Unthankfully, the room I ducked in happened to be occupied.
Jasper sat sprawled out on an over-stuffed chair, his body facing towards one of the big windows that lined his wall, but his face turned in my direction.
"Er, shit," I said quickly. "I didn't know this was your room. I was just trying to hide from Alice."
And now, because of my stupid spontaneous actions, I was alone with Jasper. How perfect.
Blood rushed to my cheeks.
"You don't have to be so distressed about stumblin' in here," Jasper drawled. "I'm not going to kidnap you."
"That's not-" I started, then stopped, realizing that I couldn't exactly say I didn't want to be here with him because my brain tended to get fuzzy when he was too close. That would sound terrible.After a second's hesitation, I settled on saying, "I don't want to go. That is, unless you mind."
"No," said Jasper, looking at me strangely. "That's fine. Come, have a seat."
At his invitation, I wandered further into the room, letting my eyes take in the space as I walked. There was no bed, obviously, but he did have a couple thick chairs facing out towards the forests that surrounded the house. Two of his walls were covered with bookshelves, with a couple expensive-looking guitars hanging on the second one, and the last one being completely made up of windows.
"Er, nice room," I said, kind of awkwardly. Without looking directly at Jasper, I took a seat in the open chair. He laughed, low and deep and just a little bit rough, but beautiful at the same time.
"Thank you, ma'am," said Jasper, ducking his head a little. I got the impression that he would have tipped his hat if he'd been wearing one. "I'm glad that you like it. You did enjoy dinner, too, right?"
I held back a smile. "Yeah, I did. Esme is a surprisingly good cook for someone who doesn't eat. Then again, it seems like you vampires are pretty much good at everything."
Chuckling, Jasper shook his head and corrected, "Nah. It just looks like that sometimes. We all have our faults, though, like everyone else." Like something came to him, he shook his head and sadly said, "Honestly, it's more of a curse than a gift. Every day, I think about how, if I could, I'd give away all the strength and speed to get my soul back."
Now that was a surprise. Jasper seemed like that kind of person who didn't tell anyone anything, and well, I kind of felt a little flabbergasted that he'd trust me with that kind of information, especially since it seemed to be right from the heart.
"You honestly think that you lost your soul, then?" I asked softly, hating how gentle I sounded, but glad that I didn't have it in me to kick him while he was down.
"I know that I've lost my soul," said Jasper. He looked right at me with unbelievably warm golden eyes. He must have honestly stuffed himself in anticipation of this meal. The sappy, almost nonexistent part of my head thought, how sweet. The other part reminded me that killing a bunch of forest animals wasn't sweet, no matter what. "But it's not because I'm a vampire."
"What do you mean?" I asked, because what he said made no sense at all.
"My family… they're all good people, vampires, whatever. I don't see how they couldn't still have their souls, how they couldn't be whole. None of them chose this lifestyle, and all of them have tried to make the best of their choices."
Eyeing the scars, seeing the far-off look in his eyes, I hesitantly asked, "And you?"
Jasper looked down and shook his head.
"Maybe later, when we've gotten to know each other better. You still don't like me, and I don't want to drive you away any further. It's… not a happy story, though."
"Jasper?" I asked, looking at him worriedly. His voice sounded really, really sad, and I couldn't help but be just a little bit concerned.
"I'm fine," Jasper said, even though he didn't look it.
"Are you sure?" Seemingly against my will, I found myself kind angling myself towards him. "Because I don't think you'll drive me away, honestly. I mean, I don't not like you, like you seem to think, and I know that you've had a pretty bad past, so…"
"I might tell you later," Jasper said, giving me a really funny look. "Tonight is supposed to be fun for you and Seth, so I'll hold off for a little while. Why don't we do something else? I take it that you're hiding from Alice?"
"Er, yeah," I said, glancing in the direction of the door. "And I'm kind of surprised that she hasn't burst in here and dragged me out against my will."
Jasper shrugged, looking at me sheepishly again. I decided that it was my favorite look on him. It made him look like such an innocent gentleman that my heart wanted to melt. I mean, he was positively adorable, and even I couldn't come up with any excuse to explain that away.
"That might be intentional," he said, kind of evasively. That's when I realized that Seth was part of a much larger conspiracy. I narrowed my eyes as I thought of smiling little Alice dragging my brother off into a corner and whispering stories of a future with Jasper and I holding hands and dancing through meadows.
