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Page 41

He pauses, then goes on, clearly trying to sound calm again.

"I don't think she cares either way what Bella and you do. She just doesn't want me to be that way, and as I obviously am, she decided to ditch me. In a way that's even fair of her to cut me loose if she thinks she's holding me back or something, but I tried telling her that while yes, the physical side of BDSM appeals to me, I have no interest in doing any of that with her if that's not her thing, nor will I miss it, because I want to be with her because I love her, not because we had the best sex two people can ever have together. Yet clearly me holding anything back or putting her wishes over my own makes me a lying pushover, and if I don't do that she doesn't like what else could appeal to me. Either way I'm fucked, and she's off to greener pastures. Happy now?"

"Why should any of that make me happy?"

Jazz doesn't answer, then shakes his head.

"Anyway, losing my trek here. Although quite frankly, this is not a very easy conversation to have with you."

"So sorry I'm not exactly forthcoming with pity and understanding that you never showed to me."

Even before the words are out I know that I sound like a petulant boy again, but for whatever reason he just brings that side out of me. So I try to battle down my anger and purge the hint of satisfaction from my voice, and try again.

"Just talk, and I'll try not to make an ass of myself in turn, okay? This is dragging on enough as it is."

It's kind of funny to watch how he's still surprised that I'm able to act at least remotely civil, but then he goes on as if the whole flinging of accusations hasn't just happened.

"You know, the first threesome with Bella, that was really just sex for me. I don't think I really even saw her as herself – I mean, to me she'll always be something very close to my little sister who I have to protect, and although I know that she's grown up now and quite the force to be reckoned with if she wants to, it took me a long time to really catch on to the change she went through."

"No kidding."

"Hey, didn't you just tell me to talk?"

"But I didn't say I wouldn't comment on idiotic things you'd say," I retort.

He lets out a somewhat agitated breath.

"Whatever. That day that wasn't Bella to me, because as much as I was always curious about how it would be to have sex with her, my image of Bella didn't even overlap with the beautiful, sexual being kneeling before you with her hands tied behind her back while she sucked you off. She wasn't just any other girl, either, but there was nothing in me that had any reservations about what we did. And afterwards it all felt so right, for the

lack of another word. She was there, she was comfortable with me having been part of it, she was joking like she always used to before Mike made her believe that there was something wrong with hanging out with your not-same-sex best friends, and I have to admit, having checked one more what-if off the list was kinda neat.

"And then the second time started out all right, but for whatever reason I couldn't really shut down that voice inside my head that this was Bella we were doing all that to, and at the same time it made me feel kind of awkwardly guilty for enjoying teasing her so much, and ..."

He trails off there, but for once I don't feel like commenting myself. It takes a few moments until he resumes, his eyes again finding purchase on the tiles of the floor.

"I now know that you didn't really hurt her. I'm sure you two did a lot very soon after that that made her scream louder and was more physically testing. But it was a very convenient excuse for me to latch onto that – I mean, it was Bella, and I needed to protect Bella, and saying I just got into your face because you didn't take enough care was a hell of a lot easier than to say, hey, I actually really got off on seeing her writhe in real pain, and I want to do something like that, too – maybe not to her, but, who knows, if she'd want me to, why not? Just fucking her was so much less complicated, and it was something I could allow myself to feel good about.

And you really gave me an easy way out when you said that we didn't have to add anything kinky to any future threesomes.

"And the third one was great again, nothing that made me feel uneasy, we clearly all enjoyed it, and the little spat you and Bells had afterwards was probably overdue anyway, I told myself."

Another pause, and this time I just have to ask again.

"Really nothing that made you uneasy about it?"

His eyes zoom to my face, and for the first time he looks amused when he chuckles.

"No. Might sound strange, but I've never felt weird about kissing you. Or fucking you. Or being fucked by you. That part of my sexuality I own, and for whatever reason it's petty much confined to you, if you've ever wondered. We've had sex, so what, that doesn't make me gay, nor would that really be an issue for me if it did."

"Fair enough."

My curt answer makes him snort,but then he sobers up rather fast.

"Still, I guess that's not the whole truth. Or I don't know, that part is hard to put in words because I'm actually not really good with sorting out emotions.

But something changed somewhere between our romp in the woods and the last threesome. I couldn't explain it then, didn't even really realize that something was going on besides a vague feeling of unease. I figured I just didn't want it to end, because things were working really well with the dynamic we had established, it was all so comfortable and low maintenance, but at the same time so much more than just meaningless sex – and one thing I think I really regretted from the start was telling neither of you any of that.

"But on the other hand I was glad I didn't. You both made it clear that for you, this was a final thing. I accepted that at first because, well, it was pretty obvious that Alice was once again willing to try something more permanent than a booty call and I really didn't want to botch that. But when I watched you both how you were acting, I realized that you both actually didn't want me in the picture anymore. Bella got all bored, and you did pretty much everything possible to stake your claim on her – and while the rational part of me was glad about that and could reason that it was a good thing so I wouldn't feel I'd miss anything if things with Alice really worked out, it still hurt. And I didn't understand why, didn't want to understand why, and that somehow made me feel even more rejected."

