A/N: What is she doing, you might ask? Well, I've had such a warm welcome over here that I thought I'd begin posting another story. It's quite different from Labels, and I truly hope you like it. It's about love/marriage/divorce. (One of those things doesn't happen in this story.) I think it's funny. It's in Bella and Edwar's POVs. There's adult language and situations (lemons), so if you're under eighteen, it's not for you.
The rest of you…I hope you'll give it a shot.
As you may have guessed…I don't own Twilight.
Chapter 1 – Pearls and Pastries
I opened the door of my house to find my mother standing on the front porch with a basket of pastries and a smile on her face that told me that I was going to regret agreeing to help her friend. Mom had phoned me at six-fucking-thirty in the morning on a Sunday. Sunday was the only day of the week that I got to sleep in, and she damn well knew it. I was pretty sure that she did it on purpose, hoping to catch me in a moment of weakness from being sleep deprived so that I'd agree to her quasi-unreasonable request. I wasn't very happy about any of it.
"Bringing sweet treats isn't going to keep me from getting pissed about this, you know. How I let you guilt me into this is beyond me," I snapped as I stepped aside and let her enter. It was 8:00 AM, and she was already in full-on socialite mode. She had on full make-up, a stylish pantsuit and silk blouse, and pearls. Pearls at 8:00 AM on a Sunday morning were just wrong, unless you were going to church. I was going to regret the moment I said "yes" for the rest of my damn life, I just knew it.
"Oh, honey, couldn't you have put on something a little nicer? I mean, you're a lawyer for goodness sakes. You should look professional," Mom criticized having taken in my sweat pants, hooded UW sweatshirt…which was accented with a bleach spot on the front from a laundry mishap my second year of law school…and my hair pulled up in a messy bun. I didn't respond. I turned around and walked into my kitchen to get my first of many injections of caffeine for the day, feeling very certain I was going to need each and every one of them.
Seeing that I didn't take the bait regarding her assessment of my attire, Mom began her sales pitch. "So, Esme will be here in thirty minutes. I know you'll be able to help her, Bella. This is just so unexpected. I think she's being ridiculous about this whole thing, but she's insistent that she's going through with it, so I told her I'd help her get the best lawyer in Seattle to help her through it. Myself, I believe Carlisle, but she just doesn't. That man would no more cheat on her than your father would have cheated on me, God rest his soul. Maybe you could talk to her and tell her how lonely it is to live alone. I've tried, but you've never lived with anyone or had a serious relationship, plus you're out there in the dating world, and you know how difficult it is to find a good man. It's going to be even harder for her because she's twenty-five years older than you," Mom continued.
And, there it was. The inevitable slam. It was amazing to me that, regardless of the topic of conversation, my mother could somehow manage to reference my status as a twenty-eight year old single woman. It was like a game for me…how's she gonna be able to turn the increase in the price of gas into 'poor Bella's never had a relationship and is likely to wind up an old spinster'? Oh, I'll gladly tell you how she did it. She complained about the fact that the price at the pump had increased by nearly twenty cents over the previous two weeks and that I probably noticed it more so than she because I was a single woman trying to survive on my salary without the aid of a husband to contribute to the household income. Crafty, wasn't she?
"So, Esme Cullen, the reigning queen of Seattle society believes her husband, prominent heart surgeon Carlisle Cullen, is having an affair? There isn't one person in this entire city who doesn't know him. How would he be able to sneak around without it being plastered all over the front page of the Style section of the paper?" I asked. I still couldn't believe it.
My mom and Esme Cullen were old friends from college. They'd stayed friends for several years, but their friendship sort of faded away over time as many did. When my parents moved to Phoenix after my father retired from the police force on disability, my mom went through this strange phase where she began reconnecting with friends from high school and college, and she contacted Esme. They began calling each other and e-mailing, and the Cullens even went to Phoenix to visit my parents a few times. When my dad passed away a year earlier from a heart attack, Esme flew to Phoenix with me to help pack up my mother and bring her back to Seattle. Mom said it just wasn't the same in Phoenix without Dad and wanted to be closer to me. How lucky for me…she bought the house down the street.
"She thinks it was his surgical nurse, Chelsea. Es claims the woman never liked her and had been after Carlisle for years. He took her to a medical convention in Los Angeles a few months ago, and Es said when he got back, he was acting different. She started following him around and followed him to Chelsea's house one night. He stayed until ten that night, and when he got home, he told Esme he'd been in emergency surgery which was why he was so late. I honestly think something else is going on, but she just won't listen. She wants everything, too. She said he took the best years of her life, and she wants him a miserable, homeless pauper for the rest of his," Mom told me.
