“There are thousands of words I could say this with, but only two words they come down to.”
Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM
Celia: It’s not quite the same after that, getting ready with him. Roderick is quieter after his concession and Celia gives him his space. She selects her clothing with little fanfare, packs a bag with the extra outfits she plans for Savoy’s Elysia and the rest of her meetings, and throws her makeup kit into the bag atop the gently placed dress. She has a lot to do tonight and doesn’t want to waste time coming back here to change. It doesn’t take long to do her face: natural makeup with just a hint of color on her lips and cheeks, mascara, brows filled in. Any man looking at her would assume she isn’t wearing anything at all.
She gives Roderick a final kiss goodbye at the door, long and lingering, and tells him that she’ll see him soon. Then it’s a quick drive to GW Fins to meet her dad.
She’d made the reservation under his name—she had wanted to make sure they’d get a good table without a wait—and gives that name to the maitre’d.
The dress she’d chosen for the event is sure to please her dad. It’s the same sort of thing she’d wear with Elyse: a long, flowing skirt that almost reaches her ankles and a sleeveless blouse. Even in March New Orleans can get warm, but she has a white sweater just in case the weather changes. Not that she’ll notice, dead as she is. A golden belt adorns her waist. It matches her golden shoes with little flowers on the toes. Dark pink skirt, lighter pink top. Cute, feminine, but modest enough to not cause any sort of insult to the state senator. Not even a man like Maxen.
She tells herself that she’s not nervous. That meeting her dad isn’t any worse than meeting anyone else in her unlife. That her sire is loads scarier than her dad.
But maybe that’s what she’s worried about. That her sire will find out about this meeting and demand to know what she’s doing with his toy. His words from years ago play through her mind now: I won’t be lenient a second time.
Maybe that’s what she’s counting on. That he’ll come to her and demand answers. Negative attention is still attention, isn’t it?
Pathetic, some part of her whispers. The Maxen part, she’s sure. She’s been hearing his voice a lot lately. Seven years of silence thrown away by one dinner, one meeting.
She follows the man to the reserved table to wait for her father.
Even with the sex, the blowjob, and the talk Celia, has arrived in plenty of time to not be late. In fact, she notices, she’s a few minutes early.
She uses that time to send out a series of texts:
To Rusty, to confirm the time of their appointment.
To Alana, to tell her to meet her at the spa at the same time.
To Dani, asking her the same thing. She gives the address of the spa and the approximate time.
Briefly, she checks her Insta page to like and respond to comments from her most recent posting. Someone from Pat McGrath’s team had seen her prior work and sent her a whole PR kit for their new release. Not just the little samples everyone else got, either, but whopping full sized products, foundation in every shade, and a collection of lip and lid colors that would put a Lisa Frank fan into a happy color coma. She’s been experimenting with the products these last few nights and finally added the photos to her update queue. The first of them had gone out earlier today while she slept.
GM: The maitre’d recognizes the reserved Flores name and smiles how “my daughter follows your MeVid channel, ma’am,” as he shows Celia to her table.
Rusty responds promptly to confirm the time.
Alana does the same.
Celia also has some texts from her ghoul that arrived while she was driving. They’re to say that Clementine got back about a time her domitor could see Celia. Which turns out to be at the Evergreen, anyways.
Dani also replies immediately that she’ll be there.
The promptness is a refreshing change of pace from dealing with elders.
Celia’s Instagram page is full of responses as ever:
Love you Celia!!!
Four hearts faces.
Gorgeous. Two hearts.
:) :) :) :)
You are stunning… Heart.
CELIA! You this look plus your HAIR!
So pretty!!! That lip!
Beautiful & great tune
Celia: It’s the sort of pick-me-up that she needs before a meeting with her father: running into someone whose daughter watches her videos, prompt responses from both of her ghouls plus Dani, and the influx of love and admiration from her online followers. She lets the maitre’d know that she’s happy his daughter his a fan and tells her to send her love to his girl, hearts a bunch of the comments and responds to a few others, and otherwise uses the time to mentally prepare for this dinner.
She’s glad that the new software is working out, anyway. She’d had Alana do the updates by hand during the day for a long time, but since she found it she’s been able to do a months worth of content in one night—thank you, super speed—and schedule the posts to normal “daytime” hours, which further cements the ruse that she’s nothing but human and frees up the rest of her month to pursue other things. Alana isn’t much of an editor, but Landen knows their way around a computer and has been happy to work on the MeVid videos for extra pay, so that’s worked out quite nicely for her.
All she has to do is smile and look pretty.
And do the makeup, of course.
The surprising bit is how well Madison knows her way around social media; she’s been a godsend in hashtags and marketing trends for all that she’s pushing seventy.
GM: Emily had remarked on that once. “Older people aren’t fossils. Some of them get really into social media. Some just never pick it up, but I think more because it’s outside what they’re used to and they just don’t have the interest, more than that they actually can’t.”
Case in point, Celia’s mother hasn’t touched Instagram, but she’s all over Facemash.
One of the comments on Celia’s Instagram (Gorgeous! :)) is from Dani. There’s also a Facemash friend request from her.
Celia: Unlike her Instagram, her Facemash page itself is mostly private. Friends, family, people in the industry. She’s got a public page for herself as well, but she has no problem accepting Dani’s friend request once it comes in on her personal page instead of relegating her to following the more public fan profile.
GM: Dani is following that too. As well as Celia’s Twitter.
Celia: That’s normal, right?
Maybe Dani can work at the spa until they figure things out.
That’s not weird. Especially if the ideas rolling around in her head pan out.
Not that she can imagine Dani being happy at the spa, or expects the younger girl to want to “settle” for something like that. She doesn’t have the passion for it. It’s different with Celia. She’s loved that sort of work since she was a child. And she has skills to enhance her trade. Regardless of what her clan may think, she doesn’t just play with face paint all day. She sculpts bodies, too; she just doesn’t tell them that because then there’d be no end to the requests:
Remember that time I was nice to you in Elysium, Jade?
Remember when I told you that choice bit of gossip first?
Remember how we hunted together that one time and then we fucked and that definitely makes us best friends even though you haven’t had much to do with me since?
And still they’d find a reason to scorn her for something.
There’d been a few veiled comments once about her place in the Guild of Hephaestus, as if it’s somehow lesser than live performance like dance or song to turn something functional into something beautiful. Pearl hadn’t chimed in, and Adelais had just given Jade a haughty look, which she supposes she should be thankful for since they both knew what it meant. At least no one calls her a poseur.
Pity she’d given that gift to Donovan before she’d had a chance to show it off. She supposes his comment of “satisfactory” had been enough. Then again, she doubts that anyone else would have appreciated the lethal, utilitarian purpose of them. They’d have asked where the ornamentation was: the roses or scales or marbling or ridges or something that sets them apart from any other pair of black bracers. But he knows, and she knows: they suit him just fine. They’re exactly what he needs.
Maybe, she thinks, for her Journeyman’s piece she can restore Pearl to her formerly vibrant self instead of the dusty relic she’s become.
Though perhaps that’s more Master level.
No, no. Taking all the excess body off of Beaumont is Master level.
She’ll have to tell that to Veronica later.
Maybe not. Fat jokes are just low hanging fruit with Beaumont.
…like her tits.
GM: It feels normal enough. She follows her other friends’ social media.
Not that she has many breather friends anymore.
So maybe it feels more like it should be normal than is normal.
Veronica had said she should be thankful to be in Hephaestus, anyway. Makeup was an atypical art form for their clan. She’d seemed disappointed her childe hadn’t pushed harder for Aphrodite, though.
Well, more like faintly sneering.
But she could’ve done worse than to wind up with Pietro.
Celia: Hephaestus has cooler parties, but Jade never told her that.
They’re a guild secret.
GM: “You know what they say about millennials and their phones,” chuckles a male voice.
Celia: Celia ceases her ruminations about the infighting and backstabbing of her clan and presses the side button on her phone. Her own reflection winks up at her from the suddenly black surface. She lifts her gaze.
GM: It’s her dad.
