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Page 36

Returning his greeting in kind I'm about to walk out of the condo when I realize how strange he is acting - actually it's the first time ever that I've seen him eat his preferred main food group straight from the container, and I'm surprised that the mess of cornflakes that he has left on the counter when he poured them into the yogurt doesn't drive him crazy. What I see when I scrutinize him more closely confirms my suspicion - he doesn't look as if he has slept at all last night, and while I might not be the best judge on that topic, he seems worse off this morning than the evening he has shown up on our doorstep.

The nasty, vengeful part of me cackles gleefully at that realization but I force myself not to gloat at his misery - and instead surprise myself with the words my sleep addled brain comes up with.

"I'm going for a run, wanna join me?"

Jazz stops chewing his mouthful of food, his eyes flitting over my face as if he's looking for any kind of malicious intent there. When he finds none he swallows and shrugs.

"Only if you're doing this out of some other motive than having pity with me."

Snorting, I incline my head in a silent 'touché' gesture.

"And there I thought dragging you out into that weather would seem like an attempt to get back at you."

He's silent for a moment, then offers a hint of his usual bright grin.

"True. I'll be back in a sec."

While he ruts through his stuff to find his running shoes I busy myself with checking my phone. Then we take off into the hostilely cold morning together.

For the first mile neither of us speaks, and I feel myself relax a little more with every block we pass. Over the summer I've gotten used to running alone unless Bella insist on joining me, but while I don't mind slowing down for her, when I run, I want to run. It's my way of shutting down my mind and letting my body finds its limits - I guess most people use sex for that purpose, but as much as I like to play, I can't ever let my guard down. But I can, and do, when I let houses, streets, trees, rivers zoom past me. Only I don't like to be alone all the time, how much so I only realize now that Jazz is along with me again.

I can tell that he has kept up running in the meantime, maybe even worked out more than before. I've always been the faster one of us, longer legs and more time spent outdoors than in the gym helping, but I don't have to slow down at all for him to stay right on my heels. Probably because Alice would have let him go to the dojo without complaints but griped at him playing Halo all night on the xbox, the nasty voice in my head helpfully supplies. And if things were less than stellar between them, he'd probably had to burn off any excess energy through physical exertion, too, as I can't imagine Alice being the kind of woman to put out when she's grumpy. At that I remind myself that Jasper's sex life is in no way of any concern to me, and increase my pace just a little more to shut my brain up from providing any more entertaining notions like that.

There aren't many people up and about yet, and we encounter only a handful of other joggers and dog walkers. Most notable is a pair of women running in the opposite direction - they even stop their animated conversation that doesn't seem to be hampered by their speed to smile and greet us - and I'm surprised that Jazz has barely a look and nod to spare for them. Like the spilled cornflakes incident his complete lack of interest in displaying his usual charm makes me wonder just what is going on in his head. Try as I might I can't stop myself from feeling sympathy for him, and from that moment on the silence between us seems awkward to me. As if I'm deliberately shutting him down out of spite when he probably needs a friend right now like seldom before in his life. Although I'm still honest enough with myself that my motivation behind striking up a conversation is not exactly to let him vent, but for me to stop feeling like an ass.

We have to slow down a little to get out more than a few coherent words, and after several still pressed, single-word answers we finally find a few topics we can discuss - sports, news, video games - and by the time we are back home and spend another few minutes outside stretching talking to him feels nearly natural again. I don't even try to steer the conversation to anything more meaningful or possibly loaded as I guess he will eventually get there if we wants to, but just chatting like that seems to ease some of the strain he is dragging around with him.

Upstairs Bella is awake if looking a little disheveled, her hair still damp from the shower as she fills three mugs of coffee from a freshly brewed pot. I give her a proper good morning kiss before I go shower and dress, hurrying up so that Jazz can hit the shower afterwards before he catches a cold in his sweaty clothes. Because our apartment isn't intended to house guests we have two bathrooms but only one equipped with a shower - the one adjacent to our bedroom - and for the first time I wonder who plans something that impractical.

