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Blood & Bourbon

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Story Eight, Arthur I, Emmett I

“First impressions can be misleading, right?”
Emmett Delacroix

Date ?

GM: Emmett doesn’t know what day it is. It’s been almost exactly the same as every other day he’s spent in his windowless 9×5 concrete cage. Today there were two cockroaches to squash among his powdered eggs and undercooked grits. He doesn’t remember if they tasted like anything. It long since feels like he’s lost the capacity for taste.

His post-breakfast nap was the same. Sleeping remains the best way to pass time on death row. He sleeps as much as he can. It beats being awake.

Sleep always recedes, eventually. He is left to sit, alone, in the featureless concrete box and think. And think. And think.

Sleeping always beats being awake in death row.

There’s no announcement or fanfare as the pexiglass-windowed steel door swings open. Guards haul him out of the concrete box on his wheelchair. He has a visitor.

That makes it Sunday. Visitors are only allowed on that one day a week.

Guards follow him as he wheels himself down a featureless steel and concrete corridor that looks exactly the same as every room in Angola. There are uncomfortable-looking steel stools around pexiglass windows and an attached steel countertop. Phones hang from dividers between the seats.

The room is empty save for a blonde teenage girl on the other side of the pexiglass. She’s dressed in casual clothing and looks uncannily like Cécilia Devillers, give or take a decade younger. She’s already holding the phone on her side of the window as she flashes Emmett a pretty smile and waves as she sees his wheelchair approach.

Emmett: Cécilia. There are memories better left alone, though less painful than his most recent traumas.

“Hey, look,” the wheelchair-bound con says into the phone. “It’s some loser in a chair come to gawk.” He squints. “Oh, that’s just my reflection. Which makes you my visitor. I recognize you, but I don’t know you. Devillers?”

GM: “Wah yes,” the girl smiles through the glass. “Yvette Devillers. Ah’m so ‘appy to get to meet you… you’re Emmett Delacroix, of course.”

Emmett: “Uh huh. What’d I do this time? Or did your sister send you?” He chuckles. “That’d be a nice little shit cherry on top of my execution sundae. Kinda poetic if she found out about me.”

And fuck you for smiling. There should be laws against being happy near condemned people and cripples. Nobody would follow them, but they’d be nice to have.

GM: “Which one of mah sisters? Ah’m afraid Ah ’ave five, so…” She gives an airy laugh. “…well, people usually ‘ave to be specific, they can’t even just say ‘your younger one’.”

Emmett: “Bit creepy if I was talking about the younger ones, wouldn’t it be? I’m not on death row for being a pedo, at least. That’d be a nice thing to have on my grave, wouldn’t it? Worthless Deadbeat, But Not a Pedophile. Maybe a bit wordy.”

He glances at an imaginary watch. “Not that I have places to be, but I’m pretty sure even princesses don’t get forever to chat with the convicts. You have something to say to me?”

GM: Yvette nods. “Oui, of course. But we ‘ave time, don’t worry.”

She smiles again. “Ah’m afraid you’ll still ’ave to be more specific, though. Ah ’ave two older sisters. Adeline or Cécilia?”

Emmett: “What, Cici never found out El’s real name? That’s a shame.” He snaps his fingers. “Ah, I’m such a ditz. I forgot, we did meet.”

Friday evening, 7 September 2007

GM: The start of Emmett’s high school junior year has not been a pleasant time for the Delacroix household. Neither have any of the past several years, for that matter.

Slipping grades. “You still need a good GPA to get into film school,” his mom (and even Lena) had said. Rude and disrespectful behavior towards teachers. Rude and disrespectful behavior towards fellow students. Associating with “bad people” outside of school. Lack of motivation. Pissing his future away. The Delacroixes have talked about all of those things, and a lot more things.

They’ve talked about them with teachers, guidance counselors, therapists, and even priests. They’ve pissed away a lot of time and money. Talking has not worked. It’s at the advice of Emmett’s aunt Clarice that his parents are taking more significant steps to get his future back on track.

They’ve pulled him out of the moderately priced private school he’d attended since he was a little kid. They’ve enrolled him in Jesuit High School for his last two years of secondary education. It’s Catholic. Boys only. Tuition is expensive—around $8,000 a year, closer to $10,000 in 2016.

It’ll get him back on track.

The faculty doesn’t tolerate the same shit they did at Emmett’s old coed school. The lack of girls also presents one fewer way to get in trouble.

Emmett’s enjoyed it as much as anyone might expect. The families of some boys there have to scrape and look into financial aid options like the Delacroixes did. Others don’t, and never let Emmett forget it. Comfortably middle class to them is poor.

The school isn’t completely without perks, though. They partner up with all-girls’ schools for dances. This year’s homecoming is being held at the Louise S. McGehee School. Emmett’s heard a few things about the girls there. Catholic boys still have imaginations as dirty as public school ones.

If there’s another perk to be said for expensive private schools, it’s that they have bigger budgets. It looks like an event decorating company came in for tonight. They’ve done over the gym with strings of pulsating lights, fancy-looking drapes, and clusters of glowing balloons twisted into funky shapes. The ambient lighting is dark and purple. Throngs of adolescents in semi-formal attire sway and dance to music pumping from a modern surround sound system. Scintillating lights excitedly spill over their undulating bodies. The air-conditioned gym still feels all-too warm from the dancers’ sweat and adolescent hormones—a fact of which the silently surveying adult chaperones appear well aware.

Emmett: All things considered, Em’s done a pretty good job of lying his way into a new school.

It wasn’t hard to let his grades fall, or to get caught having fun behind the bleachers with an anonymous note sent to the right office. Having a good reason to fuck with teachers was a perk, too. It also wasn’t that hard to order catalogs featuring Brother Martin’s—a school where somebodies went to, whereas the Delacroixes were well-established nobodies—off his mom’s credit card. Not that she knew he knew her PIN.

Why start over? Why the new school, why let his parents bust his balls, chew him out, when he could eke out a comfortable career as a moderately daring delinquent with a fraction of the headache? Sometimes, he even wonders if he’s making mistake after mistake, just like Mom loves to assure him he is.

But no. Emmett Delacroix has a secret.

Emmett Delacroix has a dream.

New school, new kids. New friends. New Em. And boy, does Em seem to change when first semester comes around. The reports coming home start looking a lot different. Teachers praise his quick camaraderie with the other students despite being new to the school, and Brother Martin’s first film club actually earns him extra credits so he doesn’t have to take gym. Plus, it’s easy to talk the extracurricular department into coughing up “pizza money.” Film club becomes the place to be.

In his old school, Em had baggage. Not a lot, but enough. He had old friends, people who knew his weird secrets and embarrassing idiosyncrasies. Nothing bad, really—nothing like Horace Weaverton, who had wet the bed at every sleepover until he was ten. No, Em’s old school reminded him too much of something inconvenient. As long as he went there, he would always have to be just one more desperate middle-class nobody. As long as he stayed where he grew up, Em could never be his best self, his perfect self.

That makes sense, right? It does at seventeen.

No, the last year hasn’t been a happy one for the Delacroix household. But the last few weeks have sure looked happier from the outside in. But there’s one more thing Em needs. One more person to believe in him, if he’s going to do any of the mad shit he plans after this joke of a school.

He hasn’t told anybody yet how he’s thinking of skipping the whole college scene. He can see his parents shaking their heads already. No, he needs to prove what he desperately needs to be true: that any lie repeated often enough will come to life.

Emmett Delacroix has a happy life.

Emmett Delacroix has a happy life.

