This was written for Bade Prompt's Save the Date: The Prequel to Every Wedding, and a testament to why I should never ever be allowed to write one-shots. They always end up exploding into 8000 word monsters. Still, considering this is my first attempt at writing from a prompt ever, I'm super proud.
Takes place in the South somewhere in the 1930s, because the image of Elizabeth Gillies as a Southern Belle could not be passed up. Historical inaccuracies abound, I'm sure.
Disclaimer: You know you're obsessed with Bade when you start mentally trying to reassure yourself during a talk on abusive relationships that, no, none of these warning signs remind you of any certain fictional couple AT ALL
It was too hot.
It was too hot and her dress was too tight and Jade should have known better than to drink the wine. She should have known, but these days that was all she had been reduced to - instances of silent rebellion that resonated probably only within her own consciousness - and she was angry.
So she drank. Little fluted glasses of piss-yellow champagne - each drop probably more expensive than anything she was wearing, and that was saying something - and a big fluted glass of red wine and little, wincing sips of everything her mother had left unfinished on the table. And there was a lot of that.
And now everything was swimming. It was too hot to begin with, the air hanging heavy with humidity, and now it seemed to move in thick, choppy swells before her, smearing colors and sounds and scents and-
There was Beck, looking as easily handsome and coolly collected as usual, tapping politely at her shoulder, and still calling her 'Miss West' after six months of silent evenings and avoidance of eye-contact over the dinner table.
He smirked at her a little. She hated him a little more. It was a reinvigorating emotion, and she managed to jerk away from him without stumbling.
"You look like you could do with some fresh air," said Beck, crinkling his eyes condescendingly as he took her elbow. "Walk with me?"
Jade started to say no, but there was her mother a few yards away staring pointedly at her over the heads of the one of politicians she was probably prepping to sleep with. She allowed Beck to take her arm and gritted her teeth behind closedly smiling lips.
Beck obligingly released her arm once they were away from the throng of merry drunkards beneath the pavilion's arched ceiling.
"Nice night," he said, without a touch of irony.
Jade suppressed a groan. "It's too hot," she said, daring him to disagree.
He grinned with characteristic condescension. "Are you sure that's what has you woozy?"
She walked a little faster to get away from him and his cologne and condescending smile, the tulle lining beneath her skirt crinkling and itching her legs as she walked a tad unsteadily through the scratchy, overgrown grass that lined the lakeside. "I'm sure I don't know what you're saying, Mr. Oliver. I'm a lady."
"I didn't know ladies went to college."
Her heel caught in the soft, damp mud, ankle turning, as she wheeled on him. Beck caught her by the arm and set her back upright rather unceremoniously, then smirked at her like he'd done something praiseworthy.
Having recovered her balance and composure, Jade took a seat on the wrought-iron bench beneath the magnolia tree and settled her skirts primly about her before saying coolly, "I didn't go to college."
"You didn't graduate college," countered Beck. "My father said you left in your third year because of your mother's-"
"-health problems," he finished calmly, his face hard to read.
There was a silence. Jade glared. They were a distance from the party now, shielded by a cloud of wilting, overly-fragrant magnolia blossoms, but she could still make-out her mother's high-pitched laughter amid the clinking of champagne glasses and the quiet lap of the star-splotched lake.
"Do you have an objection to educated women?" she inquired. It was a rhetorical question, as both were acutely aware that Beck's opinion meant less than nothing to her.
Still, Beck answered seriously. "I don't think it would matter if I did."
Jade waited. Beck was looking at the ground.
"Can we move somewhere else before I do this? It's very muddy here."
"But the romantic atmosphere," protested Jade mock-forlornly.
"You hate flowers."
"I also hate you, and yet here I am accepting your proposal of marriage."
Beck blinked. "But I didn't-"
She held out her hand silently, and after a minute of blank staring, Beck fumbled within the jacket of his suit and retrieved the slim silver ring.
"Miss West, will you-"
"I've already said yes," she said sharply, and turned her head away as he bent to slide the ring along the length of her skinny white fourth finger. The ring was oddly warm, probably from maintained contact with Beck's body all evening, and his hands were characteristically cool and dry and uninteresting.
Then there was a prolonged moment where Beck just sort of held Jade's hands uncomfortably in his while Jade stared determinedly away and despised him.
"I guess," said Beck slowly, "that I should probably kiss you now."
Jade got to her feet briskly, straightening her skirt and trying to grow accustomed to the slight extra weight on her hand. "I wouldn't bother. They can't see us from here anyway."
Beck thought about this, shrugged, and said no more. He ambled towards the lake after a moment, stopping only when the murky water licked at the toes of his polished dress shoes.
Jade followed to keep up appearances for any spying mothers at the party, standing a couple feet away from Beck and eyeing their so-detached reflections with an alcohol-induced thoughtfulness.
They looked like unfinished pen-and-ink sketches in the choppy ripples of the dark waters - she, white skin and smoke-gray dress and dark knot of hair atop her head, he, black-and-white tuxedo and dark hair and blank face - like the artist had sketched all the details of attire and image but the pen had been stilled before it brought to life features and expressions and humanity.
In her clouded mind, Jade found something satisfyingly bitter about the imagery, though she could never again quite make sense of what sort of meaning it had held to her.
"Shall we?" said Beck at last, stepping back from the water like one drowning bursting through the surface for air.
Jade took his arm, and together they walked back towards the cheery golden glow of the party-goers on the pavilion, holding hands and smiling like they meant it.
It rained the next day.
