy feeling. Before I could think rationally or stop myself, I wrapped my arms around Esme's waist and buried my face in her belly. I hurt for her for never having babies to give all her love to, and I hurt for me for hiding my love for so long. Esme stroked my hair but thankfully, she didn't speak. When I felt sufficiently silly, but sated as well, I pulled back. Esme smiled at me and asked me to show her the makeup I did have.
Guests began to arrive later that afternoon. I was ready on the outside, but my insides refused to let me go down the stairs. Instead, I stood near the banister in the hallway and listened as the door opened and closed and Esme greeted each person by name and then sent them off for food and drink. I could hear Carlisle's deep laugh float upstairs as he conversed with his colleagues and friends from the community. I wanted that ease, that grace that the Cullens both seemed to naturally possess. If I were their child, I wondered if I would be like them, or if I would still feel quiet and awkward. The door opened again, and this time Esme said the name that I had been waiting for.
"Mr. and Mrs. Hale! How nice of you to come. Ah, these must be your children. Hello, I'm Esme Cullen. Carlisle is floating around somewhere. Please make yourselves at home. Hello again, Jasper."
And there it was. I straightened my pantyhose and double checked for runs. I licked my teeth to make sure I didn't have lipstick on them as I was unaccustomed to anything with color to it. I wanted him to see me, but I didn't want it to appear as though I was waiting at the top of the steps for him. I peeked down one last time to make sure his siblings and parents had dispersed throughout the house. Sure enough, Jasper hung back, standing by the doorway and looking as though he wished he were anywhere but here. Even though I knew he had probably been dragged here by his parents, I still wished he looked a little less forlorn.
After everything I had been through in my life, which admittedly still wasn't that bad, I figured I could do this. I could suck it up and muster the courage to at least talk to a boy. Even if he had no interest in me, it couldn't be as awful as my own parents rejecting me. I could do this. I gave myself a pep talk, took a deep breath, and descended the stairs. Perhaps it was all in my head, but I swore the lighting dimmed and the music swelled like in the movies as he looked upon me. I watched his eyes move slowly from my new high heels up my exposed calves and over my hips to the little cleavage the dress had offered me. I slowly let the breath go as he looked up to my face. My eyes met his, I saw they were crystal clear. A small smile graced his lips, and I looked down as one came to mine as well.
He was here. He was looking at me. And he was beyond beautiful. He was wearing a dark grey suit with a bright red silk tie. He tucked his golden hair behind his ear and his eyes fluttered closed. Even from this distance, I swore I could see his thick fringe of lashes touch his cheeks. His eyes opened, and he gave me that shy smile where he only lifted the corner of one side of his mouth, the one that made his gorgeous dimple appear. I wanted to leap off the remaining steps into his arms. But I worried that I would have looked a touch over enthusiastic.
"I didn't have a choice."
"Oh." I looked down at my toes. A habit I seemed to be developing around him.
"I wouldn't have seen you otherwise."
"Oh!" I was glad I got the red polish; it matched his tie. I couldn't make myself look up.
"You look pretty, Alice."
"Thanks. You can call me Ali. You look nice too." I felt like I was in the movie Bambi when the skunk says, "He can call me a flower, if he wants to." I must have looked like a silly little girl.
"I kind of like 'Alice.' It's unique."
"Kind of like your name."
"Yeah, it's after my great-great grandfather. He was the youngest general in the Civil War."
"I like it. It has character. Do you want to go get something to eat?"
He shrugged his shoulders. When I took a step to lead the way, my arm swung back, and Jasper grabbed my hand.
He was holding my hand.
"Let's go get a drink first." He pulled me toward the bar.
"Um, okay." I knew what he was doing. I wasn't stupid. I had seen him in class with glassy, inflamed eyes. The missed classes, the vacant stare. It was pretty obvious that he smoked pot. I supposed a drink wasn't too bad. We were underage, but even the Cullens figured the kids would drink. Besides, I'm sure I would run into this in college plenty, so I might as well get used to it. We got to the bar and Jasper asked for my order.
"Diet, please. And no fruit." I hated when they added a lime.
"Okay." He drew it out like I was slow. "Are you sure? Esme won't care. Everyone's drinking."
"I'm sure. I don't drink." I felt like a baby and I wasn't sure why. Technically, we weren't even old enough to drink.
