“He, who?” I asked, turning first to Edward, then Emmett in confusion. I was puzzled by Edward’s sudden change in demeanor, as well as Emmett’s and even Felix’s tension as they both stared hard at the pool. When I didn’t get a response I followed their gazes, hoping to find some sort of answer.
Frowning, I put my hand on Edward’s wrist. “Edward, what’s going on?” I asked quietly, trying to keep my calm. Something wasn’t right, that much was certain, but what?
Edward took a shuddering breath, then shook his head as he blinked several times as if coming back to himself, then turned to me with a strained smile. “Alec,” he murmured. “He’s on the other team.”
My frown deepened as I focused on the players in the water again. I didn’t see him until Emmett rumbled, “Number eight,” behind me and my eyes focused immediately on him. Just as I found him, Alec looked toward us and something flickered across his features, but before I could identify it he turned away.
A confusing mix of emotions roiled in my gut as we made our way to the bench and dropped our gear. I was angry because I knew Alec had hurt Edward badly, but a part of me also was irrationally worried because Edward had been so upset over him. I didn’t have much time to examine my feelings, however, as the rest of the team arrived and we had to get ready for the game. I barely remembered to look for my family before the whistle blew; I’d been that preoccupied.
Edward was among the first to go in the water while I was on the sidelines, which gave me the unwelcome opportunity to scrutinize the other team. I noticed that Alec’s attention kept going back to Edward in a way that made me uncomfortable, but I was forced to push that aside and focus on the game and the other players.
As we’d anticipated, the other team was good and we were hard pressed to keep them from getting too far ahead of us. It galled me to admit that Alec was a very able player and definitely someone to watch out for – I’d wanted for him to be as poor a water polo player as he’d been a boyfriend to Edward. By half-time, the other team was up by three points, but Edward was still feeling good about how we were playing.
The few times that I was in the water at the same time as Alec, I was thankful that we didn’t play in the same positions. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to maintain my focus and not try to do something stupid, especially with the way he kept going after Edward. It almost seemed as if Alec took every opportunity afforded by the game to touch Edward – swimming over him, grabbing his leg under water, pushing up against him – all of which happened more often than I liked since they were playing the same position and therefore usually shadowing each other.
The game seemed to fly by. During third quarter, we’d managed to catch up two points and kept the other team from scoring, leaving us only one point behind. In the fourth quarter, things got crazy – everyone felt the tension ratchet up. If we could only score once more and block the competition again, we’d go into overtime.
Edward threw his upper body in front of Alec, but it didn’t stop him from sliding the ball neatly under Edward’s arm to his teammate. I groaned as the other guy pump-faked three times before throwing it square into the net.
“Come on, baby, get your head in the game!” Rosalie yelled at Emmett from behind me. When I turned around in shock, she shrugged unapologetically. “He should’ve seen that one coming.”
Grinning, I shook my head and turned my attention back to the match. We were now two points behind with only forty seconds left on the clock. It was frustrating to get railroaded every time we tried to move forward. All of us on the sideline were screaming ourselves hoarse.
“C’mon, Bella!” Felix yelled as she slipped under the two-meter defense, caught the ball from Alice and deftly threw the ball backward, right into the net – a move she had worked hard to perfect. The goalie, having anticipated her to turn around to try for a corner, was pounding the water in frustration.
Felix and I high-fived, whistling loudly. “That’s my girl,” he shouted.
The other team played out the clock without really trying to score again. With only five seconds left, Edward finally managed to intercept the ball and hightailed it toward the goal. Just as the last second ticked away, he threw it with all his might and the buzzer sounded – right as the ball bounced off the top of the goal, spiraling over the net.
“Fuck!” I muttered, running my hands through my hair.
Edward’s fist pounded the water. He turned around, searching for me, giving me a frustrated, disappointed look. Sighing, he seemed to shake the feeling off before swimming to the side and climbing out of the pool.
We’d lost by one point. Everyone took it well, since the game had been very close throughout and no one had really fouled too badly on either side. It helped that the other team on the whole was being friendly and positive and congratulated us all in turn on a game well played.