Jade had always found something very cathartic about good, steadily bad weather, where it rained like it meant it and thundered in a way that could be heard and lightening flashed in a way that couldn't be blotted out by greater sources of nearby light.
Therefore, she told her mother very firmly that morning that she was ill, lit the rarely-used fireplace in her bedroom, and shut herself in for a mindless day on the window seat, intent on staining her fingers and her best white nightgown with blots of wayward black ink. (Always black, never blue. Jade hated blue ink.)
She wrote in the little notebook she kept hidden amid the stuffing of one of the throw-pillows on the window seat for the entirety of the morning, filling sixteen pages - back and front - with cramped, breathless writing and promptly scribbling half of it out so vigorously that her pen nib tore through the thin paper.
The knock on the door came just past noon, and the pattern of knocking alone - two demure knocks, a brief pause, and then an explosion of impatient rapping - alerted Jade to who her visitor was.
Wiping her ink-stained fingers carelessly across the scrupulously-cleaned surface of her nightgown, she made her way to the door. There she quickly fixed her features in a scowl; Cat was clingy enough as it was, she certainly did not need the encouragement.
Sure enough, Caterina Valentine flung herself into the room the moment Jade had unlatched the door, whirling happily in a blur of red hair and throwing her sodden coat to the floor with a damp schlop.
"Jadey! Congratulations! Oh my god, I ran all the way over here as soon as I heard the news; I didn't even finish cleaning Mrs. Van Cleef's kitchen, I was so excited!"
"Won't she be mad?" Jade asked, disentangling herself from Cat's vigorous hug rather brusquely.
It wasn't that she was concerned or anything. It was just that Cat really couldn't afford to skip out on jobs considering how rare it was to find an employer patient enough to tolerate the red-head's questionable sanity to begin with.
And God knows Cat needed the work, what with her parents dead and her brother in the Southvale Asylum again, and if she started singing in the bars again for extra money, she was sure to end up in trouble...
Not that Jade was concerned or anything.
Apparently, Cat wasn't either. She shook her head, synthetic red curls bouncing, "Oh, no, she'll never fire me! She says people who can tolerate Mr. Sinjin are one in a million, and that's me! I'm one in a million!"
Jade looked at the petite girl, dressed in a pink-checked dress a size or two too large with her red hair curling crazily despite her barrette's best efforts at taming it, and silently agreed.
"Isn't it weird to think," continued Cat, with no time for breath or proper punctuation between her streams-of-consciousness, "that there are a million people in the world? And I'm one of them. Each of us is just one person, and we all add up to a million and we don't even think about it, we-"
"Cat," said Jade sharply, "are you here to clean or talk?"
"I can do both," said Cat proudly, and hung her rain-soaked coat on Jade's bedpost to demonstrate before plopping down onto the rug looking as if she did not intend on moving for quite some while.
Jade closed her notebook with an exaggerated sigh and silently began to pick up various articles of clothing from where she had scattered them across her bedroom floor last night. Cat curled up on the rug before the little fire, much like a real cat, and let out a happy sigh.
"I'm really happy for you, Jadey," she said, fingers moving idly along the weave of the rug. "I hope you'll be happy, too."
"I hate being happy."
"I know," agreed Cat, "but I think once you actually are happy, you'll like it."
"What if I don't want to be?" she inquired, folding her nightgown with taut motions and banging drawers rather viciously as she changed.
"I think everyone wants to be, secretly," she said sleepily.
Jade thought about this as she quickly cleaned her room. She looked at Cat's thin little form on the rug, with her scandalously red hair and carefully tended pink dress and the ugly, cheap pink affair of a bow she wore so proudly.
And here was she, Jade, who could afford to ruin nightgowns with ink every time it rained, who didn't know how to be happy.
She slammed her bureau drawer shut hard, and kicked gently at Cat's motionless form with her bare foot as she headed back to the windowsill.
"Go do what my mother pays you to do," she said imperiously, ignoring the squelches of uncomfortable pity that accompanied the sight of Cat's crown of dark brown roots and her red hands, chapped viciously with harsh cleaning solutions. "Or I'll fire you."
"I wonder where that saying comes from," said Cat dreamily, sitting upright with a cat-like purr as she stretched. "Maybe they used to light people on fire when they lost their jobs."
"Don't tempt me."
Cat giggled, unimpressed, and danced away.
Jade put her head against the window, watching the rain run as she enjoyed the newfound silence, but found the angry, defiant words she had been building into battle-lines would not come any longer.
"You're not wearing your ring."
Jade looked up abruptly as her mother's knotted old finger, tipped with its brassy red-painted fingernail, prodded at her hand.
It was odd, how old her mother's hands seemed. Granted, her mother was old. But there were doctors who could do things to a woman's face now, if you paid them properly, to make them look young again.
She wasn't sure it had worked on her mother; she didn't exactly look young, but she certainly was not wrinkled. She looked...
Well, mostly she just looked fake. It was only when Jade looked at the ridged knuckles and spotted skin of her mother's fingers that she remembered the woman was human, and would die.
Soon, too, if the other set of doctors knew what they were talking about.
Jade jerked her hand away sharply from the aged, time-worn hand and said nothing.
"Do you not like the ring? If you don't like the ring, Jadelyn, I'm sure we can talk to James about exchanging it for a new one."
Jade had always found it immensely amusing that her mother referred to Mr. Oliver as 'James.' Probably she'd slept with him.
Beck had found this considerably less amusing, which made it all the more so to Jade, of course.
"Can you talk to James about exchanging my fiancée for a new one? Preferably a male this time?"