Bella is silent through most of our breakfast - without Jazz once again as he is still in the shower - until I nudge her elbow gently to get her attention.

The wide-eyed look she gives me tells me more than words ever could, and I sigh inwardly as I reach for my yet neglected coffee.

"What's wrong?"

For a moment it looks as if she's about to deny that there is something bothering her, but at a brief glare from me she drops the pretense, her eyes flitting towards the stairs.

"Did he say anything?"

"About what?"

"Don't be so dense, you know what I mean!" she hisses, but before I can answer - or laugh at the way her cheeks start to haze over with a hint of a blush - Jazz joins us, and after a moment of hesitation takes his cup of coffee over to the breakfast bar to sit down at the end closer to me. I'm a little surprised that he doesn't take the seat next to Bella, but then I catch the stare she is still directing at him.

While ready to offer help, she hasn't actually been very welcoming towards him - not that I blame her, but it only now occurs to me how that must seem to him. In turn I feel a twinge of guilt at my own behavior - shouldn't I have been the one acting the most hostile? - but then I quell the thought before it can start bothering me. I know Bella has had ample opportunity to express any misgivings about my behavior, and I have to admit, she only seems to want to stay distant from Jazz herself, while my attempts not to act up have only gotten me grateful smiles from her. As if she's happy that one of us can at least act civil.

Way before I want to I have to leave for the hospital, Bella on my heels although I know that she rarely starts working before nine in the morning, and for the next four days I have more important things to worry about than whether Bella will kick Jazz's head in sooner or later or not at all. The cold weather and pre-Thanksgiving madness bring hordes of people into the ER, and I can rarely catch enough time to properly eat before the next full free day. Which gets shoved back another three agonizing long shifts when Amanda tells me that she just can't let me go home with patients standing in line in front of the OR.

When I finally come home I'm so tired I nearly fall asleep in the elevator.

Two failed attempts to get the door unlocked finally get Bella to open it from the inside, and she greets me with a warm embrace, a passionate kiss, and a much appreciated, "Gee, you look like shit!"

That's my girl, always has the right words ready.

A strong cup of coffee and some real food later I drag my sorry carcass upstairs into the bed, not surprised that Bella stays up. Only the next morning I realize that things between her and Jazz have shifted a little, at least judging from the way they joke their way through breakfast. It's a relief to see her more at ease around him again, although I feel a little jealous of the time he gets to spend with her while I'm not around, which in turn makes me feel stupid. I still drag her back into bed when she follows me upstairs to brush her teeth, but I haven't even successfully gotten my hand into her pants when she stops me cold by pushing away from me.

"Edward, stop."

Confused, I look at the clock first, but it's still early enough that she won't be late for work, and I don't remember her saying anything about having an important meeting today. She's also still in her sweat pants, not dressed for work and without make-up applied, so it really can't be that. My eyes find hers and I raise one brow, hoping she will explain, which she does with a sigh - and a quick gaze towards the closed bedroom door.

"I'm really not comfortable with having sex right now."

"Why not?"

She looks at me for a long moment as if that should have been obvious, then catches her lower lip between her teeth.

"Because I'm not comfortable with having sex right now."

"Your period?" I venture a guess, although I know the answer already.

"No. And you know that has very seldom stopped you. Or me, for that matter."

I'm tempted to play this game until she spills the beans, but I'm tired of it already.

"So you don't want to have sex with me because Jazz is here now."

She nods, obviously waiting for me to throw a fit or something, but when I don't react at all, she sighs.

"I'm just not comfortable with it."

"You keep repeating that. And just for the record, three times is not the charm here."

She snorts but offers me an apologetic smile at the same time.

"I know. But I can't really explain it in different words."

"You are aware that he won't expect us to be celibate just because he's hogging our couch, right?"

