I directed Jasper to a seat at the bar, squeezing his shoulder before taking the one next to him. I watched as he took in the surroundings. I followed his gaze, wondering what he thought of the set up my parents have. They have a state of the art outdoor kitchen on the patio, complete with a small fridge, sink, burners and, of course, a professional grade gas grill. Mom had put the tray of food down on the bar, before taking a seat next to me.
Carlisle poured us each a glass of Pinot Gris before taking his seat. I could tell that Jasper was still a little tense, so I put my hand on the small of his back, rubbing it gently in the hopes of calming his nerves a little. He gave a soft sigh as he smiled at me, mouthing “Thank you.” I winked at him as I grabbed a few grapes, popping one in my mouth.
Per usual, Esme had outdone herself by preparing a delicious spread of appetizers. I noticed she had an assortment of cheeses – Stilton Bleu, Wisconsin Aged White Cheddar and French Camembert – served with various crackers and a sliced French baguette. Along with the grapes, she included a fresh fig chutney as well as her amazing Caprese salad which consists of slices of her home-grown heirloom tomatoes and basil alternated with a slices of fresh buffalo mozzarella and drizzled with her balsamic vinaigrette. Jasper’s eyes widened at the full display of food. I leaned in and whispered, “Just so you know, this is just the warm-up, so save room for the main course.” He turned toward me with raised eyebrows and simply nodded.
The exchange had not gone unnoticed by Esme and she gave me a look of understanding, before turning to Jasper.
“So where are you from, Jasper? Edward tells us that you recently moved to Seattle.”
Jasper turned to look at my mom and said, “All over really. We just moved from San Bernardino County, California a few months ago. Dad’s Army, meaning we’ve been around, so to speak.”
He fidgeted in his seat, clearly uncomfortable with the subject matter. I saw Mom and Dad exchange knowing glances, and I was grateful when she changed the subject.
“Edward mentioned that you are a student, but not where you are attending. Are you enrolled at UW?”
The subject change seemed to help relax Jasper. “Actually, I take online courses at Ashford University; it has made life easier, what with the possibility of moving at the drop of a hat.”
Carlisle took a sip of his wine, before turning to Jasper.
“Without a set class schedule, do you find it difficult to keep motivated to complete your schoolwork? I imagine it’d be easy to get distracted.” I recognized that Carlisle was sporting the same half-smile that is so often on my face. Thanks, Dad, way to make Jasper feel comfortable.
Jasper blushed slightly and looked down at his hands before answering. I frowned at Carlisle as I took this in, but Jasper’s retort left me with no doubt that he was settling into the conversation. “Well, Carlisle, I previously had no issues maintaining a “normal” school schedule. It is only since moving to Seattle that I have met someone who definitely proves to be distracting.” As a huge grin broke out on his face, I glanced at Esme, who was looking at me. She cocked an eyebrow and could not suppress her smile.
Carlisle seemed amused by Jasper’s response and decided to continue his line of questioning. “Well, when you are not distracted by your studies, or my son,” his eyebrow cocked at the words ‘my son’, “how do you like to spend your time?”
“I enjoy volunteering my time as a swim instructor at the swimming hall which is where Edward and I reconnected. I actually substituted for him for a month. Of course, water polo continues to be one of my favorite pastimes.” He paused briefly, glancing at me before continuing. “My sister and I inherited some money from our grandfather, which means I’m fortunate enough not to have to work while getting my degree.”
After some more conversation, Carlisle stood up and started to get everything together for the main course. He took the soaked cedar planks from the sink as we helped Esme gather up the leftover appetizers which she then put away in the kitchen. By the time she came back, Carlisle had the salmon fillets on the planks and was almost finished applying his ‘secret’ herb rub to them. Esme turned the grill on before returning to her seat.
Jasper cleared his throat, visibly more at ease than when we arrived. He turned to Carlisle with a grin.
“Carlisle, can I ask you something?”
I watched as my father put the cedar planks onto the grill before turning his attention to Jasper. I wondered what he wanted to know. I picked up my glass, which was almost empty, and twirled it gently between my fingers.
“Of course, Jasper.”
“Well, I know from Edward that at times he has needed to resolve issues with your computer, which leads me to wonder how does someone who appears to be . . . um . . . technologically challenged, become the man behind Cullen Tech?”
My eyes widened a little and I fought a chuckle as I nudged Jasper’s side. He turned and winked at me. Well, he’s definitely feeling more comfortable! I shook my head and with some difficulty was able to maintain a straight face as my mother piped up.
“Oh dear, believe me, the irony of that isn’t lost on us.”
She laughed and reached over to pat Jasper’s hand. Carlisle chuckled.
“Well, it was an interesting turn of events, to be honest. I had studied to become a doctor. During my internship at the hospital where my uncle worked as well, I found myself frustrated with process inefficiencies that resulted in our patients getting less attention from the medical staff. I was particularly struck when a patient died simply because a crash cart didn’t function. That death could have been avoided if there were a way to ensure all devices are checked at regular intervals. Uncle Aro agreed that there was a market for trying to match up technologies with the different medical areas, and things kind of went from there.”
