“Life isn’t forever, even when you’re young.”
Thursday evening, 27 November 2015, PM
GM: Caroline awakens for the night in her black-sheeted bed. The temperature of her tomb-like bedroom in the Giani Building is as cool as ever. When she checks her nightstand and its nest of phones, she finds a message from Cécilia Devillers. It’s not too many nights after her meeting with Becky Lynne, and has come after another missed call the previous ‘night’… which is timestamped during the afternoon.
Cécilia makes no mention of Caroline’s poor communicativeness after saying hello, but says she hopes the Ventrue had a good Thanksgiving before continuing, “Listen, you remember that celebration we’d been wanting to have, once the girls were out of the hospital? Well, Yvonne’s been out for a while, but the Whitneys say Sarah has finished enough physical therapy that she’s ready to go back to school again. So we all thought we’d celebrate that news together at Commander’s Palace… nothing too huge, just you and the girls’ families. And of course I’m bringing Luke. I’ve been coordinating schedules, so let me know which of these dates work for you.”
Her brother’s girlfriend rattles off a list of days and times. Caroline knows all-too well that sunset is around a quarter until 7. Cécilia says that Commander’s Palace opens its doors for the evening at 6.
“…if none of these work, let me know what will, and we’ll schedule the whole thing around you,” Cécilia goes on. “Neither of those girls would even be here if it weren’t for you, Caroline. Au revoir.”
The message ends with a click.
Caroline: The Ventrue has gotten into the habit of forwarding many of her calls through Widney during the day, but a few more personal contacts haven’t made the transition yet, Cécilia among them.
The oversight is a prick that reminds her of her own fallibility. She’d almost lost track of the tentatively planned festivities, talked about back when things like meals mattered. Back when she could choose for herself whom she associated with.
She puts out a text to Jocelyn with a question she should have asked some time ago. Does the Devillers family mean anything to you?
GM: A reply pings back after a minute. No should it?
Caroline: Caroline thinks back to that awful night, to Abélia sweeping in and the sudden and shocking shooting by Gettis. Were she alive she might shiver.
But she isn’t. Not anymore. The entire night feels surreal, like it couldn’t have even happened. But then so do many of the nights that followed.
Big name family in high society circles here, Caroline replies.
GM: Yeah no idea who those guys are sorry. Why you ask? Jocelyn replies.
Caroline: Trying to avoid stepping on toes, Caroline replies.
She ponders her next move and fires off a response to Cécilia about how she needs to check her calendar, but she’ll get back to her in a day or two at the latest.
She doesn’t want to say more about the Devillers over the phone—too much risk—but she has a few meetings tonight that might shed light on that question. Even if there’s nothing there she still needs to talk to Ms. Adler about it anyway—there’s no need to further rouse Matheson.
GM: When asked about the Devillers, Becky Lynne answers that no Ventrue claims the family as their domain. If questioned further, she reminds Caroline as to the scope of her arrangement with Gerousiastis Matheson—“I’m afraid this falls just a lil’ bit outside it.” She does volunteer to come to another arrangement regarding Cécilia’s family.
Guls Elgin’s answer is more surprising. When Caroline brings up the family after confession, the Nosferatu states the information is not for sale.
“But perhaps we may conduct a smaller transaction with regard to this matter, Miss Malveaux,” the puffy-eyed sewer rat muses. “How do you hope to benefit yourself with this information?”
Caroline: “In maintaining my personal Masquerade, Father Elgin,” the Ventrue replies. “I have significant entanglements with the family, but I do not wish to trespass against another’s domain, or be perceived to be doing so, simply by virtue of contact with them.”
She makes largely the same pitch to Becky Lynne: that she is not seeking to develop influence with the family, and instead only wishes to preserve her Masquerade. If necessary, and if Matheson is particularly concerned, she suggests that she might bring an intermediary—a ghoul or even Becky Lynne herself (whom would be compensated for her time with a boon) to observe her activities.
GM: “A prudent recourse and desire, Miss Malveaux,” the Nosferatu replies.
“Oh, that’s awful thoughtful to invite me along, Miss Malveaux, but I wouldn’t want to be a fifth wheel on y’all’s evening,” Becky Lynne laughs lightly. She states that she believes this proposal will be acceptable to her sire.
Caroline: “I know my reputation, Father Elgin. I would be more than that.”
GM: “Also a prudent recourse and desire,” the Nosferatu repeats.
Caroline: She considers. “Might I offer you a boon to convey to those that claim the family my intentions?”
GM: Gus Elgin is silent for several moments.
“A most thoughtful offer, Miss Malveaux, but I am afraid I must decline. I do not believe that your stated intentions, however, are likely to pose any great offense.”
Caroline: Caroline is thoughtful for a moment, then smiles. “Then I will proceed and trust in your judgment, Father Elgin. Thank you for your time.”
Friday evening, 28 November 2015, PM
Caroline: Caroline has already returned Cécilia’s call and related that she would get back to her in a day or two when her schedule was more set. It’s a simple matter to call back the next night after she’s cleared matters with Father Elgin and Matheson.
She relates that work and school often keep her busy into the early evening, but she can make a 7:30 PM date—giving her time to go home and change—on one of the dates provided. She doesn’t want to push the date off any further if they can help it. Sarah’s had a long road to recovery and deserves a night out.
GM: Cécilia shoots back a pleased reply that she’ll see Caroline then. If she has a special guest—“perhaps the one who was on your mind back at the Orpheum,” her brother’s girlfriend adds knowingly—she should feel “not only free, but obligated” to bring him along. Everyone would love to meet him.
Caroline: Caroline keeps it together through the phone call, but only just. She’s left staring at the phone as though it’s a snake afterwards. The unintentionally venomous words course through her mind like the ‘poison’ coursing her veins.
Speaking with Father Elgin and accepting the truth of the Dark Prophet’s words has helped her manage and accept her damned state. The fact she’s not simply some accident created by the embittered René helps her manage as well. Still, a surprise reminder comes up every now and then that cuts too deeply with how she’s divorced herself from her life in her ‘death.’
She’d have never considered the relationship with Jocelyn before her Embrace, before the Toreador lost control, and before they both lost control at the Orpheum Theater. It’s a part of her life she’ll never be able to share with any of her mortal friends and relative.
GM: Besides her mother.
Caroline: It’s something the others couldn’t understand. Some nights, despite the compelling scripture she’s read, it’s something she also struggles to understand.
It’s not as though Cécilia’s question is likely to go away either. It will dog her for long as she maintains a living Masquerade. Still, the idea of a mortal ‘lover’ is as distasteful as it is impractical. They would always be a Masquerade risk, or at least complication if they were left unbonded. They’d be little more than a slave if they were bound. ‘Romantic’ relationships, perhaps more than any other, have become nothing but a lodestone around her neck among the kine.
In either case, the relationship could only be end badly, with the mortal or ghoul in question getting hurt—and likely by her.
Such thoughts almost inevitably lead her to those of other things she’s lost within that same arena since she was Damned. The future she’d once thought was so bright, children she’d have had with a husband, places she would have visited.
They do now, and as is usually the case, it’s from there that she’s finally able to bury the melancholy feelings. Those things she made the choices to give up, in one moment or another. Either in her mortal life when she made a selfish decision, or just before her Embrace—where she is increasingly certain that she was given the choice.
She made her bed. She can lay in it.
Friday evening, 4 December 2015, PM
GM: Down on the corner of Coliseum St. and Washington Ave., across from Lafayette Cemetery sits another famous New Orleans icon: Commander’s Palace.
One can’t miss it; the Victorian mansion (that some contend is more accurately termed “Victorian Cuckoo”) is painted a vibrant, deep teal, complemented by an equally cheery white-striped awning. One knows they’re there by the crowd of tourists and locals alike that flock to the Garden District landmark.
Built by Amil Commander in 1893, the restaurant has been serving Creole and Cajun food for 124 years, with a constellation of other influences and flavors mixed in. A New Orleans restaurant dynasty, the Dolan family, took over in 1974, and since then the restaurant has been home to several now-famous celebrity chefs, including the rising star Arthur Dolan. Although the keys to the establishment firmly belong to his family, the Dolans say Commander’s belongs to the city.
“It belongs to New Orleans,” another of the Dolans said in a documentary interview. “Our locals mean so much to us. Not only are they our friends, but they are our support. We’ve created lots of dining memories, so I think the people of New Orleans feel like Commander’s is their restaurant.”
Southern Living wrote in its own editorial on Commander’s that, “The restaurant remains so beloved that fans have written clauses in their wills calling for loved ones to enjoy a meal at Commander’s in their honor.”
Caroline, too, has been to the restaurant for her share of birthdays, graduations, and assorted family meals—though fewer in recent years. It didn’t help, either, that she knew Orson loved to eat there.
The night is an overcast 40 degrees. However mild New Orleans winters may be, no one is enjoying the restaurant’s outside seating. Caroline sees that an elongated black Mercedes-Benz s-car, practically a mini-limo, is parking by the curb as her own vehicle approaches the teal building. Rows of blonde heads are visible past the seven-passenger car’s windows. Several of the owners wave excitedly when they recognize Caroline’s face.
Yvette Devillers is the first to get out and quickly approach the Ventrue’s car. The teenager is dressed in a gauzy pale green dress, diamond earrings, and black stilettos as she hugs Caroline and ardently exclaims, “Caroline, it’s been forever! It’s so good to see you!”
Caroline: Caroline is dressed in a knee length sleeveless black dress cinched at the waist and tight all the way to just past her knees. The shoulders over to her clavicle are, rather than a solid material, a web of black straps that meet a thicker band that runs all the way to her throat. She’s doesn’t even remember when she started wearing black seemingly everywhere, but the black heels match with the outfit.
The cold is only really noticeable in how it fogs her windows, and in the very slight chill she feels through the fading warmth of the blood of her last victim.
She smiles through the Beast’s instinctive reaction to Yvette’s physical contact (she’s not even an attractive meal!), pushing down its revulsion and animistic response of fight or flight.
Tonight at least she’s more than just a killer, just the monster the Beast would have her be. She’s Caroline Malveaux, and she has something of a life left to live. For at least a little longer.
“Too long, certainly, but time has done well for you, Yvette,” she answers, forcing cheer into her voice. This is a happy night, whatever the Beast wants.
GM: “That’s not Yvette, that’s Yvonne! Can’t you remember ’oo we all are?” exclaims one of the family’s younger-looking girls. She’s dressed in just over knee length yellow dress and heels that look a little tall for her age.
Caroline: Caroline cracks a smile. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Thanks, Cécilia,” she addresses the younger girl.
GM: “‘Ey! I’m not-”
“Oh, leave ’er alone, Noëlle,” chides Yvonne. It would be easy to mistake her with her non-identical twin sister. Their features are so similar, but just distinct enough that an observer might wonder if the ‘difference’ lay in their own memory. The fact they are wearing exactly the same outfit makes the similarity all the more pronounced.
“It’s so good to see you, Caroline, Ah don’t know why we ’aven’t these past few months,” the other Devillers girl says as she hugs the Ventrue.
Caroline: Caroline puts on a more strained smile. “My fault. It’s been a busy few months and I let it get in the way of a lot of things that mattered to me.”
She doesn’t say Westley’s name.
The smile solidifies. “Like this dinner. It’s good to see you, Yvonne.” She turns to the younger girl. “Noëlle.”
GM: “Ah want to ’ug Caroline!” exclaims another girl, pushing at Yvonne. Yvette’s non-identical twin starts to say something, but smiles and steps aside. Caroline has to bend down (more) to reach Simmone. She’s not only the youngest and shortest girl, but also wearing flat mary janes together with her flaring-hemmed white dress.
Caroline: It’s difficult controlling the Beast amid all the contact, but Caroline is well-fed this night, and in good spirit. It’s a fair contrast from many others as she hugs the girl back. It helps that every motion is a rejection of her existence as both a slave to the Beast, and even as the monster that god demands of her.
GM: “Carry me, you’re so tall!” Simmone exclaims.
Caroline: “Simmone, you’re getting a little big-” Yvonne begins.
“-and that’s not really polite to ask, Ah’m sorry, Caroline,” Yvette adds.
Caroline: Caroline wouldn’t have considered the idea in life, but it crosses her mind in death.
GM: “Ah don’t weigh a lot,” Simmone protests, looking back up to Caroline. The family are of willowy build and look on the lighter side.
Caroline: Caroline considers, then hoists Simmone onto her hip from her already crouched position. “Just to the door,” she says, smiling knowingly at the exasperated sisters. “Childhood doesn’t last forever.”
It’s not something she’d have attempted in life—certainly not in heels—but among the benefits of death are tireless muscles and balance she would have killed for when she was fencing.
GM: Simmone shares the rest of her family’s slender build, but she’s old enough that carrying her is still pretty awkward—or at least would have been in life.
“I remember, I remember, how my childhood fleeted by. The mirth of its December and the warmth of its July,” recites a softly melodic voice.
Simmone turns her head as the chauffeur holds open the car door for its last emerging passenger.
Abélia Devillers resembles her four daughters through a glass darkly—but one that’s also trapped a sliver of the moon’s wan glow. The taller woman wears a longer dress that’s a deep enough blue to seem almost black, if one were to stare overlong, and didn’t find their eyes pulled to the snow-white fur shawl over her bare arms. A slim silver and black diamond choker set with an archaic-looking silver coin rests around her throat. Her deep eyes gleam in tune with the pale moonlight that faintly shines against the gem’s facets.
“Thank you for indulging her, Caroline,” Cécilia’s mother smiles, cupping her youngest’s cheek. “Childhood is as fleeting as the cicadas. One must stop to appreciate it.”
The buzzing insects cannot be heard against the still December night.
Abélia’s smile grows so slightly as her breath fogs.
“You have a mother’s doting soul.”
