Long time, no chat

Hey, friends. Long time, no chat.

If you follow me on twitter, you know I'm still around.

In fact, I still help coordinate TFMU -- we're in San Diego this year! Will you be there?

You might also know that I've published a few books; or you might not! Which is the point of this post. Yep, shameless self promotion. I am terrible at this, so if you hate me for doing it, frankly, I can't say I blame you. There's even a novel in there, and a poly novel. Word on the street is even that it's pretty okay.

Guess what else? I know I've said it all along, and some of you aren't quite sure what to make of the many year gap, but I am actually still working on my fanfic stories, I swear. I do not intend to leave them abandoned forever. I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it -- but hopefully not for much longer. Once they're finished and written, I'll post them. Then we can hug and cry. Or, we can do that in San Diego, too.

I love you. I appreciate you. You matter.

The Trip Home 2 - Chapter 12

A/N: As usual, I owe an ever-growing debt of gratitude to my beta, TwilightMundi.

Thank you for your reviews last chapter, even when FFn was being fail and made it impossible, you came back and reviewed later. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that.

All copyright and trademarked items mentioned herein belong to their respective owners. The remaining content is all mine. No copying or reproduction of this work is permitted without my express written authorization.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

For the next few hours, I worried about what I'd done. Or said. Or both.

"You okay, kid?" Charlie's voice startled me as I washed dishes.

"Yeah, Dad, it's just … stressful around here lately."

"You need me to kick some ass?"

I laughed. Charlie hardly ever swore, so it was hilarious to hear the foreign words from his mouth.

"No," I said, sighing. "It'll all work out."

"Is this about that article?"

My eyes shot up to his. "You saw that?"

"Hell, everyone on the planet's seen it by now. How's Jasper handling the press?"

"Okay. He's more upset lately over his leg."

"He gonna play again?"

"I don't know," I practically whispered. I didn't really feel like it was my place to tell anyone what Edward and I had talked about.

"It'll be okay, either way."

"It will," I said. "You getting any backlash I need to kick some asses about?"

He laughed. "Naw. It's a small town. People talk, but they know better than to talk to much, or say the wrong thing to me. They all see how proud I am of you three. Hell, I've had your wedding picture hanging in my office all this time. No one has dared to say a word about it."

"You have?" I asked. "The picture, I mean?"

It was so touching, imagining the picture there… and all this time, I had no idea.

"Sure have."

"That's really sweet, Dad."

"Like I said, I'm proud of you."

I wiped my hands on the dishtowel and hugged him tight.

"I'm here if you need me," he said, squeezing me.

"Thank you."

"Now where's that cake I keep hearing about?"

We brought Emma's small cake and set it on her high chair, slicing up and passing out the larger cake meant for everyone else.

"Go ahead, sweets, dive in," Edward said, taking her hand and encouraging her to scoop bites into her mouth.

Jasper was on the other side and I was behind the camera, snapping picture after picture of them helping her make an epic cake mess. By the time it was over, they were all covered in frosting. I kissed Jasper first, taking a swipe at a streak of buttercream on his chin. He laughed and pulled me closer, but quickly remembered that our family was all around us.

"Later," I said, looking into his eyes.

Edward walked over and stood with his chin on my shoulder as we flipped through the pictures I'd taken. I was glad when everyone left, desperate for time to myself. I was surprised when I'd gotten the high chair wiped down and back into the kitchen, that Jasper was nowhere to be found. Edward helped me get Emma undressed, and we went into the bedroom to find Jasper already in the shower.

"That's weird," I said. "Guess he wanted to be alone?"

Edward shrugged and took Emma. "Come on, little one. Shall we go get in the tub?"

When they left, I was standing alone in the bedroom, debating what to do. I could help Edward with Emma, but he really didn't need any. The shower turned off, and I could hear Jasper and Edward talking in the bathroom, which I wasn't sure I wanted to be part of. I decided to crawl into bed. A fresh-smelling Jasper was something I was in desperate need of, and maybe he'd want to finish what we started earlier.

"Hi," I said when he walked out, wrapped in a only towel.

"Hey." He didn't make eye contact.

"What'cha gonna do?" I asked, trying to keep my voice light. I shifted my position, trying as best I could to be sexy.

"Xbox, I think," he said, pulling on some boxers and pajama pants.

He left the room and I sank back into the bed. Message received, loud and clear.

I slept in the nursery that night. I wanted to be alone. Jasper's rejection of me was startling. No matter what we were going through, we'd always been close, always had each other. When Edward asked me what was wrong, why I was dragging a blanket and pillow into the other room, I just shook my head. I couldn't say anything, or it would all flood out in a torrent of emotion. I was in a place where it was all or nothing, so for everyone's sake, I sealed everything up and gave nothing.


In the morning, Edward woke me up with a sweet kiss on my forehead. My eyes were puffy, swollen almost closed, and crusted over.

"I feel like I can't leave until I know you're going to be okay," he said quietly.

"Of course I'll be okay," I said. I would be okay. We would all be okay. We had to be. "Have a good day at work. Maybe I'll make lasagna for dinner."

"I love you."

"I love you too," I said, wrapping my arms around his neck.

He walked out of the room, whispering something to Emma, who was still asleep. The sun hadn't even risen yet, and I suspected Edward had slept as little as I had. I laid on the tiny couch thinking about my lunch with Esme, and what I was going to do about the rapidly crumbling state of my marriage. When I'd thought before about the things I had to worry about and would possibly need to someday fight against, it was always external forces — not once had I imagined that we might disintegrate from the inside. I turned on my side, crying again.

When I woke up the second time, the room was bright and Emma was reaching through the bars of her crib. "Mama!" she was saying, making me smile.

"Hey, Ems," I said, picking her up. "Good morning."

