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Page 40

Even if I had wanted to forget, I couldn't have, and at my curt nod he goes on.

"She was really upset after that, when she left with us a while later. She was trying to hide it, but you know how bad Bella is at that. We stopped at a coffee shop because Alice wanted to get a cup, and while we others waited outside Bella rounded on me and got in my face, asked me just where I got off on still trying to ruin your relationship. At first I didn't even understand what she meant, until she nearly screamed at me that I should just stop riling you up. I didn't even know what to say, told her I'd just tried to make meaningless small talk with you, at which point she started crying.

I was totally at a loss then, and she only got a sniffling, 'Don't you even see what you've done?' out before Alice returned, which made Bella shut up again.

"I tried to ignore the unease creeping up in me then, and when the next week her birthday party went by without any problems I figured she'd just been drunk and ready to lash out at me as she couldn't do the same to you.

Then neither of us had much time to really meet up, and I thought everything had more or less settled when Bella called me to fetch Emmett because Rose was in the hospital already. And after that I couldn't really keep on pretending that everything was still okay."

He stops there and scratches his head, his gaze once again on the floor.

"Like you said, I told Alice about the accident that night. Figured she would at least throw a fit, but she was all calm and concerned, insisted that of course she wasn't angry or something, and it wasn't the end of the world that we wouldn't have kids on our own. And because things were going so well I also told her that my whole sleeping around was in parts due to that, and the rest just idle whiling away my time until I could be with her."

He looks up at me then, at the same time happy but so utterly frustrated.

"You should have seen her. It was as if suddenly the whole world made sense to her, all the pieces of the puzzle had aligned the right way. She was over the moon with joy and kept kissing me, and told me that I could just cancel the next appointment with my shrink because obviously I didn't need it anymore. And all through that the only thing I could think about was that whatever she said, I really needed to talk to Sheila about what had happened in the hospital.

"I called her the next day, affirmed that I'd be there at our usual day and time, but I told Alice I had canceled it. When I went that day I told my colleagues that I was leaving early to buy a present for Alice, one that I'd gotten the day before. Because sometimes she calls -" he stops there, then clears his throat. "She called at my office to ask if I was still there.

Presumably to surprise me, but I know that she was keeping track on me.

Of course I didn't want her to worry, so more lies to keep her happy it was.

"That was the first thing I told Sheila about. And the moment I started talking it all poured out of me. How much I loathe that she has to know every day what I do, who I talk to, who I meet. That I know that she reads my emails, checks my phone, even called a few of my co-workers when something didn't add up, like an impromptu informal brain storming session at the bar around the corner. That I'm trying so hard every day to make it all right, and whatever I do, it's barely enough to make her happy.

"And from that I seamlessly went on to recounting what had happened that weekend, and in the club, and all the other times the four of us had met, and how I'd even started to dread meeting Bella because I just knew Alice would be in a foul mood for days afterwards. Now on top of that Bella was suddenly so angry and downright hostile with me like never before, not even the day she kneed me in the junk, which made it so obvious to me that nothing was getting better. Just you acting vaguely like a friend was a good thing, and only when I told the doc about that did I realize just how much it bothered me that we weren't even talking anymore, let alone hung out. I think I was a veritable mess that day and really felt like I deserved it.

Before that I really didn't comprehend what I'd done, didn't fully know.

"Of course I asked Sheila what I should do, and for a moment I even expected her to gloat at me, but she only shrugged and told me that the first step in making things right always comes with starting at the lowest point. She advised me to talk to Bella, because why ever she was angry with me I knew she'd get over it fast. But I didn't even know what to say to her, so Sheila gave me some homework. Even made it sound so easy.

"'Sit down with a notepad and just write whatever comes to your mind. And keep writing. Not with the goal to tell anyone, but only between you and that notepad. Write everything down that you wouldn't even admit to yourself. Then burn it. Start anew. Until you find the things you can and want to tell her.'

"Sounded easy enough, so the next weekend when Alice wasn't at home again I sat down with a bottle of vodka and set to work. Didn't write anything for hours, but when I finally started, it was frightening how much I found to write down. And that's pretty much when I realized what I'd done, and how much I've been lying to myself."

This time when he stops he looks about as miserable as he sounds, and although I'm convinced that he has every right to feel like shit, I still can't help being at least a little sympathetic. As if he can read my mind, or at least part of my reactions from my body language, Jazz chuckles dryly and repositions himself against the wall.

"Don't feel too sorry for me yet, the best part I still haven't told you."

"I'm not exactly feeling sorry for you, don't worry about that," I shoot back, satisfied with the amount of resentment ringing in my tone. Jazz shrugs a bit uncomfortably, but then goes on.

"Be that as it may, I couldn't just burn the notepad. It was as if those scrawled pages held all that was true about my life that no one else knew about. I didn't want Alice to read them so I went to work on a Sunday evening to lock them in my desk, but couldn't do anything at all on Monday because they seemed to be staring at me accusingly. So I called Sheila, feeling insanely stupid about that in itself, and practically begged her to read them. I was so insanely glad when she agreed, I dropped everything I'd tried to work on before and just walked over to her office to drop the pad off.