Caroline: The last words hit Caroline like a gut punch, and there’s the briefest pause in her response. A mother’s doting soul. Well, she certainly had her chance to prove those words true. She can feel the rosary to St. Pazit given to her by Father Elgin under her dress, reminding her of just how badly she failed.
“It’s easy to forget how little it truly sometimes costs to make someone happy, Abélia,” Caroline replies smoothly, “but I try to make it a point not to do so. There are worse things to do with one’s time and effort.”
GM: “Je suis plus grande que toi, Maman,” Simmone declares boastfully. (“I’m taller than you, Maman.”)
“Many worse and few better, aren’t there?” her mother agrees, stroking the girl’s hair.
Caroline: “C’est agréable de voir le monde d’un autre point de vue, de temps en temps,” Caroline quips to the girl on her hip. (“It’s pleasant to see the world from another perspective now and again.”)
She smiles. “Though I’m not certain that one is superior,” she says to the family matriarch.
GM: A BMW’s headlights approach just as she does. Caroline’s brother gets out and holds open the door for Cécilia. He’s dressed in a dark jacket and tie, she in a knee length and flowing-hemmed sea green dress.
The two exchange warm greetings with Caroline and the other Devillers. Cécilia kisses her family’s cheeks rather than hugging them. She doesn’t embrace the Ventrue either, seeing as “someone’s already got your arms full,” she remarks with a laugh, before settling for giving Caroline a half-hug around the shoulders. Luke mirrors the motion.
“It feels like forever since we last saw you, Caroline. Has studying for the bar been keeping you busy?” he asks.
Caroline: “Classes, working at the courthouse, and yes, studying for the bar. Most people takes six months off after they graduate to study, but I don’t think Dad will give me that option,” Caroline replies. “Still, it’s been too long. I’ve been a bad sister, and it’s good to see you.”
GM: “What’s the bar?” Simmone asks.
“It’s an exam people take to become lawyers,” Luke explains.
“Ah thought you were a lawyer,” she says to Caroline.
Caroline: Caroline laughs. “So did some other people.”
GM: Luke smiles at that. “Dad probably won’t,” he starts, just as a navy Cadillac pulls in.
“Sarah, you’re ’ere!” Yvonne exclaims, breaking away from her sisters to hug the girl who gets out alongside her grandfather. Sarah Whitney looks considerably improved from when Caroline last saw her. She doesn’t look like she was ever shot, in fact. There’s no scar tissue on any of the skin around her chest that her light pink dress shows off. Lyman doesn’t look any physically different from when Caroline last saw him, but if the expression on his face is any indication, he seems in notably brighter spirits.
“Give ’er some room, Yvonne, she should see Caroline!” Yvette cuts in, whose sister agrees and pulls away.
“Caroline, I can’t believe we haven’t seen each other in so long!” Sarah concurs. She settles for the same half-hug as Cécilia and Luke when she sees Caroline’s hands are still full with Simmone. She smiles at that but continues, “I know life happens, but it always does… I hope you can forgive me for not staying in touch.”
“Life is always happening, my dears—until, of course, it no longer is,” Abélia comments in an amused-sounding voice as Lyman kisses her hand.
Caroline: “There’s nothing to forgive,” Caroline answers, “and plenty of occasion and opportunity tonight to do better than forgive,” she lets a second pass before continuing, “to enjoy. A celebration of trials overcome, of good food, and of better company.”
Caroline can’t help but take note of the lack of any apparent scar on Sarah, and wonders how much her miraculous recovery is due to her own quick actions and how much it may be due to other less mundane means.
“I haven’t been much myself of late in any case, so you’ve missed little save sour grapes.”
GM: There’s the faintest of frowns from Luke. Sarah’s smile, however, doesn’t slip as she continues, “Hopefully we all can cheer you up tonight then. Like you say, there’s nothing that beats good food on a good occasion with good company, is there?”
“Maybe when the company’s saved your girlfriend’s life, but I guess that falls under ‘good occasion,’” grins a handsome Indian-American man in a dark jacket.
“Chuck Pavaghi. I don’t think we’ve met,” the man says, patting Caroline’s shoulder once in seeming substitute for a normal greeting, given her full hands. He looks around her own age, or maybe a bit younger.
Caroline: “Caroline Malveaux, but then you seemed to know that already,” Caroline replies with some amusement as she adjusts Simmone on her hip. She’s already grateful for the tirelessness of her dead muscles.
GM: “Sarah and I have had a great deal to say about you, Caroline,” Lyman says, also resting a hand on Caroline’s shoulder in apparent substitutionary greeting.
Luke doesn’t make the expected ‘I hope good things’ quip.
“Is there anyone we’re still expecting?” he asks instead.
“Just Adeline and Warren,” says Abélia, who Caroline’s brother has already greeted. “Your son is coming, Lyman? And what about Sarah’s mother?”
“She can’t make it,” Lyman says, but them smiles deprecatingly. “Warren is being fashionably late, and leaving us to compare how gray our heads are next to all of these young people.”
Light laughter goes up from several people.
“Do you ’ave a boyfriend coming?” Simmone asks Caroline.
Caroline: “Not tonight,” Caroline answers the girl on her hip. “Other commitments.”
GM: “What kind of boyfriend is ‘e that ’e won’t come to dinner with you?” the ten-year-old asks.
Caroline: “The kind that could put up with my own schedule,” Caroline replies.
GM: “We all have obligations we must balance, my dear,” Abélia says as she strokes the girl’s cheek.
“Who is ‘e? What’s ’e like?” Simmone asks Caroline.
Luke looks moderately surprised at the mention of a boyfriend.
Cécilia smiles with faint knowing.
Caroline: “The most important lessons,” Caroline offers the youngster knowingly, “as I’m certain your mother has told you: never spoil a surprise and always have some secrets. Things every girl should know.”
GM: Simmone nods. “Maman says everyone should know you ’ave secrets. Especially boys.”
She then adds, “Are we going to meet ’im? Is that the surprise?”
Caroline: “A woman must have her secrets,” Caroline parrots again, playfully agreeing with the girl and obfuscating her intentions at once.
She looks to Lyman. “Shall we wait for Warren or meet him inside?”
GM: “Let’s go inside, it’s cold,” Yvette speaks up, rubbing her bare arms. Several other “yeahs” and “yeses” go up from the teenagers.
“It seems the majority’s spoken,” Lyman smiles.
People file towards the teal-colored building as they chat.
Caroline: Caroline falls in towards the front, balancing the girl on her hip with deftness she could not have managed in life.
GM: “You’re so tall!” Simmone exclaims again as ‘they’ walk.
Caroline: “I am, but don’t tell anyone,” Caroline replies. This feels good. Almost human. The Beast is not happy about the girl touching her—it wasn’t happy about any of the others touching her either—but not does it really regard them as a threat, and she’s kept it well contented and fed of late… even beside how she’s increasingly found that finding these moments helps her to contain it.
GM: Simmone and several of her sisters laugh at that. “You’re funny.”
Meanwhile, another car’s headlights shine in the group’s rear.
“Adeline, dear, I’m so glad you could make it on time,” Abélia says. She trades kisses on the cheek with another blonde whose build and features are a near-mirror of her sisters. She looks perhaps a little younger than Caroline.
“Oh no, Maman, I should apologize to you for being late,” Adeline replies.
“Don’t think anything of it, mon tendre. I don’t believe you’ve had a chance to meet Sarah, now, or her grandfather Lyman…” Abélia says as she starts to make introductions.
“Adeline ’as a boyfriend, and so does Noëlle,” Simmone whispers conspiratorially to Caroline. “But Maman said it’d be too crowded if we all brought ours. So only Cécilia is.”
Caroline: “Do you have one?” Caroline asks the younger girl as introductions are made. Simmone’s innocence reminds Caroline of an earlier time in her own life—one not so long ago really—before she was a monster and killer. It’s a pleasant thought that reaffirms her growing faith in the Sanctified.
GM: Simmone’s face falls a bit. “Ah did. But we broke up. We’d been together really long.”
Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline bids the girl to continue.
GM: “The shooting thing,” Simmone says uncomfortably.
Caroline: “You’d been together since then?” Caroline asks.
GM: “Well you’d only been together a week, it wasn’t serious,” Noëlle comments in an ‘of course I know better’ tone.
“It was too!” Simmone protests.
Caroline: Caroline thinks back to when a week was a long time. When instead of a measure of how much she could get done, could accomplish, it was simply a measure of time that was to be experienced or endured.
GM: “Give ‘er some slack, Noëlle, it’s ’ard to meet boys at McGehee,” interjects Yvonne.
Caroline: “With a purpose,” Caroline interjects.
GM: “Huh?” asks Simmone.
Caroline: “Many a promising young lady had been led down a path to trouble by a charming young man,” Caroline answers. “My aunt was certainly of the opinion that difficulty meeting boys was a perk of the school, rather than a downside.”
GM: “Ah think that’s stupid. It just means we’re going to meet boys where they can’t do as much about it,” Yvette opines.
Caroline: Caroline smiles. “That may mean more to less respectable families than the type that send their daughters to McGehee. Many of them are involved plenty in their out-of-school lives, and view the purpose of the school as educating them and ensuring no negative influences affect them when they are out from under their parents’ watchful eyes.” Caroline didn’t go to McGehee, but her high school was a close thing. She knew something about controlling parents, too. She still does.
GM: “Oh that’s true, Ah guess, though McGehee isn’t a religious school. Ah mean, we ’ad sex ed,” says Yvette.
Yvonne giggles. “With Mrs. Morris? That sex ed was so bad. Ah mean, this is America…”
Simmone and Noëlle grow notably attentive-looking at the word ‘sex.’
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t comment on it. They taught abstinence at St. Joseph’s and she knows how well that worked out. She also knows her father firmly opposed anything but abstinence being taught when he was in the statehouse. The evangelical vote mattered in his election.
GM: “…and of course, you already know Caroline by reputation for saving three of the young lives here,” Abélia says, motioning her second-eldest daughter towards Caroline.
Adeline nods and gives Caroline that same shoulder half-hug that’s characterized so many of her greetings today. “Of course! It’s so good to finally really meet you, Caroline,” she says. “My family owes you so much, all of us wouldn’t even be here today if not for you.”
Caroline: “Debts are banks,” Caroline replies, with a playful smirk at the Whitneys. They’re nice words, but she suspects agreements have been hashed out at a level above her own.
“Friends help each other,” she continues, and casts a gaze towards her brother and Cécilia, “as does family. I’m just grateful that Sarah and Yvonne put in all the actual hard work with their recovery.”
GM: “Oh, you’re so modest, Caroline,” Sarah laughs. “All we did was lay around in bed—after you huffed and puffed to drag us there all by yourself.”
“If you two are finished trying to out-modest each other, there’s a delicious dinner waiting for us inside,” Chuck grins.
Laughter goes up from the various members of the party, as well as affirmations to finally head inside.
Caroline: Caroline laughs along and follows the group in.
GM: The inside of Commander’s Palace is a massive, multi-level dining room with lofty ceilings and a significant staff (perhaps 15 to 20 people) in formal dress whites and black bowties who whiz around the space seeing to the needs of patrons. Garlands, wreaths, and a brightly lit Christmas tree provide some holiday atmosphere. A few carolers are present and singing at a pleasantly low volume.
GM: “Good Christian men, rejoice with heart and soul, and voice;
Give ye heed to what we say: News! News! Jesus Christ is born today;
Ox and ass before Him bow; and He is in the manger now.
Christ is born today-ay! Christ is born today!”
A smiling hostess with long brown hair greets the party with an energetic, “Welcome in. Welcome in,” and remarks on how they have “front-row seating here tonight.”
A few questioning glances turn towards Luke, who smiles that he’s secured them a chef’s table reservation.
“Ah thought they only did those for a couple people at a time?” Yvonne asks.
“You heard my sister about secrets and surprises,” Luke rejoinds.
A few laughs go up as the hostess leads them towards the kitchen.
“Carry me to the table? Pleeease?” Simmone asks Caroline, giving what are likely her best puppy dog eyes.
Caroline: Caroline sighs—making an active effort at the human expression. “You’re very heavy,” she informs the girl, “and this is a very long way.”
Still, she doesn’t put down Simmone.
GM: “Thanks for indulging her, Caroline,” Cécilia smiles.
Caroline: “Thank you for indulging him,” Caroline replies in turn, nodding to her brother.
GM: “Twice as old and twice the indulgence, right?” Chuck winks.
Laughter goes up at the two’s remarks, including from Luke.
The hostess, meanwhile, whisks the group away to their table. No fewer than 10 staff members who’ll probably have no role in serving the party still turn to greet them with that same heartfelt, “Welcome in. Welcome in.”
The double doors to the kitchen of Commander’s Palace swing open, and it immediately strikes Caroline that this kitchen isn’t like other restaurants’.
There’s none of the yelling, cursing, or raised voices that one might expect to hear among restaurant workers. Even the chop-thocking of knives, whir of cooking instruments, crackling and sizzling of frying confections, and all the other sounds one might expect to hear in a professional kitchen setting are almost eerily muted. The sudden crash of a shattered plate is like a pipe bomb going off in the woods. No yells or curses precede the sound of the broom sweeping the pieces into a dustpan, but several different people all apologize to Caroline and her party’s other members for the noise. The white-garbed staff all talk to one another, and frequently, but it’s at a normal volume level that fades into the low and indistinct din one hears at the front of a restaurant. The entire environment feels tight and controlled: in a word, it actually sounds as if Caroline could hold a conversation here.
It’s a fortunate thing, given the party’s seating.
The chef’s table is located in the heart of the kitchen: right behind the grill line, rather than sheltered away, and is positioned between the front dining room and the back bar and courtyard dining (which enables patrons leaving the restaurant to exit through the kitchen, if they so choose). A maroon leather corner banquette allows four or so people to eat dinner comfortably—which would explain the presence of the several additional white-draped tables that leave the rest of the kitchen feeling notably cramped.