We danced down the hall and into the kitchen, where I made her some breakfast and poured myself the world's most giant cup of coffee. Jasper wasn't awake yet, and I wasn't ready to face him, so I left the bedroom door closed, lounging with my sweet girl in our pajamas as long as we could.

By eleven, I had to shower and get ready. Esme was never late.

"Jasper," I said quietly, once I was inside the bedroom. "I need to take a shower. Esme's going to be here soon."

"Okay," he said, stretching and reaching out for Emma. "Come snuggle with Daddy for a minute."

They were talking to each other as I stripped and climbed under the hot water. I was still nervous about what Esme wanted to talk about. I could only imagine all the ways she'd want to kick my ass. I had no time to put make-up on once I was dressed, so I went back to the living room and waited for the inevitable.

The doorbell rang and I jumped up to answer it.

"Hey, you two," I said, not expecting Carlisle to be with Esme. I hugged them both. "Are you coming with us, Dad?"

"Nope, I'm here for Jasper."

I stood still for a moment, processing what he said, and the tone he used. That hadn't sounded good at all…

"Oh. Okay," I said, still stunned. "Call me if you need anything?" half-asked, half-said to Jasper.

He nodded, eyeing up Carlisle. Suddenly, I realized if I thought I had it bad, Jasper had it ten times worse with Carlisle.

"Is it okay to leave the two of them in there?" I asked Esme as I locked the front door behind us.

She laughed, but nodded. "Carlisle just cares. Like I do."

The weather was gorgeous, so we grabbed lunch and sat outside.

"So, you going to tell me what's going on, or am I going to have to drag it out of you?" Esme asked, then took a giant bite of her turkey sandwich.

I almost choked on the bite of pasta salad I had in my mouth. I chewed slowly, contemplating how much to tell her.

"I just…" I took a deep breath. "I don't really know what you want me to say."

"Something is obviously going very wrong. Jasper isn't himself, not even close. You're a mess. Sorry, dear," she said, patting my hand. "I mean that in the nicest way possible. And Edward, well, Edward is the most stressed I've ever seen him. Even when he was in medical school, he wasn't this haggard."

I was angry. Angry that I felt like I was under attack. Angry that it felt like she was blaming me. Angry that this whole situation had turned so much shittier than I could have ever imagined. Wasn't it already bad enough without her judgment?

"All of those are lovely observations," I said, sarcasm chasing my words, "but I still don't know what you want me to say."

Esme's brows furrowed together as she looked at me, clearly surprised at my venomous response. She picked up her fancy sparkling water and took a sip from the straw, obviously contemplating her next move. She swallowed and closed her eyes, and took a deep breath before opening them again.

"Bella, I love you like a daughter. What I want you to say is how I can help. I was hoping that you'd open up to me and help me understand so I could try and offer you some guidance. You don't seem to want that, so failing my offering you advice, maybe you can tell me how to help."

"I'm sorry," I said quietly. "I don't know what to tell you. I wish I knew how you could help, I really do." I paused and set my bowl down on the grass. "I wish I knew how I could help."

I laid back on the grass, looking up at the crystal clear blue skies. It was the perfect day to spend at the park with Emma and Jasper, or in the backyard with them. I could push her on the swing and we could talk and touch in the subtle ways you learn to reassure each other once there are small eyes watching. I wanted to hold his hand and feel his breath. I wanted to know his heart again.

"He's gone, Esme, and I don't know how to get him back."

She laid back in the grass with me, quite a feat for a polished woman that never had a stain in sight. But she laid back, right there, green grass marring her perfect off-white sweater set and slacks.

"Being a wife is a hard road sometimes, isn't it?" she asked.

"It really is. No one tells you about this. No one tells you about the adjustments you go through. What if one of us can't or doesn't adjust?"

"He will, sweetheart." Esme took my hand in hers, squeezing. "It's hard for him, you know? He doesn't know who he is anymore. He doesn't know how to be Jasper, the dad or Jasper, the husband. He's been Whitlock for all these years. Maybe we should have pushed him more when he was younger to branch out, but he was just so damned good. We always knew he'd be a star.

"I know you feel like he's shutting you out, Bella. He's shutting everyone out. I know Edward feels the exact same way. That's why Carlisle is over there. Jasper's getting the same riot act you are."

"Do you think it will help?"

"I have no idea," she said, her voice heavy and sad. "All we can do is try."

"What if it doesn't work?"

I could feel the tears chasing each other down my skull, landing on the grass.

"We'll do more. Try something else. You keep going when you're married. That's what it is — never giving up. You can't give up on Jasper. Don't you think he can sense everyone's feelings around him? He probably feels like he's failed all of you. He isn't going to bring in a huge income anymore, or be able to get reservations certain places by throwing his name around."

"He's still Whitlock, though. He's just a different version of him."

Esme turned to face me. "That's exactly what you need to show him."

She squeezed our hands again, and for the first time in weeks, I felt like there was something in front of me that I could do. I could show Jasper just how Whitlock he still was. His body was softer, but still sculpted. His mind was still sharp and strong. I could even see the swagger there, under the layers of ache. If I was good at anything in this life, it was being a support person for my husbands.

We sat up and finished our lunch, even though all I wanted to do was go home and hug Jasper. He might still be stuck deep in that well of depression, but I could feel the plan forming in my head. I wasn't quite sure how I'd do it, but I had faith and confidence that together, Edward, Jasper, and I could work through it.

"You know he needs to see someone, right?" she asked.

I swallowed thickly, knowing how full of pride Jasper was, and how Edward had already said he wouldn't see someone, convinced he was fine. Maybe Carlisle would help him to see how it couldn't hurt to talk to an outside party.

"It's serious, Bella. You can help, but you can't get him to the other side. I don't even know if a therapist can. He might need to look into some good drugs. No shame in that."

