Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood and Bourbon

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Story Seven, Caroline V

“This whole family is tainted.”
Caroline Malveaux


Wednesday evening, 30 September 2015

GM: Westley’s funeral is a grand affair held in the early evening at St. Louis Cathedral. The occasion draws much of Caroline’s extended family. The New Orleans-Baton Rouge core of her parents, brothers, uncles, aunts, and first cousins are there as expected. Virginia and Charlotte have flown in from Massachusetts and DC. Gabriel already made the drive from Baton Rouge some time ago; Caroline hears something about Claire pulling strings at Berchmans for him to get the week off (as a senior who’s already been accepted into Cornell, after all, he doesn’t have much left to do at high school). Thomas, Carson, and their own families are present, as are many Malveaux cousins from along the Gulf Coast, Texas, and beyond. To the surprise of many, even Camillia Malveaux attends. The trip down from Baton Rouge, separate from Gabriel’s looks as if it’s been very hard on the 86-year-old. She spends much of the time before Westley’s service with her eyes closed as her live-in caretaker Jordan Marco slowly pushes along her wheelchair.

Non-family are present for the occasion too. Caleb Gallagher attends with his wife, adult children and grandchildren. Franz Harz hasn’t served under as many Senator Malveauxes as the two-time chief of staff, but the long-standing attorney and his wife are also present to pay their respects. Katherine Merlou shows up by herself: everyone knows Vera keeps her much too busy to have time for a husband or boyfriend. Emilia Rosa also lacks a male companion as she hovers by Savannah’s side. Orson, Thomas, and several other older family members purse their lips at her presence, but no one makes a fuss. No one seems to have any desire to bring further scandal to the funeral of a young man whose life was so consumed by scandal. Cécilia Devillers is a less unwelcome sight by Luke’s side. Her new bodyguard, ex-SEAL Daniel Hayes is not far off. Caroline catches Carson checking in on Luke and his girlfriend to see if they feel safe with Cécilia’s stalker behind bars. Roger Ferris, Mr. Taylor, Alphonse Meridian and the other family security remain unobtrusive at the edge of the gathering, their demeanors somber and respectfully distant for this occasion of mourning.

Susan is unable to attend. Reasons are not given. The Ursulines send a wreath of flowers on her behalf.

Westley’s funeral even draws Claire’s brother and sister, Gregory and Joanna, who Caroline has only met on a handful of occasions. The two live in San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively, where they work in finance and media. The two look almost like movie stars, especially Joanna with her suntanned skin, big white hat, and unworn pair of sunglasses. They apologize that their mostly adult children are unable to attend and remark on how grown-up Caroline and her siblings look. The funeral, however, is not a time for catching up, and the reception from more than a few Malveauxes is cool when it comes out that both of Claire’s siblings are divorced (Gregory terms it “separated,” which is apparently a distinct legal state). These West Coast in-laws lead come from an altogether different culture than that of a centuries-old, tradition-steeped Southern family like the Malveauxes’, and bonds of kinship seem unlikely to persist beyond Claire’s lifetime. This unspoken fact seems to further depress Caroline’s mother. Another missed connection not unlike Westley.

The funeral’s mood is expectantly somber, but among Caroline’s siblings and first cousins, it seems almost shellshocked. The last funeral any of the three brothers’ families held for one of their own was James Malveaux’s. That was over twenty years ago, in 1991… Caroline was too young to even remember it. Now that she thinks on it, her generation has grown up without ever really experiencing death. To see one of their own’s lives so abruptly cut short is deeply sobering to the twenty-somethings who’ve grown up so confident in their invincibility.

