A/N – Gigantic wait is over. Let the new chapters commence.
April (Part Seven)
Leah's waiting for me in the hotel lobby when I arrive downstairs. I have a feeling that I look like crap, considering I'm hungover and wearing a holey old grey t-shirt with my fraying jeans. The soles of my Converse are kinda peeling away from the uppers, too.
Leah, on the other hand, looks all edgy and cool in her zany patterned leggings and her navy Ramones shirt. Her make-up is expertly applied, too, and even the messy bun she has her hair in manages to look stylish. I kinda hate her on principle.
"Oh. Dear. God," she says, as soon as she gets a good look at me. "Thank fuck I'm taking you shopping, Tex, because you look like shit."
"Way to sugar-coat it, Leah," I grumble, but I don't correct her, because it's true.
"Babe, I don't do 'sugar-coating'. I'm fierce and unforgiving." She laughs.
I find myself grinning back at her. I don't know what it is about Leah, but she's one of those rare people, like Alice, who I like almost against my will.
"Pequeña loba," I mutter. Leah raises one brow at me.
"It means 'little she-wolf'. It's Spanish."
"My new nickname?" I nod, and Leah throws her head back with the force of her next laugh. "I love it. I have no imagination, though, so you're stuck with 'Tex'." She studies me for a moment, seeming impressed. "I had no idea you spoke Spanish. That's hot."
I shoot her a wink, before realizing that that's a move straight out of the Edward Cullen playbook. It doesn't seem to escape Leah's notice, either, judging by her rueful headshake and mutters about how 'he's rubbing off on me'.
We emerge onto the busy sidewalk, and I'm delighted to see that the sun is out and shining. I take it as the first good omen of the day. Leah slots her hand into mine – Edward's friends seem to be touchy-feely people – and tows me towards the crosswalk. We pause with the hordes of commuters waiting for the light to change.
"So," Leah says. "I'm yet to get the full story out of you. I've had Eddie's version, but I'm interested – how does a supposedly straight football player from the South end up in a relationship with a snarky gay New Yorker?"
I can feel a blush creeping up my cheeks, and I'm not exactly sure why. "Edward's from Chicago," I point out.
Leah gives me a Look. It's so uncannily like one of my sisters' Looks that I find myself wondering if it's not a Whitlock/Hale thing at all, but an expression universal to all women. "Technically. He's addicted to espresso, kills cockroaches with his bare hands, has cried on the subway, and he hates New Jersey. That makes him a New Yorker." She grins. "And that wasn't the point."
"Okay," I relent, as the crossing light changes and we make our way across the road. "I dunno what it was, if I'm honest. I mean, when I was growin' up, I never really cared much about girls. Not compared to my friends. I was curious, I guess, but when I actually started doin' stuff with them I was kinda like 'oh, is this it?' I didn't see what the big deal was."
Leah jerks me sharply to one side, and I lose my footing, stumbling forward. She shrugs apologetically. "Bad luck to walk on three drains."
"You're superstitious?" I laugh. It just seems so unlike her. She smiles sheepishly.
"Kind of. Anyway, you were saying?"
"Right, well, yeah. I wasn't all that into sex and shit, but I kept up appearances. Only, back then, I didn't really think on it as keepin' up appearances, I just thought… well, I didn't think real hard about it. I just kinda went on with stuff. And then Edward showed up."
We've slowed our pace considerably by this point, and Leah seems to be hanging on my every word. She's got a little smile on her face, the kind someone gets when they know a secret you don't.
"Edward showed up. And you instantly fell head-over-heels in love with him?"
I snort. "Hardly. He knocked me on my ass at a party when we ran into each other on the stairs. I remember I thought he was real interestin', but I didn't realize that I liked him like that. He cornered me in the kitchen that night, started sayin' shit about how he knew I felt trapped in Texas and I hated it as much as he did, and I was kinda amazed that he saw through me. But he freaked me out a bit, so I didn't say much. I watched him at school for the next couple weeks, and then worked up the nerve to go talk to him. Once we got to talkin', I realized we were actually kinda similar, so I invited him to a party. Then I found out he was gay, and I was shocked. But, again, curious."
