Chapter Three - Talking

Wednesday found Jasper feeling strangely jittery for a 161-year-old vampire. Vampires don't do jittery. But he was on his way to the cafeteria for the humans' lunchtime, where he had every reason to believe he would see Bella Swan. And then he would sit next to her again in Biology.

And even though he was quite sure he'd never seen her before in his life, and even though he wasn't at all sure that her apparent recognition of him might not be some kind of weird trap, the truth was, he felt an almost overwhelming longing to see her again.

He thought back to the conversation he'd had with his family the night before.

Edward had been able to follow most of Jasper's conversation with Bella in biology, listening to his thoughts and relaying it to Alice in a voice inaudible to the humans, in real time. She had had glimpses through her visions, but very little that was concrete, much to her annoyance.

They had agreed, after school finished, to wait until the whole family could be assembled later that night, before discussing it further.

Rosalie and Emmett had spent the summer and fall taking some time out on their own, though they were expected back fairly soon. They had completed their senior year at Forks High in the spring, and the community believed they had gone off to college.

However, they could still take part in a family meeting by video call.

They had sat down just after midnight, as soon as Carlisle had come home from the hospital, to fill everyone in on their strange day.

"So, she was primarily feeling joy and hope," Carlisle summarised, "once she was past the shock of seeing you. But then it morphed into sadness when she decided you were not the Jasper she knew?"

"Pretty much," Jasper confirmed. He felt a little uncomfortable talking about her feelings with everyone, almost as though he were betraying her trust, but after all, Edward had already read them in his mind the instant he felt them. Besides, he reminded himself, this was his family. She was just some strange human girl.

"What colour were your eyes as a human, Jasper?" Esme asked suddenly.

"I don't honestly know," he admitted. "I really don't remember much of anything from before I was turned, just the briefest of snippets. Alice and I did some research, as you know, when we were first travelling together, because I did at least remember my name and parents' names, and where I was from. But aside from my memories of that last night, when I met Maria, any other images in my head are from the few photos we found, and the odd glimpses of memory they brought back. But of course, the photos were all in sepia. So, my eyes could have been grey but...there's no way to know."

"Anyway," Rosalie interrupted impatiently, "you've said Bella Swan is clearly human, and clearly only 18 years old, so there's no way she knew Jasper as a human."

"True," Esme said. "But you have to admit, it's very strange."

"Maybe she did a research project on the civil war, and came across his photo," Emmett suggested.

"She wouldn't know his eye colour then," Alice pointed out.

"No, but maybe she made it up. Maybe she's delusional and she's convinced herself he's real."

"Is that possible Carlisle?" Jasper asked. "For her to be that delusional with no other outward signs?"

"Well, human psychology is not really my area, but I think it could be. Besides, you've only met her very briefly. There could be other signs you just haven't seen yet."

"True." Somehow the thought troubled him, more than it should.

"We really don't know why she moved to Forks," Carlisle added. "She may have been through some kind of trauma which has caused her mind to create a different reality, based on photos she's seen. We shouldn't jump to any conclusions at this stage."

"The real question," Rosalie interjected, "is does she pose any danger to our family?"

There was silence, for a while, as they all pondered this question.

Finally, Jasper spoke. "I really don't see how she could," he said. "She is just human, as you said. It's weird that none of us can get a proper read on her, but I can read her when we make eye contact, and her emotions felt completely sincere. I didn't detect any kind of duplicity. And she seemed to accept that I wasn't who she thought I was."

"Alright then," Carlisle concluded. "Let's just keep an eye on things and see what develops. We'll need to move on from here in another year or so anyway, so it really wouldn't be the end of the world to move early. On the other hand, we all like it here, so let's not rush into anything.

"Jasper, since you are the best placed to talk to her, why don't you see if you can get her to open up—why did she move to Forks, for instance, and has she studied the civil war? Be subtle, but see what you can find out. It's a short week, between the Monday holiday and the sunny days coming up, but see what you can manage."

He brought his mind back to the present. He knew he wouldn't get a chance to talk to her at lunch—they had agreed not to overly encourage any interest in their family, so he would keep their conversations to Biology—but perhaps they would make eye contact, and he would find out what she was feeling today.

He entered the cafeteria to see Edward and Alice already seated at their usual table. He was disappointed to see that Bella was also seated, and with her back to both the entrance and his seat. His only chance to see her eyes would be when he went to collect food.