"This is not about him hearing us!" she huffs, then gets up from the bed to start pacing. "This is about me not wanting to give him anything to hear!"

"Okay," I offer in reply, more to the way she throws her hands up in their air than her actual 'argumentation' - while both my mind and cock feel like throwing a fit on their own now.


Her surprise makes me second-guess if I should have fought a little harder for getting some, but the last thing I want is for her to be upset. And I can't shake off the feeling that there is more to this than her just being squeamish.

"Don't get me wrong, the fact that I'm the only one who in one way or another doesn't get to influence when who is going to fuck in this house doesn't escape me, but if you don't want to have sex, then we won't. It's that easy, and you know that."

Bella nods but still looks chagrin enough that I wonder if she secretly wants me to ignore her, but if that's the case, she has to tell me so, one way or another. And while I respect her wish, I don't hide that I'm not very happy about it - particularly with work taking so much of our time together away from me already.

I stay in bed until Bella has left for work, before I get dressed and head out myself. Not many people around that I can visit during the week at this hour of the day, so it's no surprise that I turn up at Rose and Emmett's. I've called her before I've left home but Rose still greets me with a joyful "Oh look who's here!" before she hugs me, not in the least bit hindered by the infant in her arms, and draws me inside.

She looks tired and worn out - and the fact that it must have been weeks since she last slept for more than three consecutive hours doesn't help her generally rumpled appearance. I've seen her without make-up before but never wearing sweat pants and a washed-out t-shirt to go with it, and it's obvious that she hasn't hit the shower today. Yet before I can let out a remark about her appearance or comment on why she has to emphasize my arrival like that when Mona won't care one way or another, I realize that Rose already has a visitor.

Next to Rose Alice looks even more perfectly put together than she usually does, and her lacquered nails and designer clothes are out of place between the baby stuff strewn across the living room. As usual when I meet her my first reaction is to smile, but she doesn't reciprocate; in fact I haven't even gotten my shoes off yet when she surges to her feet, and in a bustle of activity and air kisses leaves. Or rather flees.

Rose and I share a long look until she shrugs and closes the door behind Alice, the frown on her face gone by the time she turns back to me again.

"Wow, that was fast. I thought she'd stay at least long enough to give you her practiced 'why, of course everything is okay!' speech."

Trust it to Rose not to give a crap about sweet-talking things.

"So you got that one, too?"

"Nope, it's all for your benefit only," she teases, then walks over to the fridge. "Can I get you anything to drink? I think we only have diet coke or water, but it's some kind of choice, right?"

After accepting a can of coke I follow her into the living room, then spend the next few minutes making funny faces at Mona - who requites my efforts by starting to cry, although Rose assures me that it's not my fault. I cannot quench the feeling of rejection welling up in me - first Bella, then Alice, and now even the baby - today doesn't seem to be my day. But contrary to the other two Mona's just tired, and after she is safely tugged in Rose returns to me, looking even more strung out.

"Shit, I tell you, this little bundle of happiness is sucking the very life out of me!"

Despite of her words she's grinning as she flops down onto the couch, and her smile is easily infectious.

"Wait until she's old enough so that you have to watch your language. I bet that's going to be much worse for you."

"Asshole," she gripes back, then shrugs. "Em's mother is already hounding me that I cannot use such, how does she put it? Ah, right, 'filthy terms'

around her granddaughter because that will just turn her into a dirty whore like her mother."

I have to fight hard not to snort my mouthful of coke right back out through my nose.

"So things between you and her haven't improved since you had Mona?"

"No, me legally stealing her cuddly little boy and bearing his little demon spawn all within just a few months haven't exactly made me her favorite person yet."

I nod - not much I can say to that. I'm glad that my mother in particular loves Bella, and while Charlie is still acting reserved and awkward around me, I've never gotten the impression that it's me personally he doesn't want in Bella's life. I've only met Emmett's parents twice, and both occasions have left me wondering how Em has had a chance to grow into the man he is, although I keep suspecting that Rose had an integral part in emancipating him from the prude, conservative life his parents clearly intended for him.