He looks good, after the better part of a decade. There’s a few more wrinkles on his face, but not too many. He’s taken good care of his skin, the esthetician notes. His physique is as thick and tapered as over. He doesn’t look like he’s given up the martial arts. His head, perhaps unsurprisingly, is still bald. It makes him look well-preserved. There can’t be more gray in his hair when he has no hair. He’s dressed down from his usual politician’s uniform in a gray blazer, black pants, and light blue button-up with no tie, though he still has an American flag pin on the jacket lapel.
“You beat me here,” he smiles. “I’d thought I was going to be the early one.”
He holds out his arms for a hug.
Celia: For half a second all she can do is stare at the man that used to be her father.
Seven years. Almost seven years. Except that one night, but she doesn’t count that. She hadn’t been herself. Here he stands like… like the years had never passed.
She’s a little kid again getting off the bus from school with her Barbie backpack slung over her shoulders and there he stands, arms open for a hug.
Celia clears the thoughts with a blink. She rises, phone sliding neatly into her purse in a smooth, practiced motion, and steps toward him. Even in heels he’s taller, bigger.
She’s a little kid again and he’s the giant that used to tuck her in and read Goodnight, Moon.
She steps into his embrace and it all comes flooding back.
GM: His arms encircle her and hold her close. Maybe Stephen is stronger, but her dad is bigger, and definitely has more muscle. Celia breathes in the scent of his aftershave. It’s a new one, which the spa owner thinks she recognizes. Invictus, which debuted in 2013. (The name was a hoot.) It opens with fresh grapefruit and a marine accord that lead to the heart of aromatic bay leaf and Hedione jasmine and a woody base of guaiac wood, patchouli, oak moss and ambergris.
“Hi, sweetie. It’s good to see you,” he murmurs.
Celia: Almost thirty years old, seven of them spent as a member of the Damned, and something as simple as her father saying it’s good to see her threatens to buckle her knees.
She breathes him in. She doesn’t mean to. It’s the esthetician in her. She recognizes the scent, just not on him. What had he used to wear? Something with anise. She’s hated it since. She even avoids the kine who drink jager because of it.
“You too, Dad.”
How long is too long to hug her estranged father? How short is too short? Why are there no etiquette guides to this sort of thing? She lets him pull back first, and when he does she smiles up at him.
“How have you been? How’s… everything?”
GM: Her dad takes care of it. Like he took care of everything. It’s a long embrace, appropriate for a father who hasn’t seen his daughter in many years, but appropriate for a public space too.
“That’s a long answer,” her dad smiles. “But if you’ll humor your old man and let him be a gentleman first?”
Her chair is mostly pulled out already. But he scoots it out a little more.
Celia: “Of course.” She answers his smile with one of her own, taking the offered seat and letting him push the chair in for her. She tucks her legs beneath the seat, one ankle crossed over the other. Like a lady. “Thank you.”
GM: “It’s my pleasure, Celia. It truly is.”
He takes his own seat. The waitress is already there for them with menus.
Maxen thanks her as she pours their waters, but sets down the menu after she leaves.
“You look lovely this evening. I like how the shoes match our name.”
Celia: Celia barely glances at the menu before she follows his lead, setting it down on the table in front of her to gaze across at him. She laughs at the comment on her shoes.
“Thanks, Dad. Florals are big this year.” Her eyes scan his frame, his face, the outfit. “You look good. Still doing Crossfit?”
GM: “Oh, yes. I’d like to participate in some larger events, but work doesn’t leave me with much time. Especially now.”
He smiles again. “I think flowers will always be big, though. There’s a flower shop in the Quarter run by a girl who shares our name. Bloom Couture. Have you ever been?”
Celia: “Dahlia Rose?” Her eyes light up at the mention of the store. “I have. I love her work. First time I went in she told me that I was the second Flores to visit that week; apparently someone from your office hired her for an event? The atmosphere is just… amazing in there. The whole feel of the place, like walking through a rain forest or a beautiful, vibrant garden.”
She wants to take Roderick there on a date.
“Election keeping you busy?”
GM: “Oh, yes. We’ve hired her for several. You can’t ever go wrong with flowers, especially with a last name like Flores.”
“And it certainly is. But it’s not polite of me to talk politics over dinner, even if politics are work. Let’s talk about you. You’d said you were opening a second location for Flawless?”
Celia: She’s happy to let the matter of politics rest. She doesn’t want anyone to think she’s meddling where she shouldn’t be.
“I am, yes. We’re still in the process of scouting locations and speaking with contractors and landlords, getting through all the red tape. There’s a beautiful place in Riverbend that just went up for lease, but I’m not sure if I can make it work with the man who owns the property, so that might not take off.”
She hasn’t even bothered to ask him. She’s pretty sure the answer will be “no.” Same with what she’d found in Uptown and Lakeview. The dream of a second location might die before it ever gets off the ground.
GM: Her dad smiles knowingly. “I’m still in real estate. That red tape is familiar.”
Celia: “How do you find the time?” she laughs.
GM: “Oh, mostly, I don’t. Our state’s technically a hybrid legislature, but at least for me, this is still a full-time job. Other people run most of the business’ day-to-day things. But I still carve out time to check in and make the bigger decisions.”
“A PA can be very valuable, there. Do you have one?”
Celia: “I’m in the process of moving my staff around to accommodate for one. I’m speaking with her about it tonight, actually.”
GM: “Smart. With two locations you’ll increasingly need to delegate and schedule your time. Though I’m sure that idea isn’t news to you.”
“What’s the issue with the man who owns the property you want?”
Celia: He killed me.
“He seems inflexible about making a few modifications that I’d need to make the most of the location. And the rent. It’s manageable, especially considering the locale and the additional revenue I’d bring in, but I’ve dealt with his kind before and it might be more of a hassle than it’s worth to get into a long term contract with someone like him.”
It isn’t lost on her that this is the first time her father has said “smart” in reference to her since… well, too long ago. Or had he ever?
“I’m sure I’ll find something suitable, though.”
GM: “If you don’t, or if your heart’s set on this location, let me know. A few phone calls to the right people can change a lot of minds.”
Celia: “I’ll keep that in mind, Dad. Thanks.” She smiles at him, though she doesn’t think it’s the sort of offer she can ever cash in on. Still, she’s surprisingly touched by the gesture. “How’s your arm?”
GM: He smiles back. “It’d be my pleasure. One business owner to another.”
“The arm is good, thank you for asking. I’m already back to lifting weights with it.”
Celia: “Oh, good. I’m glad there weren’t any lasting issues. Just a scratch then?”
GM: “Deeper than a scratch. But we’ve got good genes. We heal up fast.”
Celia: Is that all it is?
“We definitely bounce back.”
GM: “That’s what resilience is. Everyone gets knocked down at some point. It’s bouncing back that counts.”
“Are you two ready to order, or could you use a little more time, still?” smiles the pair’s waitress.
They’ve had menus available for a little while.
Celia: “Oh! Hm…” Celia glances down at the menu, then her father. “I’m ready, if you are?”
GM: “I’ll take the Lobster Dumplings to start off, and the Scottish Salmon for the entrée, please,” says Celia’s father.
Celia: “Mmm, lobster dumplings sound good. Just the Yellowfin Tuna for me, please.” Celia smiles up at the waitress, handing over the menu. “Thank you.”
Celia declines the offered wine pairing—no reason to force that down as well, not when bringing it back up makes it twice as vile—and looks back to her father as the waitress moves away.
“Lucy was quite taken with you. She said you have good taste in toys.” She can’t help the half-laugh that accompanies the words.
GM: Celia’s father declines anything to drink as well. “Just water, please.”
He smiles at the mention of Lucy. “She’s a hard child not to be taken with. You’ve done splendidly with her, Celia.”
Celia: “Ah, well,” color rises to her cheeks at the compliment, “Mom helped a lot.”
“Especially those early years while I was getting the business off the ground. She’s been a blessing.”
She watches his face, searching for any sign of… anything. Guilt. Regret. Anger.
She doesn’t know what she’s looking for after all these years. If he even remembers what he did to his ex-wife. Or if that, too, was wiped from his mind.
