Chapter Twenty Six: Colors
"Well, that was a short visit. Didn't she want to stay for–Bella, what's wrong?"
Everything now... "Nothing."
"Nothing. Hmmm... You wanna try again? Because you're obviously confused about who you're talking to."
"I could never be confused with you in front of me."
"And that makes me very happy, Bella, but not so much that it blinds me. Or makes me deaf to lies from your crazy beautiful mouth."
"I love you, Edward."
"Now, that I believe."
"I hope so. Because it's true. I do. And no matter what else... I... I just need you to know that."
"I do. And did, before you said it. And before you were afraid to."
"Don't forget... ever... please... I–"
"Why would I forget, Bella?"
"I don't know."
"Yes you do. Just like I know that you're still afraid of something. Or someone. Or more specifically, me."
Not only. Not anymore. And not... "I'm not afraid of you."
"You shouldn't be."
"I'm not... "
"No... I'm not... not of you... just of–"
"Yes," I admit to him. Because he'd never believe me if I lied about that.
"It's the same thing, Bella."
"No, it's not. You–"
"Am the only person, circumstance, or thing that could take me from you. Make you lose me...
"It's exactly the same, Bella. And not something you should fear. I'm not. Because I'll never do it. I'll never make you lose me."
"Never's a long time... "
"It is. And I'm looking very forward to spending every crazy beautiful moment of it with you."
My phone is in my hand as soon as Edward and Aly pull out of my driveway.
I don't know where they're going...
He wouldn't tell me...
And maybe that should scare me...
But it doesn't.
Because, no matter what else he might, he wouldn't do that to me.
Take her away without letting me say goodbye.
And he wouldn't do it to her.
I know he wouldn't, no matter what else I don't.
So I make my call.
Something I am afraid of, but think I've run out of time to not face any longer.
"Jasper? I need to talk to you. Edward and Aly just left. And I don't know how long they'll be gone... but can you–"
"I'll be there in two minutes."
"I don't know how to do this, " I start as soon as he walks through my front door, exactly two minutes from the time he said he would. "Say this... so I'm going to just–"
But I stop, because he grabs me by the hand and pulls me back the way he came. "I left my car running, with the heat on. Anything you have to say, say to me there."
"Okay," I say with a nod, his preparations only confirming my suspicions, and let him guide me to it.
That place of safety and security and unconditional love that is Jasper. Still... even after everything I've done. To him and to...
"Warm enough?" he asks, once he's closed my door with me inside and then his own as he settles in beside me.
"Yeah. Warmer than I deserve for you to try to make me."
"I'd never want you to be cold, Bella. Or let you be, if it was in my power to prevent it."
"I think I know that."
"No buts, Bella." He looks at me with those deep blue eyes... the love he feels for me still deep in them–though at this moment, as on the surface as it's ever been–and I nearly crumble under the weight of his words. The ones he didn't say.
And the ones I'm going to. Be selfish enough to. "I think someone else wants me to be. Cold... and God knows what else...
"And you... well, I think that you are the only person in the world that could make her not."
"Her?" he repeats, as if the word is a foreign one to his ears.
"Yes," I tell him, my eyes falling to his wedding ring. The one that she put on his finger with my blessing. My...
"Alice loves you, Bella. And–"
"No, Jasper... she doesn't. Not anymore. She can't... not as long as you do."
"I'll always love you, Bella. She knows that, she's always known it, and–"
"But she knows something else now, too. The same something that you do."
He looks at me for a long moment, the something he knows written all over his face... but then he shakes his head. "No, she doesn't. It's not possible."
"I think it is. Somehow...
"And I'm scared, Jasper. I'm really, really scared. Because she's angry... and fed up... and–"
"Alice is pregnant, Bella. And she's emotional... but she's happy. Because she finally has what she's always wanted."
"Something I never did. With you."
