Story Summary: In the aftermath of her divorce, a heartbroken Bella Swan looks for danger to give meaning to her life. If only her hot ex-husband would stay out of the picture.
There is no adultery in this story.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot of the Twilight Saga are the property of its author. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media. Copyright infringement is not intended, nor will I ever make a dime from this fanfiction. So there.
Many thanks to LJ Summers and prettyflour for the beta skills. And free offerings of snark. Thanks to KristinHazzard, Twilover76, EternalSummer79, MuttNFeathers, Mamabean30, perrymaxwell, Detochkina, and pomme_de_terre for pre-reading. Thanks as well to GinnyW_31 for the consulting and advice.
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I hated hospitals. Bad things usually came from them. I had that dream that had haunted me throughout my childhood. It was Christmas day and my parents were in the bucket seats in front of me, driving in a snow storm. I could see the thick flakes battering the windshield of the car. Papa had both hands on the steering wheel and drove white-knuckled. Momma had her arm resting on his shoulder.
One second I was jubilantly singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the next this horn blared and we were turning over and over and I could feel blood on my face and hear Papa yelling. And then I heard nothing at all. I cried for Momma and Papa and they didn't answer. I heard funny sounds coming from them, though. I remember my head hurt so bad that everything around me went black.
I recall waking up in a strange place and hearing a nurse say to another, "Poor mite lost both her parents to a drunk driver. A trucker found the accident and brought her in. Such a shame. She's five."
My fingers found a bandage on my temple.
"Honey, don't touch that, it has to get better. You have stitches."
"Well, let's go." This dour-faced woman barked at me. She reminded me of the monsters in one of my books. "They dragged me out of my warm house on a weekend to get you. I'm not wasting any more of my time than necessary."
I was too afraid to talk. I traced the cast the doctors put on my left arm instead.
"She's with me," a voice of an angel said firmly.
The mean lady said, "I'm Sandy Cope, a social worker. Who are you?"
"I'm her godmother, Esme Cullen. This is my husband, Carlisle. We are now her guardians." She handed a set of papers to the social worker.
"This looks in order. I'll just be on my way." The woman skulked away.
I wanted to go with the nice people. The lady with the pretty hair got down on her knees and looked me in the eye.
"Isabella, I'm going to take you home with me."
"Can Momma and Papa come?"
"No." Her breath became shaky and her eyes filled up with tears. "Are you ready?"
I nodded. I was so scared. I wanted my parents. I was too afraid to argue.
"You don't talk much, do you?" the man said to me with a smile. Their words sounded different than when Momma and Papa talked.
I shook my head. "No."
"I've always wanted a little girl." The lady sounded so sad.
The man took my hand and squeezed. "Now you have one."
An ice cold hand touched my cheek. "Wake up, Bella."
How I used to love the sound of his voice.
I grumbled. If I kept my eyes closed, hopefully he'd go away. My fingers fumbled for the button to get more morphine. He grabbed my hand before I could touch it. Despite being in pain, and flat on my back, I contemplated getting out of bed and drop kicking his testicles into the next room. But that would be unladylike, yet so well deserved.
What the heck? Now he decides to play doctor? He pulled out a pen light and started messing with my eyes. Which kind of hurt. My hus- I mean my ex-husband spent most of his time locked up in a lab. He didn't practice medicine so much as study it. I batted ineffectively at his large hands.
"Go away." I struggled to wrest my hand from his. "What the –?"
Pale, unshaven, with his clothes rumpled, Edward looked like he hadn't slept in days. His typically neat hair stuck up every which way. His glasses had smudge marks on the lenses.
He had the shadow of a smile. "Glad to see you've decided to rejoin the living. You have a concussion, and your temperature is elevated." That weasel was reading my chart and trying to beguile me.
Using my coolest voice I said, "I'd like my hand back, please."
"Sure." He dropped it.
As if I were burned, I snatched it back.
Somewhere along the way, I'd picked up a sore throat. I barely recognized my hoarse voice as I glared balefully. "You know, I broke the nose of the last person that irritated me."
