A/N: Okay, I know what you're thinking… Holy crap, another chapter so soon?! Ta-da! Yes, here is another chapter, just in time for Christmas! As always, I want to give a shout out to my wonderful beta, Jenny Cullen, aka Jenrar, and to my fantabulous ficwife, EternallyCullen. You ladies are awesome! We are winding things up, and this will soon be coming to an end! But we are not quite there yet, so without further ado…
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Twilight, it all belongs to Stephenie Meyer, as I'm sure everyone knows! Merry Christmas!
"Bella, calm down. Everything's going to be fine," Edward murmured in her ear as they took their seats in the courtroom.
Evan leaned forward. "Bella, Edward's right. Carlisle is going to testify that Matthew is medically unable to be a donor, so he won't be put through any type of painful procedure, and with James here, we can get a court order for child support." He gave her a smile of encouragement.
She nodded nervously. "I know." The preceding days had been a nightmare for her. She'd been dreading the custody hearing for days, but now that the moment was at hand, she was anxious to get it over with. The door to the courtroom opened, and Bella looked up to see James walking into the room, a small boy in his arms and a short, plump woman following behind him. Her heart dropped into her stomach, and she felt slightly short of breath. His eyes met hers, and she was suddenly nauseated. A rage like she had never felt was quickly spreading through her, and she felt bile rise up in her throat.
"Bella?" Edward asked, concerned at the expression on her face. He glanced over at Charlie and saw a murderous glare on his face. Following their gazes, he looked over at whom he could only assume was James.
Pulling her gaze away, she stared toward the judge, whose nameplate said was Judge Thomas Payne, hoping to get this over with quickly. "I hope they hurry up," she whispered, refusing to allow herself to look in James's direction again.
As if on cue, the judge called their case. "Taylor verses Swan…custody hearing," he said loudly.
Evan stood up, and on shaking legs, Bella followed him down the aisle to the defendant's table.
"Is counsel present for Mr. Taylor?"
An older man was sitting at the opposite table with James beside him. "Here, Your Honor. Edgar Stratton," he replied, introducing himself.
"And for Ms. Swan?"
Evan stood up. "Yes, Your Honor."
"It looks as if Mr. James Taylor is seeking full custody of Matthew Swan on an emergent medical contingency. He claims that Matthew Swan is his biological son and that all of his communications with his mother, Ms. Isabella Swan, have been ignored. It also states his other son, Caleb Taylor, is suffering from life-threatening leukemia, and he wants Matthew to be tested to see if he is a viable candidate for a bone marrow transplant."
Bella felt her face flame in anger, and she bit her lower lip to stop herself from reacting. Evan shook his head at her infinitesimally.
"Counsel for the plaintiff… What is your opening statement?"
Edgar Stratton stood up, an open file in front of him. "Your Honor, my client has been trying for several years to speak with Ms. Swan, as he has always wanted a father-son relationship with his child, but she will not answer or return any of his calls. He's desperate to be involved in his son's life and unfortunately found no other route except through the courts at this time to establish paternity and gain the right to see his child. With the acute illness of his other son, we felt it was in Caleb Taylor's best interests to push the motion forward as quickly as we could, but Mr. Taylor's primary goal is to be able to see his son, Matthew."
Judge Payne looked back down at the file in front of him. "Counsel for the defendant, is your client agreeable to this?"
Evan stood up. "No, Your Honor."
"On what reasoning?"
"For several reasons, Your Honor. One, the very day that Ms. Swan informed Mr. Taylor of her pregnancy, he moved from the area with no forwarding contact information. Ms. Swan did want Mr. Taylor to be involved in their son's life, but he changed his telephone number and left her without any information of his whereabouts. Her father, Forks Police Chief Swan, also attempted to locate him using his contacts, to no avail.
"Two, the child support division has also been attempting to locate Mr. Taylor since Matthew Swan was six months old. They have also been unable to locate him. Three, in the six years that Ms. Swan has been raising and supporting her son, Mr. Taylor has made no effort to provide him with any type of financial support. Ms. Swan has been raising her son completely alone, and Mr. Taylor was aware of the child and that he was the father."
The judge looked back down at his file and then looked sternly at James. "Mr. Taylor, when did Ms. Swan tell you about her pregnancy?"
James's face was pale, and when Bella finally looked over at him, she saw he was looking at the floor. "She didn't," he mumbled.
