Esme had survived some difficult situations. An abusive
marriage, the death of her son, her own suicide.
The physical pain of her eternal change.
But she would do it all again, all at once, to spare her family the pain it was in now. Though everyone did their best to hide it, each and every member of the Cullen clan was perched on the edge of devastation after hearing the opening statements from Bella and Edward.
Esme would never pick sides, though for the sake of sitting beside her husband, she’d had to sit behind the defendant. But she felt they were both right and both wrong and that equally. Love was not something you put on trial. It was something you held in your hands carefully and with respect, cherishing its perpetuity above all else. She knew Bella and Edward thought they were doing just that, but she could not agree with their methods. No matter how dire or unique their circumstances, there had to be a better way to solve this.
Though for the life of her, Esme couldn’t say what that was.
She looked across the room to where Bella had come to her feet, presumably to announce her first witness. Bella seemed nervous for the first time during the proceedings, and Esme’s heart ached to reach out in a sign of support.
But Bella and Edward were on opposite sides of the current debate, and supporting Bella meant rejecting Edward, and Esme was wholly incapable of that.
So she gripped Carlisle’s hand a little tighter and prayed again for divine intervention.
“Ms. Swan,” Rosalie repeated. “Are you ready to call your first witness?”
“I am, Your Honor,” Bella said, though it sounded like a question. “Though I believe I might need to approach the bench first.”
Rosalie’s brow furrowed, and Esme stole a glance at an unusually stoic Alice. “Why don’t you call the witness first?”
“In that case, I call Angela Weber to the stand.”
The girl’s first name had barely left her lips before Edward was on his feet. “Objection! Do I really need to state why?”
“Ms. Swan.” Rosalie’s voice hardened. “Are you proposing to bring a human into these proceedings? Knowing the penalty you will unleash on everyone present? Is that your idea of protecting your relationship with Edward?”
“Mr. Masen,” Bella said.
“What?” Rosalie roared.
Bella cleared her throat. “In court, you should refer to him as ‘Mr. Masen.’ And if you would let me approach, I could explain my reasoning.”
Rosalie’s nostrils flared as she stared down at Bella, and Esme was proud that the human girl stood her ground. “Fine,” the judge hissed. “Counselors, approach.”
Esme wrested her hands from her husband’s, preferring to wring them in her own lap. She didn’t know what Bella could be thinking, bringing an innocent like Angela Weber into this unusual situation. But she knew Bella loved Edward, so she held on to that, as it was the only thing that made sense.
“Ms. Swan,” Rosalie snapped. “Explain yourself.”
“This case is about how Mr. Masen’s life affects mine and vice versa,” Bella said calmly. “Ms. Weber is a vital witness to that effect.”
“As I told her before,” Edward said through clenched teeth.
“She cannot jeopardize our secrecy for the sake of proving a point.”
“And as I have told you more than once,” Bella retorted, “I know what I’m doing. I have never put our family’s safety at risk, and I wouldn’t dare start now. Ms. Weber believes the McCartys are putting on a mock trial to test some sociological theory about the effect of unusual stress on family dynamics.”
“What?” Rosalie cried. “Is she dumb enough to believe that?”
“It is not a matter of intelligence,” Bella contested hotly, “and I will thank Your Honor not to insult my kind in the interest of protecting yours.”
Rosalie raised her head. “Alice!”
“She does not and will not suspect anything,” Alice replied.
Rosalie looked back to Bella. “You swear on Chief Swan’s life you will tread carefully?”
“On his and Edward’s,” Bella said.
Esme laid a hand against her heart. “How she loves him!”
“Then I will allow the witness.” She turned to Edward. “This one time, I will allow you to monitor her thoughts. If you begin to suspect anything, you let us know. Jasper!”
“I’m on it,” he said. “She will think this was a dream by the time I’m finished with her.”
Bella rolled her eyes. “None of this will be necessary if you all just act normal. You fool humans every day. Why should this be any different?”