I nodded slowly.

"Think they're done talking?" I asked.

"Yep," she said. "Carlisle texted me a few minutes ago to say it was safe to come home. He didn't sound like things went exactly as planned, though. Just know that they both love you, and they both love each other. More than that, though, you all trust each other, and you're all friends. Lean on the other aspects of your relationship. Pull from friends, and ask for help. We're here for you, whatever you need."

"Thank you, Esme."

"No thanks needed, just help me get my boy back."

I thought about everything as we drove. We'd tried time away from the house, away from the baby, to reconnect. Sure, it helped, but it wasn't helping long-term with Jasper trying to figure out what else he might want to do. He couldn't do that until he got to the point where he accepted his soccer career was over.

When she parked in the driveway, Esme turned to me and locked the doors.

"By the way, Edward told me you're thinking of another baby."

I panicked, instantly convinced she'd think it was a terrible idea.

She laughed. "You look like a deer in headlights. I was just going to suggest that maybe you should give it a few more weeks. Let Jasper find his footing a little more. I'm excited, though, and truly, I can't imagine a better fit for Edward and Jasper. You have a beautiful family. You're very lucky, don't you ever forget it. This is one challenge, Bella. You can make it over this hurdle, but expect another one right after it. Being a mom, being a wife … it's a distance marathon. There's no vacation, no sick days, no time off. You have to endure and carry on through the bad shit. Okay," she said, smiling as she unlocked the doors. "That's it. Let's go check on them."

I couldn't bring myself to tell her the truth; the truth that I'd kept locked inside for days, afraid. Afraid of how it would impact Jasper's progress - or lack thereof. I was terrified to tell anyone that I was already pregnant. Especially after what she'd said, I felt horrible. I didn't want to put any more stress or strain on them, so I decided to continue to keep the information to myself. I rationalized that I'd still be pregnant when I told them, so what did it matter if they knew at two weeks or three or four? That didn't help the pit in my stomach, though. I felt terrible, like I was lying. Maybe in some ways I was. I wanted to share the happy news, celebrate and rejoice with my husbands and with the rest of the family.

The moment I was inside, I found Jasper with my eyes. Carlisle was walking around with Emma, her hands wrapped around his pointer fingers as they did mini laps around the living room.

"Hi," I mouthed to Jasper.

"Hi," he mouthed back. "I love you."

"I love you, too."

"I'm sending Edward home early tonight," Carlisle said. He let go of Emma and put her hands on Jasper's legs. "Bye, Emma. I love you." He kissed her cheek and waved, making room for Esme to kiss her.

When they moved to the door, Emma began to fuss, waving frantically and saying "Bye Nana," over and over.

"Say 'Bye Grandpa,' Em," I said, trying to get her to say his name, too. I sat on Jasper's side, holding one of Emma's hands in mine.

"I'll be Nana for now," Carlisle said, looking between Jasper and me. "Bye you two. Take care of each other."

The door closed and Jasper wrapped an arm around me, leaning closer.

"I can't believe she's walking," I said.

"We can learn together," Jasper said, letting out a small chuckle.

I leaned closer to him and could see his eyes were red-rimmed. My heart felt like it might break. "When is physical therapy today?"

"Soon," Jasper said, wandering off to get changed, I assumed.

I picked up Emma to get her a fresh diaper and clothes. Jasper walked into the nursery and stood next to me, talking to Em and laughing with her. Things felt tense, but better. I was hopeful that Carlisle had gotten through to him, even though there weren't any major immediate changes.

While Jasper was at his appointment, I took Emma around the corner to the library. We played with the board books and I checked a few out for her to play with at the house, too. I found myself wandering the self-help section, then passed through the cookbooks to browse for something new. We walked back to the physical therapy building and waited in the lobby for Japer. When he came out, hair dark from the water, jeans hanging just so, I almost salivated. Then I remembered the sting of rejection from the night before. I wanted Jasper to come to me. I wanted to give him the space he clearly needed.

When we got home, it was time for Emma's nap, so I laid her down and picked up a book, lounging on the couch in her room, reading until she woke up. It was nice to spend time just doing something I loved so fiercely… something just for me, with no end result other than a smile on my face.

As Carlisle promised, Edward was home in time to help me cook dinner, a rarity those days.

"Hey," I said, my smile practically splitting my face. "Missed you today."

"You too," Edward said, his arms drifting to my waist. "How was your day?"

"I read almost half a book!"

"How was lunch with my mom?" he asked, laughing and kissing me.

"It was good."

"That's it?"

"Yeah," I said, shrugging. "She sort of kicked my ass, but in a nice way."

"She has a way of doing that. What can I help with?"

We worked together in the kitchen, laughing and playing with Em the whole time. Jasper came out right as we were finished and we both smiled at him as he gathered up plates and silverware to set the table. As we ate, I noticed Jasper itching a lot.

"You okay?" I asked, nudging my head toward his arm.

"Being in the water everyday makes my skin so dry, I guess."

"Are you using lotion?" I asked.

Jasper looked at me and smirked. "For my dry skin? No."

I threw my napkin at him.

"Maybe I can help you with that later," Edward said quietly.

There was a beat that passed between them, their eyes locked on each other, and I could feel the sexual tension in the room rise.

"I'd like that," Jasper said.

My heart felt squeezed, not in the good way. In the "we're-done-with-you" way. I kept watching them, waiting for them to move or look at me, acknowledge my presence. When the first tear fell and hit against my hand, I bit my lip to keep more from coming.

Jasper reached over, without taking his eyes off Edward, and grabbed my hand. "You'll be there too, right?" he asked, turning to face me. "Wait, what's wrong?"

The string of tension in the room snapped and he moved closer to me, wiping the other tears.

"I just … had a moment, I guess. I felt a little left out there."