But somehow, the staff soldier on. From her soon to-be-seat, Caroline can watch bartenders mix cocktails and twist fruit garnishes. The grill line in particular is in constant motion as trays of desserts rapidly pass by, only for waiters to smoothly whisk away the sweet confections to waiting diners. People don’t shout like in other kitchens, but they rapidly fire off jargon in tones as clipped as the steady chop-chopping of their knives: “corner behind, sharp beside, hot,” “three on sirloin,” “fire—six broco, three polenta side, one lamb,” “hot behind.” Staff are in constant motion like a colony of overlarge, white- and black-garbed ants that work not to gather food for their colony, but to disseminate it far and wide.
To Caroline’s Beast, it’s the worst seating in the entire restaurant.
Caroline: The noise, press of people, array of smells (including occasional animal blood) would be bad enough. The throngs of oh so tasty-seeming college students in motion, hustling back and forth with the dishes only makes it worse. But by far the worst is the grill. Even at a distance the open flame has her Beast all but screaming as it claws at the walls of the cage around it.
The cage that is her.
GM: First there’s the smell. On one level, the Ventrue can intellectually recognize the pleasure her memories associate with the scents and sounds of sizzling butter, crunching nuts, stirred sauce-lathered pasta, spraying whipped cream, and so many other once-delightful confections. On an immediate, sensory level, it’s revolting, like someone had poured drain cleaner over that same fare.
Somehow it smells worse than it used to.
Then there’s the blood. Some of it, indeed, smells like it comes from livestock. Caroline would think it’s inevitable with the constant thocking of so many knives, but it’s actually a young man quickly handling an overlarge, square-edged strainer who hisses, “Ow!” A luscious coppery scent fills the air.
But even such delightful aromas mean but little against the grill’s hissing, crackling, blue-tinged flames. The steam from so much cooking food (even sucked away by large hood ventilation), the heat of the ovens, the sweat, warmth, and tension from all the line cooks, busboys, wait staff, and other waiting vessels, all working so hard and their blood so hot, seem to fan on the grill’s fire like a team of cheerleaders shouting chants from behind the star quarterback.
Caroline: There’s no overt threat, no specific danger, but the monster just wants out. It wants to be anywhere but here, and only Caroline’s death grip on this moment—and on the girl in her hands—keeps it from getting its wish as it rattles the bars of the cage like an enraged prisoner and howls like a mad demon.
Perhaps months ago, immediately after her Embrace, it might have gotten its way immediately. Perhaps were she more weary, more tired, more harried. But tonight is her night. Tonight she isn’t Caroline Malveaux, monster. She’s Caroline Malveaux, sister. Heiress. Reputable member of society.
She’s not starving. She’s not hurt. The Beast’s complaints tonight, at least for now, find deaf ears for them to fall upon as she slams another steel door on it.
GM: Simmone looks up at Caroline for a moment and opens her mouth, but she’s interrupted when Chuck remarks to the hostess, “It’s pretty loud in here, will you people be able to keep the noise down?”
“We’ll do our best, sir,” the woman smiles as she ushers the party to their seats.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t scowl, but would scold him if he was her relation. Asking questions like that is classless. Especially when strings have already been pulled to make this happen at all.
GM: “Oh, thank you. We’ve heard so much about how Commander’s Palace goes the extra mile,” Sarah beams from Chuck’s arm.
Caroline: “I’ve heard the Commander’s Palace is famous for how quiet it’s kitchen is—and for how difficult it is to get the kitchen table,” Caroline half observes, half asks of the hostess. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it accommodating a party this large.”
GM: “Your brother told us it was for a very special occasion, ma’am, so we made an exception. Just don’t tell anyone,” the hostess offers with a wink towards Luke. “And if we’re being too loud, please, speak up! This is your night.”
Similar smiles and more succinctly expressed assents go up from some of the kitchen staff, but Caroline is pretty sure they’re already doing their damndest.
Meanwhile, the party is seated. Several of the wait staff pull out chairs for the women, “given how many lovely ladies we have here tonight,” although Luke still insists on getting Caroline’s as well as Cécilia’s. Lyman also sees to Abélia’s, just as the question of who sits where comes up.
The two couples of Luke/Cécilia and Sarah/Chuck naturally wish to next to one another, while Yvette and Yvonne also want to share adjacent seats. The non-identical twins, especially Yvette, very much want to sit by Caroline. Luke and Sarah (who are both sitting with their significant others) seem like they do too, but Sarah pushes for it less vocally, and Luke least of all. Simmone also asks Caroline when her ride ends, “Can Ah sit on your lap? Please?”
“None of us are getting any younger, young lady,” Lyman observes in a mildly joking but also mildly askance tone.
“Oh, Maman lets me sit on ’er lap all the time, sir.”
“She is my youngest—and so hard not to indulge,” Abélia smiles at Lyman. “One’s children are such treasures, aren’t they, after all?”
“Yes. Yes, they are.”
Caroline: Caroline crouches before the youngest Devillers. “And yet there must be limits, and Mademoiselle Simmone c’est la fin. Dans une société polie, les jeunes femmes sont assises seules. Peut-être arriverons-nous à un régal au bout de la nuit. D’accord?” Caroline doesn’t quite chide Simmone.
(“Miss Simmone, this is the end. In a polite society, young women sit on their own. Maybe we will have a treat at the end of the night. Agreed?”)
Caroline sets to playing place setter thereafter. She proposes that Yvonne and Sarah, being the two whom this night is in honor of, should get their wishes. It places her between Sarah and Yvette, with Yvonne and Chuck on either side of the two girls, one over from Caroline. She places Luke and Cécilia in the center of the group, with Simmone next and Abélia and Lyman on the opposite side from her—letting Simmone sit beside both her big sister and mother with Adeline beside Noëlle on the end and awaiting the arrival of Warren.
That the arrangement also lets her face away from the grill is a happy coincidence.
GM: Simmone looks a little hurt at first, but nods enthusiastically at Caroline’s proposal. “D’accord. À la fin.” (“Okay. At the end.”)
“Perhaps for dessert. One treat to accompany another, even?” Abélia smiles.
Simmone nods again. “Maman, can Ah…?”
“Of course, my dear, of course… and thank you ever so much, everyone, for putting up with us—I know we seven can be such a handful,” Abélia lightly laughs as her youngest happily climbs onto her lap.
If there’s a frown from any of the non-Devillers, it’s briefly enough, and seemingly smoothed by the family matriarch’s words.
Everyone else seems happy with the arrangement Caroline proposes, though Luke expresses a preference for a seat (naturally still with Cécilia) directly opposite the booth. Simmone being on her mother’s lap also has the mildly helpful effect of freeing up an additional seat.
Caroline: Caroline lets those taking further interior seats slide into place as she smiles at the once more indulged Simmone and laughs through Abélia’s comment about putting up with them. “Oh yes, we’re all suffering through it so.”
GM: More polite laughter and related quips sound as everyone gets settled into their seats.
“I don’t know about suffering, but you have very good balance, Caroline. There’s no way I could have carried Simmone for that long in those shoes,” Cécilia says to her.
Caroline: “Practice,” Caroline quips before expanding, “And my mother insisted there were no benefits to fencing.”
GM: “Ah ‘eard about that, weren’t you going to enter the Olympics?” Yvette asks.
Caroline: Caroline laughs politely. “Nothing so grand. A couple of girls I was practicing with in high school went on to chase Olympic metals, but I stopped before we got to that point.”
GM: “Too bad. Be a neat thing to mention about yourself at parties,” Chuck says.
Any further reply is preempted, however, by the arrival of the party’s chef and waitress.
The executive chef of Commander’s Palace, John Sullivan, is a big man. Big shoulders. Big cheeks. Big arms. And an even bigger belly. He looks older than the other kitchen workers, like most head chefs do. There’s more salt than pepper in his still-thick hair, and a fair amount of both in his mustache, thick eyebrows, and the several-hours-past five o’ clock shadow under his thick neck. He’s dressed in a typical white button-up chef’s uniform, though his doesn’t have any stains and looks whiter than the line cooks’. It smells cleaner, too, though still not completely so. Caroline isn’t personally acquainted with the man, but she’s heard his name before. Many of the head chefs at Commander’s Palace have gone on to become nationally renowned culinary names.
“Welcome to the Chef’s Table, folks. We hope you’re ready for a night you’ll never forget.” The large man’s gaze meets everyone’s, but rests mainly on Luke and Cécilia—the former of whom’s gaze, and perhaps Caroline’s, rests upon their waitress.
After all, the last time either Malveaux saw Hillary Cherry’s face, it was pale as sheet, frozen in mid-sobbing, and plastered under the ‘DEFEATED SENATORIAL CANDIDATE’S DAUGHTER ATTEMPTS SUICIDE’ headline of one of Jackson Kibbe’s most effective hit pieces.
No words pass as the brown-haired young woman, dressed in a wait staff’s sleeveless black jacket, bow tie, and bistro apron, stares at the two.
Her smile dies instantly.
Caroline: Whatever life might have been left in Caroline’s dead face drains out as her pale skin goes even paler.
She forces a smile onto her own face after a moment’s pause. “I’m certain it’ll be an experience to remember, Mr. Sullivan,” she supplies to fill the awkward silence.
GM: The silence may be brief, and the awkwardness initially confined to the Malveauxes (and Cherry), but it slowly spreads like a wine stain over tablecloth as the other diners observe the three’s faces. Luke clears his throat and asks about Arthur Dolan—"though it’s a treat to have you with us tonight, Mr. Sullivan," he’d thought the sous chef usually ran day-to-day things in the kitchen?
Arthur: “I am but a stone’s throw away, Mr. Malveaux,” a man’s voice interjects, coming to a stand between Mr. Sullivan and the party’s waitress. A beaming, easy smile rests on the ginger-headed chef’s face as he takes in everyone’s faces. His coal-gray eyes flicker in thought.
The sous chef’s hair is red and curly, and his skin is ashen in color. To the keen observer, it goes paler still at the realization that Hillary Cherry is the party’s waitress. His eyes become beady behind their black, thick-rimmed glasses. The awkwardness of the whole thing isn’t lost on him, and it takes an effort on his part to hide the surprise from his voice as makes moves to rectify the ‘situation.’
“Do you think you can get Amanda?” he asks Hillary as surreptitiously as possible, giving her a look of understanding while continuing to smile.
GM: Hillary disappears into the kitchen’s throngs without so much as a word.
Arthur: Arthur quickly returns his attention to the very large party in the kitchen. “I only thought it a rare treat to meet Commander’s very own illustrious head chef before we fully commence your party’s celebrations,” the red-head continues without missing a beat, attempting to draw attention away from the departing waitress as he makes a gesture toward Mr. Sullivan with his hand.
Arthur attempts to further ease the mood by flamboyantly reciting how Southern Living named Commander’s the “Best Splurge Restaurant in the South” under Sullivan’s leadership, and how the executive chef won the 2009 Great American Seafood Cookoff and received honors from the James Beard Foundation (2014’s Best Chef South Award), the Culinary Institute of America, Wine Spectator, and Gambit. Arthur even adds how Sullivan has hosted his own original television series since 2008, “Off the Menu” on Omni Television.
GM: If anyone in the dining party is perturbed by their waitress’ rather abrupt departure, Arthur’s glowing recount of his boss’ culinary achievements smooths it away like a buttery Creole sauce hiding an overcooked dish. Indeed, he actually finds his efforts assisted by Luke Malveaux, who tells everyone what a treat it is how they’ll have two great chefs laboring over their food tonight—Sullivan normally serves in a more managerial role.
Arthur: “You’re too kind, Mr. Malveaux,” Arthur responds with feigned humbleness. “But please keep going. Flattery will get you everywhere.”
GM: “Everywhere except a full stomach, if my sous keeps going,” the large-bellied man ribs. “You folks’ve heard enough about me. Now let’s get you some dinner.”
Arthur: Arthur agrees, laughing heartily.
GM: With the party seemingly distracted from their waitress by Arthur’s glowing yet not too belaborous praises (and now looking forward to their meal even more), Sullivan goes on to explain the Chef’s Table “rules.”
The menu will be in his and Arthur’s hands, for the most part—outside of wines and beverages, it’ll all be “chef’s choices.” However, if anyone has any particular cravings, preferences, or dietary restrictions, now is the time to speak up. The staff already quizzed Luke (and through Luke, everyone else) on those things ahead of time to best tailor the meal experience to the party’s individual palettes, but Sullivan clearly wants to make doubly sure.
Yvonne promptly speaks up. “Mah sister Yvette is allergic to dairy. She can’t ’ave butter, milk, cheese, or anything that comes from milk.”
“Ah’m sure Luke told them that, ’e’s so thoughtful,” Yvette amends, almost embarrassedly.
“Oui, but Ah want to be too, you remember back in Avignon?” her sister notes concernedly.
“Wait, you don’t ever have butter? Or cheese?” Chuck asks Yvette.
She shakes her head. “Non.”
“I’m not sure if you’re really French,” Chuck grins. “Isn’t loving cheese a citizenship requirement?”
There’s a few polite chuckles, but more expressions of condolence and reassurance. Sullivan says that Luke did indeed mention Yvette’s dairy allergy. The staff will be sure to prepare her food with black truffle oil instead of butter—“he said that was a favorite of yours?”
“Oui, it is,” Yvette nods gratefully.
A quick survey of the rest of the party confirms that Abélia’s middle daughter is the only member with food allergies.
Chuck speaks up that he has a particularly hankering tonight for spicy food. Sarah laughs that he always seems to have a hankering for spicy food, which the Pavaghi scion doesn’t deny. He mentions that his nani made the best spicy curry, and that “there’s a lot of similarities between Creole food and Indian food when it comes to spices.”
