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Chapter 25.1

 Chapter 25.1

" I think it's obvious that we really have to talk."

I hate those words, but I know that they are true. We have to talk. We have to, but I don't want to. That's the only thing that my racing mind seems to agree on. Silence stretches between us, until Bella finally extricates herself from my lush grip. She ends up lying next to me on her back, and I can feel her gaze heavy on me, but I just keep on staring at the ceiling.

"Edward?"

Her voice is raspy with emotion, but something in me immediately snags on the note of frustration in her tone, and in response anger rears its ugly head inside of me. I try to fight it, but then I feel her fingers softly caress my arm

- or the spine of the dragon there, as she does a lot of late - and something snaps inside of me. I turn my head and glare at her.

"What?"

She shies away for a moment, clearly taken aback by my bitten off retort, but before I can wonder how much damage my impulsiveness has just caused a familiar stubborn set comes to her jaw, her eyes suddenly alight with rage in return.

"Did you hear me? We need to talk."

"It was kind of hard to miss. Particularly as it seems that was already the case before you jumped me to fuck whatever that is that we need to talk about out of your system."

Bella is seething now but somewhere she takes the strength to swallow her comeback before this escalates into a real fight, and while part of me really wants to scream and throw things, I'm also glad she tries to keep things civil. Acting like children is really the last thing we need now - I'm just wishing I could stop the urge to do so as easily as she does.

"Probably. Yes. But maybe my need to fuck you was more important than spending the next hour hurling insults and accusation at each other."

When I don't reply she exhales loudly, then sits up as if staring down at me will lend her some kind of advantage.

"Okay, before the elephant sized misconceptions that are right now crowding this room start stomping us to mush, can we please just act like two adults for five minutes?"

"I was under the impression we were already doing that."

"No, you just sound like a rejected, snotty little boy."

Try as I might, my temper gets the better of me at that, although of course I know that she's right. Which is not helping this, either.

"The first thing you say that actually sounds right, why shouldn't I feel rejected when you so obviously still want to fuck him?"

"But so do you!"

In the momentary silence our heavy, angry breathing is deafening as we keep staring at each other, neither ready to look away or back down, but also reluctant to draw any sort of conclusion from this.

As before, Bella is the one who sees reason first, but considering that I feel like she's had some time to prepare for this speech while I've gotten whacked over the head just now that's only fair. She's still angry but now frustration leaks back into her posture, and when she surges to her feet her motions are as clipped and ragged as her words.

"There's no sense in this. Whatever I say right now just won't get through to you."

I watch in silence as she gathers her clothes, then throws them into the hamper before she dons a simple tank top and sweat pants. Even dressed casually like that she looks positively regal when she turns to face me again, her lips pressed into a thin line while she throws me a haughty look.

"I'm not the one you need to talk to right now. You need to talk to Jazz."

"Oh, I don't think so."

She only scoffs at my growl, then throws my own pants and a t-shirt at me.

"Right now I don't give a shit about what you think!"

"Do you ever?"

"Stop acting like such a freaking idiot!"

It's the first time that she actually screams at me, but contrary to most women, who look more comical than anything else when they throw a fit, Bella gets downright frightening. Some of the shock must have shown on my face as she calms down almost immediately, then hides her face in her hands for a moment, before she combs the sweaty strands back.

"Edward, please, for me, talk to Jazz. Or if you don't wanna talk, just listen to what he has to say. You really need to hear this, because nothing I could say would make sense any other way."

"You could just tell me."

"Certainly not," she scoffs, then actually whirls around when she sees me open my mouth to add another insult. "Of course I could, but I'm so done dealing with other people's shit, I'm not going to let him off the hook and resolve this for him. Man up, listen to him, that's all I'm asking of you. And then we can have our talk."

Her words come out with a finality that I can't protest, but instead of reaching for the clothes I get up and stalk towards the bathroom.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" she shouts after me, and I hear her light footfalls follow.

I've already reached the door to the adjacent room when I feel her hand on my arm, her grip surprisingly strong, but before she can pull me around I turn to her, nearly unbalancing her with the unexpected motion. Seething down at her I wait until she's looking into my eyes before I open my mouth to speak.

"I'm going to take a shower first, because I'm not going to have that kind of conversation with your sweat and cunt juice all over my cock."