She’s never been able to get the screaming out of her head.
GM: Maxen smiles back. “I’m sure she has. That’s what grandmothers are there to do. I’m sure it’s made her very happy.”
Celia: “It has.”
“We were all pretty surprised to see you.”
There’s a question there, a lifting of her brows.
GM: “We all have Logan to thank for that. He’s been pushing me to reconnect.”
“You and your mom too, by the sound of things.”
Celia: “Is that… something you want?”
GM: “I think what I want may be the less important factor here.”
Celia: A wry smile meets his words. “That doesn’t sound like the Senator Flores I know.”
GM: “I’m glad it doesn’t.”
Celia: “Is it, though?”
GM: The appetizer arrives. The lobsters are completely encased in their doughy gyoza covering, which is lathered in a mousseline consisting of cream, olive oil, egg, mustard, and lobster roe (eggs). Some diced green onions add a touch of color to the affair.
Maxen thanks the waitress as she refills his water, but pauses to answer Celia’s question until she’s left.
“Celia, there are three very important things I want to tell you tonight.”
“I said it was rude of me to talk about politics over the dinner table, so I’ll preemptively apologize for this.”
“I’m going to be governor.”
“I don’t know how closely you follow politics these days, but the GOP established a trifecta government back in 2010. That means we control the governor’s mansion and have majorities in both legislative chambers. We’ve retained our hold over the state legislature. But Pavaghi, thanks to his corruption, lost us the governor’s mansion in 2012 to Bill Roberts.”
“We plan to take it back next year. I’m going to run, and I’m going to beat him. I’ve beat him in an election once already, and the thinking among the party is that I’ll beat him again.”
“Kelly and Malveaux are both behind me. There’s already behind the scenes work going on to keep other candidates out of the primary. We want to deliver a knockout blow, without the need for a general election, if we can help it.” He smiles. “If you aren’t familiar, Louisiana elections have a jungle primary system, where any number of candidates from any party can compete. Any candidate who wins more than 50% of the vote becomes governor. Otherwise, the top two candidates proceed to a general election.”
“This fact isn’t widely remembered, but governors don’t have term limits.”
“It isn’t, thanks to public outcry over Pavaghi’s corruption, government mishandling of Katrina, and the decades-long realignment of our state from Democratic to Republican. All of those factors have sent governors from both parties prematurely out of office.”
“It’s been a while since we had a ‘for life’ governor. Who served until he died.”
“Louisiana’s political realignment was effectively completed in 2010. The state is now solid red. It’s only thanks to Pavaghi’s naked corruption that the party lost the governor’s mansion, and we don’t intend to bungle things twice.”
“I intend to be the GOP governor of a GOP state, and I intend to serve for life, unless I should seek and obtain higher office.”
“I also intend to pass the governor’s mansion, and a U.S. Senate seat—not a state senate seat—to David and Logan. We will establish a political dynasty to match the Kellys and Malveauxes.”
“There are many opportunities available to ‘for life’ governors. Exponentially more than there are to single- or duo-term ones. I expect our family to become very wealthy.”
“I intend to rule as king of this state, and to make princes of my sons. We will shepherd Louisiana into a new and brighter age, free of the corruption and mismanagement and failures of its past.”
He pauses, seemingly to give Celia a chance to process and reply.
Celia: Times like these remind Celia why the kine so often have working lunches or dinner meetings. It allows them to stuff their face with food or drink while they process what the other person says, negating any awkward silences. It gives them something to do other than twiddle their thumbs while their estranged father lays out his political plans.
Seven years as a lick and her adept ability to pass herself off as one of them has given her other means to convey her interest and attention: little gestures here, fond smiles there, and a whole host of eye movements impart her introspection. Another mask, just the human kind this time.
Governor. For life. And higher yet, if his plan bears any fruit. Moving up in the political sphere. Donovan must be pleased.
Already the wheels turn.
“That’s wonderful, Daddy.” She reaches for his hand across the table. “I’m so proud of you. Is that silly, a daughter being proud of her daddy? But I am.”
“Say, if Logan and David are going to be princes, does that make me a princess?” She flashes a teasing smile his way.
GM: “You’ve always been my princess, Celia,” her dad smiles as he squeezes her hand. “But this will make you princess to a lot more people.”
Celia: Has she? She seems to recall things getting pretty bad after he’d started dancing to Donovan’s tune.
“I’ll have a tiara made,” she says with a laugh, “maybe a flower crown from Dahlia Rose.”
GM: “Princess Flores could do a lot worse than a floral crown,” he chuckles back.
Celia: “But that’s one, I assume? You said three.” Her brows lift.
GM: “Yes, and the least important. But give me a moment to finish these dumplings, first. Feel free to help yourself.”
He takes a bite from one. “That isn’t silly for a child to be proud of their parents, either. That’s how things should be.”
Celia: How is becoming governor the least important? She doesn’t ask. He’ll tell her in time. There isn’t really a polite way to lean all the way across the table to try his lobster—and it would be wasted on her, anyway—so Celia lifts the glass of water to her lips but sets it down when he addresses her without taking a sip.
“You’re right, of course. Pride can go both ways. I admit I was a little young when you were first getting started, but there’ve been some people who ask, ‘are you related to the senator?’ and it tickles me pink every time they talk about how you won your seat so young and the things you’ve done for the state.”
GM: Her father moves the dish across the table.
“I’m pretty sure I get asked if I’m related to ‘the’ Celia more often than you get asked if you’re related to ‘the’ senator, these days,” her fathers chuckles. “State senators aren’t well-known figures to the public at large, usually, and party leadership positions are even more obscure. Even most casual political junkies can’t name the leadership in their state senate. But I’d be hard-pressed to name any of my female staffers who don’t also know your name.”
Celia: Ah, well, if he’s going to push it at her. She thanks him with a smile and helps herself to one of his dumplings, giving her Beast a mental nudge to let it know what’s about to slide down her gullet.
She keeps thinking about building a second esophagus for herself that leads into a pouch she can empty out, kind of like changing a vacuum cleaner bag, but she hasn’t done it yet. Tonight, maybe. She still has materials at the spa she can work with. And she’d wanted to experiment with her eyes as well…
“I went to see Logan the other day and I was mobbed by his classmates,” Celia confesses with a grin. “I had to borrow one of his hoodies to sneak out. And… not to count my chickens before they’re hatched or anything, but you might be hearin’ a bit more of that in a year or two.”
She bites into the dumpling.
It’s like eating raw sewage all over again.
GM: The texture is different from the slop her mom served her, but that’s it. It all tastes equally like shit.
Her mom will probably be thrilled, though, if she can eat more.
“That will make me very pleased to hear, Celia. I hope my name being more known will also help spread yours.”
Celia: She wants to tell him. About L.A., getting into acting, maybe breaking into the movie industry. She wants to tell him so they can share this moment together, because she can’t tell her mom. Diana will be upset that Celia has been in contact with Ron.
But she remembers what he told her once, that he would never let her go to a cesspool like Hollywood.
She swallows the dumpling.
She wants a dad. The thought hits her as she sits across from him, that she was robbed of having a father in her life. Maxen isn’t her father. Literally. And Ron doesn’t want to be her father. Donovan certainly hasn’t been very paternal. She has her grandsire, sure, but that’s different. As much as she wants him to like her for her, as much as she wants him to be proud of Pher, she still thinks he just sees her as a pawn. And that’s his right, old as he is, but it still… rankles. She wants him to be pleased with her. And maybe he will be tonight, after she tells him everything she’s done, but even then… isn’t that just another form of making herself useful to him? What about her?
She’d rolled her eyes when Roderick had said that Lucy could use a paternal figure, but maybe… maybe he’s right. Maybe girls need their dads.
She wants what Roderick had. What he still has, with his sire.
The food sits in her stomach like a piece of lead.
Her Beast, thoroughly warned, doesn’t even protest.
Maybe Roderick’s blood had sated it enough that this paltry mortal fare doesn’t even bother it.
Small blessings and all that.