"Yes. And I know that's... well, it's twisted... but it's how she feels. She has a part of me inside of her that you never did. A part of me that I never gave you. She feels like she's finally won... or something. And–"
"She didn't even tell me. Because she wants more. Than that."
"What are you afraid of, Bella? What do you think she wants that I haven't given her?"
"You? You how?"
"She knows, Jasper. I know she does. She said things... when she was here not saying others. She told me about what was in the paper...
"There was a pride in her when she talked about it... something... I didn't really understand it... But I got mad... told her she should show you more respect than that... that you deserved more from her... than for her to be so amused by it... and that made her mad... and then she asked me what I deserved... and when I said I didn't know...
"She said that someone else might. That they might know exactly. And I know that that could mean a lot of things... to her... because of us... the way she perceives us... me...
"But I also know that today it only meant one. She. KNOWS."
"Bella, did she threaten you?"
"She told me to 'be careful'. And, believe me, Jasper... it was a threat."
He looks away from me now... his eyes hard as he stares straight ahead... at my house... the one that feels more like a home to me than any I've ever lived in...
And then reaches down and takes my hand in his. Gently. Tenderly. And with regret.
That he doesn't share it with me.
And for something else. "Don't worry, Bella... on my life... I'll never let her have you."
"We're in my driveway, Jasper. Feet away from my front door. In the light of day. You don't have to walk me to it. Or through."
"Name one time I left you standing in a driveway? Any? And just drove away?"
"I can't." You never did that...
"And that's not going to change today. Or ever."
"Okay," I acquiesce, "You and your chivalry win."
"Thank you," he says with a gentlemanly bow, and then extends his arm.
And I take it with a guilt-laden smile and sigh. "I think that's my line. Or certainly should be. For–"
"You don't have to thank me for anything, Bella. Anything I've done, or anything I will. But you can answer a question for me... one I've meant to ask you a hundred times."
"What question?" I ask, as he stops our forward progress just before we reach my porch steps.
"Why is there a metal stake pounded into the ground right here?"
I can't help the smile that touches my lips as I look down at it and answer him. "Edward put it there."
"Because he wanted me to know... see... that he was staking his claim on me."
Aly rushes straight towards her room as soon as she and Edward come through the front door. The one that Jasper was just about to walk out of.
"Bye, Jasper!" she calls to him, before calling something very different out to me. "And hi, Bella! Stay out there!"
"Bye, Aly!" he calls back to her, at the same time that I yell "Okay!" all the while praying that everything is. And will stay.
Though at this moment, it really doesn't seem to be.
Because I was hugging Jasper goodbye–and maybe things other than–when they came in.
"See you later," he says, to both of us, Edward and I–even though Edward looks like he'd just as soon kill him as ever see him again–and walks out the door.
"Bye," I say softly, and close it the same, before turning back to the man I never want to see outside of it. "Should I be worried about what she's doing in there? And why I have to stay out here?"
"No. Should I be worried about what you were doing as soon as I was out there?"
His gesture at the door has a coldness to it. As do his words...
And I don't like either. "Do you really have to ask me that?"
"I'm not accusing you of anything, Bella. There's no need to be defensive."
"And there's no need for you to be jealous."
"I'm not jealous. I simply don't like–or appreciate–walking in here and finding another man's arms wrapped around something that belongs to me."
"I wrapped my arms around him first."
"And he certainly didn't appear to mind that you did. Or returning the gesture, obviously."
"He's my friend, why would he?"
"He's your friend because it's all you'll let him be. And because he respects your boundaries. Only yours, which, for my taste, aren't nearly clear enough."
"You staked your claim on this land, Edward. And I let you. Because it was what I wanted, too. And I would sure as hell never allow–or want–anyone to trespass on it."
"Yet you hugged him. Something you rarely, if ever, do if I'm on my claimed land."
"It was a congratulatory hug," I tell him. Even if not only...
"For?" he asks me, seemingly irritated that he has to.
"His impending fatherhood," I reply simply.
"They're having a baby?"