Divorce was a messy business to say the least, but when one involved potential infidelity after years of marriage, it was brutal. Emotions were raw, and both parties wanted to go for the jugular. I hated late-in-life divorces. They paid well, but the pain on the faces of the injured parties, be it my client or their spouse, was the reason I never sought out relationships or thought about getting married in the first place.
I never wanted to feel that kind of pain, so I just resigned myself to living a life of singlehood with an occasional one-night stand or the mutual friends-with-benefits arrangement I'd had with a colleague at the firm, Jacob Black. The key word in that sentence was "had" because he'd recently met the girl of his dreams and announced that we couldn't sleep together anymore.
I wasn't really that upset because the sex wasn't great in the first place. It wasn't really a devastating loss. We'd somehow managed to remain friends, which was more important to me than the sex in the first place.
"You do realize that the chances of that happening are slim to none, right? He's a prominent heart surgeon, and they probably have more money than the Kennedys. After all those years of marriage, I can't think of a judge I've appeared before who would give her everything. It is a community property state, you know," I answered honestly.
Mom thought about what I told her, and shook her head. "I'd give a vital organ to have your father back, and she's just going to throw away almost thirty years of marriage because of a possible indiscretion. It's so senseless," Mom opined.
I knew that she still missed my dad very much, and I felt bad for her. She and Dad had been married for nearly twenty-seven years when he died…yeah, she was pregnant with me when they got married…but they loved each other very much and were happy until the day my dad died. I was tainted by my profession, but even I had to admire the love they had. If I ever thought I could find anything remotely close to it, I'd probably have to re-evaluate my anti-marriage posture.
Just then, the doorbell rang. I saw my mom reach up and dry a tear and decided to give her a minute to collect herself. "I'll get it. Why don't you put some water on for tea for you and Mrs. C?" I asked. She smiled at me for my comment, and I went to open the door to begin the descent into the gutter that was to be the Cullens' divorce.
I opened my front door to find Esme Cullen, stunning and timeless as ever, standing with her own basket of muffins and a Pepsodent smile plastered firmly in place. I guessed that it was a signature move in my mother's circle of friends. You go to meet your lawyer to plan the demise and castration of your husband of thirty years…you bring pastries. I wondered if financial devastation brought with it pot roast, or if a death in the family got you a ham or turkey? Yes, I was the eternal skeptic.
"Mrs. C, please come in," I invited. She'd asked me to call her Esme for years, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I didn't feel I knew her very well, and she just struck me as the type of woman who should be addressed as "Mrs." Well, that shit was going to change soon enough if she had her way.
"Bella, please call me Esme. I'm about to lay out a mountain of dirty laundry that is my life, and I think you can call me Esme. Oh, and I want to go back to my maiden name, Platt. Put that in the papers somewhere, dear," she replied as she breezed by me and into the kitchen where my mother stood in the doorway.
They greeted each other in that shoulder-touching-air-kissing way that I'd seen more than once when I was around my mother and her crowd, and they moved into the kitchen to the table where Mom had pulled out plates, mugs, and condiments for the pastry buffet that the two of them provided. They chatted about the latest gossip in their circle…I think it was that Carmen someone got her eyes done and claimed she had laser-eye surgery instead of 'fessing up that she'd had cosmetic work done. I laughed to myself as I went to retrieve my laptop to begin taking the notes that I would use to completely and effectively disembowel Carlisle Cullen.
It sounded a little cocky, but I was a very good divorce lawyer. I know, I know.Society generally relegated lawyers to a notch just above bill collectors on the list of least desirable people to know, but that all changed when someone needed one. Even in my own profession, my specialty was looked down upon, being just a hair more tolerable than personal injury lawyers. And, again, that all changed when one of my colleagues got caught screwing a secretary or a paralegal and word got back to the Mrs. Then, one of the two of them couldn't find me fast enough.
I had my reasons for my chosen specialty, and while it wasn't going to win me any humanitarian awards, I actually helped people in a time of need. Oh, and I was paid very well for that help. I had two clients who, in the four years I'd been practicing, I'd represented three times each. Victoria Traigor's divorces alone paid for my house, and Didi Volturi's bought my furniture and a nice shiny red Audi TTS Roadster. It sounded cold to think of it that way, but those women kept choosing the wrong guys…always very wealthy ones…and well, the way I saw it, someone was going to represent them and get a hefty fee. Why not me? They were both currently engaged to lucky number four. My secretary had been instructed to find me wherever I was, if either of them called for any reason whatsoever.