Mr. West snorted slightly to himself behind his newspaper, but neither of the West women paid him any mind. He had always harbored a bit of a dislike for 'James.' Probably because his wife had slept with him.
"Jadelyn, Beckett is a perfect darling," said the elder shrilly. "He's handsome, polite, already the assistant editor of the Times. He'll probably be in politics by the time he's thirty."
"Oh, fantastic, what a peach," said Jade sarcastically, voice rising. "Maybe you should just sleep with him yourself, and make sure I don't foul up the job and let such a gem go to waste-"
"That's quite enough of that," said her father abruptly, looking up severely. "You have no right to speak to your mother in such a way, not after we tolerated your every whim for years and financed your entire foolish little education excursion and-"
"It was not an excursion," she bit back sharply. "It was my future and you made me throw it all away for nothing-"
A hand banged down on the table as Mrs. West turned triumphantly. "There. You see. Nothing. It was nothing. Thank you, Jadelyn."
Jade looked down and with surprise found her fingers to be quite purple, so entangled were they in the folds of her skirt. Quietly, she replaced her hands in her lap, folding them so they did not shake.
"You're right," she interrupted levelly, "of course. I'm sorry. May I be excused?"
"Of course, dear," her mother said, smiling like everything was perfectly fine and reaching for her wine glass. "But do put your ring on, won't you? We don't want to hurt your darling fiancée's feelings."
"No, of course," said Jade automatically, smiling with her lips. "I'll put it on now. And then I think I'll walk down to the library."
"It's raining. At least take the car," her mother began to object, but Jade had already left the room.
The library was closed when Jade got there.
Of course it was; it was a Sunday. Nearly everything was closed on Sundays. Jade herself had written many a nastily-worded complaint letter to the library committee about the inconvenience of its closing.
Still, to have walked half a mile in the pouring rain - with her books all safely bundled up in her coat while she herself got rained on - was absolutely infuriating. Jade threw several rocks at nearby building, narrowly missing a window, and still felt vaguely like crying.
And then a horn beeped, and stupid Beckett Oliver was getting out of his car and shaking his head at her and taking pity on her. Jade thought abruptly that, dear God, she was marrying this infuriating wretch, and had a sudden urge to drown herself in a puddle.
And yet before she knew what was going on, she was dripping water all over the interior of Beck's fancy car, which smelt of cologne and leather, and he was smirking at her with every ounce of condescension in his stupid face.
"Explain the logic of this to me," he said, grinning wide. "It's pouring rain, so you decide to go on a walk."
"I like the rain."
"And then you use your coat to protect your books, rather than yourself."
"I like books."
"Miss Jadelyn West likes things. Who'da thunk?"
"You should be a comedian," Jade said coldly, attempting to wrestle her bundled books out of Beck's grasp and scattering them across the floor of the car.
"Maybe," he agreed, "but tonight I'm your chauffeur, Miss West. Can I drive you home?"
"I'd rather walk," Jade snipped, stooping to retrieve her books. "That, or drown myself."
"I can't wait to hear you promise to love and obey me at the wedding," he said breezily, pulling away from the dark-windowed library. "I might laugh, right there on the altar."
"It's only 'til death do us part," said Jade stonily. "And I have reason to believe we'll be parted rather soon."
Beck laughed aloud, and Jade's eyes flew away from the rain-streaked window in surprise. For an instant, with his head thrown back and his eyes crinkled unguardedly, she could look at him and almost understand why people thought her fiancee so gloriously handsome.
There was an openness to his face as he turned towards her, laughter still tracing the curves of his jaw, and something thudded dully against her breastbone for an instant. She almost smiled back.
"Well," said Beck, "I bet it could be worse."
He was still smiling. Jade looked back at the window, and said icily, "I doubt it."
The rest of the drive went by in silence.
The next day was a bad day, too brightly sunny for Jade's liking.
It was too sunny and everything was sticky with humidity and sweat - except for Jade, of course, because sweating was vulgar and so she didn't do it - and worst of all, the Vegas were visiting.
Mr. and Mrs. Vega were friends of Daddy's - a politician from the next county over and his trophy wife - and entirely insufferable, with their professionally-doctored white teeth and aura of general perfection.
They weren't perfect, of course; the younger Vega daughter had not been much seen in public lately, not since the day they'd baptized her newborn daughter at the church under the name Andrea Vega. The baby had head of wiry black curls and skin hued nut-brown.
But nobody was perfect, Jade thought, looking at her mother's wrinkled hands lifting her third glass of wine to her medically-puffed lips, set in a fiercely good-natured smile that did not budge her surgically-enhanced cheeks an inch. Some just had the money to make over the flaws.
They were putting Victoria Vega's daughter up for adoption, Mrs. Vega said, smiling, like weren't they generous for giving the rest of the less-fortunate world a chance to add phenomenal cheekbones to their family gene pool?
"Probably for the best," Jade's mother agreed with her stiff smile, "the poor dear."
"She's being very brave," agreed Holly Vega, nodding and looking vaguely mournful, as if Victoria was some sort of martyr instead of just a rich girl who'd had the misfortunate to get caught. "But the whole ordeal is tolling."
Katrina, the older Vega girl, nodded her agreement, smiling tightly with her eyes on her plate. Jade had spent nearly the entirety of the meal watching with slightly revolted curiosity as the slim, brown-haired girl downed everything put before her with an unpolished, ravenous hunger.
The movement caught Holly's attention and she turned to Katrina abruptly. "Baby, you don't have to finish everything on your plate," she said generously. "I'm sure Mrs. West won't be offended. We ladies know what it's like to have to preserve our figures."
