Chapter Thirty Four: From the Ground Up
"So, how is it? Honestly? I mean, I don't claim to be as good of a cook as your sister, but-"
"It's good, Alice. Thank you."
"And the conversation? I'm not annoying you, am I?"
"I'm content with no. Would you like some more wine?"
"No, thank you, I'm good. But I think we should talk."
"Okay, what would you like to talk about? Most embarrassing moment? Favorite ice cream flavor? First kiss? Mine was awful... he-"
"Where's your car?"
"Yes, Alice, your car."
"I parked it down the street."
"You know why, Jasper. If I'd parked it in your driveway, you'd have come in without the smile you wore when you did. And, just like I thought it would be - though I'd never really seen it - your smile was beautiful."
"Was for Bella, I know. But that just made it even more beautiful."
"And how is that?"
"Because it told me that you love your sister with all of your heart. The way, I imagine, it tells her everyday, even if you don't. Just like the way that she takes care of you tells you, and should still now, even though she isn't here doing it herself."
"And your willingness to take her place while she isn't... what should that tell me?"
"That I'm really not so bad."
"Even if I can see that, Alice-"
"Sure," I sigh, and watch as she puts another few stalks on my plate with a satisfied smile on her face. One that I have to take off...
"I'm really glad that you like my dinner."
Now. "I'm not getting involved with one of Isabella's friends, Alice."
"It's what she wants, you know."
"What she wants isn't always-"
"Easy for you to admit is the right thing. Initially. But-"
"What happened to you thinking I was an asshole? And an idiot? And-"
"No one's perfect."
"Tell that to my sister. She doesn't know."
"Well, Edward's pretty close... and I can see how she might be unaware of that particular truth."
I roll my eyes and try to get us back on the topic at hand, because when she leaves this house tonight, I want her to understand exactly how she will - and won't be - welcomed in it. "Well, I can't. And am certainly not, by any means. Or someone you should be accepting that fact for, with any hope for-"
"Chances to cook you other dinners?"
"That's one way of putting it, yes."
"He's going to marry her, you know. Don't you think it's about time you think about that? And yourself?"
"I'd rather not, thanks. And that has nothing to do with-"
"It's time to put your life on the front burner, Jasper. Your wants... your needs... and stop denying that you have both."
"Why do you assume that I do?"
"Deny it? Well, isn't it? What you do?"
"No, I just have priorities."
"It's the same thing."
"No, it's not. And that's exactly my point. Your sister has always been your priority, and believe me, I commend you for that... it's sweet, and admirable - if a little on the psycho side at times - but what about you? Now, that Edward has made her his? And she doesn't need to be yours anymore?"
"Don't tell me what my sister needs, Alice. I-"
"I'm not trying to tell you what she needs. I'm trying to tell you what you do. And that it's okay to."
"Because you want it to be you."
"Yes, I do. I don't deny that. And I think it is. And I want you to stop denying it."
"I'm not denying anything. And I don't mean to be cruel, I just don't feel that way about you."
"Well, now you're just lying."
"I'm not lying. I-"
"Think it's wrong. Because I'm her friend. Like you thought it was wrong for Edward to be in love with her, because he was yours. And before you point it out... I know it's not exactly the same thing... we haven't been friends all of our lives... and I'm not in love with you... but it's not entirely different, either. And NOT wrong, just like you've accepted it isn't for them."
"I don't know if accepted is the word I'd use. I-"
"Use whatever word you want. The point is, you're not fighting them anymore. Because you know you can't win."
"Can't win with me, either. Well... against me is more... no... that's not right, either... because you can definitely do that...
"What I'm trying to say is-"
"I know what you're trying to say, and-"
"Why do you interrupt people so much? Do you do that to everyone, or is it just me?"
"I don't know. Just you, mostly. Or probably. Because it drives me crazy waiting for you to get to the point of things."
"I'd get to the point of things if you ever gave me a chance to talk."
"We'll see. It depends on what comes out of your mouth."
