Chapter Fifteen - "Regress"
Hello, all. I'm sorry it's been such a long time but life got crazy for me for awhile (major house remodel, family visiting, kids on spring break, husband gone for training, I started back to school, etc. etc.) I also struggled A LOT with this chapter. Not because I didn't know where it was going (I have for a long time) but because I didn't know how to write it to convey what it needed to convey.
Finally, it came out.
I'm not going to lie. This chapter is UGLY. Really ugly. It shows something I knew I was going to have to show, but never really wanted to because I am somewhat protective of this Bella (and Jasper, of course). But you need to see this. He needed to see this. So, read on with that in mind, okay?
Thank you to LightLacedwithBeauty for reading and giving me her thoughts (she was quite upset after this one). I promise to give you prettiness soon. XOXO
I can't stop watchin' her.
As I stand in the side entryway to my parents' house, shoulder pressed into the door jam, sweat rollin' from underneath the brim of my hat, I notice everything 'bout how she looks, from the way her hair's piled up on the top of her head, to the strings that hang from the bottom of her cut-off shorts. But I also notice her. How she seems completely at ease in my mama's kitchen, among my people, in my world. I notice how she looks free and perfect and prettier than the sunrise over the wheat field.
And I notice how much I like her here and how much I wish she'd stay always.
My brother, Peter, comes up next to me, brushin' my shoulder with his as he whistles under his breath. "Damn, boy, you keep starin' like that and you're liable to set those tiny shorts of hers on fire."
My eyes travel down, and I realize, yeah, those shorts are damn tiny. And then I comprehend what my brother said and glare over at him. "What you doin' lookin' at her shorts?"
"Oh, I ain't lookin' at the shorts." Peter tilts his head and grins that mischievous grin Mama says all us Whitlock men have, though some of us choose to use it for good rather than evil.
I shove him and fight back a laugh. "I'm gonna tell Char if you don't cut it out."
"Whatcha gonna tell me, sweetcheeks?" Peter's wife, Charlotte, enters from the doorway leadin' to the dinin' room and peers over at Bella, then us once more. "Is my husband being a pig and checking out Bella Marie's ass again?"
"Again?" I ask, brow raised.
Peter grins and winks. "I know you ain't blamin' me for takin' a peek." He bends down to kiss his wife on the forehead. "Afternoon, sugar." Charlotte reaches up and pinches his nipple through his shirt and twists. Peter yelps in pain and surprise. "Damn, baby, what's that for?"
She extends a finger in his face. "You know what." She places her hands on her hips and shakes her head at her husband. "Now why couldn't you've got some of that chivalry your brother's got, huh? At least he's subtle about checking out his girl's assets."
When I look up, I catch Bella's eyes and watch as blood stains her cheeks. I'm not sure if her reaction is 'cause she's now aware Peter and I were checkin' her out, or if it's 'cause Char called her my girl. I'm hopin' it's the latter.
I shake my head and glance at Charlotte. "Thanks for that, Char."
She smiles, wide and knowin', before reachin' up to pat my cheek. "Anytime, sweets."
I shift my gaze to Bella once more, and she smiles one of those secret smiles that says: I know things 'bout you that no one else knows. I know you're so ticklish that just one touch of my finger to your side makes you jump. I know how you like when I pull on your tags to let you know I want you to kiss me. I know you hold your breath when you come.
And I give her one of those smiles back, 'cause I know things 'bout her too. Lots of things. Not enough things.
Somethin's shifted inside of me after bein' with her like that last night. Kissin' her, touchin' her, bein' touched by her. And I can't stop thinkin' 'bout it, 'bout her, 'bout us together like that.
I'm seein' things I've always seen but noticin' them in ways I never thought I would. Like the way she moves 'round my mama's kitchen, and how her bein' here with my family, with me, seems so perfectly right. The way her teeth leave little marks in her bottom lip as she bites it in concentration while applyin' Mama's special rub to the ribs. How those strands of hair that I've had wrapped 'round my wrist and clutched inside my palm keep comin' loose from her bun and hangin' in her face.
"You know, it really took you long enough to figure it out," Peter says.
I tear my gaze away from Bella and meet his, frownin'. "Figure what out?"
He lifts his chin in Bella's direction. "That you already had the best there was to offer and you didn't need to look anywhere else. I never thought I'd see the day once that manipulatin' harpy got her claws into you."
I shift my body so I'm angled toward him instead of the kitchen. "You mean Alice?"
"You know any other manipulatin' harpies?"