“I imagine it will. Like how the Malveauxs have all sorts of doors opened for them because of their name. Maybe you could put in an appearance on my channel. ‘The governor does my makeup.’”
She’s only teasing, though. She can’t imagine her father would say yes to that.
GM: Her father smiles back. “It’s funny you should say that, Celia, if you’ll humor your old man with a story.”
“The 1960 Kennedy vs. Nixon debates is one of the most famous presidential debates of all time, because it heralded the transition of old media to new media. It was the first televised presidential debate. If you asked most people who was going to win, they’d have probably said Nixon. He had experience in TV debates, and had used a 1952 televised address to debunk slush fund allegations, and to secure his spot as Ike’s running mate by talking about his pet dog, Checkers. Nixon had also bested Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the famous Kitchen Debate, also televised. But he still lost to Kennedy, and that might have decided the election. The 1960 election was an extremely close thing.”
“And you know why Nixon lost? Makeup.”
Celia: “He lost because of makeup?”
GM: “He definitely lost the debate because of makeup. In the aftermath of that debate, Nixon’s running mate, Henry Cabot Lodge, had a few choice words for the GOP presidential candidate. ‘That son-of-a-bitch just lost us the election.’”
“Here’s why he lost.”
“When Nixon arrived for the debate, he looked ill, having been recently hospitalized because of a knee injury. The vice president then re-injured his knee as he entered the TV station, and refused to call off the debate.”
“Nixon also refused to wear stage makeup, even when people at the studio offered it. Kennedy also turned down their offer. But only because he had spent weeks tanning on the campaign trail, and had his own team do his makeup just before the cameras went live. The result was that Kennedy looked and sounded good on television, while Nixon looked pale and tired, with a five o’clock shadow beard. He was thin, sweaty, and beady-eyed next to his dashing young opponent. It’s a well-cited fact that listeners who heard the debate over radio thought that Nixon won. But viewers who watched the debate over TV thought that Kennedy won.”
Celia: Celia nods at the explanation.
“Appearances are pretty important to the world, even in politics. Something as simple as how someone smiles can influence our perception of them. We like to think that we’ve moved beyond that, and there are plenty of people who try to say it doesn’t matter, but the truth is that if you’re fit and attractive you have an easier time of things and people are more likely to listen to you, take you seriously, and even just hand things to you.”
GM: “I might even go so far as to say appearances are especially important in politics, which for good or ill, come significantly down to a candidate’s cultivated image. Their personal brand. That probably isn’t anything new to you at all.”
“It’s still debated by political scientists how decisive those debates were. Some people think it was other factors, like the last great gasp of Chicago’s political machine, that were chiefly responsible for Kennedy’s victory. There are obviously lots of factors that can swing an election. But Nixon apparently believed the debates were decisive. He refused to participate in any televised debates when he ran for president in 1968 and again in 1972. Debates only became an uninterrupted feature of presidential campaigns after Gerald Ford revived them in 1976.”
“Then in 1980, of course, one of the candidates was a former movie star. And makeup artists haven’t lacked for work with presidential candidates ever since.”
Celia: “One of my employees worked with Reagan.”
GM: “I bet she has a lot of stories. His campaign was a groundbreaker in so many ways.”
Celia: “Actually… I think she came out with him, because prior to that she’d done work in L.A.”
Had Madison changed politics somehow?
GM: “I’d be honored if she, and you, wanted to work with my campaign. Someone has to do my makeup for the TV debates, after all,” her father smiles.
Celia: “I’d really like that, Dad. That really means a lot to me.”
GM: “It means just as much to me. I’ll have someone contact your business before the debates start. The governor would probably do a bad job at doing your makeup, if he appeared on your channel, but someone good will need to do his. Perhaps you could put that up on your channel.”
Celia: “Well, the trend right now is having someone unusual do your makeup—a lot of girls use their boyfriends—and it’s supposed to come out pretty silly. But you don’t get anywhere by following the crowd.”
Which isn’t exactly true in the MeVid game, but she’ll live.
GM: “Silly makes sense as the objective. I can’t imagine the boyfriends would otherwise do very good jobs.”
Celia: “Mmm, no, there was one who ended up with eye shadow all across her forehead.”
GM: Maxen chuckles as the waitress arrives with the pair’s food.
Celia’s Yellowfin Tuna is seared rare with sticky rice, stir-fried vegetables, and sweet soy butter.
Celia: It certainly looks appealing, even though she won’t be able to taste anything.
GM: Her father’s order is wood grilled Scottish Salmon with butter bean succotash, sweet corn spoonbread, and roasted corn butter.
Maxen thanks the waitress as she sets down their food, refills their waters, and clears the empty appetizer dish.
Celia: Celia echoes his words, giving the girl a small smile before turning her eyes to her plate.
“This looks amazing.”
GM: The waitress smiles back at the pair and repeats to let them know if they need anything. She also follows Celia over social media.
“It does. I’d never have thought to try this place without you,” her dad remarks. “I’ve been to those other ones I brought up with you a thousand times.”
Celia: “I’m glad you humored me. I’ve heard so much about it but haven’t been yet. I hope it measures up.” She reaches for her fork. “Do you still have steak every Saturday? Well, except tonight.”
GM: “Oh yes. Get in that protein, which I’m still doing tonight.”
Celia: “Maybe next time we can meet at a steakhouse so you don’t have to eat two meals. Fish does have a lot of protein, though.”
GM: “Oh, I wasn’t clear, sweetie. This is my protein intake.” He smiles down at the food between a bite. “Fish is still meat, and let’s not forget the nuts too.”
Celia: She can’t help but laugh.
“I thought you meant you were going to go home and grill up a ribeye or something.”
GM: “Maybe if I were Logan,” he chuckles back.
“I’m pretty in shape for my age, but I definitely don’t have his appetite.”
Celia: Seven years ago he would have insulted her intelligence for the misunderstanding.
She smiles with him and takes a bite of the tuna.
Early on in her Requiem she’d thought that maybe she could get away with eating solid food like this as long as it was rare. Undercooked. Bloody. But it isn’t blood that touches her tongue now, and she’d been quickly disabused of that notion.
GM: It tastes like shit.
Sometimes she wants to tell her mom the truth just so she doesn’t need to do this to herself anymore.
It wouldn’t help here, no, but at least part of her family would stop hounding her to stuff herself when she visits.
There’s nothing glamorous about bending over a porcelain bowl to heave the contents of her stomach back up later.
And regurgitated food tastes just as bad as it had when she’d forced herself to chew and swallow in the first place.
The gummy texture of masticated cuisine and sludge sliding back up her throat makes for the worst part for her Requiem.
She’s going to have to ask Dani later if she still enjoys food.
And if she throws it up later or if the rest of her body works.
Imagine being a vampire and still needing to take a shit, though.
“I think Mom got sticker shock the first time she went grocery shopping when Logan hit his growth spurt.”
“Emily and I used to have to hide the chocolate so he wouldn’t get into it.”
GM: As Roderick says, who even knows what the rules are with them.
Celia: Celia will.
She plans to find out.
GM: “That was good of you. Big boy like him should have plenty to eat, but chocolate’s an occasional treat.”
“I’ve heard about a man who runs a fitness gym, Fouled Anchor Fitness, who eats the same thing every day. Same meals. A balance of lean proteins, grains, vegetables, and fruits. Doesn’t ever consume sweets or alcohol or deviate from his meal plan, even on Thanksgiving.”
“That’s discipline. I think he’s a military vet.”
Celia: “That’s admirable. I think a lot of people see food as a reward, sometimes. Culturally a lot of our celebrations are based around it, which certainly doesn’t help.”
GM: “It doesn’t. It takes a lot of dedication to resist eating a Thanksgiving meal.”
“It’s further than I go. Or that I think Logan needs to go. But I respect that man for doing so.”
Celia: Celia asks her dad if he’d like to try the tuna since they’re not dedicated to eating the same thing every day.
GM: He would, and offers her some salmon.
Celia: Only so long as it doesn’t throw off his macros.
It’s a strange feeling, sharing food with her father.
