My beta, siouxchef, is the best. She makes my chapters look so purty. I appreciate her more than I can say, as well as the constant friendship of The Usual Suspects (tm), as I've begun to refer to them.
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When last we left our lovely ladies..
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?
I worked a little longer and checked my email one last time before shutting my computer down for the night. Alice had sent me a lovely thank you email for her tulips and the poem. I got giddy just reading it and she was teasing me, both about our date (which she confirmed for Wednesday), and the birthday party / brunch over the weekend. I wanted to let it sit for a bit, so I left her email without a reply for the moment. I would login from my laptop at home and answer her once the reservation was officially made.
My phone rang and the caller ID showed that it was Jasper.
“Hey Jazz,” I answered.
Uh oh. Was he just now reading his email?
“Jasper, I sent you email hours ago. I'm sorry, Jazz, it slipped out. I swear, I never meant to tell him.”
I needed to find some way to fix this; having Jasper upset with me just wasn't an option. I needed him.
“You had no right. No fucking right at all, Bella. We'll talk more about this later.”
And then he was gone. I knew he had his date with Edward and I didn't want to fuck up their night any more than I already had, so I just let it go.
Since I was the last person to leave on my floor, I shut off all the lights on my way out to the parking lot. I had taken my convertible Mini Cooper to work that day and although the sight of the little bright red car usually made me smile, I was still upset over Jasper's call.
The drive home was quick and I made our dinner reservation for the next night once I arrived. I dug around in the fridge for something to snack on before bed, opened a bottle of red and flipped open my laptop to reply to Alice. My heart ached at how things had been left with Jasper, but I didn't feel right unloading to her about it, so I tried to keep my tone light, flirty and funny. I made sure to ask her very politely if she would consider packing an overnight bag and spending the night with me.
I climbed into bed shortly after I sent my email, not waiting for a reply. I was too exhausted from my long day and knew I needed the rest.
I had luscious, vivid dreams of Alice and they were just what I needed to keep me on edge all day. From the moment I woke up, I was thinking of her body, her lips, her breasts, her hands. I nearly bounced from area to area of my house getting ready for the gym.
My body shivered at the thought that I could probably easily skip my morning workout in lieu of the one I would get that evening, but I knew I needed to go; chances were slim I'd run into Jasper, but I had to hold out for even the slimmest of chances.
Wanting to drive my nice car to take Alice on our date, I took the Mercedes. I packed a separate bag with my date accessories, opting to wear more conservative shoes and less jewelry to work. I knew I'd have time to change and freshen up my makeup in my office before I had to leave, so it wasn't a big deal.
I scanned the lot at the gym to look for Jasper's car, but didn't see it. Disappointed, I checked in and made my way to the women's locker room. Once I was upstairs sweating away on the elliptical machine, I got lost in my own little world, thanks to my iPod. I nearly fell off the machine when Jasper settled in next to me.
“Ohmygod, Jasper! I'm so sorry, please, you have to forgive me,” I begged as soon as I hopped off my machine.
“Christ Bella, don't be so dramatic,” he said, then rolled his eyes.
“Jasper Whitlock, get your ass off that machine right now.”
“Would you stop, please? People are looking at us.”
“Then I suggest you move it.”
He stepped down off the elliptical and I narrowed my eyes at him.
“Why are you forgiving me so easily?”
“Can we not talk about this here? Come on, let's get sweaty, then we can talk about it over coffee, okay?”
I nodded, eyebrows still furrowed in confusion, and stepped back onto my machine. The designated forty minutes later, I tapped his shoulder.
“I'm gonna go shower and change. Meet me in the cafe?”
“No, I can't stand that shit they serve down there again, and I'm hungry. Let's hit Trio?”
Now Jasper wants to get real coffee, seems to be happy, and is eating an actual breakfast on a weekday? Something is very, very wrong here.
“Okay. I can't carpool though, I need my car later. Meet you there in forty-five?”
“Fuck, why do you have to be such a girl sometimes?” he whined.
