Hey guys! Thank you so much for all of the reviews for the last chapter and for this whole story in general. Also, thank you for all of the encouragement to continue it. I'm sorry about the long delay, I won't even make any excuses because there really aren't any good ones for not updating for over a year... This chapter isn't betad and its been awhile since I've written so I apologize if there are errors. Good news is: I already wrote and edited the chapter after this so I'll be posting it in a few days!
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight or any of the characters
In the week following my near escape from the party Edward seemed troubled. He had more day shifts than usual and spent more nights curled up with me on the couch watching TV and bantering lightly. Still, we seemed to talk even less than normal. That's not to say we were around each other less, in fact it was exactly the opposite and I spent more time in his presence than I arguably ever had before. It was just… he was there without being there and I often caught him spacing out in the middle of an episode or mid conversation. The first few days of this worried me greatly. I found myself wondering if he regretted letting me stay here now that James was looking for me or if I was boring him. By the fifth day or so I gave up worrying, it was impossible to beat myself up about things when Edward was there to notice and pull me out of my slump.
The tenth day started out like all the others for us; Edward joined me at night after work for an episode of Dr. Who and we talked and joked during it as always. The only difference was I couldn't get him to laugh, not even to smile. At the end I reached across him to grab at the remote and hit the next episode button—since he was too lazy—and ended up nearly nose to nose with him. He grabbed my chin gently and turned my face to face his. He was so close I could feel his breath ghost across my lips and I was caught by the look in his eyes while he stared at me. It was something I had never seen before; something unreadable. There was a darkness there, a sadness almost, a yearning mixed with loss. And lust— that too perhaps— but nothing like the emotion I used to see in James or any of his friends. This was remote, so removed that I couldn't even be sure it was me he was lusting after. And then there were the other two; caring definitely, he cared about me to some degree, and wonder, a question almost. As if he were pondering some outcome in his head. I tensed—unsure what to do with him looking at me in such a way— and waited.
I had no problem with Edward touching me; he did it all the time at night when we slept and frequently during the day when we were just hanging out around the house. Still, the look was uncharted territory and I didn't know what to do. Add that to the fact that Edward never held my stare for this long and never, ever, grabbed me and I couldn't help but get anxious after a moment. After fifteen seconds or so I flinched away from him slightly, not enough to break his grip but enough for him to see my nervousness. In a second whatever had been in his eyes was gone, replaced by the one emotion it hurt me most to see: disgust. He stood up so quickly he knocked me backwards onto the coach and disappeared into his room for the rest of the night without saying anything. I went to bed that night convinced he was angry with me and that he wanted nothing more to do with me. I woke in the middle of the night after crying myself to sleep to find him wrapped around me in my own bed. His chin tucked into my shoulder, arm snuggly around my waist, and his breath ghosting across my ear. I was so happy to see him that I couldn't help but tangle my feet in his, an action that caused him to stir a little and murmur a quiet;
"s'okay, go back to sleep. I've got you." I did as requested. The next morning I woke to Edward's gentle voice in my ear, urging me to come eat breakfast. Everything seemed to have returned to normal.
The party incident changed everything for me. No longer could I pretend that Jasper didn't mean much to me, or that he and I were strictly friends. The thought of losing him had awoken some deep-seated, anxious, fear within me that I had thought had died with Keenan. The fear drove me to install a new security system in my house and to double and triple check that the address I had linked to the account James transferred money into was somewhere far away from my real address. The fear led to more dayshifts at the hospital and more nights spent with Jasper cuddled up safe in my arms on the couch.
Honestly though, it was the gratitude that really changed things. I hadn't felt grateful for anything in years; why should I when life had taken everything good from me before I hit thirty? I had been bitter and angry at everything. Few good feelings penetrated my dark cloud and it was no wonder I lost most of my friends in those years. To feel grateful— thankful even— at having Jasper returned to me was huge. A real awakening of sorts. Bella noticed, Jasper noticed, and so did all of my coworkers. Each of them privately attributed my change in mood to mean different things. Angela thought I'd finally found the light at the end of my tunnel of grief. Jessica thought I'd finally realized that she and I were meant to be. Bella imagined Jasper and I must be about to elope or something equally drastic. Jasper was the only person whose thoughts were hard to read, and that frustrated me to no end. He responded to my change in attitude with the same easy grace I'd come to expect from him. He smiled more perhaps and his eyes lit up whenever I did something nice for him. But he never once commented on my sudden apparent clinginess or the number of times he caught me staring at him throughout the day as I mulled things over in my head.
By the time almost two weeks had passed since the incident, I was sure that I wanted to have some kind of relationship with Jasper. A part of me—which seemed to occupy a cold, hard, fist-sixed knot in my stomach— felt guilty and alarmed for cheating on Keenan like that. I placated that part of myself by rationalizing that Keenan wouldn't want me to be lonely and that my feelings for Jasper weren't anywhere near my feelings for Keenan. Keenan I had loved, Jasper I cared about. Being with Keenan was being with my soul mate and I was just using Jasper to cope with Keenan's absence. A small voice in my head warned me that thinking this way wasn't fair, that I was using Jasper just like James had if I went about it this way. I forced the voice back until it was only an uncomfortable prickle on the back of my neck; this was the way things had to be. At least… that's how I felt that Tuesday.