I shake my head and she immediately holds a finger up, telling me she's not done interrupting yet, even though this time I didn't get a single word out before she did.
"Are you done putting things in it? Your mouth, I mean?" she asks, eyeing my empty plate.
"Yes, I'm done," I sigh.
"Okay. Now go ahead. I'm all ears."
I try not to focus on how she's not as she smiles at me and takes my plate, and hers, to the sink.
If she wasn't Isabella's friend...
But she is. And she's a pain in the ass. And God knows that's reason enough to say what I'm about to say.
If I can figure out how to say it, that is. In a way that's nice. Not that I've ever concerned myself with that with her...
But that was her fault.
Her... the only woman - besides Rose, who doesn't count - to ever think I was, or call me an asshole.
Well, except for the one time my sister did...
But I don't want to think about that now. Or ever...
"Cat got your tongue?" she asks, freeing me from the painful memory, and bringing me back to the matter at hand.
"No... I was just... Look, Alice... you're an attractive woman. And you have your charm, I suppose... and could undoubtedly have your pick of-"
"Blah blah blah... "
"Men who like INSUFFERABLE, annoying, and impatient women, but I'm not one of them, so-"
"So, what kind of woman do you like? Besides, of course, the kind that cooks for you, and cleans for you, and basically does everything for you that you could ever dream of asking for, though you don't have to ask for any of it?"
"If that was a dig at-"
"It wasn't. We've already established that I adore your sister. And that she spoils you rotten. All of you, in fact, which is probably why you're all still single, because what woman is ever going to live up to that? Or even be willing to try to?
"Now, obviously, Edward - being no fool - won't have to give up a thing, and is probably the luckiest man on the planet for what awaits him in the spoiling department, but-"
"ARE YOU GOING SOMEWHERE WITH THIS?"
"THEN GET THERE."
"Only one of you gets your perfect girl, and that's him. So, what do YOU want, Jasper Hale? Besides what you already have? That is only perfect until it's time to lay your head down on your perfectly fluffed pillow at night."
"If you're implying that Isabella makes my bed every morning-"
"Are you lying again?"
"She doesn't make it every morning. Only if I didn't do it before I got in the shower. And I don't-"
"Have to defend yourself. I'm not attacking you, or your life, or even the spoiled-rotten-and-want-to-stay-that-way way you choose to live it. I'm merely trying to tell you that I want to insert myself into it, just the way it is. And show you that I can, which I believe I've just done, quite well, and painlessly for you. And your kitchen, which I believe is now just as I found it. Wouldn't you agree? On that, at least?"
This woman is making my brain hurt... "What?"
"The kitchen, Jasper. It doesn't look any different, does it? Than before I came into it to take care of you?"
"And you? Have I left you wanting for anything?"
"I'm not still hungry, if that's what you mean."
"Good. So, now what would you like to do?"
"Nothing. You can-"
"Do nothing with the best of them! After you." She gestures me into my own living room, and I go gladly, because we have to go through it to get to the front door, which I want nothing more than to see her go through.
I'll even escort her. "Now after you," I say, continuing to it and opening it with a smile.
But she's not behind me when I turn. Because she's sitting on my couch instead. "Close the door, Jasper. You'll let flies in or something."
"Actually, I'm trying to let one out."
"I'm sure it will leave when it's ready."
"You know, I'm trying to be nice here, but-"
"You don't have to, you know? Be nice to me... or anything else that doesn't come naturally to you. You should just be yourself. Always... and trust that the right person will stick around no matter what. Will want to. Fight to, even."
"Plenty of the wrong people have wanted to stick around. That-"
"Isn't why you're alone. I know that. You're alone because Bella didn't want them to stick around."
"That's not the only-"
"Reason. I know that, too. But it's the most important one. To you. And one that doesn't apply here, in case you forgot."
"I didn't forget," I huff, and slam the door closed. "And stop trying to make this about Isabella. It isn't going to help your case."
"I'm not trying to make it about her, I'm just pointing out that she isn't a reason not to give in to what you want. Because she wants it, too. For you."
