Just some fluff. I hope you like it. This is the last epilogue for now.
For those of you still reading Under These Lights, I'm making slow but steady progress on the next chapter. Stick with me.
Thank you so much.
"Hello?" I call out as I step through the front door of our apartment. The lock always sticks a little, and I almost fall through the entry way as I attempt to keep a hold of my work crap and wiggle it open at the same time. "Where my boys at?"
The silence in our home makes me pout. Tuesdays are my late days at the gallery and usually Jasper and Jax beat me home. And they bring take out.
No food. No boys.
I switch on the hallway light and toss my keys in the pretty little bowl I made that sits on a rickety hand carved table. We've been here for about two years, since I finished up school and got a job working at my favorite downtown art gallery. I ended up double majoring at Pratt, painting and management.
They really love me over there. I'm not exactly running the place. But maybe one day.
The money is decent, which is not something I would really care about if I didn't have this overwhelming desire to dote on my child. He's a demanding little thing, the way he needs to be fed everyday.
And I still paint. Maybe one day I'll put on my very own show in my very own gallery. Although that really does seem like a conflict of interest.
Moving through our cozy little two bedroom home, I dump off the stacks of portfolios on the kitchen table and lay my fitted grey blazer over the back of a chair. Sometimes when I get dressed in the morning I don't even recognize myself.
At some point over the years, when I wasn't really paying attention, I turned into a grown with grown up clothes and a grown up job and a grown up family. Now I'm all about the slim cut dresses and slacks that make my legs look much longer than they actually are.
Today it's a white tank with navy stripes tucked into a pencil skirt that goes all the way much my torso. I'm even wearing heels, mostly because I need the height to compete with people at work.
My short, messy hair and aversion to color remains the same. I love vibrant shades on my canvas, just not my person.
It's been a long day to a grab a beer and sit out on our little balcony as I wait.
"Mary Alice!" I'm half-way done with my drink when Jazz slams into the apartment. His tone makes me feel like I'm in trouble. Why the hell would I be in trouble?
"Hey," I say, walking back through the kitchen. "Hi, buddy!"
"Mommy!" My adorable little tow-headed five year old launches himself at my legs. I drop to my knees to greet him properly. "Look what I did!"
He shows me the finger paintings he did in preschool and I gush appropriately. I cover his face in kisses as he babbles happily about his day.
"Go wash up for dinner, Jackson," Jasper instructs when our son finally takes a breath.
"Okay, Daddy. Can we put this on the fridge? It's the bestest one."
"Sure, kid. Right after we eat."
Jackson lets out a giggle and takes off down the hall towards his bedroom.
"What's up?" I ask the moment Jax disappears. It's pretty obvious that Jasper is not in the best of moods.
He lets out a sigh and sets the take out on the table. Indian food. Smells damn good.
"I was talking to Ms. McKay. You know, the preschool person at Arrow," he begins. I bite back my snide comment because I fucking know the woman who watches over my son. "Well, apparently there's been some bullying."
"No fucking way. Come on, I'm not being one of those blind-to-their-child's-faults kinda parents. Have you met the kid? There's no way he's bullying anyone," I reply. If Jackson was more like me it would be a distinct possibility, but the kid is all Jasper, way too kind hearted to be a fucking bully.
"It's the other way around, my dear," he says, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Oh," I say, totally stunned.
"He was all silent and by himself when I went to get him today."
"Oh," I repeat, tearing up a little myself. Jackson is like his daddy and loves being around people.
"I know he seems totally fine now but he was angling on the way home to not go back to daycare ever again. It's bothering him, Alice. How could it not?" Jasper looks just about as pissed and confused as I feel. Jackson is such a friendly little guy he hasn't had many problems with the other kids. I have no fucking clue how to handle this unprecedented situation.
"Beating these bullying little bastards would be wrong, right?" I ask.
Jasper cracks a hint of a smile. "One bullying little bastard, actually. Don't you even wanna know why this kid is pickin' on him?"
"Does it even matter?"
"It's us, Alice. Jackson said that he didn't think that his momma and poppa were married and this little asshole stared callin' him names. He's got it in his head that we ain't a real family or some shit," Jasper says, speaking in hushed tones.
"Oh," I say because how the fuck am I supposed to respond to that. "Well, that's an easy fix at least."
"We'll just get married. Problem solved."
Jasper gapes at me, looking so much like a fish I find it funny even in this rather stressful moment.
"You're kidding," Jazz finally says after clearing his throat a whole bunch.