He lined up and grabbed a tray, quickly choosing a salad, which was easy to push around his plate making it look like he was eating, should any human be paying attention. Then he looked up and saw her gaze on him.

The rush of joy he felt was such a surprise he looked away almost instantly. Was that her, or him? He wasn't even sure. He quickly looked back and met her eyes again. She gave him a small smile, before tuning her eyes back to her tray. This time, though, all he felt from her was confusion and longing, and just a hint of guilt. What was that about?

Jasper once again made it to Biology in time to watch for Bella's arrival, wanting the maximum time to chat with her before the lesson began. Only, he assured himself, because he had taken on the role of subtle interrogator for his family. Not because he actually wanted to spend time with an insignificant human girl.

When that girl arrived though, making momentary eye contact and giving him a small smile as she sat down, he knew that he was lying to himself. He may have been suspicious of her—though he really couldn't imagine what sort of trap or trouble she could represent—but he was also intrigued.

"So…" he drawled slowly, waiting for her to look up at him, "what brought you to Forks?"

If she was surprised by his question it didn't show, and her emotions, as she briefly made eye contact, were of simple resignation. Because he was making small talk, or because she'd had to move to Forks? He couldn't tell.

"My mother got remarried," she said, simply. "It seemed like a good opportunity to spend some time with my dad."

"Oh," he said. "You don't like him then? Your step-father?"

"Oh no, Phil's fine. Great even. A bit young maybe, but Renee—my mom—loves him."

"But you don't approve?"

"Of what?"

"Of how young he is?"

"What? No, it's fine. He loves her, and he makes her happy, which is the main thing."

"So why did you leave then?"

She looked at him measuringly. He couldn't quite interpret her emotions. Debating his sincerity perhaps? Apparently deciding he really did want to know, she explained that her step-father was a ball player and travelled a lot. It had made her mom sad to stay home with Bella, so Bella took it upon herself to move.

Her mom and Phil would now be able to settle in Florida, in between trips, and while she could have moved there with them, it would still have kept her mom trapped at home, and she figured if she was moving mid-year either way, she might as well make it count.

"Charlie—my Dad's always wanted me to spend time here, so it seemed like a win-win," she said.

"For everyone but you," Jasper added thoughtfully.

"Why do you say that?"

"Well, it can't be easy moving half way through your senior year," he said. "Besides which, the weather must be a bit of a shock to the system."

She shrugged. "Yeah," she admitted, "I don't really like the rain. And I needed a whole new wardrobe to cope with winter here—my Phoenix winter woollies would barely cope with a Forks spring." She looked back at him, about to say something else, when Mr Banner called the class to attention.

Jasper kept half an ear on the teacher, making sure he kept track of what was going on, but most of his attention was still focussed on Bella, so he didn't miss her sigh when Mr Banner announced the lab they would be doing today. Maybe she struggled with biology? He wondered what her interests were, outside of making her parents happy.

Mr Banner walked around their class handing out packets of slides, and stopped at their table.

"Now, Miss Swan, I'm not sure where you were up to in Phoenix, but Jasper here is one of our best students, so I'm sure he can help if need be. But please ask if you have any questions." He didn't wait for an answer, continuing through the room.

"We need to do it together anyway," Jasper said. "Would you like to do the first one, or shall I?"

"I can do it." Bella pulled the microscope in front of her and grabbed the first slide. They had to identify five slides and answer questions on each. She sounded miffed, he thought.

"Do you want to scribe?" she asked, looking at the slide, and starting to give the answers.

"Sure. Do you want me to check it?"

"If you want," she said, casually pushing the microscope towards him. He had a feeling she was going to be offended if he double checked her work, but he couldn't help himself. He looked through the lens and saw that she had it right. He turned to write her answers as she switched out the slides.

"Do you want to look first this time?" she asked.

"Sure." This time, she double checked his answers, but glancing around, he saw that they were still working faster than the rest of the class. Which suited him well, as it would give them more time to talk.

Unfortunately, he wasn't sure how to redirect the conversation back where he wanted it to go.

"So…You like biology then?" he asked, as he wrote in the answers for their final slide.

"It's okay," she said, shrugging again.

"Well, you obviously don't struggle with it. I thought you might, when I heard you sigh earlier, when the lab was announced."

"Oh, you heard that?" she asked unnecessarily, blushing a little. "It's just—I was in AP Bio in Phoenix. I figured this was going to be boring but...I still need the credits to graduate."