Leah and I have reached the subway by this point. She's insisting on us going to Barney's, rather than sticking to the neighborhood, so we jog down the steps as I continue.
"Over the first couple months of us bein' friends, I grew to really like him. He gets me, y'know? No one else in Texas really does. I clung to that, and then I found out he had a crush on me. I expected that to change the way I felt, but it didn't. If anythin', I liked him more."
I step back from the edge of the platform as the announcer's voice comes blaring through the speakers, heralding the arrival of the train.
"Hate to state the obvious, Tex, but that probably should've tipped you off that what you guys had was more than friendship," Leah observes, as the train comes screeching to a halt. I nod.
"Yeah, but I didn't think about it like that. I'd never even considered the possibility that I might be gay." We clamber onto the train, seating ourselves as the commuter rush piles in after us. I twist in my chair to face her. "Then, at Christmas, he got me this amazin' gift, and I felt all… strange. I mean, lookin' back on it now, I can see that it was just me realizin' that I was fallin' in love with him, but I didn't see that at the time. It was only when he kissed me at New Years, and then I kissed him back, that I thought 'oh, hey, shit, I think I'm into him'. And it all just spiraled from there, but I was too chicken to tell him for months. Then Seth pulled his little stunt, and we fought, and I 'fessed up, and it's been plain sailin' ever since."
Leah grins her beautiful grin. "That's a really nice way of putting it all." She pauses, and I can tell that her next question is going to be pretty damn personal.
She doesn't disappoint. "So, have you had sex yet?"
As if on cue, I blush. Leah cackles, waggling her eyebrows at me as she waits for me to say it out loud. I sigh. "Yeah, we have."
"And was it good?"
"Let's just say that I finally get what the hype's all about."
She smiles wickedly. "No, let's say more! I want the gory details."
I swat at her, chuckling. "You're as bad as Alice."
"Who, Edward's infamous cousin? I'm offended. Isn't she supposed to be the whole sunshine-and-rainbows type? Like a puppy with extra pep?"
I grin, because that pretty much describes Alice to a T. Then something occurs to me. "Wait, you've never met Ali?"
Leah shrugs. "Nah. She's come to the city a couple times, but I've been preoccupied with other shit while she was here. Everyone else has met her, I think. To be honest, I was kinda glad I was out of town. Peppy people scare the beejesus out of me."
I laugh. "Well, I think you two would get along just fine. You're similar."
Leah's pretty dark eyes narrow. "I'm much, much worse than Alice."
"And besides…" Leah trails off, before scoffing loudly. "Hey! You totally changed the subject on purpose!"
"I might've," I hedge, feeling the color returning to my cheeks. "Mainly cuz I don't wanna 'fess up about my sex life."
Leah pouts. "Oh, you're no fun."
We continue teasing each other as we jump off the subway and make our way back to street level. As we re-emerge into the watery morning sunlight, I decide to give Leah a taste of her own nosy medicine. "So, what about you and your girl? Summer?"
I expect her to clam up and insist that she doesn't want to talk about whatever relationship issues are going on with them. Surprisingly, she does the opposite. Her face contorts into a grimace that still doesn't manage to make her look unattractive.
"Oh, well, we've kind of got issues right now. Big ones. See, we're sitting in my dorm one night, right? And we're just having fun, eating take-out Thai food, when she turns to me and says 'Oh, by the way, I'm gonna need to cut down on my spending.' And I'm like, 'sure, why?' And she says, 'because I'm moving to France in a few months, and I need to buy my flight ticket soon.'"
I dodge around a hot-dog vendor and frown at her, not really getting her point. "That seems fair enough."
"Oh, no, totally," Leah agrees. She steps out into the road and a taxi screeches to a halt a couple inches away from her. The driver leans out of the window to cuss her out for nearly getting herself killed. Her hands come slamming down on the yellow hood of the cab. "I'm walking here, asshole!" I cover my mouth with my fist to keep my laughter down as she turns back to me and continues her story calmly. "Anyway, I wasn't upset 'cause I thought she was being unreasonable. I was pissed off because that was the very first time she ever even mentioned to me that she was leaving."