Dad’s passions were running high as he retold the impetus for the company so I took over for him. “It started as a family business, and Uncle Aro remains our advisor to this day. Dad and his sister Elizabeth founded the business. Dad had some medical knowledge that we needed, but it turned out he had a real affinity for the business side. He just… isn’t so good with the actual technology.” I chuckled. “Sorry, Dad.”
He grinned, “When you’re right, you’re right, Son.” He winked at me and I continued.
“Anyway, Aunt Elizabeth had a knack for the technology, so she handled most of that in the beginning. As the business grew, more family members joined. Kate, Irina and Tanya are now a part of Cullen Tech, as well as Garrett.” At Jasper’s look of confusion, I added. “The girls are Dad’s cousins and Garrett is an old friend of his.”
Jasper nodded in understanding, but frowned slightly as he looked at me.
“You said she ‘had’ a knack?”
Understanding what he was asking about Aunt Elizabeth, I sighed and nodded. I noticed that Carlisle was looking at Esme with sadness in his eyes.
“Aunt Elizabeth passed away about 4 years ago.”
“Oh. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean….”
“Don’t worry about it, dear.” Esme smiled reassuringly at Jasper, reaching for his hand again and squeezing it softly.
Carlisle then turned his attention back to the food for a little while, adding some asparagus to the grill. It was starting to smell really good. Esme got the Orzo salad from the fridge, then helped my dad to plate the food. After handing one to each of us, she sat back down as Carlisle refilled our glasses.
We ate quietly for a while, enjoying the food. Carlisle had outdone himself on the salmon. My dad loved grilling, and did so as often as he was able. After a few minutes, Jasper looked up at my mom.
“So what do you do, Esme?”
She smiled and put her utensils down for a moment and gestured to the house.
“I dabble in interior design as well as landscaping. I decorated this place myself, and I did most of the garden work. Edward even let me do up his place a few years ago.”
She gave me a sly grin and I rolled my eyes, chuckling softly.
“You did? I’m impressed. You seem to have captured his personality very well, and I love your home, too. What I’ve seen of it, anyway.”
“Why thank you, Jasper. We’ll have to give you the grand tour at some point.”
She winked at him and resumed eating. Conversation flowed easily enough as we finished our meal, mostly about hobbies and travels. I didn’t pay very much attention, as I was busy watching Jasper. He seemed okay for the most part, but every now and again I could tell something was nagging at him.
Mom and Dad insisted that we relax while they did the dishes and put things away. It was their way of allowing us a moment alone, and for Jasper to collect his thoughts. He’d gotten up and walked over to the bench that was on the opposite side of the porch, and sat watching the Sound. I silently thanked them for this private moment as I sat down next to him, sitting sideways on the bench. I wrapped my arms around his waist, and rested my chin on his shoulder.
He leaned into me a little, resting his cheek against my hair. We sat silently like this for a few minutes, just taking in the view of the Sound. I kissed him softly on the neck, just below his ear, squeezing him to me as I whispered to him.
“What are you thinking about?”
He sighed and closed his eyes as he spoke, his voice barely above a whisper.
“Your parents. How welcoming they have been to me. They obviously love you very much, Edward.”
He opened his eyes and turned to look at me with a sad smile.
“I’m sorry.” He shook his head a little. “Now’s not the time for me to start worrying about the unknown.”
I knew what he meant, and I wished I could honestly tell him everything would be okay. That his parents would love and accept him, just as mine had. I knew he wanted that acceptance, for him and for ‘us’. Jazz baby, I can only hope that your parents won’t react as poorly as you fear they will. I sighed softly.
“I know, Jazz. It’s okay.”
He reached his hand up to my cheek, caressing it briefly before leaning in and kissing me tenderly on the lips. I closed my eyes as I returned the kiss, forgetting we weren’t alone. We pulled apart quickly when we heard Esme clear her throat. I gave Jasper a final squeeze before standing up. He took my offered hand as he got up, following me back to the bar. As I passed Esme, I kissed her on the cheek.
I gaped at the clear glass, footed dessert dish in front of me and then beamed up at Esme.
“Is this what I think it is?”
She grinned and nodded.
“Tiramisu. I know it’s one of your favorites, dear.”
I quickly leaned forward and planted a big kiss on her cheek, causing her to laugh. She glanced over at Jasper as she dished up servings for each of us.
“Jasper, dear, you might want to make sure you eat yours quickly, or you’ll risk Edward here confiscating it. Sometimes I think I should make individual ones because the bowl seems to empty fast. Mostly due to this one right here.” She slapped my shoulder lightly for emphasis, and I laughed.
“Hey, I can’t help if you make the best tiramisu in the continental US.”
She giggled and shook her head. Carlisle just had a bemused expression on his face as he tucked into his dessert. I grabbed my spoon and made as if to dig into Jasper’s dish, but he snatched it away and growled, looking fiercely at me.