Emmett Delacroix has a happy life.

Emmett Delacroix has a happy life.

“Tell me again, about who’s who,” he asks the boy next to him as they both watch the early dancers.
He looks good in his suit. Frustratingly good. Em might not be in shape, but he’s always been able to make laziness look elegant.

GM: The other boy, Lee, looks merely all right in his. The freshman’s heart-shaped face and deep blue eyes could be handsome, especially for a 15-year-old, if he smiled more and stood up straighter. He doesn’t. He wears his resentment at the world like a dark cloud, and hasn’t found much reason to pretend otherwise at the boys-only school. Perhaps he’s figured he could simply take it off for an evening’s dance. But some masks are heavy, and not so easily donned or removed.

Em would know. He’s not taken off his.

Lee points to a tall blonde girl who’s dancing in the literal center of the limelight. “So that’s Erika Kelly. I guess she’s a big deal, or thinks she is. Her grandpa’s a senator, and, like, a million years old. My family are Republicans and always bitching about the Kellys being flaming liberals when they’re really just exactly the fucking same as us.”

He points at two other nearby girls.

“That’s Cécilia and Adeline Devillers, I guess they’re the local inbreds.” The two strikingly similar-looking girls share the same pale skin, pale blonde hair and clear blue eyes. One looks maybe a few years older than the other, but that’s the only real difference Em can tell.

“Or not local, I guess. French inbreds. Guess you can be an inbred wherever you’re from. And their mom is such a hero and does a bunch of charity bullshit.”

He points at a dark-haired girl with clear gray eyes.

“That’s… Zee I think, Flores.” Lee looks as if he’s trying to think of something, then settles for, “Her dad’s an idiot.”

He points at another girl, also with dark hair, but with brown eyes and olive skin. “That’s Elizabeth St. John, I think her family are into banking and oil, they’re also idiots.”

He points at another two South Asian girls. “Don’t even ask me what their names are, there’s a fucking million of those stupid Pavaghis. But I know their dad, or grandpa, whatever, has pissed off a bunch of peoples’ parents here, so I guess they have that going. At least their grandpa-dad’s honest about how he just wants to fuck everyone over and make money. I mean, being honest about being an asshole, what could be worse.”

Lee points at a curly-haired ginger with beady gray eyes. He looks around college age. “That’s Artie Dolan. His family are cooks, I guess they figure if they kiss enough ass they’ll get to be, like, senators too. I hear he got out of rehab or something. Or a mental institution. Or that he was thrown out of the army for being insane and shooting people. I’ve heard some weird stuff about him, like that he molests girls. Great choice having him as a chaperone, huh?”

He points to a graying-haired woman who’s some distance away from the kids. “That’s ‘Strong’, yeah, that actually is her name, the principal. ‘Cuz they actually have three different ones at this school. I think she wants to kiss ass too, until she’s the headmistress. Like, what is this, the ’40s? England?”

He points to another parental-age woman with sandy blonde hair. “That’s, what’s her name, something Flores. I hear things are really weird with her and Zee, and that she’s, like, stalking her.”

He points to a gray-haired older man. “That’s Lyman Whitney. His daughter got killed by a drunk driver during a prom here, a couple years back. He’s supposed to be this big-shot CEO, and yeah, here he is at a high school dance on Friday, instead of, you know, hookers and blow.” Lee shakes his head in mock disbelief. “I hear he’s still moping over his dead daughter. So maybe he thinks he can play hero or something here, save some more girls, because I guess high school dances are just so dangerous. Kinda sad.”

“So, yeah.” Lee finishes his sarcastic shpeel with a dramatic sweep of his arm across the throngs of dancing teens. “You missed so much not going to school here, Em!”

Emmett: Em absorbs the various bites of gossip with nods, grunts, and eye-rolls in the appropriate sympathetic places. His interest in the pale-skinned blondes lingers after Lee’s (poor) dis.

“Not too shabby, Lee. Gotta say, you know a lot about them for somebody who’s so over all that petty stuff.”

The compliment is shallow, but so is Lee’s ego. People like him—


—eat that shit up.

GM: “Well, they just love to talk about themselves,” the younger boy replies, his tone an odd admixture of defensive and laughing along (or at least, sneering along) with the surface compliment.

Emmett: He takes a sip of punch and nods. “And you’re a good listener. Congrats. Tell me again how your family fits into this whole weird scene? Country club pals?”

GM: Lee ladles some out too. “Yeah, just more douchebags like all the rest.”

Emmett: Em nods, turning the information over in his head. “So, Whitney’s all sentimental, Strong’s got big ambitions, stay away from Dolan, nobody likes the Pavaghis, and the cute looking ones are inbreds? I mean, being from Louisiana, how picky can we be?”

Em has a lot of friends here, but Lee’s convenient. He’s connected but unimportant, legit but not gilded. Needy, but not picky. Those were the ones you needed to keep around you. They’re bred to be winners, and they hate feeling like losers because they’re told to trust their instincts.

Em gets it. He’s been there. Which probably makes his unceasing contempt for it slightly questionable.
If he was the questioning type.

GM: “Yeah, I guess th-”

Lee’s eyes scan the crowd of dancing, neon-painted adolescents. He sets down his punch cup.

“Ah, crap. You gotta cover me.”

Emmett: Em’s eyes follow the freshman’s, hopefully without seeming too interested.

Arthur: Through the prong of dancing neon-painted youths, the familiar ginger curls of Artie Dolan sifts through the crowd, approaching the pair with a patented lopsided smile and bleary, grey eyes. The pale-faced redhead finally settles his gaze on Lee who is trying to hide. He remains silent for a moment as he stares down the freshman. “I take it you two boys are having fun, hmm?”

GM: “We’re not dancing with any girls,” Lee seems to simultaneously bristle, complain, and offer as ‘proof’ in a surly-sounding defense.

Arthur: “Why not?” he asks, bemusedly. He then reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a metal flask. He takes a sip, and then his smile grows, revealing crooked, uneven teeth.

Emmett: Em grins at the redhead approaching, and only smiles wider when he sees the flask. “Not as much fun as you’re having. You must be Artie Dolan, right? Happy to meet you. Heard you’re an interesting dude. Y’all are chefs, right?” His voice is apologetically polite, as if to compensate for his “friend’s,” and his accent a hint more Cajun than it was with Lee.

Arthur: “Yes. I see my reputation precedes me,” the redhead replies, taking another sip. He appears completely nonchalant as he then proffers the flask. “I won’t tell if you don’t, of course.” His bleary, grey eyes stagnate on Lee for a moment as his toothy grin grows.

GM: “Yeah, I bet you wouldn’t,” Lee snorts. He continues to sip his punch.

Arthur: The ginger’s face twists into mocking disappointment as he takes another sip from the container, chuckling to himself. His attention then turns back to Em. “What about you, handsome? Do you have a name?”

Emmett: “I do, but I’d rather just get called handsome forever. I’m Em. You wouldn’t know my family,” the seventeen-year-old says with a smile that feels illegal. He sloshes a bit of booze into his mostly full cup and grins at Lee. “C’mon, don’t go all abstinence on me. You ever been drunk before?”

Like a real person instead of the limp-dicked phoney you see every morning when you stare at your reflection in the toilet? he doesn’t add, but makes sure Lee knows he’s thinking. It’s all in the face, how he stands. A challenge, but not one you could ever call out. Not unless you have balls, which Lee doesn’t and most likely won’t find until his first divorce.

