Bella’s heart was pounding in her chest, her hands clammy as she fumbled to fold the carefully crafted paper heart in half. “You can do this,” she muttered to herself. “Just walk over and pretend to stumble. It’s not like you don’t trip over your own two feet often enough for people to buy it.”
Glancing around the corner to make sure everyone was still talking, she took a deep breath. They were all there, and thank god he was standing with his back to her. She let her gaze wander to the jumble of bags between her and the group a little further away. Yes, she could see his bag, right in the middle, with others piled around it. At least, she thought it was his; there were two that looked very alike.
She’d been watching him for so long now that she was almost certain. In her mind, she went over all the times that she’d seen him carrying his bag, making sure she knew which one to go after. Once she felt confident, she started to walk, trying not to look too guilty and praying her usual tell-tale blush wouldn’t give her away.
Jasper was laughing at something Edward had said just like everyone else, though in truth, he had barely been paying attention. As always, he felt her eyes on him – well, on them. Or more to the point, on Edward, even if he was as unaware as ever.
Jasper suppressed a sigh, wishing – not for the first time in the past few weeks – that he had the guts to just say to hell with it and make a move on her. But he didn’t, not when it was obvious to him that she was interested in Edward.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bella walk toward them and then trip as she reached their bags. He was about to write it off as just another moment of her usual clumsiness when he noticed her putting something in one of the bags.
With a frown, he turned his attention back to the others as they continued talking about their plans for the weekend – Valentine’s Day weekend.
Bella carefully pulled herself to her feet once she was certain the paper heart would not be seen upon first glance. With a surreptitious look at the group, she exhaled in relief when she saw that Edward still had his back to her. At least she hadn’t drawn attention to herself, then.
Hurriedly, she made her way past the group and headed for her next class – Biology. She was looking forward to the class, as she had ever since Edward’s family had moved to town and he had been assigned her lab partner. But she was also worried. What if he found the heart in class and said something right in front of everyone?
There was a reason she’d chosen this way to convey her message of longing, after all. She was far too shy to confront him directly, and the very thought of her classmates being such intimate witness to her embarrassment set her cheeks on fire.
With concerted effort, she settled herself into her seat and prayed he wouldn’t find it until he got home. She was fairly certain that she’d done a good enough job of placing it just so; it shouldn’t be on top, where he’d pull it out straight away, but it also shouldn’t take too much effort for him to find it when he emptied his bag.
She held her breath as her class began to fill with students, Edward joining her at the last moment as he always did. He barely afforded her a cursory glance as he mumbled a hello and unpacked his books. Bella took a steadying breath, closing her eyes and muttering a quiet prayer of thanks when he went about business as usual. At least she’d be spared the public humiliation – so far, her plan was going as she had hoped it would.
Edward wondered why Bella was peeking at him during their lesson – well, more so than usual. He had noticed she’d had a habit of watching him when they sat together, but she was always so quiet and shy that he didn’t pay her any mind. She was pretty enough, to be sure, but she did nothing to hold or even catch his attention.
He shrugged it off, focusing on the lesson instead, and was more than happy when the bell rang. He all but jumped out of his seat, gathering his books in one hand and his bag in the other as he practically ran out the door. The way Bella had been staring at him was a bit unnerving, and he was glad to get away.
Bella, for her part, was relieved to see him exit the room as if nothing had happened. Relieved, and a little hurt. Surely he wouldn’t ignore her completely if he’d found her note? He must not have seen it yet, she determined, and set off to the gym for her final class of the day.
Jasper was tossing a ball back and forth with Emmett when Bella stepped out onto the court. She glanced around nervously as she saw that everyone was warming up for what looked to be a game of volleyball, judging by the nets that spanned the middle of the court. Jasper watched her as she slowly made her way to the coach, but before she was halfway there, she tripped and fell hard on her knees and hands.
Jasper was at her side in an instant, wanting to make sure she was alright. He helped a brightly blushing Bella to her feet, steadying her as she swayed. “You okay, Bella? Do you need to sit down for a bit?” he asked, concern ringing clear in his voice.
She quickly shook her head, avoiding his eyes as he tried to gauge her. He sighed softly, wishing she would just see him – just this once. But as usual, she didn’t, and she was eager to get away from the attention. All eyes were on them, it felt like – to both of them, but for very different reasons. He brushed her hair from her face, and she blushed even redder.
