Every Other Way - A Jasper outtake from The Other Way
Sex wasn't the only way to show someone you loved them.
There were other ways, but I've tried them all.
The moment I met Edward Cullen, I knew he was going to ruin me.
Not because he was suspiciously good looking or filthy rich, even though he was both. Not because of his undeniable connection to my boss, his blood running even thicker than my water. Not because of his steadfast Samaritan loopholes, the whole third-world-doctor thing and how it worked in his favor. Not because he willingly relinquished every opportunity I'd been killing myself to gain.
It was because of the way he looked at her.
The way he orbited around her, always within close range, like a bullet drawn right into the very center of a target. Gravitating around her like an unstable electron. Buzzing around her like a bee. Circling her like a carnivore.
I'm not talking about Bella.
Alice, the tiny, tattooed whirlwind. With diamonds set at the corners of her eyes and a mouth that just couldn't contain itself. She was strangely alluring, a pretty oil painting that left you feeling serene until you found something small and disturbing buried deep within the pastoral landscape.
Her skin was a story of its own. Partly a disguise and partly a flagrant, screaming tell-all.
She was a curiosity, yes, but Edward's infatuation bordered on obsessive.
I couldn't figure them out. I saw them together a week after he first arrived, fresh off the desert, both of them still browned from the baking sun. I watched silently from my office as she turned him red with the spectacle she caused. Spilling over with something pleasantly childlike as she introduced herself to everyone, even the kid who had shown up to scrub the ink stain from the carpet in Carlisle's office. Asking him about the small details of his job, even though everyone else here was chin deep in billions of dollars worth of trade while he scrounged for change.
There had been yelling and the splintering sound of glass from behind the door not an hour before, the third time that week. Edward stormed from the building leaving that ink stain in his wake and I had a feeling it had something to do with this girl. The one he showed back up with an hour later, tiny and talkative, even though she looked a little lost.
Vacant in a way that reminded me uncomfortably of Bella.
The entire Cullen family was suspiciously tight-lipped about the two of them and what had happened over there. Not that any of them ever confirmed that anything had actually happened. It was obvious to me when I couldn't even get Emmett to talk. He loved gossip almost as much as he loved women and was typically loose-lipped if you got him drunk, but not when it came to the topic of his newly-returned brother. I knew not to bother asking Carlisle. Esme probably would have told me, but her behavior around the duo was the most troublesome of all. She talked nonstop about their arrival, and then didn't say another word about it. Carlisle was called home by her four times that week and he actually left.
Which never happened.
My hunch was confirmed on the island.
They were all enamored of Alice. Wary of Edward. As though they were standing on landmines, one wrong step and the world would turn to shrapnel. Picking their words clean before they spoke them and smiling too much. Watching the pair from the corners of their eyes as though they expected the worst, and only at the least foreseeable moment.
That's when I started watching them too. The way that they moved around each other. The way they seemed to have most of their conversations from behind their teeth, silent showdowns across the room. How they stared at Bella, both of them, and how they picked on each other like siblings with resentment buried so deep that it came to the surface petrified and glassy. The way they just barely missed kissing each other on the lips, like two tiny ships scraping metal in the middle of a vast, oceanic night.
Just like the way I kissed Bella.
When you leave a part of yourself somewhere and fly far, far away, two weeks is a long damn time. Enough, at least, for your heart to start to calcify. Two weeks, and I ached for Jacob a little more every day.
I'd prolonged every frantic kiss. Every numbered touch, but I hadn't gotten enough. I didn't have time and now there was a giant, gaping hole left in the place that had felt so full for the first time in forever. I'd never be able to forget that feeling.
The satiated bliss of soul scorching love.
Love like that leaves you taken by surprise, blindsided, when reality eventually caught up. And it always caught up.
I thought it was going to be just another afternoon meeting, same as every Wednesday when the last goddamn person I expected appeared in the doorway of Carlisle's office. I'd heard the whispers through the walls that he was back, but I was sure for a moment that I had willed him to reality. Summoned him, somehow. Emmett told me that he had accompanied Alice back to Africa and I thought that was the end of it.