I walked back into the kitchen, taking the seat across from Esme and firing up my laptop. "Mrs. C…Esme, are you sure you want to divorce Dr. Cullen? There's no way you two can work this out? You've been married for a long time to just throw it away. Have either of you considered counseling? Maybe you'd be better to file for legal separation and think it through a little more," I suggested.
I always started with that option when I was working with a new client, because if there was any hesitation from them, whatsoever, I would encourage them to give it another shot. I wasn't the completely heartless bitch as I'd been described on more than one occasion by the opposition. I'd rather be known as the compassionate divorce lawyer who encouraged the couple to give it another try than the greedy harpy who pushed her client to follow through with decimating her life.
Oh, yeah, I'd only ever represented women. It wasn't that I wouldn't represent men…men just never seemed to want a female attorney. I always felt like they saw us as weak. I was anything but weak, but they didn't figure that out until after the final decree was issued and their ex-wife was going on her first singles' cruise on their dime.
"Bella, I'm certain I want a divorce. I want out. I've looked it all up on line, and I understand the difference between legal separation and actual divorce. He's screwing a woman half my age, and when I confronted him about it, with proof, he told me it wasn't what I thought and that he couldn't tell me what was going on. Even after I packed his shit and tossed it out on the front yard, he stuck to that story. I have no desire to continue to keep myself tied to a lying philanderer," she answered confidently.
One thing that caught my attention was her comment regarding 'proof'. "You know, it doesn't matter that he's allegedly cheated on you with regard to being granted a divorce. It could be helpful in the mediation process or if he contests the divorce, though. What kind of proof do you have?" I asked. I assumed that she'd hired a private investigator to follow him, and if she had a report or, hopefully, photographs of the good doctor in an intimate moment with the woman, it would be very beneficial to our demand for most of the money he'd worked his whole life for and their marital home, along with alimony. Some men, when presented with proof, became a lot more willing to make a deal rather than to have their cheating ways exposed to friends, family, and business associates.
"I installed a tracking device on his car after he got back from LA when he started acting suspicious. Here's a printout from the internet site that shows everywhere he's gone. I highlighted her address. He goes there every Wednesday night, arriving at 8:00 PM on the dot, leaving at 10:00. This is just over the last three-and-a-half months. Here are tapes from a mini-recorder that I hid under the seat of his car. He talks to her every Wednesday before he goes over there. Unfortunately, the conversations are only one-sided, but he references things like 'Esme doesn't suspect a thing,' or 'I've never given her a reason to doubt me, so I'm in the clear on this, trust me'. Well, I'm done being stupid.
"Here are photos with date and time stamps on them from the first night I followed him. When he goes into the house, you get a clear shot of her in skimpy shorts and a halter top, and when he leaves, he hugs her on the front porch. I nearly wrecked my car trying to beat him home that night. When I asked him where he was, he said he had emergency surgery. It's awfully damn funny that he has an emergency every Wednesday night, don't you think?" she asked. She had a point to be sure. I didn't realize Esme Cullen had so much MacGyver in her. I was really quite impressed.
I took notes as she told me about his suspicious behaviors, some of which were that he had started sending her flowers again and buying her gifts for no reason at all. She chalked it up to guilt. Working under the assumption that he was, indeed, cheating, I tended to agree. He'd become more attentive to her the rest of the nights of the week, save Wednesday, and had started calling again during the day just to talk to her. I thought it was sweet, but she saw it as…yep, guilt. He had also become quite randy prior to their separation. She determined that was to throw her off the scent of him getting a little strange on the side. She did admit that things between them had become quite mundane in the boudoir prior to his trip to LA, so his sudden change of behavior after the medical convention made her suspicious immediately.
We talked for two hours…she cried, which would trigger my mother crying with her. My mom attempted to explain away his behavior as maybe he was going through some mortality crisis because he was in his early fifties, but Esme dismissed it. Finally, at 10:30 AM, the two of them left because they were meeting some of their friends for brunch downtown where they would likely chew Carlisle Cullen up and spit him out over Mimosas and eggs benedict. They invited me to join them, and I probably should have because it never hurt to meet new people in my line of work but I declined, saying I wanted to do some research so as to begin preparing for battle.
Being the aggrieved party, Esme wanted to charge infidelity or mental cruelty as grounds, but I had to explain to her that the only grounds under Washington State laws were that the marriage was irretrievably broken. She appeared to be disappointed, but I assured her that, in the long run, she'd be grateful because a divorce like theirs would definitely hit the society pages of the paper, and she wouldn't want the entire Seattle metropolitan area knowing the intimate details of the downfall of their Camelot.
