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Chapter 25.2

 And the answer was so easy - all I really wanted was Alice. Because I love her, even if she drives me insane, and while I had to look so much about myself in the eye that I'd never wanted to see, it didn't change anything about that. But it was obvious to me that things had to change, that it couldn't always be just about her, and that whatever I did still wasn't enough. Sheila encouraged me to tell Alice - not with blunt words but slow explanations, lots of stressing just what I felt for her and how much I loved her. So I did that."

This time his pause seems to invite a question from me, and after doing a quick calculation in my head I open my mouth.

"What did she say?"

"At first she was angry. Offended. I think mostly because she felt I had gone behind her back. Then she really started to think, and I guess felt a little guilty because what I oh so gently accused her of was true. She apologized. I apologized. I told her I loved her and that she meant the world to me. She told me she loved me, too. Then we made sweet, sweet love and everything was perfect."

I nearly laugh at the acerbic voice he uses for the last sentence, but his heavy sigh helps me not to appear like an even greater jerk than I think he is.

"Or so I thought. Be that as it may, Karma is a bitch, and I think I had it coming for a long, long time. Should have figured that the week of calm happiness couldn't last. But the way things started to go down was absurd.

Or not, as you wanna view it. Actually it was Bella who incidentally threw that first pebble that turned into an avalanche."

"You're really going to blame this on her?" I ask, immediately angry, but Jasper's guileless answer is priceless.

"Not blame, on the contrary, I should thank her for it. Tried to but she only punched me for it. But that's not the point. What she did was actually just being surprised. It was a few days later, early this month, when I got away early from one of my last meetings, and Alice called me that she was having drinks with Bella and that I should just come join them. When I arrived, Bella was about as angry at me as before, and I could tell that she and Alice had been arguing, so I tried to lighten the mood and congratulated her on not getting married. She actually laughed, and I think she was pleasantly surprised when she saw that I really meant it like that.

She hugged me when she left, which she hadn't done for a while, but I only got until we were home to be happy about that.

"Because Alice wasn't. At first she ranted about why Bella even felt the need to touch me, because that was clearly not normal. And when I defended her because, come on, Bella and I have always been the hugging sort, she got in my face and claimed I was only happy that you didn't marry because that way I could again end up with both of you. Or either of you, I'm not entirely sure because at that part she started screaming and got borderline incoherent. It all came so out of the blue for me that at first I didn't defend myself, which she just took for silent admission. In the end she was so far gone that she even said I was happy that she couldn't design the wedding dress and organize the party, and I was stupid enough to tell her that maybe this was exactly the reason why Bella was so happy about not getting married, because she didn't want it to be Alice's wedding but her own.

"At that she was suddenly all calm, and it all started anew, only that now she accused me of always taking Bella's side. And I told her that was not true, that I was always on her side, but she didn't listen. I even went so far and tried to explain to her what I thought was going on with Bella's hostility towards me, but it was like talking to a wall. The last thing that I really got to say was that if she wasn't such a self-centered bitch she would have seen months ago that things would never be the same between Bella and me.

To what she screamed, 'Because you fucked her!' at me, and I only got to say, 'No, because I betrayed her!' And after that Alice didn't speak to me for a whole week."

I really don't know what to make of that, but Jazz seems so far lost in the memories that he doesn't even wait for me to add anything.

"I tried everything to win her back, so to say. Flowers, candy, candle light dinner, nothing worked. Then from one day to the next she was all normal again, but at the same time distant. As if she was just going through the usual routines without any feelings behind them anymore. I had two sessions with Sheila that week, and I think for the first time they were actually all about her field of expertise. I think she really wanted to tell me to just accept that things wouldn't work out anymore, but I just couldn't accept it. I was so ready to give up everything just for her.

"And then we had our last fight. I still don't know what caused it, I mean we were in bed and I was just -"

"I don't really think I need the details about that," I interject.

Jazz shrugs, but inclines his head.

