33.

Enamored Of All The Pretty Lights and Bright Eyes

Before I had time to do anything with Edward's declaration, sure that it was even more metaphorical than he was even hinting at, Jasper appeared in the open door of the greenhouse like ghost from my old life, looking war- torn and wary. I was on my feet before I remembered that one of them still sort of hurt. Met him near the entrance before I remembered moving. Flung myself up against him before I had time to wonder if I could still do things like this.

"Are you ok?" I asked, face to his chest and felt his arms go around my waist, air whistling through his lungs as he sighed.

"Yes. It went better than I thought it would. Everyone was asking for you. I made up some excuse involving your foot."

"Thank you," I breathed into his jacket. "I'm sorry that I left."

"Don't be, I don't blame you. I'm glad you're here." He pressed his cheek to my head, sounding relieved, as if he hadn't been expecting it. I don't know why he thought he'd have to search me out. I really had no where else to go.

"Where is Jacob?"

"A hotel downtown. I think it's better if we don't stay here," he spoke into my hair. "Jenks was there tonight. He assured me that he can have the paperwork drawn up in the morning."

"So fast," I whispered.

"It was your only condition. I'm rewarding him generously to comply."

It had been the only thing I had asked for, quiet and quick. Really, the only words we exchanged on the entire subject and he had nearly teared up when I said it, pressing his lips tightly together and straining the muscles in his neck. He'd barely had time to compose himself before we were at the curb and the car door was pulled open, our bubble punctured by the sharp needle of party lights and people as he blinked his tears away. If he had meant to tell me about that evenings events, Carlisle's plan and the unfolding of our secret like a deconstructed origami swan, Jacob's sudden sobbing plea had obviously thrown him off course.

I'd sort of ruined his last chance when I asked for a divorce.

Blindsided.

Jasper pulled away and peered thoughtfully at me, a wrinkle between his eyebrows. He glanced at Edward, still seated at the table and making a bad job of pretending not to watch us before huffing under his breath and turning back. His voice was a throaty whisper meant just for me. "I love you," he exhaled, curling his fingers into my palm and pressing his mouth down over the diamond that hadn't come off my finger in five years. I watched in silence as he tugged at the ring, slipping it down my finger, sad that I wouldn't get to look at it every day but resisting the urge to clamp my fingers into a fist to keep it. He dropped my hand and picked up the other.

"Forever."

The ring wouldn't slide past the knuckle of the appropriate finger of my right hand and ended up on my thumb, the diamond sliding around to hide in the soft shell of my palm. I nodded a little manically, in full agreement but worried that if I opened my mouth, everything in me would just start pouring out and there would be no way to stop it. A ruptured volcano, bleeding molten rivers of lava in an inextinguishable wave that simultaneously destroyed and rebuilt the landscape.

Jasper took my silence in stride, better at reading me than I ever gave him credit for. He kissed my forehead, this one different from any of the others he'd given before, adding a fevered flower to Edward's paisley tattoo and I let him lead me back toward the table with our fingers entwined.

"Edward," Jasper nodded at him as he undid his suit jacket and folded it over the back of the empty chair between us, settling into the seat and yanking off his bow tie. I picked it up from where he discarded it on the table and wrapped it around my wrist like a bracelet, wandering to the swing. My dress trailed through the soft bed of clover beneath me as I rocked, shimmery gold against the brilliant green.

Just like them, really. The sterling silver model and a new vermillion version.

Twice the mess for a fraction of the price.

"One round left. Care to join me?" Edward cocked an eyebrow in Jasper's direction, offering a palm full of tea out for inspection.

"What is it?" Jasper's eyes followed the teapot as Edward lifted it high in the air, sounding skeptical, and he gave me a thorough once over as though trying to assess my basic well- being. I gripped the swing and tried to look as sober as possible, even though I felt groggy and strung out. It certainly wasn't the tea, Edward made me feel like a fazed out kid at a rave, enamored by all the pretty lights and bright eyes.

"Just tea," Edward assured, face slathered in a cocky grin. "I like her alert and begging."

The underside of my skin, the part pressed against all my warm, wet insides, went up in flames. Again. As though I'd dumped gasoline all over myself and set my soul on fire. How was I not completely covered in hard, wrinkled scar tissue? How was it that my flowery tattoo still wasn't showing? I sunk off the swing and into the clover at my feet, threading my fingers through the fragile stems, searching for one with four petals.

I needed all the luck I could get.

"Thank you for coming tonight. I wasn't sure you would." Jasper spoke, watching Edward's strange method of pouring tea. Features crunched as though he was face to face with an alien, newly landed from another planet. Edward almost scowled but managed to keep his face mostly straight.

"Yeah, well . . . I attended a certain board meeting with you this afternoon that proved to quite eye opening." He glanced at me cautiously and I could tell he hadn't meant for me to know that part, that it had slipped out unintentionally. I tried not to outwardly scowl but I'm sure I failed. He had said that letting me walk in there was the hardest thing he'd ever done. He knew nothing about how hard it had been to live through.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't mean for you to even see me until afterward, I wanted you to make this decision for yourself. So that it was yours." Edward blinked solemnly at me, fully logical as usual. "I didn't want you to feel forced because of me. Compelled."

