"Hi, I'm home," Cassandra announced cheerfully as she walked into the house and through the living room. She found Blaine seated at the computer working on one of his projects.
"How was your shopping trip?" he asked.
"Good! I found some things for Brooke's party that I think she is really going to like." She paused to give Blaine a kiss before heading upstairs. "I'm going to put these things away before she comes in."
Cassie had just finished hiding her purchases in one of her dresser drawers when Blaine joined her in the bedroom.
"Did you send out an invite to Natalie yet?"
Cassie paused to take a deep breath before closing the dresser drawer and turning to face her husband. She had hoped they would be able to avoid having this conversation. "No," she simply replied.
"I'll just mention it to Reese then, the next time I see her."
"Don't do that," Cassie pleaded.
"Why not?" Blaine asked, genuinely confused by the request.
Cassie hesitated. She knew she could try to come up with some kind of excuse to put him off of the idea or pretend like Natalie and Reese not being invited was just an oversight. She knew that covering the truth with lies would only cause trouble, but blunt honesty wasn't likely to go over well either. She decided to stick with the neutral middle ground and tried to keep her tone light as she explained, "I asked Brooke who she wanted to invite and she said that she wanted a small party with just her closest friends. She didn't want it to be a big deal with a lot of people."
"I'm not talking about a lot of people," Blaine huffed. "Just Natalie. She is Brooke's sister, not some random person we're talking about."
Cassie couldn't help bristling at the reminder that her daughter had a sister that was another woman's daughter. She tried to keep her personal emotions in check, but she couldn't completely bury all of the bitterness she felt when she responded, "I know." She had tried to avoid saying anything negative, but she could see there was no way to shield Blaine from the whole truth. "But Brooke told me herself, specifically, that she did not want to invite them." When Blaine looked at her with shock, she shrugged her shoulders defensively. "What was I supposed to do?"
Blaine studied his wife critically. "Is it Brooke that doesn't want them at the party or is it you?"
"It's Brooke!" Cassie insisted, taking offense.
"Well, if she did say that," Blaine started, speaking slowly as he tried to figure out this situation. "I'm sure she's feeding off of your feelings."
Cassie drew back. She couldn't believe he was accusing her. "I have never said anything to any of our children that would make them think Natalie wasn't welcome here."
"You don't have to say anything. I'm sure they can see what I see. It's obvious that you aren't happy about Natalie or Reese being here or being a part of our lives."
"No, I'm not happy about it," Cassie admitted. Her temper was raised and she wasn't going to back down now, not even to spare Blaine's feelings. "I'm sorry, but I can't help that I'm not happy about my husband having a daughter that's not mine with an ex who is living right next door."
"You can't be mad at me for having another child. That was before we started dating and I didn't even know she existed-"
"I'm not mad . . . I just can't automatically be okay with all of this. I'm just not, but I've been trying to be," she insisted. "I have been as nice to both of them as I can be and I've tried so hard to put my own feelings aside to put on a good face for you and the kids and if that's not good enough than I don't know what else I can do. What else do you want from me? What else can I do that I haven't already been doing?"
Blaine sighed. He didn't have any answers for her, but he didn't want to admit it.
"And you can't put Brooke's feelings all on me. Our daughter has her own mind and her own feelings and she's entitled to feel the way that she feels." When Blaine threw up his hands in defeat and didn't seem to have anything else to say on the subject, Cassie decided to close down the conversation. "If you want to invite them, fine, I won't stop you. I'll be as welcoming to them as humanly possible, but don't expect your daughter to be happy about it. I can't promise you that she'll go along with it as well as I do."
* * * * *
Edward walked through the house in search of his wife. He wasn't surprised to find her with her nose buried in her work, even on a Saturday. He sighed and then cleared his throat. He tried not to let his annoyance show as she paused in her reading to look up at him with a smile.
"I've been thinking, Alma," he began. "It's been quite awhile since we've gone out, just the two of us. Why don't we leave the kids at home and go somewhere nice for dinner tonight?"
Alma's smile faded. She really wasn't in the mood for a date night. "Tonight really isn't a good night. I already have dinner planned and I have a lot of things to do, besides Jeremy is going out tonight and I'm not sure I want to leave Judith to watch the younger kids all on her own."