Judge Payne took his glasses off and stared at James more intently. "Mr. Taylor, may I remind you that you are under oath. If Ms. Swan did not inform you, then why did you leave Forks so suddenly the day she discovered she was expecting?"
Bella's heart jumped, and she finally allowed herself a sliver of hope.
"I-I had a…family emergency…" he stuttered, looking over at his attorney.
"What type of family emergency?" the judge asked him, flipping through the file on his desk.
James remained silent.
Looking up from his paperwork, Judge Payne gave him a hard stare. "Counselor, you may want to remind your client what perjury is."
Bella looked over as James's lawyer whispered something in his ear. Edgar Stratton stood up, his face flushed. She wondered if James had been honest with him or if he had told his lawyer the same bullshit he was trying to spout in the courtroom.
"Your Honor," his lawyer said, "my client is willing to drop the pursuit of full custody and allow Ms. Swan to remain the child's residential parent, if he can be granted joint custody with medical access. I assure you, Mr. Taylor wishes only to be able to develop a relationship with the boy."
Evan spoke up. "Your Honor, I have here copies of the documentation made by both the child support office and the Forks Police Department to locate Mr. Taylor. The child support office even searched income tax records, and they show no income taxes paid by Mr. Taylor since he worked in Forks. Obviously, he knew they would attempt to locate him and has refused to work anywhere that he could be traced. By his activities to avoid contact with any government authority or agency, it is blatantly obvious that he has tried to avoid any connection with Matthew Swan.
"And as has been stated, Mr. Taylor now has another child, and this child has been diagnosed with leukemia. Bone marrow donation from a sibling is a common and effective treatment for this leukemia, and based on the history of Mr. Taylor avoiding her child support requests, my client is fearful that the only reason Mr. Taylor has stepped forward at this time is to gain custody of her son, Matthew, to force him to be a bone marrow donor for his other child, not because he wishes to have any type of fatherly role in Matthew Swan's life."
Judge Payne flipped through more of the file. "Mr. Taylor, I see here that the Clallam County Child Support Division has been attempting to locate you for some time. I'm curious as to why you've been absent from this child's life when you've known about him for some time, and why you've only attempted to establish a relationship with him now."
"Y-Your Honor, I've tried to reach Bella many times, but she won't return my calls," James stammered.
"Where are you living now, Mr. Taylor?" the judge asked.
James looked over at his attorney, who nodded slightly. "Just outside of Portland…Oregon," he replied.
"Ms. Swan, how long have you lived in Forks?"
She had to clear her throat before she could make her voice work. "About seven years, Your Honor."
"Mr. Taylor, if you were so interested in having a relationship with your son and Ms. Swan wouldn't answer or return your calls, why did you not come to Forks to speak with her in person? She's lived here since before your son was born, and her father is a prominent member of the community, so she would easily have been found."
James blanched. "M-My son, Caleb, has been very sick, and his medical bills are huge. I-I couldn't afford to drive up here…" He trailed off.
Thomas Payne leaned back in his chair. "So, what I'm hearing is that you do want to be involved in Matthew Swan's life, correct?"
He nodded, and Bella chewed on her lip nervously.
"And now that you and Ms. Swan have located each other, that shouldn't be a problem?"
James answered, "No, Your Honor."
Smiling slightly, he nodded. "Good. So, you paying her child support will also be done?"
At this, James paled again. "Uh… My son's medical bills cost so much…" he mumbled.
"And how do you think Ms. Swan manages? Mr. Taylor, you've only mentioned your younger son and his medical issues you are dealing with. Are you aware of the medical issues Matthew Swan has? Or how expensive his medical care is that Ms. Swan is having to handle on her own?"
Out of the corner of her eye, Bella saw Evan smile smugly. Inside, she was jumping in excitement. She finally felt justice might be done for Matt.
James only mutely shook his head.
"Mr. Bradshaw has also brought up an important point. If you are granted joint custody – and make no mistake, Mr. Taylor, I have no inclination to award you sole custody – then you will have the legal right to be involved in Matthew Swan's healthcare decisions, which could include him being a bone marrow donor for your other son. Mr. Taylor, is that the only reason you've come out of the woodwork? To see if Matthew Swan can be a donor for your son?"
Edgar Stratton opened his mouth, but then closed it without speaking. Bella was now doing mental cartwheels.
"Your Honor, I'd like to call Matthew Swan's physician, Dr. Carlisle Cullen, to the stand. He has some medical information that's relevant to this subject," Evan said.
