FACT: There was something sinister about California
"What do you mean you're parents don't know?" Jon asked hesitantly, perfectly aware he was walking a fine line just daring to pose the question.
Cassia's mouth parted slightly as she gingerly applied mascara. Usually Jon liked to watch when Cassia put on make up, she went about the process almost methodically, choosing liquids and powders, stains and brushes with careful concentration. On the road, it wasn't something that she did often, if at all. But this time it was different, she worked in an shaky silence, barely letting it slip that she was likely to give her parents a shock at their 25th Anniversary Party tonight. Now, as she carefully wiped away excess black, in an attempt to avoid her smoky eye from turning into a raccoon eye, she was stalling.
Placing everything down on the dressing table, satisfied with the face she had put on, she turned to face Jon, "It never seemed like the right time to tell them." She admitted shyly, it was the excuse she had told herself too.
"And this is?" He pried a bit deeper, tucking a modest black tie beneath the collar of the pinstriped button down he wore, "I thought Sabrina was the one who liked to cause a scene."
Cassia sighed, standing to fasten his tie into the appropriate knot even without his prompting. She used their now close proximity to lower her voice to nothing above a whisper. "You don't understand, my parents. They're all about appearances. Had I told them, they would have probably cancelled the party all together, I definitely wouldn't have been invited. They probably would have suggested some all inclusive resort I could hide away at until all of this 'blew over' just for the sake of saving face in front of people for the most part they don't even like...At least, with all the extra people around they won't be able to make too much of a scene."
"How exactly does a baby just blow over?" Jon asked surveying Cassia's work on his tie after she dropped her hands to her sides.
Cassia diverted her gaze, she could certainly explain to him that their child wouldn't necessarily become an immediately welcome member of the Meyer family, but that would imply he wouldn't either. "Maybe we shouldn't go." She whispered instead.
"And waste these good looks on a dinner at home?" He chuckled turning her to face the mirror. Even with her bump visible in the folds on the champagne colored dress she wore, Cassia looked stunning. Her chestnut hair cascaded in loose curls down her shoulders, an exceptionally beautiful diamond necklace Jon had watched her remove from a safe hidden in the back of her closet falling gracefully over her collarbone.
"You're not so bad yourself Mr. Walker." She smiled meeting his gaze in the mirror. He squeezed her hand gently. He used the same small sign of reassurance when she paused for an unnatural amount of time outside the front door of her parents house. The limo had dropped them off just at the edge of the garden which had been decorated with twinkle lights.
"We can leave whenever you would like." He said knowing very well she would reply, "Let's just go now," which she did just as the door swung open and a flurry of sparkling dresses and diamonds were visible inside. Jon absorbed the scene in the mere seconds between a man who wore coattails taking their coats with a pleasent "Good Evening" and being greeted by a woman who looked as though she had never aged passed 30 and couldn't possibly be celebrating 25 years of marriage.
"Cassia! My love! My eldest daughter," The woman cried as she surveyed Cassia's current state, "How great it is to see you!" She continued embracing Cassia in a tight hug. Jon only heard the faintest hint of the woman's true sentiments, whispered to Cassia when she was held close, "We'll discuss this situation later," She spat words full of disappoint and utter shock. Jon shuddered at the mere implications that could be assumed from her mother's statement.
"William, William!" Her mother fluttered, "Look, Cassia's just arrived. Isn't that wonderful?" Her words didn't sound nearly as welcoming as her facial expression would like to convey.
"Mom, Dad," Cassia forced a cordial smile, "This is Jon."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Meyer." Jon held out his hand. His gesture was ignored as Cassia's father moved his eyes around the room in a quick and steady motion. He was surveying how many guests had noticed the concealed family struggle ready to burst from the foyer at any second. Realizing, damage control was the only option, he clapped a hand onto Jon's shoulder and bellowed a loud "Welcome to the family, son!"
The closest throngs of party guests turned to see the cause of this exclamation, and whispered their own theories to one another. Cassia had learned at a young age, it was better to let them form their own opinions than to try and get them to understand the truth. Most of those in this social circle still believed that Ethan had gone to teach children in Africa when really he was in rehab for his cocaine addiction.
"25 years, Congratulations Mom and Dad." Cassia smiled just to fill the silence.
"Stephen." Her father called to a nearby waiter who at the moment was balancing two trays of ou-deuvrs, "Water, for the young lady here, and for you Jon?"
"Just water." Jon replied.
"Perposterous! Get him a gin and toxic, alright chap." Her father ordered. The young waiter replied with a nod and a mumbled "Yessir."