All the while he has been occupied looking everywhere but at me, but for the last few sentences his gaze keeps seeking mine, and I really can't read the look on his face. When nothing comes form me in reply, he finally goes on, but the words come slow, clearly reluctant.

"I pretty much felt like shit and couldn't come up with a reason why. Then I tried fucking that frustration out of my system, but I didn't even see the girls, nor did I care about what we were doing. And then I came home and Bella was sitting in the kitchen, and the way she looked at me, with so much revulsion and disappointment -"

A pained sigh follows.

"That was when something in me snapped, and this really fucked up plan started building in my mind. Part of me still wanted to just tell you both that I wasn't okay with this being the end, but I just couldn't do that, so I kept telling myself that I had to do everything I could to make sure that I ended up with Alice. And you know that there are two things she can't resist, being important, and being needed.

"It took three tries for me to even make it out of my room when I knew that now was the time I had to act. I was so locked in the conflict inside my head that I didn't even consider that upset as you were about your issues at work, things might take a different turn. I knew I was playing on Bella's insecurity with this but after the fight you had, I really thought she was over it and knew that she was everything for you, because to me it was so obvious that she was the only thing you cared about."

He swallows thickly for a moment as he goes on, and I can't shake off the feeling that the last sentence holds more meaning than it seems.

"Anyway, it was disturbingly easy not to care about the fallout because in a way I wanted to hurt you both. For rejecting me, ignoring me, for simply putting me into this messed up state that I couldn't handle. And I was so caught up in being glad I could pull the whole stunt off at first that I didn't realize that I hadn't just thrown you both off guard, but pretty much opened up a rift between you. Then you kicked me out and I already had Alice on speed dial, and things kept working smoothly for then. Of course she took me in, and I had to tell her something, and the truth wasn't exactly an option. She also wouldn't have believed me if I told her you were responsible for anything because quite frankly, in her eyes you still can't do wrong. And I couldn't exactly admit that I was a scheming, lying bastard, so Bella had to take the brunt. I knew Alice and she never really got to be close friends and I figured things would smooth over fast enough, but from there on everything turned towards the worst.

"Alice wasn't amused with Bella finally growing up, and I was too stunned at first how readily she accepted what I told her to do damage control. Then we were at the gala, and things just kept snowballing and spinning out of control, and like a train wreck, I could just watch and think 'oh shit' all over in my head. But at the end of the day I went home with Alice, and except for a few rocky days I thought I had avoided the worst of the fallout and things were well all around soon again."

He falls silent then, and it's obvious that this time he's waiting for me to say something, but I can't think of a good reply. Most of what he tells me isn't that much of a surprise – at least not since my great revelation from my talk with Rose – but just reliving it all again leaves me rattled. And of course there's that part about how our last threesome has made him feel that I really don't know how to deal with. Part of me wants to apologize for being so blind. Part of me wants to call him a fool for not just saying something.

And the fact that while it really seems as if he never wanted to break us up, he still has just admitted to wanting to hurt us grates in a way I haven't felt in a long, long time.

"Well, that's pretty much it," he finally speaks up again. "You know, now would be a good time for a statement." When I remain silent he sighs, then rubs his face with his hands. "Guess I don't deserve one. Either way, now you know my side of the story. And I hope that when I tell you now that I'm sorry about causing so much pain to everyone involved, that it's the truth. I really didn't think, not for a moment, that things could blow so out of proportions. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to forget that insane idea the moment it came to my mind, and grow a pair and tell you guys that – I don't know. I'm not happy with things ending like this. That while I want to be with Alice, I'm not sure that will ever work or is everything that I want. And -"

He inhales sharply, then looks me right in the eye as he goes on.

"And that while I will always see Bella as my incestuously attractive childhood friend, somewhere along the way you became just a little more than my best bud who I occasionally fuck other girls with. Not in a Brokeback Mountain kind of way, but there's something I can't deny there.

And if I'm no completely wrong the fact that you needed a good five months to even talk to me again I don't think I'm the only one who feels that way."

This time the stretching silence between us is deafening, but I'm reluctant to even think about his words, let alone offer any kind of response to them, and after what feels like a small eternity Jazz sighs heavily for the last time.

"Guess that's everything I can say. After Alice kicked me out I came to you because you two are my friends. I just couldn't be alone then, and even the most awkward and uncomfortable welcome I could hope for seemed like a better idea than holing up in a motel out of town. I guess in a way I was also hoping that just sticking around would sooner or later give me the backbone to talk to you both to start mending the bridges I'd burned. And as much as I know I don't deserve a second chance, any second chance really, part of me still hopes that I didn't weld all doors shut behind me that day and threw away the keys. But I really don't expect that to be the case.

Just, you know, if you wanna kick me out now, just say it, or if you feel really vindictive, now you have ammo aplenty for any kind of payback. I know I deserve that. Although I'm also kinda hoping you keep to being the integrity loving kind of guy who doesn't take too much pleasure in kicking idiots when they're down."

More uncomfortable silence follows, and when he looks practically ready to burst with tension, I finally force my throat to start working again.