"Sure. Either way, she suddenly shoves me away and runs out of the bedroom, screaming something like, 'I knew that you were just like him!' at me. No idea what she meant, and of course I followed her. Thought I'd find her either crying or screaming in the living room, but she just got herself a bottle of water from the fridge after tying her bathrobe around her, then turned to me and calmly told me that I should go because clearly this couldn't work.

"It wasn't really a surprise but I was still devastated. Cried, begged, but while I could see that she hurt, it didn't move her. Then I asked her why, and she told me that she didn't love me. That she'd always thought she loved me, but really, she had been deluding herself. That she loved the image of me that she had had in her heart for years, but that we both had to admit that I wasn't that guy, probably never had been, and that for our sake we should end it before anyone got really hurt."

This time when he stops I simply don't know what to say, and minutes pass in silence before he picks up again.

"I couldn't accept it, just couldn't, and begged her to give me another chance. That I would change, be the man she wanted me to be, but she just smiled sadly and asked me if I didn't see that this was exactly our problem. That no relationship can work this way, and that she couldn't be happy with someone who would so selflessly sacrifice everything. She also admitted that for months she'd tried to make me see that, tried to provoke me however she could, but I'd never just stood up for myself and told her to stop that shit right away. She couldn't deal with me being such a pushover, and she couldn't deal with the guy she knew I really was underneath it all, so there was no sense in continuing this.

"And of course she was right, but it nevertheless hurt like hell. Still hurts like hell."

Now I'm feeling like an ass for keeping my distance, but there's still so much he hasn't said that I don't feel I can bring myself to reach out to him and show at least some compassion. When he looks at me again I see that he knows all too well how I feel, and when he goes on I know that we've finally reached the really important part.

"That all probably makes more sense when I explain the rest. All the things I wrote down on that notepad that I just couldn't burn. The things Alice somehow picked up on without me ever having to tell her because despite of how much I thought she was living in a dream world of her own making, she knows me better than I know myself sometimes."

He exhales slowly as if to steel himself, then squares his shoulders.

"I was really surprised today when I asked Bella about the reason why she keeps acting so hostile towards me and she told me it was because of what I had said about you."

"That really surprised you? I remember telling you that myself," I grunt back. He frowns for a moment, then scratches his chin.

"Sure, but I figured her main reason behind it was that you'd finally told her how much of a fucking hypocrite I am, and that in that context she was angry at me for having said that. I still don't get why you didn't."

"I think you have to be a little more specific than that." Of course I know what he's referring to, but I seem to develop an unhealthy amount of joy hearing him admit things that clearly make him uncomfortable. The brief glare I get from him in return underlines that he knows what I'm doing, but he doesn't comment on my answering smirk.

"That you know very well just how much most kinky stuff doesn't repel me. I mean, you were there, on many occasions, seeing me get a hard-on over a girl getting tied up and spanked. And except for the really heavy stuff, I helped you with plenty of that, long before Bella walked into our house that afternoon. I don't think that she knew all that before I told her today."

"I guess it says something about the kind of guy I am that I don't feel I need to tell the world about intimate things you never really had the guts to acknowledge yourself."

For a few seconds we both just stare at each other, the silence heavy between us, until he lowers his gaze, looking ashamed. My resolve to just told my tongue and not react to what he says crumbles then, maybe because my fight not to undermine my own integrity by telling Bella about all that has cost me so much for so long.

"Did you really think I didn't know that all that was more for you than just an easy opportunity to get laid? I know you always pretended it was just that, but how does the saying go, like recognizes like? I know that you have a rather strong dominant streak, just as I know that there's not a single submissive bone in you."

The way his shoulders tense is telling that my words get under his skin like few other things I've ever said to him, but when he looks at me again he's surprisingly calm.

"I guess I knew that you knew, but that doesn't mean that accepting the truth behind it was easy for me."

At that I can only laugh, and it's a hard, humorless sound.

"Yeah, welcome to my world. Wanna know how much easier it gets when you have a best friend who gloats at you for it and tries to make the woman you love hate you for the way you are?"