She lets go of me so fast as if I'd slapped her, and whatever strength of will has kept her temper in check until now is not enough to keep doing so. Her cheeks darken with anger, and a low growl echoes forth between her clenched teeth.

"You fucking asshole!"

With that she whips around and stomps out, throwing the door closed behind her with a loud 'whack' that could have raised the dead. I'm too mad myself to really care just now.

The hot water is scalding my skin but I don't really notice, the turmoil inside of me too strong for much else to intrude into my unhappy bubble. My main problem is that once the most superficial anger evaporates along with the outer layers of my skin, common sense kicks back in and makes me feel foolish on top of everything else. Turning the temperature to something that won't boil me like a lobster I grab the body wash, then spend a lot more time just standing in the warm spray than it takes for the suds to be cleaned off. I don't turn when I hear the bathroom door creak open and close again in quick succession, but when I finally shut off the water and step out, I'm not surprised to find a neat bundle of my previously ignored clothes resting just inside the door, with a steaming mug of coffee beside it. The gesture is so typical for Bella - although she must still be raging mad at me, she knows that overworked and sleep deprived as I am, I need something to clear my head - that for a moment I feel like bashing my head repeatedly against the wall for shouting at her. I'm also sure that she's counting on causing that very reaction inside of me so I will do what she wants - but that doesn't change the genuine care it shows. And I know she only means the best - and if memory serves well, she usually is right, too.

I take my time toweling off, then stare at my reflection in the mirror until the part I've haphazardly wiped clean is fogged over again.

I really don't want to talk. I don't want to get dressed, don't want to drink my coffee, don't want to hear anything that Jazz has to say, nor do I want to talk with Bella about it. I just want to go back to bed, curl up and sleep, and when I wake again I want to pretend it all never happened and I can just go on with life as it is.

But I know I can't do that - and not just because Bella won't let me. I know that I have to man up and act like a responsible adult, and responsible adults don't run from conflicts.

I've clearly idled too long as a soft knock sounds on the door when I'm just done getting into my underwear, and I hurry to pull on the sweat pants.

"Are you decent?" Bella's voice chimes through the wood, the forced lightness of her tone telling plainly that she's still pissed.

"All the clothes in the world won't make me decent, but I'm dressed, if that's what you wanna know," I shout as I wrench the t-shirt over my head. There is a telltale pause, then I hear Bella's voice again, only lower as she doesn't talk to me.

"Go in. I don't think he's going to come out on his own any time soon, and I don't think it will help your cause much if we have to drag him out kicking and screaming."

I'm glad the door is still closed as I can't hide a grin at that, even though I'm still frowning, followed by a snort at Jasper's answer.

"Maybe I should just talk to him later. Maybe he doesn't want to talk right now."

"Of course he doesn't want to talk! But I'm done waiting for you muleheaded idiots to be ready to have your talks on your own time! I'll be old and gray until you get to anything by yourselves!"

"Do you think now is a good time to quote Robert Jordan -"

"Get the fuck in there, or I swear to everything that is holy, I will punch and kick you through that door, and we both know that you're too much of a wuss to hit me back, so just do it! Now!"

As much as I'm dreading what's to come listening to their exchange is incredibly amusing, and I have to actively wipe the mirth off my face when the door finally creaks open. Hiding the last of my somewhat wry grin behind the coffee mug I watch as Jazz enters, eyeing Bella warily over his shoulder the whole time. She takes a moment to stare at me balefully before she reaches for the door.

"Don't even think of coming out of there until you're done. Unless you need an ambulance, but then you can just holler down to where I'll be waiting in the living room."

Then she slams the door shut, the sound as ominous as her words. Jazz keeps staring at the closed door for a few seconds longer before he turns to me, clearly unwilling to catch my gaze but not backing down, either. I have no idea whether I'm glaring at him or not as my mind is completely wiped clean of any thought or emotion, and finally he harrumphs.

"Look, I really didn't know you were going at it just now, hell, I didn't even know you were there, Bella said you'll probably have to stay at the hospital until late, and -"

"I don't think that's the point of this conversation right now," I interrupt him, a little surprised just how neutral I'm sounding.

Jazz blinks, then clears his throat again.