“Well,” he mumbled, “if you’re sure you’re okay…”
“I am, thanks,” came her whispered reply. She glanced up briefly, only to frown and duck her head again when she saw him watching her intently. She swallowed hard, her stomach feeling leaden at the certain knowledge that he must think her a terrible klutz. She wondered whether he would tell Edward about the encounter. She knew they were stepbrothers and very close, as they’d been friends long before their parents had married.
Emmett gave Jasper a knowing look as he returned to their warm-up, and Jasper glared at him in return. Just because Emmett was dating his sister didn’t mean Jasper wouldn’t kick his ass if he revealed his secret to anyone. Emmett rolled his eyes, knowing full well what was going through Jasper’s mind, and then threw him the ball.
Bella tried in vain to get out of the lesson and had to suffer through volleyball, ending up with several bruises and a sprained wrist before class was through. Jasper had winced every time the ball had hit her and then when she’d fallen yet again in an attempt to catch the ball. He wanted nothing more than to help her somehow, but he knew she wouldn’t let him.
Bella would never allow anyone to help her – not because she was too proud, but because she didn’t feel she deserved the effort. She was just Bella, after all, a quiet little mouse of a girl who tripped over her own two feet all the time for no apparent reason, who loved to read, and who hated shopping or being around a lot of people.
Jasper knew all those things about her, and more – and all those things were what made him like her all the better. She was a lot like him in so many ways that it was difficult for him to understand why she was so infatuated with his brother. He loved Edward, and they had been friends for years, but he was so different from Jasper. Edward loved music, loved to perform and be around people, and he was usually the center of attention wherever he went.
He supposed it was a matter of opposites attract, but he couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to be with a girl like Bella. He was sure she’d never see him, though. She never had before.
With a heavy heart, he changed out of his gym clothes and gathered his bag as quickly as he was able before he went out to the parking lot to wait for Edward. They always drove to school together in Edward’s car, splitting the expense of gas – it seemed the most logical option, since they lived together.
He was leaning against the car as he waited for Edward, who was talking to Jessica a couple of feet away. Just beyond him, Jasper could see Bella walking toward Edward, and a glance over his shoulder confirmed she’d have to walk past them in order to get to her truck, which was parked a few spaces further on.
Shifting slightly so he’d be able to follow her with his eyes without being too obvious about it, he sighed. What he wouldn’t give to walk beside her and know she wanted him the way she wanted Edward – the way Jasper wanted her.
Bella walked as quickly as she could in order to get past Edward and into the safety of her truck. She had her head down and kept up a silent mantra, willing herself to not fall or do anything stupid in front of Edward. She wasn’t paying enough attention to what was going on around her, though, and didn’t notice when Mike’s bag split open, spilling its contents across the pavement. She didn’t see the pencils skittering along until it was too late, and she stepped on them, slipping.
Edward saw her start to fall and reacted without thinking, grabbing her by the elbows and pulling her to him to steady her. Jasper wanted to growl in frustration. He wanted to be the one to catch her, to be the one she looked and saw, like she saw Edward. Bella was blushing fiercely as she stared up at Edward, who frowned and cleared his throat awkwardly. He let her go, his hands hovering beside her as he asked if she was alright. Bella opened her mouth to answer him, to thank him, but no words would come, so she settled for nodding.
Edward cleared his throat again, nodded in turn, and said, “Good. Better be careful and watch where you walk.”
Bella’s cheeks flamed, and she ducked her head as she turned and made her way to her truck. Her breath was coming in gasps as she fought to keep from crying; she’d made an utter fool of herself in front of the one guy she wanted nothing more than to have like her. He would laugh once he found her Valentine. God, she was glad it was Friday, at least, so she wouldn’t have to face the rest of the school for a whole weekend.
Jasper’s eyes followed Bella as she made her way to her truck, got in, and took off as quickly as the beat up old truck would allow her. Edward finally made his way over to him, and as soon as he unlocked the car, Jasper glowered at him before getting in.
When Edward settled behind the wheel, he turned to Jasper with a frown. “What’s gotten up your ass?”
Jasper huffed, kicking his bag, which he’d put between his feet, and muttered, “Nothing. Let’s just go home.”
Without another word, Edward drove them home, though he couldn’t help but wonder what was eating at Jasper. Jasper, for his part, spent the entire drive staring out the passenger side window, trying to keep a grip. He had no reason to be angry at Edward, and he knew it, but he couldn’t help himself. All Edward would have to do was reach out, and the girl of Jasper’s dreams would be Edward’s, and Edward didn’t even care.