Westley may have died as a black sheep among his family, but his funeral is a deeply traditional affair with all the honors afforded to a faithful and practicing Catholic. It is divided into three distinct events, the first of which is the wake. The numerous Malveauxes, long-standing employees, and family friends gather around Westley’s closed casket to lay flowers or rosaries and pay their respects. Orson and Adam, clad in priests’ black and violet vestments, lead a group prayer for Westley’s soul. Caroline feels all but sick in the holy church. The softly burning candles around the saints’ icons only further incense the Ventrue’s Beast. No other lights are present, and much of the vast cathedral is shrouded in darkness. Long shadows obscure Orson’s face as he delivers a haunting sermon on “demons” and the Book of Revelation, made all the more surreal by the moonlight filtering through the multichromatic stained glass windows. When Orson leans his face across the path of a red pane, his fevered visage looks downright hellish. The family, still reeling from Westley’s death and somber in the presence of what they know to be a human corpse, is all but spellbound by the eschatological sermon. Several of the younger children actually start crying—clearly in fear rather than sadness as the burning-eyed archbishop, clad in the full regalia of his office, raves about dragons rising from the sea, the extinction of mankind, and the doom of the world. Caroline isn’t sure what has gotten into him either. No one says anything. They just listen, stunned, and quietly leave.

The second component to Westley’s funeral is a requiem Mass, held the next night at St. Louis Cathedral. Although Catholic funeral services can be officiated by a deacon and held without Mass, no one in the family is so much as hearing it. The Eucharist is the perfect prayer and therefor certainly more ideal to offer the Eucharist for the soul of the deceased. The requiem Mass itself is similar to other Catholic Masses except that incense is not burned at the points usually designated, nor is the kiss of peace exchanged. The instrumental and choral music is hopeful (no one sings—it is not an African-American funeral), focusing on the themes of resurrection and everlasting life. No one speaks: eulogies to the deceased are not part of traditional Catholic funeral services. The Eucharist is the sacramental representation of the once-for-all saving sacrifice made by Christ on the cross, and though the requiem Mass is meant to honor Westley, it ultimately isn’t about him. There will be time for eulogies and reminiscing after the internment. Orson is dressed for the occasion in full pontifical vestments: mitre (triangular bishop’s hat), chasuble and dalmatic (bishop’s robes), crosier (curved staff), archiepiscopal cross (distinctive with two crossbars instead of one), and episcopal ring (set with a ruby, not unlike the ring worn by Caroline’s sire). The Mass lasts for over an hour, but Orson does not once speak a word of English: he delivers all of the liturgies in their traditional Latin form.

The focal point of any Mass is Holy Communion, by which the congregation receives the sacrament of Holy Eucharist and unite themselves with Christ, making them sharers in his blood and body. Yet, as Caroline’s family rise from the uncomfortable wooden benches and approach the cathedral’s altar, Adam quietly informs Caroline that Orson has declared her “ineligible” to take communion. The vampire is left sitting along with the funeral’s non-Catholic attendees, mostly family employees and Claire’s brother and sister, while she watches her parents and siblings participate in their faith’s most sacred ritual.

Then again, she recalls the Sanctified referencing “the blood of Longinus” for their own communion, not the blood and body of Christ. It seems almost like sacrilege for one of the Damned, forever beyond God’s grace, to partake of the latter.

Caroline: The Ventrue has little doubt as to who she has to ‘thank’ for the experience. Despite the blasphemous nature of the very idea of taking communion, it’s just another humiliation to be denied it before her family for reasons most will never know.

The entire experience, from the funeral to the mass, is wrenching and wretched for Caroline in equal parts, haunted as she is by Westley’s death, her own ‘part’ in it, and the great many questions as to her own fate. She’s sullen and quiet throughout, haunted by the ghosts of her family that surround her, all too well-aware of and already dreading her own funeral to follow.

GM: Once the requiem Mass at St. Louis is concluded, the mourners take a fleet of cars to St. Louis Cemetery, where Malveauxes as far back as the Civil War are interred in the family crypt. The walled cemetery resembles a veritable city of peak-roof graves, filled with crypts, monuments, and even tiny gardens. Nathaniel, Luke, Gabriel, and Adam act as pallbearers for Westley’s coffin. Orson officiates the rite of committal, which is far briefer than the preceding mass. Orson blesses the grave and coffin with holy water that he has personally sanctified, and expresses (in English) the hope that, with all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, the deceased awaits the glory of the resurrection. The rite is an expression of the communion that exists between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven: the deceased passes with the farewell prayers of his family into the company of those who need faith no longer, but see God face-to-face.