He looked like shit. Like he hadn't slept in a week. Africa was still clinging to him like a fine dusting of desert and desolation, reeking of war and starvation. Two weeks of time that might as well have worn centuries into him, and he'd never look comfortable in a suit. In a flash, all I could see was his face behind Bella's, lips to her skin, the slap of his skin against ours.
"Edward, welcome." Carlisle beckoned his son inside while I stared hard at the paperwork in my lap, my neck on fire. I didn't know if I could bear to meet his gaze. He sat on the couch, behind Emmett and I in our customary chairs, as Carlisle cleared his throat.
"Boys, Edward will be joining us once again. I expect you to do all you can to incorporate him into our current ventures. The Sterling Project could use another set of eyes and I'd expect that his medical expertise would be useful in Panama."
Carlisle was eyeing me pointedly. I just nodded silently and tried not to freak the fuck out.
"Good. I have a meeting with Marcus that I'm late for, and you know how he drinks when he's left waiting." Carlisle stood and was gone without fanfare, and Emmett followed soon after. The room shrunk in size with only the two of us left, not enough space to breathe or think. Edward hovered for a moment, lingering behind me and speaking only when I was nearly out the door.
"Aren't you going to welcome me back?"
"Aren't going to ask me how she is?" I rounded on him, already panting as though I'd run a thousand miles to get here. Legs trembling and lungs on fire. He stared at me, eyes pinching and his mouth grinding down hard. His eyes were unnaturally green, but half of me believed it was his envy showing up in his irises.
"How is she?" he asked. Eventually.
"Like a goddamn ghost," I spat. "I still haven't figured out what happened over there. I know she hasn't told me everything, but she is not the girl I took there. I'd like my wife back."
"Is that the truth?" He looked as though he had a lot more to say. I had a million fucking things to say to him, but I could barely manage to speak. Of course it was the truth. I missed her easy smile. The carefree dinners and our evenings in the greenhouse. Missed her mindless humming, a singsong through the house that made her easy to find.
Everything had been so fucking quiet lately.
"What did you come back for?"
Edward looked away before he spoke. "I'm not sure."
I stormed out of the office and drove home in a blur. Found her in the greenhouse, which was typical. The girl didn't just have a green thumb, she had magic in every finger.
Her tiny apartment had been crammed with equal parts plants and books, which left very little space left over for her. Windowsills were crowded with Neruda and succulents. Coffee table cluttered with stacks of The Sun and lopsided clay pots, painted in childishly bright colors, sprouting basil. Her countertops were hidden beneath strawberries and chile peppers and a dog-eared collection of Bukowski. Even the ivy climbing up the outside of her building was trying to creep in the windows, leafy fingers through the cracks in the frame.
She lived in a jungle long before I met her.
I only gave her more space to spread her roots.
She was kneeling at the edge of an old claw foot tub she'd found last year in the back of a haunted old antique shop. We dragged it to a corner of the greenhouse and she'd filled it full of violets, the smell eerily like my grandmother's perfume, every shade of purple and every flavor of tepid sweetness. She looked a little better today than she had since our return and I didn't have the courage to destroy it by telling her who had shown up at the office this afternoon. She was covered in dirt, her hair in a ratty bun on the top of her head. On her knees in a bed of something that was blooming tiny yellow flowers, in those ratty shorts she'd had forever. She glanced over her shoulder at me and gave me that grin. The big one that took up most of her face. The one she saved for me. The one I hadn't seen in so long.
"Come here, I need you."
The things that she said to me, the way that she said them, made my heart burn in a way that I still didn't understand. All I did know was that the five years we had been doing this were not enough.
I wasn't ready to let her go.
"Hold this." She held out a pygmalion pear tree, knotted and gnarled and looking a little sickly. I took it from her, gripping it by the ball of roots, dirt and all, and watching as she dug a hole in the violets. Gouging a big black gaping wound in the otherwise peaceful landscape. She took the tiny tree back and nestled it into the hole, patting dirt back around it and whispering at the leaves like she always did, convinced that the plants liked her breath. That they thrived on her words instead of water and sunlight. Half the time, I believed her.
This one, though, was going to need more than just words of encouragement.
"You can't plant a tree in a bathtub, Sugar. It'll never grow." I shook my head at her as she fingered one of the tiny pears, brilliant green on one side, blushing deep copper red on the other.