"I was wondering when this whole marriage thing would come up again. It's been a busy couple years but I thought you would've at least purposed to me once by now," I muse. Marriage is not something I spend much time thinking about, but now that I am I find it odd that Jasper has done nothing to make me his wife.
More gaping from Jasper and a whole lot of stuttering. I watch with growing concern as he tugs at his tie.
"You okay, baby?" I ask.
"You have to be the most frustrating woman on face of the planet. I fell in love with a lunatic. A complete lunatic. How the hell did that happen?" he bursts out.
"Well, the important thing to focus on there is how much you love me," I remind him.
He rolls away, grumbling to himself as he pulls out utensils. I have no idea what the fuck just happened or how I made him so irate, but he sure is cute when he's flustered.
Jackson emerges and we all sit down to family dinner. We spend a good amount of time talking to Jackson about how love makes a family, not titles. We use Bella and Edward as examples and he gets it right away. They are totally family. Even without the blood relation.
I kiss Jackson goodnight and leave my boys alone. Most nights Jax wants his stories from his daddy. I change into a tank top and some black boy shorts underwear before dragging a couple portfolios into bed with me. We're starting to plan a showing of local emerging artists. It falls to me to do the first round of cuts before showing my picks to my boss. It's slow going, but luckily something I can do from home easily enough.
It's hard to focus as I mull over my earlier conversation with Jasper. Maybe he's changed his mind on the whole husband and wife situation. We are definitely not broke so why fix it? Still, it would be nice to have a few more legal ties to match all the others that connect our lives.
Jazz was always Mr. Marriage. What the fuck happened?
He doesn't say anything when he rolls into our room twenty minutes later, and heads straight for the bathroom. Still he doesn't talk as he maneuvers his way into our bed and gets situated next to me.
"Is that human hair?"
Not really the first words I was expecting, but I'll take it.
"Yup," I say, moving the large black folder out of my lap and closer to him so he can get a good look at the photograph. "Pretty cool, huh?"
"More like highly unsanitary," he mutters. "But what do I know. You're the expert."
"Still, it's probably not going to make the cut. This artist is just being shocking for the sake of being shocking. This hair stuff doesn't really say anything," I murmur, more thinking out loud than really talking to Jazz.
"I'll have to take your word on it."
He settles back against the pillows and picks up some sports hero biography he's been reading and that's just about when I lose patience.
"So are we getting married our what?" I push all the portfolios I should be going through onto the bedside table before turning to face him. He shakes his head a lot and I resist the urge to smack him.
"We're not gettin' married because of some asshole punk kid," he says with a finality that annoys me.
"Because that is the least romantic thing I've ever heard!" he shouts.
"Well, maybe if you brought this up sooner and not left it to my suggestion it would have been up to your weirdly high romance standards," I point out, being perfectly logical. Jazz doesn't agree and lets out a frustrated growl.
"You're unbelievable, you know that?"
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"Believe me, babe, that wasn't the intent."
"What is your problem? Don't you want to be married at me?" We both seem a little surprised to hear the whine in my voice near the end there.
Jasper lets out a big sigh and rubs his eyes with his fists. "I'm not gettin' married for the wrong reasons and that brat bullyin' out kid sure as fuck falls under that category."
"There are other reasons. Such as the aforementioned kid."
"Maybe I used to think that was a good reason, but not anymore," he mumbles.
"Good God, man," I shout, losing it again. "What do you want from me? Do you not want to be my husband? Is that it? Are you secretly planning on leaving me at the first opportunity you get?"
He rolls his eyes. "I want you to want to be married to me as much as I want to be married to you."
His earnest statement makes my breath leave my lungs in a big old whoosh. Jasper isn't looking at me and I feel like just an asshole for not understanding what had him all upset. Beside the bully thing, it's my lackadaisical, whatever attitude regarding something he takes very seriously.
We sit in silence for a moment and I try to center myself. This is a very delicate situation. Taking one more big breath I scoot close to him. Slowly I rest my head on his shoulder and a hand on his bare, sculpted chest.
"You're the love of my life, Jasper," I murmur. Still he doesn't look at me, but his little smile motivates me to keep going. "I mean it and all the over used cliché things about love. Soul mate. Other half. My everything. Whatever. For me, getting married isn't going to change much because it's impossible for me to be any more committed to you and this family. Still, the thought of being your wife makes me way happier than I ever thought it would. Giddy. I want to claim you as mine in every imaginable way."
I'm not totally sure where all this is coming from, but it's the truth. All of it.