“Because, although you like to forget this fact, Jasper, I actually am a woman. I have a date tonight - I can't slum it into work, I need a base of prep to work from later. You know, it wouldn't kill you to put on a tie sometimes.”
His grin grew wide and playful and just fucking confused me even more.
“Okay, see you there in forty-five.”
I briefly wondered if I was stuck in one of those old Folger's commercials. I expected to hear an announcer's voice at any moment, “we've recently replaced Bella's best friend with a Pod Person. Let's see if she notices”.
As I showered, I quickly ran through what I needed to get done. I was under the gun to be at Cafe Trio in a very narrow window, compared to usual. I somehow managed to get everything done and was out the door and on my way in forty-minutes, meaning I'd never be on time. I texted Jasper from the parking lot to let him know I'd be late, and he texted me almost immediately back to let me know it was okay, that he was enjoying his coffee and waiting for me.
Once I got there, I spotted him right away. We ordered and began to drink our coffee while we waited for our food and my patience with Jasper was wearing thin.
“So, I'm sorry again, J. I don't know what came over me, I swear it wa-”
Jasper held his hand up.
“Bella, I sit before you a changed man. I don't really know exactly how or why, I just know that when you allowed your loose lips to take the lead and spilled my deepest, dirtiest secret to Edward, it led to some intense conversations and realizations. Then, it led to some of the hottest sex I've ever had. I'm not even going to lie to you right now, I am a complete goner.”
I began to wonder just what they had spiked his coffee with.
“Unscrunch your cute little eyebrows, Bella, because this is Happy Jazz,” he smiled that broad smile again. “Fuck, it feels good.”
Admittedly, some of my hesitation was a little jealousy that he was already at this point with Edward emotionally. I had a head start on him and I still wasn't exactly clear about my feelings for Alice; I knew I cared for her a great deal already, I just wasn't ready to tag it and bag it with the L word, you know?
“You're so disgustingly in love, Jasper. It's fucking adorable. Does this mean Edward is going to get nothing done at work for the next three weeks?”
We both laughed and tucked into our food once the waiter arrived with it. We exchanged more small talk, but mostly, we just enjoyed each other's company like we used to, with one monumental change. No longer did I feel Jasper's stare a little too intently. I didn't once pick up on him moving to touch me just because. He smiled at me because he was happy, not because he thought it would make me happy. It seemed that in the span of twenty-four short hours, Jasper had completely let go of his feelings for me, or at the very least, morphed them back into something more appropriate. I couldn't have been happier or more crushed right then, and even though I knew I was being petty and selfish, it just was what it was, no use denying. I'd get over it and I wouldn't hold it against him or Edward, but to deny I was the slightest bit sad would have been untrue to myself.
Jasper paid the bill and we embraced at my car. It was warm and soft and everything I had missed from my best friend in the last few years. I cupped his cheek with my hand as I looked into his eyes and said my goodbyes.
“I'm proud of you, Jasper. I never got to really apologize the way I wanted and needed to, and now you're flying free without it. Either way, I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you, I hope you know that.”
We both knew that we weren't talking about my overshare from the other day with Edward, and we hugged again. Jasper whispered softly in my ear as he pulled back, “I know. Thank you.” He squeezed my hand and then let out the most girly sounding squeal.
“Do you think it's completely lame to send him flowers?”
I rolled my eyes and he opened my car door for me.
“I don't know anything about your guy things, what you like, what you don't...” I made some swirly hand motions as I finished talking and he just laughed.
As he closed my door and walked away, I saw him with new eyes. My little boy was all grown up.
Work dragged. There was nothing at all exciting going on. At least, nothing that could rival the excitement waiting for me after work.
Jasper and I swapped a few emails; I was having a good time teasing him about Edward and he was doing the same back to me. Alice emailed me numerous times to ask even more questions about the party. I had already told her my favorite cake was from Costco (she went on endlessly about how unacceptable that was), that I wanted no centerpieces (there wouldn't even be a place to put them! I knew Jasper and my houses well enough to know that), and that my favorite color was either purple or red, I could never really decide. This time, she wanted to know details about the menu I had planned, since I wasn't allowing her to hire a caterer. I laughed and replied, offering up a few different menu options for her to chose from.
