Disclaimer: I don't own this. I think.


Chapter 19 –The Gasket

When Jasper was younger, he'd had no interest in marriage. It was icky and pointless, and girls were terrible. Why on earth would anyone want to marry one? His views, of course, had changed over the last few years, and he accepted the ironic fact that, while marriage now appealed to him, it was something he could never have. Perhaps that's what he got for thinking so badly of anyone who entered the matrimonial state when he was younger. And yet, oftentimes, he felt married. He felt old, too, but it wasn't necessarily a bad thing. His eyes had opened in ways he'd never imagined; he was always growing, maturing, and there would always be things he'd get wrong in life and have to learn how to handle. It wasn't easy to be a living, breathing thing. It was harder still to watch his brothers and Bella struggle with it. What they wanted was simplicity, and what they received was drama. Even worse, they had to deal with it like adults because, well, they were adults. And it sucked.

Jasper could tell something was wrong when Bella and Emmett got home. Bella looked guilty, and Emmett looked downtrodden. His youngest brother offered him a half-hearted smile before disappearing upstairs, his big feet thumping solemnly on the carpeted staircase.

"What happened?" Jasper asked, taking Bella aside as soon as Emmett was out of sight.

She shrugged, trying to hold back tears. "He guessed I was hiding something." She wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands. "I can't keep this up for much longer. I feel like such a terrible person."

Jasper quickly encompassed her in his arms. "I'm sorry, darling. I shouldn't have made you keep quiet." He rubbed her back. "You're not a terrible person. It's hard for both of us to know what to do in these situations. It's a fine line to tread." Bella nodded, burying her head in his chest.

"I hate lying," she said.

"Everyone hates lying, but we all do it sometimes." Edward was a good example of that. "What do you need? Want me to make you something?"

"Maybe some raspberry lemonade and TV? The distraction would be nice."

"Of course." He planted a kiss on her head, sorry that he had somehow managed to make life a little more complicated for her than it otherwise would have been. He fetched them both glasses of raspberry lemonade, which Bella had recently taken a liking to, and cuddled up to her on the couch.

It wasn't until they were watching late night TV that Bella realized something: no Edward. She always found it a little alarming when one of her boys was missing when she got home. It wasn't that she demanded their attention as soon as she entered the house, they were just…there…always.

"He's working on lesson plans for the upcoming semester. He said he wants to be prepared to teach at a university," Jasper said. "Plus, he wanted to give you and Emmett space when you got home. I think he's holed up in one of the guest rooms."

Bella stared at the television for a minute. The big day was coming up, and she was dreading it. As often as her lovers reassured her of their undying love, she wondered just how insuperable their strength and devotion were. If Jasper was any indication, they would forgive her (eventually) and life would go on. That was the best case scenario.

"What do you want to do tomorrow?" Bella asked, trying to take her mind of off less pleasant things.

"Something simple and relaxing," Jasper said. He'd already spent a good deal of time pondering it. At one point he'd thought that hiking would be a good idea, and then a fancy dinner, since he could never resist an excuse to eat out somewhere nice. Then he thought that simply going to the movies would be a better alternative. They could both stand to do something relaxing. Ultimately, however, he came to a slightly more upscale solution.

"The theatre?" Bella was impressed. She hadn't seen a play in…well, she couldn't remember how long.

"I was thinking we could spend the day in Seattle. We'd have to leave early, but we could have lunch and dinner out there, too. It'd be good to get away for a little while."

Bella felt a jolt of excitement. She could definitely use a day of escape. Then again, they all could. "I love that idea. You know, we should all plan a weekend away soon. I think it would be good for us. Maybe we could do it before school starts."

"I think Edward and Emmett would be up for that. We should talk about it with them soon." Jasper wondered if he should go up and talk to Emmett now, actually. He looked so unhappy when they got back.

"Ready for bed? We need to be up early, remember."