"The days until our next session were endless. Alice constantly got on my nerves, then she wanted to know what was wrong with me and got pissed when I couldn't tell her, and on top of that she ran into Bella, then threw a fit for days because you'd canceled your wedding. It got to the point where I actually told her to stop being so ridiculous, which got me banned from the bedroom for the rest of the week. I didn't really give a shit because I wasn't in the mood for sex anyway, and you know that being ignored is the worst for Alice. I think the day when I finally got to Sheila again I was half expecting Alice to call at any moment to tell me that she was done with me, and right then I didn't even care, locked inside my head as I was.

"Sheila and I talked, for the first time really talked for hours, way past the usual end of my time with her. At first I was so weirded out that for this session she'd dropped her usual frank demeanor but somehow she dragged even more out of me than I'd written down. It was so exhausting but at the same kind liberating, although it left me kind of bleak and hollow."

I'm burning to ask him just what exactly has had him that much under the weather, but hold my tongue as he doesn't even halt in his monologue.

"In the end she asked me what I wanted to do now, where I saw myself.

And the answer was so easy – all I really wanted was Alice. Because I love her, even if she drives me insane, and while I had to look so much about myself in the eye that I'd never wanted to see, it didn't change anything about that. But it was obvious to me that things had to change, that it couldn't always be just about her, and that whatever I did still wasn't enough. Sheila encouraged me to tell Alice – not with blunt words but slow explanations, lots of stressing just what I felt for her and how much I loved her. So I did that."

This time his pause seems to invite a question from me, and after doing a quick calculation in my head I open my mouth.

"What did she say?"

"At first she was angry. Offended. I think mostly because she felt I had gone behind her back. Then she really started to think, and I guess felt a little guilty because what I oh so gently accused her of was true. She apologized. I apologized. I told her I loved her and that she meant the world to me. She told me she loved me, too. Then we made sweet, sweet love and everything was perfect."

I nearly laugh at the acerbic voice he uses for the last sentence, but his heavy sigh helps me not to appear like an even greater jerk than I think he is.

"Or so I thought. Be that as it may, Karma is a bitch, and I think I had it coming for a long, long time. Should have figured that the week of calm happiness couldn't last. But the way things started to go down was absurd.

Or not, as you wanna view it. Actually it was Bella who incidentally threw that first pebble that turned into an avalanche."

"You're really going to blame this on her?" I ask, immediately angry, but Jasper's guileless answer is priceless.

"Not blame, on the contrary, I should thank her for it. Tried to but she only punched me for it. But that's not the point. What she did was actually just being surprised. It was a few days later, early this month, when I got away early from one of my last meetings, and Alice called me that she was having drinks with Bella and that I should just come join them. When I arrived, Bella was about as angry at me as before, and I could tell that she and Alice had been arguing, so I tried to lighten the mood and congratulated her on not getting married. She actually laughed, and I think she was pleasantly surprised when she saw that I really meant it like that.

She hugged me when she left, which she hadn't done for a while, but I only got until we were home to be happy about that.

"Because Alice wasn't. At first she ranted about why Bella even felt the need to touch me, because that was clearly not normal. And when I defended her because, come on, Bella and I have always been the hugging sort, she got in my face and claimed I was only happy that you didn't marry because that way I could again end up with both of you. Or either of you, I'm not entirely sure because at that part she started screaming and got borderline incoherent. It all came so out of the blue for me that at first I didn't defend myself, which she just took for silent admission. In the end she was so far gone that she even said I was happy that she couldn't design the wedding dress and organize the party, and I was stupid enough to tell her that maybe this was exactly the reason why Bella was so happy about not getting married, because she didn't want it to be Alice's wedding but her own.

"At that she was suddenly all calm, and it all started anew, only that now she accused me of always taking Bella's side. And I told her that was not true, that I was always on her side, but she didn't listen. I even went so far and tried to explain to her what I thought was going on with Bella's hostility towards me, but it was like talking to a wall. The last thing that I really got to say was that if she wasn't such a self-centered bitch she would have seen months ago that things would never be the same between Bella and me.

To what she screamed, 'Because you fucked her!' at me, and I only got to say, 'No, because I betrayed her!' And after that Alice didn't speak to me for a whole week."

I really don't know what to make of that, but Jazz seems so far lost in the memories that he doesn't even wait for me to add anything.

"I tried everything to win her back, so to say. Flowers, candy, candle light dinner, nothing worked. Then from one day to the next she was all normal again, but at the same time distant. As if she was just going through the usual routines without any feelings behind them anymore. I had two sessions with Sheila that week, and I think for the first time they were actually all about her field of expertise. I think she really wanted to tell me to just accept that things wouldn't work out anymore, but I just couldn't accept it. I was so ready to give up everything just for her.

"And then we had our last fight. I still don't know what caused it, I mean we were in bed and I was just -"

"I don't really think I need the details about that," I interject.

Jazz shrugs, but inclines his head.

"Sure. Either way, she suddenly shoves me away and runs out of the bedroom, screaming something like, 'I knew that you were just like him!' at me. No idea what she meant, and of course I followed her. Thought I'd find her either crying or screaming in the living room, but she just got herself a bottle of water from the fridge after tying her bathrobe around her, then turned to me and calmly told me that I should go because clearly this couldn't work.