"God knows I do," Mariah West agreed with a long-suffering smile and a playful pinch at her own hipbone, wrapped in floral-patterned fabric and skin and not much else. "Why, I remember, I hardly ate a thing for months when Ellis was courting me. He was always naturally skinny; that's where Jade got it from, you know. She never dieted for a day, but I think she's set herself up pretty nicely all the same."
She preened, petting Jade's beringed hand with her wrinkly one as Mrs. Vega clucked her tongue.
"I suppose it was the educating that did that; the Shapiro boy – you remember him, Mariah, rather gangly and awkward – he went off to college. I saw him last week when he came to call on Victoria, and I hardly knew him at all! I suppose it was all books and politics and sex there, no time for proper nourishment—"
"I thought he looked alright," objected Katrina weakly.
Her mother continued with no regard to the interruption. Katrina quietly began to sneak forkfuls of sweet potato from her mostly-emptied plate as her mother continued to chatter, turning suddenly on Jade with sharp brown eyes.
"I suppose you feel a bit foolish now, Jadelyn, knowing you could have had Beckett Oliver three years earlier if you hadn't insisted on going off and—"
"Beck?" interrupted Katrina abruptly, looking up interestedly, fork caught between her whitened teeth. "You know Beck?"
Mrs. Vega looked at her a bit reproachfully for her interruption. "Of course, baby, surely I told you about that. Jadelyn will be marrying the Oliver boy this coming year." Aside, as though Katrina could not hear, she said confidentially, "Katrina had a bit of a hankering for Beckett for quite some time. She's quite beyond that now, of course. When is the wedding, Mariah, exactly?"
"November," Jade said before she could stop herself.
Holly looked taken aback before her face settled into its customary complacence. "November? My, but you two are in a rush!" She turned with a wry, condescending chuckle to Mrs. West. "Ah, young love!"
"November of next year," said Jade clearly. She got to her feet before the rest of the bitter words on the tip of her tongue could spill through clenched teeth. "If you'll excuse me, I think I might go take a walk. It's hot in here."
"Katrina will go with you," said Mrs. Vega, smiling delightedly at the notion. "She could do with the exercise."
The girl in question looked up in mild-eyed protest, mouth full of food. She swallowed hurriedly and got to her feet with a polite nod to Mrs. West. "Thank you. Everything was lovely."
"Lovely," agreed Holly Vega graciously, "but a bit rich. We'd be absolute whales if we ate like this every day, wouldn't we, Baby?"
Katrina smilingly remained silent as she moved to stand beside Jade at the door, linking their arms companionably. Jade looked down at the tanner elbow hooked around hers, not creased with the slightest bit of excess flesh, and wondered what exactly Mrs. Vega considered an acceptable everyday meal.
Jade wasn't wearing her ring.
In fact, not only was she not wearing her ring, she was still in her nightgown. Her hair was unwashed, rippling messily from last night's braid, and there was ink stained so stubbornly beneath her fingernails that her hands looked as though they belonged to a coal miner.
Mariah West let out a raw shriek of outmost disgust as she flung open the door. "Good Lord, Jadelyn! Put something decent on, quick!"
She continued to babble in incoherent hysterics as she rustled through Jade's bureau and began yanking out a multitude of neatly-folded, brightly-patterned clothing that Jade had never once worn.
"Really, you'd think he'd have the decency to call ahead—suppose he thanks he has an all-access pass to you now that you're engaged, but really—supposing we'd been indisposed- And the house is a mess; that trashy Caterina girl doesn't do nearly what we pay her for—"
Jade got to her bare feet hesitantly, knocking askew the pile of loose paper she'd been racing through in replacement for her journal, which she had once again temporarily misplaced. "Do you need to sit down?" she questioned slowly. "Are you… sick again—"
Her mother slammed shut a drawer loudly, and turned with an armful of bright fabric. "Don't be absurd, Jadelyn. Now get over here and put something decent on before you go and see your fiancee. And mind you tell him – subtly, of course – that we'd prefer he called ahead in the future-"
"My apologies," said another voice from the doorway.
Mariah West shrieked, bright clothing scattering as she threw her arms up in the air. She immediately flushed red, embarrassed and flustered and irate.
"Really, Mr. Oliver, I have to protest! Jadelyn isn't fit for visiting at the moment, as you can see—"
Beck turned briefly, eyeing Jade where she stood in her bare feet and thin summer nightshift and black-tipped fingers, and said impassively, really rather rudely, "She looks fine to me. If I could have a moment of your time, Miss West?"
Jade opened her mouth to say something rude, but her mother cut her off sharply, "Of course, dear, and I do apologize. You caught us a bit off-guard."
"I couldn't tell," Beck lied graciously, and waited until the door had closed behind Mrs. West before he turned back to Jade, eyeing her appearance once more with ill-disguised skepticism.
She ignored him, yanking the loose fabric of her nightgown up to cover her sloppily-bared shoulder and raising her eyebrows at him. "Not until the wedding night, Mr. Oliver," she said bitingly, "you ingrate."
Beck ignored her, looking around for a minute. "Can I sit?"
"Certainly, why don't you head right back outside to your expensive little car and sit out there?"
He took a hesitant perch on the edge of her unmade bed, and fixed her with his irritatingly cool gaze expectantly, as if waiting for her to make the first move.
After a minute, Jade became aware of the ink-laden papers that were scattered so haphazardly about her bare feet, right out in the open, her cramped lettering there for all the world to see. Hurriedly, she stooped to collect the inked-over paper.