He leaned closer, kissing the side of my neck, my well-known weak-knee spot. "You were the one that started all this, asking if I used lotion," he whispered into my ear. His hands slid up my sides and his thumbs spread out, moving over my nipples.

"That's true," I said, laughing, and buried my head against his neck.

We managed to clean up the dishes and get Emma into the tub for a very splashy bath. She was almost always so happy, and that made me hopeful for the second little bean growing inside of me. As I crouched by the side of the tub, I realized I was starting to really feel pregnant. It would only be a matter of days before I couldn't hide it anymore, if it was anything like the last.

"Ready for bed?" I asked Emma, looking around at the soaked bathroom.

"We'll clean this up and meet you in the bedroom?" Jasper asked. He'd brought a chair into the room so he could sit comfortably, which made me glad. Instead of adapting and participating in a lot of these kinds of things, he'd just stopped being there.

"Sounds perfect."

I dried Emma off and carried her to her room. "Be a good girl for Mommy and go right to sleep, okay? Let's read one book when you're snuggled in, then lights out."

I put her into the pajamas I knew wouldn't fit her by the following week — she'd outgrown so much already. When she was in her crib, lying down, I picked up one of the books we'd gotten at the library as she clapped happily. In a quiet, calm voice that belied how much I wanted to be in the other room, I read the words and listened to her breathing between pages.

"Okay, angel, sleep well. See you in the morning. I love you."

I closed the door quietly, making sure the monitor was on, and crept over to our room. The door was mostly closed, and when I got inside, I took my clothes off and stood on the other side of Jasper. They'd already started, but I decided not to let that stand in my way of joining them. Edward handed me the bottle of lotion and I started at Jasper's arm, working my way down to his hand.

When I'd begun, Jasper turned and looked at me, sleepy eyes closing periodically. I leaned down and kissed the edge of his mouth, then went back to lotioning him up. By the time we got to his toes, Jasper was out cold. Apparently he needed sleep more than anything else, so we decided to leave his front-side until the next day. The way he was sprawled out on the bed left almost no empty space, and I giggled as I took a picture with my phone, to show him later.

"Guest room?" Edward asked quietly.

I nodded and reached into my dresser for a cotton nightgown as he grabbed some pajama pants. I crawled under the cool sheets and Edward pulled me into his arms.

"Do you think he's doing better? Did he tell you what he talked about with your dad? Or did your dad?"

"I think he is doing better, but we shouldn't expect it to stay this way. I'm not sure he's all the way there yet, you know? There are going to be bounces in his mood, what he wants, everything. And no, he didn't say anything about it and Dad was busy all afternoon with patients. I only saw him when he demanded I go home."

"You guys are so busy lately, are you thinking about bringing more people on staff?"

"It's funny you should ask, actually. I was talking to Dad about asking Alice if she'd like to come work with us. What do you think about that?"

"I think that's a great idea. I'm sure she'd love the stable hours and that would help her job to not be in jeopardy if anyone found out about her family. I can send her a text tomorrow, if you want?"

"That'd be great. Thank you."

When I woke up the next morning, the waves of nausea were overwhelming. I ran to the hall bathroom to throw up, and spent the next few minutes on the cold tile floor. I couldn't even get up when I heard Jasper's crutches getting closer.

"Are you okay? Shit. You must have the stomach flu or something." He bent and helped me sit up.

"I guess."

My stomach dropped again, not from morning sickness, but from what felt like the lie I was telling. I could see the rationalization both ways, that it was or wasn't a lie, but it didn't matter — I felt like it was a lie, and it made me sick. I'd have to find a way to tell them soon.

"Let's get you to the couch. I have some Gatorade in the fridge. Blue or purple?"

"Blue," I said as I stood.

Jasper put his arm around my waist and held me tight as we walked.

"You just rest here. I'll get you a pillow and a blanket and then I'll be back with blue. Here's the remote."

When he was out of the room, I had to laugh. Jasper had swung into action without me even asking for help. Edward showed up a few minutes later, holding Emma.

"You okay?" he asked, leaning down to kiss my cheek. "Have a fever?"

"I'm sure I'll be fine," I said, still being careful to skirt the line.

Jasper showed up with crackers and my drink, complete with bendy straw, and I smiled. "Thank you."

Edward set Emma in her swing and showered before heading in to the office. Jasper doted on me, taking care of Emma and me, and I felt worse and worse. I had to get up several times, running to the bathroom, and by the end of the day, I was exhausted in every sense of the word, and panicked.

How would I get out of this without it seeming like I'd been lying to them the whole time? Why hadn't I just told them when I first saw the stupid smiley faces on the test?

The Trip Home 2 - Chapter 11

A/N: Thank you to my beta, TwilightMundi, for being amazing.

I'm all caught up on review replies; thank you for your patience! I'm so tickled every time I read your reviews. They truly make my week. I appreciate when you leave me little nuggets of love.

All copyright and trademarked items mentioned herein belong to their respective owners. The remaining content is all mine. No copying or reproduction of this work is permitted without my express written authorization.

"Good birthday?"

"The best," he said, smiling. "Truly."

I leaned over and kissed him slowly, then did the same to Jasper. It was the lightest and happiest I'd felt in months.

"What time do we have to be back?" Edward asked, his hand slipping over my knee and skimming up to my thigh.

"Not until tomorrow morning," I said, smiling. "Ready to go back to the hotel?"

"More than ready."

We helped Jasper and made our way to the safety and privacy of the room, picking up where we'd left off. Our intimacy was quiet and slow. Long after it had become dark outside, we touched and stroked and kissed. We loved each other for hours.