Maxen, she reminds herself. Not her father. Not in a long time.
After some moments of enjoying (or at least pretending to enjoy) their food, Celia eases the conversation back around to him and his news.
GM: “Celia,” he says slowly, “there are thousands of words I could say this with, but only two words they come down to. They feel utterly inadequate. But they seem like the only place to start.”
Celia: Celia stares across the table at her father. This hadn’t been what she’d expected. Not at all. Not an apology, thrown out so openly.
It threatens to drown her.
How long since her last breath?
She takes one now. Deep. In through her nose. She can almost smell it then, the threat of the coppery tang that the words bring. She blinks down at her plate and snuffs the blossoming emotion before it can do more than knock at her heart. The smoky tendrils of it drift down into her gut to join the rest of the garbage she had just imbibed, filling her stomach with the same sort of poison.
She kills it before it has a chance to live.
“You’re sorry?” she finally repeats, voice soft.
GM: Celia’s father takes her hand and stares into her eyes like they’re the only objects left in all existence.
“I am sorry for the pain and hurt I have caused you, your mother, and all of our family. Emily included. Instead of nourishing you with love, I traumatized you with abuse. Instead of pampering my princess in her castle, I imprisoned her in a fortress. Instead of protecting you from the world’s dangers, I was the danger you needed protecting from. Instead of showing you tenderness and affection, I beat and humiliated you. Instead of recognizing your brilliance, I belittled you and said you were stupid. Instead of supporting you in your dreams, I said you were not good enough to achieve them. You are the success you now are not because of me, but despite me. I failed in my essential function as a man to provide for my family, on innumerable levels, but perhaps the greatest thing I failed to provide them with was my love. Instead of my love being a foundation to help you, your siblings, and your mother thrive and succeed, my abuse was a nemesis to overcome. That I did not ruin your lives completely is a testament to your own strength of character, and my actions are a shame I will carry with me for as long as I will ever live. I don’t know that it’s even possible to make right a wrong on the scale that I’ve committed towards you. But I pray to God that it’s possible to make some manner of restitution, however small.”
“Starting with the fact that I, am, sorry.”
Celia: Silence greets his words. Sharp, stunned silence. He has hold of her gaze just as solidly as the hand in his; she can’t look away.
For a moment, she can’t breathe. For a moment, her heart stops. For a moment, her thoughts still.
Aren’t they always? His voice in her head. Is it, though? Is it his voice, or is it her own? Is it the Bitch inside of her, the Beast’s steadfast companion?
“You’re sorry,” she says again, and it bubbles up inside of her, threatening to spill over into the air between them. Her tongue flicks across her lips.
“What changed? Why now?”
GM: “It wasn’t now, Celia. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But I’d waited to approach you, because a man does not just apologize for his mistakes. He fixes them, or at least tries to. I’ve been trying to for some time now, because I was resolved not to re-enter your lives bearing only apologies.”
“This still happened earlier than I’d planned. Logan had been pushing all of us to reconnect, as I said. He forwarded me the texts from your mother, and it seemed like there was something I could do for her immediately.”
“I’ll tell you what’s changed, and what’s brought me to this point. But I wanted to start with some of the ways I’d like to make restitution to you and your mother.”
Celia: She doesn’t trust herself to speak yet. She nods mutely.
GM: “First, I’ve been talking to some doctors in Houston about your mother’s condition. They have the world’s largest medical center there. Tulane doesn’t compare at all. The doctors told me your mother’s condition is likely to deteriorate with age, and that she may eventually need a wheelchair, in addition to suffering worse pain.”
Celia: He did that to her. Does he remember that night, taking a hacksaw to her mother’s leg?
“She’s getting worse,” Celia finally says, confirming their words.
“But that’s not a solution.”
GM: Maxen nods, as if unsurprised. “But there are some experimental treatments available in Houston. Ones that might not only be able to stop what I’ve described from happening, but which might also be able to fix your mother’s leg, too. Full mobility and no more pain.”
“She could dance again.”
“These treatments are very new, very expensive, and access to them is a question of more than simply money. You won’t hear about them just by asking a doctor. It’s taken me a lot of effort to hear what I have, mere state senator that I am.”
Celia: “How did you come across them?”
GM: “I’ve been laying the groundwork to run for governor for a while now. This was part of it. There are doors that open to governors, and even more to for-life governors, but candidates can get glimpses at those doors. Especially if they push.”
“When I’m governor, I will have the clout and resources necessary to obtain access for your mother. If she would like Texas Medical Center’s doctors to fix her leg, I will make it happen.”
“It doesn’t make up for the years she was not able to dance, or for the pain and trauma she has suffered. I can’t magic that away.”
Celia: Or everything he took from her when he threw away all of her belongings. The tangible evidence of her memories.
The years of hardship she endured when he sent her into medical debt.
She says none of this, just nods again, waiting for him to go on.
GM: “I owe your mother a separate apology. More than an apology. I had wanted to wait until I was governor to break this news, so that it could happen immediately and be more than just a promise. But there are some other things I’ve brought tonight that I hope will be of greater restitution than promises.”
Celia: “Why did you do it?”
GM: Celia’s dad flags down the waitress, but pauses at her question.
“I believed your mother had been intimate with another man, Celia, under circumstances I disapproved. I can’t even begin to muster the words to describe how wrong I was. I destroyed her greatest joy in life, ended her career, and caused her mental, physical, and financial hardship that she suffers to this day.”
Celia: “Under circumstances you disapproved.”
Her tone lacks any confrontational quality. She simply sounds incredulous, as if wondering if there are circumstances he would have approved.
Your mom’s a sex slave.
She dismisses the stray thought as soon as it occurs.
GM: “I’m sorry. That was an extraneous choice of words. I doubt there are any circumstances under which your mother believes I would have approved, or have felt herself safe under my disapproval.”
Celia: She doesn’t understand. “You thought she was having an affair, or you thought she had been with someone else at some point in her life?”
GM: Maxen clears his throat. “I feel that it impugns your mother’s virtue, Celia, to discuss these things about her, even in the context of mistaken beliefs.”
Celia: Her lips flatten into a line thin enough that even Payton would be proud of.
GM: He offers a wan smile. “You look like your grandmother.”
Celia: Not him, though. Never him.
“We spend a lot of time together,” is all she says.
His master had killed his parents, after all.
GM: “I’m glad you’re able to have that relationship. I don’t think she was ever able to forgive your grandmother.”
Celia: “For telling her to abort me?”
GM: Maxen looks surprised, but answers, “For the measures she took, after your grandfather’s death.”
Celia: “They won’t tell me,” Celia admits. “Can you?”
GM: Maxen presses his lips together, but answers, “There is a… you might call it a finishing school, Celia.”
“A private school that’s only known by word of mouth. Mostly among wealthy families, or old families. For young women whose families are displeased with their behavior.”
“Your grandmother sent your mother there.”
Celia: Payton did it?
Payton had sent Diana to become a doll.
GM: “Their methods are… extreme.”
Celia: “When? After me? After I came out? Or before?”
GM: “Before you.”
“Your mother did not enjoy her time there.”
Celia: No, she doesn’t imagine her mother did.
“I’ve heard of it,” she says faintly, still reeling from the knowledge that Payton had sent her mother there.
GM: “I’d thought, several times, about sending you there. Your mother begged me not to.”
“I’m glad I didn’t. Your mother says she was never the same after that place.”
Celia: “But I wasn’t… they don’t send them there for being stupid.”
GM: “Celia,” her father says harshly. “You weren’t stupid. You aren’t stupid. You’re brilliant.”
“But I’m to understand the headmistress doesn’t ask very many questions about the girls who get sent there, so long as their families are willing to pay.”
Celia: Celia isn’t supposed to know about a place like this where girls become dolls. So she doesn’t confirm what he says.
Or maybe she’s too busy reeling from the fact that he’d wanted to send her there.
Or maybe… maybe it’s what he said about her not being stupid. Maybe, if they weren’t in public, if she didn’t have such a tight lid on her emotions right now, she’d have let them show on her face. Maybe her cheeks would be red with blood.