Another set of hands joined hers on the floor then, bronzed against the white paper and her whiter skin, offering up another bundle of her scribblings, a work of art framed on either side by her sloppily-hanging dark hair.
Instinctively, she slapped the hands – those invasive, cool hands that were smudging her hastily inked words across their gold skin and the white paper. He yelped, dropping his handful, and Jade scurried to snatch her writing out of his reach as he recovered.
She was surprised, then, when the hands suddenly reappeared, closing around her skinny white wrists with surprising agility, his big fingers easily circling the length of her tiny wrist bones. There was a red welt on his left hand from the stupid diamond ring he was making her wear.
"Don't bother," Beck said simply, angling his head so he could meet her eyes beneath her forward-falling curtain of hair. "I already know that you're a writer."
"Let go of me," she directed imperiously, tossing back her head and baring her teeth viciously. Still, she was a little surprised when he immediately complied, releasing her wrists and sitting back on his heels on her bedroom floor.
"I wasn't trying to pry."
She ignored him, breathing hard through her nose as she gathered papers feverishly with quivering fingers.
Beck fumbled in his pocket quietly, and came up with another handful of papers lined with cramped, angry little black letters and ink blots and furious scribbles, all with ragged edges.
"I wasn't trying to pry," he repeated, offering her the crumpled sheaves, "I found your diary in my car. You must have left it the other day when I drove you home."
She ripped them away from him rudely and hurriedly retreated to the window, clutching the bundle of papers to her and searching for some form of weaponry with which to slash the throat of this awful, horrible, infuriating, prying, invasive—
"It's a journal. Not a diary."
He shrugged as Jade smoothed the papers - torn, water-streaked pages from a lost diary – with feverish, scrupulous concern. "I wouldn't know. It isn't as though I read it."
She looked up then, eyes wide in suspicion. "You didn't?"
He shook his head. "I recognized your handwriting, and I know you write in your spare time. Your mother complains about it a lot. So I thought I'd return what I could salvage. The rest of the diary was ruined by the rain, but-"
Beck didn't finish, didn't have time to, because just then Jade flung herself at him – a mess of black hair and slipping white nightgown and ice eyes – and kissed him, hard.
Beck tasted, oddly, of cigarette smoke.
Jade had not even known he smoked.
The moment of exhilaration and relief and fierce, inexplicable emotion had faded by the time Jade had shunted Beck downstairs while she changed and then insisted he accompany her out to the lake.
She looked at him as he meandered through the manicured grass a couple feet behind him, and found herself wondering what it was in this handsome, coolly detached boy's face that had inspired such a moment of recklessness within her.
It was an emotion she hadn't experienced in a while, not since the day when the letter came from the college and she had run in bare feet and her best dress down to the lake and jumped in, fully clothed, while her mother shrieked about deception and selfishness and a distinct lack of propriety
Jade had been perhaps the most unpleasant, rebellious, succinctly and deliberately vicious adolescent known to the entire southern half of the United States, if not the world in general.
She had gone to college late at night in the car she had received for her eighteenth birthday, bringing nothing with her but her notebooks and the money her mother had been saving in a ceramic vase marked in pretentious French 'trousseau' since Jade's fifth birthday.
And for three years she had lived as she wanted, dressing in slim, sheathed, modern fashion and smoking cigarettes and going to the theater. She wrote music and short stories and never once opened the letters they sent from home, marked Jadelyn West in her mother's flourish-heavy penmanship.
For that reason, she only found out about the incident via the newspaper, drinking black coffee in the bed of a stranger named Ryder at noon on a Sunday.
Woman, Driving Intoxicated, Kills Two
Her father had been waiting at the door of her apartment that afternoon, grim-faced. They had gone straight to the hospital, and Jade had never once said a word, just sent a letter and a check to her landlord and asked that her things be collected immediately.
The trend of silence continued with knitted fingers under the table and gritted teeth behind smiling lips. Jade handed off her mantle of scandal to her pale-faced mother in the hospital bed and allowed herself to be maneuvered like the perfect porcelain doll she so distinctly resembled, coldly perfect on the outside and festering within.
Mr. Beckett Oliver was the handsome son of a handsome politician. He was polite and college-educated and sought-after and, most importantly, his father owed Ellis West a favor.
Jade looked at him now, as he trailed after her with his guarded brown eyes and lustrous hair, and understood how an addition like Beck Oliver might be just what it needed to get a disgraced family back on its feet.
"I hope you know," she said haughtily as he finally caught up with her, "that this changes nothing."
Beck raised his eyebrow. "Doesn't it?"
"Thank you for returning my belongings," Jade said politely, tilting her head and challenging him with a face that was nothing but serene and sincere and disarmingly good-natured. "I suppose I'll see you at the engagement party in a fortnight."
Beck looked briefly disappointed, and then his face fell into its usual handsome lines of composure. "If you say so, Miss West."
She wanted to scream at him then, to tell him that her name was Jade and that she might just hate him a little less if he would just hate her back, instead of just standing there and being handsome and polite and impersonal, so controlled and measured that surely any bit of humanity he'd ever possessed had been choked out of him by now by the starched collar of his neatly-pressed shirt.
She smiled and offered her arm with ironic formality, inwardly fuming. "You may escort me back to the house."
She had not known that he had smoked cigarettes.
But then, he did not know that she had once smoked, too, and had hated it a bit more each time she lit up. He did not know that her middle name was August, at the request of a drunken, would-be-poet of a godfather, or that she played the piano and loved the rain and despised ducks and cilantro and blue ink and chefs who left the tails on their shrimp and parades and-
It seemed they had reached an impasse. And Jade certainly did not intend to take an interest if Beck didn't.