"Guess not. But it's a start to try to explain that I'm not out to break the two of you up with my most malicious schemes, or some shit like that. Because I'm not. And there are no schemes."

Seeing him ramble nervously like that strangely eases me, and while neither the anger nor frustration go away, I feel a little less apprehensive about this.

"Just tell me what Bella thinks I need to hear. Because clearly the Cerberus huffing in the living room downstairs won't let either of us out of here if we don't get this over with."

"Easier said than done," he retorts.

"Always is."

Jazz falls silent for a moment, then leans back against the wall next to the towel rack, probably in an attempt to either look casual or assume a more comfortable position, but tensed up as he is it doesn't seem he achieves either. I take another sip from my coffee before I sit down on the counter, not exactly coincidentally where I've last fucked Bella without the universe trying to spoil our fun.

"So," he starts, but then doesn't go on, momentarily lost in studying the tiles on the floor. I let him stew for a while until my patience is threatening to disappear with the last bit of coffee.

"So?"

He finally looks up at me again and swallows thickly, and if it wasn't such an awkward moment, the way he's visibly trying to steel himself might have actually been rather amusing.

"So I think I should probably start by saying that I'm sorry. For what I did, back in spring, not that I think it's hard to guess anyway what I'm talking about. And I really am, but honestly, I think it would just sound phony and fake if I said it right now. Guess I should instead start with how I got to actually really be sorry for my actions."

I have to admit, he sounds both more sincere than I expect, and is more honest than I've ever thought possible.

"Start with whatever you want. I'm not going to interrupt you." And I really don't intend to, unless he gives me a real reason to punch him beyond those I already have. He seems to take my words for the shaky truce they are, and nods.

"Fair enough."

His eyes briefly snag away as if to resume the doubtlessly fascinating study of the tiles, but then he forces himself to catch my gaze again while he starts talking.

"Alice made me go to therapy."

He leaves the words hanging between us for a moment, and when I don't add anything, he goes on.

"One day in early summer she handed me this business card of this

'fabulous shrink'," he adds the air quotes with his fingers, "and pretty much told me to go see her. Sheila Cooper, sex educator and family therapist. I had a pretty hard time not laughing at first, then asked her if she thought that we needed counseling already, but Alice replied that it wasn't for us, just for me. She thought I needed to talk to someone about my promiscuous habits, and that if I really loved her, I would just do it. So I did it, ignoring the usual emotional blackmail, called and made an appointment, trying very hard not to sound as amused as I was.

"First time I went there, Alice came with me, then kissed me good-bye outside the building and told me she would be waiting for me in the café downstairs. I have to admit, if she hadn't been there I might never have gone inside. But I did, telling myself to just do this, tell that stuck up shrew I expected this Dr. Cooper to be whatever she wanted to hear, and be done with it."

He pauses here, but I don't add the comment that shrinks are qualified personnel, too that he clearly thinks I need to offer.

"Anyway, Sheila turned out to be very different from my expectations.

Younger, more attractive, a very keen eye for bullshit and no tolerance whatsoever for the same. I tried to work my charm on her for maybe five minutes, after which she shot me down hard. Then she asked me why I was here for real, and I bluntly told her that my girlfriend wanted me to see a shrink, but I didn't think that there were any issues to work on. Then I nearly fell over myself explaining that the no issues comment wasn't just avoidance or defensiveness or something, and she let me talk myself into deeper shit still for another five minutes. All without uttering a single word, and by then I was ready to tell her my life story.

"But all she finally said was, 'Okay, be that as it may, you don't have to convince me, just pay cash up front and we're done here.' I was so surprised that I didn't know what to say, clearly her ploy, and then she went on offering that maybe I might like to use this one time opportunity to just talk to a professional who wouldn't judge anything I said if I was already here.

"At first I really didn't want to, but she kept looking at me, so finally I explained again that I didn't think I needed to talk about anything. She asked why exactly my girlfriend wanted me to see her, so I replied that she thought I had been a little too easy with the ladies, which I didn't even deny, but she didn't know all the reasons, which if she did would have made this visit obsolete.

