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“Ali, please stay?” I practically begged.
“I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.”
I smiled when Alice agreed to stay. We laid with each other a few minutes and then got up to get some food. I put on my robe and handed Alice another from the closet. We went to the kitchen and made a fruit salad together. After breakfast, neither one of us was eager for another large meal, so this was perfect. We ate together in an easy silence. Every now and then one of us would feed the other a piece of fruit, or sneak a kiss.
I called Rose before bedtime and filled her in on the vague details of the weekend, not wanting to get too into it since Alice was standing right next to me. I asked Rose to keep her weekend free since there would be a birthday party on Saturday and dinner at the Cullen house on Sunday. She protested slightly, but I told her we could talk more about it later.
Alice and I snuggled under the covers after I got my clothes out for the next day and packed my gym bag. I fell asleep wrapped around her the same way I had the first night we were together; curled around her body, my leg over her hip, my right arm tucked under her right arm, cupping her breast.
When the alarm went off the next morning, the local rock station DJs ranting about something, I smiled even before I opened my eyes. I was warm, happy and all tangled up with Alice. I kissed the base of her neck and reached up to turn the radio off. She was smiling when I looked down at her from my position above the headboard.
“You sure I can't change your mind about coming with us to the gym?” I kissed her forehead on my way back down to the mattress.
“Yeah, you go and enjoy your time with Jasper. I usually take a yoga or pilates class in the late morning at a studio by my house. I need to get back to my place and get some things done,” she sighed. “Can you drop me off on your way to the gym?”
I had completely forgotten that Alice was basically stranded at my house.
“Oh God, Ali, I am so sorry. It slipped my mind that you didn't have a way to get home. I hope you didn't feel trapped here with me...” I suddenly felt.. guilty?
“In case you've already forgotten, I did find my way home the first time I was trapped here with you,” she winked.
My heart ached just a little at the mention of our first encounter with each other. I was glad to drop her off, it meant I would find out where she lived and I had planned to send her flowers. Probably cliché, but I figured as long as I was going to start being honest with myself, maybe I was just a little bit of a romantic on the inside.
I got out of bed and threw my gym clothes on, texted Jasper and grabbed my SIGG from the kitchen. As I filled it with water, I thought about our plans for Saturday. I would need to let Rose know exactly what was going on so that she could be there too.
Alice borrowed more clothes and we were on our way and at her building in about 15 minutes. She explained that she lived on the 8th floor and Edward lived on the 11th and I thought it was funny how they lived so close to each other, much like Jasper and I. I gave her a peck on the lips and she smiled as she got out and walked into her building.
Jasper was waiting for me at the gym, warming up in a racquetball court. I watched him for a moment before knocking to let him know I was coming in. I had the same observation as the other day; Jasper had a new lightness and happiness about him that was visible. I knocked and he turned and smiled, motioning me in.
We played a few games, teasing each other about our good moods while we worked up a sweat. I wanted to sit down for coffee after, so we skipped weights and met in the cafe once we were showered and dressed for work.
“So, a birthday party?” Jasper teased. I blushed.
“Yeah,” my breath left in a rush. “Oh God, Jasper, she gave me this line about wanting to celebrate the day I was born and how could I say no?”
“You know, you could drop the cynicism for a few minutes. Who says it was a line? I've been celebrating the day you were born since we met.” Cue more blushing. “She seems like a great girl, B. I'm glad you two reconnected. Edward thinks the world of her.”
“Yeah,” I laughed, “did you know they live in the same building? How cute is that. I wonder where their brother lives?”
“Bella, be careful.” Jasper was giving me a very serious look.
“What? Is he a serial killer?”
“No, of course not. I don't know much about him, actually, just that he has a daughter.”
“Yeah, Alice mentioned that. So what is there to be careful of?” I asked.
“I don't know all the details yet, but I just get the impression that he's not looking for someone. I would hate for you to get your hopes up about fixing him up with Rose only to have them dashed.”
I nodded. Jasper was right. He knew me well enough to know that Alice and I were already scheming.
“So, Jazz, did you take Edward into your room yet?”
Jasper choked on his coffee.
“No, I haven't.”
“Why not, Jasper? You like him, right?”
He looked me right in the eye. I could tell he was annoyed with my questions but I was genuinely curious. Jasper had not taken anyone into his bedroom, ever, that I could remember. Except me. All those years ago, in his parents house.
“Of course I like him. I just don't know where it's going yet and you know how I am about my bed. The guest room is where... guests stay.”
“But he's more than a guest, Jasper. I mean, he IS, isn't he?”
“I don't know,” he sighed. “I guess he is. We've only technically been out once, though. I'm trying not to rush things.”