Most of the other players had left to get changed, but Alec had lingered and was for all appearances talking with people he knew from back when he’d lived here. I noticed that our family was hanging back, and I could see the looks of concern on Esme and Carlisle’s faces. Everyone on the team stayed longer than normal, helping out with putting things away, talking with Edward and me about the game. The whole thing unsettled me more than I was willing to admit.
Vicky was discussing one of the calls made in the last quarter when I heard an unfamiliar voice and I turned to see Alec standing too close to Edward, his hand on Edward’s arm as he looked up at him in a way that made me both sick and angry. “Edward, think maybe we could grab a drink? For old time’s sake?”
Edward flinched slightly as he stepped back, his cheeks flushing. “I don’t think so, Alec.”
“Oh, come on now, sugar, don’t be like that. I know in the end I said some things I shouldn’t have, and I’m sorry for that, but we had something great, didn’t we?” Alec purred as he stepped closer again.
The team as a whole seemed to close in, though no one spoke as Alec continued in a seductive manner, “Can’t we put that all behind us, baby? I’ve missed you so much.”
I saw red when Alec raised a finger and trailed it along Edward’s cheek. Edward cleared his throat, shaking his head as he took another step back and pressed against me. I put my arms around his waist possessively and glared at Alec even as Edward said, “I can’t say the same, Alec, and no, we can’t.” Edward’s arms crossed over mine as he held onto me.
Alec glanced at me briefly, then dismissed me just as quickly as he turned his attention back to Edward. “Baby—”
Edward cut him off. “I’m not your baby, Alec. I never really was, was I now? Give it up, okay. I’ve moved on,” he said, leaning further into me. “This is Jasper, my boyfriend,” he added.
I couldn’t help but smile at his words, though it quickly faded as I took in the look of disdain in Alec’s near-angelic face as he said curtly, “Pleasure, I’m sure.” His blue eyes flashed briefly as he took me in more closely. In other circumstances, I might have appreciated what Edward had seen in the guy. He was shorter than either of us and slender. He still had a boyish quality to him that I could admit would be appealing, if not for his attitude and what I knew of him.
I snorted. “Can’t say it’s nice to meet you, Alec, but you heard him. You’ve had your chance, now lay off. Edward’s mine.”
The reaction of the others was a mixture of amusement and stunned silence – they’d never seen me this way. For that matter, I’d never felt this way before, so it shocked me a little, too. Pressed as close to Edward as I was, I could feel him shiver. I was pretty sure he wasn’t cold, so it made me wonder. Not that I could ask him right then.
Alec’s face flushed with anger and he opened his mouth to say something when Emmett stepped up to him and said in a low and dangerous voice, “Alec, I’m going to say this once. Leave. Them. Alone. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get out of here quick as your skinny legs can carry you and leave Seattle. I still owe you for the shit you pulled, as does the rest of the team. Now fuck off before we make you.”
Edward and I both stared at Emmett in surprise, but the rest of the team seemed to move as one to back him up, scowling at Alec to a man, their arms crossed. Alec gave one last look at us, a mixture of venom and want in his eyes, before taking off to the locker room. The team hung back in silence until Emmett finally said quietly, “You two all right?”
He eyed us carefully. Edward took a deep breath and nodded. I did, too, and tightened my arms around him. Edward turned his face to look at me and smiled apologetically. “Sorry about that.”
Shaking my head, I sighed, nuzzling his neck. “Don’t be. Not your fault the guy’s a douche.”
Felix snorted at that, muttering, “Ain’t that the truth.”
The team dispersed, leaving the four of us with murmurs and gestures of support. Edward sighed, then prodded me lightly so I lifted my face. “I love you, Jazz,” he murmured, brushing his lips against mine.
Smiling, I returned the kiss. “Love you, too.”
Emmett cleared his throat, clapping my shoulder. “Yeah, yeah, we get it. Come on, your folks went out into the hall, so we’d better get going. There’s food to be had and after all that bullshit, I’m starving.”
We all laughed and I was glad that he’d managed to lift the mood a little. I still felt off and more possessive than ever, but the anger from earlier had lessened. Alec was thankfully already gone by the time we got out of the showers, so we were all more relaxed by the time we dressed.