It's obvious that he wants to shout a retort back at me but his lips stay pressed together, as if he knows that there's nothing he can say to defend himself. Which is probably the truth. Strangely, that newly gleaned knowledge does nothing whatsoever to ease the rage boiling in my guts, in fact it only leads to even more frustration.

Until suddenly, something else he said makes sense.

"She knows, doesn't she? Alice knows. That's what she meant with 'You are just like him' - she meant you're just like me."

His loud, somewhat dejected sounding exhale is the only answer I get, but it's not enough for me.

"Just what the hell did you do to her?"

"I did nothing!" he shouts back, clearly agitated. "Nothing more than I've done plenty of times with her before! Not that you really wanna know, because you still see her as the pure girl seeking love who doesn't really have an interesting sex life -"

"Bullshit! I know she fucks round just as much as you, and I've heard my fair share of details! I don't give a flying fuck about what she does or what she likes, but I won't stand by while you do your best to drive us even more apart!"

Jazz looks as if I've slapped him, then quickly backtracks.

"Sheesh, calm down! I never tried to make her hate you, that's all her herself! The only thing I did was hold her down somewhat while I kissed her neck and shoulders and did my best to get her all worked up for some doggie style, I really don't think that anyone can say with a straight face that any of that is even remotely kinky."

He pauses, then goes on, clearly trying to sound calm again.

"I don't think she cares either way what Bella and you do. She just doesn't want me to be that way, and as I obviously am, she decided to ditch me. In a way that's even fair of her to cut me loose if she thinks she's holding me back or something, but I tried telling her that while yes, the physical side of BDSM appeals to me, I have no interest in doing any of that with her if that's not her thing, nor will I miss it, because I want to be with her because I love her, not because we had the best sex two people can ever have together. Yet clearly me holding anything back or putting her wishes over my own makes me a lying pushover, and if I don't do that she doesn't like what else could appeal to me. Either way I'm fucked, and she's off to greener pastures. Happy now?"

"Why should any of that make me happy?"

Jazz doesn't answer, then shakes his head.

"Anyway, losing my trek here. Although quite frankly, this is not a very easy conversation to have with you."

"So sorry I'm not exactly forthcoming with pity and understanding that you never showed to me."

Even before the words are out I know that I sound like a petulant boy again, but for whatever reason he just brings that side out of me. So I try to battle down my anger and purge the hint of satisfaction from my voice, and try again.

"Just talk, and I'll try not to make an ass of myself in turn, okay? This is dragging on enough as it is."

It's kind of funny to watch how he's still surprised that I'm able to act at least remotely civil, but then he goes on as if the whole flinging of accusations hasn't just happened.

"You know, the first threesome with Bella, that was really just sex for me. I don't think I really even saw her as herself - I mean, to me she'll always be something very close to my little sister who I have to protect, and although I know that she's grown up now and quite the force to be reckoned with if she wants to, it took me a long time to really catch on to the change she went through."

"No kidding."

"Hey, didn't you just tell me to talk?"

"But I didn't say I wouldn't comment on idiotic things you'd say," I retort.

He lets out a somewhat agitated breath.

"Whatever. That day that wasn't Bella to me, because as much as I was always curious about how it would be to have sex with her, my image of Bella didn't even overlap with the beautiful, sexual being kneeling before you with her hands tied behind her back while she sucked you off. She wasn't just any other girl, either, but there was nothing in me that had any reservations about what we did. And afterwards it all felt so right, for the

lack of another word. She was there, she was comfortable with me having been part of it, she was joking like she always used to before Mike made her believe that there was something wrong with hanging out with your not-same-sex best friends, and I have to admit, having checked one more what-if off the list was kinda neat.

"And then the second time started out all right, but for whatever reason I couldn't really shut down that voice inside my head that this was Bella we were doing all that to, and at the same time it made me feel kind of awkwardly guilty for enjoying teasing her so much, and ..."

He trails off there, but for once I don't feel like commenting myself. It takes a few moments until he resumes, his eyes again finding purchase on the tiles of the floor.