By the time the sun came back up, I'd dozed on and off, but hadn't gotten much solid sleep. It had been the same for Edward and Jasper, though we seemed to be taking turns waking up, kissing and talking quietly, then falling back to sleep in weird shifts. Jasper was in more pain than usual, probably due to our antics, and had to take an extra pain killer in the morning. I felt terrible, feeling as if we'd contributed and caused the pain.

Of course, as Edward drove us back home, my lack of sleep exacerbated my sense of responsibility and I found myself wiping away tears. By the time we pulled in to the driveway, I'd mostly composed myself, but also decided that I needed to take a nap when Emma did. Jasper had been quiet on the drive, and when I got out to help him, I could see through the window that he'd fallen asleep. I smiled, glad I wasn't the only exhausted one.

"Should I wake him?" I asked Edward quietly when he walked up behind me.

"Yeah. Let's get him to bed. He'll be much more comfortable there."

"Hey sweetie," I said, reaching out to touch Jasper's hand. My fingers skimmed up and down, trying to rouse him gently. That didn't work, so I nudged his shoulder. "Wake up, sleepyhead. We need to get you into a real bed."

Jasper made a noise and stretched. "Sorry."

He swung his body around and grabbed the crutches from me, balancing between Edward and me. Esme, Carlisle, and Emma were waiting inside to greet us, and I was so glad. Not only had I really missed my sweet girl, but my boobs were also really sore since I hadn't wanted to pump too close to when we got back. I wanted to nurse her first thing and reconnect, watching her.

"Thank you for watching her for us," I said, taking her from them. I turned to Edward. "You can get Jasper to bed?"

He nodded and I gave Carlisle and Esme a quick kiss, escaping to the nursery. Several minutes later, Edward came in with a glass of water and a snack, putting them on the table and sitting on the couch. I propped my foot up next to him, using the leverage to rock the glider as Emma finished.

"Jasper resting?" I asked.

"Yeah. Wanna lay down while Emma sleeps?" he asked, yawning. "I'm beat."

"I really, really do," I said with a laugh. "This weekend was worth it, but exhausting."

"And you have a busy week coming up with Jasper starting PT, and that dinner on Thursday."

I'd forgotten all about Jeff, Jasper's best friend from the team coming over for dinner. He was going to bring his wife Karen and their three kids — the thought terrified and comforted me. It was nice that Jasper had friends still supporting him, but I had no idea what to cook, or how to act in front of them. She was a polished soccer star wife. I was dowdy, still had baby fat, and, well, had two husbands. I switched Emma from one side to the other and tried to think about if I knew any other openly out soccer players. I could think of a few I knew about, but I didn't know if they were out out. I'd have to ask Jasper.

"You're going to be home early, right?"

"Yep," Edward said, smiling. "I asked the receptionist to stop my appointments at one, so I should be home by two-thirty at the latest."

"Perfect. Thank you."

I smiled and moved my foot to rest on his leg. He picked it up and rubbed it, which immediately made me close my eyes and relax.

"It's going to be hard to watch Jasper, you know?" Edward said. "I want you to be prepared."

I opened my eyes. "Hmm?"

"In physical therapy. It's going to hurt, and it's going to make him angry. He's so shut down right now, I don't know really what to expect, but we should expect something."

I nodded. "Do you think he would go talk to someone?"

Edward snorted. "No. He thinks he's fine."

"What can we do?" I asked. My heart was twisted in knots.

"We can be here for him. We can love him and not let go."


Edward hadn't been kidding — watching Jasper work in physical therapy was terrible. Even though it was just slow stretching and movement, I could see how much pain he was in. After the appointment, we went home and iced his leg as he rested. He took more pain meds, and I didn't blame him. His face was tight, his expression stretched with the strain of holding back so many things.

The rest of the week was no better. After every session of therapy, he would grimace and be grouchy, not saying much in the car. We'd go home and he'd ice his leg, take a few pills and pass out. I was so worried about him taking too many pills, or slipping further down the rabbit hole he seemed to be buried in. I tried to talk to him about how things were going, but he was mostly silent, distracting me or changing the subject.

"Edward, do you think we should be worried about how many pills Jasper's taking?" I'd asked that night while Jasper was in the living room.

"No, I don't think so. He's not through the bottle yet, and he's in a substantial amount of pain still."

"I know," I said, shifting awkwardly. "It just feels like it's a lot."

"Don't worry, sweets," he said, kissing my forehead. "I promise, I'm not monitoring it or anything, but it's on my mind, too. It's not something to worry about."

The bright spot of the week was dinner on Thursday. It had been light and easy, and far more fun than I'd expected. Jasper loosened up around his friend, and they talked shop, gossiping like girls about what was going on with the other players. Their kids were well-behaved, and I was glad Emma could sit in her high chair and join us, too.

"Everyone misses you," Jeff said, looking at Jasper with such genuineness it hurt.

"Hopefully I'll be back soon," Jasper said, his familiar tight smile settling back on his face.

There were several beats of awkward silence, and I could tell neither guy really knew what to say to the other.

"How about some chocolate tart?" I asked, trying to change the topic.

It worked, and we all dove in to dessert, the room falling into the quiet symphony of silverware. When their family left, we cleaned up the kitchen, washing dishes and serving platters. Jasper even helped, saying he was tired of sitting.

"It was nice to see Jeff and his family. Do you think they had fun?" I asked.

"Yeah," Jasper said. "We should invite Emmett, Rose, and the kids over, maybe for a movie night?"

"Yes! Perfect," I said. "I'll get popcorn and candy."

"I'd like that," Jasper said. "Sound okay to you?" he asked Edward.

"Whatever you want," Edward said, smiling and kissing him.

"Whatever I want, huh?" Jasper asked, pulling him closer. "What if I want you on your knees?"

Edward's grin grew as he moved to his knees. I leaned against the sink, watching. Jasper unbuckled his belt then jeans, dropping them both to the floor. Edward pulled Jasper's boxers down, then wrapped his fingers around his cock, stroking him.