After they left, I thought about what she'd said with regard to what she'd found out. I Googled Carlisle Cullen and read many articles regarding his philanthropic ways. His successes as a surgeon were well documented in prestigious medical journals the world over. He was well-known for his expertise in transplant surgery, and there wasn't one article or blog post or rumor that alluded that he was anything other than a good family man. That didn't add up to the man who Esme described to me while sitting at my kitchen table. Even when she was bitching about him, she still looked like she had love in her eyes for him.
She couldn't say enough about how good he was to their daughter, Alice, and she told me that she'd kept the information about the split from Alice because she was in France working for a fashion house, and Esme didn't want to interfere with her success. It wasn't a surprise to me at all that she put her daughter's needs and successes ahead of her own. It really seemed like that was just the way in which she ran her life.
I wasn't looking forward to delving into the details of their marriage. Things were never black and white when it came to relationships, and there was generally enough blame to be shared equally in a divorce. I was going to have my work cut out for me on this one because if Carlisle Cullen was getting a divorce, he was going to bring in a big gun to handle it for him. I tried to figure out who it would be, because I needed to be on my game and there was no room for surprises.
At 2:30 PM, my phone rang. I didn't answer it because I was researching potential adversaries based on who the top divorce lawyers were in the Pacific Northwest. At 2:33, it rang again…and again at 2:35…and again at 2:38. I finally got up from my chair at the table and walked over to where the phone rested on the counter. I saw that the calls were from my best friend and former roommate, Rosalie Hale. It was then that I remembered that I was supposed to be at her bachelorette tea, and I was late.
I quickly called her back and left a message that I was running behind and dressed. I drove to the tea room preparing myself to receive the ass chewing that I was due because I'd completely dropped the ball and that wasn't my style.
Her wedding was the next weekend, and I had completely screwed up by not making it to the tea on time. She was going to have a field day with me, and I deserved the dressing down she was going to give me because friends didn't screw over friends, regardless of what else is going on. Men and cases would come and go, but your girls stuck by you. The fact that I'd allowed business to get in the way didn't set well with me, and I knew I'd have to eat humble pie in addition to finger sandwiches that afternoon.
God, my head was still fucking pounding. It was fucking Tuesday, and I should have gotten over the hangover yesterday, but I was pretty sure I was still dehydrated because when our plane got in from Vegas on Sunday night, I was still drunk. The bachelor party for my friend and colleague, Emmett McCarty, had been a great time. Saturday night we went to the The Bank at the Bellagio and partied like we had no sense. We then went to the Playboy Club at The Palms, and I took a bunny back to my room for the night. Unfortunately, she wouldn't shut the hell up, and I had to flip her over on her stomach to fuck her so that her continuing biography of her life was muffled by a pillow. I woke up at 5:00 AM and went to the casino, bags in hand, to keep from having the uncomfortable morning-after conversation. All in all, it was a great time.
"Edward, your ten-o'clock is here," my assistant, Shirley, called over the intercom. I had a jug of water on my desk that I was trying to get down along with enough ibuprofen to be able to cut off my arm without pain, but my head wouldn't stop pounding. It was like a drum line in there. I was so disoriented that I hadn't even looked at my calendar that Tuesday morning. I should have taken off today.
"Thanks, Shirley. Send them in," I replied as I adjusted my tie and pulled on my jacket. I went to the mirror behind my office door and checked how badly I actually looked and decided that I looked like shit and there was no way to hide it. I hoped that my new client would be forgiving of my appearance and not take it as a bad reflection on my ability to do my job.
A brisk knock at the door caused me to jump. I reached for the handle and pulled it open and was shocked at who was on the other side. "Uncle Carlisle? What the hell are you doing here?" I asked. Yeah, I really should have asked Shirley who it was.
"I'm your ten-o'clock appointment. I got these hand delivered to me yesterday at the hospital. I need you to help me make this go away. There's no way in hell she's going to get away with this," he told me as he walked into my office having handed me a stack of papers that I could see had been balled up at some point in time and then smoothed out again. I took in his appearance and saw that he looked as bad as I felt. Obviously, something had him worked up.
I reviewed the cover sheet and was shocked to see that Aunt Esme was suing him for divorce. "What the fuck?" I asked sounding completely unprofessional. They were two of the happiest people I'd ever met in my life. If they couldn't make a marriage work, there was no way that anyone on the face of the earth could either. My parents hadn't been able to, so I was pretty much fucked.
There must be something genetic on my mom's side that left them predisposed to be unsuccessful at marriage, because Carlisle was my mom's brother. Mom was a bit older than him, but she always coddled him and called him her baby brother.