"There's no too. I don't want-"
"Me?" she says, getting up and stalking towards me. "Yes, you do."
"No, I don't," I push, and sidestep her advance.
But like the annoying fly that she is, she keeps coming right at me. Buzz... buzz... buzz... Darting every way that I do, until I put my hand up, telling her to STOP, before I swat her.
Which she does, with a laugh and a shake of her head, and both of hers raised in surrender.
And thinking I've won - or finally gotten through to her, at least - I sit down in a chair, and point her to the couch. "If you want to do nothing for a few minutes, then go right ahead, but do it over there."
"I'm not going to attack you, or molest you against your will or anything, so relax. Scaredy cat."
"I am NOT afraid of you, Alice."
"Good. Because there's no need to be."
"You're right, there isn't."
"At all. So, like I said, RELAX."
"I'm plenty relaxed," I tell her, and eye her suspiciously over my shoulder, because now she's standing behind me. What the hell is she doing back there?
"Then why are you so stiff?" she asks, answering my question with her hands. That are now on my shoulders. And the back of my neck.
Shit. "I'm not stiff."
"Well, maybe not all of you is... but your neck and shoulders are. Which means you're not relaxed at all. But I'm going to fix that. Right now."
"I don't want you to... " Fuck, that feels good... "...fix any-"
"Yes you do."
"Shut up, Jasper."
"Am making you feel good and you know it. So, stop fighting it and let me."
"I don't... " Jesus...
It's just a massage, right?
"Where are we?"
"We're in your forest, silly."
"No... I mean in our house. Where did we just have dinner? Are we in our dining room? Or our kitchen? Or picnicking on our living room floor? Or-"
"Will I get pushed off of my pedestal if I say I hadn't put that much thought into the placement of our picnic?"
"No. Definitely not. I just wondered."
"Is there anything else you're wondering?" I ask her, because I can see the wheels turning again.
"Do you know where our living room is?" she asks sweetly, but with a devilish gleam in her eyes.
One that makes me chuckle. "Our living room? Or our couch?"
"Our couch," she declares, with the most innocently adorable smile I think I've ever seen on her face.
"I'm not exactly sure... " I tell her, giving her hair a tender stroke, "but I could get up and figure it out if you'd like?"
"No... " she says, shaking her head and pushing the remnants of our picnic dinner aside and climbing into my lap. "I don't want you to get up. We can just pretend it's right here."
"You don't have to pretend anymore, Isabella," I tell her, and wrap my arms around her. "You'll never have to pretend anything ever again."
"And you'll never be pushed off of your pedestal," she says, "because I don't have to. And because I'd never want you anywhere else. So, we should just put our couch up there so you'll always be comfortable."
"I have no doubts that I'll always be comfortable, sweetheart."
"I'm glad you don't, Edward... because I promise you always will be. And more. I'm going to make you so happy... "
The playfulness that ruled her eyes and her words a few minutes ago is gone now...
And the confident purity that has replaced it would put me on the ground if I wasn't already on it with her.
She didn't have to say those words to me... I have no doubts about my impending happiness... the lifetime of it she'll shower me with...
But she said them. And did it with so much conviction. And devotion... and pride...
"You know that I know that, don't you?" I ask her, pulling her tighter against me, and instantly knowing I shouldn't have.
"I think so," she whispers.
"You're not sure?"
"Well, I know that you know I want to."
"I do know that."
"In every way," she adds, and smiles when she feels my involuntary acknowledgement of her loaded declaration.
A smile that's much too sweet for it. "You should slap me, Isabella, not smile at me like that."
"Never," she says, shaking her head emphatically and trailing her delicate fingers up and down the back of my neck.
And then cringing... "Well, never again."
"Unless I deserve it again," I tell her, wanting her not to pretend that I didn't.
But, just as I expected, that's exactly what she does. "You didn't deserve it then. I was wrong, and-"
"No," I put my thumb to her lips to stop her. "You were just late to deliver the one I did. Or the many, rolled into one really good one."