"You never know," she sighed. "Some things can grow in the strangest of places."
Sometimes, two weeks are gone before you even bother to notice.
Other times, it can feel like forever.
It had been two weeks since Edward returned and, though I managed to avoid him, I knew the storm was coming. The air was full of static and, even though there were no overblown tirades from within Carlisle's office this time around, everyone seemed to be on tiptoe. Something was brewing, something that had potential to flatten the landscape, but I just never expected it to hit quite the way that it did.
What I expected was ten-star storms. Gale force winds. Torrential downpours. Tornados and the apocalypse.
Instead, it came still and calm.
In the poised, plotting form of my boss.
"I'd like to propose the girls' fundraiser as the night. The Mirabell Dinner."
Even though both Emmett and Edward were there, Carlisle spoke only to me. Then he did that thing he always did when he was about to drop a strategy on someone, I could tell just from the way he steepled his fingers in front of his face. I'd seen him do this a million times before and I sort of hated him for using the ploy on me now. I also knew that Bella and Esme's annual gala, the one that raised most of their money, was tomorrow night and I knew he was about to use the occasion to someone's advantage.
The question still remained as to whose advantage that would be.
"Go on," I said slowly.
"A lot of important people will be there, Jasper. It's the perfect opportunity."
I remained silent, waiting for him to continue, even though I had an awful sinking feeling in my stomach that I knew precisely where he was headed with this. He was about to make me believe that this was my idea to begin with. As though he was just an innocent bystander and I was the one behind the wheel of this careening car. The final push behind the fall, and I would be left fumbling with all the blame at the bottom.
"For you to come clean."
"About what, exactly?" I tried not to snap at him, but I'm sure I failed.
"Your relationship with your wife."
The first time I met Bella, she spent most of it on her knees.
Between my feet, with her head bowed.
I'd never been in that position with a female before.
She was only putting shoes on me, but it felt so intimate, strangely personal, and not at all like I thought it would be. She had big brown eyes and a mouth that spoke before she thought. A wry sense of humor about the shoes I was only buying to impress a potential boss. Marcus had given me a few thousand dollars to make myself look presentable, telling me that a couple decent pairs of shoes were in order. He had someone to introduce me to, for reasons I didn't really understand, but there wasn't much about Marcus that was that understandable.
The old man was strangely fascinated with me and there had been more than one occasion when I'd been sure he was going to kiss me, even though he never did.
He recommended this particular store because of their "hands on" help.
I went expecting nothing and in waltzed the prettiest girl I'd ever seen.
In knock-off heels and long brown curls, freckled and fascinating. I let her try a few pairs on me just to buy time to get a good look at her before I challenged her to do better. She insulted my potential colleagues and told me that they were boring, then put me in a pair of red shoes that were just the right amount of flash without being distracting. Nearly scowled when she told me that she'd never tried them on anyone before.
I bought two pairs of shoes and left, wondering what that pretty girl looked like underneath that drab, grey dress she'd been sporting.
First time for everything, I suppose.
Emmett was staring at me. "What's up with you and Bella?"
Edward stood suddenly, pacing the carpet in front of the windows with one hand in his pocket and the other in his hair. Staring out the windows and looking for all the world like he was considering flinging himself out of them. "You've gotta come clean," he muttered.
"It's not that simple," I snapped at him. I didn't know how much Bella had told him. Didn't know if he'd only pulled that final sexual stunt for his own benefit, or for ours, but I was sure that he didn't know the half of that girl. He had no idea what the last five years had been like, how long it had taken to drag her out of her shell.
How I'd been left in awe the first time she really smiled at me, because it took her two entire years to do it.
"Would someone please clue me in here?" Emmett huffed, eyeing all three of us. Carlisle just stared at me silently, likely wanting me to own the admission for myself, and Edward kept other people's secrets like a starving man hordes his last bite of bread. No one was going to help me out here.
"I'm gay," I finally huffed, barely resisting the urge to roll my eyes. I hadn't said those words to another person in so long, it was almost hard to speak them. Emmett gaped at me, mouth hung open, eyebrows together, probably going back over every last football game and every last beer, scouring the past for clues. He hit on the very thing I dreaded, the very center of the supernova and I saw her face before he did.