"It wasn't really a surprise but I was still devastated. Cried, begged, but while I could see that she hurt, it didn't move her. Then I asked her why, and she told me that she didn't love me. That she'd always thought she loved me, but really, she had been deluding herself. That she loved the image of me that she had had in her heart for years, but that we both had to admit that I wasn't that guy, probably never had been, and that for our sake we should end it before anyone got really hurt."

This time when he stops I simply don't know what to say, and minutes pass in silence before he picks up again.

"I couldn't accept it, just couldn't, and begged her to give me another chance. That I would change, be the man she wanted me to be, but she just smiled sadly and asked me if I didn't see that this was exactly our problem. That no relationship can work this way, and that she couldn't be happy with someone who would so selflessly sacrifice everything. She also admitted that for months she'd tried to make me see that, tried to provoke me however she could, but I'd never just stood up for myself and told her to stop that shit right away. She couldn't deal with me being such a pushover, and she couldn't deal with the guy she knew I really was underneath it all, so there was no sense in continuing this.

"And of course she was right, but it nevertheless hurt like hell. Still hurts like hell."

Now I'm feeling like an ass for keeping my distance, but there's still so much he hasn't said that I don't feel I can bring myself to reach out to him and show at least some compassion. When he looks at me again I see that he knows all too well how I feel, and when he goes on I know that we've finally reached the really important part.

"That all probably makes more sense when I explain the rest. All the things I wrote down on that notepad that I just couldn't burn. The things Alice somehow picked up on without me ever having to tell her because despite of how much I thought she was living in a dream world of her own making, she knows me better than I know myself sometimes."

He exhales slowly as if to steel himself, then squares his shoulders.

"I was really surprised today when I asked Bella about the reason why she keeps acting so hostile towards me and she told me it was because of what I had said about you."

"That really surprised you? I remember telling you that myself," I grunt back. He frowns for a moment, then scratches his chin.

"Sure, but I figured her main reason behind it was that you'd finally told her how much of a fucking hypocrite I am, and that in that context she was angry at me for having said that. I still don't get why you didn't."

"I think you have to be a little more specific than that." Of course I know what he's referring to, but I seem to develop an unhealthy amount of joy hearing him admit things that clearly make him uncomfortable. The brief glare I get from him in return underlines that he knows what I'm doing, but he doesn't comment on my answering smirk.

"That you know very well just how much most kinky stuff doesn't repel me. I mean, you were there, on many occasions, seeing me get a hard-on over a girl getting tied up and spanked. And except for the really heavy stuff, I helped you with plenty of that, long before Bella walked into our house that afternoon. I don't think that she knew all that before I told her today."

"I guess it says something about the kind of guy I am that I don't feel I need to tell the world about intimate things you never really had the guts to acknowledge yourself."

For a few seconds we both just stare at each other, the silence heavy between us, until he lowers his gaze, looking ashamed. My resolve to just told my tongue and not react to what he says crumbles then, maybe because my fight not to undermine my own integrity by telling Bella about all that has cost me so much for so long.

"Did you really think I didn't know that all that was more for you than just an easy opportunity to get laid? I know you always pretended it was just that, but how does the saying go, like recognizes like? I know that you have a rather strong dominant streak, just as I know that there's not a single submissive bone in you."

The way his shoulders tense is telling that my words get under his skin like few other things I've ever said to him, but when he looks at me again he's surprisingly calm.

"I guess I knew that you knew, but that doesn't mean that accepting the truth behind it was easy for me."

At that I can only laugh, and it's a hard, humorless sound.

"Yeah, welcome to my world. Wanna know how much easier it gets when you have a best friend who gloats at you for it and tries to make the woman you love hate you for the way you are?"

It's obvious that he wants to shout a retort back at me but his lips stay pressed together, as if he knows that there's nothing he can say to defend himself. Which is probably the truth. Strangely, that newly gleaned knowledge does nothing whatsoever to ease the rage boiling in my guts, in fact it only leads to even more frustration.

Until suddenly, something else he said makes sense.

"She knows, doesn't she? Alice knows. That's what she meant with 'You are just like him' – she meant you're just like me."

His loud, somewhat dejected sounding exhale is the only answer I get, but it's not enough for me.

"Just what the hell did you do to her?"

"I did nothing!" he shouts back, clearly agitated. "Nothing more than I've done plenty of times with her before! Not that you really wanna know, because you still see her as the pure girl seeking love who doesn't really have an interesting sex life -"

"Bullshit! I know she fucks round just as much as you, and I've heard my fair share of details! I don't give a flying fuck about what she does or what she likes, but I won't stand by while you do your best to drive us even more apart!"

Jazz looks as if I've slapped him, then quickly backtracks.

"Sheesh, calm down! I never tried to make her hate you, that's all her herself! The only thing I did was hold her down somewhat while I kissed her neck and shoulders and did my best to get her all worked up for some doggie style, I really don't think that anyone can say with a straight face that any of that is even remotely kinky."

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