When they arrived home, Jasper heaved a sigh and turned to Edward. “Sorry, man. Just…”
He shrugged, and Edward did the same, saying, “No prob.”
They went to the kitchen to grab a snack, depositing their bags at the bottom of the stairs as they walked by it. They chatted about the English paper that was due the following week and the assignment they’d been given in History. When they were done with the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches they’d made themselves, they decided to get a start on their homework.
Edward went to the bathroom first, while Jasper headed straight to his room after grabbing his backpack. Sitting down on the floor in the middle of his room as always, he began unpacking his bag. When he reached back in after taking out his biology book, he felt something he was sure hadn’t been there before. Pulling the bag closer, he opened the top fully and peered inside, noticing a flash of red sticking up between his English and Spanish books.
Jasper frowned, pulling out the folded heart. He felt certain that this was what Bella had put in the bag earlier that day, and he felt a heavy weight settle on his heart as he realized he’d grabbed the wrong bag. He called out, “Hey, Edward? I think I grabbed your bag again by mistake.”
Edward, who was just walking up the stairs with his backpack slung over his shoulder, peered into Jasper’s room. “What was that?”
Jasper, who was double checking the contents of the bag, said without looking up, “I think I took yours again. We really need to figure a way to set them apart, man.”
Edward frowned, sliding the bag from his shoulder. “You sure, Jas?”
Jasper swallowed and was mid-nod when he pulled his journal from the bottom of the bag. He sat back, his shoulders sagging as the realization hit him: this was his bag. He glanced at the heart that was lying next to him, still folded, then looked up at his stepbrother, stammering, “N-nothing, my mistake. Mine after all.”
Edward’s eyebrows shot up, but he shrugged and closed the door behind him as he went to his room, muttering under his breath, “What is with people today? First Bella’s acting all weird, and now Jasper?”
Jasper picked up the folded heart and scooted back until he rested against the side of his bed, his long legs stretched out in front of him. His hands were trembling as he opened it and read:
Your green eyes always look, but never see
Your voice, all whiskey and smoke
Your scent, your body – designed to pull me in
Like a moth to a flame.
For once, I wish I could draw you to me, too.
I long to run my fingers through your waves,
to tame the tempest inside.
To incite the flames within.
I’ll be waiting for you at the coffee shop on Fifth, on Saturday at three.
Be my Valentine?
Jasper stared long and hard at the words, so carefully written on the red card stock. His eyes followed the flowing lines of the vines and hearts Bella had drawn around the text – he was absolutely certain this was hers, anyway. How could it not be?
The question was: had she put it in his bag on purpose, or had she mistaken it for Edward’s? What on earth was he going to do now? Every word she’d written could have applied to both him and Edward. Though Jasper’s eyes were a far lighter shade than Edward’s, they both had green eyes. They both had wavy hair. Their voices were very similar, especially when they were singing.
He ran his fingers through his hair and stared out the window. What am I going to do? he thought. He pulled his knees up, wrapping his arms around them as he glanced at the heart again. He felt conflicted, worried that she had meant it for Edward instead, but at the same time, there was hope that she had meant it for Jasper.
He was still sitting there when Edward knocked on his door to tell him dinner was ready. Edward frowned when he saw Jasper holding what looked like a paper heart in his hand, a look of distraction on his face. He scanned the room and noted that everything was much the same as it had been when he’d checked in earlier – Jasper hadn’t even touched his homework yet. Edward thought this highly unusual for his stepbrother, who normally made it a point to get through his homework as quickly as possible, so he’d be able to have a free weekend.
The look on Jasper’s face made Edward think better of even asking about it, though. Instead, he just reiterated that dinner was ready and that they were expected downstairs. Jasper nodded absently, getting to his feet and carefully tucking the Valentine in his nightstand drawer. He was quiet all through dinner, causing Rose, who had returned home later than them due to cheerleading practice, to throw questioning looks at Edward, who merely shrugged.
Their parents left Jasper to himself, knowing that if something was truly troubling him, he would come to them in his own time. Rose tried to get Jasper to talk to no avail; instead, he closed up even further and excused himself as soon as he was finished eating.
Bella’s Valentine was bothering him more than he was willing to admit, even to himself, and even after several hours of thinking on it, he still had no idea what to do.