"I now know that you didn't really hurt her. I'm sure you two did a lot very soon after that that made her scream louder and was more physically testing. But it was a very convenient excuse for me to latch onto that - I mean, it was Bella, and I needed to protect Bella, and saying I just got into your face because you didn't take enough care was a hell of a lot easier than to say, hey, I actually really got off on seeing her writhe in real pain, and I want to do something like that, too - maybe not to her, but, who knows, if she'd want me to, why not? Just fucking her was so much less complicated, and it was something I could allow myself to feel good about.

And you really gave me an easy way out when you said that we didn't have to add anything kinky to any future threesomes.

"And the third one was great again, nothing that made me feel uneasy, we clearly all enjoyed it, and the little spat you and Bells had afterwards was probably overdue anyway, I told myself."

Another pause, and this time I just have to ask again.

"Really nothing that made you uneasy about it?"

His eyes zoom to my face, and for the first time he looks amused when he chuckles.

"No. Might sound strange, but I've never felt weird about kissing you. Or fucking you. Or being fucked by you. That part of my sexuality I own, and for whatever reason it's petty much confined to you, if you've ever wondered. We've had sex, so what, that doesn't make me gay, nor would that really be an issue for me if it did."

"Fair enough."

My curt answer makes him snort,but then he sobers up rather fast.

"Still, I guess that's not the whole truth. Or I don't know, that part is hard to put in words because I'm actually not really good with sorting out emotions.

But something changed somewhere between our romp in the woods and the last threesome. I couldn't explain it then, didn't even really realize that something was going on besides a vague feeling of unease. I figured I just didn't want it to end, because things were working really well with the dynamic we had established, it was all so comfortable and low maintenance, but at the same time so much more than just meaningless sex - and one thing I think I really regretted from the start was telling neither of you any of that.

"But on the other hand I was glad I didn't. You both made it clear that for you, this was a final thing. I accepted that at first because, well, it was pretty obvious that Alice was once again willing to try something more permanent than a booty call and I really didn't want to botch that. But when I watched you both how you were acting, I realized that you both actually didn't want me in the picture anymore. Bella got all bored, and you did pretty much everything possible to stake your claim on her - and while the rational part of me was glad about that and could reason that it was a good thing so I wouldn't feel I'd miss anything if things with Alice really worked out, it still hurt. And I didn't understand why, didn't want to understand why, and that somehow made me feel even more rejected."

All the while he has been occupied looking everywhere but at me, but for the last few sentences his gaze keeps seeking mine, and I really can't read the look on his face. When nothing comes form me in reply, he finally goes on, but the words come slow, clearly reluctant.

"I pretty much felt like shit and couldn't come up with a reason why. Then I tried fucking that frustration out of my system, but I didn't even see the girls, nor did I care about what we were doing. And then I came home and Bella was sitting in the kitchen, and the way she looked at me, with so much revulsion and disappointment -"

A pained sigh follows.

"That was when something in me snapped, and this really fucked up plan started building in my mind. Part of me still wanted to just tell you both that I wasn't okay with this being the end, but I just couldn't do that, so I kept telling myself that I had to do everything I could to make sure that I ended up with Alice. And you know that there are two things she can't resist, being important, and being needed.

"It took three tries for me to even make it out of my room when I knew that now was the time I had to act. I was so locked in the conflict inside my head that I didn't even consider that upset as you were about your issues at work, things might take a different turn. I knew I was playing on Bella's insecurity with this but after the fight you had, I really thought she was over it and knew that she was everything for you, because to me it was so obvious that she was the only thing you cared about."

He swallows thickly for a moment as he goes on, and I can't shake off the feeling that the last sentence holds more meaning than it seems.