"Oh right." So, she'd apparently moved here for family convenience, no trauma or coercion, and she was clearly smart. Not that she would be likely to tell him, if there had been some kind of traumatic reason to move here, but he hadn't detected any kind of deceit or discomfort when she'd answered those questions, either from her emotions—when he could read them—or her physiological reactions. No elevated heartbeat, no blushing—which she seemed to do easily—no stammering or avoiding eye contact. So, the delusion idea still seemed like the most likely.

"So, what subjects do you like then? History maybe?"

"Nah, not really. English is my favourite. Most of the history I know is bits and pieces I've picked up in English classes."

"Oh yeah, like what?"

"Oh, you know, I did a unit on Romantic English lit, so I know a bit about the French Revolution and Georgian Era England. And I've studied some twentieth century US lit, where I learnt quite a bit about the Civil Rights Movement. That sort of thing."

"So, you haven't studied history at all?"

"Not since my freshman year. American History was a required subject then, but honestly, it was so broad, I'm not sure I learned much of anything," she said. "What about you? Is history one of your favourites then?"

"Absolutely," he said. Watching her closely he added, "I'm a bit of a civil war buff actually."

If she hadn't been looking him straight in the eye, he would have completely misinterpreted her response. She started visibly, first going pale, then blushing. It would have looked completely suspicious—was there some kind of trap?—if he hadn't also felt another spike of hope from her at the same time.

"You are?" she all but whispered.

He looked at her curiously, keeping his face almost blank, to disguise his reaction.

"Yes," he said. "Why? Have you studied civil war era literature too?"

"N-no," she denied. "I've never studied it...but..." She kept flicking her glance up and then away again. He could see she was trying to decide what to say. She was still feeling hopeful, but also confused, and that tiny hint of guilt again too. "I mean, I guess..." She was flushed now, clearly at a loss. "It's an interesting period though, right? And still so much disconnect between the history told here in the North, compared to the South. And…I mean…a lot of people still have a personal connection, right? I mean, ancestors who fought or...or died."

"Sure," he said, somewhat startled by her passion, once she got going. It really was a subject he felt strongly about, mostly because he was precisely aware of how much the history books got wrong.

"So...do you?" she asked, almost shyly. "Have a personal interest?"

Did she know who he was? Or at least know who Jasper Whitlock was? The one from the history books? After all, he was on record as being the youngest major in the confederate army. Should he bring that up? No, perhaps not.

"It was almost as though she knew," he told Edward later. "In fact, if I hadn't been able to read her emotions…"

"What?"

"I don't know. I think I would have thought...someone was trying to get to us—or me—somehow. But why?"

"Exactly! Why?"

"If I didn't know better I would think she was being coerced or something."

"What do you mean?"

"Like maybe someone was bribing her or blackmailing her."

"If someone was, it would have to be a vampire."

"I know." That was what worried him.

"But you don't think that's it?" Edward asked.

"Her emotions are just so sincere and so...so strong."

"Which emotions?"

"Hope, joy...the sadness yesterday. Longing, even. And yes, I guess those could all relate to thinking she'd found the right person to achieve whatever it is she'd been told to do…but there's no fear, no worry, nothing else that would fit with that sort of scenario."

"You said there was guilt, and relief, those could fit."

"True, but only in such small amounts. I just don't see it."

"And she said she'd never studied the civil war at all?"

"That's right."

Esme interrupted suddenly. "What if...what if she is delusional, but it's a delusion not brought on by trauma, or by reading about you, but created deliberately, by a gifted vampire?"

Jasper could tell Esme was worried by the idea. "I guess it could fit," he said reluctantly. "That would explain why she feels sincere. But what could possibly be the end game?"

"I think you should keep talking to her," Edward said. "Maybe bring up your supposed namesake, see if you can find out more of what she thinks she knows. After all, it would make sense for you to be interested—someone who looks just like you, with the same first name? Who wouldn't want to know more?"


A/N

Thanks for the reviews, follows and favourites. It turns out it really does make me want to get the next chapter out more quickly, getting reviews. And reviewing as you read (not waiting till the last published chapter), gives you GREAT karma. I'm jus' sayin'...

What do you think of their theories?

Also, feel free to point out typos or errors. This chapter is still unbeta'd.

And, many thanks to Stephenie Meyer for letting us play in her world.

First published 23 March 2018, 9pm-ish (AEDT), 2781 words.