"Well," I said, deciding not to embarrass either of us more than we needed to be embarrassed. "We might as well make the most of that time, then. You've got about a million books in here. Any chance I could look at some of them?"
This goofy smile crossed Jasper's face then, and I this huge wave of joy swept through my stomach, like I knew I'd said the absolute perfect thing. It was the same feeling that I got when I got Sam to kiss me for the first time.
Ugly pain stabbed my heart like an old, rusted knife at the memory, twisting and turning as I unwillingly relived the memory.
It had been Sam's senior year, and his last ever basketball game. We hadn't even been going out, but we were definitely heading that way. Ever since we'd worked together on the annual school play towards the beginning of the year, we had been inseparable.
Anyway, he'd had an absolutely huge game, scoring thirty six points, and sinking the game winning shot. Like everyone else, I ran out onto the court and straight into his arms. We looked at each other awkwardly for a second, like we wanted to do more than just hug, but were both scared that the other would freak out if that happened.
Then I'd grinned, back when I was confident like that, and teased, "I think you just proved yourself worthy enough to date the great Leah Clearwater", like he was the sophomore and I was the senior. Sam knew that I was kidding though, and he got this blinding grin on his face, then swooped down and kissed me, right there in front of everyone, and I still think it was the best kiss that I've ever had, from him or anybody else.
How, I wondered, could I get that exact same feeling, from a Jasper smile?
"Leah?" asked Jasper. I blinked, realizing that I was half-standing, ready to get out of my seat, but still kind of sitting down. "What's wrong?"
Standing up fully and holding my head high, I looked him in the eye and said, "Nothing."
Jasper, without even blinking, replied, "It's Sam."
"It's always Sam," I answered.
Then he did what I thought was the strangest thing ever, and stepped forward and took my feverishly hot hands in his freezing cold ones. For a second I wondered what he was doing, but then he closed his eyes and the pain went away.
I wanted to be angry, wanted to snap that I was just fine taking care of myself, but then I settled down just long enough to feel what it was like to not hurt. He wasn't even making me happy, just taking away what Sam did, and it was so perfect that I let myself smile. It wasn't a smirk, or a two second curving of the lips, but a real, honest-to-god smile, and I think that even Jasper was surprised.
"Thank you," I said, really meaning it. My grip on his hands tightened, and I realized that it wasn't so bad, making contact with his icy skin. I couldn't really feel any kind of temperature anymore, and being able to take notice of any kind of difference, once I looked past the initial numbing cold, was refreshing.
More than that, though, with Jasper so close and the pain from Sam gone, I almost felt safe.
Then Jasper stepped back, and I, sounding strangely content, murmured, "Thank you."
"It was my pleasure, ma'am," he said in a voice that pretty much made me want to melt. Then, like he just remembered he was going to show me his books, he moved closer to the shelves. "Do you read much?" he asked as I followed him.
"No, not really. I never used to at all, but after Sam left I got into using them to take my mind off of him." I wanted to stop right there, to not say anymore, but somehow I found myself continuing, "For the first couple months, I'd actually sit and page through sappy romance novels, trying to convince myself that crap like that could actually happen in real life. Isn't that pathetic?"
Jasper, standing real close to me, ignored my question and gently asked, "Don't you think you could ever imprint, Leah? Then wouldn't all of those things come true?"
Now, I'd thought about that. When I first learned about the whole imprinting thing from Sam, I wondered and wondered if something like that would ever happen to me. Then Sam mentioned that imprinting wasn't about love, it was about making strong little wolf puppies. Even my dad agreed.
That brought up the question; Why Emily and not me? My genes were a million times better than hers, so if that whole thing was true, then it should have been me that Sam picked.
Then, of course, I came to realize that not aging meant not aging. My body was stuck. Sam didn't imprint on me because I couldn't have any little wolf-pups, and I wasn't going to imprint on anyone else for the exact same reason.
"Imprinting would take away my free will," I said snappishly. Then, when I saw Jasper start to apologize, I also added, "And... I don't think I can."
His vampire smarts must have kicked in then, thankfully, because he dropped the subject after that.