Bella, in the mean time, was pacing her bedroom, too agitated to settle down to do homework as she usually did. She liked getting it over with as soon as possible, freeing up her weekend to do chores, read, or hang out with Charlie whenever he decided to stay home instead of going out fishing with his friends. She was always secretly thankful that he didn’t stay home often, as it gave her a feeling of freedom.
Deciding it was time for her to start dinner, she headed downstairs. She’d barely made it to the kitchen when Charlie arrived – earlier than she’d expected him home – carrying two pizza boxes. He grinned at the puzzled look on her face and said, “It was quiet, so Mark told me to head on home, since I’m on shift tomorrow to give the young fellas a chance to take their girls out on dates. Figured you wouldn’t mind a day off from cookin’, so…”
Charlie handed her the boxes and went to hang up his jacket and gun belt before returning to the kitchen. Together, they set the table, and before long they were having a quiet meal as always. Charlie was normally not one for dinner chatter – or talking in general – but that night he noticed that Bella was behaving out of the norm. Her knee was bouncing nervously under the table, catching the edge of it every other time and jostling the contents of the table.
He cleared his throat and wiped his mouth with a napkin, frowning at Bella as she looked at him with wide eyes like a deer caught in headlights. “So… care to tell me what’s going on, Bells?”
Bella began tearing bits off the crust of her pizza slice, staring intently at her fingers as she felt heat rise in her cheeks. Charlie raised an eyebrow, knowing something was definitely wrong for his daughter to act like that. He sat back in his chair, folding his hands on the edge of the table as he waited patiently for her to talk.
After a minute of silence, Bella sighed deeply and rolled her eyes, mumbling her way through most of the day’s events. She was mortified to tell her father about crushing on a boy and making him a Valentine and asking him out to boot, but lying simply wasn’t an option for her, either actively or by omission. She just couldn’t do it; every time she’d tried, her parents had always caught her before she’d even finished speaking. With Charlie, this wouldn’t be such a surprise: he was a cop, after all, but her airy-fairy mother sniffed it out more often than not, too. Bella was too bad at it to do her any good, so she ended up doing the only thing she could: she told the truth.
When she was finally done talking, Charlie leaned forward, watching his little girl intently. He knew Bella was very shy, and while part of him bristled at the idea of any boy going after his baby, he couldn’t help but feel proud of her for taking action. He was all too aware how much it had cost her to pluck up the nerve to actually deliver the Valentine in the first place.
Bella was still staring down at her plate, wishing a hole would open up beneath her so she wouldn’t have to face her father. She started when she felt his warm hand cover hers and squeeze it lightly. Looking up, she was surprised to find Charlie… smiling.
His voice was a little gruff when he asked her if she truly felt this boy was worth the trouble she’d gone to. She thought carefully about her answer, then nodded. He patted her hand and said, “Bells, if he’s worth his salt, he’ll show tomorrow, and he’ll treat you right. And if not…” he paused a moment and his grin turned crooked, his eyes glinting as he continued, “you still carry that pepper spray I gave you, right?”
Bella couldn’t help herself and snorted out a laugh at his words. “Yeah, I still have it. Thanks, Dad.”
She got up and hugged him. He gave her a brief hug back before telling her that he’d take care of the dishes that night. She rolled her eyes at him, a grin playing on her lips as she said, “How grand of you, since there are none, thanks to you bringing home pizza.”
Charlie chuckled and winked at her as he got up and put the leftover pizza in the fridge after packing it up. He made sure to put on a bit of a show about putting the pizza boxes out in the trash.
They spent the rest of the evening watching sitcoms together. It wasn’t something they did often, since Charlie usually watched sports, but this was their compromise for times like this. After a couple of hours, Bella claimed she was tired and headed to bed after kissing Charlie on the cheek.
She lay awake for a while, wondering whether Edward had found the Valentine yet and if he would show up at all. Finally, exhaustion took her, and she fell into a fitful sleep.
Jasper had spent the night locked up in his room after dinner. He ignored Rose’s attempts to talk, and Edward’s as well. He cleaned his room, just to have something to do with his hands, since his mind was so occupied with thoughts of Bella. He was still no closer to any form of resolution, but the more he thought about it, the more he wanted to go tomorrow.
“After all,” he reasoned quietly to himself, “whether she intended it for me or not, she still took a leap of faith. Maybe I should, too.”
