A/N: Thanks for stopping by! This story is undergoing some house-keeping of the un-beta'd chapters, so if you're cringing from my mistakes as much as I am, I apologize. Enjoy the story!
Chapter 1: Time, Taunting and Tears
-o-Friday 9:15pm -o-
The branches of the broccoli brush against the roof my mouth as I slide the manila slip back in his direction. It's returned immediately, so I push envelope back across the three feet of mahogany that separates us. Ironically, we're so close, but we've never been further apart. Yet, this distance can't compare to the chasm that truly exists between us. There are leagues between Edward and me. He slides it back.
"Sign the damn form, Isabella," he grunts.
"I'm not divorcing you." I say calmly.
His fork scrapes against the fine china; mine barely graces the surface. He shoves the equivalent of the whole cow in his mouth; my piece of steak is too small for my tongue to find. My seat is drawn close to the edge of the table; his chair is pushed away. I slide the envelope forward once more.
"I can't stand you," he pushes it back.
"I can't stand you either," I reject the envelope.
We enter a duel, his green eyes aimed at my brown ones. There's anger in his, but there's only composure in mine. Nothing between us has ever been settled easily. After three years of marriage, Edward should know that I never surrender.
"I don't need you to sign," he says coolly, trying for another tactic.
"Yes, you do," I answer just as plainly before depositing another minute piece of meat into my mouth, "Unless you want this to go to court."
"I will if I have to," he shrugs.
"We both know you'll lose."
Although my life's purpose is to get a rise out of him, this time it's unintentional. Washington state divorce laws say that as long as one party does not consider the marriage to be irretrievably broken, the court will have to evaluate the divorce based on the reason for the filing. And if Edward's only objection is that he can't stand me, then I'd love to go to court with him just to witness his failure.
His ears tinge pink while his knuckles turn white, and with a fleeting thought I wonder if there is any direct connection between the two sites. It's as if all the blood of his fingers drains to his face. It's a telltale sign when he's about to blow up, and I'm just waiting so I can pop him.
"I had an affair," he admits nonchalantly, but his eyes are trained on my face.
They're surveying for some indication that I'm shocked or even devastated. At another time I might have given him the satisfaction of crying, but it wouldn't be now. Instead, I smile and say,
His fork and knife crash against his plate as he inflates, and his wooden chair is knocked over in his haste to stand up, a poor victim of his rage. I stay where I am because the view is better from this vantage point, and I don't want to miss a thing. I cross my legs like I usually do, sipping my wine, and sharpening my pin as I wait for his balloon to reach maximum capacity.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" he yells, crossing the table in a couple of brisk strides. He leans toward me, intending to intimidate me, but only giving me a the opportunity to stare at his striking features. His face is so close to mine I can almost kiss him.
"You," I reply, and wedge my glass between us to take a healthy gulp.
"Neither of us is happy," Edward continues, "I'm giving us an out."
"I don't want an out," I tell him. Sip.
"Don't give me that shit, Isabella," he growls, "You're just doing this to piss me off."
"I don't know what you're talking about," I feign innocence. Sip.
The goblet is ripped from my fingers, and thrown across the room in one quick movement. The sound of breaking glass is so familiar to me that I don't even flinch, much like how I don't flinch when Edward grips my face, forcing me to look at him. What Edward doesn't know is that I see more of him than he sees of himself. His hot breaths fan across my face as he huffs and puffs. He looks like he wants to speak, but can't quite articulate.
"Go ahead," I goad, "Hit me."
His eyes remain on fire, but his grip lessens.
"Be like your father," I whisper harshly, "Hit me Edward."
He releases my face with a slight shove, taking a step back as if he can break away from what he is feeling. I stand from my chair, and waltz past him, trying not to seem physically shaken by his outburst. I have the choice to leave if I want to –nothing is stopping me. Instead, I choose to take advantage of his silence.
I say lowly, "I'm not going to let some slip of paper give us the easy way out just because things got hard."