"Yes. And I'm very happy for them."
"Why didn't she tell you? She must have already known when she came to see you earlier?"
"She did... or so I assume, anyway... but I can't answer that. I don't know why she didn't tell me."
"Sure you do. You may not understand it, or think it has any basis, but it's not hard to figure out, Bella."
"Her jealousy of you."
"You're right, I don't understand it. And it doesn't have any basis, because I've never wanted her to be anything but happy."
"Yet she is. Jealous. And isn't. Happy. Can't completely be. Because that jealousy she feels in spite of what else she does... is... well, let's call it complex."
More than you know, Edward... "I know that, but–"
"But it's no longer important," he finishes for me. Because Aly is, and has come out of her room.
She went into it with shopping bag filled hands...
But it's not what she comes out with. What she holds now.
In one of her small hands, clutched to her chest so she doesn't drop it, is a jar. A clear one, made of glass, with a wide opening in the top. Wide enough to fit a hand inside, if it's a small one, like hers. And if it isn't closed, as it is, only for now, I know, with its cork stopper, from which a pretty red glass heart dangles on the end of a chain.
In her other hand she holds a small stack of red paper squares and a marker, because she's ready to fill it with good things. Only good things, and forget about the bad the good shared her last with.
"You had to stay out here because the red paper only came in big sheets, like school paper. And I didn't want you to see it until I made it into little ones that would fit in our jar."
"I like our jar," I tell her, as she puts down the pieces of paper and marker and uses both hands to place it carefully on the coffee table. "And the red paper you chose to put inside," that might finally tell me something she hasn't yet... "Is red your favorite color?"
"I don't really have a favorite," she tells me, "I like all colors. Well, except for yellow. I don't like that one."
"I don't, either," I tell her, and hope she doesn't get upset about what else I do now. "But I didn't want to tell you that before because when you came here you had a yellow suitcase."
"I wanted a red one with white polka dots," she says, "just like Janey's galoshes in your book. My favorite one so far... but my mom bought me the yellow one instead. She said a red suitcase with white polka dots was silly."
"But probably mostly she did because yellow was her favorite color. And she thought it should be mine, too."
Did I know that? Somewhere in my memory? Is that why I hate it? Hated it even before... "Well, I think your favorite color should be whatever color you like the most. And none at all if you like them all the same. Except for yellow, of course...
"And, I don't think a red suitcase with white polka dots is silly at all, and, do think, if you still want one, just like Janey's galoshes, that you should have one. So–"
"Do I need one?" she asks, looking straight into my eyes, and breaking my heart with the fear suddenly in hers. "Am I going somewhere? Again?"
"No, sweetheart... I didn't mean that you... I meant... just that... "
"That if we go on a trip somewhere," Edward says from beside me, because he knows I'm stuck, "to some wonderful place," like the one I'm in because he's beside me, and because she's in front of me, "that you should have something that you like to fill with the memories. Just like the pretty jar you chose to put good things in."
"Thank you," I whisper to him, my panic–and Aly's, I think–subsiding at the sound of him. But just in case... "That is all I meant, sweetheart. And I never want you to go anywhere... unless it's to some wonderful place... and I get to go with you. And your red suitcase with white polka dots, that I just meant I want you to have."
She smiles and grasps the red glass heart, pulling the cork from the jar. "That's why I picked this jar. And red paper to put in it. Because you picked red curtains. Because you wanted them. And I wanted the good things to match them. And belong here. And get to stay here... with you."
"You picked red because of me?" I ask her, tears brimming in my eyes.
She nods and uncaps the marker, and then looks down and away from me, as she writes something on the first square of red.
She holds it up when she's finished, and on it she's written my name.
The sight of which makes the tears spill over. And Edward's fingers, that have been resting warm and reassuring against my back, move in gentle circles. Telling me not to get stuck.
"You think I'm a good thing?" I ask her, unable to not, and wipe the tears from my face, though they continue to fall.