Sarah doesn’t cite any preferences tonight beyond what Luke’s passed on. She’s mainly excited to see what the chefs cook up.
Adeline voices a preference for “light but crispy” things.
Noëlle doesn’t speak up until Adeline asks if she has any menu preferences. She doesn’t.
Lyman asks if the staff can move the kitchen’s clock somewhere he can see it, “If it’s no trouble.” Sullivan assures him that it won’t be.
Caroline: Caroline offers no particular preference, citing her brother “knowing what she enjoys” and “appreciating a surprise.” Really, though, the entire thing is faintly nauseating. Such commentaries on food would once set her mouth watering. Tonight they evoke no such physical response. There’s only a faint memory of what food once tasted like—and the physical response of her new form: that such things are both poison now, and flatly inferior to the exquisite flavor of blood.
GM: Caroline’s nausea may only increase as some early food comes out. Simmone says she wants something “really, really sweet!” Sullivan assures her there will be “plenty of sweet” with dessert. The ten-year-old asks her mother if she can have something sweet right now, which Abélia indulges. The pastry chef, a round-cheeked blonde woman who Sullivan addresses as Tiffany, brings the preteen a small plate with three white-powdered beignets. “This one is chocolate, this one is mango jelly, and this one’s cinnamon honey. Hopefully that’ll tide you over!” she smiles as she points out each one. Simmone smiles back and nods agreeably before starting on the honey beignet. Caroline can hear the child’s every chew and swallow—and smell every waft of the revolting, mushed-up, saliva-smeared fare. It’s hard not to think of how she’s eventually going to shit it out as even fouler-smelling deposits of moist brown waste product like Caroline no longer has to.
Caroline: Rather than endure that fate, Caroline draws on the recently stolen blood from her latest victim to set her dead body into motion, to set blood flowing and perhaps even her heart beating. Anything to help block out the overpowering smells, sounds, and feelings of the kitchen table her brother so painstakingly arranged for them.
GM: The smells don’t entirely die, but fade like someone has draped a wet cloth over Caroline’s nose. Or perhaps the “distraction” is internal. As her pulse warms and blood flows, pumped by her will rather than the natural laws of anatomy and biology, the room’s external warmth and smells feel that much less intrusive. Its breathing, sweating, eating inhabitants feel that much further away—not wholly, but at least by enough.
Warren, also, finally arrives. He’s dressed in the same dark jacket and necktie that so many male patrons in Commander’s Palace have on, and apologizes for his lateness before smiling that it “looks I’ve arrived just in time.”
“You did, Daddy, they’re taking orders—or the closest thing to it,” Sarah replies as she hugs her father. Warren exchanges greetings with most everyone else, including Caroline (“It’s been months, we really should have done this sooner”) before telling Artie and Sullivan that he’s got a hankering for “something really meaty tonight.”
The head chef assures Sarah’s father that there will be plenty of meat on the menu tonight. Abélia, meanwhile, professes to be fully confident in that best—she’ll leave her meal tonight in their heads. Luke and Cécilia echo similar sentiments.
“Arthur has already given me his complete assurances that tonight will be a perfect evening,” Luke says, smiling at everyone nearby but the sous chef in particular.
But Arthur does not miss those words’ true tone. Nor does Caroline, though their message is not intended for her. After all, most hospitality workers normally describe her brother as snobbish or distant rather than the sort of man who all but says,
GM: “Care to clue me in on what the fuck that was, red?” John asks once the two chefs are out of the table’s earshot.
Arthur: “I was saving the night from utter ruin, of course,” Arthur replies with a crooked smile, keeping his voice low. He adds in a conspiratorial tone, “I take it you’re unaware of the terrible drama between Hillary Cherry and the Malveaux family.”
GM: Keeping one’s voice low is indeed necessary in the Commander’s Palace kitchen. It might bustle with the same steady stream of busboys, cooks, and wait staff as any other restaurant’s, but the comparative quiet makes it that much easier for the nearby-seated dinner party to overhear all the shit talk they normally wouldn’t. John steps aside as a knife-carrying man moves past him with a called, “Hot behind.”
“Fucking hell,” the large-bellied chef growls. “Daigle better pray your sister finds her strap-on before I get to ream him.”
“Right. I’m running the pass tonight. This meal’s your baby, whatever those idiots think. Fuck that Malveaux cuck bringing thirteen mouths into my kitchen.”
Arthur: “You can count on me, chef,” Arthur replies affirmatively, knowing full well John has his plate full.
GM: The head cook is gone in an instant to inspect the evening’s dishes. People are already bringing out the oysters and scallops for the Chef’s Table first course. It would be a comforting to say that the fresh seafood is the only thing being cooked a la minute like usual, but part of the Chef’s Table experience for the diners is getting to watch their meals be prepared from scratch. No one wants to watch an already roasted chicken getting shoved back in the oven with extra butter and stock.
Brigitte, the saucier chef and the kitchen’s third-in-command after Artie, is already whisking together sauces with a furrowed brow as she tracks which ones have dairy products and which ones require truffle oil. The black-haired, slender-framed, and sharp-featured cook doesn’t smile as she grouses, “Thirteen. What a fucking lucky number, right?”
Born with a rare malignant vascular tumor known as a kaposiform hemangioendothelioma (which no one but herself can pronounce) whose damage and damaging treatment left her physically incapable of smiling, there is a reason the saucier chef could never have worked as a waitress—and doesn’t much enjoy the Chef’s Table nights where diners inevitably think she’s being unfriendly towards them.
“Can’t believe that kid wants dessert before dinner—or how the mom’s letting her,” she continues.
“I think it’s sweet,” remarks Tiffany, the blonde and thick-framed pastry chef who can very much still smile.
“It’s not like it’s any trouble, we’ve got tons of beignets made up already,” she says as she bustles off to retrieve several.
Brigitte gives a flat look at the ‘no trouble’ comment while she pours an already prepped sauce into an immersion blender to re-emulsify it. After all, Commander’s pastry chef doesn’t have to pull too much extra weight tonight, not really: there’s just one dessert course, and it’s being made well after the others (even if Yvette’s allergy to eggs and butter rules out a lot of potential items). The saucier is still directly responsible for the oyster and absinthe dome hors d’oeuvres, to say nothing of the stews, sautéed items, and sauces for absolutely everything else.
Arthur’s years-honed kitchen instincts can already read it. Dan, who’s working with a bleeding hand. Brigitte and Tiffany, who are probably going to be snapping at each other even worse before the evening is through. Hillary having to get swapped out as the party’s waitress. Everyone, who’s had their familiar workspace disrupted by the addition of all those extra chairs and tables. That was the easy part of accommodating the party. There is a reason the restaurant normally limits its Chef’s Table experience to no more or less than four people, and it’s not because of space limitations. Preparing thirteen extra VIP meals a la minute while putting on a show for the diners, while being threatened, may be more than even the Commander’s staff can handle. The shattering noise that goes up as Logan drops a dish with someone’s food order gives voice to the thing that Arthur can feel building in his bones. The thing that results from every little mistake building up and compounding over the course of an evening:
“Fucking Malveauxes, right?” Brigitte says over the hiss of cooking oil.
Friday evening, 4 December 2015, PM
Caroline: Perfect might have involved not starting her evening with an unwelcome ghost from the past, but Caroline reads though her brother’s words well enough.
GM: Conversations resume after the two chefs exchange final pleasantries and return to their cooking.
“Yvette does love cheese, actually. She just can’t ’ave it,” Yvonne says to Chuck.
“I didn’t know you were allergic. That must be so awful,” Sarah remarks to Yvette. “Butter is in so many French sauces.”
“Here, too,” Chuck says. “Restaurants dump tons of butter in everything to make it taste better.”
Yvette looks glum. “Ah know. It’s awful. Not just the food, but the ‘ole culture around it. Cooks and waiters see ’aving allergies as ’being finicky.’”
“They give you the cold shoulder about it?” Chuck asks.
“Oh, not just that. Though they do. They’re really cold,” Yvette says. “But they also, well, ‘’alf-ass’ everything. If you send back one dish, because it ‘as dairy, and the other thing you ordered also ’as it, they won’t even tell you. Because ‘you didn’t ask.’ Even if you tell them you’re allergic, they just don’t care. It’s ‘being finicky.’ That’s exactly what Ah ‘eard a waiter calling it, ’being finicky.’ And they give you such bad service.”
“That French snobbishness,” Chuck grins.
Caroline: “It’s not just French,” Caroline interjects. “It happens all the time even here when you try to ‘special order’ anything.”
“Well,” she amends, “maybe not here, but across the U.S. Most waiters don’t seem to believe allergies or preferences are a real thing. Even easy requests like ‘no tomato’ or ‘no cheese’ can get your food spit in. One the girls at Tulane I was in class with nearly died because her waiter thought she was making up being gluten-sensitive.”
GM: “Really? I hated vegetables as a kid and would always ask servers to ‘hold the lettuce’ or ‘hold the pickle.’ They never gave me a hard time,” Chuck says.
Yvette looks faintly horrified. “They don’t really spit in your food, do they? Even ’ere?”
Caroline: “Not here,” Caroline clarifies again, “but in many restaurants I’ve heard they do.”
GM: “Oh mon dieu,” Yvonne says. “All of those times the servers were mean…”
“Don’t think too hard about that,” Chuck teases.
“Well, what about the times they weren’t?” Sarah asks with a look towards her boyfriend. “Are any restaurants in France nicer about allergies?”
“It depends,” Yvette says. “In Paris, they’re more understanding. Because of all the tourists, Ah guess they’re used to those kinds of requests. Where they’re really awful is the rural communes. They treat you like cancer for ‘being finicky.’ Ah don’t even try to eat the food in those parts of the country anymore, Ah just bring my own. It’s just too big a pain.”
Caroline: “That’s awful,” Caroline agrees. “The good news is that there’s places like the Commander’s Palace, where that kind of thing would never be acceptable.”
GM: “Oui,” Yvonne smiles. “There are lots of places in New Orleans where we can eat, because the people know ’oo we are. And Americans are, well, a bit less snobby, Ah admit.”
“You might like eating out in Italy, too,” Sarah says. “Since they use olive oil in so many more foods there.”
“Oui, Italy is great,” Yvette nods. “They use less butter, like you say, but they’re also just a lot more understanding if you send something back. They’re more relaxed about everything.”
“You’d love eating out in India,” Chuck says to her.
“They’re more like Italy?”
“Dunno. I don’t have any allergies. But you are expected to treat your servers like shit,” he grins.
Lyman cuts in from his conversation with Abélia to loudly clear his throat.
Abélia merely covers Simmone’s ears.
“Excuse my French,” Chuck says with a slightly subdued but still present grin.
Yvette smirks faintly over the older adults’ disapproval, then asks, “What do you mean there, you’re supposed to treat servers badly?”
“It’s the whole case system,” Chuck says. “There’s tons of doctors and lawyers and whatevers here who worked as waiters in college. You don’t see that in India. Waiters are basically slaves. I was drunk one time and spilled my food all over this one. He said sorry and just took it.”
“I sure hope you said sorry to him too,” Sarah remarks with faint amusement.
“I was drunk!” Chuck mock-protests.
Caroline: Caroline arches a pointed eyebrow across the table at Lyman at this latest tale.
GM: Lyman appears not to have heard it in the midst of his own conversation with Warren. To Caroline’s discerning gaze, however, he perhaps prefers to merely act as if he has not heard it.
“Do you go to India much?” Yvette asks.
Chuck shakes his head. “No, I was born in America. I don’t really know India. Europe’s a better travel spot, honestly.”
“Don’t you want to, ’ow do you put it, explore your roots?” Yvonne asks. “Mah family goes back to France at least a couple times a year.”
“Oui, we don’t really think of ourselves as American,” Yvette declares with a just-slightly exaggerated note of haughtiness.
Chuck shrugs. “My grandpa was the one born in India. He’s never wanted to go back. Won’t comment on France,” he says with another grin, “but America’s definitely better than India. So many of the people there live like animals—and actually like it. Won’t say any more around such innocent ears, though,” he smirks, with a glance towards Simmone.
“Thank you, Chuck,” Abélia replies.
“What’s that supposed to mean, like animals?” Simmone asks.
“Those beignets look absolutely scrumptious, my dear. You wouldn’t mind sharing them with your sisters, would you?”
“Maman, they’re all different, Ah’ve only ’ad one!” Simmone protests.
“How silly of me to have forgotten. You go on, la chérie,” Abélia replies, stroking her lap-seated youngest’s hair.
Caroline: “I loved Italy,” Caroline chimes in. “It was one of the highlights of my junior year. I was able to spend almost a week in Rome.”
GM: “Did you ever go on many trips with your uncle, since ’e’s the archbishop?” Yvette asks. “Ah’m sure ’e’s gone to Rome a bunch of times.”
Caroline: “He has, but he’s far too principled to let familial duties get in the way of his ecclesiastical duties.” She smiles. “No special treatment, but I got to tour the Vatican during a summer in Europe, which is more than most people can say.”
The memory of that trip brings on a genuine smile.
GM: Yvette nods. “It’s so beautiful. And so inspiring. Did you listen to Pope Gregory from the square?”
“Ah think every Catholic should do that at least once, stand in a crowd to ’ear the pope preach,” says Yvonne. “’E’s the vicar of Christ, you shouldn’t just see ’im on videos online.”
“Religion at the dinner table, girls,” Abélia remarks from over Simmone’s head.
“Yes, Abélia. Though I hope no one will object to joining me in prayer once dinner arrives,” Lyman says, raising his voice somewhat to be heard by the rest of the table.
Most everyone says it’s no big deal. “What’s the occasion?” Adeline asks as she looks up from Noëlle.
“Your sister’s and my granddaughter’s recovery,” Lyman answers gravely. “I think it’s nothing less than a miracle that we have them both here with us tonight.”