But she stuffs that down, too. Buries it in the pit of her stomach so she can throw it up later and let herself feel.
GM: “As I said, their measures are very extreme. The students aren’t even allowed to use their own names. The headmistress gives them new ones.”
Why would she name her daughter after her doll?
“Why did Grandma send her there? What was so wrong with her?”
GM: “From what your mother has told me, your grandfather’s death tore your family apart. Or at least tore a rift between your mother and your grandmother. She never thought your aunt Prudence or uncle Stan were as rebellious as your mother was.”
“They fought, all of the time. Your mother would disappear for nights. Her grades were suffering. Your mother told me she attacked your grandmother once.”
Celia: “It’s hard to imagine Mom being rebellious. Or doing anything like that.”
A rebellious doormat, maybe, curling in at the corners.
“Did you know her? Before she went?”
GM: “I found it hard to imagine too. Your mother told me the turning point came when she attacked your grandmother, with the gun, and said she was leaving home for good. She ran off with your grandmother’s car and all of the house’s cash and jewelry.”
Celia: “…with a gun?”
GM: He nods. “Last I heard, your grandmother still keeps a number of firearms in the house.”
Celia: “Is that why you wanted to send me? Because I came after you?”
But, no, she’d done that the night everything blew up. The timing doesn’t work.
GM: “I thought about it then. I thought about it other times. Celia, I can’t even imagine how you might have turned out if I’d sent you there.”
“Your mother was a shell when I first met her. Really met her. She was the shyest, most docile, most timid girl you’d ever laid eyes on.”
“I didn’t believe her at first, when she told me the story. I thought it was some kind of joke. A tall tale.”
Celia: “When did you realize it wasn’t?”
GM: “When she started to cry.”
Celia: If the timing he claims is accurate, she would have met Ron after she’d become a doll. But it doesn’t make any sense why she’d have been at that party.
Dolls don’t go to parties. They don’t have sex.
They do, but…
Celia sets her head in her hands.
GM: Her father rests a hand on her shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Celia. Maybe it was wrong of me to tell you this.”
Celia: “No. It wasn’t. I’m just trying to figure out the rest.”
GM: “I don’t know that your mother will want to talk about it. The memories there are very painful for her.”
Celia: “I know. I know someone who… who went through it, too.”
She’d been there.
Breaking countless hers.
GM: Her father nods slowly. “It’s not widely talked about. But move in the right circles, pay attention, and you’ll hear things.”
Celia: “Thank you for telling me. And for not doing that to me.”
GM: “Thanks are what you give someone for favors and kindnesses. That was just the absence of more abuse.”
Celia: He’s right, so she just nods her head.
GM: “Here. I have something for your mother.”
He motions to a server, who approaches their table with a large wrapped box.
“These are your mother’s ballet things,” he says. “They aren’t the originals. Those are long gone thanks to me.”
“I’ve had people go to the places where she’s danced. Look up records. Who won what trophies. Make some calls to the production company owners, or the companies that make the trophies. They’re all there.”
“There’s also some scrapbooks and photo albums. I got those from the other dancers. Some of them simply let me make copies. Others were willing to sell the originals.”
“After this long, I don’t know if your mother still misses these things. But maybe Lucy would like to see them.”
Celia: Celia swallows the lump in her throat as she listens to his explanation. The gift she’d only just started to think about: how to get those memories back. She’s had years and only last night did she think to talk to Mom’s friends and fellow dancers to get copies of photos. Because of him, yes, because of him. But because of her, too. She hadn’t saved the things from the garbage. Luana had told her to, and she’d been too busy worried about her appearance to grab anything more than the makeup.
Despite her best attempts to keep it down the emotions bubble up again. She needs to purge. To let it out, somewhere no one can see her cry, can’t wonder at the blood that spills from her eyes, and to expel the poison in her body.
“Excuse me,” she murmurs, rising, unable to look at him or the box, “I just… I need a moment.”
GM: “Of course,” he says quietly.
Celia: She moves quickly through the restaurant to find the bathroom, taking the first open stall and locking herself into the small, cramped space.
She’s not alive. She doesn’t need to breathe. Her shoulders don’t shake and she doesn’t shudder or gasp or wail. The tears simply fall. She presses a hand to her mouth as if that helps, as if it will keep anything inside of her, but still they come.
Mom is a doll.
Dad said she isn’t stupid.
Why? Why does it mean so much to her after all this time? She knows she isn’t stupid. She’s never been stupid. She’s been hurt and desperate and afraid and frivolous but she has never been stupid. She shouldn’t care. It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Too little too late, right? One dinner, one box of memories, it doesn’t make up for the years of living under his rule, it doesn’t make up for everything that he had done to them. To her, to her mom, to her siblings.
It can’t matter.
She’s supposed to hate him. She’s supposed to hate him more than she hates anyone. He’s the villain. The bad guy. The monster that tucked her in at night. Not… not this. Not whatever it is he’s trying to be out there. It’s not him. It’s a trick. It has to be a trick because it can’t be real, none of it is real.
She’s dead, she’s dead, she’s dead, and he isn’t her dad anyway. He’s not her father. He just raised her. And he doesn’t even know. Does he know? Is that why he’d gone after Mom? But why meet her? Why not just let her do her own thing, live her own life, when it doesn’t matter?
He’s not her dad.
And she desperately, desperately wants him to be.
It comes out of her suddenly, a violent heaving that has her doubled over atop the toilet as her stomach empties its contents into the bowl. Salmon and tuna and lobster, half-chewed, pulverized by her teeth pours from her mouth. The water splashes as it hits.
Again. Again. Again. It comes out of her. Her body purges, emptying itself of the rotten seafood stuffed inside. She gags at the taste, gags as it slides across her tongue, no better the second time around than it had been on the way down. And it sits in the bowl, staring up at her, the water turned murky by the little chunks of vomit.
She stares back.
She’d sink to her knees if she weren’t in a public bathroom. But she can’t do that, not here. She gives herself a moment to let it out, let it all out, before she pulls herself together. A wad of toilet paper wipes away the worst of the blood from her face, and a makeup wipe from her purse gets the rest of it. She tosses both into the toilet and flushes it all away, letting the swirling water take everything resembling emotions along with it.
Celia touches up her foundation with the tip of her finger in the small compact she keeps in her purse. None of the rest of her makeup had smeared. She washes her hands at the sink and stares at her face in the mirror, wondering if her eyes have always looked so hollow or if it’s just that she’s finally dead inside, shut down to avoid feeling anything unpleasant.
She returns to the table.
GM: Less vomit than mushed-up food, but it’s all just waste either way. Poison festering in her guts, that she’s forcing there when her Beast doesn’t want it there.
If only her unwanted feelings could be expelled so easily.
Celia: She can kill those too. There’s a spot in the brain that she can simply rip out.
Maybe she will.
GM: Just like Elyse does for her dolls. She can be just like Mom.
Mom the doll.
Celia: And Payton.
Sending her daughter to become a doll.
She’d thought it was Maxen.
GM: That would’ve been easier.
Celia: She could still hate him if it had been him.
Instead of whatever this is.
GM: Whatever this is, her father is waiting for back at the table.
“We could call things here tonight, if you’d like,” he says quietly. “I know this all must be a lot to take in.”
Celia: They can’t, though. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to see him again after this.
“I’m okay,” she says.
GM: “Okay,” he says.
“Will you give your mother these things for me, when you see her next?”
Celia: “I will.”
GM: “Thank you.”
Celia: “She’ll appreciate it. She… she still misses it, Dad.”
“And I want the treatment for her. After you win. Take her to Texas, fix her.”
It makes more sense than trying to explain Xola to her.
GM: “Okay,” he says again. “We’ll ask her. If you’re on board I hope she’ll be too.”
Celia: “I’ve been looking for something to help her. To prevent the pain. That’s why I turned to a more medical focus with the spa, so I could… find something.” But she hasn’t learned it yet, the work that goes bone deep. “I thought I knew someone who could help, but I was wrong.”
GM: “I’m sorry they didn’t work out. But I think your mom would be very touched to hear you tried.”