"You look . . . horrible." He said that so earnestly while brushing a lock of my hair out of my face.
I jerked away from him, which hurt me more than it did him. "Gee, thanks. It's that charming side of you I miss the most. Ironic words coming from you, Edward, you look like you should be in this bed, not me."
His face tensed before he slipped back into the mask I hated. Like nothing could bother him. He'd first worn it the day he'd come home and informed me that he wanted a divorce. So I put on my version of that expression, honed to perfection through bitter experience, and stared at the wall and reminisced.
Edward Cullen, my childhood sweetheart, the love of my life, had walked out on me when I was pregnant last December. The baby hadn't made it, either. It seemed everything that I cherished, that I touched, either left or died: my birth parents, my marriage, my baby.
This was the first time he had actually spoken to me since that awful December night. Fragments of self-righteous speeches that I had planned scurried about in my mind, staying just out of grasp when I tried to reach for them. There was so much I wanted to say, and I was too chicken to do it. And really, what was the point? It wasn't like I mattered anymore. So instead, I did what I did best, kept my eyes to myself and my mouth sealed shut.
When I had signed the divorce papers, I could have sworn I felt soil being poured over my face, burying me alive in the lonely grave. With Edward, his family, and our little boy gone, I realized that I had nothing left to live for except my work. Edward had sat coolly throughout the proceedings while they ghoulishly divided up our material possessions and picked the corpse of our marriage clean.
"Mrs. Cullen, would you like to revert to your maiden name?"
"Yes, please, your honor," were the only words I spoke.
Edward's attorney scoffed, "Her maiden name is Cullen."
Mr. Jenks' baritone voice carried across the room. "As it states on her birth certificate, her real maiden name is Swan. She'll be using that from now on."
I heard a cracking noise. Edward had snapped the pencil in his hand. When the hearing ended, he rushed out the door. I remembered thinking that the suit he had on, I'd bought him last year, never thinking he'd use it for this.
Edward's attorney, Alistair Fitzgerald, tried to chat up my lawyer and offered his hand to me. "Thank you so much for your cooperation, Ms. Swan."
Mordantly, I stared at him–putting every bit of frustration I felt out on display. He dropped his hand and quietly made an exit.
Back at my lawyer's office after the judge pronounced me terminally single, I remembered finally taking off the engagement ring Edward had given me and the wedding band that had his eternal love for me inscribed on the inside. I had clutched onto their significance until the bitter end. Now they taunted me for not being enough of a Cullen to hang onto Edward.
"May I please have an envelope, sir?"
"Of course, Mrs. Cul - I mean Miss Swan." He handed me one from his desk.
I slid the rings inside it and sealed it. With a shaky hand, I wrote, "Cullen" on the outside.
"These are family heirlooms. They're not mine anymore. Please send this to my hus - my . . .," I stammered and took a deep breath. It was so hard saying those words for the first time. "ex-husband's attorney." With a shaking hand, I slid the envelope across the polished mahogony of his desk.
"You're allowed to keep them as per the terms of the divorce." He pushed the envelope back toward me. Stubbornly, I moved the envelope back to him.
"They're not mine to keep. They are traditionally handed down to a Cullen bride. Edward might need them one day." I almost threw up. "Or Jasper."
I couldn't bear the pity in my attorney, Mr. Jenks' eyes. He put the envelope in his desk out of sight. My shoulders sagged as I heard the desk drawer shut.
My attorney smelled of pipe tobacco and Old Spice aftershave. He had a courtliness to him that I appreciated. "Miss Swan, I'm very worried about you. You've lost a great deal of weight. Would you join me and my wife for dinner tonight?" He fiddled with his unlit pipe when nervous.
"Thank you so much, Mr. Jenks, but I think I'd rather be alone. I'll be fine."
After lying to the man, I stumbled out of his office and kept my composure all the way to the car. I sobbed the entire drive back to my deserted home.