"We'll have to sit down and catch up this evening, my dear, but you know the pressures of being a hostess! Dinner in the formal dining room in an hour." Her mother waved them off.
"See, that wasn't so bad." Jon assured her as they wandered through the maze of party guests in and around the foyer. He stopped to admire a large family portrait that hung above the fireplace, had he not easily recognized three of the four people in the painting he might have assumed they were royalty. The fourth, unfamiliar face, was only that in the sense that he had never met her, but she shared many of Cassia's features simply appearing younger.
Cassia rolled her eyes, "That wasn't the half of it." She sighed her gaze lost somewhere outside the nearby window.
"Cassia, my love!" A chipper voice broke into their whispered conversation, "I thought that was you!"
"Hayden, dear!" Cassia exclaimed back, feigning excitement as she shared a hug and air kissed each of this blonde's cheeks, "How are you?"
"Just fabulous." She replied dazzling them both with her perfect smile, "I didn't expect to see you here, last I heard you had gone on some sort of trip with Regina, how is she?"
"Regina's wonderful. Head over heels in love." Cassia replied. Jon nearby listening to the tone of Cassia's voice become progressively unfamiliar, she didn't sound like the girl he knew at all.
"Now introduce me to this handsome man," Hayden ordered, "Would this be the guy I saw you with outside of Le Petit Bistro a few months ago? You were in such a rush, should have stopped to have a drink, not that you were dressed for it. It's been so long, Cass." Both Cassia and Jon remembered the night she spoke of vividly, it was the night he discovered he would be a father, it was just hours after Cassia very nearly went through with a procedure that would have erased ever knowing Jon.
"This is Jon Walker." Cassia gestured to him politely. Jon greeted Hayden with a friendly hello, she continued her rushed conversation without much notice of this.
"and now I couldn't help but overhear your father. Congratulations on the wedding, that's so like you to keep it such a big secret, nothing like your sister!"
"Wedding?" Jon muttered almost silently, Cassia stiffled a steady laugh, surely everyone who had overheard "Welcome to the family, son" and noticed Cassia's obvious baby bump would assume a shotgun wedding.
"Speaking of my sister," Cassia quickly found the segway into more comfortable conversation, "Has she arrived? I haven't seen her yet."
Hayden looked over her shoulder as though the simple glance would effectively scan the entire party, then took another sip from her champagne flute, "I believe she and Ethan went on a last minute trip, a second honeymoon of sorts."
"Mmmmhhmm." Cassia mumbled in agreement, "That's too bad. I was really looking forward to the whole family being together again."
And on a sidestreet somewhere on the wrong side of the tracks, Ethan and Sabrina Price sat in a motel room darkened by heavy shades. Holed up in a room with chipping paint and a broken neon "Vacancy" sign out front could hardly be considered a second honeymoon. Flopped onto her stomach, Sabrina flipped lazily through the latest issue of Vogue, the pages illuminated only by the soft glow from the television that switched silently between a sitcom and commercial. She had given up on arguing, complaining, desperately trying to convince Ethan that she wanted to go to her parent's anniversary party.
Ethan paced back and forth from the bathroom and the window. Occassionally he would nervously check the screen of his phone or peak through the heavy curtains. He only ever left to walk across the parking lot to use the pay phone there to order food he would have the delivery man leave outside the door. When he spoke, his sentences didn't seem to flow. He hardly sounded like the Ivy League educated man that he was. He could hardly be recognized from the pictures taken at their wedding just under 5 months ago. His face had become gaunt from a mix of hidden drug use and not eating as much as he should, his once bright blue eyes appeared dull at best.
When a truck backfired on the street behind their room Ethan dove to the ground, pulling Sabrina by the waist down with him. Shrieking, she tumbled to the ground nearly knocking her head on the edge of the bedside table. He froze bewildered on his back, his chest rising and falling so quick you would have thought he had nearly been shot. "Just being careful." He muttered regaining a sense of composure.
Sabrina sat cross legged in front of him, adjusting her hair in an elastic band before speaking with more confidence than she had felt in days. "What's going on Ethan?" She demanded, "Why can't we go home? What have you gotten us into?"
Ethan sighed, the creases of his forehead forming a V between his eyebrows, "I told you, you're safer if you don't know."
A shiver of uneasiness ran down her spine causing her shoulders to shake briefly, she was still too afraid of the truth to pry anymore. With all of the grace of a ballerina, she returned to her magazine and continued reading as if nothing had happened. Ethan returned to pacing back and forth between the bathroom and the window, checking his phone all the while.