"Oh." He suddenly looked around awkwardly. "Like, ever?"
Now I really felt stupid. "Um, no." I hated that I was feeling so self-conscious over this. I was desperate to change the subject. "So, what does your family do for Christmas?" Really? That's what I came up with? All I wanted to do was sound witty and charming and I couldn't pull it off to save my life.
"Christmas?" He glanced around the room. He looked like he was bored to tears. I had to save this quickly. "When we were in Texas, we went to my grandparents' house, but I suppose we'll just stay home this year. You know, a small family thing."
"Hmm. I imagine we'll do the same." He handed me my drink and grabbed his own. He ordered several shots of vodka as well. I wasn't sure who the others were for, but I figured we'd go find his siblings. I didn't think Jasper knew anyone else here but them. I was a bit surprised and uncomfortable when he drank two of them in succession. He picked up the third with one hand and his mixed drink with the other and stepped away from the bar.
I supposed that was my cue to follow, although I was feeling unsure at the moment. I wanted him to hold my hand again. Not enough to slug down whatever tiny drink he was carrying. I just wanted to be normal. I wished that I didn't have such a seriously fucked-up history, which compared to others I had met, was seriously fucking normal in the grand scheme of the system.
Nevertheless, it was my fucked-up history that didn't allow me to be just a regular teenager who was drinking, smoking pot, and having sex. I just couldn't do it. The idea of giving up everything I had believed in…Fuck! Did I really believe in any of this? Did I have a strong fundamental faith that prevented me from doing these things? Or did I have a warped sense of what was acceptable and what ruined lives because my weak father couldn't handle my even weaker mother? Did drinking make you weak? Yes.
It must. What part of any of getting fucked up is positive? You lose your inhibitions and your brain-to-mouth filter. Probably your clothes and your dignity too, not to mention your liver, and your waistline. And that's just alcohol. And there's all the other shit that goes along with it. Cigarettes, pot, a couple of pills, maybe a snort of coke, and then…what the fuck! You're selling your daughter's pearl earrings that her father gave her for her eighth birthday so you can inject a nightmare into your arm or your leg or between your emaciated thighs to hide the marks?
Jasper must have finished his shot by the time I finished my internal rant. His right hand was free again, and I waited for him to take mine. Thank God he didn't notice the minor breakdown in my head. He was taller than me, and he had to look down to smile when he was next to me. I hoped he was as nervous as I was. It would explain the awkward tingle of silent static that floated between us. All my exciting conversation was locked tight in my constricted throat, refusing to let my voice box vibrate appropriately.
"How did you do in that art class?" Not exactly witty or profound, but it was a start.
"Uh, I'm not sure. I think I passed. You?" He took another sip and looked around the room.
My attempts were failing miserably, and I couldn't for the life of me understand why. This just wasn't the right setting. There were too many people around, and neither of us were extroverts; that much was clear. I wanted to get to know him, and for him to really know me. I just knew that there was more to my sullen prince than the plebeian behavior he was displaying now.
"Jasper?" I practically whispered it. I was almost afraid that he would agree if he could actually hear me. Or maybe it was so he would lean close to my mouth. I could smell his cologne, but it didn't linger in my mouth and brain. It was enough to make me want to keep him close. "Would you like a tour? Of the house?"
That beautiful little dimple appeared again, and I wanted to poke it with my tongue. He leaned back down, this time putting his mouth close to my ear. From this position there was whole new assault to my senses. I couldn't see him, but I could feel his warm breath, scented heavily with liquor, just behind my ear. I felt his finger trace the shell and play with the dangling little jewel at my lobe. I closed my eyes and heard him whisper back the one word I was just as desperate to hear this time as I was when we stood outside the cafe.
This time I took his hand and led him through the rooms. I didn't even bother to pretend that I was showing him around. When we got to the kitchen, I led him toward the back staircase. The only people in here were the caterers, and they were too far up to their elbows in puff pastry to notice us. I still put my fingers to my lips in a shushing motion. He nodded slowly and if he had made a sound, it would have been a giggle. It was dark, but since it had been my home for several months now, I was comfortable using the servant's staircase, especially with only the illumination from the kitchen.
