I want to protest, but try as I might, no words come to my mind. Of course Rose is right - Alice has been about as much into commitments as Jazz, and it's entirely possible that until recently, no one really got under her skin like that. She hasn't spent years pining after someone she's considered out of her reach, nor has she ever had to deal with the person she wants most running off with someone else. Because the only time she ever got close to anything like that was when Jazz chose her in pretty much the most extreme way I can think of - and for the first time ever I feel like anything that has happened on that cursed Friday makes sense.
"It wasn't about us - it was all about her."
Rose lifts one eyebrow at my words but I'm too caught up in my train of thoughts to explain, my mind racing the figurative mile a minute. Part of me wants to cling to what I have believed to be the one possible explanation for so long, but the more I mull things over, the harder it gets to deny that maybe, just maybe there is another option. As rash as Rose can be sometimes, she remains calm and just looks at me, a silent offer to be my sounding board if needed. And like so many times before I finally take her up on it. For whatever reason, it's always been easy for me to voice my thoughts around her - maybe because her rash and no nonsense way conveys the kind of brutal honesty so few people know how to handle well.
"I was just thinking, the whole mess back in early summer - I think Jazz did that entirely for Alice."
The look she deals me could have withered a mountain, but when she sees that I'm serious, Rose clears her throat.
"Isn't that what he has said himself before? To Bella at least?"
Momentarily I'm pissed off that she doesn't share my enthusiasm about this new revelation, but then I get where I've lost her.
"He said so much crap to so many people about that day, I'm not sure he himself can still keep his stories straight. But that's not entirely what I meant."
I test the words in my head first, feeling my pulse pick up with the kind of elation only kids feel when they realize that they haven't been caught with the hand in the cookie jar after all.
"It really wasn't about us. Not about me. We were collateral damage, his tools in his stupid ploy to, I don't know, show her his devotion or something."
"You pretty much said the exact same thing before, repeating that won't really make me see it any better, you know?" she retorts, then when she sees me frown, Rose sighs. "E, just spell it out. We haven't really talked that much about your mess-up beyond how you were dealing with Bella regaining her trust in you. Maybe I just know too little about the whole picture."
As usual I feel the wave of desolation and self-loathing surge up inside of me, but it has seldom been so easy to battle it down.
It's still hard to give voice to these thoughts that have been rattling inside my head for so long.
"It's mainly that since that afternoon I've been raking my brain to come up for the reason why he hates me so much."
Even now acknowledging the sheer fact of that kind of rejection and betrayal is hard, but I force myself to keep eye contact with Rose, using the utter lack of judgement on her face to make myself go on.
"I mean, I can sometimes understand why he might have figured he was protecting her when he tried to force me to fess up about some of the things I had done that I hadn't told her back then. I should probably have told her about Chelsea before, but really, it was hard enough to rout out Bella's own insecurities that already existed without adding a whole new slew of them myself. But he knew how much she enjoyed herself, how well we worked together, I just couldn't understand how he could jump to the conclusions that I would ever pressure her into anything she didn't want to do herself."
"You mean, how could he fuck you both if he was so convinced that you're such a monster."
My brief bark of laughter is answer enough for her, but I do her the courtesy of adding a nod.
"Yes. And let me fuck him, too. But that's beside the point. I really spent all that time beating myself up how the guy who I've thought of as my best friend could think all that of me. Who knew me better than I know myself sometimes. It was so fucking easy to believe that although what he said was bullshit, it was so easy for Bella to believe, even for a few hours, because there was more than just a grain of truth to it all."
The sadness in her eyes reflects what I feel inside, but unlike Bella she doesn't feel the need to comfort me.
"He made you doubt yourself, made you hate yourself, and that's why it took you so damn long to get your head out of your ass again."
Rose mulls that over for a moment, then shrugs.
"The fact that he used his two best friends and disregarded any emotional fallout that might come from that just to land with a girl doesn't exactly paint him in a better light than trying to protect Bella by proving to her what a bad egg you are."
"But it's so typically Jazz that I can't really stay mad at him for the rest of my life."
Her snort is loud enough to double as a scoff.
"And that's something I'd expect Bella to say, not you. You don't give anyone free hall passes like that."
"It's not like this makes anything that has happened better. But it makes me feel better, simply because I can justify wanting to stop jumping at my own shadow whenever he's around just because I expect him to drag the next blood-thirsty killer rabbit that's out to get me out of his imaginary hat."
Viewing things under this light also explains why he hasn't done anything to backstab me over the summer. Why he hasn't sicced Charlie at me at Bella's birthday party, why he has tried several times to strike up a light, meaningless conversation without trying to make me look like an ass - and also why he has never defended himself when I've gotten into his face like the defensive little fucker I've been acting like. All that doesn't make up for the damage he has caused - but at the same time I'm finally able to accept a fact that has been weighing me down for a while now - as much as I want to punch him in the face for how he has made me feel, I just don't have it in me anymore to hate him. He might be a manipulative asshole, but he has also been my best friend since college, and while I'll never be able to forget what he has done, I can maybe start to forgive him.