"We are too far gone," he mutters, his voice soaked with defeat, "I-I don't know if we even love each other anymore."
"Yes we do," I object, "It's just buried somewhere deep."
"I can't do this anymore," he shakes his head, "We already fought, Isabella. We're done."
"We're not done, until I say we're done," I say firmly, "Do one last thing for me, and that will be it."
His head still turns from side to side as if he's shaking me off, "Just sign the papers."
"Go to counseling with me," I ignore him, "If they deem us irretrievably broken –then I will sign the papers."
"No objections?" he asks.
"None," I agree, "Plus, it would help your case if there's a professional evaluation."
He hesitates, but for the first time tonight, he agrees with me, "Fine. I'll do it."
-o- Saturday 12:30 pm -o-
"Mr. and Mrs. Masen," the large secretary calls. He has the friendliest smile attached to a dimple, and curly black hair atop his head. I glance at his name briefly, wanting to put a name to the face. Emmett McCarthy.
"Thank you," I say to him because it seems Edward's lost his manners along with his personality. I whisper an apology as we pass the desk, only feeling slightly better when Emmett gives me a dramatic roll of the eyes.
"Well, that was quaint," Edward mutters as we walk to the counselor's office.
"I wanted to show that at least one of us is a feeling human being," I fire back.
"Oh, I'm sure you were feeling something," he scoffs, "Try not to flirt with our counselor would you?"
"You have some nerve talking about unfaithfulness," I retort before picking up my pace. I leave him in my wake, only so that I don't have to breathe in the same vicinity as him. I'm afraid I might catch whatever disease comes from the animal that crawled up his ass. Edward is close behind me as we enter the office, and I fight the temptation to shut the door in his face.
"Hello Mr. and Mrs. Masen," Dr. Whitlock smiles and stands to greet us. He's a handsome man with aged features, and a warm presence. He emanates tranquility, and for a moment I consider warning him about my unpleasant spouse. He stretches a hand out to Edward, and I'm relieved when he returns the gesture.
What do you know, ladies and gentleman, Edward has some decency.
"I'm Dr. Whitlock –but I prefer Jasper; it's very nice to meet you two."
"Bella Masen," I reply, slightly uncomfortable with using Edward's last name. It almost seems fraudulent given our position on the cusp of divorce, "Nice to meet you too."
"Edward," Edward nods.
I'm so happy I married such an eloquent man.
"So I see you two are filing for divorce," Jasper dives in.
"Edward is filing for divorce," I correct.
"Oh, so now it's only my divorce," Edward snorts.
"You're the one who filed for it," I reiterate, and roll my eyes in annoyance.
"Whoa," Jasper chuckles, "We'll have plenty time for that later. Right now I want us to establish some basic information. How long have you two been married?"
"Two years. Don't you have a file on this or something?" Edward sighs impatiently, "I don't have time for this crap."
Hurt gnaws at my stomach, causing me to scoot my chair away from him in order to ease the feeling. I close my eyes and try to remind myself why I'm doing this. I wonder why I don't give in to what he wants, and just scribble on that damn dotted line. Wouldn't divorce be so much easier than his blatant disregard?
You're not a quitter Bella … not with anything.
"A file isn't going to fix this marriage," Jasper replies coolly, "Neither is a few days."
"I know that," Edward says, his impatience mounting, "But we only have 25 minutes left of this session. You might want to make the most of it."
"Twenty-five minutes?" I gawk, "You can only spare me half of an hour of your day? I have work too, and it's equally important to yours."
"Contrary to your belief, honey, I can't bend my hours to my liking," he replies.
"Edward, for this to be the most effective you will need to donate at least three hours each week to this process," Jasper interjects.
"I can't take an hour out of my day. I don't even get lunch for that long," he defends, throwing his hands up in exasperation.
"Fine, then we'll come here every day of the week," I cross my arms, challenging him, "Thirty minutes each session."
Edward opens his mouth to protest, but ends up remaining quiet. He knows I'm right.
"I believe I can do that," Jasper nods, "Monday through Saturday, every day at this time. Edward, does that suit you?"