We got to the landing by the guest bedrooms. Jasper stopped, and I stumbled a bit while he pulled my arm gently. With no words exchanged and no silly requests, Jasper pulled me to his body and kissed me. Softly, sweetly, with warm breath and a soft velvet tongue. I had never done that before but I hoped I did alright. I just tried to follow his lead, and sadly, I pulled away when he did.
"Alice, show me your bedroom."
His hands slipped over my shoulders and the goose bumps erupted. Using his hands, he turned me around and slowly pulled my back to his chest until only his fingertips were touching me. He tickled my shoulders and neck lightly, and then brought them to my throat. His index finger ran upward until it was under my chin. He raised it slightly, waiting for my reaction. When I didn't resist, he raised it even higher. Still, I waited for him to guide me. He bent down and bit the side of my neck. It wasn't painful, but I wasn't expecting it. I closed my eyes and kept my breath held in tight. I wanted to make a move, but I feared he would stop, and I couldn't bear for him to lose contact with my body.
"Show me." He elongated the o and directed me again.
Some part of him remained on my skin like a magnet. He had given me the illusion of control, and I guided him where he wanted. We entered my bedroom and my heels sank slightly into the plush carpet. I made my way to my bed and turned on the small lamp next to it, giving the room a soft, pink glow. I sat down at the edge of the bed, the firm mattress preventing me from sinking. Jasper set his drink down on the nightstand and sat down next to me. I noticed he had unbuttoned his jacket, but he didn't still didn't appear relaxed.
"I'm glad you came to the party."
"I'm glad I did too. My parents thought I…we, needed new surroundings. I wasn't thrilled with their choice, but then I saw you that first day."
I blushed slightly. He remembered that day. Not only that, but he had seen me too. I tightened the grip on my comforter to keep myself from jumping up and down.
"Oh, yeah. I remember." We made small talk for a bit. I wished I had gotten water instead of a soda. My mouth was dry and it wasn't helping, but it gave me something to do with myself so I kept drinking.
Jasper told me a bit about where he had lived before and about his love for art and being creative. But his parents didn't feel it was a lucrative prospect. He talked about how he taught himself to play the guitar but that he needed to have lessons to learn to play the drums. He expressed an interest in traveling, but mostly he wanted to get out of "here." I was enraptured by every word that came out of his mouth. It was a beautiful reassurance that this wasn't all in my head. He was someone special.
I avoided my past in detail but opened up enough to let Jasper know that I had only moved here in September and that I hadn't seen my real parents for a while. He didn't ask many questions, but he seemed to get more comfortable as his glass emptied, while I began to fidget more than ever having to pee. Before I had a chance to get up though, Jasper excused himself for a minute. I had no idea if I had done or said anything to make him leave, but I hoped he would be right back. I desperately needed to go to the bathroom, but I didn't want him to return and me not be there. A few minutes went by, and I simply couldn't hold it any longer. If Jasper tried to kiss me again and I had to move, I would surely lose it.
I left my bedroom door open in case he came back and went down the hall to use the bathroom. The light was on and the door was closed. Since everyone else at the party was staying downstairs, I assumed it was Jasper. I knocked on the door to alert him that I would be right back. There was no response. I knocked again, not wanting to embarrass him. There was a shuffling noise and then a loud crash, followed up by Jasper yelling out "Motherfucker!"
"Jasper? Are you okay?" There was no answer. "Jasper, I'm coming in. Are you okay?" I shut my eyes tight, not wanting to see anything if this was all a massive misunderstanding. But with no answer still, I thought he could have hit his head and might bleed to death in there. I opened the door slowly, just a crack at first. "Jasper? It's Alice." Still nothing. I opened the door further and opened one eye to peek. What I was met with confused me at first.
On the counter were four little lines of white. Two were just the remnants of powder.
My brain refused to process what I was seeing. Instead, I watched my father walk out the door. I watched my mother vomit on herself while lying on the floor. I saw myself crying and screaming, begging for this to be over. Wishing I had the power to stop this. I saw the police, the man in the blue shirt telling me we had to leave and I would be going somewhere safe. I saw my things go into a bag.
My things left behind, my mind left behind, my heart left behind...
Jasper's eyes were wide but I could only see the whites of them. He was on the floor, an empty little baggy in his hand. I felt like a deer in headlights. Or maybe I had already been run over. Flattened, dead, no thoughts, no emotions...