"I take it that's a good thing as you're not living inside a Monty Python's movie?"
"I'd say yes," I retort. Rose rewards me with a wise nod.
"Too bad, really, I was so hoping for a spectacular fight between you and him at some Christmas party or other. I know, wishful thinking, but a girl can dream."
"You're watching too much second-rate TV shows if you actually expect something like that to happen."
"Oh, the showdown between Bella and Alice in the bathroom in spring would have made screen writers weep!"
"But you will agree that it would only have been half as much fun without your revelation about your own devious sex life."
"So true," she laughs, then smiles over her shoulder in the direction of the nursery. "Nothing beats real scandal!"
"By then Alice and Jazz will have moved on anyway."
"Of course they will. Probably sooner than we expect, I don't really think either of them is the type to wallow in silence for months. Oh, wait, actually no one I know except you would ever do that!"
"So nice of you to bask in my past misery once again."
"Ah, Eddie, come on, you're about the only one in our nice circle of friends who gets laid right now, you can take a little scorn from me!"
"Actually that's not necessarily the truth," I retort, earning an eye roll from her.
"Why, does the mean hospital keep you away from your sweet Bella? Or is it the bogeyman on your couch that's got your panties all in a twist?"
"Neither, actually. The missus just doesn't feel comfortable with her BFF
possibly listening in on us getting it on."
Rose's laugh is loud enough to make her clap her hand over her mouth in fear that she has woken up the baby, but when we don't hear her crying, she sighs, then shakes her head.
"You don't really believe that that would stop her?"
"It's what she's told me, at least. And why should she lie to me?"
"Maybe it's simply not the whole truth?" she offers, and I can't shake off the feeling that Rose knows more than she seems to want to tell me.
Interesting, and somewhat disconcerting. Just when I want to ask her about it, her phone rings, which in turn does wake up Mona, and the following fifteen minutes of us trying to coerce her back into sleep about conclude that conversation. I still stay over midday and get some take-out for both of us, but our banter never quite gets back to the topic of what might or might not be going on with Bella.
When I finally leave her to nursing her baby with the promise to drop by soon again my mind returns to pondering that question again. I don't really know how to react, partly because I'm not sure if there's really anything going on. I don't even want to suspect that she's lying - also not by omission - but I can't shut off the concerned boyfriend part of me. Then again I can't rule out that I'm simply overthinking things, and she's just too tired and stressed with work, Jazz staying over, and me adding our own special kind of pressure to her life. In the end I decide to just trust that she will come to me with whatever is troubling her, if it's something I can help her with. It's her life, and I don't have to be part of everything in it.
I'm only moderately surprised to find Jazz working on his laptop when I get home - against all odds his new business venture seems to be bringing in some contracts already. He absentmindedly returns my greeting, then keeps typing when I don't say anything else. I'm so used to either being alone or with Bella that sitting in the same room with him weirds me out after a while, and because the weather isn't too bad I decide to go for a run.
Yet before I can get off the couch I hear Jazz's chair scrape back.
"Hey, wanna go shoot some hoops? At least there's a basketball court down at the park around the corner, and I've never seen anyone play during the day there."
I'm a little surprised by his offer, but after a moment of hesitation nod.
"Sure, I think we've still got the ball stored somewhere here."
Back when we've been living at the house together we used to play a lot -or sometimes just shoot hoops while talking, or getting drunk - and like with so many things of late it takes me actually hunting down the ball to realize how much I've missed those old habits. Ten minutes later we're at the court and find it deserted as expected. It's cold enough outside that we actually run, dribble and jump for real to keep warm, but that doesn't hamper our easy conversation.After recounting pretty much every general sports event that I've missed during the last week for me Jazz seems to run out of topics, and when he scores five 3-pointers in a row I feel a little vindictive."I've run into Alice today."He doesn't even glance my way but his next shot barely even hits the hoop before it bounces back, and I catch him roll his shoulders in what I know is a defensive gesture for him from the corner of my eye."I hope she's doing okay?"He even sounds sincere, which makes me feel a little guilty for bringing up the topic, but when my next throw evens out the score I decide that it was worth it. And some time he'll actually have to face that she's still around."She seemed fine, if a little stressed. But I couldn't really tell because she ran off within the minute I showed up at Rose's.""Always the little busy bee," he snorts, then does a slam-dunk by the book.When he passes the ball back to me it hits my chest a little harder than necessary, but I ignore the silent challenge."Yeah, seems like she's too busy to talk to me at all, compared to half the city, including Jessica Stanley.""So you finally checked your facebook?""Don't need to with people like Rose and you who can tell me any day what others post."Jazz snorts, and accepts the ball back from me in momentary silence. I'm about to think he's going to change the topic when he starts idly bouncing the ball without moving, but after a few seconds he turns back to me, the ball all but forgotten."I've tried calling her, four times, but she doesn't pick up. Not that I'm surprised about that, but it's still-," he trails off there, then throws the ball, not even checking if he scores or not. The pain so plain on his face