"Peter, I ain't been with Alice for years. Why're you talkin' 'bout her now?"
"'Cause now that I'm older and wiser, I see things for what they really were." He shakes his head. "I just wish I'd realized it sooner. Coulda saved y'all a lot of heartache."
I blink a few times. "What're you talkin' 'bout?" He pauses for a moment, a look of uncertainty crossin' his face. "What aren't you tellin' me, Petey?"
"Well, you know how I played ball with her step-brother, Emmett?"
"Well, she—Alice—was always comin' 'round after practice and games, sidlin' up to me and askin' all kinds of shit 'bout the ranch and our family. I thought she was tryin' to get at me at first, you know? But Char and me were together even then, so I didn't pay Alice much attention. But then she started in 'bout you and how you were foolin' yourself with your," he raises his hands and mimes air quotes, "'bumblin' tomboy of a best friend' and how you needed 'a real woman.' I tell you what, I laughed my ass off at that—a real woman? Shit. Alice still looked like a ten-year-old at that point."
Peter laughs to himself again, but my blood is startin' to boil and I'm not sure I want to hear the rest. "What did you tell her?"
"I didn't tell her nothin'—'cept that if she wanted a chance in hell at you she'd do well to keep her obvious dislike of Bella Marie under wraps. You know, keep your friends close but your enemies closer and shit. 'Cause the way she was goin' 'bout it—bad mouthin' Bella like that all the time—wasn't gonna win her any favors with you."
My mind races with this information. I'd known that Alice seemed cold to Bella when she and Emmett had first moved here from New York, and, yeah, it hadn't endeared me to her much at all, but I hadn't realized she'd thought so lowly of my best friend. If I had . . .
But that had probably been the point, hadn't it? I wasn't supposed to know. In fact, I was supposed to think the exact opposite.
"When was this?" I ask.
Peter furrows his brows in concentration. "Well, I was a senior, so you'd a been . . . what? A freshman?"
All the pieces to the puzzle start to knittin' themselves together in my mind.
It had been some time in our freshman year when Alice's attitude toward Bella had miraculously changed. She'd started hangin' 'round her all the time, talkin' her into all sorts of makeovers and such, changin' her hair, and clothes, and face, talkin' her into datin' boys. Changin' the way she saw herself. Changin' Bella from my best friend to hers. And I'd let it happen. I'd watched what Alice was doin', but Bella seemed so happy, and that was all I'd really ever wanted for her. For her to see herself the way I did. To know that she was special and worthwhile.
Alice had seemed to be able to do that for her when I couldn't, and it's one of the things that changed my mind 'bout her. One of the things that had made me fall for her in the first place.
Now I find out maybe that was all a lie, a game that put Alice Brandon between Bella and me without it lookin' purposeful. She'd played with me and Bella by bein' nice to the one person who meant the world to me, just to win me over.
Thinkin' 'bout it now makes it seem like it shoulda been so obvious. But it wasn't.
It wasn't, and now I feel like an idiot. A pissed off, fully informed idiot.
My spiral into anger is interrupted by Mama's voice comin' from inside the house. "Now, I know, y'all aren't standing in my doorway expectin' to steal these girls away right in the middle of cookin'.
"No, ma'am," I say, takin' my hat from my head and movin' my sweaty hair back with my forearm, tryin' to calm myself and hide the hardness formin' in my heart. "Just comin' to let Pa know the fence is mended . . ." I trail off as Bella bends to place somethin' in the fridge, distractin' my racin' mind.
A throat clears and my gaze is sluggish to move, but once it does I focus on the fact that Mama's givin' me her patented glare.
"Pa's out in the barn," she says, scoldin', but with a sparkle in her eyes. "Is there somethin' else you needed, dear?"
"Well, I . . ." I answer, grabbin' a wild daisy from the rail behind me that I'd picked from one of the fields. My mind had been in a different place when I'd picked this, but I'm determined to act out the gesture as planned, despite the tightness in my chest and the rollin' in my gut. My face grows hot as I twirl the stem in my dirty fingers.
Mama chuckles and pats my cheek. "My sweet boy," she says, quietly, then a little louder, "Bella Marie, come on out here a minute, would ya, sweetheart?"
Bella glances up from what she's doin' and her eyes grow wide, as does the smile on her face. She starts forward, wiping her hands off on a towel. When she reaches me, I hold the flower out, and I don't think I've ever felt so nervous and vulnerable in my life. I've given flowers before, but it's never felt so innocent, so monumental before.