I took Jasper's hand and gave it a squeeze. I wanted so desperately to talk to him about this awkward tension between us, to help ease his obvious pain. I just couldn't, not right here, not right now. I made a promise to myself that I would talk to him about it soon, though. I needed him to know that I was sorry for hurting him, even though I apologized back then. I was finally able to really see the toll it had taken on him and I wanted him to go forward unencumbered.
“He seems like a nice guy,” I offered.
“Yep, he does. Is it awkward if I date one of your employees?”
“Does he make you happy?” I asked. Jasper smiled.
“Yes, I have to admit... he does make me very happy.”
“Jasper Whitlock, are you blushing?”
“I might be. I feel like I'm 16 again. Something about him makes me giddy and nervous, but comfortable and content at the same time.”
I laughed, the knowing laugh of someone in love with a Cullen.
“Trust me, Jasper, I get it. When was the last time you saw me like this?”
“Never, Bella. Never.” He squeezed my hand back.
We finished our conversation and went our separate ways with a hug, as usual. I got to the office and Leah was already there. She got me a cup of coffee and we went over my day. I sank into my leather chair and checked my email; work first, then personal. I sent Edward an email to ask what Alice's favorite flowers were and if he might share her email address with me. Sure, it was through our work email, but there had to be some perks to being the boss, right?
I kicked my shoes off and thought about where I wanted to take her for our date. It was, again, slightly cliché but I decided on fondue at The Melting Pot. I didn't know enough about her yet to know what kinds of food she liked or disliked, so this seemed like a safe bet. I just needed to figure out when we were going out and I'd make the reservations.
I did some work and checked my email a few minutes later, but I had nothing new. I asked Leah to run out at lunch and bring me something back, knowing this was going to be a long day. Just before noon, Edward appeared in my doorway, knocking softly on the frame. I looked up and smiled at him.
“Edward, come on in. What's up?”
“Hey, Bella. Rough day?”
I laughed, wondering if the weight of the morning was that obvious.
“Mmm, a little bit, to be honest. How are you doing on those cases?”
“Good, good. I came down to let you know I talked to Alice. I wanted to ask her if it was alright that I give you her email address. I hope you don't mind. She was okay with it, so I thought I'd get up for a stretch and give it to you and maybe we could grab some lunch and talk?”
I was conflicted; I really wanted to spend some time getting to know Edward, knowing how important he was to both Jasper and Alice. It would also give me time to get to know more about Alice from him, but I also had some work to get done before the end of the day. At the end of the argument in my head, my life won.
“Okay, that sounds good. Here, jot down Alice's email for me before we go. Where did you have in mind?”
I handed Edward a piece of scratch paper and he wrote Alice's email down as we finished talking.
“How about Al Forno? I haven't been there since I moved back and I love their marsala.”
“Sure, just let me finish this up,” I pointed at my computer screen, “and I'll be right out, okay? Meet in the lobby in 10?”
He nodded and walked away. I sent Rose a quick email to let her know I was headed to lunch with Edward to pump him for information on Alice, which was why I hadn't invited her. What I didn't tell her was that I also planned to ask plenty of questions about Emmett.
I also sent Alice an email. We hadn't made solid plans for which day we were going out, so I wanted to get that setup and make reservations. I also wanted to let her know I was thinking about her and that I missed her, so I made sure to pepper in a few flirty comments.
I grabbed my handbag and walked to the lobby to meet Edward, letting Leah know where I was going on my way out. We walked to the restaurant and sat down to eat, not speaking much on the walk over. It was turning into the thick of fall and the weather had changed, so we talked about the upcoming ski season and random bullshit banter. Once the waiter had our orders, there was a noticeable shift in energy at the table.
“So, Edward... This is a little awkward,” I laughed.
“It's okay, Bella. It's just us, two new friends out at lunch, right?” He smiled and I briefly wondered if he and Alice were twins, the similarities between them striking.
“Right. Of course. So, what's up with you and Jasper?”
I could tell I had caught him off guard then, his nervous laughter shaking his body.
“Who knows, really. I'm not a one night stand kind of guy and Jasper seems like he has some issues to work through. I mean, of course I do too, no one is perfect, but can I be honest?”
He looked so nervous, small and vulnerable right then.
“I really like Jasper, but I took a year off from dating on purpose. My last relationship was... intense. I thought Adam and I would be together forever. I thought we were soul mates. I was sure of it. As you noted when we talked on my first day, I was working for one of the most prestigious law firms in Seattle. It was too much for him. The hours took a toll on us and I started to notice things I wasn't comfortable with. The longer I worked trying to attain partner status, the more things fell apart. The short version is that he went a little insane. He started accusing me of cheating on him and when I broke it off, be began to stalk me and make my life miserable. I was out to a few people, but he took a few... photos he had taken of me and began a smear campaign.”