"Anyway, it was disturbingly easy not to care about the fallout because in a way I wanted to hurt you both. For rejecting me, ignoring me, for simply putting me into this messed up state that I couldn't handle. And I was so caught up in being glad I could pull the whole stunt off at first that I didn't realize that I hadn't just thrown you both off guard, but pretty much opened up a rift between you. Then you kicked me out and I already had Alice on speed dial, and things kept working smoothly for then. Of course she took me in, and I had to tell her something, and the truth wasn't exactly an option. She also wouldn't have believed me if I told her you were responsible for anything because quite frankly, in her eyes you still can't do wrong. And I couldn't exactly admit that I was a scheming, lying bastard, so Bella had to take the brunt. I knew Alice and she never really got to be close friends and I figured things would smooth over fast enough, but from there on everything turned towards the worst.

"Alice wasn't amused with Bella finally growing up, and I was too stunned at first how readily she accepted what I told her to do damage control. Then we were at the gala, and things just kept snowballing and spinning out of control, and like a train wreck, I could just watch and think 'oh shit' all over in my head. But at the end of the day I went home with Alice, and except for a few rocky days I thought I had avoided the worst of the fallout and things were well all around soon again."

He falls silent then, and it's obvious that this time he's waiting for me to say something, but I can't think of a good reply. Most of what he tells me isn't that much of a surprise - at least not since my great revelation from my talk with Rose - but just reliving it all again leaves me rattled. And of course there's that part about how our last threesome has made him feel that I really don't know how to deal with. Part of me wants to apologize for being so blind. Part of me wants to call him a fool for not just saying something.

And the fact that while it really seems as if he never wanted to break us up, he still has just admitted to wanting to hurt us grates in a way I haven't felt in a long, long time.

"Well, that's pretty much it," he finally speaks up again. "You know, now would be a good time for a statement." When I remain silent he sighs, then rubs his face with his hands. "Guess I don't deserve one. Either way, now you know my side of the story. And I hope that when I tell you now that I'm sorry about causing so much pain to everyone involved, that it's the truth. I really didn't think, not for a moment, that things could blow so out of proportions. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to forget that insane idea the moment it came to my mind, and grow a pair and tell you guys that - I don't know. I'm not happy with things ending like this. That while I want to be with Alice, I'm not sure that will ever work or is everything that I want. And -"

He inhales sharply, then looks me right in the eye as he goes on.

"And that while I will always see Bella as my incestuously attractive childhood friend, somewhere along the way you became just a little more than my best bud who I occasionally fuck other girls with. Not in a Brokeback Mountain kind of way, but there's something I can't deny there.

And if I'm no completely wrong the fact that you needed a good five months to even talk to me again I don't think I'm the only one who feels that way."

This time the stretching silence between us is deafening, but I'm reluctant to even think about his words, let alone offer any kind of response to them, and after what feels like a small eternity Jazz sighs heavily for the last time.

"Guess that's everything I can say. After Alice kicked me out I came to you because you two are my friends. I just couldn't be alone then, and even the most awkward and uncomfortable welcome I could hope for seemed like a better idea than holing up in a motel out of town. I guess in a way I was also hoping that just sticking around would sooner or later give me the backbone to talk to you both to start mending the bridges I'd burned. And as much as I know I don't deserve a second chance, any second chance really, part of me still hopes that I didn't weld all doors shut behind me that day and threw away the keys. But I really don't expect that to be the case.

Just, you know, if you wanna kick me out now, just say it, or if you feel really vindictive, now you have ammo aplenty for any kind of payback. I know I deserve that. Although I'm also kinda hoping you keep to being the integrity loving kind of guy who doesn't take too much pleasure in kicking idiots when they're down."

More uncomfortable silence follows, and when he looks practically ready to burst with tension, I finally force my throat to start working again.

"I really need to talk to Bella now."

My voice sounds strangely raspy, and the words are clearly none that he expects, but after a moment he nods and turns towards the door.

"Sure, I'll tell her. Thanks for listening."

I can't even bring myself to offer a 'You're welcome,' then and he finally opens the door, leaving me on my own, and strangely feeling alone. I wait until I don't hear his steps on the stairs anymore, then drag myself into the bedroom where I flop down onto the rumpled duvet and hide my face in my hands.