My jaw just about hits the sidewalk. "What?"
"I know, right. Unbelievable. So, that was a couple months back, and we've been fighting about it ever since."
"I can't imagine ever doin' that to anyone I care about." I wince as soon as the words are out of my mouth. It's a stupid, insensitive thing to say. Judging from the brief flash of pain in Leah's eyes, I can tell that my comment hit a little too close to home. I instantly feel like an asshole, but I know that Leah isn't the type to take sympathy or apologies well. Like Edward, she hates pity.
"So, anyway…" Leah tugs me to a stop outside a revolving door. Craning my neck up, I see that we've arrived at our dreaded destination. Barney's. "Your new image awaits, Jasper."
She all but pushes me through the door and up towards the menswear section. At first, I'm hopelessly intimidated by the sheer quantity of clothes. Back home, I buy my clothes from the only store in town that carries semi-current fashion – Gloria's boutique. This is a whole new world.
"You look like you're about to face a firing squad," Leah laughs when she catches my expression. "Chill out, Tex, you're in good hands. Just follow me around and stick your arms out when I tell you to hold stuff. Think you can manage that?"
I feel a small smile creeping onto my face. "Yeah, just about."
Leah is a whirlwind. She bustles through racks, flinging so many bits of material at me that I'm rapidly losing sight of my feet under the mountain of clothes in my arms. All new fabrics, too, ones that fill me with a sense of foreboding. Silk. Cashmere. Real, expensive leather. It's a far cry from my worn denim and polyblends.
Every so often, she holds something up to my face, testing – apparently – to see if it matches my complexion. She umms and ahhs for a few minutes, before either replacing it on the rack or throwing it on top of the steadily growing pile in my arms.
When I'm starting to feel like Atlas, carrying the weight of the whole sky, Leah finally decrees that we can go to the dressing rooms. She sashays along beside me, her own arms conspicuously empty, prattling on about things I don't really understand, saying words like 'fall line' and 'boot cut'.
I'm marched into a changing cubicle and ordered to begin trying things on. Looking at the huge pile of clothes in front of me, I decide to start simple – a white cotton tee and some jeans in dark denim.
"Let me see!" Leah calls, before I've even managed to do up the fly. I tug the zipper up and step nervously out of the cubicle.
Leah's eyes widen, and they're sparkling like onyx. "Oh, wow. Look at how hot you are."
"I dunno about this…" I say dubiously, before turning to catch sight of my reflection in the dressing room mirror.
Holy shit. The shirt is snug, but not ridiculously so. It definitely shows off my muscles in a good way. And as for the jeans… they're way tighter than any I've ever owned before, and they hang off my hips in a way that I just know Edward would swoon over.
"Huh. I actually don't look too bad."
Leah nods from the chair she's perched in. Her eyes sweep over me, scrutinizing the outfit in microscopic detail.
"It would look even better with that leather jacket I picked out for you," she decides.
"I dunno about leather…"
"Just trust me," she dismisses, with an airy wave of her hand. Ducking into my changing cubicle, she re-emerges with the leather jacket in hand. She holds it up expectantly. I roll my eyes and stick my arms through the sleeves.
She's right, obviously. It does look good.
A few more outfits later, Leah declares us done. I just about have a coronary embolism when the cashier girl tells me the price. Before I can go through all the embarrassment of explaining that I don't have that kind of money, Leah whips out her credit card.
"My treat, Tex," she insists, waving me away when I try to protest. "Consider it an early homecoming present."
"Homecomin'?" I check, sure I've heard her wrong. She grins.
"Yeah. Because we all know you're going to be living here next year. I'm glad, you know. I kind of love you already. Haircut."
"You need a haircut. That'll just be the cherry on top of the yummy sundae that is the new you."
"Good. And then we should do something that's fun for you, because you seem to be enduring rather than enjoying our little day trip. Is there anything you want to try?"
"Well… actually…" I launch into my plan, and Leah gets more and more excited with each word that comes out of mouth.
"You saved up money for this?" she blurts when I'm finished.
"Yeah," I say. My teeth bite down into my bottom lip. "I… uh… sold my car for it."