“We couldn’t fool you,” Edward muttered.
Bella turned to him. “Because love isn’t fooled by pretense.”
Edward started, his eyes widening with unreadable emotion. Esme reached for Carlisle’s hand, clamping her mouth shut to keep from commenting.
“I can smell Ms. Weber in the parking lot,” Rosalie said, bringing their eyes back to hers. “Bailiff, please retrieve her.”
“Yes, Your Honor.” He stifled a smile as he walked up the center aisle to exit the courtroom, and Esme envied his ability to find the joy in this untenable situation.
“Ms. Swan, you are on a very tight leash,” Rosalie warned as she sent them back to their seats.
“Understood, Your Honor. Thank you.”
Esme watched her son as he settled behind his table, and his broken posture broke her heart. “Just talk to her, son,” she thought. “There’s still time before anyone has to testify.”
Without turning around, Edward shook his head once. Esme couldn’t be sure if he was responding to her or something else, but the resolution in the gesture convinced her not to try to reach him again.
He was as stubborn as Bella.
The center-rear doors opened, and Angela Weber entered the courtroom. Esme smiled at her bemusement and reminded her family in a subhuman whisper to relax.
Emmett needed no such prompting, whistling his way to the front of the room and taking Angela’s hand as he led her to the stand.
“Place your left hand on the Bible,” he said in an extra serious voice which made Alice laugh. “Raise your right hand. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you, God?”
Angela glanced at Bella before replying, “I do.”
“Please be seated.” He waited for Angela to sit down before bowing stiffly and marching to his seat. Rosalie covered her mouth to keep from laughing at her husband’s antics, and Esme noticed Jasper’s nod of satisfaction.
So far, so good.
“You may begin, Ms. Swan,” Rosalie said.
“Thank you, Your Honor.” Bella walked to the witness stand with her notepad in hand. “Good morning, Ms. Weber.”
“Good morning, Ms. Swan,” Angela replied too loudly.
“I am sure you have other things you could be doing on a Saturday morning, so I thank you so much for coming.”
“Oh, it’s my pleasure, Bella!” Her cheeks flamed, and she cleared her throat. “I mean, yes. Thank you for inviting me, Ms. Swan.”
“Now, to the best of your knowledge,” Bella began. “Why did I ask you here today?”
“Um…” She glanced at the judge’s bench. “Because Rosalie and Emmett are doing a project about how families behave in unusual and stressful situations. Which is so cool, by the way! I can’t wait to go to college. Uh, ma’am.”
“That’s correct.” Bella nodded. “And when I asked you to come, did I give you any indication of what the trial was about?”
“No. Just that you and Edward were playing the plaintiff and defendant, respectively.”
“Did I tell you how to answer the questions?”
“Did I promise you any compensation in exchange for your testimony?”
“You offered to drive me here in case Mom wouldn’t let me have the car today,” she said. “Does that count?”
They both looked to Rosalie who shook her head. “Then, no,” Angela replied.
“And do you have any ill feelings toward myself or Mr. Masen that would…”
“Masen?” Angela asked.
“Uh, yes,” Rosalie replied. “We decided not to use our adoptive last names because there were so many of us involved. So Edward is Mr. Masen, and I am Judge Hale.”
“Oh. That makes sense.” Angela turned back to Bella. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
"That's all right. I should have explained that before we began." Bella looked at her notepad. "Now, Ms. Weber. How long have you known me?"
Angela looked up in thought. "Since your first day at Forks High."
"And how long would that be?"
"About six months."
"And how would you describe me when I first came to school?"
"Kind, smart, pretty," Angela smiled. "But shy and a bit awkward on your feet. I noticed you stumble a few times as you walked down the hall."
"Couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time, eh, Bella?" Emmett laughed.
Bella rolled her eyes. "Objection."
"Sustained." Rosalie leaned over to look at Emmett. "Behave yourself."
"Sorry, Bel—uh, Ms. Swan."