I reached across the table and grabbed his hand in what I hoped he would take as a comforting gesture.
“He made these fliers with private, personal details. Things I told him in confidence; the sort of things you share only with the person you are closest with,” he trailed off.
I could see his eyes filling with tears and then felt my own at the edges of my eyes. I had never been betrayed by someone like that, but I could empathize completely.
“It didn't even matter that most of my friends ignored his efforts to disgrace me, it wasn't the public humiliation in itself that bothered me. It was the source. That someone I had loved and trusted so completely and openly would hurt me at such a core level was mind boggling to me. I thought we would have children together, grow old together.”
Edward reached for his napkin with his free hand and dabbed at his eyes.
“Fuck,” I muttered. “Christ, Edward, I had no idea. I'm so sorry.”
I squeezed his hand and he took in a deep breath.
“It's okay, you didn't know. Jasper doesn't either, yet. I am going to tell him soon, it just hasn't come up in conversation, you know?” He laughed lightly at the end of his sentence and I joined him.
“So, I took a year off. I needed to find myself again, to figure out who I was and what I wanted. I'm still not sure I know completely, but I am ready to date again... and how ironic is it that the first person who interests me is my new bosses best friend?”
This time we shared a genuine smile.
“Well, and let's not forget... the first person that your lady whore of a boss decides is worth the extra effort of a real relationship is also your sister. What are the odds?”
The waiter was back with our food, so I took my hand away from his and we began to eat.
“You know, Edward, I really like you. I just want you to know that. I think you would be great for Jasper and I hope he can see that too. I think he does, and I think he wants to try and have a relationship with you. I haven't talked to Jasper about this in a long time, but I know that I really damaged him. I can see the spark back in his eyes though, Edward, and you're responsible for that. I'm not sure how you managed to get to him already, but man,” I shook my head and smiled, “it is really, really nice to have Jasper whole again.”
“Well, don't get ahead of yourself. Jasper didn't really get into details about your past together. I don't know if he's whole just yet, he still seems conflicted and confused. But I'm not going to lie, I really like him and I hope it goes somewhere. In other news, what's going on with you and Alice? You referred to yourself as a 'woman whore', but what does that mean exactly?”
I swallowed the bite I was chewing on. I took a sip of my iced tea. I formed thoughts in my brain, but no words came out. I opened my mouth to speak and then closed it. I fidgeted with my fork.
“Bella, it's okay, we don't have to talk about it. Just know that I love Alice with all of my heart. She is my best friend and my only sister and I will fiercely protect her. She has a way of getting in over her head sometimes and she's been hurt very badly, more than once.” I nodded and thought for a moment before speaking.
“You know, Edward,” I sighed. “I think I just got into the habit of not letting people get close to me. I didn't want to be the way I was, I just pushed people away for so long, it was habit. But Alice? Fuck,” I couldn't help the smile that lit up my face at the thought of her. “Alice took my world and has already turned it on its head. I know she has some things going on in her life as well, and I'm sure she will tell me about them when she's ready. I spent a lot of time feeling unworthy of real love because of what I did to Jasper. It was almost like, because I knew I didn't and couldn't love him, I wasn't allowed that same thing for myself, you know? And then Alice blew in, like a breeze of fresh air, and reminded me what it felt like to be happy and that I deserved that from life, too. How in the world does she do that?”
We laughed and took a few more bites of food, each of us finishing and then sharing a peek at the dessert menu. I ordered cannoli and Edward got tiramisu.
“She's right, you know,” Edward said, looking at me. I raised an eyebrow at him. “You deserve to be happy and loved. Just because you couldn't do that for Jasper doesn't mean you shouldn't have it for yourself. Don't you think we face enough challenges in life? Why make it harder by perpetuating the stereotype that all gay people are just in it for the sex?”
Holy shit, I had never thought of it that way.
“Edward, you make a compelling argument,” I laughed. “I see why you graduated top of your class. I never thought of it that way. I didn't want to be like this, you know. My last real girlfriend, she was nice enough. We were together about 6 months before I broke it off with her. There was nothing really specifically wrong with her, there just wasn't a spark, you know?”
Edward nodded. “I know exactly what you mean, actually.”
Time for a new topic.
“So, tell me about Emmett.”
Edward shifted in his seat and looked nervous.
“Well, Emmett is a doctor, as you know. Older than us. He lives with my parents, since he has a daughter. Did Alice tell you that?” I nodded. “She is completely adorable, by the way. We all love her and spend as much time with her as possible. Actually, Alice mentioned something to me this morning about everyone getting together for a family dinner on Sunday, so you'll probably meet her.”