Finally, several hours later, it was time to get ready. I locked my office door and slipped into my date jewelry and shoes. I called Rose and she came to my office and helped with my makeup, more of an excuse to come down and bullshit than help, really. Once she was done grilling me about the party and Sunday brunch, both of which I had sadly few details on, I left to pick Alice up. I had never done this before; somehow, I managed to fall into relationships with girls. I had never actively dated or chased them, and I was enjoying it. On my way to her apartment, I stopped and picked up a dozen light pink roses.
I rang the bell and when Alice answered, I'm pretty sure my heart stopped. Had I been in motion, I surely would have stumbled over. Each time I saw her, not just her physical beauty, but the lightness of her spirit hit me like a ton of bricks. I stood, mouth gaping, for what must've been an inappropriate length of time.
“Are those for me?”
Even though I had seen her dressed up at the club when we first met, then again when we reconnected, nothing could compare to what stood before me. The gold bracelets she had on tinkled when she reached her hand out for the flowers and I was forced to focus. She had on a spaghetti strap wine colored dress with beading on the bust. Where I had chosen cool, silver jewelry and accents, hers were a warm, rich gold. They suited her perfectly.
As I handed the roses over to her, still unable to speak, I watched as her dress floated around her, adding to the ethereal glow she had. Surely I have been a very good girl in a past life to be repaid like this.
She took a step away to put the flowers in a vase, then came back to the door. I was standing exactly where she left me. “Come on,” she took my hand after she slipped into a long, black coat, grabbed a small duffel bag and lead me out of the apartment. “I have a feeling by the look on your face that if I even attempt to show you around inside, we might not make our reservation.”
We both laughed and I silently agreed with her as we walked hand in hand to my car. I opened the trunk and she put her bag in and then closed it quickly.
As I drove to the restaurant, my hand found its way to Alice's leg and she put hers on top, holding it captive where it was. I gave her a pout face at a red light, but there was no budging her. I realized I hadn't even kissed her yet, the ache growing as I kicked myself for not taking advantage of our sliver of privacy in her doorway.
Once we arrived and seated, I silently patted myself on the back for the location choice. The tables for two were sort of half-moon shaped, wrapping around the fondue pot. There was a forced intimacy, but in our case, it was a delightful excuse to be close to each other in such a public place, something we might not normally indulge in.
Since it was a weeknight, the restaurant wasn't very busy. Our server showed up and explained a few things; it was Alice's first time there, so I let the waiter go over all the details as I pretended to listen. Once he was gone, we talked about our menu choices and agreed to share a chocolate and cheese course. Frankly, I was ready to skip to the Alice course, but she seemed intent on actual food.
After the waiter came back and took our order, Alice turned and looked at me.
“What's going on with Jasper and Edward?”
“Really? That's what you want to talk about?”
I leaned closer to her and eyed her lips before looking back up at her again.
“Yes. I didn't want to ask over email, it seemed too weird.. or, impersonal, maybe?”
“I don't know what's going on exactly, but I can tell you that Jasper is head over heels. Completely smitten. I've never seen him like this before.”
Alice raised an eyebrow at me. It took me a moment to figure out what she was referring to, and then it hit me; Jasper had acted similarly in the beginning when he was smitten with me.
“Oh, right. Aside from then.”
I looked down to the pot on the table; the steam had begun to pour out of the sides and now I just wondered how long until the cheese would be making an appearance. I let Alice decide which specifics we'd get and thankfully she picked my favorite.
Unconsciously, my body retreated slightly away from hers, my breath leaving me in a heaving sigh.
“Baby, I didn't mean to upset you.”
The back of her hand rubbed across my upper arm and I turned to look at her.
“It's okay. You know, I talked to Jasper today, I apologized. We had breakfast. It was nice.”
“You mentioned that in your email. I'm glad you got to talk to him about it. Does it make you feel better about everything?”
Alice's hand slid down my arm and then her fingers tangled with mine, our rings bumping into each other. I brought our hands up to kiss her fingers and noticed Alice was wearing a very pretty gold and peridot ring on the ring finger of her right hand.