Bella nodded. "I think I'll take a quick shower first," and then, appearing browbeaten again, "I hope he's okay. I should talk to him." Apparently they were both thinking about Emmett.

"I'll talk to him first," Jasper said, kissing her forehead. "Try not to worry. We'll get all of this sorted out."

But Bella couldn't help wishing that tomorrow would be over, despite her anticipation for her and Jasper's date. She knew her upcoming talk with the boys would be hanging over her head all day, as it had been for a long time.

Emmett's pride (which he sometimes pretended not to possess) would not allow him to cry in front of his brothers or Bella that night. He'd secluded himself in one of the upstairs rooms after returning with Bella. It was obvious that neither of them felt happy, and sex was off the table. This was probably one of the first times since he'd met her that he had no desire for intimacy. He couldn't get past the knowledge that the love of his life was hiding something from them. Again. That she didn't trust them enough to tell them. Or maybe it was that she didn't trust herself. He was reminded of Jasper's fear a few weeks earlier. Has Bella met someone else? And he hated that the idea had been planted in his mind, but it was there, and now he didn't know how to handle it. The predominant part of his brain couldn't fathom his Bella with another man; not realistically. He liked to think it went against her nature. But the murkier, depressing part of his brain produced vile images and scenarios. It was hard to escape those nightmarish thoughts when Bella was so clearly keeping secrets.

It was Jasper who interrupted his quiet reverie first, asking him if he was okay.

"Could be better, Jazz."

"I know she's been acting odd…" Jasper said, unsure of how to broach the subject without giving himself away.

"No shit," Emmett snorted. He sighed, putting his face in his hands. "Look, I know I should be more grown-up about it, but it gets to me. I want her to be honest, and tonight she couldn't even look me in the face and tell me what's been going on. She won't tell any of us, and it hurts."

"We just need to trust her." Jasper felt hypocritical for saying it, since he'd been wondering the same things as his little brother. "She still has issues to work through. They don't just disappear after a year or two. There are always going to be scars."

"I know…but we can't keep secrets from each other. We're in it together; all of it, anything that comes along. But the more she hides, the more scared I get. I feel like we're losing her. If she can't start to trust us…what's that going to lead to?"

Jasper was tempted at that moment. He wanted to tell him. "We're not going to lose here," he ground out. "Ever." He let out a deep breath, gathering his self-control. "She trusts us. I don't think it boils down to trust issues. She's just…"

Emmett waited for him to finish the sentence. "She's just what?"

Jasper shook his head, his blonde hair falling in front of his eyes. He flicked it away with his hand, annoyed. "I don't know. She's still timid in some ways, and I think she blames herself when bad things happen."

Emmett could see that. It didn't make it sting less, though. "I guess we'll find out eventually." He quickly realized he had just echoed Bella's sentiments. It's only a matter of time until you find out.

Emmett was the first one awake the next morning. He had gotten a few hours of sleep and been plagued by nightmares involving a demonic deer attacking Bella. Maybe it was time he reconsidered his anti-hunting stance.

Edward seemed altogether too chipper when he sat down next to him in the kitchen. He yawned, pouring himself a glass of juice.

"Why are you so happy?" Emmett asked, annoyed.

Edward grinned, unaware of his brother's mood. "I spent all of last night working on my lesson plans. I think they'll really enjoy it."

"Hmm. Great…" Emmett mumbled.

Guilt quickly washed over Edward. "Sorry. I shouldn't have brought it up."

Emmett shrugged. "No, it's okay. I'm just feeling grumpy today. I should run it off later."

"What's wrong?"

He felt a bit silly telling him, or even admitting that he was letting it get to him, but he needed to confide in someone. "Remember what we talked about a few weeks ago in school?" Emmett asked. None of them were likely to forget anytime soon. "Well Bella pretty much told me last night that she was hiding something from us. She refused to tell me. She said she trusts me, but not herself. I don't even know what to do anymore. I don't know how to help her, or what to think about what she might mean. I just assume the worst."