Her lips pucker against my skin in an innocent kiss, and one that pleads with me - along with her beautiful brown eyes, just as innocent - not to excuse her behavior on that night of...
But I can't grant her that. Because that would be like faulting her heart for what it feels. And what it wasn't afraid to fight for or defend.
And what she isn't afraid to keep fighting for. In her sweet, pure, and purely vulnerable way.
Like she did moments ago...
When she told me she would make me happy. So happy... in every way...
Even though some of those ways are ways she's too sweet and pure to have any more than a thought or a wonder of...
She still declared it to me. The man she loves who she knows does.
Want and crave.
When she's vulnerable and trusting in my arms...
That crush her even closer as my thumb moves from her mouth to sweep across her cheek.
Keeps moving until it reaches her silken hair and my fingers follow it into it...
Cup the back of her head and hold her still...
Where I want her. And her mouth...
Her sweet mouth with her sweet lips that part so willingly for me. And that tell me that they always will as I claim them.
Promise happiness with their complete surrender.
Their silent declaration...
That screams at me...
Bounces loud yet soundless off of the trees that surround us...
I'll give you everything because you gave me you...
Anything because you didn't take it back...
All, because you'll wait for it...
No matter how hard I make it for you...
Because she is...
Making it so hard...
Smashing herself into me...
Grinding herself desperately against...
With full knowledge of how hard I'm trying not to do the same...
Full trust that I'll endure it for her. The rumbling groan that erupts from my mouth into hers not breaking it...
Not cracking it in the least...
Even as I flip her and flatten her to the ground beneath me...
Crush her under my weight because being crushed under hers wasn't enough...
She still doesn't waver. Doesn't stiffen. Or tremble...
With anything but pride at being wanted so much.
And treasured enough that that want won't go too far. That I won't. And that she won't have to go anywhere. Do anything or say.
Until the day she'll do it all. That anything that I want. That will make me happy...
Like she declared today, and many times before.
Before I'd given her a forest. Or a proper I love you. Or this...
This thing that isn't proper at all.
My want. Harder than the ground it pins her to.
But softer than something else...
The reason we're on it.
And will start our life together the same.
"Actually, sweetheart... " My words are breathless with everything I feel. And everything I'll wait to. "I think we're in our bedroom. Though it's a little lower to the ground at the moment than-"
"The one I'll make you happy in?" she asks, looking up at me as confidently as she ever has. And as adoringly.
"Sooooooooo happy... "
"Edward?" I ask, looking out the window of his Suburban as we drive back to my house.
"How long does it take to design and build a house?"
"A house?" he asks, pulling my attention to his quirked brow, that I heard in his voice before I saw it on his impossibly gorgeous face. "Or your house?"
"Our house," I tell him with a beaming smile. Not that the one my forest gave me - and my huntsman in it- has left mine.
"I like that answer. But instead of giving you the one you asked for, can I ask you a question?"
"Hell yes!" I yell far too loudly for the space of his truck, though it's monstrous.
"A question, sweetheart. Not the."
"Oh. Sure. Ask me anything."
"Not 'the' yet," he adds.
But he didn't need to. "I know. And that my Prince Charming would never ask me to marry him while we were driving down the road."
"No, he wouldn't."
"Because he's far too sweet and romantic to do such a thing in such a way. And because he wouldn't want to get slapped... you know, if he did."
"Oh, just you wait... " Sooooooooooooooooo happy...
I giggle at what I'm sure is an actual whimper - and quite possibly the cutest thing I've ever seen or heard him do - and then wait patiently while he collects himself. And repositions his...
"So, my question... "
"How long does it take to plan a fairy tale wedding?"
"A fairy tale wedding?"
"Your fairy tale wedding. The one I'm honored to know I've always had a role in."
"Well, the. The luckiest one."
Good answer, Edward... "Well... I'm not exactly sure. While I did do it once before, it was a very long time ago, and it was a small, intimate affair. And somewhat of a nontraditional one."