"Whatever you want," Edward repeated, his voice low, provoking Jasper.

"Put my cock in your mouth."

Even while wrapped around Jasper, I could see Edward's lips turned up in a smile. I liked it when they got demanding of each other. It was interesting to watch. Well, and sexy. Jasper's balance faltered so I moved behind him. I put my arms beneath his and let him lean back against me as I played with his nipples.

"I love you," I whispered in his ear, then kissed his neck, just below his earlobe.

Edward looked up at us and it wasn't much longer until Jasper was coming. I could see Edward's hands — one wrapped around Jasper's thigh, pulling him closer, and the other disappearing between his legs. When Jasper finished, Edward reached out and touched my leg quickly, making me smile. He stood up, squishing Jasper between us as we all embraced.

"Ready for bed?" I asked.

We made our way to the comfort of our bedroom. Before I fell asleep, I texted Alice to ask if they wanted to come over for movies on Saturday. She called me the next afternoon during her lunch break.

"Movie night sounds fun, the kids will have a blast. I wanted to talk to you first, though," she said. "How are you doing?"

"I'm hanging in there, I think." It was I felt like I was on a roller coaster, waiting for the dips and stomach drops, letting the highs make me smile and fly. I didn't want to say the words out loud, though, or dare to ask for help. I knew they were already so busy, two kids, all of them working.

"How's Jasper?" she asked.

"Ugh. He has good days and bad, you know?"

"I can imagine," she said. Her voice softened. "I saw the article."

The line went quiet, and I wasn't sure what to say. I had sort of assumed she'd seen the article — it felt like everyone had.

"Yeah," I said quietly, dragging out the word, unsure what else to say.

"Well, I just wanted to let you know that I talked to the head of the group, and Victoria was asked to never attend any events again, and kicked off the email list."

"What?" I was confused. How had Alice made the connection? I'd decided not to make waves with the group since I didn't have empirical evidence.

"There were only two people you talked to at the first meeting that I knew you kept in touch with, and who knew your real names." Alice's voice was quiet and sad. "And I feel bad. I trusted Victoria, too. I'm sorry."

Neither of us spoke for a moment. I wasn't sure why Alice was so upset, but I wanted to listen to her and hear her out. Had she sold information to the paper, too? Jesus. My anxiety level crept up.

"It's okay," I said. "Whatever it is. Why are you sorry?"

"I just can't imagine if that was my family," she whisper-sobbed. "And I feel so guilty that I'm relieved it wasn't me."

"Oh, Alice. You shouldn't feel guilty. We'll be fine. Your family depends on secrecy, and I really understand that now. I'd never violate your privacy, I hope you know that."

"Of course I do," she squeaked. "I wish I could kick Victoria's ass for all the drama she's caused you guys. Aside from a quick buck, I don't know why she did that to you."

"I don't know either," I said, sighing. "I've spent so much time thinking about it, trying to figure out why she'd do it. I mean, she outted herself, too, right? Maybe she doesn't care. Maybe she's too young to understand the implications of what she did."

"I suspected after you left, when she wouldn't stop talking about Jasper, that she had ulterior motives. I should have warned you."

"It's not your job to tattle on her. She made her own choices, you know? She might have just been bragging and then if you had told me about it, it might have caused unnecessary drama."

"But then all of this wouldn't have happened," Alice said.

"You never know," I said. "Besides, now I can walk around town and breathe easy if I slip up and kiss them both, or hold both their hands."

We laughed, and it felt nice to have my friend back. Once I thought about it, it made sense why she'd been so distant the last few weeks.

"I'm glad you're coming over tomorrow," I said, smiling. "I can't wait to give you a hug."

"Hell yes," she said. "And popcorn. See you tomorrow."

I walked to where Jasper was in the living room and plopped on the couch next to him.

"Have I told you lately how happy you make me?"

He looked down at me, a smile spread across his face. "Nope."

"Well, you do. You and Edward and Emma. I'm so lucky."

"Us too," he said, taking my hand in his and squeezing.

Friday's afternoon physical therapy appointment was especially grueling, and I worried about the weekend. When we got home, he went straight to the bedroom, closing the door behind him — something I couldn't recall him ever doing. I hoped Jasper would be less grumpy by the next day, but things didn't look promising.

After a few minutes, I knocked softly on the bedroom door. "Sweetheart? Are you okay?"

"Yeah," he said, his voice rough.

It felt weird to be talking to him through the barrier, but I wanted to give him space if he needed it. "Do you need anything?"


"Okay, well, I'm just going to start dinner. If you need me, I'm here."

The lack of a response made me want to kick the door down and lecture him. I felt pulled taut between cleaning, cooking, playgroups and playdates, physical therapy, and now my husband in near-constant pain… and I needed to plan for Emma's first birthday in a few months. While I waited for the water to boil for the pasta, Emma safely in her Johnny Jump Up in the doorway, I slid down to the ground. I kept my head on my bent knees, eyes turned to watch Emma.

She bounced, smiling and laughing, and reminded me of all the reasons I had to smile. My knee was soaked with tears by the time I stood up. Jasper hadn't come out of the bedroom, and I was still worried, but I had dinner to make, a diaper to change, and there were several loads of laundry waiting to be folded and put away. I busied myself until Edward got home.

"Where's Jasper?" he asked, finding me in the kitchen.

"Bedroom," I sighed.

"Everything okay?"

He wrapped his arms around me and I tried not to think about the way his clothes looked on him. Or how good he smelled. Or how much I wanted to lose myself in him and forget about everything but just how good he could make me feel.

Of course, then I was reminded of how good they bothmade me feel, and I started to cry again.

"No, it's really not. I can see him slipping away. I can almost feel it, like part of me is being torn to shreds."

