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.
"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.
"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."
"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.
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.
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?