"Really?" he asks. I hate how unsure he sounds. He probably hasn't mentioned marriage in so long out of the fear that I'd shoot him down.
Jasper kisses my forehead and reaches back to turn off the light. He keeps me tucked into his side the whole time, and I giggle as we go on a little trip.
"I love you," he says as we snuggle into sleepy-time positions.
"Does this mean we're getting married?" I ask hopefully.
"Stop badgerin' me, Alice. I've got to put together a right and proper proposal and your naggin' ain't gonna help a damn thing."
I fall asleep grinning.
Jasper and I get married in Dillon three months later. It seems fitting, being as this little Texas town I love to hate is the homeland of our love. Plus it would have been harder to keep the wedding small if we stayed in the city. Between his work people and my work people it would've gotten big quick. My opinions on marriage have changed a great deal in the years I've been with Jasper, but I still feel the same way about big weddings
Fuck that, I say.
Instead it's a family only affair, plus the old gang from high school and a couple good friends from the city. We're the godparents of Edward and Bella's two year old little girl, Nessie, so really that counts as family it you ask me. There's less of a justification for the presence of Peter and his longtime girlfriend, Charlotte, and my old friends from art school, but what the fuck ever. It's my special day and all that.
We get married in this tiny little church that just barely houses our thirty or so guests. Mostly they are various Whitlocks. Jazz has a big family.
Or, we have a big family. Weird.
Mrs. Whitlock, Bella, and Rosalie all get really pissy with me when they see my dress, but the vintage sheath is absolutely perfect. The satin fabric comes to a point at the base of my throat while lace forms the sleeves and the high collar. The pale grey color makes it that much more perfect to be, but really annoys the other ladies.
We have a child, for god sakes. White is gross.
The way Jasper's eyes light up as Coach walks me down the aisle confirms all this. Perfection.
Damn, the man sure can wear a tux.
The same minister that baptized Jazz almost twenty-six years ago performs the service. He leaves out that whole bit about serving my husband and keeps the God stuff to a minimum, as per my request. It's short and sweet and when it's over I throw myself into my husband's lap before kissing him with such passion we both go a little cross eyed.
I get so caught up Jasper has to end the kiss to keep me from embarrassing myself. I don't notice all the cheering until I rest my forehead against his to catch my breath.
"I absolutely adore you," I murmur as I catch my breath.
"Back at yah, Mrs. Whitlock."
"That was really fun. Can we get married every weekend?" My little family sits snuggled together on the bed in Jasper's old room at his parent's house. The Whitlock's left the reception early to put Jax to bed, but when we stumbled home a couple hours later the little guy was in our room, waiting up on us. There was a little parental scolding before we decided on a late night snack of ice cream. We eat right out of the container with Jasper in the middle.
I can't stop looking at him. He's a pretty and perfect and mine.
"It's kinda a one time deal, buddy," Jasper explains.
"But I liked it. Why can't we do it again?"
"If we got married every weekend it wouldn't be special, " I explain, being as careful as I can not to get chocolate all over my perfect dress. "Do you want to see some pictures?"
I distract Jackson with the digital camera I pull out off my purse. Jasper puts the empty ice cream container on the bedside table and we all look together. All the people I love look so happy in these pictures.
All smaller family units that make up the whole beam back at us in photo form. Esme and Coach. M.J. and Phil. Emmett and Rosalie with their two little boys. Edward and Bella, looking as happy as they did the day they tied the knot, only a few months after graduation. And now Jasper and me, finally officially official.
I think we're going to be pretty good at this husband and wife stuff.
"This one's good, Mommy," Jackson says, touching the screen and smearing it with chocolate fingerprints. I like them off, making Jax giggle.
"I like this one, too," I confess. It's a picture of Jackson dancing with little Nessie. She's new to this whole walking business and she doesn't do much more than stand there, mimicking the dancing couples around her. She is so precious with her bronze locks and big brown eyes. Jackson holds her up, a determined little look on his face. It's so cute.
"Can I marry Nessie next weekend?" Jackson asks.
I deteriorate into a fit of giggles. There would be something oddly poetic about Jasper's son getting together with the daughter of Edward and Bella. Imagining Edward's reaction combined with the bemused look on my husbands face just sends me right into hysterics.
"Why don't you hold off a couple years there, slugger," Jasper mutters, his ears turning faintly pink.
"Like two?" Jackson asks.
"Two is a good start," I reply, leaning over to kiss his chubby cheek.