“Hey, babe, would you grab the towels? They should be done by now. I’ve got everything else,” I called out, double-checking my bag to make sure I really did have everything I’d need. Today would be the first time I’d be able to play again.
It had been three weeks since the team had played a game, and though I’d started training again two weeks ago, I felt anxious. I didn’t know our opponents very well, and I didn’t feel I was quite back to my old self yet, so I was a little worried.
Worried, but determined.
Edward held out a couple of folded towels that were still warm from the dryer. “Here, Jazz.” He tilted his head, narrowing his eyes a little before nudging my arm. “Hey, stop that.”
I frowned at him, taking the towels and putting them in our bags. “Stop what?”
Edward rolled his eyes, zipped up his bag, and said, “Worrying about the game. We’ll be fine. You’ll be fine. You’ve worked hard, baby, you’re ready for this. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t allow you in the water. You know that.”
It was true, I did know that only too well. He’d benched me before, and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again if it was best for the team as a whole, or for a player. I sighed, nodding once and ran my fingers through my hair.
“I know…I just…”
Sitting down on the edge of the bed, I fiddled with the zipper of my bag, trying to get my thoughts in order. Edward sat down next to me, sitting sideways with one leg curled under him so he could face me.
I shrugged, not even sure how to put into words everything I was feeling. It wasn’t really just the game that was bothering me, either. The past three weeks had been surreal. On the surface, everything was great… normal. Edward and I had fallen into an easy daily rhythm, much like we’d had that first week we’d spent together when my parents had been in Houston. We’d cooked and done laundry together, as well as settling the rest of my stuff into our place. Our students’ charity swim-a-thon had gone off without a hitch, and it had actually been a lot of fun to tally up their laps while I watched Edward swim with them. We were proud of the money they raised for The Boys and Girls Club of America and the way they were improving in general, and we spent a lot of time designing new workouts to address their specific needs.
Beneath the surface, though, I was in turmoil. I was healing; I knew that much. But it was a slow process. Every day I was reminded of what had happened in countless ways. We had been fielding questions from the DA’s office, and we’d started counseling. The DA’s office, I could’ve done without, but it was inevitable, since my attack had been a hate crime. They were pressing charges, whether I wanted them to or not – and I still wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
Part of me wanted to make them pay for doing this, for upsetting so many lives. For being the catalyst to me losing my parents, even though I knew that would have happened that weekend anyway if we’d actually had that dinner as planned.
Another part of me wanted to just let it go, forget about everything that had happened and just move on — something I didn’t feel I could do if I was constantly being pulled back to that night.
And then there was Carmen, our counselor. Edward had managed to get us an appointment the week after the last game — it had helped that Carmen knew his dad, I think. She worked with us, allowing us to get around Edward’s schedule whenever possible. Mine was open, as always, thanks to my classes being online.
We’d been seeing her three times a week – twice for separate sessions, and once for a joint one. Things were going pretty well for the most part, though it was still very difficult for me to talk about everything. Especially when Carmen had asked questions about how life had been growing up in the Hale household.
She’d asked whether I’d ever seen my dad behave so black and white before. I had, of course. On many occasions. My father was a strict man, military through and through. He believed in one set of rules, and everyone else was to abide by them. If you didn’t, he’d find a way to let you know of his disapproval. That was just how it had always been, and I hadn’t ever really thought much of it. Until now.
Carmen had a way of putting things in a light that I hadn’t ever considered before, and it had made me question a lot of things I’d once held true. I’d talked to Rosalie about some of the stuff that had come up during my sessions, wanting to know her take on our family life. She’d surprised me by telling me she’d like to go to one of the sessions with me, as there were things that maybe she could shed some light on for me.
Apparently, my big sister had been looking after me in more ways than one, and I’d never realized it. Whether I had really been that blind, or whether I’d pushed my knowledge away in order for life to be lived, I wasn’t sure. I was at a point where I didn’t feel I really knew anything for certain, anymore.
At least, not as far as my parents went. I knew — without a doubt — that Rosalie loved and accepted me, and would do anything for me.