When we walked into the hall, however, I could see him lurking at the other end, glaring at us. I was fairly sure the others hadn’t seen him yet. Alec started to move toward us and the anger I felt before surged again. Without giving Edward any warning, I pulled him to a stop, wrapped my arms around him, tangling my fingers in his hair as I kissed him with everything I had. Edward made a startled sound but gave in eagerly and we both got lost in it for a while.
After a few minutes, Emmett cleared his throat and muttered, “You can stop the pissing contest now, Jasper. I think you staked your claim enough for him to get the point.”
My face and neck flushed bright red at his words. Edward looked at me, dazed and more than a little confused. “Huh?”
Emmett grinned, patted Edward’s arm and pointed to a fuming Alec who stormed out of the door as soon as Edward’s eyes fell on him. I could hear laughter and several comments from the team. I felt both mortified and pleased at the same time.
Rose hung on Emmett’s arm with a grin to match his as she said teasingly, “Why Jazzie, I didn’t know you had that in you.”
A chorus of laughter went up as I muttered, “Shut up,” and tucked my face into Edward’s neck.
Edward let out an amused huff, tightening his arms around me as he whispered in my ear, “Don’t listen to them, baby. That was hot.”
Esme walked up to us with an amused smile. She placed a hand on both our arms and looked at us in turn as she asked quietly, “Are you boys all right? He didn’t do or say anything stupid, did he?”
Edward shook his head. “Nah, Mom, we’re fine. At least, I am. Especially after that kiss,” he said, grinning.
My blush deepened and I groaned, hiding my face in his neck again. “Sorry,” I mumbled.
Edward’s hands ran across my back soothingly. “Don’t be, Jazz. It’s okay. Alec was being… Alec. For whatever reason, I guess he wanted to pick up where we were before all that mess. I never would, you know that, right?”
Sighing, I closed my eyes and nodded. I felt two more hands run along my back and when I looked up, I saw both Momma and Esme looking at me with concern. With a half-smile, I said, “I’m fine. Really.”
Esme patted my back lightly, then took a conscious breath as if to gather herself and said, “All right, then. Let’s get going. They’re waiting for us at the restaurant.” She looked at the team and added, “You played well today, guys. We’re proud of you.”
With that, we headed out to Papi’s. Thanks to the Alec incident and the fact that we’d lost the game, everyone seemed in a subdued mood. Carlisle gave a toast, smiling as he said, “Like Esme said before, we’re proud of you. You’ve played a great game all season, and we couldn’t have asked for more. We’re looking forward to more great sportsmanship and teamwork next season. Here’s to you all.”
“Hear, hear!” Edward cheered as he raised his glass.
We spent several hours at the restaurant, talking about various games, about our plans for the holidays, and when we’d start training again in the new year. Throughout the afternoon, Edward and I were almost always touching in some way. It grounded me, and though I had no idea if it was the same for him, I was grateful for it all the same.
The only times we were really apart were when he did the rounds and spent a few minutes with each player individually, as well as Rose, and our parents. I had no idea what was said, but as I watched him I couldn’t stop admiring him. I couldn’t imagine a better captain for our team than Edward.
When we finally all decided it was time to go home, I was tired and wanted nothing more than to be alone with Edward for a while. Grateful as I was for how tight-knit we were as a team, and how nice it was of Esme and Carlisle to treat us all to dinner and hanging out, I needed the peace and quiet of our home.
Edward had other things in mind, however, because as soon as we walked through the door he locked it behind us. He pulled me into the bedroom to show me exactly how he felt about what’d happened earlier before we finally fell asleep, sated and happy.
The next few weeks went by quickly. Edward and I spent the Sunday after the game shopping for our friends and family. I’d been scouring the internet for ideas for him, but the only thing I’d come across was a t-shirt with “Got Balls?” on it, only the balls were two water polo balls instead of words. It seemed funny and appropriate in a way. It was by no means the only thing I wanted to give him, however.