"He's going to be okay," Edward said, rubbing my back.

"I don't know if that's true anymore."

"It has to be," he said. "It just has to be."

We stood for several quiet moments, and I tried to let his faith sink in to me.

"You want to get him, or shall I?"I finally asked, breaking the silence.

"Let me say hello to Emma and carry her in there with me."

He gave me a soft, sweet kiss, then walked to Emma. "Ready to go wake Daddy up?"

She squealed and they made their way out of the kitchen and down the hall. In the quiet of the kitchen, I fixed our dinner plates, then opened a bottle of wine and poured three glasses. After I'd made sure everything was at the table, they still weren't there, so I crept toward the bedroom. From where I was, I could peek without being seen. They had Em between them on the bed, each man up on his side, talking.

"You know, you're only going to get better if you try," Edward said. There wasn't judgment in his tone, but encouragement.

"I am trying, Edward. It's fucking painful."

"I know it is. I know."

Emma's hands ran up and down Jasper's cheeks feeling the stubble there. When he kissed her tiny fingers, I couldn't help but smile.

"You're going to have bad weeks, Jazz. You have to learn to lean on us. We have to make it through this together. We love you, all three of us, and we need you. We need you, too. Come on, let's go have dinner with the most gorgeous woman ever, and the cutest baby. Then maybe we can make you feel better after this little monkey is in bed."

Edward leaned down and blew on her belly, making her laugh. It was the most amazing sound in the whole world.

"She is pretty cute," Jasper agreed, attacking her round belly from the other side.

I walked back to the kitchen. They were wrapping up their conversation and I didn't want to get caught eavesdropping, even though it was innocent. I felt better, though. I had hope. Maybe Edward was right.

Saturday was a lazy morning. Edward and Jasper took Emma to the park and I got to sleep in, which I was so thankful for. When I got up and saw their note, I decided to start making food for movie night. When they got back, Emma was ready for lunch and naptime. I was glad she went down easily for them, clearly having been worn out.

They came into the kitchen and we worked together. It was a nice reminder of the way we'd functioned in the past — each of us taking on a task and working together.

"You guys have fun at the park?" I asked.

"I can't believe she giggles so much now," Jasper said. "It's going by too fast. I'm looking forward to having another one."

I paused where I was standing, smiling. "Me too," I said, turning to look at them.

Suddenly, making snacks was forgotten. "Wanna practice?" Edward asked, obviously struggling to maintain a casual tone.

When Alice, Rose, Emmett, Sadie, and Avery showed up, half the food was still uncooked. Alice and Rose helped me in the kitchen while the guys took the kids into the living room and put on a movie.

"Should we make popcorn?" I asked.

"Yeah, but make a ton," Rose said. "Everyone in our house will devour it."

As I walked to the pantry, I looked over at Alice. "You okay? You look a little … green."

"Yep," she said, smiling.

"Something you want to tell me?" I asked, playfully bumping her hip with mine as I walked by.

Her grin grew, and when I reached to hug her, we squealed and laughed. "Congratulations," I said. "I'm so happy for you."

I knew she'd wanted to get pregnant, and I loved how happy they were. The minute I let go of Alice, Rose was right there, arms around her from behind, kissing her neck and rubbing her still-flat belly. I was envious, too.

"How far along are you?"

"Sixteen weeks."

"Almost halfway! You're still so tiny," I said. "Bitch."

"Just wait," Alice said. "I'll be waddling before you know it."

"You'll still be sexy," Rose said, burrowing into her neck again.

I laughed and turned back to the pantry to find the popcorn, blushing. When we'd finished up, we went to the living room with the bowl of popcorn and a few plates of other snacks, finding spots on the couches with the men.

"Ratatouille next?" Jasper asked the girls when the movie finished.

"Yeah!" they said.

We took a break to eat dinner, but watched another movie after. The kids fell asleep in the living room, tucked into sleeping bags they'd brought, so the grown-ups went to the kitchen to sit around the table, talk, and play cards.

"Still corrupting young minds?" Edward asked Emmett, and the table burst into laughter.

"Yep," he said, smiling. "How's the practice?"

"Really good," Edward said, dealing the cards.

"How's the leg, Jasper?" Emmett asked.

"Coming along," Jasper said. "We'll see what happens in physical therapy."

"Can't wait to go to your first game back," Emmett said.

"Me either," Jasper said. "Much more of this lying around and I'm going to get all fat and gross."

"Pretty sure that's not possible, genetic freak," I teased.

The night stretched out with playful banter, dirty jokes, and friendship. At some point, I could tell Jasper's leg began to bother him, though, and he got up to take some pills.

"Maybe we call it a night soon?" I asked, yawning and stretching.

"We should probably round up the kids and go," Rose said. "I don't even know how Alice is still awake."

"I won't be for much longer," Alice said, droopy smile widening.

"Thanks for coming over," I said, hugging everyone. "We'll have to do this again soon."

When it was quiet and I laid in bed, my hands drifted to my own belly. I wasn't back in pre-pregnancy shape yet, but that didn't really matter. Was it the right time? Was there ever a right time?

The following week, Jasper began doing his physical therapy in a pool. I was glad they decided to switch it up, hopeful it might hurt less. Unfortunately, he was just as shut down when we got home on Monday as ever. By Friday, I didn't know what to do with myself. Edward had been working late, plus it was his week to be on-call, so he'd gotten woken up several times, and it seemed like Emma was constantly going through a growth spurt. Her normal routine changed every day, and what she needed from me seemed to vacillate just as much.

I finally snapped in the car, on the way home from Jasper's PT Friday afternoon. "Are you going to talk to me?"

"There's nothing to talk about," he said.

"That's not true. Tell me what's going on. Tell me why you're so quiet lately."