With that final benediction, Westley’s pallbearers pull open the marble vault that belongs to him and who knows how many further ancestors: Louisiana’s muggy heat has long since literally baked their remains into ash. In a flood-prone city where the soil is too muddy to bury the dead, reusing vaults was only practical. This reality cannot be fully escaped even in modern times. Westley’s coffin, a luxury denied to his ancestors, is placed inside one of the yawning marble vaults like a long pan of bread. The mourners then recite a communal Lord’s Prayer and make their way back to their cars.

With the funeral proper over, it is customary for the mourners to gather and share a meal at the home of the deceased or his closest relative. Nathan and Claire do not own any homes in New Orleans, so the procession departs for Orson’s. The family seat has ever been the great Antebellum house (calling it a “mansion” is gauche) he occupies in the Garden District. The Malveauxes like to claim they have held the property since their French ancestors immigrated from Saint-Dominique. While the house itself may well be that old, Caroline is aware that her family actually acquired it during the early 20th century’s oil boom. It was a once uncomfortable, and now merely irksome fact that the Malveauxes, although indisputably an old family, never belonged to the Creole aristocracy that ruled the city during its golden age in the Antebellum. (In fact, they likely bought the property from one such family who were unable to maintain their wealth into the 1900s.)

Yet that history, even “young” as it may be for the Big Easy, is still old and very much alive as dozens of Malveaux cousins converge upon the house. Even with the family employees mostly gone, there are still too many people to fit into the dining hall, so rows of tables are set up under the open stars. Caterers bring forth plates of richly sumptuous food that Caroline cannot enjoy (whatever Orson’s faults, it cannot be said he skimps on food). Now that they are out from church, the family can let it down its hair as cousins who have not seen each other in decades (or ever, in the case of younger ones) are introduced and mingle among themselves. Thomas takes point for many of these ‘do you know…’s and regales the extended family with stories from their history: the elderly Supreme Court justice is clearly feeling his years after Westley’s death and wants to pass on as much as he can before he is gone, too. He looks nothing less than delighted when Virginia, otherwise quiet for much of the gathering, suggests recording the family history on tape “so that we’ll always have it.” Even Camillia, who eats almost as little as Caroline, seems to come alive a bit during the talk about “back in the day.”

“Is it true the family forbearer was a pirate who made his fortune raiding ships in the Caribbean?”

“That could be true, but he probably married above his station and took his bride’s name for his own.”

“Not necessarily. Pirates can ‘go legitimate’—just look at Jean Lafitte.”

“Yes, his partner Barthélemy Lafon even designed the Garden District.”

“I thought Lafon only designed the Lower Garden District.”

“The Lower Garden District is just as beautiful.”

“If we really are descended from pirates, there could be something to those stories about family vaults filled with silver and gold.”

“Louisiana’s Gulf Coast doesn’t even have rocks, never mind gold. The Caribbean colonies’ wealth was always in its plantations.”

“Yes, precious metals were in South America.”

“But Havana was the embarkation point for those treasure ships on their way back to Europe. Pirates could and did prey on them.”

“A Malveaux pirate doesn’t even need to have raided those ships to have become wealthy. He could have sold slaves.”

“Or maybe our ancestors weren’t actually that rich. You don’t really hear about the family until the War Between the States.”

“Yes, we were ‘scalawags’ for working with the Yankees.”

“Only because we had even more claim to fame than the Creoles. We’re descended from Napoleon, after all.”

“Napoleon’s nephew.”

“That’s just a rumor.”

“A distracting and strategically planted rumor. You think it’s a coincidence it started the same time that albino was sent to an insane asylum?”

“Those dates don’t match up. The albino was born during Reconstruction.”

“No, he was born a few decades later.”

“He was born during the War Between the States, actually.”

“Either way, there’s a large time frame for when one of Napoleon’s nephews could have fathered a child. Napoleon III died in the 1870s.”