GM: Lee doesn’t call it out—at least not coming from someone as popular as Em. Instead he glowers at Arthur.

“This guy knows how many times I’ve gotten drunk. He could be trying to get us busted.”

Emmett: “Relax.” Em’s voice is gentler, now. “World’s not out to get you, Lee, and tonight’s supposed to be fun. So have fun. Besides, it’s not like you were planning on driving home, was it? Drink a toast with me. You too. Artie, right?” He raises the solo cup, not aggressively but forcefully, definitely.

How the hell do you say no to somebody who never lets on that they’re selling you something in the first place?

GM: Lee looks at Arthur, watches him drink, then takes the flask and spills some into his own punch cup. The younger boy’s motions aren’t at all nervous or uncertain. He doesn’t make any excited or ‘look at how we’re drinking’ remarks. Just tosses it back.

“Heh. Whoops,” he smirks.

He raises the cup again in toast.

“What should we drink to? Well, drink some more to.”

Emmett: “Beautiful people, Lee. What else. Beautiful people.”


GM: “Beautiful people,” Lee toasts, drinking.

Arthur: “To me,” Artie toasts, drinking.

GM: The fifteen-year-old cracks a snicker before taking another pull.

“Yeah. To us.”

Friday evening, 7 September 2007

Emmett: The next half-hour or so Em isn’t dancing on the floor, though he practically feels as if he is dancing. He plays coy with the girls, politely declining dances but socializing enthusiastically. He keeps Lee close-but-not-too-close, reuniting and drinking with him frequently throughout the night—and always pushing Lee to go the extra sip. The drunker the freshman, the better for what Em’s thinking. It’s not like he doesn’t reward the (other) moody teen for his compliance—plenty of wicked jokes about the various pairs of dancers get whispered to Lee, making sure to focus on the boys Lee envies and despises the most. He makes sure to encourage his other friends (you know, my “real” friends, he half-heartedly thinks) to talk to her or maybe her or that one over there. He also finds small moments during lulls to make nice with Lyman Whitney (“Hi, I think my parents use your bank” as if he hadn’t withdrawn money from a Bank of Columbia account two hours ago).

But throughout, he makes nice with Artie, chatting him up, genuinely interested in his experiences.

“Lee said your family were cooks. That’s gotta make family dinner hell.”

Arthur: “It makes family dinners interesting to say the least,” Artie jokes rather breezily. “We’re a big family, and I mean that in more ways than one. What about your family, Em? What do your parents do?”

Emmett: “Not much, these days—my mom’s actually related to Louis Armstrong, and his estate’s bigger than you’d think. Dad used to be a talent agent, now he does a lot of personal recruiting—mostly for fun, you know. He’s able to do it without panicking now.”

He keeps his face perfect as he lays out the lie, really a good story out of control, between sips of ‘punch’.

Arthur: The ginger takes another sip and regards the younger man with a thoughtful gaze. “I can certainly see the resemblance between you and Louis Armstrong now that you mention it,” he remarks, airily.

Emmett: “Thanks, I get that more than you’d think,” he agrees. “But you’re also in the army, right? Or were?”

Arthur: Arthur’s gray eyes look upward for a moment before he answers. “Not exactly. I went to a military school,” he answers, laughing.

GM: Em’s father threatened him with that once.

Emmett: A truth he actually shares with Artie. “I had a little thing with this girl he was trying to bag for his agency. Singer-songwriter, that kind of thing.” She was a T.A. for his freshman environmental class and he wouldn’t have asked her to carry a tune. She liked writing haikus, though. “What’d I miss? Bet they have less dances.”

Arthur: “We do this one thing that’s sort of like a conga line. Only we don’t move at all and instead of music we get yelled at by our instructor.”

Emmett: He actually laughs at that. “That sounds like a rough time. Are you magically a reformed member of society now? How’d you end up pulling chaperone duty?”

Arthur: Artie gives Em a sly look. “I lost a bet with one of my relatives, of course,” he answers. “I am as reformed as a televangelist caught cheating on his wife.”

Emmett: “Kinda specific jibe, but I dig it. You’re a funny guy.” The compliment is accompanied by a grin. “How’d you meet the Malveaux brat?”

Arthur: “Family acquaintances. I don’t personally know him, of course.”

Emmett: “That makes sense—he seemed kind of condescending. They treat you the same way they treat me? Like you get to look at them and hang out with them, and that means you should feel included?”

Arthur: “We’re still part of the servant class in the eyes of some families,” Arthur freely admits, nodding his head. “It definitely grates on the nerves of a few of my family members, but personally I don’t really care for the family politics.”

Emmett: “I’m the same way. Big hippies, my parents. You know, artists.” He takes a sip and watches the dancing couples. “Who’s you lose the bet to?”

Arthur: “My grandmother.” He asks, “What kind of artists are your parents?”

Emmett: “Like I said, dad’s a talent agent. Mom’s trust is pretty big, but she sings, too. Mostly private parties, events for people like this who think it’s look good to have Armstrong’s half-white relative sing at a party.”

He laughs, too. “Your grandma got you out here? Would she have shared the booze, too?”

Arthur: “She’s the reason I went to military school. What do you think?” he chuckles loudly.

Emmett: Em continues talking with the chaperone over the next hour whenever he encounters him at the party. He’s a little bit surprised by how much he likes Artie—at least, insofar as he finds it harder to actively dislike him. For his part, he does his best to encourage the chaperone to open up around him and talk freely. Adults always let interesting things slip when they’re not listening to themselves, anyway.

Arthur: Artie is only too happy to oblige, sharing more anecdotes and half-truths with the young man.

In between chats, Artie mostly keeps to himself (aside from speaking to and making small talk with the odd actual adult) and finds a dark corner to drink in peace.

GM: Those actual adults remind him that it’s his job while he’s here to keep an eye on the young adults. The more ‘excitable’ kids will go right back to grinding if someone doesn’t break them up.

“Say, Arthur, what is that you’re drinking?” Principal Strong asks in an ‘idle’ tone that seems far from idle.

Arthur: “Principal Strong!” Arthur greets brightly, smiling crookedly at the older woman as a flutter of laughter leaves his lips. “You’re looking absolutely radiant! In answer to your question though, the flask in my hand is something I confiscated from a student.”

GM: The graying-haired woman doesn’t look ‘radiant’ under the dance floor’s pulsating lights so much as violet, but the still-college-age youth has to admit she doesn’t look bad for a woman her age either. Good figure, high cheekbones, not too many wrinkles. MILF territory.

Arthur: I’d smash.

GM: Principal Strong sighs. “These boys. I swear the Catholic ones get up to even more hijinks. The people at Brother Martin’s can deal with this. Did you let one of them know?”

Arthur: “They say the Romans knew how to party, and I suppose Catholicism originates from there,” Arthur muses aloud. “I promised the boy that I wouldn’t say anything if he gave me the flask. It wouldn’t be right to breach the boy’s trust, of course. But unfortunately yes, I have already let the people at Brother Martin’s know. I actually feel very bad about it.”

GM: “I grant you absolution for your sin,” the principal responds dryly, then sighs. “And while you’re at it, break up any students you hear repeating that story about Rebecca Whitney’s ghost. God knows it’s upsetting to her father.”

Arthur: “Understandable!” Arthur responds in mild shock. “How terrible!”

He recalls hearing and laughing at the same story only a few minutes earlier.

But thinking on it, he is suddenly reminded of his own daughter. He feels a well of sympathy and regret at his drunken flippancy. Is this fatherhood? Reassessing yourself as a person and wanting to be better?