Ed stepped a few paces across the room. He was disappointed, but not terribly surprised. These days it never seemed to be a good time as far as Alma was concerned. He was debating about whether or not to challenge Alma on her excuses or just let it go. When he heard Jeremy come down the stairs he decided to leave his wife to her books and see what his son had planned for the evening.
"Jeremy," he called out as he met his son in the foyer. "I heard you're going out tonight. What are your plans?"
"Nothing big. Maura and I are just going to get something to eat," he said, trying to make the evening sound as casual as possible. He had hoped it would be as casual as possible.
"Oh, a date," Ed concluded as he leaned forward with interest. "And with Maura, huh? I hope you both have a nice time. But if you're going to be dating, maybe we should have a talk first." He lowered his voice as Judith came down the stairs.
"It's not really a date," Jeremy insisted, hoping he could get away without continuing the topic further.
"Well, whatever you kids call it these days . . . just make sure you are respectful, always treat her like a lady, and be responsible."
"Sure thing," Jeremy said as he made a hasty retreat toward the door. He wanted to get away before his father could continue that line of conversation. He was mortified enough having this kind of talk with just his dad, but it didn't help that Judith was there, looking like she was desperately fighting the urge to laugh. He tried to ignore her when she followed him outside.
"Don't laugh," he warned her, without turning to look at her. "You're next."
Judith immediately stopped snickering and when she spoke her tone was so sober that it startled him.
"Are you sure this isn't a date with Maura? Because she really thinks that it is . . ."
"It's not," he insisted. "I'll set it straight, I promise."
"You'd better, because she really likes you and I don't want to see my friend get hurt."
"I will," he promised again as he turned and got into his car.
As he drove around the loop to Maura's house, he started to regret this idea. Maybe this wasn't the best way to go about handling the situation, but if it was a mistake, it was too late to back out at this point. He resigned himself to trying to make the best of it and hoped he was able to do what needed to be done without too much damage.
Maura was positively giddy when he picked her up and they drove to a nearby diner.
He was glad she had regained her ability to talk around him. As she chatted nonstop throughout the car ride and dinner, he didn't have to say much. He tried to be an attentive listener, but his mind was on how to broach the topic that needed to be discussed without hurting her feelings too badly.
"You didn't eat much," Maura noted as the waitress cleared the table and Jeremy got up to pay the bill.
"I guess I don't have much of an appetite."
"So what do we do now?" Maura asked happily once the bill was paid and they stepped out of the diner.
"Let's take a walk," Jeremy suggested. He hoped it might be easier to talk while they were moving and they weren't in constant eye contact. Once they were out on the sidewalk, Jeremy tried to choose the right words. "So I wanted to talk to you about something."
"Oh? What is it?" Maura asked.
She looked so wide-eyed and happy, that Jeremy felt like a complete heel. "I'm such a jerk," he muttered to himself.
"No, you're not," Maura insisted. She grabbed his arm for emphasis. "And you've already apologized about the concert when you didn't even need to. I'm just touched that you care enough about hanging out with me that you felt bad about not being there the whole time."
"Well, Meghan kind of pointed out to me that the concert was a bigger deal to you than I realized," he admitted. When Maura looked embarrassed, he quickly added, "I just wasn't thinking."
"Just forget about it. Let's not think any more about the concert."
"Okay," Jeremy agreed. "I wanted to talk about something else anyway. I just- look, Maura . . . I think a lot of you, okay. You're a really nice person, a lot of fun to be around and a really good friend. Anybody would be really lucky to know you, or to know that you liked them-" he was just about to add a 'but,' when they were interrupted by three figures approaching them.
"You're Vince's sister," one of them spoke up, but he didn't wait for Maura to answer. "We have a message for him."
When he nodded his head, the other two thugs made a move towards Maura, but Jeremy stepped between them.
"Leave her alone," he said as he made a motion to push them away. The leader of the group retailed by throwing a punch at Jeremy. Jeremy managed to dodge the first move and made an attempt to fight back, but the short skirmish ended with Jeremy being knocked to the ground.
Maura could only watch in horror as the events unfolded before her.
With Jeremy out of the way the leader of the group turned his attention to Maura. As he leaned toward her aggressively she reflexively drew back. "Tell Vince I said, 'tomorrow' and that this," he said motioning toward Jeremy sprawled across the sidewalk, "is just a warning of what's to come."
As Jeremy shifted, trying to pull himself up to a sitting position, Maura knelt down beside him to see if he was okay. Satisfied that their message had been sent, the three thugs walked away.