"Sorry." Then, more hesitantly, "I'm sure that you'll get your fairytale ending sometime."
"Haven't you heard, Jazzy?" I asked, smiling ruefully. "The wolves are always the bad guys. A fairytale ending for a werewolf is usually as a pelt on Little Red Riding Hood's floor."
Jasper reached forward and pulled out a book. It was an expensive illustrated edition of a fairytale book from about a million years ago. The yellowed paper crinkled when he moved it.
"I know a story that you would do good to read," Jasper said as he smoothly paged through the book. When I stood on my tiptoes to peer over his shoulder, I saw that someone had drawn in a picture of a fierce bear with a handsome prince kneeling in front of it. Bearskin was written in fancy letters across the top of the page.
"What in the hell is this?" I asked sharply.
"A Fairy Tale," Jasper said, nudging me with the book like it would goad me into reading.
"No," I said. "This is stupid, and pointless, and completely-"
"Why don't I just tell you the story instead?" Jasper interrupted. I opened my mouth to refuse, then saw the pleading look in his golden eyes and sighed in defeat.
"Fine. Go ahead."
Jasper shut the book and slid it back onto the shelf. Then, scooting just a tiny bit closer to me, so that it felt like I was standing next to an air conditioner, Jasper started telling his story.
"A long time ago, a king and a queen had a beautiful daughter, whom they loved very much," he began, his voice so smooth and compelling that my annoyance faded instantly. "She was their only child, and they loved and cared for her more than anything. Then, one day, the evil king of the ogres heard about this beautiful girl.
"Deciding that he wished to have this girl's beauty to himself, the ogre king threatened to destroy the kingdom unless the king gave him his daughter. The king had no choice but to accept, and before long, the ogre came to take the girl away.
"As would be expected, the two had a long way to travel, and the princess needed to rest within a few hours. The ogre left her in a cave so that he could go hunting, and the princess, exhausted from distress, fell into a deep sleep."
Jasper had been gracefully ambling around the room, moving his hands in time with his words and letting his voice get gradually softer, until he was breathing more than speaking. My heart wasn't beating quite right, and I prayed that he was too caught up in his story to notice.
"While the princess was sleeping," he continued, "her fairy godmother sewed her into a bearskin, and the princess was transformed into a she-bear. Of course, the beautiful girl was distressed, but her wonderful speed gave her the means through which to escape. She ran from the cave and swam through a deep blue ocean until she reached another kingdom.
"There, the prince of the kingdom found her while he was hunting. Her gentle behavior prevented him from killing her, however, and he took the bear back to his castle. Eventually, the she-bear fell in love with this prince, but knew that he would never love her back. Sensing her distress, her fairy godmother took pity on the princess, changing her back into a princess every day at midnight, as long as she was willing to return to her bearskin every morning.
"As this was happening, the prince found himself falling in love with the she-bear, something that he never expected. The kindness and gentleness behind the bear's mask of ferocity entranced him, and he grew closer and closer to the bear. Then, one day he stayed with her late until midnight, and witnessed the transformation of the bear into a dazzling princess.
"The princess was terrified that he would be disgusted, but, instead the king got down on one knee and proposed to her. After that, the two lived happily ever after."
Jasper finished, looking directly at me, too close, his eyes too warm, his breath too cool on my face. I had to back up, shaking my head fiercely to clear it.
"You made up that ending," I said, not quite able to keep the dazedness out of my voice. "Believe me, that fairytale reeked of sucky ending."
Shrugging slightly, Jasper admitted, "Maybe the ogre king eventually found the princess and slaughtered her children. However, the princess still found love, despite everything."
"You mean despite being a disgusting transforming animal?"
Jasper looked like he was about to pull his hair out of his head.
"You know as well as I do that I wasn't thinking it that way."
I shrugged because I did know that.
"Leah," Jasper said, giving me another super-warm look. "Just keep your head up. You'll find someone eventually."
Before I could tell him that I'd probably still be single two million years in the future, someone knocked on the door.
"Leah!" Seth shouted. "Edward can hear wolf-thoughts not too far away. If Sam finds our car here-"
"Shit," I cursed. I looked at Jasper and said, "Sorry. I really have to take care of this." Then, praying that I could figure something out before Sam found out about my little detour, I burst out of Jasper's room and sprinted towards the front door.