He feels the urge to take another swig from his flask but resists, waiting for Principal Strong to leave before surreptitiously doing so.

GM: His musings on his personal growth are interrupted as a dark-haired girl in the crowd saddles up to him.

“You drinking something better than punch there?” she smiles, her face painted purple by the gym’s low lighting.

Arthur: Arthur pauses, drunkenness setting in. He smiles slyly as he takes another swig. “Anything’s better than punch,” he answers.

GM: “I bet. Wanna share?” the girl smiles back.

Arthur: Arthur chuckles. “Always.” He then offers the flask as he blearily studies the girl, wondering who she is and where he’s seen her face. “I’m Arthur. What’s your name?”

GM: “Thirsty,” the teenager answers as she plucks the flask from Arthur’s hands.

“But I’m Samantha when I’m not,” she winks as she takes a pull. “Mm, that’s good stuff. You got any more?”

She hands the flask back. Its weight feels empty.

Arthur: “At my apartment,” he answers, lecherously. He pockets the flask with a slightly sad, empty feeling in the pit of his stomach.

GM: “I’d need more than one pull before saying yes to that,” the girl retorts, tilting her head. “So if you’re a chaperone here, what’s your story?”

Arthur: The redhead laughs. “I don’t like babysitting, and drinking helps me cope,” he replies, gingerly. “Drinking helps me cope with a lot of things. I’m wonderfully imperfect like that.” He gives her a crooked look, smiling at Samantha like an alligator. “What’s your story? What made you want to talk to poor little ol’ ugly me?”

GM: “I was thirsty. And I knew you’d look less ugly after at least one drink,” the teenager smirks.

The glances towards the throngs of dancing adolescents closer to the center of the gym. Top 20 hits pound as specks of light flash over their undulating, purple-illuminated bodies.

“If you’re not into babysitting, wanna dance?”

Arthur: “You seem like the type who’d either make or break my reputation. How can I possibly say no?” he asks, offering to take the lead.

GM: “You seem like the type not to care about his reputation,” Samantha answers, shaking her hips as she swings in front of him.

Artie’s flask is empty. But he can feel it in his gut with the rising pounding of the music and the coy way his partner is looking at him.

Tonight is going to be a good night.

Friday evening, 7 September 2007

GM: Em ends up declining numerous dances of his own. Lots of girls all want to dance with him. Erika, Zee, Elizabeth, the Pavaghis. Plenty more whose names he doesn’t know.

“Oh c’mon, just one!”

“You shy?”

“Later, okay?”

“Ooh, hard to get…”

Lee isn’t so picky with either his girls or his booze. He seems to come alive as the liquored punch loosens his inhibitions. Girls laugh, smile, and even squeal when he ‘grinds’ against them.

It’s inevitable at any high school dance, rich or poor, Catholic or secular. Chaperones try to break up the genital-to-buttock contact, but the kids just start doing it again after the adults leave—and it’s always raunchiest at the tightly-packed center of the crowd.

Lyman Whitney gets some odd looks from the ‘couples’ he breaks up when he tells the girls, more sadly than angrily, to “remember your futures”. He seems pleased by the small talk Em initiates and lectures the teenager on the importance of planning for his financial future. The younger you start, the better.

“My daughter had already started saving for retirement,” he says almost wistfully. “She didn’t need to, but she did anyway. Save young and you can retire young.”

Emmett: “That makes a lot of sense,” the teen says solemnly (and insincerely, even if his vanity is stroked by the old bankers’ sentimentality. “My mom often says the same thing. Never too early to start saving. Or too late, I suppose.”

It hurts the lover in him to say no so much. It does. And on one level, he knows he doesn’t have to do any of this, but on another level—would dancing with somebody he won with a smile be as fun?

Still, he notes the Devillers aren’t among the two asking, and that just confirms what he suspects. There’s the simple life. The life that everybody’s folded and ironed for him.

And then there’s what he can find for himself.

Lee’s loss of inhibition is all he needs. It’s about five minutes after an exasperated-looking chaperone separates him from one such squealing high schooler that he checks in with the freshman. “How’s the party treatin’ you?”

GM: “Not bad, not bad,” Lee answers Emmett, his voice half-slurred. “These girls… lotta fun. Kinda… slutty… but hey, guess they’re all… girls are girls. Guess they just wanna have fun, like the song.”

The Devillers girls, meanwhile, are off the edge of the party. The older one is talking to the younger one. Her expression and body language are consoling.

Emmett: Probably the right time then. Em laughs. “Yeah, they are. And they do, man. Even the stuck up ones. Have you gone up to one of the inbreds yet? They’ve been playing it cool all night.”

GM: Lee shakes his head over the pop music’s pounding thumps.

“Probably freak out if I wanted to really dance with them. Bet they haven’t even felt a dick before. They’re probably a bunch of drooling lesbos. ’Cuz incest goes with being inbred like coffee and beignets. Heh. Would be hot, though.”

Emmett: Em makes sure to laugh at the right time, lets Lee know with his smile that why yes, he really is as cool as he thinks he is.

“Yeah? There’s an easy way to find out. You should ask the younger one to dance. Get into it, then see what you find under that dress. You know? Make sure she doesn’t have a dick, like that really tall Malveaux girl. I’ll be chatting up his—I mean, her sister. Maybe tonight I’ll figure out whether she’s got one either.

He can see that he won’t have to do much to convince him at this point. This is the third time Em’s seen him drunk, and Lee’s right where he wants him to be.

Everybody needs a Lee.

Knew he made the right call convincing him to come tonight. Not that it was hard..

GM: Lee gives Emmett an odd look at the reference to a transgender Malveaux, but then slurs, “Know what? I bet we’re not even kidding. I bet onea those inbreds really does have a dick. Six girls, yeah right.”

The freshman tosses back another drink, then declares, “’M gonna prove it.”

“Prove it to the whole school,” he mutters. “Fuck those inbreds. Ruin their life. Fuck everyone always ignorin’ me. Fuck… everyone.”

He takes another pull of punch and ambles off without waiting for a response. Cécilia and Adeline are standing by another punch bowl, talking amongst themselves.

“…Ah don’t really like this. It’s so dark and noisy. You can barely talk with people,” grumbles the younger girl.

“I know, maybe it wasn’t a good idea,” Cécilia answers. “Why don’t you try just one dance, closer in? We’ll go if you don’t like it.”

“Boys are grindi-”

Adeline is cut off as a drunken Lee shouts, “HEY WANNA DANCE!” and all but throws himself against her backside like they’re at a football game instead of homecoming. Adeline gives an alarmed cry as she stumbles forward, trips, and falls to her knees in a heap. The top of her strapless dress falls down. The two smooth and pale breasts look, to Em’s estimation, all-too genuinely female.

All color drains from Cécilia’s face.

Emmett: Attaboy, idiot.

Em’s already nearby, and he can almost see the “disaster” before it happens. He all but sprints to the couple, slides nimbly between Lee and the topless girl (don’t look, spoils the trick if you look too appreciatively) and slaps the freshman like he’s found the piñata at the party.

Mind, Em’s not usually a slapping kind of guy. But Lee’s drunk, he sees Em as a friend, and the best part of a slap is how loud it can be. He can almost feel eyes and ears turning.

“Jesus Christ, Malveaux. I thought your family at least would have taught you how to act around women even if they knew you were a tasteless asshole. Get out of here, Wes.” He’s already turning to help Adeline up, averting his eyes politely (and despite most of his teenage instincts).