Bella wraps her fingers 'round the stem and mine. "What's this for?"
I shrug. "No reason. I saw it and thought of you." I look up and she's starin' at me with a strange expression on her face. My heart races. "Too cheesy?"
Bella glances down at the flower, twirlin' it nervously like I had earlier, and shakes her head. "No," she says, and her gaze—a mix of disbelief and gratitude—melts the ice linin' my heart just a little. "It's very sweet. Perfect, actually. No one's ever picked me a flower before."
A wave of pride washes over me, and I almost laugh at myself. It's ridiculous. I'm ridiculous, like a teenage boy with his first crush. But, really, it's not "like" anything, because it's true: I am crushin' on her. Hard. And I feel like a teenager all over again.
"If I could, I'd pick them all for you, darlin'."
Bella leans in and stretches up onto her toes. Her lips brush my cheek, and she lingers there, not seemin' to care that I'm covered in sweat and dirt, and probably smell like the barn. "Thank you," she whispers.
I turn my head and her mouth feathers all the way across my face to the corner of my mouth. It's soft and barely anything at all, but it's enough to remind me what it's like to kiss her deeper. "You're welcome," I say.
She doesn't pull back, and her breath spreads over my face. She smells like sugar and lemon, and I want to press her up against door and see if she tastes like lemonade. My hands clench into fists as I hold myself back, and I draw in a slow, deep breath. If Mama weren't standin' just inside, and Peter and Char right next to us, I would.
I close my eyes for a few seconds, calmin' myself enough to pull away. When I open them, Bella's are closed too, and I wonder if it's as hard for her as it is for me. All I want to do is touch her, and kiss her, and touch her some more. I want to watch her in Mama's kitchen, cookin' and cleanin' and laughin' with my family. I want to see what she looks like now with dust in her hair and on her skin, walkin' 'round the ranch feedin' chickens and brushin' horses. I want to take her to my Army post, see how she interacts with my friends there, how she reacts to seein' me in uniform, how it would feel for her to take it off from me.
I want to know what it would be like for her to live in my world, my whole world, as she is now. No longer a child and no longer just my friend, but mine all the same.
My fingers ache to run over her cheek and jaw, but I don't dare touch her, as filthy as I am. "I should get back to finishin' up chores, so I can clean up and we can get goin' on time."
Bella sighs and opens her eyes, her fingers dancin' up the buttons of my shirt. "Is it weird that it makes me a little sad when you clean up?"
I let out a surprised half-laugh. "What?"
She lowers her gaze and smiles a shy, embarrassed smile. "I like you like this. All dusty and sweaty from working all day."
"So, you're sayin' you like smelly, sweaty men?"
She shakes her head. "I'm saying I like you. I like the you I remember from all those years ago. The one I spent hours watching and talking to, and who I ran off to the fishing hole with to cool off after a long day of chores. I like that you." She reaches up and rubs her thumb over the bridge of my nose, as if she's cleanin' a spot of dirt—which she probably is. "This you reminds me of that me. The one I was happy being."
I forget about my filth and lift my hands to cup her face. "Yeah, well, as much as that me enjoyed that you, this me likes this you just as much, if not more. But I wonder . . ." I trail off, when a dark thought comes to mind.
"You wonder what?"
I swallow. "I wonder if you'll like the other me as much."
She frowns. "What do you mean?"
"The me that I gotta go back to bein' in a few days."
Her eyes dim, but her face doesn't fall. "I'm sure I will."
"Yeah." She sighs and starts to pull back. "You being out here makes it very difficult for me to go back in there."
I drop my hands to her waist. Leanin' in, I push the loose strands of her hair away with my nose and whisper, "Good" in her ear.
She shivers and her breath shakes when she speaks. "I'm half tempted to call Rose and tell her I'm sick so I don't have to go out tonight. I'd much rather stay here with you." She lifts to whisper to me this time, hookin' her finger in between the buttons of my shirt. "Maybe help you out of these filthy clothes and clean you up myself."
My eyes slip shut and I can feel my body react to her words. "I'm all for playin' hooky, Mia."
Bella laughs and pulls back, and I situate myself so Peter and Char—who are talkin' on the other side of the porch—can't see what Bella's doin' to me. "If this celebration weren't for Rose's job offer then I'd totally be on board with that. Believe me." She reaches down and threads our fingers together, her eyes on where we're joined. "But I'm glad we're going together. As . . . as . . . this." She swings our clasped hands.
"Me too," I say.