He had evidently ruined Edward's morning with this. "You really think she met someone else?"

"It's what we all worry about the most," Emmett said. Edward couldn't deny it, but he also had more faith in Bella and her relationship with them than Emmett did, obviously.

"You need to give her more credit. She would never fool around."

Emmett glared at the kitchen counter. "Maybe she finally got sick of pleasing three men."

Edward let out an inaudible curse before standing up and patting his younger brother on the back. "You're being ridiculous. And since when are you the broody one? I thought that was Jasper's job."

"Hey, I can out-brood any professional brooder," Emmett said, cracking a small smile.

Edward was content to at least brighten his mood, if only momentarily. "Look, we'll talk to her soon, maybe even tonight. We'll get to the bottom of this like we always do. Just try not to torture yourself with your screwed up notions in the meantime," Edward gave him one last slap on the back, musing on the feeling that he was suddenly taking over Emmett's role as the more easygoing brother.

The atmosphere in old theatres always made Bella feel as if she'd been whisked back to the 1800s. The one Jasper has taken her to was definitely on the grand side. It made her think of Phantom of the Opera.

"Jasper, I love this!" She whispered excitedly. He beamed, relieved that he had made the right choice. At the very least, it would distract her.

"I wish I could be an actress," Bella remarked, taking her seat on the balcony. "But if I can't be a convincing liar, I can't act. I just know I'd start giggling or staring off into space and thinking about anything other than my lines. I don't know how these people do it."

"Dedication and passion," Jasper said. "I think you generally have to be passionate about something to excel at it. Unless you're a genius."

"If only. I'm not even sure what I'm passionate about." She gazed out into the audience, noting how many white heads there were. She then turned her attention to the stage, which was mostly obscured by the large red curtain flowing down from the ceiling. She wondered what everyone backstage must be feeling right now; how wonderful it must be to be filled with excitement from doing your job.

"You can always switch degrees," Jasper said.

"It's not the degree that's the problem," Bella admitted. "I'm just not sure what I want to do with it. I've never explored my interests enough to see what makes me tick. I could be the next great American painter…you know, aside from the fact that I can't draw and can barely tell oil and acrylic apart. I might be a master of canvas underneath all that."

"Well that settles it; we'll go to the craft store tomorrow and buy up all their art supplies," Jasper said, sounding quite adamant.

Bella let out a hearty laugh. "Maybe I should take up a musical instrument. I might be a secret violinist or cellist. Oh, maybe I can outdo Edward on the piano!"

"You can try anything you want, darling," Jasper said, pulling her in for a quick kiss. "I want you to be passionate about whatever you decide to do. We can buy paint, a guitar –which, by the way, my dad has a collection of –, tap dancing shoes, sewing needles, a camera, whatever you want to try. I was lucky; I knew what I loved early on. A lot of people have no idea until they're older."

"Yeah, we can't all have the Cullen luck." Bella said.

"The Cullen luck?"

"All of you seem to know what you want; you're all happy in your careers, even your parents. You're where you should be."

Jasper supposed she was right. They all knew their place in life from a young age. His mother had always been crazy about design and decorating. His father had always thrived on helping others and saving lives.

"You'll find your niche, darling. We just need to give you more opportunities to find out what exactly it is."

Bella smiled, leaning her head on his shoulder. "I'll start small. Maybe I can fiddle with your camera for awhile and write some short stories."

The theatre soon darkened, giving way to loud claps as the audience applauded the opening of the curtains.

"What do you think so far?" Jasper asked. They had gone for refreshments during the intermission, and Bella appeared decidedly relieved to stand up.

"It's hilarious," she said. "But my god, my butt is sore!"

Jasper laughed. "Yeah, sitting for an hour and a half like that makes me afraid to sit down for the second half."