Go on, make a scene. Please make a scene, with everybody watching already on my side. Maybe you can even try to hit me back. Loser.

He’d be lying if he wasn’t extra smug about pulling one over on the family his own railed against regularly at the dinner table. Maybe one day, he would even tell this story to Dad. He’d have a sense of humor about it, right? Maybe when he was super old and bitter about the dying earth. More bitter, obviously.

GM: It’s hard to say whether the slap or Em’s about-face hits Lee worse. The younger boy just stands there dumbly for a moment, looking between his ‘friend’ and the scene he’s caused almost confusedly.

Adeline frantically crosses her arms over her chest instead of taking Em’s hand. She looks completely speechless.

Cécilia quickly recovers herself as she stoops down to attend her sister. “We need your jacket, please!” she exclaims to Em.

Bystanders are already starting to look.

Emmett: It’s already coming off and being draped around the exposed girl. He doesn’t say anything right then, too much tension, but lets them see nothing but concern on his face. He also adjusts his position to give her a bit more coverage from the bulk of the crowd.

GM: “You ASSHOLE! This was ALL YOUR IDEA!” Westley shouts. Em knows years-suppressed bitterness more than well enough to see the punch coming, but his betrayed friend is simply too enraged. A solid clock to the eye sends the 17-year-old stumbling back. Screams and exclamations go up from the crowd.

“Leave him alone, Westley!” Cécilia shouts, her face pale with anger. “Just leave us all alone!”

Emmett: “I said you should dance with somebody, not attack them!” The confusion and obvious disgust is easy to fake with how much that actually stings, you sore loser!

One hand covers a swelling eye, but the other is staring with something like pity. “Just leave, ass. Before you make things worse for everybody.”

He makes sure he’s between him and Adeline. He’ll have to get her a drink to make up for this. Or something. Seems only fair.

GM: The noise and commotion on the outer edges of the dance swiftly draws chaperones.

“What’s going on here!” Lyman Whitney angrily demands, looking between Westley, Em, and the two kneeling Devillers girls.

Principal Strong’s eyes dangerously narrow. “Mr. Malveaux. What a surprise to find you at this particular dance…”

“Oh, you poor things!” Mrs. Flores exclaims, kneeling by the Devillers girls. “Here, I’ve got a bobby pin, this isn’t anything we can’t fix…”

Emmett: “He’s drunk, sir. Somebody should probably call his family,” Em answers Whitney.

GM: “He’s lying! This is all his fault!” Westley furiously shouts back. “It was his idea! All of it!”

“That boy, Westley,” Cécilia states while coldly looking towards the Malveaux scion, “pushed over my sister, then hit him in the eye,” she nods towards Emmett.

Emmett: Em just looks pained. “I laughed at your dumb jokes, man. That’s all.”

He looks with utter guilt to the sisters, then back to the chaperones. “He was drunk earlier and I ignored it because of who he was. He made some stupid jokes about the girls at McGehee and I didn’t call him out because I didn’t think he was dangerous. He never said anything about this. I’m sorry for not telling him to back off earlier.”

A little bit of admitted, trivial guilt should shut up any doubts they’ll have about him, but they won’t peek behind the curtain. Not when there’s a much more obvious villain in the room.

GM: And Em has told much taller lies than this one.

Westley continues to protest, but the chaperones aren’t buying what he’s selling—or rather, are buying what Em is selling. Principal Strong all but leads a still-protesting Westley away by the ear as she states that if he “wants to come to McGehee so bad, you can wait in my office while I call your parents.” Lyman remarks on how much the young man is embarrassing his family’s name. It seems like the whole crowd has stopped dancing to gawk, whisper, and stare.

The Devillers girls seem less eager to see Westley punished than to avoid the inherently punishing limelight themselves. Mrs. Flores manages to fix up Adeline’s dress with the bobby pin. Cécilia thanks her first, though her younger sister still wants to keep the jacket on, and even more clearly wants to leave. A small clique of friends moves to protectively escort them out. This party is clearly over.

“Thanks for your jacket, and for everything else back there,” Cécilia says to Em. “I’m so sorry that boy Westley hit you. If you want to come home with us I can get you an ice pack.”

Emmett: “It’s really nothing, barely even hurts,” he says, clearly wincing as he does. “Gah, okay, it actually does. Are you sure, though? I don’t want to intrude.”

GM: Cécilia shakes her head emphatically. “No, please. It’s the least we can do to pay you back. I don’t even know how that would have gone if you weren’t there.”

Emmett: He ‘relents,’ nodding. “I don’t need to be paid back. I feel like I owe you two an apology, still.” Still, he follows them, at the heart of their little protective clique. “Maybe a silly question, but can I get you anything?” He asks Adeline. “I can’t even imagine how you’re feeling.”

GM: Adeline shakes her head, still looking a little pale. “Just letting me keep your jacket until we get ‘ome, if you don’t mind. Ah still feel like mah dress is going to slip…”

Cécilia nods along with her sister. “I can think of one more thing, though. What’s your name?”

Emmett: He actually laughs, at that. “Of course, keep the jacket. My name’s Elliott. Friends call me El, though.” The fake name’s a strange, unnecessary gesture, but it’s the only way he’ll have the balls for this. “You’ll be the Devillers, right? Which makes you Cécilia and you… Adeline?”

GM: Both girls nod as Em says their family name.

“We are. And we’re very pleased to meet you, El,” smiles Cécilia.

Emmett: “Oh, don’t worry,” he smiles back. “You’ll get over me soon enough. First impressions can be misleading, right?”

Friday evening, 7 September 2007

Emmett: Em seems to relax as the car drives off, his usual (though cleaned up for the occasion) humor and general extremely likable, trustworthy demeanor returns. What’s that old saying, about how if you boil a frog slowly enough, it’ll never jump out of the water?

In particular, he actually primarily focuses on Adeline, asking her questions about McGehee and working his way up from there to more pleasant, relaxing topics. He’s always been good at this part of things. Before somebody knows you, you can plant all kinds of seeds you can’t in ground already—he mentally cuts himself off. That is such a dad way to think.

GM: Adeline unfortunately doesn’t seem to bite. She’s still embarrassed and even humiliated by how Westley made her dress fall down. The freshman wonders how many boys got a look at her breasts. Cécilia assures her that she was only exposed for a few seconds, she was on the outer edge of the crowd, and it was pretty dark. No one could have seen much. The younger girl’s mood spirits seem little improved for those assurances.

“And… Mrs. Flores definitely saw something,” she sniffs.

Em is forced to conclude (again) that his dad’s way of thinking is a bad way to think.

Emmett: Em actually doubles down on Cécilia’s assurances, saying he “actually didn’t realize your dress had even fallen until a little later.”

Mom has always been the one who could spot him in a fib, after all.

Anyway, it’s not like there was much to see.

GM: The Devillers siblings have more in common with Em’s father than his mother, if their reaction is any indication to go by. They hardly seem to make any mental connection between ‘Elliot’ and the fact Adeline’s breasts were exposed.

“But there were so many people, and Mrs. Flores definitely saw it,” Adeline simply repeats morosely.

Emmett: Yeah, and I bet they’re chalking the dance up as a win. Congratulations, you made some people’s nights. That’s more than most people ever do. Which I guess makes strippers basically saints.

“Mrs. Flores isn’t thinking less of you for getting knocked over by an idiot,” he says, suspecting steering the conversation to the dope might lead her attention away from her (unearned) misery.

GM: “But she saw my breasts,” Adeline just repeats miserably. “‘Er class isn’t going to be the same now. It’s going to be strange.”