"I really need to talk to Bella now."

My voice sounds strangely raspy, and the words are clearly none that he expects, but after a moment he nods and turns towards the door.

"Sure, I'll tell her. Thanks for listening."

I can't even bring myself to offer a 'You're welcome,' then and he finally opens the door, leaving me on my own, and strangely feeling alone. I wait until I don't hear his steps on the stairs anymore, then drag myself into the bedroom where I flop down onto the rumpled duvet and hide my face in my hands.

She's nearly soundless when she enters the room, but it's as if all of my senses are just there to seek her out, and I look at her from between my splayed fingers. She's standing next to the bed, out of reach but close, her arms crossed over her chest in a defensive stance, but there's no tension in her body. Bella looks as drained and tired as I feel, and as the seconds tick by I feel her very presence chase away some of the darkness lurking inside of me.

"Are you still angry with me?"

She offers a small but real smile at my question, but it doesn't counteract the sadness in her eyes.

"Only if you keep acting like a complete moron."

"Promise, I'll try to keep the moron inside of me in check."

"Good," she graciously accepts, then moves closer until her legs bump against my knees. We keep staring at each other, both unwilling to be the first to say something, until she sighs and looks away.

"I guess now you know why I told you that we need to postpone this talk until you know -"

I don't even let her finish the sentence.


"Good," she repeats as she lets the air whoosh out of her body. "Then, let's talk. Or rather, as you don't really seem capable of doing enough thinking right now for a real conversation, I will talk and you will listen, okay?"

I nod, both relieved and weirded out at the same time. I have no idea when exactly that happened, but she's obviously able to read me like an open book.

Bella takes a deep breath, and as she begins talking her eyes never stray from my face.

"I have to admit, most of what Jazz told me today didn't really come as a surprise. And the rest made sense in the way of the last pieces of a puzzle game falling into place. Maybe because I didn't spend the last six months trying to be someone I wasn't, nor did I try to cut parts of myself out and flush them down the drain – and the irony that I don't even know who of you I'm referring to with that doesn't escape me."

A brief pause, then she goes on.

"I think I kind of waited for us to have this talk ever since my crash. Which is in a way ironic as it was thinking about everything a lot for the first time in my life actually made me hate Jazz for real, but a lot of it was pent up frustration that I just couldn't vent. I was so close to asking you just what you are or were really feeling for him then, but I knew that it was too soon, that you simply needed more time to work things through and maybe realize a few things on your own. I knew that I'd have to be the one to steer conversation to that topic, but I'm kind of used to by now that any uncomfortable stuff ends up being my responsibility, I can deal with that."

Again she halts, and I still don't know what to say. When that becomes obvious, she resumes.

"In a way I'm even glad he burst in on us today, because quite frankly, I think I would have gone insane any day now if I got any more frustrated."

Bella laughs a bit shakily, but her gaze remains trained on me.

"Before I get lost in my own not quite coherent thoughts, I think I should state a few facts that I've come to accept and know a while ago. First, I love you, and you love me. The kind of unconditional love that endures a lot, and if for whatever reason our relationship wouldn't work out, it would very likely leave us both raw and hurting until the end of our lives."

Just her mentioning of that makes my stomach clench so much that it's actually painful, but before I can speak up, she goes on.

"I can't say when things between us changed from just being madly in love to this. I just know that the evening of the gala, when I came home with you, I made the promise to myself that I would fight with all I had to give this love between us a chance, that I would let it bloom and grow strong and endure forever if I could help it. I don't think that anything can come between us from the outside, that it would take an active decision from either of us to end things to really break us apart. And I don't see anything in the world right now that may come up that can do that. Certainly not that moron current curled up on our couch."

She allows herself a small smile then that seems at odds with her words at first, but as she goes on the sadness slowly leaks from her body.

"I'm not saying that I know that you ever had any feelings for him, or still have, because you're the only one who knows whether that's the case or not. But I want you to know that if you still do, I don't feel threatened by that, nor would it be the end of my world if I'm not the only one you care deeply about. I have to admit, it's not an easy thing for me to say, and I don't think I could accept just anyone else, but Jazz is different. The

same as I didn't mind having sex with him, possibly having him be more than just a friend to you doesn't bother me all that much. I won't push you to come to any conclusions or decisions or whatnot. If you need time, from my side you have all the time in the world. I'd just like to remind you that if the answer is yes, you still have feelings for him, and yes, you still want him, and yes, you're glad that I so don't mind threesomes and this bed is by far large enough for one more person to sleep in, you should probably not take another six months to realize that, because I think being left hanging like that will break him."

Bella keeps looking down at me for a while, before she crawls onto the bed until she's crouching over me, her eyes so close to mine now that I nearly can't focus on them anymore. Closing the distance between us, she kisses me, first with just her lips brushing against mine, then a deeper kiss with her tongue in my mouth and her fingers combing through my hair. For a while I just let myself get lost in the sensation, then bring my hands up over her thighs to her back until I can pull her as close to me as possible. She gradually shifts until she ends up lying on her side pressed against me, her lips never leaving mine.

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