I got the idea for my second gift while we were walking by a framing studio and I saw a frame that had “What I love most about my home is who I share it with,” on it, with space for an eight-by-ten picture. It was simple and elegant, but the words hit home for me, and with the help of Alice I found just the right picture for it: the one she’d taken on the sly of Edward and me kissing in the kitchen just before the party really got going.
There were a few other things I got him as well, but those were the main ones I was looking forward to giving him. It was hard to keep things hidden from Edward, but I managed it all the way up to Christmas morning. We got up early so that we could have a nice breakfast together and open presents before heading out to Esme and Carlisle’s to celebrate as a family. Edward made his waffles again, while I took care of the strawberry sauce and set the table. I always loved times like this, where we could cook together and take things slow.
As Edward plated the last waffles, I wrapped my arms around him and kissed his neck, murmuring, “Merry Christmas, darlin’.”
He leaned into me as he turned his face and smiled as he pecked my lips. “Merry Christmas, Jazz.”
Grabbing the plate of waffles, he headed to the dining room table and sat down while I followed with the warm sauce. He poured some over his waffle and grinned. “I could get used to this as a tradition for Christmas morning. How about you?”
“Absolutely. I’ve got everything put together in bags ready by the door to take to your parents’, by the way. We agreed on opening two here, right?”
Nodding, he swallowed the bite he’d taken. “Yep. Can’t wait.”
His eyes glittered with anticipation as he smiled. We talked quietly about various things as we ate, but the closer we got to being done and opening presents, the antsier he seemed to get. As soon as I’d wiped my mouth with my napkin and laid it across my plate, he practically jumped out of his seat and started clearing the table, making me laugh. Shaking my head, I followed after him and we made quick work of putting things away and doing the dishes.
Edward took my hand and pulled me toward the Christmas tree where we’d put our gifts. Once we sat down in front of the tree, he bit his lip, his eyes darting between me and the presents. Chuckling, I put my hand behind his neck and urged him closer, whispering against his lips, “You’re too cute, sweetheart.” Kissing him briefly, I added, “Did you want to start?”
His blush only made me grin wider as he nodded. Though I’d meant for him to start by opening a present, instead he handed me one. It was small and neatly wrapped and as I pulled the paper gingerly away I felt a lump rise in my throat. Edward was watching me avidly, his hands clenched in his lap as I opened the black velvet box. I gasped quietly as my eyes fell on a black ring with engraved infinity loops. “Edward,” I whispered hoarsely, unable to say more.
My eyes met his and he smiled shyly. “Do you like it?” he asked softly.
I nodded, still not entirely sure what it all meant, but touched beyond measure that he’d gotten me a ring. He plucked the Tungsten ring from its confines and took my hand in his. His eyes shimmered with emotion as he said in a low, almost reverent voice, “Jasper, I love you. So very much. I know we haven’t really talked much about a future, but you’re it for me, baby, and I wanted you to have something to remind you of that every day.”
He paused as I took in a shuddering breath. The smile on his lips was tender and I couldn’t help but return it. “Will you wear it, Jasper?”
I nodded, my voice husky with emotion as I said, “Of course. Thank you, Edward… I can’t even…”
With everything that had happened this year, there were still so many things I wasn’t sure of about this new life of mine, but one thing I knew beyond a doubt. Edward was who I wanted – who I loved. More than anything. I knew Momma had always dreamed of seeing me settle down and get married, but I’d never been sure it was something I’d wanted for myself. It had never come up in conversation with Edward, but I was certain now, as he put his ring on my finger that it would be one we’d have in the near future.
We both stared at my hand for a moment, then smiled at each other as I pulled him into a tight embrace. “I love it, Edward. I love you. Thank you,” I whispered in his ear before shifting to kiss him deeply.
He cupped my cheek as we parted and smiled. “I love you, too, Jasper.”
Clearing my throat, I reached for the wrapped frame and handed it to him. I watched him anxiously as he opened it. He stared at the frame, mouthing the words over and over while he blinked rapidly. When he looked up at me, he laughed shakily, murmuring, “You have no idea how much this means, baby.”
He glanced around the room a moment, then said, “I want to hang this up before we head out.”
“Okay,” I agreed, happy that he liked it.