“I'd love that. Kids are a little confusing to me, I confess. I'm not sure if I want them or not.”
We shared another smile and I was so glad that I decided to come out to lunch with Edward instead of working.
“Well, you better get used to being around them. I'm pretty sure Alice wants to have kids. Wait until you see her with Hannah.”
“Trade me a bite?”
We swapped bites of our desserts, feeding each other off our own spoons; it wasn't the act of lovers, just two friends. It felt nice to be myself around someone other than Jasper, with different life experiences, expectations and interpretations of the things around them. I deeply appreciated Edward already and I felt like I had barely scratched the surface of him.
“Thanks, Edward, I was going to stay in for lunch, but this was exactly what I needed today. I have a case I've been working on and it is really wearing me down. I'm pretty sure I'll be at work most of the night, so it was nice to get out while I can and enjoy some time with a friend,” I smiled.
“Let me know if you need any help, although I do have a date tonight.” If I thought my smile had been bright, Edward was literally beaming with happiness.
“That's great. Where are you going? With Jasper, I assume?”
“Yep, with Jasper, and we're staying in actually. He suggested we could make dinner and watch a movie at his place.”
I must've done a double take. Edward raised an eyebrow at me.
“Jasper doesn't usually have dates at his house,” I laughed. “I guess I'll have to adjust all of my 'usual Jasper' moments in my head. Let me know when he brings you to the main bedroom.”
Oh, shit. There you go Bella, verbal diarrhea.
I started to blush and Edward's eyebrows knit together.
“What do you mean?”
I grabbed the bill to pay, but I could tell Edward wasn't going to let this topic drop. I'd owe Jasper for bringing this up.
“Jasper is... Jasper's never...”
“Just say it, Bella.”
“Jasper doesn't take people into his bedroom. It's this weird little hangup of his. Of course, Jasper also doesn't repeat date people, so you're already breaking new ground with him.”
I saw sadness flit across Edward's face and I felt bad at having spilled dirt on my best friend to his potential new boyfriend.
“I'm sorry, Edward, I shouldn't have said anything. It wasn't my place, it just slipped out.”
“It's okay, Bella, really. I would rather go in with eyes wide open than with blinders on.”
He smiled at me and I hoped I hadn't fucked things up too badly. I'd send Jasper email when I got back to the office and do as much damage control as I could.
We began to walk back to our building and I realized I had forgotten all about asking what Alice's favorite flower was.
“Hey, Edward, you never did tell me what Alice's favorite flower is... you ready to spill?” I teased.
“Tulips. Hot pink tulips.”
Hot pink tulips. As soon as he said it, I could see it in my head. It fit. I nodded and smiled at him as he opened the building door for me.
We went to our own floors and I checked my email. I was delighted to see a reply from Alice giving me the time and location details for the party on Saturday as well as the dinner on Sunday. She made sure to make it clear Rose's presence was expected at both, so I edited out all of the inappropriate parts and fowarded it on to Rose. I moved on to email Jasper and apology and once I hit 'send', I already had a reply from Rose. All it said was “REALLY?!!!!?!???!?” I laughed and replied back just as simply with, “yes, really. :P”
My reply to Alice took longer and much more thought to compose. I had asked if we could have our date later that day, but she was busy and my day was shaping up so that I would need to work late anyways. She asked about Tuesday, but I let her know I usually volunteered with Jasper at the Equality Center on Tuesdays, so I asked about Wednesday. Shit, stupid fucking grown up life getting in the way.
This was another frustration of having a girlfriend – I would need to learn to balance both of our lives and take her time into consideration. She wasn't just someone that was there only when I needed or wanted her, I needed to be there for her as well and fit into her life.
Alice wanted to hire someone to bring in a table and chairs and all sorts of crap we just didn't need. I reminded her to keep it simple while still being polite and respectful of her wishes to do this nice thing for me. She asked what kind of cake I liked, what my favorite color was and what kind of flowers I wanted in the centerpiece. Centerpiece? I sighed. Compromise, Bella. Compromise. I pressed send after answering all of her questions and hoped I would be able to see her soon.
I logged on to the florist Leah recommended when I asked for her help. I realized that I had never sent a woman flowers before. Most weren't around more than one night and Jessica never seemed to warrant them, not even in the beginning. Alice, though? I really wanted to woo Alice. I ordered her a bouquet of hot pink tulips and had them sent to her apartment with a short note. I smiled and closed my web browser.
Edward came by just as the sun was setting to say goodbye. He was off to Jasper's and he told me how excited Alice was planning the party. He had spoken to Rose briefly about Sunday dinner also and I laughed at the complicated web we were weaving our private lives into.
Oh well, real life is complicated sometimes, right?