Celia: Failed. Not quite her fault, not really—it’s not like she’d sent North to Vienna. But she nods anyway.
“Where were we, before we got sidetracked?”
GM: “I was actually going to bring up something else. Your mother sounds as if she loves Emily very much. Sophia and your brothers tell me she’s adopted her.”
Celia: “In name only. Legally you can’t adopt an adult in Louisiana. They considered a road trip but you have to be a resident to do it elsewhere.”
“But she does. We all do.”
GM: “Well, about that.”
Maxen hands her a manilla folder.
Celia: Celia reaches for it, brows lifted. She flips it open.
GM: Inside is a laminated copy of a birth certificate for a one Emily Rosure. The father’s name is blank. The mother’s reads ‘Diana Flores.’
She can’t get out more than the single word. Even that is choked.
GM: “All a question of knowing what levers to pull,” smiles Maxen. “Remember that your old man writes the laws.”
Celia: Celia presses her fingers to her lips as she stares down at the laminated page.
She’s quiet for a long moment. She doesn’t think it will fix anything with Emily, but… it’s a step in the right direction.
“Why?” she asks again, finally looking up at him.
GM: “Because I called her some unkind names, and because you and your mother love her.”
“I don’t expect a piece of paper will change their relationship, but perhaps they’ll feel better knowing that it’s also recognized under law. There are rights and privileges like hospital visitation rights that may only be available to legal family members.”
Celia: “I don’t know what levers you pulled. But thank you. This… this will mean a lot to them.”
GM: “I’m thankful to hear that, Celia.”
“I would like to see your mother again, to tell her the things I’ve told you.”
“She’s never been very good at saying no, even to things she doesn’t want. Would you be willing to ask her for me, if she wants to do that?”
Celia: “I will talk to her. I won’t force her, if she’s not interested. She doesn’t owe you anything. Not after what happened. Not even with all of this.”
“Neither does Emily. She knows what we went through, even if she wasn’t there to experience it herself.”
GM: “They don’t,” Maxen nods. “You don’t either.”
Celia: “You said you’d tell me. Why the change.”
GM: “Celia, I have an answer, and I don’t have an answer.”
Celia: She waits, expectant.
GM: “The answer is with your sister Isabel.”
“We’d been on strained terms for a while. I don’t know if you were aware, but she had a baby, who’s being raised by your aunt Mary. She and her husband were never able to have children.”
Celia: His baby.
GM: “Our relationship was never the same after that. I abused her, further, for getting pregnant out of wedlock. She ran away after she gave up the baby.”
Celia: She died after she gave up the baby, but Celia doesn’t correct him.
“You locked her in her room. And took her things away.”
GM: “Yes. I withheld my love and support when she needed it most.”
Celia: She’d been telling the truth.
She’d been telling the truth and Celia had killed her for it.
“And you feel bad because she was always your favorite.”
GM: “I feel bad because she is my daughter and she needed me.”
Celia: And now she’s gone.
GM: “But she wasn’t my favorite. Parents don’t have favorites.”
Celia: “Parents have favorites. There was a study about it. They just don’t admit it.”
GM: “Maybe some do. But the study didn’t measure every parent. Or your parents.”
Celia: Celia lifts her shoulders.
“But it’s about Isabel,” she prompts.
GM: “We didn’t speak for a long time. But she reached out to me again, some time back. Her boyfriend had gone missing.”
Celia: “That’s awful.”
GM: “Yes. We started talking again, over the phone. She’s in Sudan, you might already know, doing missionary work.”
Celia: Celia nods along.
GM: “So it’s possible that something very, very bad happened to her boyfriend. It’s possible he’s dead.”
Celia: He is dead.
He was probably eaten.
Or torn apart.
“I can’t imagine what she must be going through.”
GM: “I have some idea. We started talking again. About a lot of things.”
GM: “Our lives. Our pasts. Our faiths. We talked about a lot.”
“She never sounded so vulnerable as when she made that first call to me. I’d thought for years that I’d lost her. Many people think she’s doing missionary work because of me, but she chose to do that herself.”
“It felt good to have my daughter in my life again, even over the phone.”
“All I could offer her was words, and to try to fix things with those. If I’d sought to punish her, hurt her, she could have simply cut me out again. It was a blow to my ego, not having any power in the situation. But I think Isabel would say a necessary one.”
Celia: So it had nothing to do with Celia. It had nothing to do with missing her, wanting her in his life, wanting to make reparations for what he’d done to her, to Diana, to the rest of their family.
It’s about Isabel.
It’s always about Isabel.
GM: “I don’t think I would have reached out to you or your mother on my own,” her father says. “I didn’t reach out to Isabel, either. I don’t think I had that in me. She took the first step.”
Celia: “She was always the perfect daughter.”
GM: “She didn’t feel as if I thought of her that way.”
Celia: “Of course she did. She rubbed it in my face every chance she got.”
GM: “Your sister felt as if your mother didn’t love her. She tried to compensate for that, around you.”
Celia: “You told them that she didn’t love them. That’s why she left, you said.”
GM: “I did. That probably was why. That certainly was why.”
“From what David’s said to me, it sounds as if you and your mother started to reconnect in college, once you were off on your own. Isabel told me she’d never been so jealous.”
“I’m sorry. That she was right. That you had to hide it. That I put her in the hospital.”
Celia: “So you felt bad about Isabel and decided to reconnect with the rest of your family.”
“Things were tense with Isabel and I at first, you have to understand. I couldn’t physically abuse her, but we hung up on more than one phone call after a bitter argument, sometimes if that call was the last.”
“But your sister had no one else, except for Logan. The boy she loved increasingly seemed like he was dead. Her friends were turning against her. She was desperate to make this work between us.”
“She told me about the missionary work she was doing, spreading God’s word. She told me how it had fulfilled her like nothing else.”
“She had purpose and calling beyond herself. Before Sudan, her whole existence was framed in terms of me. It was only when she went out into the world as her own woman, and outgrew me, that she felt able to reestablish a relationship.”
“We talked a lot about God. She challenged me that I wasn’t serving Him. That I did not truly love and accept Jesus in my heart.”
Celia: “And you decided to mend your ways?”
GM: “No. But at her encouragement, I started to talk more with men of faith. To prove her wrong, in fact. That there wasn’t anything I needed to change. But I think some part of me already knew there was.”
Celia: He couldn’t abuse his daughter over the phone, so he found Jesus.
She nods. Waiting. Expectant.
GM: “So I talked. I didn’t confess my sins, so much as the things I didn’t believe I had to confess.”
“And one of the priests I talked to told me, straight and direct as you please, that I had a demon inside of me.”
Celia: “A demon,” she repeats.
GM: “I didn’t believe him either, at first.”
Celia: “What changed your mind?”
GM: “He didn’t change my mind, especially when he said an exorcism would be necessary to remove it. But I told Isabel, and she believed it. She said she would only be willing to continue having a relationship with me if I undertook the exorcism.”
Celia: “Who was the priest?”
GM: “Father Connelly. He passed away recently. Everyone knew he was old and in ill health.”
“But that wasn’t why he died, Celia.”
GM: “First, you have to understand that he was a Catholic priest. Catholic priests cannot formally take confession from non-Catholics, nor can they perform exorcisms without special dispensation from the Vatican.”
“But Father Connelly felt my need was dire.”
Celia: “So he did it anyway.”
GM: “He told me he sought and received permission from his superiors. I trust his word. But it happened very fast.”
Celia: “And he died from it?”
GM: “I’ll get to that. I went to St. Louis Cathedral. He told me the exorcism was more likely to succeed on holy ground. We went to a special room, and when I knelt and closed my eyes, like he instructed, he handcuffed me down. He said the exorcism might take hours or even days, and that the demon would try to make me leave.”
“You know I’ve been a Protestant all my life, Celia. And you know how much I work out. How I practice martial arts. I should’ve been able to fight off that old man, but he just held me down and declared that God lent him strength beyond his own. He lit fires. He chanted in Latin. There was a sense of gravitas in that cathedral, two thousand years of faith, and when I looked in that man’s eyes I saw an absolute certainty and fervor of conviction like I have never seen.”