Westley is far from the late dinner’s sole topic of discussion, but neither is he forgotten—perhaps for the only time in his life. Nathaniel rings a knife against his wineglass and delivers an address before the gathered family, saying how inspired and thankful he is to see everyone come together during this trying time. He tells the story about how Orson and Matt’s family were displaced by Katrina, and how his own family in Baton Rouge took them in. There were some rough moments—Nathan tells a brief anecdote about a 13-year-old Westley flushing his cousin Charlotte’s makeup kit down the toilet, to his audience’s subdued laughter—but the family came together, weathered the storm, and was stronger for it.

“I see that spirit in front of me today,” Nathan continues. “Not just at this gathering, but in every day of our lives.” In the ten years since Katrina, all of his adult children have moved to New Orleans, and received succor and hospitality from the relatives they once took in—which Orson has even now extended to them all. Caroline’s father relates a few more touching stories from Westley’s childhood about playing baseball or going to the barber shop together. He says that as deeply as he mourns his son’s death, he takes heart from the solidarity the family has shown in coming here tonight, “Even late as the hour is.” He vows to honor Westley’s memory by carrying on his own life’s work, “Stronger than ever!”

The gathered Malveauxes applaud as Nathan sits down. To Caroline, her father’s speech sounds like it was prepared in advance, even if he wasn’t reading off any notecards.

The rest of the family delivers shorter eulogies. Gabriel talks about the older brother who was always cool, would read comics with him past bedtime, and never tattled on him for anything—unlike Luke, he ribs.

Luke speaks about Westley had “great potential cut short,” and that his brother’s death is making him think about “what’s really important in life.” His gaze lingers upon Cécilia in the audience.

Matt says Westley always had good taste in “life’s finer things,” particularly cars.

Vera reads off a notecard that Katherine hands her and somewhat awkwardly says how she always felt sorry for his “struggles,” which she does not define.

Adam delivers an eloquent if deeply somber eulogy that Westley was a “soul lost in darkness” who despaired of ever finding the light. He hopes his cousin can now be at peace.

Savannah seems like she empathizes with Westley not being accepted for who he was, or at least struggling to find an acceptable role for himself. She says that she hopes he found some peace too.

Elaine delivers a surprisingly heartfelt address that Westley “just wasn’t able to find himself before it was too late” and visibly blinks back tears. Claire acridly remarks out of earshot that Elaine is an “empty-headed cow” who’s “just like Westley was, only her family hasn’t given up on her.”

Virginia says she wished she understood Westley better. “He was my cousin all my life, but I don’t feel like I ever really got to know him… I don’t know how many of us did.”

Charlotte’s address lacks the heartfeltness of her siblings and sounds as if she’s talking about a stranger. She seems like she never understood why Westley would flush his life down the toilet like an adolescent’s makeup kit.

Carson says some short, to the point, but still respectful words that Caroline’s brother never really struck him as a troublemaker. “Just angry.”

Thomas talks about the day he showed a younger Westley and Luke around the Supreme Court at their father’s behest (Caroline may bitterly remember, to her then-chagrin, being forced to spend it with her mother instead—seemingly because she was a girl). He says that Westley reminded him of himself. Sharp mind and an easy way with people that could have made him “a popular judge, or senator like his old man.”

Orson and Claire do not give speeches.

Caroline: Neither does Caroline. No one approached her about it, and she doubts anyone would have let her anyway given her black sheep status.

GM: The already late hour winds steadily later until family members make their way back to parked vehicles and hotel suites. Promises are made to “come by and visit” more often. No one is happy over the occasion under which the gathering was convened, but almost everyone seems to feel the family made the best of a bad situation.

It’s an uncanny preview for Caroline of what her own death might look like.

After the last relatives offer their condolences and climb into their cars, there is a briefer gathering among the three brothers’ families and their significant others (Emilia Rosa, if the rumors are true, does not stay, and Elaine has too many suitors for any one of them to be ‘significant’, while Gabriel has a nice girl named Linda he’s been dating since his freshman year in high school). Tearful embraces and private words of condolence are exchanged, particularly towards Claire. Westley’s final mourners eventually get into their cars and drive off, except for Camillia. She is too tired for Jordan to drive back to a hotel and has a room made up for her at Orson’s. Plus she’ll probably rest better at the historic family home anyway.