I also knew Edward did, too. And that the friends I’d made here in Seattle would be here for me. I trusted them, because I trusted Edward — and they had so far given me no reason to think otherwise.
The thing I questioned the most, was Momma. Everything seemed to always come back to her, and I wished I was able to talk to her. I’d tried calling a few times, despite her asking me not to. I’d used other phones as a precaution, numbers she would not recognize, but every time the calls would go to voicemail. I never left a message, worried I’d get her in trouble if Daddy heard them instead.
She hadn’t even talked to Rose at all these past few weeks — something that really was starting to worry me. I could not imagine why she’d cut off Rose, too. I couldn’t stop myself from wondering whether she’d done so by choice, or because Daddy wouldn’t allow her the contact since she obviously had sided with me. All of that was constantly on my mind, but there was very little I could do about it.
Training, on the other hand, was something I could work on. It was the only physical outlet I had to work out my frustration and anger, for one thing. And for another, it was very important to me to not let the team down — again — like I felt I had done by my behavior after my attack.
I needed to know that somewhere, I still counted. That I was somehow worthy of the people I found myself surrounded by these days. I wasn’t sure how to put all of this into words though.
Edward’s fingers brushing through my hair startled me out of my thoughts. I’d almost forgotten he was waiting for me to say something. Shooting him an apologetic smile, I sighed softly, and said, “Sorry, darlin’. It’s just that…with everything else going on, I feel I need to do this. It’s the only thing I have any form of control over right now, you know?”
He nodded, cupping my cheek as he leaned forward, his eyes intent on mine. He murmured, “You don’t have anything to prove, Jasper. To anyone.”
“I have something to prove to me,” I whispered, closing my eyes.
The bed shifted as Edward moved to wrap me in his arms, holding me tight. My own arms wound around him, and we sat like that for several minutes before he kissed my neck and said, “Come on, we’d better get going, or we’ll be late.”
He pulled away just far enough to look me in the eye, and added, “And Jazz? You really don’t have anything to prove. You show me every day the kind of man you are – strong, loving, kind.”
I blushed a little and lowered my eyes. He wouldn’t have it, though, and tilted my chin up so I’d look at him again. His expression was serious as he said, “Jasper, I have never met anyone more beautiful – inside or out – than you. You’re better than them, sweetheart. You show that just by how you live your life every day.”
My eyes flickered between his as I let his words sink in. I knew he meant the guys who’d attacked me, as well as my father. My lips twitched briefly into a small smile as I murmured, “Thanks, Edward,” and hugged him again.
He smiled, brushing the back of his fingers over my cheek. “You’re welcome. Now let’s go.”
Nodding, I got up and followed him out of our room. We made it to the swimming hall with only a few minutes to spare. Edward hurried through showering and changing so he could check that everything was in order. By the time I came out into the pool hall, he was just thanking Emmett for setting up as I walked up to them.
Emmett grinned, nodding at me. “Hey man, how’re you holding up?”
He hadn’t been able to make it to training yesterday, as he’d had to work at the last minute. I smiled and shrugged. “Okay, I guess.”
I scanned the crowd and frowned, turning my attention back to Emmett. “Where’s Rose?”
He quirked a brow, scanning the area for her as well, then shrugged. “Dunno, man. She was here a minute ago… she’ll be back, though.”
Just as he said it, I saw her walk out of the girls’ locker room, talking to Alice and Bella as they walked over to us. My eyes widened as I saw my sister wearing flip flops, rolled up jeans, and a team shirt with Emmett’s name on it, though she’d tied a knot at the front. Rosalie blushed as she saw me, but shrugged before kissing Emmett on the cheek.
“Good luck, baby,” she said.
If possible, my eyes widened even further. I blinked, then narrowed my eyes playfully at her and mock-pouted, “You never wished me luck before a game.”
I could feel the others watching us, and I could sense Edward’s amusement as he stood behind me, his arm brushing against mine. Rosalie tilted her head, and with as much sincerity as she could muster, said, “You never needed it… besides, that’d be gross, little brother.”