“This was a man who believed with all of his heart and soul that he was doing God’s work, and all the threats I shouted about destroying his life didn’t even faze him.”
“He was right. It didn’t happen in one sitting. It took days of constant prayer and ritual. He let me use the bathroom in a pot, but didn’t allow me food or more than a little bit of water.”
“He didn’t allow me to sleep, either. I don’t know how he stayed up like that at his age. As soon as it seemed like I was nodding off, I’d get ice water to the face. Or he’d just hit me.”
“I started hallucinating, or experiencing what I thought were hallucinations. I saw all sorts of things. All sorts of people. You and your mother were there.”
Celia: Celia leans forward in her seat, clearly captivated by his story.
GM: “You accused me of… of all the things you had to accuse me of. You said if I didn’t help Father Connelly expel the demon, it would drag me back to Hell with it. I thought I was going crazy.”
“I saw my parents. I saw angels. I can’t even describe some of the things I saw. I felt a presence, so much vaster than anything I ever was or ever could be. I felt terrified, like I had never been in all my life.”
“I didn’t know, then, how long it went on for. I started pleading with Connelly, with God, with you and your mother, to make it stop. That this was torture. To just expel the demon and I’d be good.”
“But one of the voices, I don’t even know who, said that a demon could not have possessed a righteous soul. That I had allowed it in through my own faults and failings, and that I was to blame for the actions I had committed under its sway. It had only unlocked what was already there.”
“Connelly couldn’t exorcise it. Only I could. And if, and only if, I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my lord and savior.”
“Everything was suddenly clear to me. It was like I’d been starved for years and food was finally within reach.”
“I don’t remember how it ended. I was delirious. I remember coming back to earth, Connelly uncuffing me, and saying the demon was gone. My head felt clear again. Clear like it never had in years. All of the anger I’d felt, all of the hate, all of the fear, was simply gone.”
“But the exorcism took a lot out of Connelly. What strength he had left, he’d used on me. He died shortly afterwards.”
Celia: “And you think it was an actual demon?” Celia asks him. She doesn’t sound disbelieving; no, she sounds as if she might think it’s true.
GM: “I don’t know what else I could call it, Celia. I don’t know how to explain what happened in scientific terms.”
Celia: Celia scoots her chair closer to him. She takes his hand in hers.
GM: He squeezes her hand back. “I also knew then, once the demon had departed me, that I had to make right the wrongs I’d done. That I had to try.”
Celia: “When did it start? The… the demon? When did it take over?”
GM: “I’m not sure. But I think a very long time. At least as long as when you and your mother lived in fear.”
Celia: “Before we moved to Audubon?”
GM: “I don’t know. Maybe.”
Celia: “There… I mean, you believe this, right? That it’s true? That you had a demon inside of you?”
GM: “I do.”
Celia: “Because I remember… when I was a kid, you were different. You loved us, clearly. You let me put makeup on you. We played dress-up. You had tea parties with me. And then one day it changed. And I thought maybe it was because your parents died. Or the election. Stress. And… we had dinner once, Daddy, right before I left for college, and you… you looked at me like you had no idea who I was. Do you remember that?”
GM: Celia’s father shakes his head.
Celia: “What about other things? The spankings? Isabel. Me. Until we bled.”
GM: “I remember those. I wish those words were enough to undo them.”
Celia: “What about the night you tried to finish the job with Mom?”
GM: “I remember.”
Celia: “And with Isabel?”
GM: “I told her to leave. That wasn’t for her to see.”
GM: “I’m sorry?”
Celia: Celia shakes her head. He doesn’t remember. Mind-fucked, probably.
Maybe that’s a good thing.
But if the thing inside of him is gone, if it had been a demon, had her sire put it there? And does he know it’s gone?
“How long ago did you see Father Connelly?”
GM: “It was some months back. Getting back your mother’s ballet things and arranging Emily’s birth certificate didn’t happen overnight. It’s been looking into the treatments for your mother that have taken longest.”
Celia: “I believe you. About the demon.”
GM: “That means more to me than I can say, sweetie.”
Celia: “What do you want to do now that it’s gone?”
GM: “I want to make things right with my family. As right as I can.”
Celia: No one is going to believe her.
And there’s no one to talk it over with.
But she knows.
He really had fucked her entire family.
“Can you tell me what happened the night of the election?” Celia presses again. “Mom said something about a party and a woman, and I just… want to make sense of it all.”
GM: “A woman?”
Celia: “I don’t know,” she admits. “It didn’t make sense. She doesn’t like talking about it.”
GM: “I’m sorry, sweetie. I don’t know what she meant.”
Celia: “Then tell me your side.”
“Mom wasn’t the only one there that night. She’s not the only one who it affected. I had nightmares for years. I heard her screaming every time I closed my eyes. I’m the one who saw her in the hospital afterward. Who got her out of debt later and fixed that mess. So if you want to fix this, if you want a relationship with your family, then I need to know why it happened.”
GM: “I understand. I’m just not sure how much help my reasons may help when they weren’t reasonable.”
“I told you about how I’d believed your mother had cheated on me.”
Celia: “You did.”
GM: “I didn’t believe the affair was with Bill Roberts. I believed it was with a black man.”
Celia: “In 2003?”
Celia: “Why did you think that?”
GM: “Your mother and I had both been drinking at the victory party. She made remarks about a black staffer of Bill Roberts’, likely jokes to her, that I seized on as evidence of an affair.”
Celia: “What did she say?”
GM: “The remarks could have been construed as sexual in nature.”
Celia: “Dad, I’m not a kid. You’re not going to offend me.”
GM: “They are inherently offensive to repeat in the same breath as your mother, Celia.”
Celia: “So was trying to take her leg off with a hacksaw.”
GM: “Yes. That doesn’t mean either should happen again.”
GM: “Would you like to get dessert?”
Celia: “My stomach is kind of in knots right now, to be honest. I don’t think it can handle anything sweet.”
Celia: “But if you want it I’m happy to stay.”
GM: “Meals should be enjoyed between two. I usually don’t treat myself.”
Celia: “I could steal a bite and pretend to eat it if you want.”
GM: “It’s all right, Celia. I don’t think the staff will mind us staying.”
Celia: “I don’t know how you’re going to top demons and becoming governor.”
GM: “There are other offices. Cabinet positions. Even president.” He smiles. “But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.”
Celia: “President Flores.” Celia tries it out. “Has a nice ring to it.”
GM: “The Malveauxes already took a shot at it.”
“They missed, but if the party loses the general election this year, Nathan is sure to run again in 2020.”
Celia: “I imagine you’d like to enjoy being governor for a while, but would it be considered bad form to run against them?”
GM: “They wouldn’t like it. But that’s politics.”
Celia: “Can I ask something? About you running. Don’t they usually kind of… dig into families sometimes?”
“I just remember what happened with that girl, you know, the abortion, how it all kind of blew up. And I guess I just don’t want to have to worry about someone coming after my daughter. She’s a child. She shouldn’t be exposed to all of that ugliness.”
GM: “The Malveauxes engineered that. They fought harder and dirtier than the Cherrys, and that’s one of the reasons they won.”
“I won’t allow anything like that to happen with Lucy.”
Celia: Celia nods. She squeezes the hand that still holds hers.
“Thanks, Daddy. I appreciate that.”
GM: “You’re welcome, sweetie. You and the others can be as involved or uninvolved in my run as you like.”
Celia: Celia nods her head at that. She can’t imagine that she’ll be able to be involved in his run in any tangible way, but already her plans shift to accommodate for this new information. Every time someone answers a question it seems like three more pop up in its stead, only this time… this time she doesn’t think there’s anyone to ask. Not anyone who will be inclined to shed light on it for her.
Who will even believe her? If she hadn’t been exposed to this world the way she was, would she have believed him?
“Was there anything else, Dad? I know we got sidetracked a few times.”
GM: “Just one thing, Celia.”
“I love you.”
Celia: “I love you too, Dad.”