"We'll have to walk it off later," Bella said. "You'd think I'd be used to it from sitting in class all day." She sipped her drink, taking a moment to gaze around the room. There was a massive chandelier hanging in the middle of the domed ceiling, and dozens of electric candles hanging along the walls. She wondered if balls used to be thrown here.

"Ugh." She snapped out of her daydreaming to see a look if disgust on Jasper's face.

"What?" Bella wondered what could have happened in the space of a few seconds.

"Someone's been staring at you for the last five minutes. I've been trying to ignore it, but he keeps walking to different parts of the room and watching, as if I won't notice." He put his glass down with a little more force than necessary.

"Where?" Bella asked, alarmed. She immediately thought of Professor Wesley, but she was sure he was away on his vacation by now.

"In a corner behind you. He's at a distance, but I can still see him. He thinks he's being discreet, the idiot." Jasper was purposely looking in another direction, resisting the temptation to glare daggers at the creep.

Bella was afraid to look behind her. She didn't want whoever it was to know she was aware of him. Then again, why let him scare her? That would be giving him the power. He's probably harmless, she thought. Just some guy who people watches.

"Do you recognize him?" She asked.

Jasper shook his head. "I can't tell what he looks like."

After gathering her courage, Bella finally turned around, trying to act as casual as possible. She scanned the other side of the room, looking for anyone who stood out, or, more accurately, was trying not to stand out. She eventually spotted him standing near a group of people, no doubt attempting to blend in. He kept darting his eyes back to her and Jasper. He noticed her looking, however, and quickly turned his attention elsewhere. He was average height, and he wore a black suit. Those were the only two things she could see. She didn't even know what his hair color was, due to the bad lighting.

"Well," she said, "it's not Peter Wesley, at least. That makes me feel better. He's probably just some random creepy guy who likes staring at girls."

Jasper wasn't so easily convinced, though, and he knew Bella wasn't either. "If that were the case, I think he'd be watching several women, not just you."

"True..." Bella set her glass down next to his and embraced him. "Why does there always have to be some complication?"

"I guess we have to pay for being so damn beautiful," Jasper quipped.

Bella sniggered. "Speak for yourself. And you know, he's been watching you, too."

"Interesting," Jasper said. "Maybe he's bi."

"Don't be surprised if we get propositioned on our way out," Bella told him. She loved seeing his look of utter revulsion at the suggestion.

"Maybe we should avoid going to the theatre ever again."

It was ridiculously late by the time they arrived at Esme and Carlisle's. Neither were surprised to find Emmett and Edward still awake.

"How was it?" Edward asked. Emmett was still brooding, but he decided to show his face. He was hiding behind Edward, however, and keeping unusually quiet.

"It was nice," Bella said. "I felt like I was transported back in time. I don't think it's something we should do too often, though."

"Why not?"

"Because there are perverts everywhere," Jasper chimed in. When his brothers both appeared baffled, he elaborated. "There was a guy there who couldn't keep his eyes off Bella."

"Or you," Bella added. "He wasn't just watching me."

"Hmm." Emmett pursed his lips. "We do seem to attract attention wherever we go." He thought back to the fansite that some of his students had created a few years back. It had been awhile since he checked it out.

"But you had fun otherwise?" Edward asked.

"Yes," Bella replied. "My butt is not happy, though. Too much sitting."

"We'll take care of that later," Jasper winked.

"Um…" They all paused, turning their attention to Emmett. "Can we talk, Bella?"

She looked at Jasper, shooting him a brief, concerned look. "I guess, but it's so late, Em." She almost started shaking. Such a coward, she thought.

"We need to talk about it now," Emmett said, much firmer with her than she was used to.

"Emmett…" Edward tried to interject, but Emmett stopped him.

"You want to know, too, Edward. Don't pretend you don't." He refocused on Bella. "So do you want to tell us what's really been going on with you?"

At the end of the day, thinking about this moment for weeks was worse than actually experiencing it. The nausea that quickly overwhelmed her was actually better than what she had anticipated, and her brain was only somewhat jumbled, her tongue only a little tied.