Emmett’s grin faltered as his brow furrowed. “Hey!”
His indignation was too much, and we all cracked up. Rosalie ruffled his hair, kissing him lightly on the lips as she promised she’d make it up to him later, and told him to kick some ass in the meantime. She wished the rest of us luck as well, and then made her way over to the stands.
The other team had arrived and was beginning to trickle into the hall. Edward discussed last minute points, before the umpire called for a nail check.
Edward had me start the game, which was nice as it gave me a chance to see how I would be able to handle myself. Training was one thing, but actually being in a game was quite another.
It was a little harder than it should be to play – I was much better, but not a hundred percent yet, after all – but it felt so damn good to give my all again, that I didn’t care. I had a minor case of déjà vu when Alice and I swam after the ball, while defense tried to keep us from scoring. This time, though, Alice helped me to get to goal, rather than keep me from it like last time. I couldn’t quite help grinning up at Edward after successfully pulling off the very move he’d asked of me then, and pump-faked the ball twice before landing it smack in the middle of goal, much to the goalie’s chagrin.
We were tied after the first half of the game, but the other team had fewer players than we did and it was obvious they were already starting to feel tired. Edward was positive, which in turn helped the rest of us stay focused, too.
During the second half of the game, the other team started to foul us more often, hoping to either get away with it — which unfortunately they did more times than I cared to count — and set us back, or simply rattle us to the point where we’d end up screwing up. Unfortunately for them, all they managed to do was piss all of us off to the point where we really started playing the game, and we gained even more points on them. Thanks in part to their efforts, we scored four penalty points, on top of regular goals.
Edward and I were going back and forth as we tried to beat the clock for that one last goal — neither of us satisfied with just running the clock. The guys on defense were tired, but gave it their all as they tried to stop us. One of them pulled Edward’s ankle right as he threw the ball to me, only barely able to make the pass. It only made the thrill of scoring the goal right at the whistle that much sweeter.
I watched as several of the opposing team members vented their anger by pounding the water, and one of the guys even started yelling at the goalie who told him to fuck off.
None of that mattered though, because Edward, Alice, Angela, and Felix were all on me, hugging me in celebration. It felt great to have been a part of the team again, even better to have helped them win, 14-7.
As I was turning around to say something to Angela, who was treading water behind me, I saw her. My whole body seemed to freeze the moment our eyes met, and all sound faded into the background. I couldn’t believe it — couldn’t even begin to fathom her being here at all, now of all times — but there she was.
“Momma?” I breathed, then pushed my way past Angela and swam as quickly as I could to the side.
By the time I got there, she was gone, and I could see the doors to the hallway swing shut. I scrambled out of the water, only dimly aware of Edward calling after me to wait, but I ignored him. I had to get to her, I had to try to talk to her.
Rushing out after her, I called out, “Momma! Wait! Please, wait!”
I was dripping wet and barefoot as I ran through the deserted hallway, frantically trying to see where she’d gone. I heard the click of the outside doors and ran full tilt after her, only slowing down once I got to the tiled entrance. As I pushed through the door, I saw car lights go on.
Ignoring the stinging cold of a stiff October breeze on my wet skin, and the cold cement under my feet, I hurried over to her car. She pulled out of her parking spot, and put the car in gear as she gave me a sorrowful look. She was crying, but she quickly wiped her eyes and then drove off, even as I yelled, “Momma! Don’t! Please!”
I stood, staring after her taillights until she turned the corner, and even then I didn’t move. I was freezing, my teeth were chattering, but I couldn’t make my body work. All that was going through my mind, was that Momma had come to the game, and that she’d left me. My heart ached so much, I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t know what to think or how to feel anymore.
It wasn’t until Edward wrapped me in a towel and rubbed me dry before pulling a sweater over me that I realized I’d been shaking – not just from the cold, but from crying, too. He coaxed me inside, leading me into the locker rooms before prodding me to sit on one of the benches. The other guys were there already, but they left us alone, giving us what privacy they could.