Ugh. Why did he always have to answer my fumbling questions so perfectly?

"And you?" I glared at Jasper. "You could have said something, could have stopped for a moment to warn me."

"I feel terrible that I didn't. I just . . . felt so frayed," he sighed heavily, eyes dropping to his lap. "A millions different straws and I was grasping at all of them. The thought that I might be the person who has kept you from acting on your own behalf hurts worse than all the rest of it." He waved his arm in an all- encompassing arc, our uncontrollable devotion and the boy who loved him, his secret spilling open, and the boy who might love me included.

"You always seem to forget that I went into this willingly. Danced into it, actually." I rolled my eyes. I didn't have to remind him of my first visit to our new house, which was basically half an hour of me squealing like a nine year old girl who just got word she was a princess with perks of ponies and a fairy godmother. Embarrassing in retrospect, but uncontrollable at the time. He'd followed me from room to room with a bemused smile on his face as though the house paled in comparison to my reaction.

"True." His eyes pinched, so I knew he was right there with me and I watched him swallow roughly. "It's easy to forget how truly wonderful you are."

"Or how lucky you are," Edward spat in his direction. I could tell he was still reeling from the big fat omission he'd just laid there between us before we were interrupted. Far more open and vulnerable than I'd ever seen him before and all the armor was doing little to disguise any of it. His fingers were gripping restlessly at the chair and he was practically singing with nervous, fragile energy.

"I don't need you to tell me how lucky I am," Jasper growled. "I know."

Edward huffed, flushed red around the neck. He set a shot glass down in front of Jasper, the foam starting to disintegrate and slammed his own shot back without further ado, pulling at the neck of his shirt and smacking his lips. Jasper watched him with a look of near horror and glanced at me, his eyebrows puckered. I nodded, telling him to play along and he scowled at the shot glass for half a moment before following Edward's lead and downing the molten, sugary concoction.

"Jesus, that's sweet," he hissed at the end. "And hot."

"It'll get easier," Edward said, already pouring their second round and that's when I found it. The one clover with four leaves, maybe the only one in all the millions and it had been right there by my knee the whole time. I plucked it from its stem and held it on the tip of my finger for inspection, each little leaf perfectly symmetrical. When they slammed back their second shot, I put that perfect little piece of luck on my tongue and swallowed it whole.

"What happens now?" Edward was chewing industriously on his lip rings, fingering his empty glass, eyeing Jasper.

"She is free to do as she pleases. She always has been, but obviously, everything is changing."

"So you just toss her aside?" Edward sneered, his empty glass clutched tight in his fist. Before I could defend the decision as my own, dragging my eyes off the damp, empty end of my finger, Jasper opened his mouth.

"It's not that I don't need her," he replied evenly. "I feel as though I'm being forced to give up my best friend. It's been extremely hard for me. Letting her go."

"No one is forcing your hand," Edward huffed, eyeing Jasper's bow tie around my wrist as though it was a handcuff.

"I am," Jasper said stoically, as though he'd prepared himself to be executed. "It's time, and I've taken too much of her life. I'm leaving her the house. Everything in it. Her bank account. Her car."

"Jasper, no." I shook my head. He swung his head to give me a soft but demanding look.

"You've given me five years of your life. You always deserved someone better than me but you never seemed to realize that and it was incredibly selfish of me to hope that you never would. I do, however, value your happiness, your security, over anything else in the world. Please don't fight me on this," he tacked on, pleading.

I huffed in defeat, feeling drowsy and warm and oddly reminiscent of that week I'd spent on that tropical island that I was beginning to suspect had its very own time zone and a breeze potent enough to knock you flat on your ass. Edward, on the other hand, looked more than mildly admonished. I could tell that he'd never thought of it quite that way before. That while he'd been off sleeping with lions and wrestling with death in Africa, Jasper had been my never- ending source of patient care, a rock solid foundation. My mother's demise and those she took with her weighed so heavily on me that it was beginning to show in my face, but Jasper had taken all of it away. Gave me instead the permission, and the means, to redefine my life for myself.

"As long as you understand that I'm never going to say this again," Edward spoke, the harsh edges gone from his voice, a new lower- pitched tone of respectful civility strung through his demeanor. "Thank you. For taking care of her."

Jasper inhaled sharply, holding his breath for a few moments before letting it all out in a shaky rush, eyeing Edward soberly. "As long as you don't take her to some foreign country and let her get some terrible disease . . . and as long as you recognize that I'm not willing to completely erase her. She's been the most important person in the world for the very best parts of my life."

My brain was sloshing heavily around in my skull and my dress was the most uncomfortable piece of clothing ever created by man. That four leaf was dancing around inside my stomach, clashing with the after effects of tea and adrenaline and anxiety and I couldn't help but think about that car crash I'd been so sure I witnessed the first time they met. How morbidly intriguing their handshake had been, back before I knew what was going to happen to us. Edward poured their last round of tea, which would be the lightest and coolest of the three, while I flopped into the clover, resting my head on my arm, watching as he lofted his shot glass into the air between them in alute. He hadn't done that with me, and I was pretty sure it was breaking some sort of tribal protocol, but this final shot between them felt like something different.

Glasses clanking like the glancing whisper of metal on metal, two cars passing within mere centimeters of one another.

Barely breaking the skin.