Her gaze shifts from one of my eyes to the other. "I thought maybe I'd feel more nervous, you know, considering . . . but I don't. I feel . . . good." She bites her bottom lip. "I'm sure it'd be different if Alice were going to be there."
Alice. Just her name makes my spine stiffen. I'm thankful for more reasons than one that she's goin' to be out of town. I'm not sure I could keep my cool with her if we had to be face-to-face.
"Even if Alice were going to be there, you'd be just fine. You'd do just fine, darlin'."
"I think you give me too much credit, Jasper."
I grab her chin and raise her face to mine. Her brown eyes are troubled. Sad. "I think you give yourself too little. It's over, darlin'. It's time for us all to let it go and move on."
Bella closes her eyes. "I know, but I just—"
She's cut off by a loud, shrill whistle. I glance up and see Pa standin' near the mouth of the barn, his brows furrowed and his arm wavin' in the air for Peter and I to get movin'. I sigh and Bella laughs quietly.
"You'd better go before he starts yelling."
I stare down at her, tryin' to figure out what to say. "Bella—"
"It's fine, Jasper. Really." She backs away. She's smilin' again, but I see the storm clouds in her eyes. It's not fine. She's not fine. "Now hurry up, so I don't have time to miss you." And with those words, she turns and walks toward the door.
"Damn," Peter's whispered voice comes from just behind me.
"Char!" I say, and then I hear a loud smack and a muttered "ow". But I don't turn to gloat in my victory. I can't stop lookin' at Bella again, watchin' her as she goes. Only this time I'm not watchin' in admiration and want. This time it's in concern, in worry, 'cause I know that somethin' that's been wrong for a long time is back. Maybe it never left. Maybe it never will.
I want to make it disappear for her. For us. But I don't think I can. I think Alice's hold on her may be too strong even for me to break Bella free from.
I don't have a good feelin'. There's just somethin' in the air, lingerin' there, like a storm waitin' to strike.
The club is loud and crowded, and I stand in the back against the wall with Emmett and Edward, watchin' the other club-goers drink and sway and grind. This has never been my scene. Not in high school when Alice procured a couple of fake IDs to get us into one our senior year, nor when I became of age in the service and some of the guys wanted to go out trollin' for girls. I've always preferred the quiet, smoky atmosphere of the pool hall to all these lights and boomin' music and girls barely wearin' anything at all.
But that isn't where this feelin's comin' from. I can't pinpoint it exactly. All I know is that it's gettin' worse, and no matter what I do to try to push it aside and enjoy bein' with my friends, it's still there.
Bella is somewhere in the middle of the throng, dancin' with Rosalie. Emmett and Edward are arguin' 'bout somethin' that happened when I wasn't here to be a part of it, but I just let the sounds of their voices become a part of the mass of noise and pull out my phone to check the time. It's at least the sixteenth time I've done it since we arrived.
I'm so antsy, and the poundin' of the beat comin' through the sound system is makin' me want to crawl out of my skin.
Slippin' the phone back into my pocket, I lift the drink in my hand to my lips, spyin' Bella comin' back from the dance floor with Rose on her arm. She's smilin' and talkin' animatedly, as if she hasn't done so in a very long time. Her cheeks are bright red, evidence she's had a decent amount to drink tonight, and her hands are movin' as fast as her lips. Ordinarily, I'd love to see her like this. Happy. Unencumbered. But I can tell it's a lie.
Everything about this night feels like a lie.
Bella makes her way over to me, pushin' her damp hair away from her forehead, and grins up at me lazily. I pick a few wet strands of hair off her neck and grin down at her, pretendin' everything's fine even though we both know it's not. I can tell she feels it too, whatever it is. "You havin' fun, darlin'?"
Bella takes her lip between her teeth and leans into me, runnin' her hands 'round my waist. "Not as much as I could be having, cowboy." She tugs me into her, hard, and causes my drink to spill over my hand.
"Ew," Emmett says. "Rosie, make them stop."
Rosalie laughs and plops down on Emmett's lap, plantin' a loud kiss on his cheek. "Shut up and get over it, big guy. I think it's cute"
"But it's, like . . . sacrilege, or something. They're not supposed to be looking at each other like that. All . . . wanting and shit."
"Baby, do you even know what sacrilege means?"
Emmett gives her a sheepish grin, and she throws her arms 'round his neck, kissin' him, while callin' him an idiot at the same time.
I laugh, set my glass on the table and wrap my arms 'round Bella. She stumbles a bit and I hold her tighter. "You're drunk, Mia."