I was still freezing — cold and numb and hurting at the same time. Why had she come here? And why had she run from me? I couldn’t understand any of it. Edward spoke softly to me, all the while drying me off further, rubbing heat into my skin as he did, though I couldn’t feel it. Nor could I hear any of what he said; my mind was in too much turmoil.
He tried to get me dressed, and I vaguely heard him say we’d take a shower at home, when a commotion behind us snapped me out of my thoughts.
“Let me through! I don’t give a rat’s ass if you’re all buck-naked in here, you don’t have anything I haven’t already seen. I need to get to Jasper, now shut up and let me go!”
I blinked slowly as I watched Rose shove aside Felix , who had apparently been trying to prevent Rose’s entry into the men’s locker room. Emmett came walking out of the showers – naked as the day he was born and without a trace of shame or surprise.
“Calm down, Rose. Felix, it’s okay, man. Get dressed, all of you; we’ll see you at training on Monday,” said Emmett as he started to scrub his towel through his hair.
Felix held up his hands in surrender and packed his bag, muttering under his breath. The other guys hurried through getting changed as well, and left as quickly as they were able. I hated the idea that I was the cause of yet another scene with them and I sighed, turning my face away from them.
Rose knelt down next to me, rubbing my back gingerly as she looked up at me, her eyes flickering to Edward’s briefly. She sighed softly. “Jazzie, are you okay?”
I shivered, frowning.
“Jasper, talk to me, please?” she said quietly.
I swallowed several times before I was able to find my voice, and even then it was hoarse and too filled with emotion. “She was here, Rosie. Momma… she came to the game. She never comes… why would she be here today, Rose? Why did she just leave like that?”
“I don’t know, sweetheart,” she said, gently wiping my tears away with her thumb.
Edward put his arm around my shoulders and kissed my temple. “I’m so sorry, baby,” he whispered.
I hated that I was crying – again – but it just hurt so fucking much to have her walk away from me again. Seeing her here today… I’d hoped…
Edward sighed softly, squeezing me to him as he murmured, “Come on, Jazz, let’s get you home.”
I nodded, and this time I was able to get my clothes on the rest of the way without help, though I still felt as if I were running on autopilot. Rose stayed with us, refusing to leave my side and studiously looking away as Edward and I both changed out of our swimming trunks and into jeans.
Rose and Emmett followed us home. When we pulled up to the building, a pizza delivery guy followed us inside. As the guy went to the intercom, Emmett asked who the delivery was for. He grinned as the pizza guy said, “McCarty,” and paid the man.
When we were in the elevator, Emmett just shrugged at our questioning glances, and said, “I figured after what happened, Rose’d want to make sure you were alright, and I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry. So…my treat.”
“Thanks, Em,” said Edward with a half-grin.
I echoed the sentiment, and Rose gave the big guy a kiss on the cheek.
“You’re welcome. Least I can do,” he said.
Edward put our things away, while Rose and Emmett got dinner ready. I sat on the couch, staring at the pictures of Rose and me.
Without really even thinking about it, I pulled my phone out and dialed home, hoping against hope that this time she’d answer.
It went straight to voicemail. I hung up with a sigh and dropped the phone on the table in front of me before slumping back in my seat, scrubbing my face vigorously with my hands as I let out a low, frustrated growl.
Edward sat down next to me, squeezing my thigh in a silent show of support. Sighing, I sat up, giving him a wan smile.
We ate in silence, each lost in our own thoughts. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the look on Momma’s face as she drove away from me out of my mind. I ended up eating only a single slice of pizza before giving up — I wasn’t hungry.
After the others were done eating, Emmett put everything away, giving us a chance to be alone. Rose sat down on the other side of me on the couch and took my hand in hers.
“Were you able to talk to her at all?” she asked.
I shook my head and told her everything that’d happened, but even as I recounted it out loud, I couldn’t make sense of it. If she’d wanted to talk to me, then why did she run the moment I’d seen her?
She hadn’t made it to a game since I first started playing years ago. Not since around the time I had gone to camp, come to think of it. I had no idea why that was.