Of course, this opened a whole new array of questions for him, like what to do when he got there. Or what he should say. Would he need to bring anything? It was with these thoughts in his head that he fell asleep, his dreams haunted by Bella.
Jasper woke much earlier than he would have believed possible, given the fitful night’s sleep he’d had. Still, he decided to get up and make use of the hours between now and three o’clock, when he was supposed to meet up with Bella. Whether she realizes it or not, he thought.
He went downstairs to make himself eggs and toast and forced himself to sit down at the table to eat. He had, during the night, come to the conclusion that he should probably bring something for Bella. Flowers; he would bring Bella flowers. He didn’t want to go with roses, though, feeling those were far too cliché and overused. Besides, he wanted the flowers to mean something.
He remembered the many times his mother had spoken about the meanings behind different flowers. She used to be a florist back when Dad had been alive, and he recalled many a time that she had voiced her disbelief at some of the choices people made. He supposed he could ask her now, but he wanted to do this himself.
So after he finished breakfast and had cleaned up after himself, he went back to his room and spent the next couple of hours researching.
Bella, in the meantime, woke up later than normal for her. She wasn’t one for sleeping in, usually, but she supposed it was only natural after having slept so poorly. She remained in bed for a while, seriously considering calling Charlie and telling him she couldn’t go through with it. Her stomach was already fluttering with nerves, and it wasn’t even close to time to get ready yet.
With a sigh, she scolded herself and made herself get up. She figured she had time to throw in a load of laundry before she had to get ready for what she hoped would be a first date with Edward. She sorted her clothes, gathering them in the basket she used, and carefully made her way downstairs to the laundry room.
The menial task of doing laundry helped her calm her nerves a little, so she decided to clean up the living room, too. She made sure to set an alarm so she wouldn’t lose track of time, though she was sorely tempted to skip it and pretend she had done just that.
She was folding the laundry by the time the alarm went off, and she jumped at the sound. She folded the last of her shirts resolutely and, with a heavy sigh, she stood, picked up the basket, and made her way back up the stairs again.
Bella felt more like she was on her way to the guillotine than to her room in order to get ready for a date. She showered, washed, and conditioned her hair with more care than usual. She even took the time to blowdry her hair, which she never did. She contemplated putting on make-up, but decided against it – she didn’t want to risk poking herself in the eye or something equally stupid. Not today, of all days.
Going to her room again, she stared at the clothes she had selected as if they were about to jump up and bite her. The tan skirt her mother had bought her before moving to Forks and the deep-red tailored button down shirt were nothing like what she normally wore.
She bit her lip as she picked up the stockings that went with the skirt and slipped them on carefully, afraid to rip through them. After that, she pulled on the skirt, wondering all the while if she’d even know how to sit down in one. Before she could talk herself out of it, she put on the shirt, and then stepped into the ballet flats she had picked up before leaving Phoenix.
Bella walked over to her closet door to stand in front of the full length mirror. She stared for a while, almost not able to believe that she was looking at herself. She blushed a little as the thought occurred to her that she actually looked pretty, but then she shook her head at herself. “Don’t be silly, Bella,” she muttered, even as she grabbed the small purse she rarely used from its shelf in the closet.
After transferring her wallet and keys from her backpack to the purse, she quickly walked downstairs, careful not to trip and fall down. It wouldn’t do to get injured now, after all. She almost didn’t feel like herself as she pulled on her jacket, shut the door behind her, got into her truck, and drove the short distance to the coffee shop downtown.
Jasper arrived at the coffee shop a full thirty minutes before Bella had said she’d be there. He had stopped by the flower shop on the way to buy her the flowers he’d chosen: a mix of red Camellias and white Gardenias. “You’re a flame in my heart” and “I love you in secret” were their meanings. He had agonized over the decision for hours, wanting to make sure that the message would come across. He’d called the florist and confirmed they had some, and then he’d written down the meaning, intending to buy a card as well.
So there he stood, bouquet in one hand and a card in the other. He felt very self-conscious, standing out where everyone could see him. He had decided to dress up a little, opting for his tan Dockers, a navy blue button down, and his black Doc Martens. He didn’t have a lot of nice clothes, but he wanted to look nice for her.
He wondered how to approach her. He still wasn’t entirely sure that she’d meant the heart for him, so he didn’t feel right just walking up to her or even waiting for her. If she was expecting Edward after all, then he was sure that the mere sight of him instead would send her running. He eyed the shop warily. It was quiet, for which he was grateful, and it looked as if his favorite barrista was working.