He shifted in his seat, and when I glanced at him quickly, he looked irritated.

"It really fucking hurts, Bella. What more do you want me to say? I hate that you have to drive me everywhere. I hate that when we get home, I'll have to ice my leg and be an invalid. I hate that it hurts and makes me angry. I don't want to be that asshole that takes it out on everyone around him."

"Is there anything I can do for you?" I asked quietly.

"Aren't you already doing enough?"


I felt helpless. I reminded myself that soon, Jasper would be better. His leg would heal and he'd be back to being self-sufficient. He wouldn't be in as much pain. He would be my Jasper again.

It was no comfort in the following weeks, though. Things crept from bad to worse, and it was a slow crawl. A painful crawl. Jasper stopped shaving. He stopped going to the grocery store with me. He stopped saying much of anything to any of us, unless it was absolutely necessary. He never watched the sports channel anymore.

"We have to do something," I said to Edward one night, in the quiet of the bathroom. "He's just … slipping further away."

"Bella, Jasper has to find his way through this. He had a career-ending injury. His bone literally snapped in half."

We were looking at each other in the huge bathroom mirror.

"What do you mean, career-ending?"

"I mean exactly what it sounds like," Edward said, shaking his head and furrowing his eyebrows at me.

"He keeps saying he thinks he'll play again, though."

I didn't understand. All this time, I'd thought things were looking up.

"Yes, but that's part of the problem. Don't you remember when he was first injured and we talked about this?"

Thanks to some massive powers of denial, I'd forgotten.

"He's not going to play again," Edward said, certain. "He's still having trouble just walking. I talked to his ortho the other day. It's just … it's not going to happen. Once he can walk again, he can learn to run, but it won't be the same. He still hasn't talked to Coach about it, but I'm sure he's figured it out. I think over the last few weeks, Jasper has really had to come to grips with the fact that he won't play again. I can't imagine. You have to let him be sad about that."

I couldn't imagine, either. I felt like my dreams had been crushed by Edward and I wasn't even the one that had been injured.

"We need to talk," I said. "I can't live like this. I can't watch him in so much pain every day. We can help. We can fix it."

Edward turned to face me. "Bella, you can't fix this for him. You can help him, but you can't fix it, sweetheart. He has to find his strength, lean on us, and get through it. If he doesn't, it's a hollow victory for him."

"But he's not even leaning on us."

Edward wiped tears from my cheeks. "He is, just not as much as you'd like, or maybe not as much as he needs. I agree we all need to talk about it, but ambushing him isn't the right way."

I pushed my arms around Edward's waist and pulled him close. "When, then?"

"I don't know," Edward said, blowing out a sigh.

Everything looked so different after that conversation. I tried to have more patience with Jasper. When he told me he needed to have lunch with Coach, I offered to make dinner and have him over, with his wife.

"No," Jasper said, taking my hand in his. "I need to have this conversation alone with him. Thank you, though."

As much as I'd willed things with his leg to be different, they weren't. I was sure Jasper felt the same way. We couldn't think or wish or pray or hope an injury like his away. He had to face the reality of it and accept that his life was on a different path now; the fact that he was apparently ready to talk to his coach seemed like a good sign to me.

"I love you," I said, squeezing his hand. "I will always love you, soccer star, handsome, sexy dad, or whatever or whoever you are."

"I know," he whispered.

He leaned his body into mine and I wrapped my arms around him. It was the small moments like that where I found peace.

The days leading up to his lunch were brutal though, and he slipped away even more. He began to lose weight. He looked pale and sick. He stopped going to the park with us. I kept reminding myself to hang on, just be patient and things would get better soon.

He had lunch with Coach Stanley on Tuesday — Coach had driven to the PT building and picked him up since he still couldn't drive. I was nervous the whole time he was gone. I took Emma to the store, talking to her the entire time. We normally had little conversations as we did things, but my babble was non-stop. I almost forgot to buckle my seatbelt when I got back in the car. My eyes and heart felt glued to the clock, counting the minutes until he was back.

Hours later, I heard the front door and rushed over.

"I'm so glad you're back," I said, pulling him into my arms and squeezing.

He stood there, frozen. Quiet.

"Can I do anything for you?"

"No," he said. His voice was just a wisp of sound. Sad. Heavy. "I'm going to go lay down."

His beard scratched against my cheek as he kissed me, then walked away. He was still there when Edward got home. I was talking to Emma in her high chair, feeding her squished peas.

"How'd it go?" Edward asked, kissing me quickly.

"I don't know. He didn't say anything."

"Did he call his agent, too?"

"I don't know," I said, trying to keep the frustration and irritation out of my voice.

I could feel it welling up again. All of the uncertainty was making me insane. If I felt so nervous and anxious about everything, how did Jasper feel? Did he have any idea of what he wanted to do next?

Everything and everyone felt so disconnected. Edward was busy, Jasper was clearly lost in his grief, and I was being the best mom I could be, but I felt like I was just letting everyone and everything down. There were never enough hours in the day, and I wanted so desperately to fix everything. I wanted Edward to have a successful practice, but somehow work less. I wanted Jasper to find another passion to pursue, even though I had no idea what that was, and he probably didn't either.

At Emma's first birthday party barbecue, it felt like everyone in both our families — and all of our friends — came up to ask if I was feeling okay.

"Girl's lunch tomorrow," Esme said, not taking my previous no for an answer. She'd cornered me in the kitchen when I went in to grab more napkins. "You need to talk, and I need to listen."

"I have to bring Em," I said.

"No you don't. Jasper's her dad and he's perfectly capable of actually being her dad."

I'd never seen Esme so stern with me. She was frustrated and I worried I'd done something to upset her, or worse, disappoint her.


"I'll pick you up at eleven-thirty," she said, turning and walking away.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

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