"Speaking of favorite persons, how's Jazz?"

Rose's toothy grin deserves no acknowledgement, and I don't really get the impression she's particularly interested in his well-being.

"I take it you know that he's crashing on our couch."

"Everyone knows, Edward. Which you would know if you were checking facebook like every sane person in the universe."

Now that's definitely news to me, but not really surprising. And I can't even think of the last time I've looked at anything other than my missed calls and emails.

"Then you will probably know more about his current state of health or sanity than me, as you probably read his and Bella's posts every day."

"Neither of them said anything about it. It was actually Jessica Stanley who posted it a few days ago. Clogged up my Farmville notifications for half a day. That skank."

The fact that she actually sounds offended for real makes me crack up anew, but then I catch her inquisitive gaze, which shuts me up quickly again.


"Nothing. I'm just wondering how you're doing with him hanging around."

"He's really not that much of a hassle. And when I spend the next weekend working my ass off at the hospital again Bella at least has someone to keep her company."

"Like a dog, eh?"

I don't comment on that as she clearly doesn't expect me to, but before Rose can go on teasing me I steer the conversation back to the topic that's concerning me a lot more.

"What did you mean about Alice and her practiced speech?"

"She was here already when you called, and of course she needed to know who it was I kept flirting with on the phone, so I told her that you were coming over. I still can't decide if it was funny or just disconcerting how she blanched at hearing that."

Something deep in my gut clenches at her words, Rose's playful tone aside, and I can see from the way she keeps looking at me that she knows how much Alice's behavior concerns me. The fact that she sounds more serious when she goes on just underlines that.

"Just give her a little time, she'll fall back into her usual chipper self soon enough. It seems like only a month ago that you complained that she keeps calling you to tell you stuff that doesn't interest you at the worst of times."

"That's because we actually had that conversation a month ago."

"Ah, how time creeps along when you never get any sleep anymore!" she retorts, then sighs. "But as weird as Alice's way of dealing with things uncomfortable is, I can understand her this time."

"You can? That makes one of us."

"Seriously, would you want to talk with the guy who's most likely to whack you over the head with the same ol' 'I told you so!' when you already know that he's right?"

Her words make me blink in irritation.

"I'd never say that to her."

"Not? You'd be right, too."

Her words make me halt, but while seemingly hungering for gossip, there is no guile to Rose's interest.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I know neither of them did anything to warrant me saying that. Of course it's entirely possible that I'm missing something here as I barely know anything about what really happened between them. Nor do I particularly care."

"You don't?"

Rose's doubt sounds genuine.

"No, I don't," I emphasize, and when she keeps scrutinizing me, I'm surprised that I even believe what I'm saying. "They are both my friends. Of course I'd rather see them happy, but some people are not meant to be together. Tough luck, but seriously, I don't think it's that much of a surprise that they didn't stick together that long after trying twice before and not even making it over the weekend. Things might have been sketchy between us over the last months, sure, but I don't think it's my place to lay blame with either of them. And even if it was true, I'd never gloat into Alice's face. You should know me better than that. And so should she."

The last part must have come out more dejected sounding than I want to as Rose reaches over and squeezes my shoulder, offering a warm if sad smile.

"She probably knows. Maybe it's just too painful still? Maybe she just doesn't know how to deal with rejection?"

"Rejection? She broke up with him."

For a moment doubt is adding to the queasy feeling in my stomach - what if everything Jazz has told us is really a lie? But then Rose smacks her lips and makes an offhand gesture.

"Any breakup is always full of rejection for both parties. I mean, we obviously all expected Jazz to fail to keep up anything more long-term than a few weeks - but can you remember Alice ever staying together with anyone for longer than that? I don't. And her breaking them up just means she has to deal with the pain of it all with the certainty on top of it that it was she who hurt herself this much."

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