Luke nods in agreement. “God most helps those who help themselves—particularly when they’re helping others,” he smiles in Caroline’s direction.
Caroline: The words cut at the young Ventrue. Helps others. Yes, she’s helped plenty. Helped ruin lives, as Hillary Cherry amply shows. Helped protect killers like her brother Westley. Helped…
She lets the thought trail off bitterly in memory of her many failings in life that led to her Embrace. Still, it doesn’t mean that God could not have used her for some good as well, and that thought is among those that keep her going night after night. That helps to give her purpose among the Sanctified. That she can still further that plan.
“They did all the hard work, I was simply placed in the right place at a single moment,” Caroline replies, parrying her brother’s praise as neatly as she might deflect a blade. “Speaking of hard work, how has McGehee handled your academics?” she asks Sarah.
GM: Several people laughingly chide (or praise) Caroline for her modesty.
“Non, you did so much more, Caroline! She—they, wouldn’t even be alive if it weren’t for you,” Yvette entreats with shining eyes.
“Well, I’ll thank God and Caroline for both being there,” Sarah beams. “And everyone at McGehee’s been wonderful. They’ve been so accommodating, not just for all the time I was in the hospital, but with how long everyone thought it was a good idea for me to stay home-”
“Wah was that?” Noëlle speaks up. “Yvonne went back to school when she was better.”
“Oh, I had a speech impediment,” Sarah explains. “The doctors all said that can happen when you’re in a coma, have brain damage, or both—your body forgets things and you have to re-learn them. So for a while I had to be in speech therapy and physical therapy-”
“Sarah…” Lyman speaks up.
“Oh, it’s fine, Granddaddy, I’m not embarrassed about it,” she says, before looking back towards Caroline and the other listeners. “After I woke up from the coma, I had to re-learn a lot of basic things like talking and walking. Some of it was pretty fast, but talking took longer. So for a while I wath thlureeyng aww of muh worth, liy thith,” she says with an exaggerated slur.
The other teenagers and younger children giggle.
Caroline: Caroline can’t help but crack a smirk.
“That’s remarkable,” she replies when the giggling has died down, genuinely impressed. “You absolutely shouldn’t be embarrassed after fighting to recover from all of that,” she agrees, “and the entire process just makes your story that much more amazing.”
GM: “That’s exactly what I like to think of it as,” Sarah smiles. “Fighting. I’m actually putting it in my college essays, since like you say, it makes a great story.”
“Me too,” Yvonne chimes in.
“Me three, and Ah didn’t even get shot,” Yvette giggles.
“I also asked my doctors if they’d be willing to write me letters of recommendation… I figure that diversity will help, since none of my other references are medical doctors, and also show the people reading my essay that I’m not making up any details.” Sarah smiles. “And they all said yes, they were just so sweet.”
“Oooh, that’s a good idea, Ah wish Ah’d asked mah doctors to write me letters,” says Yvonne.
“You still could. It could definitely come in handy later,” Sarah encourages her.
“My father would be impressed, Sarah,” Luke smiles. “That’s just the sort of thing I can picture him doing at your age—taking a tragedy, and building it into his bridge to a brighter future.”
Sarah laughs lightly. “Oh, that’s so poetic. And so kind. But you know, it’s just like my grandmama always told me—if life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
Her laughter pauses when she meets Lyman’s eyes.
“Granddaddy? You all right?”
The eldest Whitney actually has his handkerchief out to dab at his eyes.
“I see so much of them in you,” he whispers. His gaze is at once far away, yet also riveted on the present. “Your grandmother. Your aunt.”
“Lots of people say that,” Sarah smiles.
“It’s true. You even talk like she does. You use the same expressions. You’ll know, once you have children of your own. What it’s like to see old faces reflected in young ones.” He gives a wan but affectionate smile. “Our family’s women have always been stronger than our men, if I’m to tell the truth. And God always takes them. I’m grateful… I’m so grateful… He didn’t take you…”
Sarah stands up to hug her grandfather as his voice breaks. Warren lays a hand on the latter’s shoulder.
The rest of the table remains quiet at the suddenly private-feeling conversation.
Caroline: As Caroline watches it would be easy to fixate on her own looming death, on a touching father-(grand)daughter moment she’ll never have. It would be easy, and yet she doesn’t.
Instead her attention is drawn to another idea. That this moment wouldn’t have been possible without her. For all of her modesty to others, she did save Sarah’s life, and against all odds. She knows most people couldn’t have done it. That even skilled doctors and nurses would have struggled under the conditions. Two people are alive at this table because of her actions. This moment exists because of her.
She knows why she was Embraced. Knows the sins that damned her—or at least the weightiest one. Sins that burdened her soul long before she put two dying girls back together in a dark room surrounded by violence. And yet despite those sins, despite her self-damning actions, she was able to do at least some some good. It gives her hope. Hope that perhaps there is some element of good even in the simple act of living, so long as the evils her of existence do not preponderate too heavily upon others.
God put her, an already damned being, in a position to save their lives. Used her as his instrument. And He still does. She smiles.
Friday evening, 4 December 2015, PM
GM: Conversations return to less intimate topics when the first course arrives, delivered by several staff and the party’s new waitress, a young woman with short dark hair who is clearly not Hillary Cherry. Dolan and Sullivan explain the composition of each succulent, lovingly-prepared dish before getting back to work on the next course, which the party can watch them do from their seats.
The first course is a creamy local favorite known as an ‘oyster and absinthe dome.’ Oyster, shallot, and artichoke hearts make up the core of the dish. They’re supplemented with bacon bits, garlic, tarragon and thick cream, all under a flaky pastry shell. The secret to the dish’s rich taste is a splash of intensely aromatic absinthe, Dolan explains before he leaves, which lends the savory dish a real kick. Tonight’s variation is also made with soy milk, soy cream, and olive oil for Yvette, which the teenager smiles gratefully upon hearing.
The delectable-smelling pastries’ presentation is marred only by the fact that the saucier chef who helped prepare them looks in such a dour mood. Chuck remarks on how she “never even smiled at us” before the restaurant’s head sommelier takes over. He’s a handsome man wearing a bowtie and dark suit who gives his name as Jimmy Jeffreys and assists the party in selecting wines that pair well with the food. Several smiles and chuckles go up over how he calls himself “the wine guy” instead of “head sommelier.” The restaurant’s 2,600-bottle list of wines can be “a little much for some folks,” he explains, and they want to make sure guests enjoy every aspect of their dining experience without intimidation. It’s in the midst of that conversation with the two chefs and “wine guy” that Caroline’s phone buzzes with a text whose caller ID reads ‘unknown.’
Heard ur on the out w your family
Scratch my back tonite, my family cn do a lot to scratch yours
Caroline considers what she knows of her own family’s dealings with the Pavaghis. The reputation of Chuck’s grandfather Rich and his total disregard for the city’s cultural and historic heritage is well-established. Her aunt Vera abhors the Pavaghis, which is little surprise given her seat on several artistic and cultural organizational boards. Orson also views the family rather coldly. The Pavaghis aren’t Catholic—in fact, they don’t seem to practice much of any religion, at least publicly. Caroline’s father has a more pragmatic towards them, and has accepted campaign contributions from Rich in the past. The latter man’s interest in weakening workplace protections and union-friendly labor laws gave them common cause while Nathan was in the state house. Still, Rich’s blatant self-interest and known penchant for donating to the Democratic and Republican Parties (the former at the local level, the latter at the state level) has kept him from fully joining the Louisiana GOP’s donor class, and the Malveaux senator thus prefers to entreat with him at an arm’s length.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t scowl—or do anything so crass—at the brazen text from Chuck or the apparent leaks in her family’s internal matters. She files it away, but does not allow it to influence her comments on the matter.
GM: Lyman leads a prayer before anyone tucks into their oyster-absinthe domes, as he mentioned he would, and thanks God for having “all of our daughters” here tonight. Abélia also proposes a toast when the wine arrives.
“To Sarah’s and Yvonne’s recovery—and to Caroline, our heroine of the hour.”
There’s some minor stir when Abélia indicates the servers should pour wine for daughters, even the obviously non-adult Noëlle and Simmone. Warren makes a quip about asking to “see these girls’ IDs’.” Adeline laughs off that her family “always has a little wine” at meals. It really isn’t a big deal to them. Her mother proudly proclaims that neither Adeline nor her sisters have ever drunk to excess or gotten in trouble over alcohol. “It’s simply too ordinary a thing to them.” Cécilia relates an anecdote over how her grandmother would feed Abélia wine as a baby, “to quiet her down when she cried.” That draws several laughs and “oh mys” before Abélia smiles, “That sort of thing isn’t in vogue these days, of course.” “How old do you think someone should be, Abélia?” Luke asks. “Old enough to at least know what wine is,” the eldest Devillers replies, to more chuckles. “And old enough to pour and drink from the glass on their own.” Yvonne mentions that’s true. She broke a wineglass when she was “very little” and her mother wouldn’t let her have any wine for another few months, until her motor control was demonstrably better. Chuck says that seems like a healthy attitude to have towards drinking. Warren agrees. “It’s not like most kids are strangers to their parents’ liquor cabinets… I know I wasn’t.” That draws more laughs, and a quip from Lyman about “installing some locks!”
The talk about wine eventually passes. Sarah inquires about events in Abélia’s life—she’s heard she’s active in a number of philanthropic and civic endeavors? The eldest Devillers replies in the affirmative and talks about her membership on various boards. One of her foremost interests is education, which she terms “the foundation to so much later success.” Beyond her activities on behalf of the city’s charter schools (New Orleans has one of the highest percentages in the country), Abélia also sits on the McGehee board of trustees, which Sarah is initially surprised to hear. Adeline says the family prefers not to advertise it when some of their members are still enrolled there. Abélia elaborates that, “It seemed only sensible, with how many daughters I’ve put through the school over so many years. I want to be certain it can provide them the best.”
“Ah was there when she made the call to ’Eadmistress Strong and got Amelie expelled…” Yvette recites with an almost dreamy smile. She looks as if she enjoys those words even more than the fine food and wine.
It’s Chuck, though, who gradually steers the conversation back to other matters—namely, Abélia’s ownership of the LaLaurie House. He asks what she plans on doing with the historic “and supposedly haunted!” property.
“I actually haven’t decided yet,” Abélia laughs politely. She elaborates that she’s been “getting it refurbished” and has largely delegated the details of that to other people. She supposes she might just put it up for sale.
Warren makes a joke about “braving the haunted house” and living there herself, which prompts some of the younger girls to look uncomfortable. Warren quickly apologizes. It’s obviously inextricably connected to that night’s bad memories.
Chuck nods emphatically in agreement and tells Abélia what a good mother she is. Obviously she doesn’t want to hold onto the property. His grandfather is one of the city’s biggest estate developers. He’d be willing to take it off the Devillers’ hands at a good price. Noëlle asks what they’d want with a haunted house. Chuck grins that they could “turn it into a tourist hot spot, of course—so many tourists want a look inside there.” If that doesn’t prove profitable, they could just tear the house down and build something else. Real estate in the French Quarter is very valuable—“though that could also turn into a huge legal battle, so pros and cons.”
Abélia listens politely as Chuck discusses the vagaries of the French Quarter’s real estate market and the many ways she could stand to come out ahead by selling the house to one of his grandfather’s companies. It is plain from the several glances he slides towards Caroline that the Malveaux scion will be ‘scratching his back’ if she helps sell Abélia on, in fact, selling.
Lyman speaks little, but to the Ventrue’s discerning eye, seems displeased by Chuck bringing up this topic at dinner—and seems increasingly displeased with his granddaughter’s boyfriend in general. Warren appears less concerned.
Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly at Chuck’s sales pitch. “Meaning it’ll be turned into a chicken restaurant?” she inquires both without malice but somewhat pointedly, following up after a moment, “Perhaps that would be best, in truth. It’s a place that is little but a source of bad memories for some here. It might be better if it were torn down. At least, I wouldn’t be as hostile to that idea as I might have been six months ago.”
GM: Adeline and Warren both say that it seems like a shame to tear down a house with so much history, but neither of their hearts seem all that in their arguments. No one else seems that comfortable about the subject of the LaLaurie House. Lyman even remarks what an awful thing it was how Abélia had to buy the property, but she demurs that she was merely fulfilling her remaining end “of a bargain I’d otherwise failed to honor. It’s when keeping one’s word is hard that doing so matters most, my dears,” she concludes with a look across her children.
Chuck says that it’ll “depend on a lot of things” what the house’s land gets used for when Caroline remarks on his grandfather building a fried chicken shack in its place. He latches onto what a “sense of closure!” tearing down the house will have for everyone. When Yvette says that she’d love to see the house demolished, Chuck says he could finagle things to destroy it via explosives. Lyman inquires whether it’s legal to destroy older houses in such a manner and expresses particular doubt concerning wood-based shrapnel. Chuck repeats his grandfather could finagle it, and offers to let Yvette “push the button to blow that house all the way to hell.” A vicious gleam enters the teenager’s eyes at the idea. Abélia laughs over her daughter’s “fierceness!” and says she’ll “weigh my options. And thank you, Chuck, Caroline. I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by so much good advice.”
Conversations once again turn to other matters as as the meal’s subsequent courses arrive over the next few hours.
Dinner is heavenly, or at least seems like it could have been to Caroline. Highlights consist of amuse Bouche of Caminada Pass oysters with sugarcane vinegar, coriander and fennel; soft scrambled egg custard with lump blue crab, caviar & Meyer’s lemon crema; poached egg with truffled béchamel, shaved black truffles and crispy shoestring potatoes; crabmeat stuffed Grand Isle flounder with Brabant potatoes, salted lemon and chervil infused cream; seared foie gras with pomegranate; shrimp ceviche with habanero vinegar and black garlic; individual Forester cheese puff pastry with cherry vinegar & honeycomb; and still further sumptuous dishes. Everyone showers the chefs with compliments, who take the time to lovingly explain the composition, ingredients, and best way to enjoy each dish.
