"All rise. Superior Court for Clallum County, Washington is now in session. The Honorable Aro Volturi presiding." I watched as the black-robed figure crossed the courtroom and took his seat behind the raised desk. "You may be seated." I felt butterflies in my stomach as the judge donned his spectacles and studied the paperwork in front of him, then nodded to the woman seated at his right.
I followed the courtroom proceedings without any real understanding, feeling the lump in my stomach grow exponentially as the cases were called. The bench shifted, and a large, warm hand captured mine as Jacob slid into the seat beside me. I cast a sideways glance, surprised to see him in a suit. I couldn't recall the last time I had seen him dressed up. He smiled at me and squeezed my hand, lacing his fingers with mine. The sound of the gavel made me jump, and I felt the butterflies inside explode when I heard the clerk's next words.
"All right, next matter, Isabella Marie Black versus Jacob Daniel Black, petition for divorce. Are the parties here?"
I stood nervously, and my attorney smiled reassuringly. "Rosalie Cullen on behalf of the petitioner, Isabella Black, your Honor," she called.
A familiar dark-skinned man stood next to Jacob and spoke next. "Samuel Uley for the respondent Jacob Black, your Honor."
Judge Volturi spoke. "Thank you, counselors. Please approach and have a seat." He took a few minutes to thumb through the papers in front of him, then looked up, his eyes moving from me, to Jacob, and back to me again. "It appears that everything is in order. Are you prepared to give testimony today, Mrs. Black?" he asked me.
Remembering Rosalie's instructions regarding verbal responses, I cleared my throat. "Yes, your Honor, I am." I was surprised that my voice was steady, calm, given the emotions that were rapidly rushing to the surface.
Judge Voltouri nodded. "Very well, then. Miss Cullen, please proceed."
Rosalie nodded to me. I stood on my trembling legs and walked carefully to the witness stand. After being sworn in by the court officer, I turned my attention to Rosalie.
Rosalie smiled comfortingly at me. "Please state your full name for the record."
"Isabella Marie Swan Black," I answered softly. I could see Jacob over Rosalie's shoulder, and he smiled encouragingly.
"Mrs. Black, the court is going to record some testimony from you today regarding your marriage and the divorce agreement reached by you and Mr. Black in this matter. If you have any questions, please let me know." Rosalie was cool and confident. She was obviously in her element in the courtroom setting, whereas I was a complete wreck. She smiled at me once again, then consulted the legal pad in her hand. "Isabella, when and where were you married to the respondent, Jacob Black?"
"December 30, 1994, in Forks, Washington," I answered, remembering the small wedding attended only by our families and close friends. It was Christmas break, and I was home from college, the wedding having been thrown together in mere weeks. I had been so ill earlier that day with morning sickness I was barely able to stand for the short service.
"You stated in your petition that you and Mr. Black have irreconcilable differences, and that the marriage cannot be preserved. Was that correct at the time, and is it correct today?" Rosalie asked.
I thought back to the last several years – the tears, the stress, the arguments, the failed attempts at reconciliation, and the passionless existence of two people who were essentially no more that roommates. Then I recalled the sad sense of peace that had taken over both of us when we finally agreed that it just wasn't going to work for us any more. "Yes, that is correct" I answered.
Rosalie nodded, making a mark on the paper before her. "Mrs. Black, if the Judge were to refuse to grant this divorce, would you return to live with Jacob and continue to live as husband and wife?"
Even though we had continued to live in the same house, it had been years since we had been husband and wife in more than name only. "No, we would not."
Now Rosalie's questions turned to the technicality of our settlement. These were the non-emotional ones that I knew I could handle.
"Mrs. Black, have you reviewed the Judgment of Divorce?"
"Yes, I have." Ad nauseum, I thought, sure that I had managed to memorize the damn thing after going back and forth over it again and again.
"Do you understand and agree to the custody, visitation and child support in the Agreement?"
