I feel the strangest urge to knock on the door of my own apartment, my home for five years, the most recent two with Jasper. This place where I readied myself for the ball eighteen short hours ago.
Before everything changed.
I settle instead for noisily rattling my key to alert Jasper that I’m here. Not home, but here.
As I push open the door, I can’t miss his unmoving frame on the couch. The slight clinking of ice cubes against the lead crystal highball glass balanced on his knee alerts me to the fact that he’s drinking and/or already wasted on bourbon, Jasper’s drink of choice for dulling pain.
Steeling myself for the roughest talk of my life, I slip silently into the recliner that sits perpendicular to his line of vision. This might be easier if we don’t have to look at each other. I remind myself that I’m the one who caused this pain by not breaking things off earlier with him, and I don’t get to feel good today. I’m a masochist; hell, this should be a treat.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet me, Jas.”
He doesn’t answer but sips at his drink, still not even acknowledging my presence. I plow ahead. “I’m so incredibly sorry that I hurt you.”
Please say something. Finally, he regards me critically. “Where did you sleep?” His voice is uncharacteristically unkind, not that I blame him in the least.
I don’t pause before answering. Honesty is the least of what I owe Jasper. “I was at Edward’s.”
Confusion momentarily eclipses anger. “Edward who?”
“Edward Cullen, the man I introduced you to in the lobby the other day.”
“That gay guy?”
“Edward’s not gay.” The words slip out before my filter can catch them. There’s absolutely no reason to talk about Edward with Jasper, and no good will come of it.
“And how the fuck would you know that, Bella?” He’s had more to drink than I thought. He spits out the f-bomb like a morsel of moldy bread.
I sigh heavily, limiting my words to platitudes that he won’t come back to later and dwell on. “Jasper, I’m sorry, and I don’t want to hurt you further.”
He takes a long pull from his glass and focuses forward again, away from me.
“You slept with another man last night,” he declares, disbelief soaking his words.
“Yes,” I answer quietly. I can see him flinch from where I sit.
“Have you been…intimate….with him before?”
“No.” I answer him decisively.
“Well, I suppose I’m expected to be grateful for that,” he says in a disgusted tone. “So this…guy, he’s the reason we’re over then?”
“This isn’t about him, Jasper.” I can’t say Edward’s name again.
“Is it too much to ask for you to offer some fucking shred of explanation as to why you’d end a three-year relationship that I was pretty sure was headed into a lifetime of happiness together? I mean, don’t you think I deserve to know how I’ve fallen short of your expectations?”
“Did you ever think it’s me, Jas? That I’m not good enough for you?”
“Fuck, Bella. What does that even mean? You say it all the time, and I have no idea at all what that means!”
His face is an unnatural shade of red, and he’s flailing his arms and sloshing his drink. He’s so un-Jasperlike right now that I feel like I’m talking to a new person.
Fabulous, my inner ironic self pipes up, now Jasper’s got an alter ego, too. Jilted Guy.
“How are you not good enough for me? Please, en-fucking-lighten me.”
He glares at me, with a challenge that’s difficult but not unreasonable. Before walking in here, I’d thought it would be crueler to tell him than not; now, I can’t help but feel he deserves some semblance of an explanation for being dumped at the sidewalk like a run-down appliance.
“What I mean by that is…” Shit. I should’ve practiced this conversation. How do I approach this? What can I reveal?
I pause and take a deep breath. Jasper’s calmed down again, and he’s waiting more patiently for my answer. He senses now that he’s about to get the information he thinks he wants.
“Jas, you’ve always been so good to me. So sweet, respectful, deferential.”
“God, Bella, thanks for making me out to be a huge pussy.”
"Pussy" is not a word I’ve ever heard Jasper use. Jilted Guy has a pretty foul mouth.
He goes on, “I mean, forgive me if I try to treat you like a lady and put your needs first. I thought that was kind of the object when you love someone. You make it sound like a fucking crime.”
“It’s just not what I want.” There. Plain and simple.
“Okay, now you’ve really got me confused. Are you saying you wanted me to be selfish? Or abusive?”
“No, Jas. Of course not.” And I truly can appreciate his confusion. How can I explain this when I don’t fully comprehend it myself? I wish that I’d had a chance to talk this through with Black Velvet- Edward, I correct myself.
“Please, Bella,” he says much calmer now. “I don’t understand this. Make me understand.”
My heart breaks for him all over again. Jasper’s anger is easier to abide than his hurt.
“I’m not really sure how well I can articulate this. I’ve been getting this growing sense that I need something different.”
“Different,” he repeats, and now I see the old Jasper. He’s waiting ever so patiently for me to explain why I’ve just totally fucked up both of our lives. And I haven’t a clue how to tell him.
“I’m sorry, Jas. It’s just really hard to talk about this.”
“Hard for you to talk about with me. But you can talk about it with Edward.” His face turns sour as he chokes out the word.
Well, there’s one I really can’t explain without diving deep into murky waters. How Edward’s discovery of my kink led me to this point. I try to push past the Edward issue and put it back on me, where it belongs.
“I’ve discovered that I have a profound need to give up control, outside of my duties at Swan, of course.”