"'Shouldn't you tell her those reasons then? Honesty is important in a relationship, particularly if one partner feels insecure about something,' she asked, to what I replied, 'Well, the real reason why I fucked every available nice piece of ass is because I was waiting for her to realize she only wanted me after getting to see more of the world, or more cocks, whichever comes first.'

"I got a raised brow for that, then a succinct, 'There's a circle in hell reserved for people who feel cocky about lying to their therapists, you know?' which made me laugh. I told her it was still true, and the fact that I felt like I had something to prove to myself for a while after the accident that left me incapable of jerking off for half a year alone, and after that it just kind of got a habit, being the rebound guy. To which she, 'Rebound guy?', and I, 'Yes, you know, the guy women pick up in a bar when they're still all torn up about the asshole who just left them, then have great sex with for one night, a week, or maybe even a month, and after that they move on because it was just sex. No harm done, fun for everyone involved, don't see that there's a problem.'

"I kind of expected her to at least be appalled, you know, the kind of most women get at that, but she just shrugged and said, all cool, 'So how does that make you feel, no longer being a manwhore?' I was really surprised at that, although I already started to wonder why, and asked her if she was like that to all of her clients. She shrugged and explained that it was her job to be what her clients needed - lending calm comfort and understanding for a nervous mother who just found out her child was gay and was simply too confused herself how to handle the situation well as a supportive parent; a strong sounding board for the cheated upon wife who was trying to get on with her life - but as she didn't get the sense that I required either, why should she keep up that pretense?

"She obviously had a point, so I told her that I didn't mind not sleeping with three different women in a week, and I was very happy with Alice. And added that I found it rather funny that she called me a manwhore as my best friend used to do that all the time.

"'So he did?' she wanted to know, in that typical way shrinks do. Had to correct her there - 'She, actually, my best friend's a girl.' I clarified. She nodded sagely at that and gave me one of those condescending looks, of course I had to set things straight. 'She's not a booty call. I mean, yeah, we had sex, but not like that. And it wasn't just her and me, but her, me, and her boyfriend. Who's been my roomie since college.'

"Of course then she wanted to know if my girlfriend knew you both. To which I, 'He's her best friend.' You should have seen that smirk she then put on. 'How long ago was that? The last time you had sex with them,' she wanted to know. Calculating quickly, I, 'Maybe three months ago?'

"'Might be a lucky guess, but could it be that this is the real reason you're here?' was her succinct retort. And not much I could say about that, right? I kind of gave her credit for weaseling that out of me as she did, so I figured, what the heck, before I ramble on about some random girls I don't even know the names of anymore, why not talk about that? It's not like I could say anything to Alice after she called the topic discussed enough.

"The weird thing, or guess professional side about her was that she didn't seem curious. Just someone who would listen. It was a bit unnerving at first, but then she started asking a few questions, so I told her how I met Bella when I moved with my family up North. How I met you in college.

More like random stuff then, really, until she asked how we got to have sex."

He pauses there, and I can tell that my utter lack of reaction is unnerving him, but not much to say about that. It feels strange listening to him recount our past like that with a nearly clinical detachment, then again I have no idea how often he has told the same tale already.

"So I told her the whole story about that weekend. How I'd met Jessica Stanley at the liquor store and she asked me how Bella was doing, and I was all, 'Why shouldn't she be doing great?', and that skank told me that Bells had walked in on her and that other hussy with Mike. That clearly surprised the good doc.

"'Your incentive to have a threesome with your two best friends was one of them getting cheated on by their significant other having a threesome with someone else?'

"'The thought crossed my mind,' I told her, but then had to explain why things where completely different, too. 'You have to know, my roommate, Edward, he had been carrying a torch for Bella for ages. Botched more than one attempt to tell her, too, and when she then hooked up with that loser, he was all 'Boohoo, I should have told her!', and obviously now was a good time to remedy that all.

"I then went on explaining, 'When I got home I didn't right away tell Edward, because I knew if I did that I'd have to go post bail later that day after he was done beating Mike to a bloody pulp. And I figured Bella would tell me herself when she was ready. Although judging from the way she stumbled around, lost and disheveled when she came over I knew she was done wallowing alone. So I grabbed Edward and told him. Of course he was, like me, ready to show Mike in detail what we thought of him, but before he could launch into any plans of vengeance I pointed out that he had something better to do. At first he was all, 'What the hell are you talking about?' but when I pointed out that now the day he had been praying for had arrived he got a little defensive, all 'And getting her drunk enough so she won't really remember if we fucked or not is your answer to that?' He can be a little slow at times, brilliant as he is when it comes to brainy things.'