And Bessie was a good old girl. I was real sorry to see her go. It still twinges a little when I think about all the good times I've had with that car.
"Well, then, Tex, let's get going."
Four and a half hours later, and I'm standing on the curb outside the café that Edward and Seth are having lunch in. I can just about see my reflection in the shop window, and I can barely recognize myself in my new clothes. My curls have been sheared to just around my ears, and it feels weird now that they aren't brushing against my jaw anymore whenever I turn my head. I'm wearing the outfit from earlier, the shirt and the jeans and the leather jacket, plus a new pair of Converse. I actually look like I belong in New York.
And I'm leaning against the reason I sold my car. My very own super-shiny silver Ducati 848. It's second-hand, but it looks brand new. A motorcycle. My motorcycle. The inner eight-year-old in my head is practically giddy at the thought.
Leah's standing facing me, puffing away on a smoke. She's got this grin on her face, the kind of grin that I've begun to realize means that it's at my expense. "You can't stop checking yourself out in that window."
"Hey, that is so not true!"
"Is so. You're falling in love with your own reflection."
"I am not."
Just then, the door to the café opens. My heart lurches into my throat as Edward steps out onto the street with Seth in tow. I'm suddenly nervous that Edward will hate the new clothes or the motorcycle or the haircut. I stuff my hand into my jacket pocket and cross my fingers.
Seth sees his sister and heads straight over. He grins and gives me a thumbs up when he spots the makeover. Edward follows a couple steps behind him, and greets Leah with a wave.
He throws me a polite nod, like he doesn't even know who I am. My eyes widen, and just as I'm about to write the entire day off as an expensive mistake, he freezes. Slowly, his head swivels back around to me.
His mouth drops open. "Jasper?"
"Hi." My tongue feels like sandpaper. My saliva has evaporated with nerves.
"You look… I mean… wow. Just… wow."
"Is that a good wow?" Leah asks.
"I… it's…" he's still struggling for words.
"What do you think?" I demand. My palms are getting clammy.
"I think…" Edward takes a step forward until he's got me backed up against my motorcycle. "I think we'd better get out of here before my boyfriend comes along and catches me."
I give him a playful shove, but I can't help blushing at the compliment. "You really like it?"
"You're ridiculously hot. Not that you weren't before, but now…" he whistles softly. "Jesus, it's like a whole new level of hotness."
"Shall we fuck off and leave you two alone?" Leah teases. She and Seth are watching our interaction with shit-eating grins on their faces.
"You'd better," Edward warns. Then he turns to me and leans forward. Before I can even anticipate what's happening, he's kissing me. I feel my legs turn to jelly as he pushes me up further against my motorcycle. One of his hands tangles in my shorter hair, and he pulls at one curl experimentally. He breaks away for air, resting his forehead against mine as we try to catch our breath.
"Mm. I love the hair. And the clothes."
"And the motorcycle?" I check.
Edward pulls back slowly, his green eyes like saucers. He pulls his tongue ring between his teeth, chewing on it for a few seconds. "You mean… this is actually yours?"
And then he's kissing me again. When he speaks, he punctuates every growled word with another kiss. "That." Kiss. "Is." Kiss. "The. Single. Sexiest. Thing. I've. Ever. Seen."
I chuckle under my breath. "It gets better for you. I sold Bessie."
"I love you." He says the words like a combination of an explanation and a promise. Warm shivers run up and down my spine, and my stomach gets all fluttery. I love that it still affects me when he says that. I glance past him, and catch sight of both of our reflections in the window, standing side by side. A swell of pride rushes through me. Today, something is different. When I look at us together, I don't look out of place, or uncool.
I look like I belong there, at Edward's side. The complementary puzzle piece. I can see the admiration and adoration reflected in his emerald eyes. It strikes me then, what he's been saying all along and I've never truly believed until now. He thinks of me the same way I think of him. As the missing part of his soul, come home at last.
For the first time ever, I feel completely whole.
A/N – So here is the first update of the holiday season. Sorry it's taken me so tremendously long. You guys are the best for sticking with me! I'm also going to be taking requests for any particular things you want the boys to get up to in New York.
Thanks for reading!