Frowning, I looked at Rose, and asked her if she knew why Momma had stopped coming to my games. She cleared her throat a couple of times, and I tried to read her expression but wasn’t able to. She looked halfway between guilty and apologetic when she spoke.
“Something happened when you were at camp, Jazz. I never told you, because I didn’t think it’d do you any good to know, but…” she sighed, running her fingers through her hair. “Remember how you had to work so hard to be allowed to go to camp in the first place?”
I nodded. I’d had to work my ass off to get money together to go, as Daddy had stipulated that I pay for half the cost. It hadn’t been easy, and definitely hadn’t been cheap, but I’d done it because it was something I had wanted to do for years.
“Well… you almost weren’t able to go at all. Daddy didn’t think you’d be able to pull it off. Momma and I had to do a lot of talking to get him to say ‘yes’. Then when you were gone, they got into a fight. Daddy wanted you to quit playing, Jasper. He didn’t see the point of the sport, and he wanted you to do ‘something useful’, as he put it. He wanted you to join the ROTC after we moved, so you could follow in his footsteps.”
I stared at her. “But…I never wanted to be in the military. I thought he knew.”
Rose rolled her eyes and sighed. “Oh, I’m sure he knew. If for no other reason than both Momma and I told him, but he was adamant. You know how he is.”
I nodded, and I could feel Edward move closer to me, wrapping his arm around my shoulders as he listened. Emmett walked back into the room, handing us each a beer before sitting down on the floor in front of Rosalie, his back against the couch.
Emmett patted Rosalie’s calf, and she gave him a grateful smile before she continued. “They fought for days. Momma tried so hard to stand up for you, but…she couldn’t. I was home when I heard her finally start to give in, and I just couldn’t let that happen. I knew how much the game meant to you, how much you loved playing, and how it had helped you over the years. I didn’t understand how Daddy could not be proud of you for everything you’d done already.”
It felt as if my throat was tightening up, and I swallowed several times as I realized that I couldn’t remember there ever really being a time when I felt he’d been proud of me – and I had tried so hard to make him so. Tried, and failed. Never more so than when he found out I was gay. I sunk deeper against Edward, who wrapped his other arm around me, cocooning me with safety and love.
“I argued with Daddy, long and hard. In the end, he said you could keep playing, but neither of us was allowed to support you, or go to your games. He was hoping that without us, the game would lose its luster for you, and you’d quit. He wanted you to come to him.”
I frowned. “But you never stopped going?”
She grinned, her fingers idly running through Emmett’s short curls. “Hell no, I didn’t. He might have been able to cow Momma, but he never was able to do that to me. Water polo was what you wanted to do, so I damn well made sure you got to do it.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?” I whispered.
The fact that Momma had stopped coming to see me at games had hurt, but she’d always explained her absence away by claiming to have other engagements that happened to be at the same time. She always was gone, too. I guess now I knew why…sort of, anyway.
Rosalie’s persistence, her unwavering support of me, made me love her even more. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to fully appreciate everything she’d done, or even endured, for my sake. I leaned forward to embrace her, Edward’s arms slipping away from me as I did so. I hugged her tightly, murmuring, “You’re the best sister a guy could ask for, Rosie. Thank you. For everything.”
She kissed my cheek, patting my back. “What are big sisters for, right?”
We sat and talked for a little longer before Rosalie was satisfied that I’d be okay, and she and Emmett went home. After Edward had locked the door behind them, he turned to me and held his arms out. I stepped into his embrace willingly, nuzzling his neck and taking a deep, calming breath – only to wrinkle my nose when the stronger-than-usual smell of chlorine filled my nostrils.
“Shit,” I muttered.
Edward chuckled, kissing my neck and said, “Come, sweetheart, I think we’re both in dire need of that shower. Let me take care of you, okay?”
I nodded, and he took my hand in his, threading our fingers together as we walked to the bedroom, flicking off the lights on our way. When we got there, he undressed me slowly, and after shedding his own clothes, led me into the bathroom. He took his time, showing me with both words and deed that I was loved and cherished, and that he would be there for me. We didn’t go to sleep until hours later.