It was somewhere between the second and third course that Cassia's mother had enough to drink to bring up the very obvious situation. She took a dainty sip from her wine glass and chimed a proud, "I'm happy to say that despite this awful turn of events, at least I won't look like a grandmother."
"I suppose all of those 'spa trips' for a lift here and a tuck there helped Mother, wouldn't you say?" Cassia replied sweetly. The conversation was just hushed enough that to the other party guests it looked like a pleasant exchanged between family members. Jon coughed into his water glass at Cassia's reply, it hadn't been what he had been expecting, but he too had felt his heart leap in anger when the phrase "awful turn of events" was used to describe his child.
Unappreciative of the tone her daughter had taken, Diane, a woman who had worked her life to hide insecurity by climbing the social ladder in the shadow of her husband, no longer felt the need to keep up a charade of acceptance. "I suppose it's far too late now, but had you considered terminating the pregnancy, it would have saved us all a lifetime of trouble?" She asked vemon dripping from her every word.
Jon's whole body tensed, their were dozens of curses and harsh responses rushing through his head at once. He fought every urge to jump to Cassia's aid not because he cared what her parents thought of him, but because he didn't want her to think less of him if he were to be disrespectful to her parents.
Cassia took in a sharp breath, she found herself taken back to the darkest place in her memory, the clinic, the protesters their bright red bobbing signs, being ushered room to room just waiting. She had very nearly had an abortion, it was a fact that she tried not to remind herself often, it was a fact that Jon knew but never brought up (for which she was quite thankful).
Jon placed a comforting hand on her thigh, unsure of how else he could help.
"So Jon," Cassia's father interrupted before Cassia could form a response because he knew both his wife and his daughter well enough to know if he didn't distract one of them with other conversation it was certainly going to end with vicious words that everyone would regret in the end, "What is it that you said you did again?"
"I play bass in a band, with three of my friends. We're called Panic at the Disco." Jon explained sending Cassia a sympathetic gaze as he did, it was obvious she still hadn't recovered.
"A band?" Diane gasped her mouth agog, "Cassia, really, you've become a groupie? Haven't we taught you better than that?"
"Mother, Jon is very successful, moreso than even Daddy was at his age. His band plays to thousands of fans every night, always sold out shows. They've won awards, both and their albums have gone platinum." Cassia smirked proudly, "It's an absolute joy to be around incredibly talented people all of the time living a life that they love as opposed to stuffy acquaintances at the country club that care very little about anything but themselves."
"Yes, but fame is fairweather and fleeting. How do you expect to raise a child on that?" She shot back a look of disgust tickling at her nose, "Have you even begun looking into prep schools? There's a three year waiting list for your pre school Cassia, although that may not even matter if they need to take a bastard child into consideration."
"And Jon," She added almost immediately, "with a suitable haircut, and maybe some meetings with this wonderful life coach I know, we can sort you out fine. I suppose there is still some hope for the two of you. I'll put in some calls first thing Monday morning."
A pair of waiters approached the table presenting the main course on exquisitely prepared platters. Jon took one look at the food and pushed the plate away from him. It was taking all he had to stay polite, "I don't believe that'll be necessary Ms. Meyer. I'm quite happy with my current career."
"That's too bad." She nodded at him sadly, "Not knowing when to take a good opportunity when it comes along is a really poor quality in a man."
"MOTHER, THAT IS ENOUGH." Cassia snapped. When the guest sitting at the surrounding tables turned at the sudden harsh tone she lowered her voice again. "I understand, you're disappointed, but I'm not sorry for living my own life. You can say whatever you'd like about me, but you will not disrespect Jon like that."
Diane opened her mouth to begin an "I am your mother, and I will say what I please" rant but Cassia interrupt even before her first syllable, "STOP. All you need to understand is that Jon is the best thing to happen to me," Cassia gave Jon a sidelong glance unsure of how he would react to the rest of her statement, "Ever."
Both of her parents sat speechless as she pushed her chair back from the table in sync with Jon. "Time to go?" He offered. It was clear that she was done with the conversation and with the party.
Cassia smiled at him, "I would have to say so." She turned back toward her parents. They were both sitting still enough to convey they weren't sure what would happen next, " Don't mind us now." Cassia waved throwing her napkin over her untouched entree.
"We'll see you at Christmas," Her father attempted with a jolly extension of his arms for a hug.
Cassia was already three tables away when she turned back toward her parents. She squeezed Jon's hand and replied with a strong, "Jon and I already have plans."