"Mmhmm," she hums. "So?"
"'So', nothin'." I smile and bend to kiss her.
Her hands come up and hold my face, fingers curlin' 'round my jaw, like she wants to hold me there indefinitely. Maybe she does. Lord knows I won't stop her if she tries. My mouth curls into a smile when our lips touch, then I hear the one thing that can wipe all traces of it from me as quickly as it came.
"Well, it seems the party started without me."
Bella freezes in my arms, and both our eyes pop open.
"Ally?" Rose says, surprise emanatin' through her voice. "What are you doing here?"
I pull back slightly and my gaze meets Bella's, and all I can see is nothin'. All the playfulness and flirtin' from a few minutes ago has vanished with the utterin' of one name, and I know this is it. This is the feelin' I'd been waitin' for. The one of everything deflatin' and fallin' to the ground.
I straighten and see her there, standin' at the edge of our group, her hair perfectly styled, as always, her body covered in the latest fashions, and her glare focused in our direction.
"I'm here to celebrate with y'all, isn't that obvious?" Alice says, her eyes lingerin' on mine for several seconds before snappin' to Rosalie's. She slips on a slow, confident-lookin' smile that I see right through. "Is there some reason I shouldn't be?"
"No, no!" Rosalie says, jumpin' up from Emmett's lap and pullin' her cousin into a hug. "I'm just surprised, is all. I thought you were going out of town with Marcus?"
Alice looks at me once more from over Rosalie's shoulder, and I see everything there in her eyes. They are the darkest gray I've ever seen them. She's not goin' to play nice tonight.
"I was, but I convinced him he could do without me for one night. Our meetings really don't start until tomorrow evening, so I figured I could catch the early morning flight out instead. I couldn't let a perfectly good celebration go on without me, now, could I?"
I focus on Bella, my hands slippin' up her stiff back and cuppin' her shoulders instead. She's so still, like all the life has been drained out of her. "You wanna go?" I say.
At first, she doesn't respond. She just stares at my shoulder, seein' nothin' at all anymore.
"Darlin'?" I shake her a little to get her attention.
Slowly, Bella lifts her head, but she doesn't speak.
"You wanna go?" I repeat.
Bella opens her mouth to answer but doesn't get the chance.
"Go? You're not going to run away now, are you, Jazz?"
I cringe a bit at the nickname and let my gaze slide up once more to meet Alice's. She's smilin', though it's more of a sneer than a smile. "Runnin' hadn't entered my mind, Mary Alice, I was thinkin' more on drivin'. That an acceptable method of leavin' to you?"
She laughs, and it still sounds like bells tinklin', but they're all out of tune. "When did you get a sense of humor?"
"He's always had one, Ally, you just weren't listening," Bella says, and I glance down at her in surprise. She's turned 'round to face Alice now. I didn't even feel her move.
Alice narrows her eyes, and I swear I see fire shoot out of them. "I'm pretty sure I was speaking to Jazz, not you."
Bella steps forward 'til she's almost nose-to-nose with Alice. "No, I'm pretty sure you were talking to some art school preppy named 'Jazz' and not our friend Jasper."
"Friend?" Alice says with one brow raised. "Huh. I'm surprised you even know that word."
"Al, come on," Rose says, steppin' forward and takin' her cousin by the arm. "Let's not do this now."
Alice shakes her arm free. "Let's not do what, Rose? Pretend everything isn't different? That she's not the traitor she is?"
"Ally." Emmett steps forward. "I know them being together is . . . kind of weird and everything, but there's no reason to call Bella that."
Alice throws her head back and laughs. "Oh, my God, you guys are so clueless."
My hands are still on Bella's shoulders, and I can feel her shake beneath them. There are so many things I want to say to Alice, but I'm not sure Bella would appreciate it if I did.
"What are you talking about, Alice? How are we clueless?" Edward asks, his brows pinched together in the middle. "How is Bella a traitor? It's not like they're doing anything wrong. Yeah, I'll admit, it's weird seeing them together, and I know I didn't take it as well as I should have at first, but it's been years for all of us. None of us really believe that 'couple for life' bullshit Emmett was spewing earlier."
"Yeah," Emmett agrees. "Even I don't really believe that stuff."
Alice focuses on the two of us again, and I can see the hatred behind her stare. She really isn't interested in sparing either one of us tonight. The funny thing is, the way she's lookin' at us doesn't look much different than how she's always looked at us.
"Shall I tell them, or do you want to, Bella?"