"But you're married?" he asked and I nodded steadily.
"Legally?" Carlisle spoke up, always thinking about the diplomatic confines and certainly not failing to do so now. I nodded again, thinking about that marriage certificate I passed by every day on my way in and out of the house. In one of those ancient, elaborate frames that was peeling gold flakes of paint, dark wood peeking out from underneath, because the girl I married spoke best in metaphor.
What we had was real, even if it didn't conform.
"So you'll have to file for a divorce?" Carlisle asked blandly and I didn't answer. Just stared at him. "Everyone deserves to be happy, Jasper," he prodded.
"I can't do that," I snapped at him. "I can't abandon her."
"She won't be alone." Edward nearly choked on his words and I knew then that he really had come back for her. That he was going to pull her out of my life, as painful as ripping a lung right out of my chest, but I wasn't ready to give her up to him. Wasn't ready to let her smile at him the way she smiled at me. Wasn't ready to let him drag her off somewhere and let her waste away again, because I knew she would if someone let her.
I knew his type. He latched on, and latched on hard. A clutch of teeth and claws and the hard headed ambition to possess at all cost. He saw something he wanted and he went after it.
Bella was an easy target.
"You'll destroy her," I hissed at him.
Edward staggered, feet rough against the carpet as though I'd just sunken a ragged spike of metal into between his ribs. Carlisle made a move to catch him, but his knees hit the floor before he could be reached. He grimaced up at me, hand to his chest, mouth torn ragged around those lip rings.
"I love her."
He loved her.
He'd come right out and said it. I knew that she probably loved him too, in a way that she didn't love me.
In a way that I couldn't let her.
I spent two weeks torturing myself over how to go about ruining what we had so carefully constructed and I had to see him every day. I had to hear him say those words over and over again, even if it was only in my head. By the time that night rolled around, I was nothing but a mangled mess of wasted time and unspoken words. Carlisle pulled me aside before I left the office to give me one last pep talk before that night's events but he didn't help at all. Just made me more nervous and even less sure of myself.
"How do you feel about tonight, son? Are you ready?" He clapped a hand to my shoulder.
"I'm not the son you seem to be concerned with." I'd been talking to him like this more and more lately, testing the boundaries of our relationship, slinging something back at him every time he reiterated his affection for me. I knew that Edward would always be one step ahead of me when it came to Carlisle's preference.
"I hope you understand that Edward is not the only one here who stands to gain something from this," Carlisle spoke lowly. "You, Bella, even Jacob will all benefit in the long run."
Oh, fuck. Jacob?
"You know? How could you know?" I spluttered, resisting the urge to recoil from underneath his hand. I'd seen him fire employees for lesser discretions and I could see an explosion at the end of this line that would surely leave me in pieces.
"Just suffice it to say that I do," he sighed. "And I want each and every one of you to be content. You are all important to me, to each other, and I have worked too hard to create this life to watch it fall." He shook me, not hard, but forcefully enough. "You are too important to let fall."
I had to speed to get home in time.
Head in a fog. Running a stop sign and nearly missing my own driveway.
Uncertain about wanting to do this at all.
I liked my life, honestly. My blissful, easy bubble with my sweet-faced girl who spent more time in her greenhouse than anywhere else. The lazy weekends and movies in bed. The lunches and the hidden treats in my briefcase. She knew me better than anyone.
Time caught up with me the moment I was buttoning my dinner jacket. In my closet, though I barely remembered getting there. Dressing in a daze, knotting my tie too tight. Bella met me at the bottom of the stairs with only moments to spare. I barely had time to tell her how stunning she looked before the car waiting outside honked and, when I opened the door, Jacob was on the stoop.
So much like a ghost that I thought for a moment that he wasn't really there. He was nearly transparent, his skin had gone muddy with none of the sun-kissed glow he'd had on that island. Eyes dull, the spark gone. Barely legal and brokenhearted. I could see it all over him.
"You're here," I stuttered, gripping Bella's hand tight in my own. She tried to step away from me, but I clung to her, afraid it might be my last chance to really hold on. "How did you get here?" I tried again, unable to wrap my head around the vision in front of me.
Jacob glanced between Bella and I, hesitating with his fingers wrapped up together and his eyes dropped to his feet. "Carlisle," he whispered, voice soft and uncertain. "He bought me a plane ticket."