Jasper grinned as an idea began to form, and he walked inside, heading straight for the counter. Kate smiled as she saw Jasper approaching, and with a raised eyebrow asked if the flowers were for her – jokingly, of course. She was married, after all. Jasper laughed, shaking his head as he explained his dilemma.
Kate’s smile widened as Jasper asked for her help. She’d long suspected Jasper had a crush on Bella, and she was more than happy to aid him in his quest to win her heart. Both Jasper and Bella frequented the coffee shop and were always kind to her, so she had made it a point to know their drink preferences. Of course, Jasper was well aware of Bella’s choice of beverage, too, and before she could suggest it to him, he had already ordered it.
Jasper found a table that was in full view of the entrance and placed the flowers in the center, propping the card – which was in an envelope with Bella written in large print on it – against the bouquet. Jasper himself sat down at a table off to the side, out of sight from the front door, but with a good view of the table set aside for Bella, and waited.
He was staring out the window, watching for her, his heart beating rapidly when he recognized her truck heading toward the shop. He alerted Kate, and right as Bella got out of her vehicle, Kate placed the coffee Jasper had ordered for Bella on the table next to the flowers. Kate disappeared to the back with a wink, whispering, “Good luck,” as she passed by Jasper. He nodded absently and wiped his hands nervously on his thighs, his heart beating in his throat as he waited.
Bella walked hesitantly to the shop, the few steps between her truck and the front door feeling like miles in her nervous state. She peered inside, finding the shop virtually empty at first glance, save for a couple of tables, but no Edward in sight. With a sigh, she forced herself to go inside. After all, she was a few minutes early, and it was always possible that he was running late.
When she began to walk to the counter, her eye fell on a table that was empty of people, but had flowers, coffee, and a card on it. She frowned when she realized the envelope had her name on it. She quickly glanced around again, wondering if perhaps Edward was here but had stepped away. Still not spotting him, she walked up to the table and picked up the card, unable to contain her curiosity.
Before she had a chance to open it, she noticed that the cup of coffee also had her name on it. That’s odd, she thought. She touched the cup and, realizing that it was still hot, she looked up to see if there was anyone behind the counter. There was no one there. With a frown, she sat down at the table, placing her purse at her feet.
Slowly, she opened the envelope and pulled out a modern version of a Victorian style Valentine’s Day card. The outside simply read, “Be My Valentine?”
Jasper held his breath as he watched her, careful not to make any sound. He didn’t want to attract her attention until after she’d read the card.
Bella opened the card, reading carefully.
My eyes have always seen you
even from the shadows
Red Camellias are for the flame you put in my heart
White Gardenias for the love hidden within.
I want to be out in the open
hold you close to me.
Be my Valentine?
Bella read the card twice more, her cheeks flushed warm with hope and anticipation. She took a sip of the coffee and blinked in surprise as the taste of white chocolate raspberry mocha met her lips. Her eyes went from the drink to the flowers, which she gingerly picked up and sniffed, a smile on her face. She knew she’d been right when she told Charlie that he was worth the trouble. She glanced up toward the restrooms, wondering if Edward was there.
Jasper couldn’t stand sitting and waiting anymore, especially when he saw Bella’s smile as she smelled the flowers again. Quietly, he got up and walked up to her, stopping when he was standing behind her.
He whispered, “Will you, Bella?”
Bella turned around quickly, the wide smile on her lips fading and morphing to an ‘o’ of surprise as her eyes met Jasper’s – not Edward’s, as she’d expected. It took awhile for her brain to catch up with what she was seeing.
Jasper shuffled his feet, his heart beating so rapidly he feared it would leave his chest soon. His eyes flickered between hers as he said, “Will you be my Valentine, Bella?”
Before she could stop herself, she blurted out, “But… I thought… oh, God…” Bella’s cheeks flamed red with embarrassment. She ducked her head, covering her face with both her hands as she groaned softly.
Jasper took a shuddering breath as her words all but stabbed at his heart. So she had mixed up the bags and meant the heart for Edward. He took a seat next to her, wondering what to do. Part of him wanted to run out, his own embarrassment staining his cheeks red as well. But then there was the part that reminded him that he’d resolved to take a leap of faith.