"My favorite," she answers, and then giggles. "Person." And folds the square into a smaller one and drops it into the jar.
And I want to ask her for the marker, but she starts writing on the next square before I can.
And, even though I watch her, I don't have to to know what she's writing now. Who...
"Yes!" Edward cheers, pumping his free-handed fist in the air at the sight of his name as she holds it up for us to see.
Aly laughs and shakes her head, and mutters a playful "Duh... " making us both laugh at the rare glimpse of a child she gives us.
"Can I write one now?" I ask her, and watch her drop in the second folded square.
She bites her lip as she looks at me, but then nods and hands me the marker.
And there's no way I'll get stuck now...
Let her see me...
And, after a quick brush of my fingertips against Edward's leg, I pull away from him and drop to my knees beside her at the low table, and write 'Aly' on the next square, so big that it fills it.
The smile she gives me makes me grateful that I'm already on my knees... because I surely would have fallen to them if I hadn't been.
This little girl hasn't been shown enough love in her life. Hasn't been given enough...
That she could trust or believe in...
Know, without a doubt, was good.
She hasn't at all.
But with everything I have, as long as I have it, I'm going to change that.
She's going to know.
Like she does–at least for this moment–when I fold her up and put her where she belongs.
"I wanted to put something in, too," Edward says now, his voice moving closer, "but you both took mine."
"You could put whipped cream," Aly tells him and laughs, because he left little doubt about how much he likes that.
And I'm definitely going to have to remember that... and use it to my...
His sexy chuckle as he moves to kneel next to me tells me he can read my thoughts...
And then he does... in a sexy whisper in my ear... "Some things don't need it. If only I could write that and put it in a jar... "
I'm so buying you your own jar...
"Actually... " he says, after another knowing chuckle, and with a playful gleam in his eyes, "I know what I want to put in now. May I?"
His request for permission is to Aly, but I put the marker in his hand before she gives it.
Which she, of course, does. "Yes."
And we both watch as he writes 'Figaro' on his square.
I see what you did there, Mr. Cullen...
And he knows I do, his wink at me as he holds it up, proof. And of his affection for my...
"Bella let me be her friend because the day I moved in next door Figaro chased a squirrel up my tree. And I climbed up and got him."
"You did?" Aly asks with wide eyes.
"He did," I tell her, the picture of him doing so vivid in my mind. "Really high, too."
She smiles at him and watches him fold his square and drop it in with ours. "I'm glad you did that... but I think Bella would have let you be her friend anyway. Even if you didn't."
"I think so, too," I agree. And do it with no regrets.
Because that day changed my life.
And made me want a better one.
Different than I'd ever had.
And no matter what happens...
That day–and something else–brought me to this one.
"Can I put another in?" I ask now, on this.
And she nods and Edward puts the marker back in my hand.
And then laughs as he watches me write 'Edward's tree' on the paper.
And leans in to kiss my cheek. "Well, if we're going to be that specific, we'll need a bigger jar."
"I don't think they make jars as big as we'd need," I tell him, and smile at Aly's watchful gaze.
"I want to put another one in now," she says, and I hand her the marker and then fold my piece of good and drop it in while she writes.
Her 'another' is 'Cleo'. The first promise kept to her in her new life.
And after Cleo has joined the good, she looks at me and then up at Edward. "I want to put one more," she says, "but I don't want you to be mad at me."
Her words are clearly directed at Edward, and he responds immediately. And without the knowing he always seems to have with me. "What could I ever be mad at you for, Aly?"
She doesn't answer him out loud, only writes 'Jasper' on a square and holds it up for him to see.
And, no matter how he feels about it, he doesn't get stuck for a second. "I'm not mad at you for that, sweetheart. People aren't colors, but like them, you can like any you want. And, just so you know... Jasper isn't yellow to me."
"Good," she says, exactly as I'm thinking it, and folds the square and drops it in the jar. "Because he brought me here. And told me it was the best place in the world someone could be."