My hands tighten on Bella's shoulders, and I feel her body deflate beneath them. The anger I'd been feelin' toward Alice earlier rages inside me.
"What are you doin', Alice?" I ask.
She focuses on me. "Telling the truth," she says. "I think we all deserve the truth once and for all, don't you?"
"Not especially," I say. "The past is the past, Alice. Ain't no reason to bring it up now. It ain't anyone else's business anyway."
"Oh, I disagree." Alice steps toward Bella and narrows her eyes. "Considering how all of them have unwittingly been a part of this all along, I think they should know why exactly they had to do the things they did."
"Al, what is all this about?" Rosalie asks, steppin' up beside her cousin, though slightly between us all. Her gaze flits from one of us to the other, her confusion evident.
Bella's starin' at the ground and is makin' no move to speak. I want her to stick up for herself, to stick up for us, but she's not sayin' a word. Alice has her by the throat, and she knows it. It's exactly what she wanted, what she's always wanted.
Alice draws in a breath and lets it out in a sigh, as if this really saddens her. But I see through her. I see through her the way I should have years ago.
She half-turns toward our friends. "You guys have been such good friends to Bella, and you did it without ever demanding to know why you had to. We all thought Bella was going through a hard time because of her breakup with Edward and her parents' accident. But what none of us knew was that Bella was just showing us who she really was." Alice looks back at us, at Bella. "Who she always has been. A slut."
Bella lets out a quiet whimper, and the rest of our friends break out in a series of reprimands. I pull her closer to my chest, hopin' to give her the encouragement she needs to stand here and take this, because it's not goin' to go away anytime soon. This is what we knew would happen eventually.
Eventually has caught up to us now.
Alice doesn't react beyond holding up her hand to silence them. "I know you guys don't like anyone speaking ill about your precious Bella, but she's not the person you think she is. She does a great job of hiding the real her from all of us, but it ends tonight. It has to." She levels her stare on me. "Bella didn't just start sleeping with inappropriate men a couple of years ago. It started way before that. Four years, to be exact. The night she fucked my boyfriend."
Bella's knees give out, and I hold her tight against me. She's trembin' so hard now, I'm afraid I won't be able to keep her upright much longer.
"What the hell?" Emmett booms, and he turns his angry gaze on me. "You fucked Bella when you were with Alice?"
"No," I say, turnin' to glare at Alice. "I wasn't your boyfriend then. You don't get to claim that, Alice, and you know it."
"Semantics." She waves her hand in the air, as if she's pushin' my words away. And something about that gesture incites my anger even further.
"No, it's not 'semantics.' You threw me away, Alice. You said you didn't want me anymore. You ripped my heart out and stomped it into the ground right before I was leavin' for basic. You don't have a right to say I was yours, because I wasn't."
"You were as far as she was concerned!" Alice steps into our space and thrusts her finger in Bella's face. "It had only been a few hours. You were still mine to her, and you should have been off-limits! She was my best friend, Jasper. You were untouchable. Bella knows this!"
"We were friends long before the two of you were, Alice. She was comfortin' me."
"By riding your dick?" Alice shouts, and Bella dissolves in my arms.
She's not just shaking now, she's tuggin' against me.
"Oh, right." Alice steps back and nods, openin' her arms wide. "Why am I surprised? Why are any of us? This is what she does. She needs a little comfort, she rides a dick. It's fucking classic Bella."
I open my mouth to respond, but Bella tugs so hard against me, she almost pulls me to the floor.
"Let me go, Jasper," she pleads, her voice quiet and rough.
I glance down at her, and there is something in her face that steals my breath away. She's not blank anymore, but I can't read what she is at all. It's a look I've never seen on her face, a look I've never seen on anyone.
"Let me go," she repeats. "Right now. LET ME GO!"
I do as she asks, and she stumbles a bit, 'til she catches herself on the edge of the nearest table. Bottles clank against each other and fall to the ground, shatterin' 'round our feet. Edward reaches out to her, his hand almost wrappin' 'round her arm before she pulls it away. Her eyes dart from one person to the next, so many emotions passin' over her face, but the only one that's immediately recognizable is shame. Deep-rooted, unrelentin' shame.
Her mouth opens and closes a few times, and then her eyes are on mine. But before I can say anything, before I can reach for her again, she turns and pushes into the crowd, disappearin' in a flurry of brown and gold locks.
"Holy shit," Emmett says, his hand thrust up into his hair. "Holy shit. What the hell was that?"
Rosalie says nothing as she stares after where Bella vanished into the crowd.