"I told him to stop being such a moron, but getting her drunk wasn't the worst idea as it was the ideal out if for whatever reason his pining should not be requited. Ever observant Sheila then asked me why I figured that was such a big deal, and of course I had to tell her just what you do behind closed doors and otherwise."

Although I try to keep a straight face I must have grimaced at that as Jazz snorts.

"I told her that you're into kinky stuff. Whereas she raised a brow and asked me how I defined kinky, and I replied that you'd likely have my ass for colloquialisms like that, so clarified, 'He's into BDSM, all the way, takes it serious and all.' And I also added that while I didn't think it was Bella's thing, a little experimenting hadn't hurt anyone ever, but what did I know, maybe you had picked up on something I just didn't want to see. In hindsight it's always easier to see things like that."

When I don't react to his words yet again, Jazz sighs and goes on.

"Anyway, I could see she wanted to ask my opinion on the whole subject but instead went on with my recount.

"'After a little more needling I finally had him far enough to say something to her. I mean, the worst thing that could happen was either her taking him seriously but being turned off, but they were always so close and comfortable around each other that I couldn't imagine more than a few awkward days to come from that. Plus, she could always pretend she had just imagined that offer if she was at least tipsy by then. Second option, she doesn't take him serious and laughs her ass off - bad for his ego, but the way she was looking I couldn't imagine he would mind that much if it raised her spirits some. But more likely was what really happened - he told her straight out what he did, asked her if she wanted to try - and one look at her face and I knew he had her. Of course them being them they couldn't just seal the deal then, they had to spend the whole night avoiding each other while so obviously wanting the exact same thing, but they can be a little slow at times.

"'Later, after she went home he was all, 'Oh noes, she'll never say yes!' but I didn't even get to tell him to stop moping because right that moment she called, and, guess what, of course she was interested. One would have thought that he would have been excited about this, but no, he got all anxious, started babbling about how he didn't want to scare her and stuff, at which point I joked that if he felt he needed a wingman, he'd just have to ask. I didn't think he'd really take me up on that, I mean, come on, the girl he'd been wanting for the last five years and now he has a real shot at it?

But he reasoned that she'd probably be more at ease as she'd never take me that serious as him, us being friends forever and all, so me sticking around might actually help her relax. I had to admit, she's a fine piece of ass so of course I didn't say no, and we agreed that either way, if this really was just a one-time thing, at least she'd get the most out of it.'"

He stops there again, probably because I'm frowning for real, and when he keeps looking at me questioningly I grunt.

"I really wasn't that whiny."

"True, not verbatim, but seriously, I've seldom seen you that out of your league. I'm still amazed that she didn't even get a whiff of that."

I don't reply, and when he realizes that I won't offer anything else, he resumes talking instead.

"I didn't really go into details about it, except telling Sheila that we all had fun, that I think we all got the most out of it, and that I was glad that afterwards you had your most meaningful confession of mutual love so that finally this whole pining was over. I also added that Bells and I didn't really have anything except maybe an awkward two minutes around each other, so it was all good, perfect match made in heaven.

"After that the doc was silent for a few moments, then offered, 'I presume that sooner or later your girlfriend learned about this?' Of course no sense denying it. 'She did. But she's okay with it now, because she knows that it's a thing of the past and won't happen again.'

"Of course she doubted that, so I explained that it really was a one-way road as neither of you'd ever want to have sex with me again.

"She, of course, 'And what has you so convinced about that? From what you told me about them they might be the kind of decent people who respect others being off-limit due to the exclusivity of some relationships, but sometimes that doesn't prevent the heart from wanting something else than the mind dictates.'

"She was perplexed when I laughed and told her that for that to happen both of you would first have to stop being royally pissed at me.

"'See, Alice is the type of woman who loves to be shown how important she is to you. So I figured I needed some kind of gesture to show her that I really wanted her, above all else.'

"She to that, 'Sounds ominous.'