The Louisiana strawberry salad is made just for Caroline. It’s a little on the petite side, but the portion also seems appropriate. It’s topped with fresh strawberries, sweet dressing, and salted glazed pecans that lend a satisfyingly harder crunch to the whole affair. Sarah and Yvette ask for one too when they see Caroline ‘enjoying’ hers, which the cooks all-too happily oblige.
In many restaurant’s it’s not worth wasting the room in one’s stomach on bread. Tonight’s garlic bread is an exception drenched in a golden yellow butter topping that, in Warren’s words, “oozes garlicky bursts of insanity!” in every bite. Most members of the dinner party help themselves to at least one slice of the luscious confection.
A wide selection of cocktails is available in addition to the wines. Several of the teenagers all go for the suggestively-named ‘Between the Sheets’ that consists of brandy, rum, triple sec and lemon juice with a sugar-frosted glass rim.
There’s another drink that practically everyone insists Caroline try once they hear its name: a ‘Sweet Caroline’ that’s named for the popular song. It has all the classic flavors of a white peach bellini enhanced with fresh ginger and ginger liquor.
Caroline: The Ventrue suffers through the seemingly endless meal and its array of drinks. She’s grateful for every past occasion where she choked down a snack or meal with her mother in public simply for the sake of doing so. It’s far from the worst experience of her Requiem, but the way in which courses go on and on, and how there’s always some new drink or next item she must try wears on her. It’s almost sadistic, the way each course rolls out with special items for each individual that all provoke choruses of “you have to try this” and “this is incredible.”
That she also has to shower commentary and compliments about items she can’t taste as anything other than poison provokes its own challenge. It feels as though it’s been years since she ate real food and enjoyed those flavors. The lavish descriptions thankfully provide her with ample ideas to draw upon that help make up for her own vastly ‘different’ tastes these nights.
GM: People talk about one another’s lives amidst the food. Lyman has been retired as Whitney Bank’s CEO and from the board of directors for some years now. He “keeps busy” through his hobbies, which include the collection and repair of old clocks and watches. He shows off an antique silver watch he’s touched up himself and seems proud of. He enjoys photography, too—of watches. Specifically, other people’s. He makes a joke about not being as current on technology as Sarah, or he’d show them pictures (of the pictures) on a phone. His granddaughter laughs and steers the conversation away from clocks and towards the subject of phones. Lyman still prefers ones you can physically open and close. He says it gives a sense of physicality to conversations that’s absent from those “flat-screened mini-computers,” but it’s plain that his mostly young audience doesn’t share or understand his opinion.
Warren initially talks about his own activities on Whitney Bank’s (“or Whitney Hancock’s, since the merger”) corporate board. The bank is planning on relocating its headquarters to One Shell Square, which is going to be renamed the Whitney Hancock Tower. Even since the ‘11 Hancock merger, and that bank moving a number of assets from Jackson to New Orleans, the limitations of the historic building have become clear. The move is long overdue. Adeline asks what’s going to happen to the old building, which is “simply so beautiful” with its marble columns, bronze fixtures, and intricate ceiling designs. “It was definitely something from a hundred years ago,” Cécilia agrees. “I always loved going there.” Warren says it’s up in the air what’s going to happen to the building. Some board members are “pretty diehard” about personally preserving it, while others just to want to sell it off—“Chuck’s grandfather has made offers, actually.” When Yvonne asks what he wants to do, Warren shrugs. The board will do whatever’s best. He actually doesn’t go to “too many meetings these days.” Lyman’s son proves more enthusiastic on the topic of yachting, which Luke is able to converse with him about at length. Warren knows his uncle Matthew from the yachting club in Lakeview.
Luke talks more about his job at Malveaux Oil, where he serves as one of the company VPs. He’s interested in furthering ties with the Saudis so that “the family business” has an edge against bigger ones like Endron. “Their oil spill in 2010 definitely helped us out, PR-wise,” he adds before talking about the business trip he took to Riyadh a month ago. Caroline may feel somewhat estranged over the fact that said trip, and indeed many of her brother’s other activities, are as news to her as they are to Chuck and the Whitneys. Cécilia went with him and says that it was a very memorable vacation, at least for her. Sarah asks if she had to wear a veil. Cécilia shakes her head and answers that you can wear whatever you want in the Western compounds, but outside of those, women do need to wear an abaya—“that’s a robe that covers up most skin below the head. It’s a good idea to wear a head scarf too, which doesn’t have to cover your face.” She adds that Roger Ferris, the head of security for Luke’s family, used to be a CIA agent in the Middle East and gave her “a lot of really good advice” about how to dress and comport herself. She followed it all and didn’t have any problems. Yvette distastefully comments on the idea of “dressing up like some bonne petite femme islamique” and says she wouldn’t want to do that. Luke says she should go to Dubai instead if she wants to see Arabia. It’s a lot more socially liberal, though even there you should still be careful. It’s a good idea for men and women to introduce themselves as husband and wife when they check into hotels together—“Just like your sister and I did—we even wore wedding rings,” he says with a playful wink towards Cécilia. That draws a fair amount of laughter. Cécilia adds the rings were an idea of Ferris’.
Caroline: “I’m certain that was terrible for you both,” Caroline quips with mock concern behind a sly smile. She goes on to comment that she’s heard Bahrain isn’t a poor stop as well from Westerners, particularly Manama. Not only is it one of the few countries in the region to offer voting rights to women, but in the view of many within the Islamic states in the region Manama is colloquially ‘outside of the sight of God.’ Many otherwise devout Muslims are known to partake of an array of activities therein they’d never do in their home countries, including drinking and eating pork.
“Not that I’d be brave enough to visit that part of the world without ample security,” she admits.
GM: “Is it? That sounds like another city we might all know…” Warren amusedly quips back to Caroline’s description of Manama. That draws some laughter from the rest of the table. Yvonne asks her mother if she can look up Manama (she hadn’t known the city existed), but Abélia tells her to “save the phones for after dinner, please. Why don’t you ask Caroline to tell you about it instead?”
Yvette says that the city sounds like a fun vacation spot. “Ah’d definitely like that then, if Ah don’t ’ave to wear a veil. Or potato sack robe.” Cécilia laughs and says wearing an abaya wasn’t that bad. She wouldn’t want to wear one here in the States, of course, but it “helped me to better understand the local culture.”
Sarah says that Manama sounds like “a good starter spot” for exploring the Middle East, if it has such Western-like values. “You could dip your toe into the region there, and if you like it, work your way up to Dubai and then Riyadh.”
Luke assuringly adds that he and Cécilia traveled with security. Daniel Hayes and Ben Chandler both accompanied them. He doesn’t go into any deeper reasons, but Caroline doesn’t have to be a genius to guess why her brother might be more concerned than ever for his and Cécilia’s personal safety.
Chuck has already talked about his business, but when asked about himself, says that he’s a lawyer—he passed the bar only just this year. He works for the in-house legal department for his grandfather’s business. “You would not believe how many lawsuits or threats of lawsuits we have to deal with,” he says. “This city is completely stuck in the past, and just blowing your nose in the Quarter requires filing forms in triplicate if you’re a real estate developer. One to sneeze, one to get a kleenex, one to sneeze into the kleenex, one to throw it away, and oh wait, that’s more than three.” Several people laugh at that as he goes on, “I guess that’s just another reason our state’s so poor. There are more important things than money, but so many people don’t even seem to think about that. It can’t buy happiness but it can sure buy away misery.” He does talk about more cheerful things, though, when he mentions how he met Sarah in the hospital. He was there when one of his sisters was giving birth to her second daughter, passed Sarah in the hallway (she was still struggling to walk with “one of those old people walkers”), thought she looked glum, and asked her if she wanted to play with a baby.
“He was such a gentleman,” Sarah smiles. “It was like he didn’t even notice how I was slurring everything I said. He was so funny and cheerful, and so good to his family. It really inspired me and made me want to get better.”
The rest of the table reacts with “aww’s” and comments on how lucky she is. Lyman simply nurses a cocktail.
Yvonne says it’s a good thing Sarah got better so fast. She “must ’ave missed living on your own.” Simmone asks what that’s supposed to mean. Lyman proudly says Sarah’s been living in her own apartment, paying her own bills, and getting herself to school and back since she was 16.
“Granddaddy thought it would be a good way to prepare me for independence,” she smiles. The underage Devillers girls laughingly express envy at this arrangement. Noëlle looks particularly jealous.
Adeline talks about her grad studies and the master’s in anthropology she recently completed. She’s thinking of going back to school again to pursue a PhD, which would be back home in France—a lot of the Devillers girls have attended universities there. It’s nice to spend a few years “back home” after being in the States for so long. She’s recently been convinced to maybe postpone things by her new boyfriend, though—they only got together recently and long-distance relationships “can take so much” from both people. When Sarah inquires as to the boyfriend’s identity, the older woman only smiles that “You may see later tonight.”
Yvonne and Yvette talk more about their own college plans. Both twins are applying to the Université Paris Nanterre and several other French universities, but also some Ivy Leagues here in the States (where Cécilia went). They’re still weighing the pros and cons of different universities: after “well, the reason we’re all ’ere tonight,” they’re also feeling more inclined to stay close to their family. They might put off going to France until graduate school. They’re also quite determined to go to the same college together, and have tried to make their applications (which they’ve sent to the same colleges) sound as similar as possible. Chuck quips about it being a “two for the price of one” deal to admissions officers.
The youngest Devillers daughters have less to add to the conversation. Simmone only seems to half-pay attention to a lot of it, and exclaims, “Maman, nourris-moi!” (“Maman, feed me!”) when the food arrives, which her mother laughingly accedes to, cutting her food and delivering forkfuls and spoonfuls to her mouth. “They do grow up so fast, after all. We must savor the time we have.” Simmone frequently asks to try items off of other people’s plates. She seems to love being “cute” and a center of attention who everyone dotes upon. When she needs to use the bathroom, she asks if Caroline will carry her again: if the Malveaux scion declines, her mother carries her.
Noëlle, in contrast to her youngest sister, simply eats her food and speaks little. Sarah (and occasionally Luke and her two adult sisters) seem to take some pity on the younger girl and ask her about herself. She’s in middle school at McGehee and mentions a few favorite subjects and extracurriculars (she plays the flute), but there isn’t much she has to add to the largely adult or near-adult conversations—or much she can do when Sarah is inevitably pulled back into those. She looks increasingly bored as the evening wears on, and especially so in between courses.
One notable feature of the Commander’s Palace kitchen is that a second exit from the building leads through the kitchen: inclined patrons can get a look at how their food was made as they leave. A few of the formally-dressed passersby remark on how delicious the party’s meal looks. A few people even greet them by name.
No one seems to overly mind, until an explosive, gunshot-like bang suddenly pierces the low-volume kitchen.
Almost everyone startles, but some worse than others. Sarah actually drops her fork in mid-bite. Yvonne’s face goes white as a sheet. Yvette drops a glass that loudly shatters over the tile floor, spilling orange ‘Between the Sheets’ cocktail everywhere. Simmone gives a terrified scream and buries her face against her mother. “What on earth was that!” Luke demands indignantly, addressing his question towards the chefs. Dolan and Sullivan look out the door and say it was a car backfire. They apologize and add they’ll keep the door closed while two busboys start mopping and sweeping up the mess.
The teenagers manage a few shaky smiles. Sarah even says that isn’t necessary—“We’d still hear another one past the door, wouldn’t we? It’s not like this was anyone here’s fault.” Simmone is inconsolable and won’t look up as she sobs, “Maman… Je veux y aller…” (“Maman… I want to go…”)
“Bien sûr, ma chérie, bien sûr,” Abélia answers as she gathers up the sniffling child and rises from her seat. “I am so sorry, everyone… ever since last August’s tragedy, loud noises aren’t well received in our family, as I’m sure you all understand. We’ll be back once she’s had some time to settle.” The eldest Devillers feeds her daughter a pill from an orange medication bottle and then whisks her away.
Caroline: The ‘gunshot’ sets Caroline on edge, the whole world seeming to slow down as her eyes sweep the room, but she calms down more readily than perhaps the others. The pitch was wrong for a gunshot—at least a close one. It does leave her reconsidering and regretting her seating arrangements—it would be much harder to explain a reaction to an actual shot from where she is on an interior seat than it might be from an edge—and one thing she’s quite certain of even only a couple hours into the night—she would react to anyone that made a run at those at the table.
Looking over the others, and their reactions, is a sobering reminder that despite the fact of Sarah’s and Yvonne’s miraculous recoveries, the wounds from that night are far from healed for most of those present. The thought of tampering with their memories of that night and easing the mental scars passes through her head, but the thought is gone almost as quickly as it arrives. Even were she more experienced in such things, even were it not tampering in the domain of three older, more powerful Kindred, even were it not a brutal invasion of the privacy of those she expresses to care for (what an expression of hubris), it would still remain flatly wrong. However selfishly she might at times use them, the powers of Caine do not exist to provide succor to the innocent. She’s no healer, no lamb. She turned from that path a long time ago.
The best she can do is hunt other would-be ‘wolves.’
GM: The party’s older members attempt to comfort the teenagers. Sarah says it’s a relief at least that Gettis isn’t out there anywhere.
“Ah wish ‘e wasn’t. It was too fast. Ah wish we could see ’is life get destroyed!” Yvette flares.
“Ah’m just glad ’e’s gone,” Yvonne says with a haunted look. “Ah remember it, when ‘e pulled ’is gun. ’Is eyes… it was like there wasn’t even anyone there…”
Yvette hugs her sister. “’E’s gone. You’re safe.”
Noëlle mutters something about Simmone being “such a baby” and gets lightly told off by Cécilia. “Now Noëlle, I’m sure you wouldn’t want her saying those things about you.”