"Okay," she said, deciding to take a seat on the couch. Might as well be comfortable during the shitstorm that was about to erupt. "First of all, I'm just going to tell you up front: you're going to be mad."

"I know," Emmett said. That made her feel even worse. He was incredibly intimidating, and she feared more than ever that he would leave her. But she had to at least give him the choice.

So she told them about Peter Wesley; how he watched her, followed her, that she wasn't sure if the chance meetings with him were coincidences or not, and how scared she was to cause more drama in their lives by accusing a man of stalking her, when perhaps she was simply insane.

It was Edward who looked the most surprised. Emmett was frozen in place, unblinking. Jasper wasn't sure how to react. He decided to imitate Edward and appear shocked.

"And how long has this been going on?" Emmett finally broke the silence after a taut few minutes.

"A few weeks into last semester. I didn't really notice at first…" She felt so childish and small. Whatever verbal whipping she would receive from her lovers would be no worse than the one she dealt to herself every day.

"Has he done anything else?" His expression had not changed, except that she could discern the vulnerability in his eyes. He did not want to have to ask these questions. She only hoped he reacted as well as Jasper had a few days earlier.

"No, aside from showing up wherever I was. I mean, that's why I had trouble convincing myself that he was even watching me. He's always been very nice. Everyone likes him. He's never touched me or threatened me. I couldn't just accuse him when he could have been innocent. And people might easily look at my background and point to that, or say that I'm flat-out lying for attention. I just didn't want to jump to conclusions and make everything harder for us." She didn't expect Edward, or especially Emmett, to soften after her explanation, which was a good thing, since they both looked thoroughly unconvinced.

"Even so," said Emmett, walking over to her and bending down to her level, "you should have told us. We're your boyfriends, Bella, your partners in life. We're supposed to share everything, not hide things, especially not bad things." He took a deep breath, willing himself not to cry. "I think what it all comes down to is that you don't trust us."

Bella's eyes widened in panic. "That's not true!"

"Really? Because I think hiding this from us for weeks and weeks says otherwise. You had opportunities every day, Bella. Every. Fucking. Day. And rather than confide in us, the men you're supposed to trust with your life, you hid it from us."

"I didn't want to cause you guys more grief," she cried, "after everything with my father, I just wanted peace. I didn't want to put you through anything like that again."

Emmett laughed derisively. "You don't think keeping secrets is less destructive than revealing them before they actually become secrets? This didn't have to be such a big deal. If you'd told us that one of your teachers was creeping on you, we would have…I don't know, handled it like grown-ups."

Now it was Bella's turn to scoff. She was on the verge of breaking down, but managed to gather her wits after Emmett's last statement. She was getting angry now. "Handled it like grown-ups? Are you kidding me? You would have rushed over there and caused a fuss. You can't even take it when someone glances at me. Yes, I admit, I should have told you early on, and I regret not doing that. But don't pretend I didn't have anything to worry about regarding your reactions. You know, sometimes I get really sick of people coming to my rescue. I'm so fucking tired of being a victim and having my knights in shining armor have to come and save me. It makes me feel pathetic and weak, and the last thing I want to do is create another situation that I need saving from. I just wanted it to go away; that's what I was waiting for. Silly me, I thought that after the semester was over, that would be it. He hadn't done anything, after all. Did I really have anything to worry about? How was I supposed to know he'd keep popping up at markets and restaurants?"

Emmett didn't budge, however. "You wouldn't have been creating a situation, Bella. He created it. You weren't doing anything wrong in the first place! And what do you think we would have done? Gone over there and beat him up? Follow him home? Do you think we'd really act so rashly?"

Bella waited a second, thinking about it. Did she think that? Maybe. They were testosterone-fueled men with big tempers and jealousy and control issues. "Maybe. I don't honestly know."