"Yes, I do." Me agree and understand? Yes. Jacob agree and understand? Yes. Our daughter… well, she was another story entirely. I shied away from those tempestuous thoughts, knowing if I focused on the bitterness of our oldest child, I wouldn't be able to continue answering Rosalie's questions.
"Do you understand and agree to the property division?"
"Yes." Not only did I understand, I had done the majority of the dividing, shocked that fifteen years of living and working together could be condensed into a few small paragraphs. The house we had chosen, the furniture and accessories we filled it with, the business we had worked together to build – all separated, all divided, right down to the Christmas ornaments and the kitchen utensils.
"And is it your understanding that Mr. Black has agreed to the provisions in this judgment of divorce and signed it of his own free will?"
"Yes, that is my understanding." Hell yes, I thought with the smallest amount of bitterness. I knew that I was being unfair because we had both agreed to this, but I was unable to stop the resentment from forming when I knew he was going home to the comfort of a pair of loving arms. I was going home to the hostility of our daughter and the sadness and confusion of our son.
"Thank you, Mrs. Black. I have nothing further, your Honor," Rosalie told the Judge.
"Thank you, Miss Cullen. I have no questions of Mrs. Black. Mr. Black, do you have anything to contribute to your wife's testimony?
I watched Jacob and Sam rise, and Jacob answered, "No, your Honor."
"You're sure you want this?" the Judge asked.
"Yes, your Honor," Jacob answered clearly.
Judge Voltouri studied the both of us over his spectacles, his eyes darting back and forth. He sighed heavily, then signed the papers in front of him and handed the stack to his clerk. "Petition granted!" he announced with a bang of his gavel.
I looked at my watch – it had only taken fifteen minutes – one minute for every year of the marriage that was now over. My knees wobbling, I followed Rosalie out of the courtroom, collapsing on the nearest bench outside.
Jacob appeared, kneeling in front of me and pulling me into his warm embrace. I tried to stifle the sobs as I buried my face in his shoulder, and he patted my back as Rosalie and Sam looked on awkwardly. It wasn't the first time throughout the proceedings that they had been stymied by the friendship that Jacob and I had, even throughout our divorce. "Thanks, Jake," I said, sniffling and rubbing at my tears with the back of my hand.
"Anytime, Bells. So, I guess we're official, huh?" he asked, getting up and sitting on the bench next to me.
"Yeah, I guess we are," I replied, gaining ground on my runaway emotions. "What time are you and the guys coming over to pick up the rest of your stuff?" Jacob had slowly been moving into his rental house over the last two weeks, and he had one final load of items to pick up.
"Later today, but before the kids get home from school," he said, tugging nervously on his ponytail, a frown settling over his features. We had found out the hard way that it was better for him to do this when the kids weren't there. Our daughter had stopped speaking to both of us the first time he removed items from the house, and our son hadn't been able to sleep that night. "How do you think they'll be tonight? Do you want me to be there when they get home?" he asked, knowing that I had borne the brunt of Sarah's anger at the divorce.
I shook my head. "No, there's no sense in putting it off. Sarah will be angry. Will's going to be upset because Sarah's angry. Might as well get it over with." There was no way around it whether Jake was there or not.
"I don't want you to deal with it all by yourself," Jacob argued.
"So call them tonight, but Jake, they knew this was happening today. Get your place set up – they'll be there for their first weekend in just two days, and you don't have their rooms done yet. Spend some time with…" I cleared my throat, fighting against the lump, "spend some time with Ness. Enjoy your freedom." Freedom bought and paid for at a very costly emotional price, for both of us.
Jacob's eyes were sad when he met my gaze. "Bells, you know I never wanted this to happen…" he said softly. I shook my head to cut him off before my tears started to fall again.
"Yeah, Jake, I know. Me either, but we both know this was over long before Renesmee." I reached up to touch his cheek. "Be happy, Jacob."