The rest of the conversation passes with similar comforts and assurances until Abélia returns, when it shifts to “the heroic officer” who fatally shot Gettis, Jeremy May. Warren is surprised and offended when he hears May lost his badge over the affair: the country-born sharpshooter “just happened” to be in the area when SWAT located Gettis and shot the ex-detective “right between the eyes” after the initial shootout started. May was serving on the French Quarter Response Force at the time and was thus legally off-duty: it’s mainly thanks to how many people wanted Gettis brought down, how much no one wanted a trial, and a justifiable-sounding enough self-defense defense that he isn’t facing criminal charges. He was still drummed off the force, though. “Too loose a cannon in his boss’ eyes.”
“I’m sure it must have made for some real divided feelings in the department too,” Sarah nods.
“After ’e tried to kill you and Yvonne. Incroyable,” says Yvette.
“He’d served for a very long time, from what I hear. I’m not saying I agree, but to them the whole thing must have been a tragedy.”
“I agree with Warren. We should push for May to be reinstated. It’s only fair,” Lyman says.
Abélia laughs lightly and touches Lyman’s arm. “You are such a thoughtful soul, Lyman. I’m sure May would be grateful to hear he’s been in your and your son’s thoughts. NOPD’s loss was my family’s gain, though. I’ve hired him privately as personal protection, and he seems quite happy in the role.”
She looks at Caroline. “Between that shooting and the stalker who went after Cécilia, Caroline, I’ve had the thought that it might be worthwhile to set up some kind of dedicated protection force for my girls. Like the kind your family has with Roger Ferris. Is there any advice or recommendations you’d give? Daniel Hayes has been working out so well with Cécilia, thanks to you.”
Cécilia adds her agreement to this statement. Obviously he isn’t here tonight, of course. She’s entirely safe here.
Caroline: “That personal recommendations cannot be oversold, especially from those you’ve already come to trust. Resumes come cheaply,” she offers. “Once you find someone that’s shown themselves capable and trustworthy, I’d go back to that well again. The family had, at least I’ve heard, quite a time before Roger in lining up reliable help. I think most of those currently on the payroll were hand-selected by him.”
She comments to, perhaps pointedly, on the important of keeping them in the loop as well. “They can’t do any good when you leave them at home, or in the dark.” For instance, by going out to a street festival alone without telling anyone in your family.
“Some might argue that such services are extremely expensive, but it’s hard to put a value on family.”
GM: Luke says he’ll ask Roger for some more personnel recommendations, which Cécilia agrees is a splendid idea. Abélia smiles at the three.
“You’re quite right, Caroline. Even the best shepherd can do naught for an already lost lamb.”
Conversations subsequently return to lighter matters, which Caroline notices that her brother seems to be steering particularly pressing for. Comparisons are drawn between the Ursuline Convent (where all of Caroline’s female cousins went to school) and McGehee, and the value of Catholic vs. secular educations. Abélia says it was a difficult choice between the two schools—she ultimately went with McGehee because it re-opened three months earlier than the Ursuline Convent did after Katrina, and “having my girls staying around in a hotel suite all day wasn’t an ideal state of affairs.”
People also ask Caroline about the details of her own life and future plans. She’s taking the bar soon, isn’t she? What does she plan to do afterwards? People bring up areas ranging from private practice to public service. Yvette and Yvonne think Caroline should run for public office, “since you were such a ’ero.”
It’s telling how infrequently Luke interjects on the topic of Caroline’s future.
Caroline: Caroline answers in the affirmative about the bar, almost exasperated but playfully so, about the press to pass it sooner rather than later. She observes that many people take half a year or more off after law school before doing so to study, but she doubts she’ll have nearly so much time. Thankfully the family has set her up with an array of experiences—via internships and such—throughout her time at law school that should serve her well after passing the bar.
She’s grateful for the support Yvette and Yvonne offer for her in any future of public service, and quips that she’ll remember it if she ever starts a campaign, but laughs at the suggestion that she should run now or in the immediate future, commenting that after watching her father’s campaigns for years, and the cost of them, she’d like to put other things in order in her life first. “It’s not like you can date on the campaign trail.”
Intentionally or otherwise, she never quite meets her brother’s eye while discussing the topic, directing her attention entirely towards the others in the group outside of the Malveaux family.
GM: Adeline remarks she hadn’t known that. Half a year seems like so long to do nothing but study—"isn’t the point of law school to prepare you for that exam, after all?"
Sarah chimes in to add her support to Yvette’s and Yvonne’s.
Simmone asks again who Caroline’s boyfriend is.
Yvette eventually gets up to use the bathroom and asks if Caroline also needs to go.
Caroline: The heiress picks up on the cue and is happy to join her—briefly joking about maximizing opportunities to sneak out from the interior seats of the amalgamated table. In truth, even with the vice-like control she’s keeping over her Beast—and perhaps even because of it—the opportunity to get away from the sights, sounds, and press of the kitchen is one she relishes.
GM: “Ah’m sorry about that ’ole blow-up,” Yvette says when she’s fixing her face in the mirror. “Ah mean, we want to show you ‘ow great we’re all doing because of you, or at least Maman does. Ah don’t know why, you did save Yvonne’s life, she wouldn’t even be ‘ere if not for you. Ah’d ‘ave… Ah’d ‘ave just lost it, gone insane, if she’d died.”
She goes on, “But it’s been rough… we’ve both been in therapy for it, over that night. They say we ’ave PTSD.” She laughs without much mirth. “Ah thought only veterans and rape survivors got that. Noises and things give me flashbacks, and it’s worse for Yvonne…”
“And Simmone, it’s been so awful for ‘er. She’s always been really babied, youngest of six girls, Ah guess. She’s become Maman’s velcro enfant. She’s terrified of strangers now and won’t go anywhere without ‘er, since even Cécilia couldn’t stop that awful cop from stripping ‘er… Maman got ’er fired, though, that’s something. We’re thinking about suing ‘er too for emotional damages; she’ll definitely lose… ‘er and all those other awful cops. It’s their fault, that Simmone’s too scared to even sleep in ’er own bed now!”
“Ah don’t know ‘ow we’re supposed to go on from it all… that girl ‘Annah, she even killed ’erself, after she got outed as trans. Ah just couldn’t believe that.”
Yvette eventually starts crying as she talks with Caroline. Not hysterically, but she has to wipe at her eyes with a tissue. “Ah feel like… like it’s all mah fault… it was mah idea… to play a prank on that stupid dyke…”
“Mah therapist says it’s all ‘is fault… that Ah couldn’t ’ave known ’ow… ’ow things were going to go or ’ow insane Amelie was… Ah guess it is, but still, none of this… "
“Rien de tout cela ne serait arrivé s’il n’y avait pas eu pour moi.”
(“None of this would have happened if it weren’t for me.”)
Caroline: Caroline embraces the younger girl upon hearing that final confession, lightly strokes her hair, and whispers assurances while she sobs. She only releases Yvette once her tears slow so that she can look into her eyes to soberly declare, “Rien de tout cela ne serait arrivé si le soleil ne s’était pas levé ce matin-là non plus.”
(“None of it would have happened if the sun hadn’t come up that morning either.”)
She opens up—such as she can—about the death of her own brother in turn. “That you feel guilty about it shows you’re a good person, Yvette, but you can’t blame yourself. Not really. I ask myself every night if there wasn’t something I could have done to save Westley’s life, but I didn’t kill him, and I didn’t make the decisions that placed him on that path. Own what you actually did—a mean-spirited, perhaps poorly-advised prank—not the horrible things that happened to your sisters because of the mistakes other people made.”
GM: Yvette is tearful over how much she’s put her everyone’s families, Sarah, “that lawyer Mitchel Lowenstein and ’is own family,” but most of all, her own sisters through so much. She wishes she could take it back and have found some other way to get Amelie expelled. She initially protests that what happened to Westley couldn’t have been Caroline’s fault—she heard he fell off a yacht after OD’ing on coke, that couldn’t have possibly had anything to do with her. But the parallel seems to help, when she sees how Caroline also blamed herself for something she was (or at least sounded) powerless to prevent. She says that one of the first things she and her sisters did during therapy was write letters, which they read aloud, saying how they all forgave one another.
“Maman says forgiving other people is easy… it’s forgiving yourself that’s really ’ard.”
Yvette eventually composes herself and dabs at her eyes with a tissue. She grins viciously about how that “disgusting cunt-licker,” at least, is going to be in for some very nasty surprises when “’e” wakes up from “’is” coma… if “’e” ever does. Yvette isn’t sure which she’ll enjoy more. Getting that “stupid girl Sadie’s” family to pull her out from McGehee was satisfying too.
Caroline: At this Caroline offers another sober commentary, her own voice thick with emotion. “It’s easy to focus on revenge, Yvette. A lot easier than focusing on the future. On building or rebuilding your life. I certainly did. But in the end I didn’t feel better for it, and I didn’t make my life better for it. There’s no future there, and I was just as alone as I’d been when I started. More so.”
“I won’t tell you not to, but what do you have left when you’ve destroyed them?” she asks. “That victory is Pyrrhic. I certainly found, as did King Pyrrhus, that one other such ‘victory’ would completely undo me.”
GM: Yvette gives Caroline a quizzical look. More puzzled than disagreeing. “Well, that’s not what Maman does. She made everyone pay. Gettis, Amelie, the cops ‘oo arrested us, the cops ’oo stripped us, Sadie and ’er dad, more people Ah probably don’t even remember, she’s made them all pay. Or will. She says you don’t ‘ave to do it raht away either, that it’s even better when you don’t. That it’s the slow knife, that waits, that cuts deepest, and no one blames.”
“But the raht people still know, and fear.”
“Ah could see it, you know,” Yvette smiles. “When she talked with the police chief, after Yvonne was loaded in the ambulance. Ah don’t really remember much, Ah was out of mah mind, but Ah could still see it. In ’is eyes. ’E was terrified of ’er.”
Yvette looks very satisfied as she goes on, “‘E started begging, saying ’e ’ad friends even she didn’t want to cross, and one would be ’ere soon. But she just stared at ’im, said a few things, and ’e almost tripped over ’is own feet running off!”
“And she says Ah’m the most like ’er, that way,” the teenager continues. More quietly, but also more proudly. “Of all mah sisters. That it’ll… well, a lot of things. But ‘serve me well.’”
“She says Ah should squash Amelie like an insect, too. If Ah want to be sure Yvonne and Simmone will be safe. And Ah ’ave.” Yvette giggles. “Ah’ve destroyed ‘is life. And it’ll all get worse when ’e wakes up—if ’e wakes up!”
Yvette also asks more about what Caroline’s future plans, beyond what she shared with the rest of the dinner party. She admits she’s “’eard some pretty sketchy stuff” about Caroline and asks if there’s anything she “could maybe do to ’elp?” She heard something from Luke about her working for Senator Kelly’s re-election campaign. Maybe she could also work on that? If Caroline shares any future plans that could involve other people, Yvette enthusiastically asks if she could be a part of those. It’s plain that the middle Devillers daughter is still inordinately grateful to Caroline for saving her sister and doesn’t want to fall out of touch.
Caroline: Caroline is far less than pleased to hear from yet another source that whispers of division between herself and her family have bled beyond it. She’s even less pleased that those rumors are taking the form of ‘sketchy stuff,’ but she works to hide it from the younger girl. Further, any relationship with Yvette puts her in an awkward position by its nature—any agreement here may only create problems down the line if and when she discovers who claims domain over the Devillers family. Still, the senator’s daughter can’t resist the urge to foster something here, or at least keep that opportunity alive a little longer.
She confirms the intention is for her to work on the Kelly campaign, and tells Yvette she’d be happy to bring her in if she’s actually interested in politics. More to the point, she asks what Yvette actually wants and enjoys, leaping off their previous topic to pry into her interests beyond tormenting others. Caroline’s own interests are varied, and there may yet be a better fit than the complicated—on so many levels—Kelly campaign office.
GM: “Oh, well, Ah do a lot of things,” Yvette says.
She’s on the varsity division for McGehee’s Lincoln-Douglas debate team. She isn’t the team captain, but she’s brought home awards.
She likes horseback riding. She’s also done singing, played the clarinet, and ballet when she was younger. She’s let a couple of those lapse and now does gymnastics instead of ballet. She’s been involved in religious service groups, and has variously done internships or put in volunteer hours at one of her mother’s charities, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the Catholic Church. She also has some good student awards from McGehee and gets good grades. It’s a fairly similar-sounding list of accomplishments to Caroline’s at her own age.
Yvette “isn’t totally sure” what she wants to do after college, if she’s being honest. People have floated ideas from law school to missionary work to working for one of the places she’s volunteered. She is fairly sure she likes the liberal arts more than STEM fields. “Maman says Ah don’t really need to make up mah mind yet, and that Ah ’ave a lot of doors open. And she says if everything else fails, Ah can just get a liberal arts degree and marry some banker or lawyer,” she laughs.
She does know that she’s good at “tormenting others,” as Caroline would term it. It’s not something she can put on a college application, admittedly. At the start of the year, she talked a classmate who wanted to start a banned club into making and distributing extracurricular pamphlets that still had the club listed. The girl was suspended for a while. “It was a queer alliance club,” Yvette mentions. “Ah’m all for LGBTQ rahts, actually, Ah think the church is wrong there. But she was always ‘rocking the boat.’”
Yvette’s social views sound quite liberal next to Kelly’s. She sounds passably informed on politics, but thinks America is “really backwards, no offense” on a lot of issues next to France. She sounds more interested in working with Caroline than she does in working on Kelly’s campaign specifically—though she does know the senator’s granddaughter Susannah at school and is friends with her, so she thinks the family is nice.