makes my stomach clench in sympathy, and I feel like an ass for even having brought up the subject. Then the moment passes, and he visibly shakes himself as if the motion can clear his head of whatever is lodged there.When he goes on his voice is flat, deliberately void of emotion. "You know her - she'll move on, get over it, and in a few months from now it will be as if nothing ever happened. That's Alice in a nutshell."I want to protest, defend her, call him a liar - but the sad truth is, he's right.Jazz accepts my silent acknowledgement for what it is, then sighs."Maybe that's exactly what I should be doing, too. Move on, I mean. But I still love her, and although I know that what we had is over, I don't want to let go. And I have definitely seen too many chick flicks as my brain is able to spew out crap like that!"Chuckling under my breath I accept the ball back from him."Obviously."We both score a few points before Jazz speaks up again."Things seem to be pretty harmonic between you and Bells.""As much as can be expected, yeah," I reply, then pointedly ignore the look he's shooting me."And there I always thought the 'as can be expected' is people's way of saying 'like fucking crap, really'."His remark makes me snort, and he shrugs when he sees me glance at him."Well, considering you've been staying over for what, nearly two weeks?And we've only had sex once in the time because of my insane work schedule and Bella being all creeped out by you hanging out on our couch, I feel like saying 'fucking crap' anyway.""Seriously?"The open surprise on his face makes me crack up."Trust me, that's one thing I wouldn't lie about.""Yeah, like you're that great of a liar in the first place."I don't even pretend that I haven't aimed the basketball to nearly hit his head for that, but Jazz takes it in stride with a grin. We keep up the light banter for a little while longer, before Jazz picks up the ball and turns to me."How about we hit one of the pubs around here? There must be a better place than freezing our balls off here in the cold.""Sure, because a cold beer is the ideal thing to warm up with."Ignoring my jibe, he throws the ball at me."You can drink it piss warm, too, if you want to.""Like hell."Ten minutes later we've found a bar that's open and not crammed with after work business people, and we settle down. After emptying half of my bottle in one go I get out my phone and write Bella a short text where we are if she wants to join us once she gets home from work. When I put the phone away I see Jazz follow the motion with his eyes, and at my questioning look he shrugs."I was just wondering if she'll show up or prefer to stay home, relishing not having me around.""You're not that much of a nuisance."His snort is short of derisive, but when I don't react he leans a little closer."Seriously, if my girl would cockblock me because of the guy crashing on the couch I would call him a lot more than that.""Yeah, maybe I'm just gracious because I know that by the time you find your own place she's going to be so frustrated that I wouldn't be able to fend her off if I wanted to. Not that that's ever gonna happen."He shakes his head laughing before he takes another sip."If you need me to be gone for a certain time on a certain day, just say so, Bella is cranky enough as it is, can't really justify being a real reason for that, too.""Cranky?" I know that she's still somewhat reserved towards him, but I wouldn't have described her behavior like that."You know, terse, cool, takes most of what I say way too literal, stuff like that. Her way of expressing disapproval without even glaring for a second.Although, come to think of it she does her share of glaring at me, too. But not the whole time, it comes and goes with her moods, and I have no idea what causes it."At first I think he's joking, but Jazz remains completely serious. Not being around much of late cuts back on my chance to observe any of that myself, but it sounds about right from what I should have expected."Be glad Alice didn't break up with you a month ago, Bella wouldn't have let you stay over for more than a day back then."He doesn't even look particularly baffled."I know, she's been acting like that ever since Rose had the baby. But shit, I really have no clue what I've done to incur her wrath like that."Despite the seriousness of the topic his words paint a grin onto my face, but my mirth is mostly superficial, and heavy on the scorn side. Of course he picks up on that but takes it in silence, and after a few moments I clear my throat."Do you really wanna know?"He nods, appropriately wary."If you know what's up, sure.""Of course I know what's up with her." I don't even try to hide the scorn in my voice at the implication that I have no idea why my girlfriend is acting weird. Then again I'm not about to tell him just for the sake of gloating, not to make it easier for him to deal with her, but out of a certain amount of vindictive glee. If my revelation today with Rose has been right, I have every reason to rub his face in the fallout of the shit he has caused - and has probably not even realized exists.Rolling my empty bottle between my palms, I stare at the green glass for a moment before I catch his gaze, steeling myself against trudging into a topic I haven't expected to be discussing with him ever."Remember your little prep talk that you gave her the week after our colossal fuck-up?" I can be fair, he's not the only one to blame for it all.Jazz nods, and I have to hold back a chuckle at the way he's suddenly all tensed up himself. "Obviously I don't know what exactly you told her because she doesn't like talking about it, but I know you were mostly trying to make her see that I'm a despicable asshole because of the things I've done; the things I like to do. I think the reason why she pretty much shrugged it off back then was because she knew you were just spewing bullshit, and it wasn't like any of that really concerned her. But guess how remembering all that makes her feel now, half a year later when a pair of plush covered handcuffs makes her laugh rather than blush."