She's nearly soundless when she enters the room, but it's as if all of my senses are just there to seek her out, and I look at her from between my splayed fingers. She's standing next to the bed, out of reach but close, her arms crossed over her chest in a defensive stance, but there's no tension in her body. Bella looks as drained and tired as I feel, and as the seconds tick by I feel her very presence chase away some of the darkness lurking inside of me.

"Are you still angry with me?"

She offers a small but real smile at my question, but it doesn't counteract the sadness in her eyes.

"Only if you keep acting like a complete moron."

"Promise, I'll try to keep the moron inside of me in check."

"Good," she graciously accepts, then moves closer until her legs bump against my knees. We keep staring at each other, both unwilling to be the first to say something, until she sighs and looks away.

"I guess now you know why I told you that we need to postpone this talk until you know -"

I don't even let her finish the sentence.

"Yes."

"Good," she repeats as she lets the air whoosh out of her body. "Then, let's talk. Or rather, as you don't really seem capable of doing enough thinking right now for a real conversation, I will talk and you will listen, okay?"

I nod, both relieved and weirded out at the same time. I have no idea when exactly that happened, but she's obviously able to read me like an open book.

Bella takes a deep breath, and as she begins talking her eyes never stray from my face.

"I have to admit, most of what Jazz told me today didn't really come as a surprise. And the rest made sense in the way of the last pieces of a puzzle game falling into place. Maybe because I didn't spend the last six months trying to be someone I wasn't, nor did I try to cut parts of myself out and flush them down the drain - and the irony that I don't even know who of you I'm referring to with that doesn't escape me."

A brief pause, then she goes on.

"I think I kind of waited for us to have this talk ever since my crash. Which is in a way ironic as it was thinking about everything a lot for the first time in my life actually made me hate Jazz for real, but a lot of it was pent up frustration that I just couldn't vent. I was so close to asking you just what you are or were really feeling for him then, but I knew that it was too soon, that you simply needed more time to work things through and maybe realize a few things on your own. I knew that I'd have to be the one to steer conversation to that topic, but I'm kind of used to by now that any uncomfortable stuff ends up being my responsibility, I can deal with that."

Again she halts, and I still don't know what to say. When that becomes obvious, she resumes.

"In a way I'm even glad he burst in on us today, because quite frankly, I think I would have gone insane any day now if I got any more frustrated."

Bella laughs a bit shakily, but her gaze remains trained on me.

"Before I get lost in my own not quite coherent thoughts, I think I should state a few facts that I've come to accept and know a while ago. First, I love you, and you love me. The kind of unconditional love that endures a lot, and if for whatever reason our relationship wouldn't work out, it would very likely leave us both raw and hurting until the end of our lives."

Just her mentioning of that makes my stomach clench so much that it's actually painful, but before I can speak up, she goes on.

"I can't say when things between us changed from just being madly in love to this. I just know that the evening of the gala, when I came home with you, I made the promise to myself that I would fight with all I had to give this love between us a chance, that I would let it bloom and grow strong and endure forever if I could help it. I don't think that anything can come between us from the outside, that it would take an active decision from either of us to end things to really break us apart. And I don't see anything in the world right now that may come up that can do that. Certainly not that moron current curled up on our couch."

She allows herself a small smile then that seems at odds with her words at first, but as she goes on the sadness slowly leaks from her body.

"I'm not saying that I know that you ever had any feelings for him, or still have, because you're the only one who knows whether that's the case or not. But I want you to know that if you still do, I don't feel threatened by that, nor would it be the end of my world if I'm not the only one you care deeply about. I have to admit, it's not an easy thing for me to say, and I don't think I could accept just anyone else, but Jazz is different. The

same as I didn't mind having sex with him, possibly having him be more than just a friend to you doesn't bother me all that much. I won't push you to come to any conclusions or decisions or whatnot. If you need time, from my side you have all the time in the world. I'd just like to remind you that if the answer is yes, you still have feelings for him, and yes, you still want him, and yes, you're glad that I so don't mind threesomes and this bed is by far large enough for one more person to sleep in, you should probably not take another six months to realize that, because I think being left hanging like that will break him."