"Whatever," he says with a wave of his hand.
"That's just like you," I crow, pissed off by his dismissive behavior, "You're like a petulant teenager. Whatever, whatever, whatever! Grow up, Edward."
"I will when you stop acting like such a temperamental bitch all the time, Isabella," He retorts.
"That's enough," Jasper intervenes, "All this arguing is counterproductive. You will be able to express your anger towards each other, but in a much more healthy way. Now if you'll let me, for the remaining time of your session I'd like to outline my plan for the next eight weeks."
"By all means," Edward says, "Go ahead."
"Thank you," the doctor nods before leaning back, and releasing a deep breath. "I like to take this process in three stages; past, present, and future. For our beginning week we will discuss past issues, and use strategies to help us overcome these indiscretions. The next five weeks will be focused on your current lives, the way you interact with each other. This will also include exercises that help to rebuild your trust and faith in one another. The last two weeks concern your future. It is in this time that I will determine whether you two are compatible, and should continue therapy, or advise you to seek an end to this marriage."
"You really believe that we'll see a change in eight weeks," I voice, slightly disbelieving.
"Of course your marriage won't be fixed," Jasper chuckled, "I need months for that. But you will definitely see change; whether for better, or for worse is yet to be determined."
After this Dr. Whitlock dismisses us. The walk is as silent as the drive home. Edward and I don't encounter each other for the remainder of the evening, but whether this is because of work or preferences I wouldn't know. Though like every night, we sit down at the table together, and eat our dinner. I don't know why Edward and I uphold this convention seeing as we often can't stand to be in the same room with each other. I'd like to think that it is our way of holding onto whatever is left of us.
"We have to do Dr. Whitlock's exercise," I finally speak up.
"Frankly, I'm not convinced of his credentials," Edward huffs.
"Why," I scoff, "because he's right?"
We are met with more silence as we both examine our lasagna closely. I glide my knife through it, cutting it methodically while Edward stabs his and watches it bleed. I wonder if he imagines me as the food he's botching, or if the lasagna has done him wrong. Maybe it's the fact that I cooked it?
"I hate that you changed the color of our room without asking me," Edward says.
"It's not like you sleep in there anyways," I mutter.
"I'm trying to do the damn exercise," he lets out a deep breath, "We're not allowed to fight. Do you think you can do that, Isabella? Do you think you can act like a civil human being? Isn't the stick up your ass getting pretty painful?"
Over twenty different comebacks enter my mind in that instant, fighting to make their way out. I no longer have to think before insulting Edward, it just comes naturally. But since answering him would prove his point, I remain silent to spite him. I take a sip of my wine, and let the pungent liquid replace the bitterness in my body.
"I hate that you got drunk on my birthday last year," I tell him.
"You kicked me out on your birthday," the tension in his voice is noted.
"Because you got drunk," I repeat.
"Then I hate that you kick me out every time I make a mistake," Edward states. His voice is louder than it was before, and I can't stop mine from matching the volume.
"If I kicked you out every time you made a mistake you wouldn't even live here," I shout.
"Like I'm the only screw up in here," he yells, his hands clenching while they rest on the dining table, "You've messed things up too in the past two years, and you don't see me locking you out of the house. You're a screw up too, Isabella. You're a mistake too!"
I push my plate away from me, no longer able to eat. The chair follows soon after, as I throw my napkin down on the table. I was wrong in thinking he made a mistake the first time. I was wrong, just like I seem to be wrong about everything else. So does this mean that I'm wrong about fighting for Edward? With each word he says it gets harder to believe that there could be a light at the end of this tunnel.
"You know what I hate, Edward," I say as I try to keep the tears at bay, "I hate that you can't remember we've been married for three years, not two."
I walk away, not because I'm giving up, but because I'm slowly beginning to crack, and the tears are winning their battle for freedom. I walk away because I can't stand the fact that he will not comfort me. I walk away because I know if I stay, all Edward will do is stand there, and watch me cry.