Once the judge nodded, Carlisle walked forward serenely and was sworn in by the bailiff.
"Dr. Cullen," Evan said, "can you explain to the court Matthew Swan's medical condition?"
Carlisle nodded. "Of course. Matthew Swan was diagnosed with Type I juvenile diabetes when he was around the age of two. From reading his prior medical records, I believe he was a diabetic soon after birth, but he wasn't officially diagnosed until later. His blood sugars are very brittle and hard to control, and he has been hospitalized multiple times due to this. I took over as his primary physician a few months ago due to Ms. Swan not getting adequate care from his other doctor. I then had Matthew transferred to Seattle Children's Hospital, where he was seen by a colleague of mine, Dr. Taplin, who is a pediatric endocrinologist."
"And with these medical issues, is Matthew Swan a candidate to be tested to see if he is a compatible match with Mr. Taylor's son, who is battling leukemia?" Evan asked.
"No, he is not. Years of medical research shows that patients with Type I diabetes cannot be bone marrow donors. So, even if Mr. Taylor was granted joint custody and able to have him tested, his medical condition contraindicates this."
Evan sat down behind the table. "Thank you, Dr. Cullen."
He waved at James's attorney to allow him to cross examine him, but the man just shook his head. Bella thought he looked perturbed. She wondered what all James had told him that he was now finding was a lie.
"You may step down, Dr. Cullen," Judge Payne said, and Carlisle quietly walked back to sit behind Bella. "Counselor, is there anything else you or your client would like to bring to the court's attention before I make my ruling?"
Edgar Stratton leaned over to whisper in James's ear. Bella saw James shake his head slightly, his expression unreadable. While she was jubilant that all seemed to finally be going in her favor, she couldn't help but feel a pang of sadness for Caleb Taylor. She knew how James was feeling at seeing his last hope dashed before his eyes. Even though she hated him for what he had done to her and Matt, she still never wished for any parent to go through what he was suffering. She looked over at who she assumed with Caleb's mother, and her facial expression looked defeated. Bella could identify with that emotion, and even though she knew she would not have to put her son through an unnecessary painful procedure, she found herself wishing there was something she could do to help that innocent child. It wasn't his fault that his father was a selfish prick.
"Your Honor, at this point, my client would prefer to just sign his parental rights over and terminate the custody hearing," his attorney said quietly.
Judge Payne looked at him with contempt. "Half an hour ago, your client wanted full custody. Now he wants nothing?"
"My client is unable to pay child support on Matthew Swan due to his primary son's huge medical bills as he's being treated for leukemia."
"Then why did he start this entire process to begin with?"
Edgar Stratton looked very uncomfortable. "He thought that if his son, Matthew Swan, could donate healthy bone marrow to cure his son, Caleb Taylor, then he wouldn't have the staggering medical bills and would be able to pay child support. But now, a transplant is an impossibility per his doctor, so my client and his wife will have to continue to cover their son's treatments."
Bella felt her blood boil in rage. Even though they had all known that was James's ultimate plan all along, hearing it spoken aloud was still like a punch to her gut. James didn't care about Matthew at all; he only wanted him to save his primary son. To James, Matthew was dispensable. She clenched her hands, her fingernails biting into her palms.
The judge sighed. "Mr. Bradshaw, do you have any further information you or Ms. Swan would like to include in your deposition?"
Suddenly, Bella saw Edward stand up out of the corner of her eye. She turned around to look at him, her mouth open in shock.
"Your Honor, may I say something?" Edward asked.
Bella's mouth had gone dry. His perfection and beauty always took her breath away, and today, standing in the courtroom in his navy suit and gray tie, he looked as if he'd just come from a photo shoot.
"And you are?" Judge Payne asked.
"I'm Edward Cullen. Bella Swan is my girlfriend, and I've spent a lot of time with Matthew. I love him as if he were my own biological child. And I want the court to know that if Mr. Taylor wishes to sign his parental rights over, then I am more than willing to step in and adopt Matthew Swan as my son and provide him with full financial and medical support." When he looked down at Bella, she could see that he was trying to convey his sincerity to her.
She was speechless. Edward's announcement had come completely out of left field, but she found herself imagining life with Edward as Matt's father. Someone to love him. Someone to help care for him.A real man in his life to be a role model… She looked up at the judge anxiously, hoping that he would consider it.
Once again, Edward, her knight in shining armor, had stepped forward to save her and her Matthew.