She finally adds that Sarah and Yvonne are both “so grateful” to Caroline too, and would also “love to stay in touch, just as much as me. They’re actually pretty confused… about ’ow you just fell off the earth. They thought maybe being around them reminded you of that night, so…”
Yvette trails off lamely, then adds, “And if you could ‘umor Simmone too, that’d mean a lot… Ah know she can be clingy, and annoying, but she’s so scared of being away from Maman that she’s been ‘ome-schooled ever since August. It’s actually really good—well, for ‘er—’ow she asked if you could carry ’er to the bathroom. And got out of the car by ’erself, earlier.”
Caroline: “It wasn’t any of you, or even that night,” Caroline quickly assures Yvonne’s twin. She pauses momentarily to run her tongue over her fangs as she contemplates the next part of her response.
“The truth is my life spiraled out of control, then got worse when Westley died, and more complicated still when the rest of my family got involved. It’s not exactly acceptable for anyone on the family, much less my father’s daughter, to break family rules. It’s taken a while to put my life back together.”
Speaking about family conflicts is technically another broken unspoken rule, but since reciprocity doesn’t seem to be in the air, Caroline is willing to bend that one tonight.
“I didn’t want to drag anyone else into that, especially with Luke and your sister going so well.” She trades numbers with the teen and promises to be in touch in the next few days (or at least nights) to contemplate some ways they (and her sister and Sarah) might stay in touch to a better extent. That night did, after all, bind them together.
She also thanks Yvette for opening up to her. “I know it’s almost as hard to let anything out as it is to keep it all bottled up.”
GM: Topics have turned again to more pleasant ones when the pair returns from the bathroom. Sumptuous food continues to be served. One particularly exotic dish is antelope, which Abélia coaxes a now-recovered and initially dubious Simmone into trying because it’s “what the characters eat in that cartoon musical you like. The one with the lions.”
Dolan also serves a dish he’s particularly proud of an proclaims the coup de grace to end the non-dessert courses: Praline Lacquered Texas Quail, which is an absolutely gorgeous little bird. The honey lacquered exterior glistens against the lights and the glaze coats what Lyman terms “the moistest, most perfectly cooked quail I’ve ever had.” Other people talk about how complex the flavors are, and how they come together so well despite the many bold competing ingredients utilized. They say that it’s funky, sour, sweet, iron-y, sticky, crunchy, crispy, and moist, all at once.
To Caroline it’s no more than ash.
Topics also return to schoolwork in the wake of Sarah’s and Yvonne’s recoveries. Both girls talk about how understanding and accommodating their teachers were. Everyone sent them cards in the hospital. Sarah says that Mrs. Morris, Mrs. Flores, and Mr. Thurston even visited her in person to pay their respects and assure her she’d still graduate on time. Yvonne was able to resume schoolwork relatively soon, and her teachers worked out ways she could maintain a 4.0. Sarah, though, missed so much class that her teachers simply let her take a GED exam to determine what final grades she’d get “but arranged things so I’ll still receive a diploma from McGehee, instead of a GED—since the latter doesn’t look as good.” Warren says that she scored a perfect 800. One condition was that she still has to keep attending daily classes, and “if my grades slip in those, they’ll use those instead of my GED score. But they’re still giving me a modified and much lighter course load, on account of how much I missed, which was more than fair.” Lyman agrees and says that he’s sure she’ll maintain her 4.0.
It’s a shame about Ms. Perry, though, Yvonne remarks. She was the history teacher who gave the ‘ghost stories’ assignment that set everyone on the path of last August’s tragedy—she was fired in the aftermath of that. A few people express sympathies, and no one claims ‘credit’ for the deed, but none of the adults seem particularly moved to intervene on the teacher’s behalf either. Sarah asks if anyone knows what she’s doing now. Luke gently turns the conversation back to other topics.
The last course is nearly finished when the party receives a ‘surprise’ visitor making his way through the kitchen’s back door (kept open to patrons at Sarah’s insistence).
Nolan Moreno is a slim and handsome man whose features hover in that 30-something range between youth and middle age. His well-cared brown hair doesn’t yet have a single streak of gray. His ears and round nose have been the subject of several caricatures Caroline has seen by local cartoonists, but she’s heard he just laughed at them too. He’s got several days’ worth of perpetual stubble, but makes it look like a sharp, minimalist impression of a beard rather than unkemptness.
Adeline laughs at “how dressed up” he looks in his suit and tie over his usual more casual attire, trades a kiss, and invites him to “come join them” for what’s left of the meal. Fortunately, there’s already a ‘spare’ seat at the table due to Simmone sharing her mother’s.
Moreno greets everyone by name and various shakes and kisses hands, starting with Caroline’s. He calls her “these girls’ personal hero” and makes a dig about private individuals always “getting more done” than government institutions.
Adeline agrees with him. “Just like Officer May” and exhorts him to “share the good news!”
Moreno smiles and briefly inquires as to Sarah’s and Yvoone’s health first, but finally lets slip how a new initiative is being introduced to the New Orleans city council for debate. It concerns whether technically off-duty police working for the French Quarter Response Force will be authorized to use lethal force in the course of their duties. “That way we can stop more brave men like Officer May from getting wrongly fired.” He’s confident the motion is going to pass—and build the way for the FQRF to assume still-greater law enforcement responsibilities. Everyone but Noëlle expresses their approval. Faith and trust in NOPD does not seem to run particularly high at tonight’s Chef’s Table.
“All of this is partly thanks to Caroline, too,” Moreno adds. She showed everyone just how much a private citizen could accomplish when NOPD “flailed around like headless chickens.” He asks if she’d be interested in attending the city council’s forthcoming legislative session with him to speak in favor of the bill’s passage. They can probably finagle it, between her father’s name and her own role in last August’s events.
Caroline: Caroline politely and demurely declines, admitting, “I still have nightmares of my own over that night.” She further cites, “It’s not exactly great optics in any case.” New Orleans is, after all, a famously ‘chocolate’ city. Rich white girls don’t play particularly well at city specific functions.
GM: Caroline’s brother points out that there are plenty of other white faces in the upper levels of the city’s government who would be sympathetic to her plight. He looks tempted to go on, but finally relents—at least in public—when Moreno also does. He wishes Caroline a full recovery from that night, and also adds,
“Keeping good people from having any more nightmares is just what I want the Response Force to do.”
Lyman adds that if Moreno intends to run for mayor in the next election (“on a platform of police reform!”), he’ll have every bit of support he can muster from Whitney Hancock. They can certainly make sure his campaign is well-funded.
Moreno modestly laughs that he’s not thinking about running for mayor. He just wants to fix the city’s police problem, like he fixed its garbage problem. Lyman undeterredly adds that a lot of other people have been thinking about it. And they’re thinking about it “even harder” now. The election is in 2017. Candidates will be laying serious groundwork once the ’16 elections are held.
“So you still have time to insist you aren’t running,” Abélia smiles to laughter from around the table.
Staff move to clear away the last course that Moreno samples just enough of to express, “Amazing as usual, Artie!” They also dim the lights and bring out something worse than any plate of food:
Tiny flames spring to life all around Caroline. The Ventrue clamps down on her Beast’s screaming impulse to leap out from her chair right then and there. This is almost over. Almost. The tiny flames’ too-loud hissing and crackling is impossible to tune out as everyone else delightedly comments on “how atmospheric!” this is for the dessert course—especially when music starts playing.
Caroline: The Ventrue clings to her drink, all but ready to fling it across the tiny pin-pricks of hate as they approach the table. She manages to resist that urge alongside the many others that push her towards even more extreme responses, like fleeing through the so conveniently nearby door into the night. She tries to reason with the Beast at first—they’re small. They’re not that close, they’re just candles. But the Beast cannot be reasoned with, and she tightens her will across the chains holding it. Why did it have to be fire? At the end of this long, emotionally and mentally draining night fraught with tightropes to walk, why did it have to be fire?
But she’s no freshly Embraced neonate off the street. She’s not some Caitiff with thin blood. She’s Caroline Malveaux, and she’ll be damned (again) if she lets candles ruin the night for her.
GM: Luke, seemingly oblivious to his sister’s internal struggle, chimes a fork against his wineglass and says he wants to address the party. Or at least one of them.
“I want to say how grateful I am that we could all be here tonight—especially two of us,” he begins. “This evening has been magnificent. It hasn’t been perfect—Simmone, you were so brave to come back after that car backfire,” he smiles at his girlfriend’s sister, “—but that hasn’t stopped it from being magnificent.”
“All of us have struggled these past six months. All of us have shed tears. All of us have suffered loss. But there’s so much we’ve found, too. For every tear we’ve shed, we have laughed. For every loss we’ve suffered, we have celebrated. For every tragedy we’ve endured, there has been joy.”
He stares deeply into Cécilia’s eyes. “Cécilia, so much of that joy has been because of you.”
“I remember when you first introduced me to your family, and the first thought I had—how there was no way I could possibly remember the names of five sisters who all alike.” The table laughs at this. “But now, I couldn’t possibly imagine not remembering their names. It never ceases to amaze me how much love there is within your family. It never ceases to amaze me how much of that love comes from you.”
Cécilia smiles modestly as Caroline’s brother talks about the qualities she has that are so worth loving. Her kindness and generosity. Her cultured sensibilities, her disarming wit, her scintillating intelligence. How modest she is about all of those gifts. How she looks out for her younger sisters “like a second mom” and is always there for them—and for him. He talks about how much she’s bettered his life just by being in it. How much she makes him want to be a better person, and more worthy of her. How blessed he feels, just to have her in his life, and to know she cares about" him.
“Cécilia, you never fail to charm everyone within earshot when you say that quote, how ‘youth is a time for romance, no love.’ It wasn’t too long ago we turned 25 and 26. We’re both still young. We both still have our whole lives and futures ahead of us.”
Caroline’s brother pauses. “But life isn’t forever, even when you’re young. We learned that with Sarah and your sister. We learned it again with my brother.”
Something seeming to pass within Luke’s before he continues, “Westley’s death… made me think about things. Things I wish I’d said. Things I wish I’d done, that it’s now too late to ever do.”
He looks back at Cécilia. “Every day is another chance at life. Every day is a chance to build something new and precious. And it’s been the greatest gift of my life to share its joys alongside you.”
His eyes briefly move across the table. “This is Yvonne’s and Sarah’s evening—and of course my sister Caroline’s, as our heroine of the hour. But tonight, celebrating the recovery of two brave and remarkable young women, celebrating what our families can do together—celebrating life—I couldn’t think of a better moment to do this.”
Luke rises from his seat, then gets down to one knee before Cécilia and removes a small box from his jacket’s pocket. She gasps when he snaps it open.
“Cécilia Devillers, will you marry me?”
The table, and even kitchen, is so quiet that one could hear a pin drop. A second passes as Cécilia finds her voice before responding, her face radiant,
“Yes, Luke! I will! Yes, a thousand times—yes, I will!”
Cécilia’s younger (and especially youngest) sisters all but scream as Luke slips the diamond ring onto her finger and shares a kiss. Everyone at the table showers the young couple with hugs, kisses, congratulations, and snapped pictures.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t scream, but a smile splits her face and she rises to congratulate both her brother and his new fiancée alongside the rest. It’s a bittersweet moment for the dead woman—seemingly the flavor of a Requiem she’s found. Another experience she’s been denied herself for all time, one that will lead to more still for the young couple.
Like a cripple watching a marathon or a deaf man at a concert, it’s something that she’ll never be more than an auxiliary part to. There will be no wedding for Caroline Malveaux. There can be no love for her like her brother describes for the Devillers heiress. Another something that she’d once considered inevitable in her own life, that as a girl she’d fantasized about alongside schoolyard friends, so close and yet an eternity away from her.
Even her joy in the moment for her brother and Cécilia, something that might have once burned as hotly in the moment as the Devillers girls’, is strangled beside all the concerns of the all-night society that leap readily to mind, of her half-life, that such an event must raise. Parties and dinners and socials and ceremonies in daylight hours that she must explain away from her calendar.
GM: Several group photos are gotten in, which Caroline must will herself to appear normally in if she does not wish the table’s many photographers to frown over the “bad lighting” and “bad camera on this phone.” “That’s the newest model, isn’t it?” “Defective one, I guess. I’ll get another.”
Caroline: Caroline very intentionally does so for photos taken by the group, having grown relatively accustomed to such things by now: it’s hardly the first time she’s had to do so. Despite the candles, the seemingly unending courses, and the awkwardness of the powers represented at the table amid the Kindred world, this is a night she’s happy to remember, and make a record of.
GM: A dessert arrives that’s no less sumptuous (or so the party’s other members proclaim) than any of the preceding courses. Dolan and Sullivan call it “the Desert Bomb:” bread pudding soufflé, creme brûlée stamped with the city’s iconic fleur-de-lis, warm pecan pie, creole cream cheesecake, rum cake and flambe bananas foster.
Simmone, who asks if she can now sit on Caroline’s lap, gets her wish for something “really sweet” with the mango sorbet in its own crunchy and edible sugar bowl.
Most people proclaim that the Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé, one of the few constant items on the ever-changing Commander’s Palace menu, is the evening’s best dessert.
It comes as a massive puffed-up pastry dome that overflows from the top edges of the jumbo-sized ramekin. Warren initially wonders if it’s going to be too heavy and filling after the already large meal, but Cécilia assures him that the one she shares with Luke, “fortunately for our stomachs,” is a soufflé, so the interior of the dish is completely hollow and the cake around the edges is light and airy. The dough itself looks fluffy and eggy and comes studded with fat crystalline sugar bits. The table’s waitress even comes over with a dish containing a white substance and asks if they’d “like some whiskey cream to go with that.” Luke and Cécilia give an emphatic, “Oh, yes, please.” They proclaim that the light, creamy, fluffy, and (very) alcoholic topping is unsurprisingly amazing and brings “the whole dessert over the top.”
But it, like so many other pleasures and joys of living, lie forever beyond one of the table’s occupants.
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