Wednesday morning I woke up to a knocking at the front door really early in the morning, before my alarm even rang to wake me up for work. I carefully extracted myself from Jasper so as not to wake him and scurried to answer it. I frowned when I saw Bella standing there, Starbucks in hand and a weak looking smile on her face.
"Bella?" I questioned groggily. The corner of her mouth twitched up and she shoved one of the two cups into my hand, pushing past me and into the hallway on the way to the kitchen. She plopped herself down in a chair and stared at me where I leaned against the doorframe.
"How are you doing today Edward?" She asked carefully. I frowned, not understanding her question or why she was here.
"Fine. Are you okay Bells? Is it Jake?" I asked, worry clenching in my gut as I imagined something being wrong with one of the two of them. I shuddered in real terror as the thought suddenly occurred to me that James might have somehow gotten to them, hurt them. I had been so preoccupied with protecting Jasper that I hadn't even warned Bella—
"Edward!" Bella's harsh tone snapped me from my thoughts in an instant and I refocused on her concerned frown.
"We're fine. Today is… " She trailed off suddenly, her eyes widening and her face taking on a look of shock. "Edward do you not know what day it is?" She asked in an almost unbelieving tone. And suddenly I remembered.
I remembered why she was here and what today was. Today the love of my life had officially been gone for three whole years. For a second all I could feel was panic. It swelled inside of me until it forced out everything else, including the air in my lungs and the food in my stomach. I flew to the kitchen and retched over the sink until nothing else would come up and I was finally able to stop dry heaving. Bella stroked my back and my hair soothingly the whole time, murmuring soft words I couldn't understand into my ear. For a moment I felt… something insufferable. Something more horrifying and dark than anything I'd ever felt before I lost Keenan. Something worse even than what I had felt when I knew for certain he was dead. It was the same feeling I had battled with since I got over the shock and realized he was never, ever coming back. The sensation was less of a feeling and more of a void, the kind you drop a rock into as a kid and wait and wait and wait to hear the sound of it hitting the bottom. Except it never comes. The void is final and huge and inescapable. It is infinite. For a moment I knew I couldn't do this, couldn't exist with all this inside me. I just couldn't at the most basic and yet highest level. So I did the only thing I could do, what I had been doing for years. I searched for the numbness I knew was inside of me and I pulled it around my thoughts and myself like a cloak.
And just like that the thankfulness I felt, the desire for a relationship with Jasper, every good feeling I had had in the last few months, snapped shut behind a wall of emptiness. Once my wall was in place I felt the panic fade away and I could think again. I couldn't believe I had forgotten. I tried to remember when exactly I stopped counting the days since Keenan died and I couldn't. I didn't know how I felt about that and that alone was enough to tell me what I felt was part of the void.
Whatever Bella must have seen in my face between two minutes ago and now must have scared her because she wrapped me in a tight hug. I felt a tear on the side of my neck where her face pressed into my skin and realized she was crying silently. I hugged her back and we stood there for an indeterminable amount of time before she finally gathered herself and pulled away.
"Do you want to go to my house? We can watch movies or something like last year." I shook my head.
"I forgot to call out of work."
"It doesn't matter. Call in sick or something." I frowned at her.
"I'm fine Bella, I've gotten through every other year haven't I?"
"You know Edward, not everything is about you all the time!" She yelled, her sadness exploding into anger. Tears poured from her eyes and she turned away to compose herself presumably while she muffled full sobs with her hand. I felt a prickle of guilt creep into my stomach and I left to make the call without another word. By the time I was finished Bella had gotten herself together and was watching me dry-eyed.
"I want to be with Jake so we're going to my house." She informed me. I nodded.
"Let me get dressed real quick." I mumbled, heading back towards my bedroom without waiting for an answer. I froze with one hand outstretched to push the door open when I remembered Jasper. The thought of him in my room— my bed no less— on today of all days, set my stomach flipping and I felt for a moment as if I had to throw up again. I felt a crack in my wall of numbness and physically recoiled, closing my eyes and taking deep breathes to ground myself before I went it. When I did finally manage it I purposefully kept my eyes averted from the bed and Jasper nestled in it. For the first time in forever I wished like Hell he'd never stepped foot in my room. I felt the crack grow larger and shuddered.
It took me forever to decide what to wear with so many thoughts crowding my head. At first I figured I would just toss on sweats and call it a day (since all I'd be doing was watching TV) but then I hesitated. I didn't want to watch movies all day, I wanted to fucking drink. Drink and drink until I forgot everything. Until I forgot Keenan and Jasper and even my own name. The desire was unusual for me. Alcohol had never been my coping mechanism before. For a second the wiser part of myself put up a fuss about how good of an idea drinking actually was in my mood, but that part was quickly silenced. Quickly I grabbed my favorite dress shirt and threw it on, rummaging through my drawer until I found an old, hardly ever worn, pair of skinny jeans. I completed the look with my only pair of converse and swept my keys and wallet off the table, shoving my cell into my pocket as I went. Today I would spend watching tv with Bella and Jake. Tonight I would forget, that seemed the easiest option.