Caroline is asked to “stay a moment” by her mother. The two of them settle down in the house’s living room for a “private meeting” with Orson, Roger Ferris, and Caroline’s father.

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Now that they are behind closed doors, Caroline’s father lays into her with a cold fury. Fired from her job at the Supreme Court. Flunked out of law school. Blowing through ridiculous sums of money at casinos. Kicked out of Matt’s house. Friends with drug addicts. Missing confession. Embarrassing him in front of his relatives. (This is half-directed at Orson, who coldly retorts he will not desecrate the Eucharist for “this harlot of a daughter!”) Paxton, who was sent to look for her at Decadence, and is still missing. Going to that “debauched festival” at at all and “getting yourself raped,” for which Nathan clearly blames Caroline. He sums up his opinion of her recent conduct in a single word:

“Unacceptable.”

He continues, calling her a “disappointment,” “a failure on every level,” “as bad as Westley,” “a worse daughter to me than your cousin” and “inordinately selfish” for making him waste valuable and limited time on her problems that could be spent in their family’s, state’s, and country’s service. “That’s on you, Caroline.”

“But if this is how you want to do this, then this is what we’ll do.” He demands details about Caroline’s rape and subjects her to a relentless slew of graphic questions, and grows even angrier when she cannot provide answers to his satisfaction. He finally tells Ferris “that will have to do” and sends the ex-CIA agent away with orders to “find this man and ruin his life.”

Nathan then orders Caroline to take a pregnancy test as soon as possible, and tells her that, should it be necessary, Caleb will arrange an abortion with a very discrete doctor in D.C.—he’ll be damned if he’s going to let some “half-black bastard” plunge the family into scandal. Their spin doctors are already working overtime turning Westley’s death into a tragic accident rather than a “stupid consequence” of reckless partying—“I suppose we can consider that his goodbye present,” Nathan all but spits. Orson calmly interrupts to give the abortion his blessing, and states that Caroline need not worry about her soul—at least where that singular sin is concerned. He will absolve her of it himself. “For it is better that a child conceived in sin should perish in the womb, than that its life should tempt an entire family to ruin.”

Nathan barely seems to hear his brother as he tells Caroline that he is “unimpressed by these antics” and tells her that it’s “time to shape up.” What he terms “controls” will be placed on her spending habits, since she can’t even be trusted to manage something so basic as money. Next is law school. Claire broaches the subject of Caroline resuming classes next semester. Nathan answers that it’s “out of the question.” He tells Caroline she’s going to pick up her classes, finish the semester, and pass the bar exam, starting first thing tomorrow. When Claire says Tulane has dropped her, Nathan impatiently replies, “Promise them another grant. Threaten them no more grants. Threaten a lawsuit over something. I don’t care what it takes. Just make it happen.” Nathan even snaps at Orson for failing to “rein in” Caroline after the self-destructive spiral that clearly began with Decadence, and laments that he must “do everything myself in this family.” Caroline may take some satisfaction from the deep frown on her uncle’s face… he clearly has no idea why he was so lenient to her earlier, and so unlike his usual self.

The archbishop doesn’t take his brother’s words lying down, however, and spews venom right back at Nathan and Claire. He coldly answers how they were the ones who raised Westley and Caroline, the family’s two greatest failures. Perhaps it is their fault as parents for their children turning out so poorly. Once might be an “innocent” mistake, after all, but twice is clearly a pattern.

Unleashed by Orson’s cruel words, the floodgates of pain and hate erupt. For just a moment, Caroline’s own sins are forgotten as she watches her parents fight, savaging at old wounds that have already been opened so raw and deep by their son’s death.

“Not even mourning your own son! If you’d ever been there for him, just once, he might still be alive! You could have stayed involved in his life, involved him in your work. You could have made him feel valued. You could have shown him that someone gave a damn. But you walked away!”

“You walked out on this family long before I did, Claire! You know what they’re saying? Have been saying for years? That you’re in bed with other men! And what did I do? Did I break faith and bring shame on our names with a divorce? Did I wallow in self-pity and throw away my life like either of the failed children we tried to raise? No. I put this family’s welfare first and brought our name back to Congress!”