Emmett: “You have a best friend, right?”

GM: “Cécilia,” Adeline answers without hesitation.

Emmett: He laughs softly at that. “What’s the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to Cécilia in front of you?” He smiles sympathetically at the other sister. “Sorry for asking. It’s going somewhere, promise. Or whatever, you don’t have to tell me. Just remember it.”

GM: Adeline thinks for a moment, then exclaims with a half-laughed, “Oh mon dieu,” that brings some red to her cheeks.

“You remember how loudly I screamed?” Cécilia smiles.

Emmett: Masturbating in the shower, it’s always masturbating in the shower.

“And you’re the one who’s blushing, not her. Flores right now is hoping you don’t hate her. Trust me.”

Mostly in case Mommy decides she needs to be fired for daring to look upon her precious little pain in the ass’s underage boobs, but still.

GM: “Ah guess so,” Adeline admits. “She was just trying to ’elp.”

Emmett: “Anyway, trust me, it could be worse. I once got locked out of a sauna downtown naked.”

The story that follows when he’s prompted is hilarious, “reluctantly” told, and extremely fun to listen to. It includes such characters as an absurdly self-involved uncle, a pair of rich-yet-distant parents with no idea of how to get rid of their son for date night, and an extremely irresponsible chaperone. It’s easier to tell stories where everything happens just right when none of them ever happened. But then, he doubts he can get as many chuckles than out of the saga of him peeing himself in second grade when Billy Babineaux threw a rock at him for telling too many fat jokes.

It’s always fun telling stories from the driver’s seat, checking the mirror in little glances to catch their smiles and reactions. And those are as important as the lie itself. Once one person starts laughing, the other joins in. Law of social physics.

GM: Em gets smiles and reactions in abundance when he checks in the mirror. The girls laugh and exclaim, “Oh man go!” “Mon dieu!” repeatedly. Adeline even has to dab at her eyes as Em’s smooth tongue proves as consistently adept at smoothing away the night’s embarrassing memories—or rather, convinces the younger girl that such embarrassment is endemic to everyone, and perhaps not even so bad as she might believe.

It strikes Em as funny, though. He’s heard French girls aren’t that uptight about nudity. They’re supposed to sunbathe topless at public beaches.

Emmett: Not that now’s the right time to ask about it. Silly as he finds the younger girl’s worryings, he has enough insight to avoid challenging her sensibilities at the moment. As he finishes, he takes advantage of Adeline’s temporary distraction to flash Cécilia a grin in the rear view mirror. “I think there’s an ice cream place nearby. You two hungry? My treat.”

GM: “Oh, that’s a great idea! Adeline, what do you think?” Cécilia asks.

“Oui, that sounds wonderful!” her younger sister nods.

Emmett: Shocker, even the rich love free ice cream. Though, he’ll admit, least they could do is pretend to want to pay. That’s his jacket she’s wearing. Why does nobody appreciate the little things he does? But, fine, whatever. Curse of being taken at his word.

He treats them to whatever they want. He’s not that hungry and fully intends to go without until he gets inside, at which point his teenage body reminds him that he’s had a stressful night (of sorts) too. Plus, he can’t help himself. He can never get Nutella at home. Not ethically sourced enough for the Professor.
‘Elliott’ turns out to be a fun guy to get ice cream with. This was his favorite part, coming up with a character. Putting a personality together like a jigsaw made out of pieces cut from the backstage of his brains.

He has some ideas going in, obviously. He knows Elliott has to be rich. Maybe not quite as rich as them, but same general league. Can’t have them checking off boxes to ignore him before he’s even won them.

He also knows he can’t be just like them. People don’t fall in love with clones, they fall in love with strangers they feel they’ve known all their lives. He has to be part of a world they respect, even envy, but not one they know. So Elliott’s an artist. He loves painting, though is careful not to talk too much shop, preferring the conversational bits about how much it’s made him grow as a person, how differently it’s taught him to see beauty in people, etc, etc. He watched a movie about a painter last night. It was trash, but good inspiration.

El’s also unusually thoughtful, patient and considerate—chivalry, maybe, or he could just be a genuinely nice person. Em isn’t sure yet which—who knows what the princess likes. He always waits for somebody to finish talking before sliding into a conversation, and always seems to almost repeat ideas back to them, but somehow validating them, making them pop at the same time.

And he’s really, really funny. It’s not his mom or dad’s sense of humor, and it’s not as dirty as what Em normally goes for. There’s a lot more nobility to it, more cheerfulness than viciousness, more wit than raw humor—but he makes it work. There’s always been a part of him that knows how to make people smile. The way he does it is peripheral.

El seems interested in them, too—their everyday lives, what it’s like with just one parent in the house, what they do for fun. When prompted to return the favor, he gives them a tried-and-true story too, which’ll come in handy if they ever ask about his parents. His dad’s a diplomat, often out of the country. His mom actually provides the lion’s share of the family’s wealth through a trust from her father, an incredibly successful actor who conceived her out of wedlock and who Em keeps nameless (“I don’t like being measured by his success,” he says solemnly, with that soulful look in his eyes you can get if you watch enough Matt Damon movies).

“No, but really—I wanna know about you.

GM: Whether one is rich or poor, presenting their true self or masquerading as another, Em is right about one thing:

Everyone loves free ice cream.

It’s an eight-minute detour from McGehee to the nearest Creole Creamery. The girls laugh when Em calls it “such a New Orleans name. Like, it’s what I would name a generic ice cream place with no other clear characteristics.” Cécilia does admit she’s not sure what makes a Creole ice cream place versus a normal ice cream place.

If the ice cream shop has any characteristics distinct to Franco-Spanish culture, none are readily apparent. The shop itself does not seem to care. Its slogan simply but contently proclaims, “Eat ice cream. Be happy.”

The sisters take some time in making up their minds. There’s a lot of great-sounding flavors from Cotton Candy to Lavender Honey and the seasonally unique Green Fairy to Champagne Violette. Cécilia laughs at the “A Chocwork Orange” flavor.

Adeline can’t decide what she wants, but the ice cream parlor has that covered too. She orders the Ice Cream Sampler, with seven scoops of individual flavors that include Lavender Honey, Chocwork Orange, King Cake, La Vie En Rosé (“that’s nice, it’s in French,” Adeline remarks), Lemon Icebox Pie, Boo Berry Pie, and Buttermilk Drop.

Cécilia goes with something more classic, but still less, well, vanilla than vanilla: a strawberry sundae with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

The ice cream people don’t have a nutella-specific item, but after a bit of smooth-talking, they do admit to having some nutella on the premises. He can have that as a condiment on another item of his choice for 50 cents.

Emmett: No hesitation. He gets it added to his scoop of ’Chef’s Perfect Chocolate’.

GM: The sisters readily share their ice cream with one another. They share with Emmett too, if he wants to try some of the more interesting flavors Adeline ordered. Cécilia actually ends up having more of those, while Adeline eats more of her older sibling’s sundae.

The girls continue to laugh at his jokes, and seem to go for the cheerful over vicious approach to his wit. Their everyday lives, they answer, aren’t too different for having one parent in the house—or so they figure. “We’ve never ’ad a father in our lives,” Adeline admits, “so Ah guess we don’t really ’ave much to compare with. But Maman makes it work. And Cécilia really ’elps out, a lot.”

Emmett: “Yeah?” The boy called El asks, raising an impressed eyebrow at the older sister. “What kind of help?”