“It does and it doesn't, you know?”
She squeezed my hand and I turned my body to hers, moving closer to her.
“I've missed you,” I said softly, bringing my hand up to her cheek.
“Me too. But you've got me here now, and you get me all night.”
Her smile was genuine and warm and we fell into easy conversation about the birthday party in three days while the waiter mixed up our cheese. He asked a few questions and then Alice told him all about my upcoming birthday, giving him far too many details for a random person about the party.
Once he was gone again, we began dipping our food and eating. Alice was making happy noises, so I took that as a good sign.
“You know, have you ever thought about being a party planner? Granted, the party hasn't happened yet so I can't say for certain, but you seem to be good at it from what I've seen.”
I popped a bread square covered in warm, gooey cheese into my mouth to chew on while she answered.
“Not really. I mean, sure I've thought about it in passing. I'm leaning toward going to work with my mom, actually. I want to get through October, then I'll make some decisions. Maybe start looking for a house or something more permanent.”
She tensed slightly, but kept her easy tone of voice as she replied. “Just a long month for me, usually. Oh, but that reminds me, my mom is looking forward to meeting you. My dad too, I'm sure, but I haven't seen him lately, he's working a lot. Oh! Emmett got Sunday morning off, so he'll be there. Rose is still coming, right?”
I had to laugh at the way her brain worked, jumping from thought to thought and just letting them all pour out of her mouth at once.
“Yes, Rose will be there. I'm looking forward to meeting your parents, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous.”
“You have nothing to worry about, sweetheart. I am sure they will be just as smitten as I am with you.”
When the cheese was all gone, our waiter came by with the chocolate. Alice and I took turns feeding each other. It was tender and sweet, not primal and need-filled as it could have been. When a bit of chocolate snuck out between my lips at the corner of my mouth, she softly kissed it away.
My lips tugged into a smile beneath hers and although things had felt slightly... off for the first part of our date, Alice seemed to relax.
The waiter reappeared with the bill and I happily handed him my card without even looking at it.
“Mmmhmm,” she said, sliding out of the booth behind me. We each put our jackets back on and stood outside in the cold uncomfortably while we waited for the valet. Had I been with a man, this certainly would have been a moment to snuggle up together. I wasn't sure how Alice felt about any of that and I didn't want to ask her in public, so I added it to the list of things I wanted to talk about.
The drive back to my house was mostly quiet; Alice reached and turned the radio on at some point, so we listened to the music and held hands. Her demeanor had changed back to the slight nervousness from earlier and I got worried. Was she second guessing spending the night with me?! No, why would she still be planning my birthday party?
We made our way inside once we were back at my house. I carried her bag in for her and set it inside my bedroom door.
“It's still early, you want some wine? We could watch a movie, or something?”
As I stood in the living room looking at her, I smiled. She had kicked off her shoes and was sitting on the couch, skirt fanned out around her.
“Sure, lovey, I'd like some wine. We can pick a movie when you come back.”
I uncorked the bottle of red that I had on the counter from the previous night and brought it to the living room with the glasses. I set them down and poured us each half a glass, then sat next to Alice on the couch.
“You okay, Ali? You seem down today.”
“I'm okay, I'm just a little more tired than I thought I guess. All that food is making me sleepy.”
Alice drank some of her wine and we sat together quietly for a few minutes, our fingers tangling with each other. I was slightly uncomfortable; I had little experience with having a relationship with someone and had to remind myself several time that just because Alice didn't want to jump me the second we walked in the door didn't mean our feelings had changed. It could have just been a bad day, it could have been that she was genuinely tired. Hell, she could have been having her period.
I set my empty glass on the table and pulled her closer to me. She snuggled into my body, but we were both still in our dresses.
“Come on, let's go snuggle up in bed.”
We walked to my room and changed into our pajamas, brushed our teeth together and curled up in bed. I spooned behind Alice and held her tightly to me.
“Bella?” she whispered in the dark.
“Yeah?” I pressed a soft kiss into her shoulder blade.
“I think I'm falling for you.”