"Me, 'Well, I guess seducing a girl's boyfriend so she can walk in on you, then get angry enough to kick you out and tell you to fuck off, at which point you of course have to turn to your true love for her help and play the sympathy card along with the 'you're all I ever wanted' angle usually does the trick. Or so I thought.'

"There she wisely assumed that things didn't go according to plan. I was still pretty relaxed about the whole issue, all, 'Well, in the end it worked.

Just the fallout was a little more dramatic than anyone could have expected. But I'm sure they'll get over it eventually.'"

I couldn't help a scoff at that, and seeing the look of guilt so plain on his face eased some of the anger wanting to burst out of me.

"I really didn't think this could escalate like it did! I might be a manipulative asshole, but I never really thought what I did could come close to breaking you two up. I even thought I'd overdone it with the talking for Bella's sake because I was so sure that she'd start laughing at me any moment."

"Wait, you knew she was in the house already?"

For a moment a hint of a smirk appears on his face but it is gone the moment he realizes just how close I am to breaking my stoic demeanor.

"Yes, I knew, she wasn't exactly silent when she came in. And Alice had called me right after Bella left, so I knew that she'd be home in the next thirty minutes tops."

Nothing really new, but getting the confirmation of my suspicions is a lot less satisfying than one may think. I force myself to calm down as there is no sense in dwelling on that now - and I have a feeling that this is not the part he really needs to tell me, and as I won't hear the rest if I beat him to a bloody pulp now I restrain myself from even telling him just what I think of that whole move.

"That about concluded my first ever therapy session. Well, she did tell me that if I didn't find anything else to talk about we could always analyze why I felt the need for actions like that any day, but she didn't bug me again with it when I showed up the next week. And like this the next appointments went. I mean, I didn't really talk that much about the three of us, but about my sexual history in general. I think I surprised her when I told her that I didn't keep a black book, or that I didn't think I'd slept with a three digit number of girls. I'd even go so far that by the time I told her that I wasn't freaking out over admitting that I had liked my one time experimenting with another guy that I really had no need to be there except to pacify Alice. I also don't think either of us really expected that we'd make any kind of progress. I just talked, she listened, but it wasn't anything I hadn't told anyone before. At least until the night the four of us went to that club, you know, where Bella had another spell of lethal foot-in-mouth disease and you ran off later?"

Even if I had wanted to forget, I couldn't have, and at my curt nod he goes on.

"She was really upset after that, when she left with us a while later. She was trying to hide it, but you know how bad Bella is at that. We stopped at a coffee shop because Alice wanted to get a cup, and while we others waited outside Bella rounded on me and got in my face, asked me just where I got off on still trying to ruin your relationship. At first I didn't even understand what she meant, until she nearly screamed at me that I should just stop riling you up. I didn't even know what to say, told her I'd just tried to make meaningless small talk with you, at which point she started crying.

I was totally at a loss then, and she only got a sniffling, 'Don't you even see what you've done?' out before Alice returned, which made Bella shut up again.

"I tried to ignore the unease creeping up in me then, and when the next week her birthday party went by without any problems I figured she'd just been drunk and ready to lash out at me as she couldn't do the same to you.

Then neither of us had much time to really meet up, and I thought everything had more or less settled when Bella called me to fetch Emmett because Rose was in the hospital already. And after that I couldn't really keep on pretending that everything was still okay."

He stops there and scratches his head, his gaze once again on the floor.

"Like you said, I told Alice about the accident that night. Figured she would at least throw a fit, but she was all calm and concerned, insisted that of course she wasn't angry or something, and it wasn't the end of the world that we wouldn't have kids on our own. And because things were going so well I also told her that my whole sleeping around was in parts due to that, and the rest just idle whiling away my time until I could be with her."

He looks up at me then, at the same time happy but so utterly frustrated.

"You should have seen her. It was as if suddenly the whole world made sense to her, all the pieces of the puzzle had aligned the right way. She was over the moon with joy and kept kissing me, and told me that I could just cancel the next appointment with my shrink because obviously I didn't need it anymore. And all through that the only thing I could think about was that whatever she said, I really needed to talk to Sheila about what had happened in the hospital.