He works with Cécilia to help take care of Adeline’s sampler, offering up his own scoop of ice cream for scavenging after he’s satisfied with it. A Clockwork Orange was a great movie. Maybe she’ll have some taste after all.

GM: “Oh, it’s not much of anything,” Cécilia waves off. “I mostly just drive them places. And Adeline’s been able to do that too, now that she has her learner’s permit.”

“Oh, you do so much more than that!” Adeline protests, looking back towards Em. “We ‘ave four other sisters… and they’re pretty young. Simmone’s just two, Noëlle’s five, and Yvette and Yvonne are nine. It’s a lot for Maman to manage, and with what Cécilia does, Ah almost don’t even know where to start…”

Emmett: “She seems to think you do a lot,” He half-teases the older sister.

But not as much as this ice cream is doing for my mood. Holy shit, I’m actually having a lot of fun.

GM: Cécilia sounds like she’s about to demur again, but Adeline just talks over her. “Seriously, she does so much together with Maman… less with me, these days, but with the younger ones… she ‘elps them with ’omework, tucks them in, gives them baths, takes them places… all of us, we can go to ’er for just anything. Anything. We can tell ’er anything, and she’ll know what to do. All of that’s still true with Maman, but it’s… different with a sister, no? The others don’t look up to me like that, either. She’s the responsible one, the oldest.”

Cécilia only smiles modestly at the praise. “I think they do go to you for a lot of homework help, actually, Adeline. You’ve always been the smartest one.”

Emmett: “Pretty smart getting the sampler instead of just one flavor,” El agrees before the conversation rolls on to other topics. “Thats good of you, though,” he says to Cécilia. “It takes a lot of love to look after people like that, even if they’re family. More than most people have.” His voice is warm, melting with the sweetness of the scene like hot fudge over her sundae.

GM: Cécilia, in turn, seems to eat both ’desserts’’ sugary content right up as she smiles back at ‘Elliot’.

“That’s so sweet of you to say, El. There’s a lot about them to love, and to want to look after—I think they’re the ones who make it easy on me, more than I make things easier for them, honestly.”

Cécilia presses the ice pack she asked the ice cream people for against his head. It had figured a frozen desserts place would have one of those.

“If you like little kids, I can introduce you to them. They’re all very sweet, too.”

Emmett: For you, sugartits, I’ll make John Gacy look like an underpaid nanny.

Then: Ugh. That one needs work.

“Who doesn’t like kids?”

GM: “Plenty of people, actually,” Adeline says. “But they’re missing out.”

The conversation eventually segues to Em’s own family. Neither girl blinks at his claim that he’s an ambassador’s son. Cécilia, in fact, is interested and asks more. To what country? Has he spent much time abroad?

Emmett: He’s abroad more often than he’s home, including right now. It’s been eight months since Elliott saw him in person. “He’s in Switzerland, actually. He was thinking of being a banker when he was in college, but some wires got crossed and he ended up being more interested in—honestly, he must have told me a dozen times, but I’ve got no head for that kind of thing, numbers and finances and international relations and who’s paying who to do what. I got my looks from him, not much else. Take more after my mom. No head for politics,” he laughs.

GM: Adeline comments that she and her family know a bit about how the Quai d’Orsay (they seem to assume Em knows what that is) works, over the course of their family’s immigration to the US. Their mother knew some people there who were able to make things a lot easier, and they were all so thankful for it. Cécilia talks about how the work of career diplomats like Em’s father is so undervalued (at least in the US) next to the international affairs work that intelligence agencies and the military do.
“Everyone talks about how they live like kings in extravagant houses where they’re always throwing parties,” Cécilia says. “But they really make so many sacrifices to serve and represent their countries.”

“Oui, you remember that woman from the State Department?” Adeline asks.

“She lost her hearing in one ear,” Cécilia relays to El. “After she was posted in Beijing. She became really sick one day from all the pollution and went partly deaf. None of the doctors, even in Hong Kong, could tell her why.”

“There was that other time she mentioned too, in Russia,” adds Adeline. “Where she found that ‘uge growth on ’er son’s eye, and the local doctor said to cure it with beef broth and UV light. So they ‘ad to fly ’ome to the States, to find a doctor for their baby, and the State Department didn’t pay for it because it wasn’t life-threatening.”

Cécilia looks back to El. “I can’t imagine what that must be like. Getting to see so many cultures and places, but it must’ve been very hard in a lot of ways too.”

Emmett: Bit of a risk, this part. But he lets himself take it. He’s always been good at the flashy bits, anyway. He lets a small shadow cross El’s face, just for a moment, before saying carefully, “In some ways. He didn’t want that for us, being dragged around with him and not able to have relationships like you do living in one place. So I just…don’t see him a lot of the time. I actually wonder sometimes whether he likes being alone.” He blinks as of remembering where he is, who he’s talking to. “But wait, tell me about coming to America. That must have been crazy.” The segue isn’t clumsy enough to be embarrassing, but he’s pretty sure they’ll see it.

He hears the thoughts like a voiceover narration, picking up where his line falls.

You might be smart, Cici. You definitely talk smart. I bet Lena would love you, like clever people do. But I’m better than clever, I’m dramatic. Because even though you can think your way out of believing me, you don’t want to.

Build mystery, investment, pain. Sell her a dream.

Wait, is Creole Creamery playing Mr. Sandman?

GM: Ice cream places always play the wholesome, old-fashioned hits.

GM: Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream
Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen
Give him the word that I’m not a rover
Then tell him that his lonesome nights are over

El can see the sympathy and even sadness welling in Cécilia’s clear blue eyes as she reaches across the table to touch his arm.

“I’m sorry, El. That must also be very hard for you.”

Emmett: He twists the grin he feels coming into a nervous laugh. “It is what it is. Seriously, don’t dwell on it. I’d rather get to know you.”

GM: Cécilia nods and seems content to let the matter go… at least for now. After all, as Em well knows, smart people just never seem to let some things drop.

She takes another spoonful of her strawberry sundae before answering, “We moved to America two years ago. Not that long for Adeline or me, I suppose, but for Simmone it’s been her whole life. She was just a baby when we got on the plane.”

Emmett: “That must have been strange for you two, after growing up French. Why’d your mom decide to make the move? Right around Katrina, too.”

GM: “Oh, Katrina was why,” Cécilia says.

They tell Em in brief about their mother’s reasons for moving.

Emmett: He listens while nodding thoughtfully, actually just happy to have a moment to think. Making up so much so quick is dizzying. It’s like a creative rush, some kind of weird natural high, like running gave him sometimes (not that he had particularly enjoyed track outside of that. Mostly it gave him an extremely convenient alibi for any given absence).

“Sounds like she really loves NOLA. What about y’all?” He drawls out the Cajun accent he perfected during the summers in the bayou.

GM: “Oh, so do we,” Cécilia nods.

“We love everything Maman loves,” Adeline adds.

“France has problems of its own,” Cécilia continues. “Everyone back home is very political and always talking about the government’s problems. It’s involved in so much more of our lives than here. But that’s not the same, either, next to a city that didn’t even have electricity, food, running water, schools, or any of the other thousand one necessities we take for granted as parts of modern life. It really feels like our family has been able to make a difference here. It’s incredible how far the city has come in just two years.”

Emmett: The storm hadn’t affected him much personally, but he remembers the ruined streets when he came back, the surges of disheveled homeless all along the street. “Can’t argue with that,” he agrees.

He steers the conversation on into school and hobbies, part of him ready to enter the tempo of sudden invention again, and another part actually interested in what this bizarrely clever—seriously, did she hear herself?—person does for fun.