It takes my feet several seconds to catch up to my brain and go after her, but once they start to move, I feel a small, delicate hand close 'round my bicep. Immediately, I throw it off.
"Don't touch me." I whip 'round. "Don't ever touch me again."
Alice stands closer than is safe for her at the moment. "I'm sorry, Jazz, but you needed to see."
"What?" I ask, incredulously. "What did I need to see? That you're as vindictive and manipulative as Peter said you were? Jesus, Alice. It was four years ago. Statute of limitations has to be up on that by now."
"It'll never be up! She betrayed me! You both did!" Alice shouts, then glances 'round and notices the eyes that have turned on us now. She runs her hands down her sides, as if to calm herself, to pull herself back together into the perfect picture she likes everyone to see. "You want to be with her, Jasper, but you need to know who she really is first. Now you will."
I shake my head, confused and pissed. "No, I think the only person I'm finally seein'—the person we're all finally seein'—is you."
"Don't call me that. I'm not Jazz. I'm Jasper. Jas-per." She takes a step toward me, and I take one back, holdin' my hands up in front of me. "Just . . . stay away from me, Alice. Stay away from both of us."
And then I turn and push into the crowd too. I don't look back at our group of friends, but I can feel their stares on my back. So many thoughts and feelin's wash over me, but more than anything, I know I need to find Bella. I've never seen her that way before. Never seen her so broken. I hate to admit it, but I'm a little scared of what she might do in this state.
I make it to the back of the club, but I see no signs of her. Turnin' down the hall leadin' to the restrooms, I ask a couple of girls exitin' the ladies room if they've seen Bella. They say no, and I continue down the corridor, the loud, persistent beat of the music in the club followin' me every step. I round the corner and meet a dead end. A locked door, with a window showin' a set of stairs that lead up sits at the end, and, to its left, there's a door leadin' to a dark storeroom. I move up to it and peek my head inside. Nothin's movin', but I can hear the sound of muffled sniffles.
Steppin' inside, I call out to her. "Mia," I say. "Darlin', you in here?"
"Jasper . . ." Bella says, her voice so hoarse, so quiet. "Please, just . . . please just leave me alone."
"I can't do that, sweetheart. Just come out, okay? Come out and we can get out of here."
A whimper sounds from further back in the dark, and I follow it inside, passin' several wire shelves of alcohol and canned goods.
"Jasper . . ." Bella's whispered voice comes from close by. I spin toward it and follow. "Please . . . you need to go . . ." The voice is so close now I can feel her breath at my ear.
I turn, my hands brushin' her warm sides. "I'm not leavin'. Please, Bell—"
Her name is cut off as hands connect with my chest and push me hard against the closest shelf. Bottles fall and crash, as my body connects, but I don't have a moment to think 'bout movin' before she's on me. She grabs my arms and pins them above my head with surprisin' strength, her teeth clampin' down on my lower lip. A surprised gasp escapes my mouth, but she cuts it off with her tongue, her body taut and insistent as she wraps it 'round me.
I start to move, but her leg snakes 'round and through mine, effectively trappin' me against her. I twist my face away from hers, takin' in heavy gulps of air, and she attacks my neck, suckin' my skin between her lips and bitin' down hard with her teeth. A shiver snakes down my spine and spreads 'round to my stomach.
"Bella," I say, my breath just as hard as hers, though I'm pretty sure it's not for the same reason. "What're you doin', darlin'?"
She lowers one hand, keepin' the other up 'round my wrists above my head, while her mouth works my jaw and neck. Her fingers trail down my side, 'til she reaches my belt and tugs at it. My hips jerk forward into hers, and I bite back the groan workin' its way up my throat.
"What do you think?" she says, her voice more distant than I've ever heard it.
And, suddenly, I know this is what Alice was talkin' 'bout. This is what she wanted me to see. This side to Bella. The side she uses when she's hurtin', when she's feelin' worthless and punishin' herself for it. I don't know what to do or how to stop it, so I try to stall, to snap her out of it.
"I don't know, Mia. Talk to me. Tell me what you're doin'."
Bella straightens up, and I can feel her breath on my face. "I don't want to talk, Jasper." Her fingers get my belt loose, and she pulls hard on the buttons, thrustin' her hand inside. Her palm is hot as she slides it down over me. "I want this," she says. "I need it."