He cupped my face in his hands, pressing a soft kiss to my forehead. "You will be happy, too, Bella. There is some guy out there who is going to sweep you off your feet, even though he'll never be good enough for you," Jacob joked. This face I recognized – the face of Jacob Black, my best friend since age seventeen. He stood then, patting my shoulder as he searched his pockets for his keys. In all the years I had known Jake, he could never keep track of his keys. "I'll text you before I show up. Call if you need anything before then." And then he was gone.
Sam smiled awkwardly at me. "Bella. Emily asked me to let you know she's thinking about you, and that she'd like to get together sometime when you feel like it." Sam and Emily had been our friends for as long as Jacob and I had been together. Emily had gone out of her way to make sure that I knew that the friendship wasn't going to end just because the marriage did.
I smiled in return. "Tell Emily I'll call her. Thanks, Sam, for making this easier for both of us." I reached up on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. "And tell Braden that Will wants to get together to play some ball." Their son Braden was a year older than our son Will, and the two boys were fiercely competitive about basketball when they got together.
"I'll pass the messages along. Call me if you need anything, Bella," he said, pulling me in for a hug. "Rosalie," he said, offering his hand to the beautiful blonde woman at my side.
"Sam," she said, grasping his hand firmly and shaking it once. She watched him walk away and then turned to me. "Bella, you did great. How are you feeling?"
"Like I'm going to throw up," I confessed shakily, holding up my hand and watching it tremble with the nerves that were now making themselves known. "How in the world do you get up in that courtroom and do that all the time?" I asked, falling into step beside her as we walked across the street to the coffee shop, our little tradition following these courthouse meetings.
"Years of practice," she replied. "Not to mention, I wasn't quite as emotionally vested in this hearing as you were." Her beautiful violet eyes searched mine, probing, and I looked away, focusing instead on ordering my coffee. "Jacob's right, you know," she said lightly. "You're going to be happy again, Bella. You deserve more than the staid, passionless marriage you had with Jacob. There's someone out there who will wake you up and make you realize what you had was only a fraction of what you need, what you should have. You are going to make the right guy so lucky."
I snorted into my coffee, rolling my eyes. "Yeah, I'm such a catch. 35 years old, essentially unemployed, newly divorced with two teenagers – one of whom is so angry she could spit nails. My boobs sag from breast-feeding said children, I'm at least 20 pounds overweight with a perpetual paunch that no amount of exercise or diet can fix, and I find new gray hairs every morning when I look at the wrinkled middle-aged woman in the mirror. The line starts here, single hotties!!" I laughed, holding my glass up in a toast.
Rosalie laughed with me, touching her insulated cup to mine. "Hotties?" she teased. "Have you looked at the single guys out there lately? You'll be lucky if you can find one with more hair on his head than on his back, and who can still see his shoes to tie them. Case in point," she commented, nodding her head to the side, where an overweight, balding man, probably in his early forties, stood at the counter placing his order. "I mean, what's the point of ordering a non-fat latte if you're going to get two huge pastries?" Rosalie said in a stage whisper.
The man turned away from the counter with his coffee and pastry bag in hand and caught us staring. His eyes widened in appreciation as he studied Rosalie's honey blonde hair and knockout figure, and he muttered "Hot damn!" loud enough for us to hear. I couldn't help the giggle that escaped, and he turned his focus to me, smiling widely and giving me a wink that made me cringe. I smiled lamely in return and quickly looked away. Ignoring Rosalie's laughter, I took a gulp of my coffee, glad that the man left the shop without any further attempt at contact. "Rosalie, if that was the best that the single world had to offer, I am going to adopt a houseful of cats and start knitting tea cozies!"
All right, this is my very first fanfic, and I am extremely nervous about posting this! Please consider sending me a review and letting me know what you think.
Thanks to Staci and Casey for their pre-reading, support and encouragement. I wouldn't have posted this without the two of you in my cheering section!