"I called her the next day, affirmed that I'd be there at our usual day and time, but I told Alice I had canceled it. When I went that day I told my colleagues that I was leaving early to buy a present for Alice, one that I'd gotten the day before. Because sometimes she calls -" he stops there, then clears his throat. "She called at my office to ask if I was still there.

Presumably to surprise me, but I know that she was keeping track on me.

Of course I didn't want her to worry, so more lies to keep her happy it was.

"That was the first thing I told Sheila about. And the moment I started talking it all poured out of me. How much I loathe that she has to know every day what I do, who I talk to, who I meet. That I know that she reads my emails, checks my phone, even called a few of my co-workers when something didn't add up, like an impromptu informal brain storming session at the bar around the corner. That I'm trying so hard every day to make it all right, and whatever I do, it's barely enough to make her happy.

"And from that I seamlessly went on to recounting what had happened that weekend, and in the club, and all the other times the four of us had met, and how I'd even started to dread meeting Bella because I just knew Alice would be in a foul mood for days afterwards. Now on top of that Bella was suddenly so angry and downright hostile with me like never before, not even the day she kneed me in the junk, which made it so obvious to me that nothing was getting better. Just you acting vaguely like a friend was a good thing, and only when I told the doc about that did I realize just how much it bothered me that we weren't even talking anymore, let alone hung out. I think I was a veritable mess that day and really felt like I deserved it.

Before that I really didn't comprehend what I'd done, didn't fully know.

"Of course I asked Sheila what I should do, and for a moment I even expected her to gloat at me, but she only shrugged and told me that the first step in making things right always comes with starting at the lowest point. She advised me to talk to Bella, because why ever she was angry with me I knew she'd get over it fast. But I didn't even know what to say to her, so Sheila gave me some homework. Even made it sound so easy.

"'Sit down with a notepad and just write whatever comes to your mind. And keep writing. Not with the goal to tell anyone, but only between you and that notepad. Write everything down that you wouldn't even admit to yourself. Then burn it. Start anew. Until you find the things you can and want to tell her.'

"Sounded easy enough, so the next weekend when Alice wasn't at home again I sat down with a bottle of vodka and set to work. Didn't write anything for hours, but when I finally started, it was frightening how much I found to write down. And that's pretty much when I realized what I'd done, and how much I've been lying to myself."

This time when he stops he looks about as miserable as he sounds, and although I'm convinced that he has every right to feel like shit, I still can't help being at least a little sympathetic. As if he can read my mind, or at least part of my reactions from my body language, Jazz chuckles dryly and repositions himself against the wall.

"Don't feel too sorry for me yet, the best part I still haven't told you."

"I'm not exactly feeling sorry for you, don't worry about that," I shoot back, satisfied with the amount of resentment ringing in my tone. Jazz shrugs a bit uncomfortably, but then goes on.

"Be that as it may, I couldn't just burn the notepad. It was as if those scrawled pages held all that was true about my life that no one else knew about. I didn't want Alice to read them so I went to work on a Sunday evening to lock them in my desk, but couldn't do anything at all on Monday because they seemed to be staring at me accusingly. So I called Sheila, feeling insanely stupid about that in itself, and practically begged her to read them. I was so insanely glad when she agreed, I dropped everything I'd tried to work on before and just walked over to her office to drop the pad off.

"The days until our next session were endless. Alice constantly got on my nerves, then she wanted to know what was wrong with me and got pissed when I couldn't tell her, and on top of that she ran into Bella, then threw a fit for days because you'd canceled your wedding. It got to the point where I actually told her to stop being so ridiculous, which got me banned from the bedroom for the rest of the week. I didn't really give a shit because I wasn't in the mood for sex anyway, and you know that being ignored is the worst for Alice. I think the day when I finally got to Sheila again I was half expecting Alice to call at any moment to tell me that she was done with me, and right then I didn't even care, locked inside my head as I was.

"Sheila and I talked, for the first time really talked for hours, way past the usual end of my time with her. At first I was so weirded out that for this session she'd dropped her usual frank demeanor but somehow she dragged even more out of me than I'd written down. It was so exhausting but at the same kind liberating, although it left me kind of bleak and hollow."

I'm burning to ask him just what exactly has had him that much under the weather, but hold my tongue as he doesn't even halt in his monologue.

"In the end she asked me what I wanted to do now, where I saw myself.