I notice how she says "it" and not "you." She needs "it", not me. My chest heaves, and as much as I like how it feels when she touches me, I need to stop her. I know I do, but she's pressed so hard against me and holdin' my hands so tight, I'm afraid I'll hurt her if I try. So, I do the only thing I can think to do. "Okay, darlin'. But not . . . not here. Let me take you home. Let me—"
"No!" she says, and I can hear hatred and disgust fillin' her voice. I know it's not directed at me, but it stings all the same. She tightens her grip 'round me, pullin' me out of my jeans and boxers at the same time. "I need it now. Right now. Right here." She kisses me again, rough and sloppy, her breath hot and hard against my tongue. "Fuck me," she whispers into my mouth. "Fuck me now, Jasper."
The words are harsh and punishin', like I know she wants them to be. This isn't 'bout desire and want, it's 'bout damagin' herself. And maybe me a little bit too. "Bella. You don't want to do this. This is what Alice wanted. It's what she knew—"
"I don't give a shit about Alice!" she yells.
I swallow and keep quiet, my heart beatin' so hard I'm sure she can feel it.
"Please," she says, and now her voice is different. It's shaky and pleadin', and filled with shame. "Please. I need it. I need this to go away. Make it go away. I need . . ." Her hand releases mine, and she grasps my shirt, her mouth litterin' my face and neck with kisses, pitiful kisses, beggin' kisses. "Please," she says one more time before she drops to her knees, her mouth on me before I can say a thing in protest.
"Shit." My head bangs back against the shelf behind me instinctively, and my knees buckle. "Bella," I say, but it's weak, 'cause my body doesn't want me to say anything. All it wants is the hot and wet of her tongue, the miniscule nip of her teeth as they slip over me, her hands grippin' the back of my thighs and pullin' me forward. It wants to let her go, to let her do what she's doin' 'cause it's been such a long time and her mouth feels like heaven and hell all at once.
My hands grasp the metal shelves by my hips, the cold, sharpness helpin' me focus on the persistent no, no, no, screamin' in my head. And it finally wins.
"Stop. Stop, Mia."
She doesn't, though, and my hands fall down 'round her face. My will is disappearin' with every dip and rise of her head, and I know I have to do somethin' soon, or I won't be able to do anything at all. My fingers trace the line of her cheeks, and they want to stay there, touchin' her face, encouragin' her as she continues. They want to guide her, cup her jaw, rest their thumbs at the corner of her mouth and feel where we're connected. But I don't let them. Instead, I slip them up into her soft, slightly damp hair.
Closin' my eyes, it takes everything I have to tighten my grip, whisper, "I'm sorry," and close my fists so hard around her hair, I can feel them tearin' away from her scalp.
Bella gasps, and once I feel her grip 'round me loosen, I pull her up, all the way up, 'til her face is flush with mine. I press my forehead to hers, and I hold her there. With my eyes still clenched shut, all I can do is repeat the words, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry," over and over again. The words are breathless and nearly inaudible, my breathin' still harsh and fast, but I need her to know. I need her to know I'm sorry. For hurtin' her just now. For not bein' able to give her what she thinks she needs. For four years ago. For everything in between. Because I did this to her. I did this. "I'm sorry. I'm so fuckin' sorry."
Bella is unmovin' in my arms. I'm not even sure she's breathin' 'til I hear a sharp inhale and she pulls away from my grasp. I let her go, openin' my eyes in time to see her cover her mouth with her hands, a look of pure horror in her eyes.
"Oh, God," she says, the words muffled behind her hands. "Oh, God, not you. Not you."
I cover myself back up, then I reach out for her. "Bella . . ."
"No, don't touch me!" She steps back and shakes her head, holdin' one hand out in front of her. "Don't touch me," she whispers. Her expression is so appalled, so reprehensible. "Jasper . . . Oh, God."
"Please." I take another step forward. "It's okay. Let's talk 'bout this. Mia, please. Please, don't run. Please stay."
"I—I can't. Oh, God! Jasper, I can't." Her eyes beg me to listen, beg me to understand.
But I don't. I don't.
And then she turns 'round and does. She runs. She runs away from this room and what almost happened here. She runs away from the reason why and the people that bring it out of her. She runs away from the ugliness inside herself, and the shame that's eatin' her up inside. She runs away from everything we were startin' to promise each other.
She runs away from me.
I'm not sure if I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this or not . . .
And before anyone tells me how "cliche" mean girl Alice is, she is based off a real person that I know. I'm not borrowing from tropes here. Promise. ;)
If you're confused about Bella, send me a PM and we'll chat. It IS complicated, and I don't mind the discussion if you need it.
Until next time,