And so nothing changed.
"Stop moving!" Cat squealed in frustration. "You're going to bleed all over your wedding dress!"
"I feel like that would be an interesting color scheme," said Jade flatly, yanking away from the needle caught in Cat's tanned hands. "Very symbolic."
"Don't be dramatic, Jadelyn," said her mother tiredly, putting the cool surface of her glass of brandy, frosted with condensation, to her forehead and closing her eyes. Then, "Perhaps you'd prefer we found a real seamstress for the next fitting—"
Jade yelped as Cat stuck her with a pin, the first time the incident was not the fault of Jade's incessant fidgeting.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. West," Cat said hurriedly. "I'll be more careful."
"Ca—Miss Valentine is a real dressmaker," said Jade harshly, glaring at her mother. "Wait until you see what she's made me for the engagement party."
The older woman did not open her eyes as she hummed with ambiguous disapproval and took another pained sip of her brandy.
Jade set her limbs and willed herself to stay still, watching her mother's harshly set face with curiosity and a dawning of confirmation on the suspicions she had long entertained.
Three days later, sipping too-sweet tea in her own clean-scented bed at seven in the morning as she flipped idly through the newspaper, inhaling the heady scent of paper and ink, she saw it.
Her words, her carefully crafted syllables in her meticulous arrangement, cynical words with sounds that clashed dissonantly, that she had scribbled fiercely one thundering afternoon on the ink-stained pages of a lost diary.
Her words, printed in decisive black lettering on thin gray pages, by Anonymous.
"I'm going out," said Jade, hands practically shaking around the curve of the front doorknob. It hadn't been polished yet, thankfully; Jade despised wet doorknobs.
"Going to see your loving fiancée?" inquired her mother, smiling condescendingly.
"No," Jade lied with dignity, fingers tightening on the doorknob convulsively, "I'm going to the library."
And she did.
The articles continued to be published.
The public continued to be appalled and scandalized and intrigued by the idea that the author of these brutal, masterfully-worded truths lived among them, not just seeing, but understanding and fathoming and scorning.
The white lace dress continued to come together under Cat's chapped, reddened hands with the sensitive piano fingers.
The evening was filled with clinking glasses and semi-drunken toasts, string instruments warbling up and down the treble clef inconsistently, but mostly it was filled with whispers.
The guests whispered as they swayed to the thin, weak strains of the orchestra – God forbid someone actually play some swing music – with their arms about each other and their lips near each other's ears and their eyes on the darkly-garbed girl in the middle of the dance floor.
Jade West looked beautiful, of course, with her skin so fair and her dark hair swept up in a loose, elegant knot atop her regal head. But really, the things young people were these days were scandalous – the expanse of the bared white skin of her white neck and shoulders alone was enough to set tongues clucking – and my goodness, what had Mariah West been thinking when she'd let her daughter step out of the house in a concoction made almost entirely of clinging black lace.
The mouths said this all disapprovingly, down-turned, but secretly the women resolved to talk to their dressmakers about finding a similar pattern, and discreetly the men tracked the girl in black across the dance floor with lustful eyes.
Thus far she had danced only once, with her handsome fiancée, but observers had not missed the way her mouth moved fiercely as if the words they exchanged under the music were not pleasant, blue eyes flashing under vindictive black brows.
Still, they said only that Jade West was a beautiful woman of a new era and that Beckett Oliver was gloriously handsome and quite the catch indeed, and then the people went back to their drinks and their trivialities of conversation.
Politics and weather and housekeeping, and had anyone else been following that scandalous new column in the Times—really, it was quite appallingly blunt, and yet it held a certain allure—social commentary indeed, had anyone seen the awful things they'd published about Holly Vega last week—not by name, of course, but its meaning was rather clear—Holly always was rather hard on her girls—after all, when was the last time anyone had seen Victoria—oh, no, but there were rumors about that, scandalous, really—heard she'd run off with the bastard baby and the man who'd gotten her pregnant—a black man—oh, poor, poor Holly Vega—
"You had no right."
"What's yours is mine, my dear betrothed."
"You said the diary was ruined, you liar-"
"I thought you said it was a journal."
"It—You lied to me-"
"Ah, but you've been lying to me, too, every moment since we met, with your fake little smiles, when all the while you've been thinking things—things that mean something. To think I thought you were dull-"
"Me, dull? What about you, with your 'yes, Miss West' and 'no, Miss West.' When was the last time you even smiled, honestly—"
"You look like you're choking on your own innards."
"Would you care to take a romantic walk in the moonlight with me, Miss West?"
"My name is Jade, damn it—"
Beck smiled, positively grinned, then. He offered his arm and Jade found herself taking it.
And then someone screamed.
Southvale Aslyum Escapee Crashes Party, Injures Three, Kills One
Jade dressed in the drabbest clothes she had, topped it all off with the ratty masculine overcoat she'd taken to wearing during her college days in the tiny little apartment with no heat, and snuck away.
There was no answer at the little tenement apartment on the third floor, and the woman next door attested that no, no one had been in and out of the little apartment since the—
The women looked down at the large-eyed, pale little girl who clung shyly to her skirt and said no more.
Jade met Cat on the crooked stairway between the second and third story, and stopped short.
"Cat," she breathed.
Caterina was dressed in a soft lilac dress – originally a deep purple, but washed and washed and faded into pastel – and a purple bow and no coat, despite the heavy rain.