In all actuality, I had no one that I felt I could call. Almost all of my "friends" had vanished when news of the divorce had spread. Since the Cullens had cut me from their lives, the society matrons closed ranks; I was no longer invited anywhere. That, in and of itself, didn't bother me. I hated socializing, and I only did it for Edward's career and to make Esme happy. It was what happened if I ran into them in public that hurt. People pretended I didn't exist, or they whispered to each other and smirked.
My work kept me sane. Because that represented eight hours I didn't have to be trapped at home. The dream house we had spent so much time building and decorating became a prison. My footfalls echoed as I walked down the empty halls. I'd never lived alone in my life.
So I got into the scotch that Edward left behind to mourn being single. Not being much of a drinker, that resulted in miserable hours laying on the cold bathroom floor. I realized then that I really wanted to die. So I turned from alcohol and set about getting myself killed properly, but I wanted to go out making a statement.
The next day when I showed up to work, I was called into the principal's office.
"Yes, Sister Agnes, what can I do for you?"
She didn't look like she had any words of comfort to offer me, like I expected. Her ivory crepe paper skin was her most outstanding feature. God had not blessed this woman with physical beauty, but I respected her so much. "We think you should take a leave of absence."
My stomach sank and my eyes stung. I fought to hold off tears and stared at the picture of Jesus with the Sacred Heart that hung on the wall above her head to try and calm down. "Has my performance not met your standards?"
"You are an excellent teacher, Isabella. The children love you and thrive under your care. It's just that several parents have expressed . . . concern."
I had never had a complaint before. I squeezed my hands into fists so hard, my nails dug into the skin of my palms. It kept me sane.
"About what?" I asked.
She pursed her thin lips and fiddled with the silver cross hanging from her neck. "The board of directors met last night to discuss the best way to break the news of your . . . name change. We received feedback that several parents don't want their child being taught by someone who is . . . divorced. It's silly, really." She shrugged. "But we cannot afford to offend the families that financially support our school. We are trying to raise money for a new roof. We need to move you to another assignment. You will, of course, be given two months' pay. How would you like to work on the annual newsletter?" Her gaze landed on my empty left hand.
Reflexively, I felt ashamed–like I should hide my hands behind my back. I still had the marks left from wearing the rings all those years. I felt naked without them. Part of my mind kept telling me that I had forgotten my rings at home. Then I had to remind myself that I, not my rings, was divorced and forgotten.
"So you're firing me? For something that is completely beyond my control?"
She adopted a cajoling tone. "Firing is such a harsh word, my dear. Don't think of it that way. This is just a temporary assignment."
Sister Agnes had been in my life since she taught me when I was eight years old. I couldn't believe that she'd go along with this. She was the one who had noticed me at school, who had encouraged me to read. I went into teaching because Sister Agnes inspired me.
Her face, however, indicated I'd get no sympathy. I did something I'd never done before. I walked out without saying another word and ignored her when she called after me in her quavering contralto. My phone rang when I got outside. I stared at the screen and saw Sister Agnes' name. Defiantly, I pushed the "ignore" option which silenced the ringing. It felt liberating ignoring her call. When she hung up and called again, I turned the damn thing's ringer off. No one ever called me who had good news these days, anyway.
I passed a group of women that I knew from my days volunteering in the Junior League. They pretended not to see me and bowed their heads together and whispered, bobbing like chickens around the last kernals of grain. I loved teaching, and the Cullens took that from me, too. I wanted to disappear and go where no one could ever find me–where I could be free to live my life without anyone's expectations being forced on me. So no one could ever hurt me like this again.
I was afraid to get behind the wheel of my car until I could calm down. I might have wanted to die, but I didn't want to take anyone with me. Except perhaps, for a Cullen or four. Shaking with months of pent up anger, I took a walk.
Suicide was for wusses. If I was going to leave this world, at least I'd do it doing something that helped others. Walking on the local college campus, I almost tripped when I saw a gaggle of brightly dressed small children holding on to a rope and walking side by side. One of them, a little girl, had hair almost the same shade as Edward's. The very sight of her hurt my heart. Desperately, I scanned the area for something to take my mind off of the children. Although I did not consider myself religious, I begged God to give me a sign. Something. My foot stumbled on an uneven sidewalk and it drew my eye to the left. I saw a banner with the face of a starving child on it.