When I moved to Seattle from Chicago, my mother made my Aunt Esme and my Uncle Carlisle swear that they'd look after me. That would have been fine had I not been twenty-nine years old at the time. I'd gone to dinners at their house when I was studying to take the Washington Bar, having already practiced in Chicago for four years, but after I got word that I'd passed, I got so busy that I barely saw them.
Our weekly phone calls had fallen by the wayside as well. Since I'd joined my dad's firm two years ago, I hadn't actually touched base with them more than a handful of times, the last having been nearly six months ago. How things had gone off the tracks so quickly between the two of them was a surprise to me.
"Why is she filing for divorce?" I asked as I tried to rally my brain around the current catastrophe that was laid at my feet.
"She thinks I cheated on her…I didn't, okay? I love that woman more than anything in the world. After Alice left to go to France, we just sort of drifted apart. You know, living together but living our lives separately. I got tired of it and decided to do a grand gesture to make her see that I wanted everything back the way it was before Alice left. It came back to bite me in the ass because she thinks I cheated on her. I was so hurt that she would think I was capable of it that I never actually came clean about what the hell I was really doing. You've got to help me fix this. She kicked me out about three months ago, and my ego was so damn bruised because she should know me better than that, so I waited for her to come to her senses. I thought it would all blow over and I'd carry on with my plans to get things back to normal between us. Then, yesterday, I get this. She served me at the hospital which was enormously embarrassing," he responded.
Watching my uncle fall apart in my office wasn't helping my headache at all. If he and Aunt Es couldn't make it work, then marriage was indeed a hopeless endeavor just as I'd always suspected. Each divorce case I handled only succeeded to solidify my resolve to avoid marriage at all costs.
"Don't you want Dad to handle this? He's got a more impressive reputation in Seattle than I do," I offered. My father was well known in Seattle for his tenacity in the courtroom. If things were going to hell for my aunt and uncle, my dad would probably be better equipped to minimize the impact of the settlement for Uncle Carlisle.
"Oh, hell no. I don't want Ed anywhere near this. No offense, but your dad has always had a thing for Es, and if he finds out she's single, I'm sure he'd waste no time trying to get her to go out with him after he gets my ass out of the way. I want you to handle this, Edward. You love us both, and you won't push us to court before you try to help me get her back," he responded. He did have a good point.
My dad was a bit of a playboy and hadn't made any secret of the fact that he had carried a torch for Aunt Esme since the first day he met her. It was probably a good idea to keep the fact that Aunt Esme was separated from Uncle Carlisle under our hats. My dad pursuing my aunt would make for bad blood in the family…that was for sure.
"Tell me exactly what happened," I informed as I settled back with a pad and pen to take notes. He explained what he'd done and what he thought she'd assumed based on his behavior. It looked bad at first blush, but it wasn't anything they couldn't get passed with an honest explanation and maybe a little counseling.
I flipped through the petition and saw it was well-crafted. Based on the thoroughness of the document, Aunt Esme had gotten a top-notch attorney to handle it, and I had my work cut out for me. "Do you know this Isabella Swan?" I asked as I read through the documents he presented me. There were enough discovery requests to keep us busy for at least six months which led me to believe that opposing counsel intended to bury us in paper.
That wasn't something I was unused to, and I could handle it. I actually loved it. I loved a challenge, and if Isabella Swan was picking a fight, I was ready for it. I hadn't had such a formidable opponent in quite a while, and I was looking forward to it.
"She's Esme's college friend's daughter. She's a goddamn piranha from what I've heard. She only represents women, and she rarely walks away without a huge settlement. I need you to shut this down and figure out how to get Esme to meet with me so I can actually explain to her what's going on. She refuses to return my calls and won't answer the door when I go by the house. She even changed the damn locks of my own home on me," Carlisle explained looking completely beaten.
I couldn't let that happen to him. If Aunt Esme was looking to take him to the cleaners, I was certainly going to head that shit off at the pass. I loved her, but Uncle Carlisle was my mother's brother, and we looked out for family. No Isabella Swan was going to get the best of me. I'd gone up against some of the toughest attorneys in the Midwest, and I was certain that I could handle the Northwest. I was preparing for battle, and Isabella Swan was going to be my first victim. I needed to make a name for myself in town anyway so I was taking no prisoners. I almost felt bad for the woman…almost.
I reviewed the petition over the next few days and worked up a response based on the assertion that my client didn't believe that the marriage was irretrievably broken. I had the papers served on Ms. Swan and Aunt Esme on Friday at 5:00. That usually pissed off opposing counsel because nobody wanted bad news at 5:00 on a Friday. I hoped it let the women know that I meant business, and if they pursued their course of action, we'd fight them every step of the way. Isabella M. Swan, Esq. wasn't going to know what hit her.
I hope I hear from you!