“No way, mister, this is mine.”
Everyone laughed and then watched as Jasper took his first bite. His facial expression instantly changed into something close to orgasmic and he let out a soft moan as he looked up at Esme with wide eyes.
“Oh. My. God. Esme…”
I chuckled and dug into my own dessert, muttering between spoonfuls.
After Jasper and I had seconds on dessert, we moved to the seating area so we could relax. It started to get a little chilly, so Carlisle turned on the patio heaters. Esme made sure we all had drinks, though I switched to water as I would be driving us home. Jasper and I had chosen the loveseat, Esme and Carlisle had each taken a chair on either side of us. I put my arm around Jasper’s shoulder, lazily trailing my fingers on his arm. It felt nice, right, and I hoped we could enjoy many evenings like this.
Jasper seemed so much more relaxed now, the laughter earlier having eased the rest of his tension and anxiety. His hand was resting on my knee, which I took as a sign of his comfort level around my parents. Esme grinned and looked from Jasper to me, though she addressed him. Oh no, please, Mom. Please don’t…. I shot her a pleading look, hoping she would relent.
“Jasper, dear? Would you like to see pictures of Edward growing up?”
She smiled softly, giving me a look that said quite plainly that this wasn’t something to be debated. She enjoyed the torture too much. I groaned, leaning my head back, but not before I saw Jasper grin and nod at her. I muttered.
Esme patted my other knee as she got up and went inside. A few minutes later, she returned with an armful of photo albums. Jasper chuckled as he scooted forward in his seat, so he could see the pictures as Esme put the albums on the small table in front of us. I sighed in defeat, leaned forward and tried to stifle another groan as she started with the dreaded baby album. Great. Thanks so much, Mom. I glared at her, but she just rolled her eyes and started pointing out the different pictures, relating the story behind them to Jasper.
As an only child, there were, of course, copious amounts of naked baby and toddler pictures. Jasper chuckled through most of it, and I was glad that he’d kept his hand on my knee, squeezing it from time to time. Carlisle sat back and watched us for the most part, only interjecting every now and then with a comment about a picture. Jasper seemed to really warm up to Esme the more they talked. I guess this is worth the torture, to see him getting along so well with them. I sighed and placed my hand on his shoulder.
He looked up at me with a big smile, and I couldn’t do anything other than return it. Esme had just gotten to some pictures of me playing the piano. She pointed out a particular photo to Jasper, telling him about the song I’d been playing. It had been for their 20th anniversary, and I’d composed a song as one of my gifts to them.
“You play music, too, don’t you, Jasper? I seem to remember Edward saying something about playing together at camp.”
I chuckled as Jasper blushed slightly at the mention of camp. He nodded.
“Yes, ma’am. I play guitar, mostly, but a few other instruments, too.”
Esme turned to me.
“Edward, do you think you could play for us tonight? Let Jasper hear the song you wrote?”
Everyone turned to me then. I looked from my mother to Jasper, who seemed very interested to hear it, so I nodded. I clapped my hands to my thighs as I got up.
“Alright then. Let’s head inside.”
I walked inside to the baby grand piano tucked away in the corner. I sat down on the piano bench and turned to look at Jasper. I followed his gaze as he took in the wall behind me and noted that they had guitars hanging, much the same as I did at my place. I grinned at him and cocked an eyebrow.
“Where did you think I got my interest in music from?”
I patted the bench beside me, hoping he’d sit with me as I played. He smiled and sat down.
“Stop talking, start playing, mister.”
I laughed softly as I began to play the song. For a moment, I forgot where I was and who was with me, as I let myself get lost in the music. As the song came to an end, I looked up to see Carlisle and Esme dancing in the middle of the room. I turned to Jasper who was watching them with a soft smile playing on his lips. I cupped his face with my hand, brushing my thumb over his cheekbone. I grinned and nodded towards the guitars.
“They’re all in tune. Are you up for playing some?”
He got up and grabbed one of the guitars, sitting on the stool next to the piano this time, so he’d have room to play. I pulled out the sheet music for a song I had in mind. I showed it to him, it was ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ which was written and composed by Bart Howard and recorded by many singers over the years, including Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra.
“You know it?”
He nodded and strummed the guitar for a moment as he skimmed the notes. I waited for him to be ready, and when he nodded again, I began to play. Mom and Dad were watching us, standing to the side of the piano. When the music began, Carlisle held a hand out to Esme and they started dancing again. I knew this was one of their favorite songs, which is partly why I’d chosen it. I began singing and as I knew the song by heart, I was able to keep my eyes mostly on Jasper.
He had an almost dreamy expression on his face as we played. He looked up into my eyes as I sang the last two verses. I felt my heart beat a little faster, hoping he’d hear me, even if I couldn’t tell him yet.
“Fill my heart with song,
And let it sing forever more.
You are all I long for,
All I worship and adore.
In other words
Please be true.
In other words,
I love you.”