“Give it up to whom, exactly?” His face twists with the effort to accept what he must suspect will follow.
“To a man who wants it.”
He looks right at me but doesn’t seem to see me. Suddenly, he stands up, walks over to the bar, and refills his drink. “Oh, I’d offer you one, too,” he calls out, “but apparently that’s how I lost you in the first place. So you can come get it your damn self.” At this, he grins. Finally, signs of life.
“No, thanks,” I answer, attempting to smile back.
“Well, do tell, Bella. I’m not controlling enough for you? What are we talking about here? Something tells me this is more than deciding where to go for dinner.” He returns to his seat on the couch, but this time angles his body towards mine. His arm is stretched out along the back of the couch, and he’s swirling his bourbon glass ever so slightly with the outermost joint of his fingers. He almost appears to be savoring my humiliation.
I consider all the times I’ve hidden this part of myself from Jasper, and how ironic it is that only now, after we’re broken apart, am I willing to share. Aside from the embarrassment of my admission, I know there would never be any repercussions to telling Jasper. Whatever else Jilted Guy might do, Jasper wouldn’t allow him to betray me.
“I want to explore my submissive streak,” I admit, lowering my eyes to the floor.
Jasper takes another dangerous gulp. “Go on,” he prompts.
“Fine, Jas. Bondage.”
“Handcuffs? Blindfolds? Whips?” I’m not looking at his face, but I can hear his mocking smile.
“I don’t know. Maybe. Probably not whips.”
“Wow, that is some kinky shit right there, Bella.” Swig. Swallow.
“Yeah. I know.”
“So why didn’t you ever tell me this? I mean, I’m a pretty versatile guy. I would’ve tied you up.”
At that, I lift my eyes to his. He’s so damn earnest, even through his anger and confusion. “I know you would’ve. That’s the thing. You’re always trying to please me. It’s just kind of backwards is all. You’re not supposed to have to beg someone to tie you up. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Sure. You don’t think I have it in me. You don’t think I’d be believable. You don’t think I can be dangerous.” He stands up, bends over to set his drink down on the table, and wobbles slightly on the way back up. Then he takes a step toward me, and another. His eyes are dark, and I would have to say, dangerous. My heartbeat picks up. He’s three steps away and I can smell the alcohol and the determination on him.
“Jasper, what are you doing?”
“Giving you what you want.” He takes another step toward me, and I feel my adrenaline rush kick in.
Fight or flight, Bella? What’s it gonna be? Jasper’s got at least sixty pounds on me, and it’s solid muscle. He’s drunk and unpredictable. And he’s certainly angry enough to do something out of character. I choose flight.
I hop to my feet and take several quick steps away from the chair, away from him.
“What’s wrong, Bella? Am I scaring you?”
“Yeah, Jas. Actually, you are.”
“I rest my case,” he says, spinning around and falling into the armchair. A smug little smile rests on his face. “You should’ve given me a chance. I could’ve been what you needed.”
I crumble onto the couch, my heart still racing and a thousand prickles of unused adrenaline releasing themselves along my skin. “That wasn’t exciting, Jas. That was terrifying.”
“Oh, sorry. I guess I can’t tell the difference any more. I thought love was sweet and gentle, so what the fuck do I know?”
“See, this is what I meant about you being too good for me. Do you think it’s possible for us to part ways without hurting each other further? I know I don’t deserve that, Jas, but you do. I would really appreciate it if we didn’t undo all the goodness of our long, loving time together. You were a wonderful boyfriend.”
He snorts, “Yeah, except for the minor detail that I never did it for ya.”
“That’s not true, Jas-”
“Fuck, Bella. Don’t patronize me.” He slumps fully into the chair and rolls his eyes to the ceiling. “Do you realize I was two hours away from making the biggest mistake of my life?”
So, a midnight proposal was planned. Not sure if that was rhetorical, I don’t offer an answer. But then he looks straight at me, and I know he’s demanding an answer, so I give one. “I suspected as much.”
“Pffft. I guess I should thank you for stopping me from making an even bigger ass of myself.”
He lifts his glass from the table and waves it my direction, as if toasting me. “To you, darling.”
A cold smile twists his beautiful features into a face I don’t recognize and a chill passes through me. Jasper brings the amber liquid to his lips and gulps the rest of his drink. He doesn’t hold his liquor well, and he’s going to pay dearly for this overindulgence. I add his next hangover to the list of injustices I’ve heaped upon Jasper.
“I’d like you to stay in the apartment- if you want. Our lease runs through March.”
His head snaps my direction. “So you’re shacking up with this guy Edward? Jesus, Bella. You sure didn’t waste any time.”
“I know it’s none of my business, Jas, but did you and Alice…?”
He lets out a hideous snort before I can finish my question. I’m not even sure what the question would’ve been. “Yes…Alice,” he says, adopting a mocking affect to his voice. “Let’s send the administrative assistant over to occupy the boyfriend so you can run off into the sunset with your lover. Classy move, Miss Swan.”
Tears prick at my eyes. “I totally deserved that, Jas. I was just hoping-”
“Please don’t demean all of us by finishing that sentence, Bella. How dare you treat Alice like your surrogate girlfriend. And how dare you pawn me off on the first available female you could order to my side?”