Bella was horrified that she’d accidentally given her Valentine to the wrong person, that she had laid her feelings bare to Jasper, instead of Edward. Oh God, what must he think of me? Not only am I incapable of walking on my own two feet without tripping left and right, but I can’t even pick the right guy? she thought as she fought tears.
Kate walked out of the backroom, taking in the two kids in the middle of the shop. She frowned when she noticed the distress Bella was projecting and the pain and determination on Jasper’s face. Jasper looked over to the counter, and Kate nodded encouragingly. She knew those two’d be good together and wanted things to work out for them.
Jasper nodded in turn and took a deep breath, steeling himself. He would try to explain himself, offer her his heart; if she refused it, at least he would have tried, and he could try to move on from there. But he’d never know for certain unless he spoke up and told her how he felt. Gently, he reached for her hands and pried them away from her face. Bella sniffled and ducked her head, closing her eyes to avoid facing him.
Holding her hands in his, he brushed his thumbs over her knuckles in a soothing motion. “Bella,” he said softly, “I’m sorry if I’m not the one you were expecting to find here today. I found your card in my bag yesterday, and…”
He paused when he saw Bella cringe. For a brief moment, she wondered if they were playing a cruel joke on her, but she dismissed the thought as quickly as it came. Neither boy would do something as mean as that; of that, she was certain.
Jasper cleared his throat, focusing his eyes on their hands as he continued to brush his thumbs along her knuckles. “I’ve liked you for a long time now, Bella. I knew you liked Edward, so I never said anything – not that you ever seemed to notice me, regardless. But Bella…” he looked up at her earnestly. “When I read the card… I thought… I hoped that maybe you’d finally seen me the way I’ve seen you. Bella, you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever known – inside, and out. I just… I just had to take this chance to try to know you the way I want to. I meant what I wrote on the card, Bella. Please… would you be my Valentine?”
The last sentence was all but a whisper as it passed his lips; his heart felt stuck in his throat as he waited for her answer. Bella was sitting so still that he felt sure she was going to tell him to take a hike, or else she’d bolt any moment and run as fast as her feet would carry her – far away from him.
Bella sat, stunned at the words she was hearing. Jasper wanted her? Jasper thought she was beautiful? Beautiful? She? Slowly, she leveled her gaze with his, and she looked long and hard into those aqua-colored eyes that were swimming with heartfelt emotion. She wondered if Edward had ever looked at her with such longing.
Bella’s heart started beating frantically again, though this time because she wondered what would happen if she said yes or if she told him no. A quiet voice in the back of her head reminded her of the many ways Jasper had been there for her. She recalled all the times he’d rushed to her side when she’d fallen, making sure she was alright. She smiled as she thought of the times he’d paid for her lunch at school when she’d forgotten her wallet. She always tried to pay him back, but he usually refused the offer. No, that small voice told her that she really didn’t want to tell Jasper no.
Jasper’s thumbs stilled as they sat staring into each other’s eyes. Jasper’s mouth felt dry as he waited for Bella to say something – anything. He swallowed hard as he tried to gauge her reaction, but he couldn’t get a read on her at all. When he saw her begin to smile, he dared to hope, and he took a wavering breath.
Finally, Bella was able to form words, and she whispered, “You really mean it?”
Jasper let out a whoosh of air and laughed shakily, nodding. “Yeah, all of it.”
Bella glanced down at their hands and smiled. She twisted her hands and threaded their fingers together, her eyes flickering to his. Bella thought of the times when Edward had touched her, the times he’d held her to him after a fall – inadvertent as the gesture might have been. It had never truly felt comfortable or right, now that she thought about it. Touching Jasper, though, felt as if it should be, and she found she quite liked touching Jasper this way. Her cheeks flushed as she spoke softly. “I think I’d like that.”
Jasper’s eyes lit up, a beautiful smile stretching across his face at her answer. He squeezed her hands gently as he echoed her earlier words, “You really mean it?”
Bella nodded, and Jasper leaned forward, his eyes never leaving hers as he whispered, “Can I kiss you?”
Bella nodded again, butterflies seeming to take flight in her stomach as the thought that she was about to get her first kiss raced through her mind. The moment Jasper’s lips brushed against hers, though, all thought fled their minds. They both closed their eyes almost in unison, and Jasper tilted his head slightly as they continued to learn the touch and taste of each other.
After a minute or so, Jasper pulled away with a soft hum. He cupped Bella’s cheek and murmured, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Bella.”