He stayed upright for a split second before he fell to his knees, just like Edward.
"Please don't tell me to leave."
Her voice was something special. Soothing and gentle, a warm caress to my tired, heavy heart. She rolled my name around before she spoke it, refining that gemstone before she gave it to me. No one had ever made it sound so polished. I looked over at her, not surprised to see her eyes so deep and thoughtful. Street lights flashed across her face and she snuggled close, weaving her fingers through mine.
"It's time to stop." She bit her lip like she always did when she said something she really, truly meant and I swallowed hard, the car doing nothing to help settle my stomach.
There was no helping my heart, sloshing around in waves of broken glass, beating itself to a pulp against my ribs.
"I know. But I don't want to let you go." It wasn't hard to admit to her. It was the truth, and she had the uncanny ability to pull that kind of stuff out of me without the fight I put up against everyone else.
"You won't lose me."
"Are you sure about that?"
She nodded steadily as the car ground to a halt, pulling away with a kiss to my neck and letting me help her out of the car. I meant to tell her but the universe aligned, heavy as a concrete wall, and I just couldn't get through.
I watched her all night.
She wasn't hard to miss, dressed in gold like that.
As though I had won something. As though she was a prize, and I had cheated to get her.
I wondered if Rose was being cheeky or just liked the color, because it worked wonders on Bella. It was a startling change. The two weeks since we returned from the island had been like a blood drive and she was looking sucked clean. The bright lights caught every one of the little metal discs, all ten billion of them, and transformed her into a damn disco ball. Turned her brilliant and sent a rash of sparkles up her face. Put some color back in her cheeks.
Still pale and gaunt, but so beautiful.
Despite that dress, I still lost track of her. One moment she was there and the next moment she was gone. Probably tiptoeing off to some dark corner of the house but every time I tried to go after her, I was waylaid by some other client or friend or obscure social climber wanting to shake my hand. An endless sea of people between us.
A few moments before the end of my life as I knew it, I found a quiet corner to make my call.
"Are you here?" I didn't even let him acknowledge that he'd answered before I spoke.
"Yes." It sounded like he was outside, too quiet behind him for the din of the crowd inside.
"Why does it matter?" he snapped. I couldn't blame him.
"She's not with me. Is she with you?" I asked, whispering harshly into the speaker, earning a curious glance from an elderly couple down the hallway.
Edward sighed heavily through the phone. "No. I've been keeping my distance."
"Find her. Keep her away."
"This is something she's a part of, Jasper," he hissed, voice low and ragged. "I think she should be there."
"You want to subject her to this? That's damn near hostile of you, Edward. I told you that you'd be the ruin of her."
"You still haven't told her." He didn't ask. I didn't defend myself.
I hung up instead.
She appeared only when there was no time left. When the room was silent and we were seated right in the very middle of it and Esme was introducing Carlisle. All I could do was hold her hand and try to stay calm enough to get through this. My ears were ringing so loudly that, although I could see Carlisle's mouth moving, I couldn't hear anything. It was almost as though I wasn't really there. Wasn't about to out myself, out my wife.
It was just a terrible nightmare, one that I only needed to wake up from.
Until Carlisle called Marcus to the stage.
Marcus, who'd always been far beyond his prime, but now looked like he was rapping on the ancient door of death. I watched the old man shuffle across the room, assaulted by images of him that were impossible to ignore. His soft smiles and long hugs. The way he touched my arms and sat nearby, always looking a bit spellbound when I talked. It was obvious only now that, if he couldn't have me, he would do what it took to ensure my success.
That was the moment I put all of my wishful denial to rest in favor of acceptance.
This really was happening.
Bella seemed to catch on the moment the motion had finally made her seasick. She looked at me, pale and green and swaying slightly, and I gave her an out that she refused to take. Just held on harder and let me kiss her hand before I pulled myself away, my name still ringing through the big silent room. When I stood, a round of applause stuttered to a start before I caught Edward's eye from the doorway.
He nodded at me, barely noticeable, but I didn't nod back.
He wasn't here for me.
The last time I undressed Bella certainly wasn't the first.