"Well it's good to hear that you have faith in us." Emmett sat down on the chair opposite and dropped his head into his hands.

Jasper and Edward had remained silent throughout, neither knowing what to say. Jasper felt guilty; he should have intervened, defended her. Emmett had been acting a bit unreasonable tonight, even though he had a point. He was the one who always kept his cool and tried to protect Bella when one of them argued (and with even more guilt, he had to acknowledge that it was typically him). He seemed to have lost it tonight, though. It was hard for any of them to think that Bella might not entirely trust their judgment, but he couldn't blame her. They hadn't always acted like calm, rational adults. The real bottom line was, however, that Bella, despite having her trust issues, always had their best interest at heart. She honestly did want to protect them, which she had proven more than once in the past.

Emmett needed time, that was all.

"We'll discuss this more tomorrow," Edward said, his voice barely a whisper. "I think we all need to cool down."

They all agreed; none of them up to more verbal dueling. Emmett was the first to storm off, slamming a door upstairs. Edward was much more civil about it. He gave Bella a kiss on the lips and offered her a small smile, saying, "It's okay, love."

Bella was glad to be left alone with Jasper. Once Edward was upstairs, she ran into Jasper's arms and began crying.

"They'll come around," he promised.

Bella wasn't so convinced. "This is different. He thinks I don't trust him, so now he won't trust me. And I can't blame him."

The truth was, none of them had ever really trusted her, not one hundred percent. Not that they thought she would cheat on them or go around committing crimes. But there were always things that she would keep from them, like this. Nothing devious or malicious. They were aware that she still had to work through her issues and learn to come to them when problems like this arose, which, hopefully, wouldn't happen too often. She was doing better now, anyway. Hopefully Emmett could see that.

Jasper mused how similar this was to a few nights before when he had found her in the basement, only that had gone a lot more smoothly. Her tears were beginning to let up after several painful minutes. She lifted her head, meeting his eyes. That was when it struck him.



"Remember when we were talking in the basement? You had something to tell me, but you fell asleep before we could get to it." He still couldn't fathom what it was. He wasn't too worried, though.

Bella was confused for a moment, thinking back. "Oh right. I've been so preoccupied that I completely forgot. It was stupid, anyway."

"Don't do that," Jasper said, slightly teasing. "Nothing you say is stupid, remember? I'm going to keep reminding you until you believe it."

"Okay," Bella said, rolling her eyes playfully, "I will try to work on it. Anyway…remember a few days ago…ahem, after we were in the Jacuzzi?"

"Yes…" Jasper didn't know where she was going with this.

"And I went upstairs to sleep it off."

"I remember."

"Well, I woke up pretty suddenly. I thought someone was in the room. I thought it was you, actually. It felt like someone touched my cheek, and I heard something…a thump, I guess. But when I looked around, there was no one there. So I just wondered if one of you had been in there at some point. That's all. It was probably just part of a dream I had." She was startled to find Jasper looking quite serious. "What is it?"

"Darling, did you leave the room before I came in? Maybe you used the bathroom?" Jasper really hoped she said 'yes'.

"No, I had just woken up. I was checking the closet, remember?" She was getting very nervous now. "Why?"

Jasper took a shaky breath. "Don't panic, okay?"

"Too late. Just tell me."

"When I was about to come upstairs to check on you, we heard someone moving around upstairs. We thought it was you, of course. And then when I was walking up the stairs, I heard a door close. I thought that must have been you, too. Apparently not." His grip on her tightened. He didn't want to let on how utterly terrified that revelation had made him.

"Oh god." Bella clamped a hand over her mouth. "Jasper, please tell me it's nothing."

"I wish I could." Nowhere was safe anymore. Bella wasn't safe, and he didn't know what to do.

"That means whoever attacked me is somehow able to get in and out without being detected," Bella mumbled, almost talking to herself. "He might still be here for all we know." She cupped his head in her hand, looking him straight in the eye. "Jasper, we have to call the police."