"Nontraditional? How do you mean?"
"I mean that I just planned it and told my Prince Charming to attend."
"And that was fine then, but this time... "
"You want traditional in every way."
"Yes. So, you see, your question is somewhat difficult to answer."
"Because I haven't asked another. Or, rather, the."
"So, I am doing things wrong."
"No, you're not. I already told you you can't."
"But isn't out of order wrong?"
"You mean because you bought me the forest before you asked me to live in it with you?"
"Yes," he laughs. "Because I did that."
"No. That's not wrong. It's customary - and traditional - to buy something before you ask a question. And the."
"So, buying the forest first... before buying something else... "
"Made me love you more than I already did."
"Then I'm definitely wrong about being wrong. Or doing this, at least."
"Oh, I see, Isabella. I see... "
Me too, Edward... everything I've ever wanted.
Wanting to be.
There's no sign of Alice when Edward and I get to the house. And my brother isn't smiling...
But one look at him tells me that she took good care of him.
He's asleep in the chair. Asleep and covered with a blanket.
He looks peaceful. Innocent, even. Like a little boy without a care in the world. Or the weight of it - or anything - on his shoulders.
I stare at him for a moment...
Just long enough to see the rise and fall of his chest... just in case...
And then take Edward's hand and lead him into the kitchen.
Because I've never doubted I could make him - or anyone - happy in there. And because I'm me, and I want to make sure Alice kept that in mind before she left it.
Something I know she did the second I flip on the light, because it's as perfect as it was before I handed it over to her.
Just like my still-sleeping-peacefully-in-the-other-room brother is.
"Are you hungry at all?" I ask Edward, and let go of his hand.
"I could drink something."
"An alcoholic something or a non?"
"A non. I'm buzzed enough off of you."
I smile at his answer and grab us a couple of Cokes from the fridge, setting them on the counter while I fill two glasses with ice.
I can feel his eyes on me as I move around performing these most simple of tasks, but when I look up at him there's nothing simple at all about his gaze. It's proud, and possessive, and intense.
"What are you thinking?" I ask him, and pour Coke into his glass.
"That I hope it doesn't take too long," he answers, still watching my simple movements with intense interest.
And I don't have to ask him what he means... I know. Could never not with the way he's looking at me. But I still want to hear him say it. "It?"
God, I love that word...
And him... "Any particular reason?" I ask now, taking a drink of my Coke and feeling my cheeks warm.
He moves from where he was leaning against the counter and takes my glass from my hand, setting it down and sliding it away from me. And then he lifts me onto its smooth, hard top and grips my legs gently in his hands, inching them apart just enough for him to step between. "Every reason."
"Well, I know what I want," I tell him. "I've known all of my life... and I'm pretty efficient when I'm inspired... "
"So, it's on me."
"It's why I asked you... that question you didn't answer... "
"How long it takes to build-"
"The place we'll both get everything we want in."
My heart is beating furiously under his gaze.
So furiously that I think he can hear it. And feel it. And see it...
Because he bends his head to rest against me, just where it pounds beneath my skin.
And whispers... "That place is right here. And I'm not responsible for creating it."
"No... " I whisper back, slipping my fingers into his hair and holding him to me, "but just like you want to do for me... with that other... I know it was created just for you. That I was. And that you know it, too."
So, hurry, Edward...
I hope you paid attention, but just in case you didn't... Jasper is NOT dead. I'll NEVER give those of you who want it that HEA. Which wouldn't be at all to me.
But as for the one that would... to everyone, I hope... It's all coming, I promise. And please, I beg of you... stop bitching at me about what you don't have yet. You'll get it when she gives it to him. A when that has never wavered, and won't now, or change, no matter how much you want it to or think it should. So, save your breath about that. Seriously. It won't make me give it to you any sooner. Or her to him.
And thank you, readers new and old, for being here. And for your *cough* patience. Some of you amaze me with it, even if I don't do the same for you.
Till next time...