Edward carefully placed the frame upright against the coffee table before reaching for my other present and handing it to me with a tentative smile. It kind of struck me as funny that we were both nervous about the gifts we’d gotten each other until it dawned on me that this was the first time we had exchanged gifts… ever. Neither of us had had a birthday since we’d gotten together, so this was really the first time. But not the last, and that thought made me smile as I opened the slightly bigger box after a caution from Edward that it was breakable.
I stared in awe at the fragile-looking ivory-colored glass ornament as it swung between my fingers. Our First Christmas, it read on one side, and on the other was a picture of the two of us dancing. Someone had obviously photoshopped it to look Christmas-y. “It’s beautiful,” I whispered.
“Yeah? You like it?” Edward asked quietly.
Instead of answering, I nodded and turned around, looking for a good place to hang it. After moving a few things around, I found a prominent spot and hung it reverently from the branch. “Perfect,” I murmured, staring at it.
Edward’s fingers ran through my hair. Humming under my breath, I leaned into him, turning my face to kiss him lightly on the lips. “Thank you.”
“I’m glad you like it,” he said, smiling.
“I do. Very much,” I assured him, then blushed as I thought of what I’d gotten him. Edward had chosen two very personal gifts that held a lot of meaning behind them and though mine did, too, I was still nervous since it was more than a little tongue-in-cheek.
My hand trembled slightly when I gave him the flat box. Edward quirked an eyebrow, then placed a sweet kiss on my mouth before turning his attention to unwrapping the last gift. He burst out laughing when he lifted the lid and saw the t-shirt. “Nice,” he said, grinning as he lifted it up and spread it out to get a proper look. “Got balls, huh?”
He chuckled, his eyes glinting with amusement and something else. He put the shirt back in the box then came in close, resting his hands on either side of me, forcing me to lean back as he loomed over me. “You know I do, baby,” he said, huskily.
Laughing shakily, I quirked a brow and smirked. “Do I?” I challenged, my heart racing at his sudden playfulness.
Edward’s eyes narrowed and he growled as he claimed my lips and put all his weight on me. He kept pushing forward until I was flat on my back. He wedged himself between my legs and my arms wrapped tight around him as we made out and rutted against each other. I was quickly getting to the point of forgetting what we were supposed to do today when the phone rang, putting an abrupt stop to everything.
Edward groaned, panting as he rested his forehead briefly against mine. “Damnit,” he muttered, then hauled himself to his feet to answer the phone.
I only vaguely paid attention as I struggled to catch my breath. Lifting my hand in the air to stare at my new ring, I bit my lip. It felt good to have it there. Right. Edward chuckled as he knelt beside me and took my hand. He lifted it to his lips and kissed my knuckles. With a soft sigh, he smiled at me. “That was Mom. They ran out of coffee this morning. It was the one thing Dad forgot to get yesterday and she wanted to know if we’d stop by the store on our way over, since we practically drive by it anyway.”
“Damn,” I muttered, grinning.
He rolled his eyes. “Tell me about it,” he murmured as he leaned down to kiss me sweetly. “We’d better get going, the store’s likely to be insane.”
I frowned, glancing at the frame. “What about that? Did you still want to hang it up before we go?”
He shook his head sadly. “Nah, it can wait. I don’t want to do a rush job with it. We’ll do it tomorrow, first thing, okay?”
Smiling, I sat up and curled my fingers in the hair at his nape. “Sounds good to me, darlin’.”
He helped me up, giving me a lingering kiss before we each took a quick shower and got dressed. Edward had mentioned that they usually dressed semi-casual for Christmas, as they took family pictures every year, so we’d opted for black slacks. Edward wore a dark forest green shirt that made his eyes pop, and I wore my dark purple button up.
His hand was on the door as he waited for me to finish grabbing the rest of what we’d need. His eyes sparkled as he bit his lip and murmured, “Damn, I wish we had time…”
Chuckling, I kissed him quickly as I passed him out the door and looked over my shoulder with a grin. “Me too, but I guess that just means there’s one last thing for you to unwrap tonight, huh?”
“Jesus,” he muttered, blushing as he locked the door behind us.