A tall woman with icy blue eyes above high cheekbones asked, "May I help you?" I tried not to stare. She could have been a model. Her makeup, unlike mine, was flawless.
"Yes. I think you can. I want to work to stop that." I pointed at the picture of the child.
"Seriously?" She raised an arched brow.
"Swear to God. How do I sign up?"
"You want to do volunteer work? Like help with fundraisers?"
"No, I want to go there and help those children."
That earned me a genuine smile. "I'm Rose. Fill this out."
For the first time, I didn't cringe saying my new name. "I'm Bella Swan."
My phone kept vibrating with calls from co-workers and Sister Agnes. On the way back to my house, I saw a sign in the O'Connor's front yard. They had "It's a girl" and a stork holding a perfect-looking baby. Life was so unfair. My phone buzzed again as I pulled into the driveway and wiped at my eyes. I put it beneath the tire of my car and ran over it on my way into the garage.
That day, I joined an international relief organization. The night I made my plans I poured Edward's beloved ten thousand dollar bottles of forty year old Maclellan scotch down the drain. A few weeks later, I traveled to work in Sub-Sahara Africa. I left town with nothing but a single suitcase and a sketchpad. I didn't tell anyone where I went. I canceled my cell phone, my cable, the electricity, and my email account.
Alice, one of my ex's coworkers, was the only person I stayed in touch with aside from my attorney, and even she didn't know where I moved. I also made her promise that she wouldn't give out my new email address to anyone. It took Edward months to figure out I'd left the country. Last month, she sent me a note that must have been a work of fiction on her part to make me feel better. She said, "Edward flipped his shit when he found out you're working in what he calls squalid refugee camps. Spill, girl." Pity. She had exaggerated to make me feel better, I was sure.
"Bella?" Edward waved his hand in front of my face. I heard his chair creak and reluctantly came back to the present. At our divorce hearing he had done an excellent impersonation of a corpse. He didn't look all that different now–not that I looked at him much. His eyes were bloodshot; He appeared gaunt with a pallor that suggested he hadn't seen much of his beloved outdoors. I didn't need him to tell me that I didn't look much better, but at least I had a tan. Also, I had the excuse of having been shot twice.
I huffed. "I'm tired. Say whatever you're going to say and get out."
"Bella, this is not like you." He turned my face towards him. I recoiled from his touch.
"Hands off!" I spat.
It reminded me of the last time he told me goodbye. The night he broke my heart. I took a deep breath and bit my lip to keep the tears at bay.
Edward dropped his hands. His eyes widened for a moment before he put back on that cool demeanor.
"Why did you go to Africa of all places? You never showed any interest in it before."
I did my best to sound bored. "Why not? I had nothing better to do."
"You had a job that you loved." He stumbled over that last word.
I stared at my hands. My once perfect manicure was a thing of the past. "Actually, I didn't. Thanks to you."
"What?" Now he was faking being innocent. How low could he sink?
"Sister Agnes fired me the day after our divorce became final."
Edward appeared baffled. "But you're an excellent teacher."
"Several parents complained to the board of directors that they didn't want their child taught by someone who is divorced. They threatened to pull their children and withdraw their financial support."
For the first time since this whole mess started, Edward actually appeared flabbergasted.
When he did say something, he rumbled, "I am definitely withdrawing the family's support for that school."
He pulled out his cell phone, and started pushing buttons rapidly. Odd, when he'd changed numbers he kept the phone that I'd bought him for his last birthday. "You could sue them. I'll call my attorney."
I think the drugs made me willing to talk so much. "Leave it. Not worth the time. I've had enough interactions with your attorney to last a lifetime, no thank you very much." Edward flushed, and I pressed on, "Anyway, I have a job that I love. As soon as they say I'm healed, I'm out of here. Don't let the door hit you on the way out." I turned away.
He gulped audibly. "Isabella, you are not going back."
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