For once in her life, the redhead said nothing, just stood there limply with her chapped red hands at her side.
"Cat, I'm so sorry," said Jade desperately, meaning it, words rushing forth without her customary eloquence or heavy irony, fingers ripping at the cuffs of her worn coat. "Oh my god, I'm so sorry. I should have told you. I should have—"
"Sorry?" squeaked the other girl.
Jade's stomach dropped.
"I'm sorry," Cat wailed. "Oh my god, I'm sorry. I knew my brother was crazy, because one time he shot a mime, but I didn't think—I didn't know—How could anyone ever—"
Cat burst into tears.
Jade stared, incredulous, for a moment. Then relief surged, and she stepped down to wrap her arms around the girl fiercely.
Cat was tiny and soaked with rain and shaking with sobs, but there was a surprising amount of force in her arms when she abruptly shoved Jade off her, sending the taller girl staggering into the ragged wall of the tenement stairwell.
"Don't touch me. Don't touch me. You don't want to touch me. My brother's a murderer. My brother—My brother killed your mom, Jade—"
Jade inhaled raggedly, shaking her head and fighting tears. "But my mother killed your parents, Cat. How is this any—"
Cat looked up, brown eyes bewildered and shiny with tears. "What?"
Beck held Jade's hand all through out the funeral, even when they were sitting in the hard wooden pews and nobody could see them, tan fingers gripping into her palm with uncharacteristic fierceness.
She gripped back desperately, the diamonds of the ring he had given her probably cutting into his palm.
Caterina Valentine sat, very small, in the back row of the expansive church with her red hair falling in red eyes, head bowed to display a crown of brown roots, her dress a cheerful pink. She did not own black clothing.
A couple people looked at her askance, but Jade dealt with them with a single flash of blue eyes.
Three days later, Cat showed up at the door with her bag of stitching and a smile. Jade opened the door and stared.
"I'm here for your fitting. You are still getting married, aren't you?"
Jade was staggered. "I—I don't know."
"Well," said Cat hesitantly, "as long as I'm here…"
She moved aside and let Cat in, closing the door behind her.
"I want to take you out," said Beck abruptly one Friday as Jade tried to read and he sat there and harassed her in a way that she no longer found any real annoyance in, no matter how she tried.
"We are out."
"Jade, we're getting married."
"We're getting married and yet we've never once been on a date where we weren't just putting on a show for our parents."
"That's because me tolerating you is only a recent development," said Jade idly, turning a page. "Now hush. The librarian is going to throw you out."
"Do you like movies? I bet you like movies. You like movies, don't you?"
"Stop acting like a puppy dog."
"I'm going to take you to see a movie tonight. And then I'll buy you a soda. And you may kiss me on the front porch when I drive you home in time to meet curfew."
"Oh, silly me, I'd forgotten we were thirteen-year-olds and imbeciles, to boot."
Beck's hand darted out then and caught Jade's as she moved to turn another page. His eyes were a very serious brown when she looked up to glare at him in protest.
"This is the way it's supposed to be. When you choose to be with someone."
Jade looked at him and couldn't think of anything to say except, "Okay."
Beck liked vanilla milkshakes. Jade liked hot coffee, black, with sugar.
Afterwards, they sat in his car and Beck smoked a cigarette and laughed at the faces Jade made when he offered her one as well.
He kissed her on the big white front porch, and then grinned against her lips and said, "I told you so."
She drew back to glare at him, but he looked like a child – a real person, with real emotions – with that stupid grin on his handsome face, and so instead she smiled back, then looked down in surprise when Beck pressed something flat into her hands. "What—"
"Open it later," he said, grinning.
That night she opened the brand new notebook religiously, running her fingers along the stiff spine and the clean, smooth pages that had yet to be tarnished with her inky black scrawl, and found she could not think of a single thing to write about.
Instead, she cried for the first time, marking the first page of the notebook with a story of conflicted grief too poignant for any pen to ever capture.
The wedding dress was finished abruptly.
One day it was fragments of white lace and tulle all held together with a multitude of tiny silver pins, and the next day Jade was staring at a fully-constructed gown in the mirror, holding her hair up as Cat laced up the corseted back.
"Do you like it?"
Jade couldn't find anything to say.
Cat beamed. "I do, too. I think your mother would have liked it."
Jade let her hair fall as her hands dropped limply to her sides. She exhaled.
"She loved you a lot," the smaller girl continued, "I think. She must have, to have wanted all this for you. She wanted you to be happy, I think. But I think I was wrong, what I said before. I think everyone has their own happyand I don't think your happy is the same as my happy, and when your mother tried to force her happy on you, it made you unhappy."
"I like being unhappy."
"So maybe that's your version of happy," said Cat cheerfully, scurrying about on her knees and fussing with the hem of the trailing lace train. "My happy is pretty music and pink and colorful animals and friends. You're my friend, Jade."
The corset was too tight. That was it, of course. That was why Jade couldn't breathe, why her head went fuzzy, why she could hear the pulse in her ears so violently, and why she said what she did.
"Cat, do you want to be my bridesmaid?"
Mr. West might have been handsome once, but as Jade looked at him from across the dinner table that night, detaching her point of view and gazing at him as one might observe a stranger, she found herself mildly repulsed by the way his jaw moved as he chewed, the way his eyes shifted across the newspaper he held before him like a barrier.
"Do you know who that boy was? The one who… You know—"
He looked up briefly, looked at her face, then back down. "A criminal, wasn't he? From the asylum. You don't have to be afraid, Jadelyn, the District Attorney himself has promised me that the death penalty will be enforced."