Bella turned back to Angela who was trying not to laugh. "Did you ever notice a change in me?"
"Yes." She looked at Edward. "A major one."
"And when was that?"
"The night we went to Port Angeles," Angela said. "You came with Jessica and me to buy dresses for the Sadie Hawkins Dance even though you weren't going, and you went off alone to visit a bookstore. When you came back much later, you met us outside the restaurant. But you weren't alone."
"Oh? And who was I with?"
Angela pointed her finger. "Him right there! Mr. Edward Masen."
Alice snickered, and Esme tried not to follow suit. "Do you know why I was with Mr. Masen that night?" Bella asked.
"You said you ran into him by accident while you were looking for the bookstore. Then he insisted on taking you to dinner and taking you home."
"What happened next?"
"I don't know, but the next time I saw you, you were getting out of Mr. Masen's car in the school parking lot. And no one had ever done that before, other than his siblings. Ever."
"What did you observe next?"
"After that, you were inseparable, two halves of a whole. You guys seemed made for each other."
Bella smiled, though Esme could tell her heart was only halfway in it. "If we could shift gears a bit, how long have you known Mr. Masen?"
Angela looked down, her cheeks flushing. "I don't know how to answer that."
"I see. And why is that?"
"Because I don't really know him. Other than his siblings, no one does. Or did."
"Did?" Bella asked. "What do you mean?"
"Well, before you came along, no one knew Edward at all, I don't think."
Bella began to pace. "And why would you say that?"
Angela toyed with her bracelet. "It's hard to put into words."
"Could you try?" Bella asked. "And don't worry about offending anyone. They're all thick-skinned."
Emmett snickered again as Rosalie shook her head. "She's right, Ms. Weber. Don't worry about how you phrase your answers. Just do the best you can to be clear."
"All right." She looked at Edward then Bella. "It was like, everyone else was part of a couple: Alice and Jasper, Rosalie and Emmett. Then there was Edward. Always alone, the odd one out. Not that people didn't try to hook up with him, I mean like, all the time. Jessica, Lauren, that girl who never wears underwear… about every girl in the school made a play for him. But he wasn't interested. Some people even suggested…" She trailed off and looked down again.
"Ms. Weber, please continue," Bella said kindly.
"Well, some of the guys thought he was gay. Not that they had any reason to. They just couldn't figure out why 'a guy like that' kept turning down all those girls."
"What do you mean, 'a guy like that'?"
"I mean, he's gorgeous, well-dressed, well-mannered, intelligent, and has the most amazing voice on the planet." Her eyes widened, and she sobered some. "Objectively speaking."
"Of course," Bella said.
"Did you think he was gay?"
"No. I just thought he hadn't found the right girl. Or maybe the right girl hadn't found him yet..."
"Objection," Edward sighed wearily. "This is all specious speculation."
"Overruled," Rosalie said. "The witness may finish her answer."
"That was it," Angela said. "I mean, I don't know Edward personally, but he seemed different after you came. From day one, actually. And now, he's like a different guy."
"He's focused, determined. I'd almost say lighter, but he's too broody for that to be accurate. It's more like he has a purpose, that you give him direction. It's intense and super-hot." She covered her mouth and tried again. "I mean, it's nice to see."
Bella consulted her notepad. "One last question, Ms. Weber. Based on your observations of Mr. Masen and myself, do you think we are better together or apart?"
"Together! I can't think of any two people more right for each other."
"Thank you, Ms. Weber." Bella turned to Rosalie. "I have no more questions for this witness."
"Very well. Mr. Masen, would you like to cross-examine?"
Esme watched her son cap his pen, troubled by the softness of his voice. "I would, Your Honor. Thank you."
As Edward came to his feet, Esme caught his eye. And though she couldn't read his mind, his serene expression told her exactly what was on it.
Angela Weber was about to get her proverbial pants charmed off. And Esme hoped the poor girl would survive the experience.