Bella keeps looking down at me for a while, before she crawls onto the bed until she's crouching over me, her eyes so close to mine now that I nearly can't focus on them anymore. Closing the distance between us, she kisses me, first with just her lips brushing against mine, then a deeper kiss with her tongue in my mouth and her fingers combing through my hair. For a while I just let myself get lost in the sensation, then bring my hands up over her thighs to her back until I can pull her as close to me as possible. She gradually shifts until she ends up lying on her side pressed against me, her lips never leaving mine.

"I love you."

Simple words but they hold so much when I rasp them out, and she gifts me another of those sad but real smiles.

"I know. Never doubted that. And won't start now, either."

We remain staring into each other's eyes for a long time, so close, and not just in a physical sense. I know that she is waiting for me to say something, but it's hard enough to think as it is. When I finally break the silence, the only thing that leaves my lips is, "I don't know."

Bella is silent for a moment, then lets one of her hands slide down to stroke my cheek softly.

"Don't know what?"

"What I want to do now. If I still feel anything for him. If I even want to."

She blinks for a moment, taking in my words, and I can tell that they surprise her a little.

"You don't know or you don't want to know?"

The doubt in her voice makes me laugh, but it's a dry, pained sound.

"I'm not just another idiot in a long line who's been living in denial. I really can't say. It would be so much easier if it were just that, then I could just stop trying not to

whatever it is I do. Like him, need him, want him."

A light frown appears between her brows, and for a moment I get lost in studying the elegant curve of her mouth.

"But there was a time that wasn't so?"

My pained inhale is all the answer she needs, but true to her previous words, she doesn't seem horrified or even put off.

"But you got over him?" she presumes.

"Kind of."

"That's not a no."

"But also not a yes."

We keep looking at each other then, and after a while it all just gets too heavy for me.

"Do you mind if I just hold you?"

"Of course not," she whispers, then brushes another kiss over my lips before she turns around, ready to be tugged into my embrace. I mold my body against hers, with her head pillowed on one of my arms, while I snake the other over her abdomen. We stay like that for a while, our fingers entwined over her stomach, both of us lost in thought.

I have no idea how much time has passed - it feels like hours, but has probably only been minutes - when I hear her clear her throat.

"You know, I really miss what we had. And I'm not even talking about the mind-blowing sex. Just

us. Like after that first threesome, when we were

all lying in a heap of limbs on the couch with two boxes of pizza and a movie playing, and life was just so uncomplicated. I want that back."

Her words make me yearn for just that, but I know that we can never go back to that. Too much has happened. When I tell her that, she's silent for a moment.

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why can't we go back to that?"

"Uhm, because of the whole shit that went down?"

"That's maybe a reason to make it harder to get there again, but it didn't just turn our lives into a one-way road."

I'm stunned for a moment, and Bella uses that to turn over slightly until she can look back at my face.

"We're living in a relationship where expressing our love for each other comes with things like you letting a scary woman cane the soles of my feet.

We already make the rules for our world - there's nothing impossible there if we just want to make it happen. Stress on if we want."

"I feel like we're going in circles."

"Not really," she snorts, then get serious again. "The real question right now isn't what was, or what is, but what we want it to be. Do you want Jazz to be with us again? I'm not talking about you falling head over heels madly in love with him. No solution that will work as it is until the end of our days.

But right now, do you still want him? Or do you want him to be gone from our bed and house forever?"

I mull that over in my head for a while.

"No."

"No as in you don't want him anymore?"

"No, I don't want him gone."

We keep looking deeply into each other's eyes for several moments longer, before I slowly extricate myself from her, then draw her to her feet with me.

Never losing eye contact I kiss her one last time before I take her hand in mine and gently tug her towards the door.

"Come on, I think we already lost enough time in the last six months."