GN: Cécilia admits she doesn’t have a lot of free time. Outside of school, she keeps busy with her volunteer work for her mother’s charities, her extracurriculars, and of course her family. Dances and parties like these are some of the only chances she has to just unwind and not think of anything past having fun. Adeline looks a little guilty at that.

Cécilia is quick to assure her sister that they were right to get out of there. There will always be other dances. But opportunities for her (“and of course El”) to be there for her younger sister “when you really need someone” are much rarer—and should never be turned down.

Adeline seems mollified by that and goes back to her ice cream as Cécilia answers ‘El’ that she still finds a lot of things in her daily life fun, even if it’s usually towards a purpose. She sings and does ballet (most of her family does) and loves that. She plays tennis, and sometimes does horseback riding. She’s played some polo and liked that. She also likes boating and swimming. The family sometimes goes out to Grand Isle on their yacht—it’s a wonderful vacation spot. Vacationing abroad too. Her family goes back to France at least a few times a year, and she loves just strolling the beaches and walking through historic streets and chateaus that all but breathe their age.

And of course, she loves doing things with her sisters, from “experimenting” in the kitchen, to watching movies together, to further amassing and playing with their Beanie Baby collection.

“So many things are better when you do them with family,” she smiles.

Emmett: God, she is such a cliché—but he’s kind of into it, finding himself smiling as she presses the ice pack to his face. The history stuff he nods along to, he doesn’t expect he’ll be able to fake an interest there convincingly—but even rich girls will give you something to talk about, if you listen long enough. The Beanie Baby thing is quirky and cute enough to earn some more affectionate teasing. He readily agrees about family, though: some of Elliott’s happiest memories involve both his parents and older brother (the one studying music in New York), either playing cards after dinner as a family or watching TV together. He does ask, more out of real curiosity than strategic questioning, what kind of movies the six sisters watch together (“Only because I’m trying to think of one that seems like it would be smart enough to impress you,” he half-kids).

He also sees an opportunity, and takes it. “You seem like the kind of person who has a lot to say,” he tells Cécilia easily. It isn’t even a lie, even if the dripping appreciation the compliment is layered in is even more artificially sweet than stuff they’re slurping down. “You deserve more time to figure out what you want.”

He makes that assertion matter-of-factly, his looks and smile and too-nice eyes all whispering her to accept the small progression of intimacy.

GM: Cécilia looks towards her sister. “Ad, do you need to use the bathroom? I know you were drinking a lot of punch back there.”

Adeline nods. Most of the trio’s ice cream is gone by now. “Oui, good point. Ah’ll be back in a bit.”

“Oh, actually, do you want to change into some flats?” She opens her purse and smiles. “Getting ice cream made me forget, sorry.”

Adeline resolutely shakes her head as if to say Cécilia doesn’t need to say sorry. “Do you want them, actually? You were doing more dancing than me.”

Cécilia shakes her head back, but not so emphatically. “It wasn’t that much more. I’ll be fine.”

“All right, if you’re sure.” Adeline sits down, leaves her heels in her sister’s purse, puts on the flats, and heads to the bathroom.

Cécilia watches her go, then turns back to Em. She toys with the spoon in her mostly-finished sundae before saying, “El… this evening’s been really nice. It was really nice for someone else to be the responsible one swooping in to the rescue. But… it feels like you’re trying to make it, or maybe yourself, into something it’s not, in some ways.”

She looks up from her sundae at him.

“I know what that’s like, trying to make things nicer for other people all of the time. I really appreciate it when somebody else wants to do that for me.”

She holds up a forestalling hand when she sees the look on his face.

“I’d like it to go on. But I am saying… you don’t have to make yourself, this,” she gestures around at the table with the trio’s mostly-eaten ice cream, “into something even nicer than it really is.”

Her voice is soft as she looks at him and says, “You can be real with me, too.”

Emmett: Panic sets in once she sets the obvious trap. He already knows where he dropped the ball, it was that damn last push. She wants them alone. Could be a good sign, but he needs to adjust to the new situation, quick—

—then she’s doing that thing, the slow explanation, the inevitable disappointment, some cushioning and then the ‘but’ rushing up like rocks at a bottom of a cliff—

—and then she does something weird. No “thanks, but no thanks.” No friendzoning (he hates the word, clunky and shiny and everything wrong with the people around him).

He’s been caught in a lie—it happens. He’s not perfect (yet), and he supposes it is technically possible for him to fail, even if only in a cool, enviable sort of way. But she sees him lying, or at least the shape of his deception. And then she’s worried about him.

But it doesn’t feel like she’s playing herself. It’s just that she sees him doing nice things and wants to be nice back. And it’s stupid, it’s so stupid and it’s more perfect a setup than he could have come up with himself, but for some reason that idiotic act of selflessness flickers down his spine like a chill from the still-cold ice pack.

It takes him a moment to realize she’s stopped talking.

‘Elliott’ finally clears his throat.

“I appreciate that, Cécilia. Seriously.” He scratches at the back of his neck, thoughts rushing, and then he has it. “It’s just… it might sound weird, but I actually feel more invested in what happened tonight because I don’t normally have anybody to be nice for. Not really. I have parents that aren’t looking and money I don’t have to do anything for, and it honestly—it fucks me up a little. And I’m tired of feeling like I don’t have to be there for other people, because somebody you need to be there for is somebody who at least wants you there. So I guess I kind of… wanted to be that. For somebody. Once.”

Throughout the small, intense monologue, he meets her gaze intently, drinking those eyes in, letting her see what she expects to see in them; a well of passion barely restrained by a stubborn, Cajun gruffness. Sensitivity and machismo, like salt and vinegar.

Where the fuck is his Oscar?

GM: Perhaps it’s waiting for him with a beautiful woman. It’s always a beautiful woman who hands off those gold-painted little trophies.

Maybe she’s even the one sitting in front of him.

It’s like that brief-yet-eternal moment between when the announcer says, “And the winner is…” and the cut to their grinning face before Cécilia finally responds,

“That’s sweet, El.” Her smile seems equal parts touched, tired, and even a little rueful as she stirs what’s left of her sundae. “Like a lot of this evening.”

“If you wanted to be nice to me… you did that. You definitely did that, when you swooped in with Adeline, earlier. I’m always the responsible one with my sisters. It was nice for someone besides Maman to take just a little, or a lot, of that off my shoulders. Really nice.”

Her smile turns a touch more tired, and even wistful. “I know that’s not always easy, though… and maybe it is to you, if you don’t usually get to be the knight in shining armor. But I’d still like to get to know the guy underneath. I know polishing the armor can be a lot of work…”

Her expression trails off as she looks towards the womens’ bathroom, then returns to that same fond but tired smile as she meets Em’s eyes again.

“I’ll make sure Adeline returns your jacket, once we’re home. I think she just doesn’t want to feel very exposed right now.”

Emmett: “Yeah, I’d imagine,” he says softly. “That was pretty awful, what Westley did. I’m glad we were able to make her feel better. About the armor… I don’t mean to be hard to know. But maybe I have a lot to learn about relaxing, too. It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything that felt this fun.” He taps absentmindedly at his now-empty glass bowl with his spoon. “It might be nice to do it again. Under less crazy circumstances.”

He lets that one hang out there, for her to do with as she pleases.

But he’s pretty sure she’ll do what he wants her to.

GM: Cécilia’s expression dims at the mention of Westley, but warms again at Em’s idea.

“I think that might be nice too.”

Emmett: Elliot smiles back.


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