She fell asleep in the clover. Not uncommon, but she typically wasn't dressed like a golden goddess When I picked her up, she held on tight and snuggled her face into my neck, just like every other time I carried her to bed. The girl could pass out anywhere and it wasn't uncommon for me to find her in some darkened bedroom, snoring softly while another mindless party raged just beyond the door.
I could hear him behind me, but I ignored him.
I dropped the dress to the floor, put her in her own bed and set my fists to the pillows on either side of her face. Stared at her and those droopy eyes as she started to drift away. She smiled up at me, the heartbreaker she saved for those moments I truly needed a reminder that she loved me. We'd spent so long doing this, our monstrous iceberg merely poking its nose above the surface, and I'd been fighting the unavoidable melt for years now.
In this moment, the ice was finally thin enough to see through.
I was going to miss her. Dreadfully. Painfully.
With no choice but to bask in the bruising ache.
"Sweet dreams," I whispered and she curled up on her side, mumbling into her pillow, her mouth full of sleep.
"Will you make coffee in the morning?"
"I'll set the timer, sugar." I pressed my lips to her forehead and left before Edward had a chance to say anything, stalking out of the room and wiping my face off as I went. I set the the coffee maker as I left. Locked the door behind me. Stood out on the front lawn for a while until the light in her bedroom finally went off, and drove away.
No matter how many times your heart breaks, the next time - and there will always be a next time - it will shatter in a way that you never expected.
It was Carlisle that planted the seed.
He'd only met Bella three times, but he was already in love with her. He wasn't someone who tried to disguise his infatuation with anything, much less a pretty woman, and Bella had him wrapped clear around her finger. The dress probably helped. She sparkled like an aquamarine the first time he met her, blue so pale it nearly matched her skin, her hair held back with Rose's silver hairband. I was worried about setting my ferocious, outspoken sister on the soft, quiet girl I was becoming so fond of, but the outcome was much better than I could have expected. When I picked her up that night, her smile outshone the dress and the diamonds and Rose was giving me that look she always did when she knew exactly what I was thinking.
There was something about this girl . . .
She embedded herself right into Carlisle's heart with a single, heartbreaking smile.
She had one of the best, and he was a sucker for it.
Two days later, he mentioned in passing that if I only put a ring on that pretty girl's finger, she'd get every benefit I was. He was really talking about the platinum level health insurance we were filling out the paperwork for, but I started thinking about the even bigger implications. The money that would get her out of that damn shoe store and the shitty little shoebox she called an apartment. The means to put her somewhere warm and comfortable and safe because I hated driving through her neighborhood, and hated even more that she walked around there like it was no big deal.
I hated that she spent every day on her knees in front of men with too much money and wandering eyes.
Once the delusion started, there was no stopping it. Before long, I was planning that greenhouse. Building picket fences and buying her a decent car, all in my head. Letting it take root in my brain until it was all I could think about. All I could bring myself to want.
I went to the jewelry store that day. Let a pretty young girl with big bright eyes and and a pink dress pick out a ring that I knew was the one the moment she set it in front of me. Spent the entire drive home trying to come up with some sort of explanation for this. Something that didn't sound mildly comical or even insane, but I still hadn't come up with anything by the time I got there. I found her in the back bedroom of the gigantic-ass house I'd just bought us. Rummaging through boxes and talking to herself like she always did.
Beautiful in the kind of way that snuck up on you long before you noticed, impossible to ignore once you did.
I asked her to do something with me that I really had no right to.
Asked for compromise, and promised loyalty. I never thought she'd go for it. The ring and the promises and the warped vision I had of creating a life with her. I'd been in love before, but not like this, and the fear of losing it had me scrambling. The possibility of watching it flourish had me begging her to say yes, ignoring logic for the easy bliss of being by her side.
I ended up on my knees that day, too.
I guess that at some point, we all do.
This was written for the Fandom for LLS benefit a few years ago. It was my way of giving Jasper a voice, something he wasn't given the opportunity to do in the original publishing of The Other Way. He got a lot of negative attention, most of it completely undeserved, and I felt he needed to say his piece.
As ever, Hadley Hemingway was absolutely amazing during the writing of this.
Encouraging and thoughtful and asking all the right questions - she truly is the best gift a writer could ever ask for.
She is an even better friend.