"Yes, but who was he? Why did he target us?" Jade pressed, staring at the newspaper that hid her father's face. She hadn't printed a column in three weeks now; the angry words had stopped coming.
"Target us? Jadelyn, the boy was deranged. There was no logic to his actions."
She wondered if he was lying to himself or to her.
"Beck told me," she faltered, then inhaled bracingly and started again more strongly. "Beck told me he was a Valentine."
A lie. She hadn't spoken to Beck about that at all. Every other little thing, significant and insignificant and bitter and sweet, but not that. Not yet.
Mr. West turned the page. "A who?"
He wasn't lying. Jade looked away, caught between appalled and bewildered. "Never mind."
A silence. Then, "Are you still planning on marrying that Oliver boy?"
Once more, she was caught by surprise. Floundering, she stammered. "I- I don't know."
She fled as far from the house as she could go, bare feet and her second-best dress and a full mind.
Disregarding the bench entirely, Jade settled herself in the grass beneath the magnolia tree, crossing her legs Indian-style beneath and her skirt and fisting her fingers as first confusion, then pondering, then self-righteous outrage flooded her senses.
Why wouldn't she still marry Beck? It was she who was marrying him, not her mother. It was she who had said yes to his proposal, wasn't it, and it was her life, wasn't it? She could marry who she damn well wanted to, and if she wanted to marry Beck, well—
"Are you going to start calling your witchy brethren or singing to the wildlife or something?"
Jade was on her feet in an instant, hands clenched as she rounded on the lazily-smirking Beck who leaned on the tree behind her. His teasing grin dropped, hands coming up passively.
"Whoa, there, just a joke-"
"Do you want to marry me or not?" Jade demanded, marching forward until her bare toes kissed the tips of his well-polished shoes and she could glare directly into his puzzled brown eyes.
"What—" His hand came up to rub at the back of his neck. "Is this a trick question?"
She waited, glaring.
"I mean," he began, then stopped. "What brought this on?"
Feeling stupid and pathetic and vulnerable, Jade tugged angrily on her hair and explained rapidly, "Everyone seems to be under the impression that we're not going to get married anymore, just because of … you know, like they never even considered that we were marrying for any reason except to please my mother, and now that she's gone – poof, that's it, wedding's off - even though my wedding dress is finished, and I look damn good in it, and nobody's even taking account whether or not we want to get married— Stop laughing! Why are you laughing? I'm in distress—"
"Jade," said Beck, voice still vibrating with laughter, face still caught in a grin, "do you want to get married?"
"I—" She stood there, feeling their difference in heights acutely, small and pathetic. "You go first," she pouted after a moment of terrified silence. "You're the man."
"Oh, resorting to gender clichés, are we?"
After a moment of hesitation, Beck's smile dropped and he said seriously, "Give me back my ring."
She exhaled like she'd been punched in the stomach, like every inch of living inside of her had been flattened and squeezed out of her, leaving her insides filled with sand. Still, for the sake of her pride, her fingers fumbled for the ring where it sat on her fourth finger, where it had sat every day since the engagement party, no longer a burden but a part of life.
Jade handed it back to him without meeting his eyes and stepped away, wondering why she was disappointed, why she cared anything about this inhuman, arrogant, impersonal wretch who had forced himself upon her—
Beck said nothing this time about mud as he got down on his knees.
She opened her mouth, flabbergasted, possibly with the intent to curse him with every. last. filthy. word. in her expansive vocabulary.
He held up a hand quickly. "Shut up. I'm not going to let you interrupt me this time."
Stunned, she complied, allowing him to yank her unceremoniously towards him.
"Jade. The last time I tried to ask you to marry me – and I say tried for a reason– I was rather rudely interrupted by you. And so I consider that entire proposal segment null. Not only because you interrupted me, but because it didn't mean anything then.
"I proposed because it was expected of me. Your mother had been dropping hints incessantly. My father had very subtly informed me that marrying into your family would be beneficial to my alleged future politics career, which is some misconception of his that he refuses to see reason about. And so I went along with it and I tried to propose and I suppose you accepted for similar reasons; that, or you were rendered insane by my good looks."
Jade snorted. Beck looked at her seriously.
"But it means something now. You mean something now. You're real and you see things and you feel things, and—and I want to marry you, because I love you. Not because it's right, or because it's wrong, but because it's real. And-" he looked up anxiously then "-and that didn't make an ounce of sense, did it?"
Jade looked down at him, at the ring in his hand and his muddied trousers and his anxious face, real and imperfect and beautiful. "Not an ounce," she said, smiling, and kissed him.
"Damn, I just dropped the ring."
"It must be right around here. It was right in my hand. I was going to try and put in on your finger mid-kiss."
"Oh, that's very romantic."
"I thought so."
"Just about as romantic as you making me think you were ending our engagement!"
"It was suspenseful!"
"You're lucky I said yes anyway."
"Oh… Oh, so you're not lucky that I said yes?"
"I just—Didn't I just say—"
"You said it sarcastically!"
"You say everything sarcastically!"
"Oh, there it is. Found it. Phew."
"Put it on mid-kiss. I want to see if is romantic."
"I might miss again. It might take a couple tries."
"I suppose I can tolerate that."
Sorry, Bade Prompts. Sorry that I suck :P
Anyway, do review, please, particularly if following or favoriting. And if you're interested a bit more in the backstory of minor characters... say, Cat and Tori ... Let me know and I'll PM you.
Thanks guys :) ~ Styx