Now I do feel truly horrible for all my assumptions and selfishness. The tears make their way down my cheeks.
“Jas, you have every right to be furious with me and I’ll sit here and let you rail at me for as long as you need.”
He looks up and takes stock of my emotional state. “Fuck, Bella. You don’t get to cry today.”
“I’m sorry.” He hates it when I cry.
“Stop it. I mean it.” His voice is a dark and menacing growl. His harsh coldness brings out a fresh crop of tears, which turn into sobs.
Jasper stands and says, “Okay, Bella. Good talk. Merry fucking Christmas.” Turning his back on me and pushing through the swinging door that leads to the kitchen, he shouts, “Give my best to your folks.”
I pick up my phone every ten minutes to check in with her, but I don’t place a single call. Isabella will call me if she needs me. And if she doesn’t need Edward before eleven tonight, at least Black Velvet will have his chance with her later.
I shake my head and chuckle darkly at the fact that I’m still referring to all my selves in third person. Some kind of freak show I’ve become. I pack my overnight bag, pace a while longer, and finally hail myself a cab to Penn Station.
God bless Amtrak, it’s a breeze to board the train, and I’m settled on the Acela and on my way right on schedule. I love it when things go according to plan. Speaking of plans, I close my eyes and pull together my ideas for tomorrow night. Christmas alone with Isabella.
I’m still working within her own fantasies, the perversity of her own mind spelled out for me in black and white. Not too many girls will hand you their psyche on a silver platter, but Isabella has done exactly that. We’ll need something light-hearted after reconnecting tomorrow. She’s going to be emotionally exhausted, and it’s not the time to try anything heavy duty. Plus, it’s Christmas. The season of joy. If I do this right, there will be joy and good cheer all around.
I can’t help the broad grin that covers my face as the scene comes together in my mind. It’s perfect; it will require her complete attention, giving us that chance to practice mindfulness, and totally distract her from whatever Jasper and her parents hand out to her today. And if she slips, she’ll get a taste of Black Velvet’s corrections, and she’ll learn it’s nothing she can’t withstand.
The rhythmic clattering of the train on its rails, coupled with the sexy fantasy playing across my brain, produces a very pleasant stirring in my lower regions. Later, I quell my urge. At least wait until she writes in later tonight. The vibrating phone in my front pocket adds to the growing sensation of need, and I pull it quickly from my pants. Before answering, I pause to imagine taking Isabella’s picture tomorrow night during our scene, and using that as my contact photo. Good luck discouraging the boner now!
“Isabella. How are you?” I turn my face to my reflection in the window, shutting out everyone around me and focusing on her voice alone.
“I’m all right,” she answers sadly. “It was pretty rough.”
“Where are you now?” I need a visual to keep me calm.
“Back seat of the car on my way to the Hamptons. Time-honored Swan tradition.” Okay, she’s safe. And not driving. And Jasper hasn’t convinced her to take him back. Wow, I hadn’t realized that possibility was running through my head until I was able to dismiss it.
“Do your folks know it’s just going to be you this year?”
“No. They’ll find out in an hour when I show up on their doorstep. That oughtta be a fun scene.”
I exhale loudly. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I wish I were there. I wish you were here. I hate that I had to leave you like that today.”
Sniffling, she says, “Me, too.”
“Do you want to tell me what happened?”
There’s a long pause, and the waiting is killing me. Finally, in a whispered tone, she says, “I can’t talk about it now. I’m sorry.”
“Okay, I understand.” I do understand. Those drivers are nosy bastards and she can’t go spewing her secrets all over the back seat of the company car and expect them to stay secrets.
“Hey, listen to me. You’re not having any regrets, are you?”
Quickly, she says, “God, no. I just…how sappy is it to say I miss you?”
Relief courses through me, and a smile washes away the anxiety. “It’s totally sappy. And absolutely perfect. I feel exactly the same way.”
Now I can hear her relax into a smile as well. “You on the train?”
“Got a nosy neighbor?”
“I’ll say it then. I miss you.”
“Me, too.” God, what a sap. I strap my balls back on and remind her about her homework. I’m not just doing this because I’m a selfish, kinky bastard, but because the focus will help her get through the next craptastic part of her Christmas Eve. “Don’t disappoint me tonight, Isabella.”
“I won’t,” she promises.
“And if you need to hide in the broom closet later and call me again, go right ahead. I’m here. Okay?”
“Yeah, Edward.” She laughs lightly, “I’m not sure we have a broom closet, but thank you.”
My eyes drift closed and I can picture her in the back seat, holding her phone, holding me, up to her face. I don’t want to cut off the connection, but there’s nothing else to say. For now, anyway.
“G’bye, Dark Prince.”
“Okay, Bella, you better start explaining right now, Missy. First of all, what the hell happened at that ball last night, and second of all, who the hell is Edward Cullen and why did you text me—”
“Angela, you wanna give me a chance to get a word in?”
I take a long deep breath and blow it out slowly. I’ll have to tell some version of this story over and over again. The practice will do me good.
“So it turns out, you were right about the proposal…”