It was a long time and I'm sorry.

Thanks to Twilightladies for making it better. I'm forever in her debt.

Chapter 10

Breathe

Isabella felt inpatient and nervous as she waited for Jasper to return home. It seemed weird to her that she wanted to talk to him, that for the first time it was her who wanted to initiate the conversation. She sighed—and for the hundredth time that afternoon—flipped through the newspaper.

She wasn't really interested in the stories and focused solely on the job adverts. She had a few highlighted and had even called a few. After the first few places informed her she didn't have the proper experience she felt dejected. She threw her cell phone on the couch and huffed, irritated.

"Bad day?"

Jasper's voice made her jump slightly and she turned around clumsily to look at him.

And there he was: leaning against the doorframe, watching her without the trace of emotion on his handsome face.

Isabella nodded.

She bit her lower lip as she gathered her confidence. She knew what she wanted to say; she had repeated the same sentence in her head over and over and now knew it by heart. Saying it out loud was another matter. She sighed again, and took a deep breath as she felt the muscles in her neck tense up.

"I'm going to dinner with Edward tonight," she said, breathless. Her voice didn't sound as steady and firm as she wanted it to. It sounded like the tiny squeak of a mouse caught in a trap. She fixed her eyes on the white floor of the hall, irritated by her own weakness.

Jasper lost his composure just for a second. Some kind of negative emotion distorted his features in a flash and it would need a good observer to catch an external symptom of anger that he felt at that moment. He straightened and raised his chin.

"Are you informing me or are you asking for my permission?" he asked loudly.

Isabella slumped, defeated. His posture and tone screamed fight, and she just didn't have the energy. She didn't dare to look at the man she was afraid of: the man that made her feel useless and weak.

"I think I told you before that this house ain't a prison and you're not a hostage, Isabella," he continued, not bothered by her. "You're capable of making your own choices, and your own decisions, but you have to be ready for the responsibility that comes with those actions. If you decided that you're ready for-" he hesitated, but continued, "-new interactions, I can't interfere."

His words were rational and friendly, but Isabella found them blaming and attacking. She raised her head and looked at him.

"It's not like that; it's not a date," she whispered terrified, clasping her palms before her like she wanted to pray. "It's not like that..."

She looked in his eyes pleadingly, but the blue stare of Jasper remained cold, unmoving and unfriendly.

"It's your business, not mine, Bella," he spat. "Take care."

He turned around and marched towards his study, his boots clattered the steady rhythm on the cold hall's floor.

Edward hadn't called her. He sent a dry and formal message with the address of the restaurant instead. It appeared to be nice, family business that served Italian food.

Isabella sat at the wooden table and waited for Edward to appear. As she toyed with the paper napkin, she couldn't help but notice he was already fifteen minutes late.

She arrived at the restaurant later than she anticipated. After deciding against a cab, she drove to the city in her new Shelby Cobra and had trouble finding the right street. Every single attempt she made to convince Jasper to return the car was pointless, he waved his hand at her objections and said: nonsense. She resigned and started to try to coming to terms with all the attention she was making with her sophisticated car.

She glanced at her watch; it was half past eight. She took a sip of her water and stood up abruptly to go home. She was surprised when she felt a slightly sting of disappointment, she sighed and lowered her head.

"Sorry I'm late. Something came up." She heard his voice and started. "Please, stay."

She looked up and saw Edward. His slightly blushed cheeks indicated that he was ashamed or confused; Isabella couldn't place why his face was different from its usual paleness.

"I tried to call you but your phone just went to voicemail. I hoped you would still be here when I arrived," he continued. "Shall we sit?"

Isabella nodded and tried to sit, but Edward rushed and helped her with the chair. Then he took his seat.

The awkward silence was interrupted when the waitress approached the table and offered them menu and some appetizers. They both declined alcoholic drinks and decided quickly to order chef's specials of the day. It was obvious that both Isabella and Edward wanted the meeting to finish as quickly as possible.

"How's Esme?" Isabella asked, making a heroic attempt to start a conversation.

"She's fine, but she misses you. Isabella, I would like to... I know that I've been acting like an ass towards you more than once, but-" Edward paused in the middle of the sentence, not sure how to finish it.

"I have an idea," Isabella said quickly. "Let's start over."

She offered him a hand and said her name.

"Nice to meet you, Bella Whitlock," Edward took her hand, surprised and amused. "My name is Edward Cullen and I have absolutely no idea what to say."

Isabella smiled shyly.

"I miss her too," she said. "I hope we can meet up more often. I don't know why she likes me, what's so special about me, but she helped me somehow." Isabella seemed deep in thoughts for a while, but she shook her head and looked at her companion.

Edward furrowed his eyebrows and looked like he was no longer amused.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't..." she trailed off, but he waved his hand at her.

"It's not your fault," he said. "It's not your fault that she thinks you're just like her."

"Like who?" Isabella widened her eyes, surprised.

"Alice," Edward replied with difficulty, the fact of speaking this feminine name seemed to hurt him.

"Alice?" Isabella repeated, still not understanding.

Edward sighed and looked at the woman. He wondered if he should tell her everything, but he was annoyed and uncomfortable. The waitress bought him some time, as she arrived and placed the plates on their table; he got a grip and calmed down completely.

"I'd prefer you had this conversation with Esme, but it was me that brought this topic up and I think it's time you have some answers," he said quietly. "Alice is my sister. We'd last seen her three years ago, on April 17th."

Isabella opened her mouth but no sound came out.

"The search team failed. Legal and illegal ways failed. She's gone."

"I'm so sorry." Isabella whispered. "I had no idea."

"That's why she likes you so much."

Isabella lowered her head.

"Let's talk about something else," Edward said. "You know, you look much better than you looked when I last saw you," he threw in and grimaced, embarrassed by his poor attempt of compliment.

Isabella shrugged and smiled. It was true, after all.

"Yeah, it's all Jasper's work. He's helping me stand on my own two feet, and as thankful as I am, it's all just temporary. I just need to find a job now," she said. "It's frustrating, with no experience and all."

"What would you like to do?" he asked, happy with the change of the topic

"Anything," she replied quickly. "I hate sitting at home, doing nothing and depending on-" she stopped, ashamed.

"I see," Edward nodded. He looked at her closely. He realized that he judged her too quickly, and it bothered him. He found himself caring for her. He found himself wishing he could help her.

Edward put his fork down suddenly.

"Let's go to the cinema, I'm in the mood to watch some stupid comedy," he said, surprising himself. "Let's watch something, anything, I want to forget about everything and just... breathe."

Isabella squinted and smiled at him.

"I haven't been to the cinema for ages," she sighed as she moved to stand up. "Let's go, then."

**SMH**

It was well after midnight when Isabella typed the security code in and opened the main door. She put the car keys on the table and without the turning the lights on moved to the hall. Moonlight highlighted the couch and the dark silhouette of Jasper. He was sleeping half-sitting, boots and all. She wondered if he fell asleep waiting for her, but shook her head at the thought. Isabella noticed her cell phone was next to Jasper and remembered that she'd thrown it on the couch before. She leaned and reached her hand out to grab it.

It only took a nanosecond.

And in that second she realized she was no longer stationary. She collided hard with the floor and yelped at the force. Her back throbbed and the impact had knocked the breath from her. She began to panic when she realized there was a hand gripping her throat, her lungs felt on fire and she couldn't breathe at all.

Thank you.