“You ran away is what you did! I was always there for Westley! There when no one else in this family was, no matter how pretty their eulogies were! But at least some of them mourned him. You haven’t shed a tear!”

“When I mourn my son, I will do it on my own time, without embarrassing myself in public and making his death all about me!”

“About me? You have no idea how much I’ve sacrificed for our children, Nathan! Especially Caroline! If you had any idea!”

“And what has that accomplished? Our daughter, the slut and law school drop-out?”

Orson finally intervenes again by blaming Caroline for this “strife among our house,” and openly tells her that she is going to Hell. Claire snaps at him to stay out of this. Her comment clearly isn’t directed at Nathan, but Caroline’s father snarls back that he means to do that very thing—he’s taking a flight back to Washington, tonight. He has real work to do. He’s not wasting another second on Caroline’s “pathetic plea for attention.” He further reproaches as he pulls on his coat, “You know where that gets you, Caroline? Six feet under, like your brother. That’s someone who did nothing but wallow in his own problems—and make one of himself for the rest of us.”

He holds his finger an inch away from Caroline’s eyes and pronounces slowly, “I don’t care if you were raped by a hundred niggers. You will not drag this family down with you.” He then tells her that if she doesn’t resume her classes, pass bar, get a job, and turn her life back from “this spiral of self-destruction,” he’s going to disinherit her and send her to the Ursulines. Just like Susan.

“If you aren’t capable of running your own life, then we’ll run it for you,” he finishes, his face livid. “I will not bury a second child! I will not!”

Caroline: Caroline takes her own leave from the group in a quiet and cold fury. Hours of humiliation, reminders of her slain brother, and the final blowup between her parents and at her directly have left her nerves rubbed raw and bloody, her temper barely contained as she’s screamed at, insulted, and threatened.

It doesn’t even take the Beast’s influence to turn her mind to darker thoughts, to how easy it would be to terrorize everyone in the room, to bend their will, to hurt them as they’ve so callously hurt her tonight. She refrains, though not easily, and the night as a whole is as much a reminder of how distant she has grown in so short a time from everyone in her life as it is anything else. Even her affection for them has grown so tepid and weak, and by the end she finds herself wondering why she’s even bothering with the illusion of faking her own death cleanly for the family.

It is perhaps telling that her happiest thought of the evening comes in the dark satisfaction of how wrong her father is with his last words of it.


Thursday evening, 31 September 2015

Caroline: Caroline’s wroth towards the family, and specifically her father and uncles, has not dimmed when she next meets with her mother. Despite the warm blood coursing through her veins from a victim already forgotten, her temper is on full display as she bitterly offers, “I should burn it all down on my way out the door.”

GM: “Your father doesn’t want to lose another child, Caroline. He doesn’t know what else to do. He stayed out of Wesley’s life. And look what happened.”

Caroline: “He was murdered by a twisted and vindictive vampire to try and get at his other viciously murdered turned vampire daughter?” she snaps back with bitterness. “Truly a failure on his part.”

GM: “Maybe it was,” her mother replies quietly. “Perhaps if Westley wasn’t so alone, spending his nights partying in the Quarter, he wouldn’t have made such a convenient target. Maybe he could have been working as a senatorial intern in DC, or attending graduate school at Harvard. Been away from this all, and been safe. We can never know. We can… we can never know.” Claire’s words are heavy as she stares into her drink. “But he could have at least died with more than two names on his lips.”

Caroline: “I imagine he’ll be so bitterly disappointed with how my death is going to affect his political career. This whole family is tainted. I wish you’d never gotten involved with them.”

GM: “Don’t say that about our family, Caroline,” her mother reproaches. “I fell in love with your father for his ambition, but that wasn’t the only reason. I’ve never known a more selfless man.”

Caroline: “With his important work. He’s just a pawn for the Albino, you know. We all are, this whole family. Just pieces on a chess board.”

“I could destroy him,” she spits. “This family has so many skeletons in its closet that you could lead an army of the dead out to drag us all down.” She throws the rest of her drink back bitterly, vilely. “But then, that’s what I’m good at now. Destroying things.”

She sets the glass down with a loud clank, too quickly. It cracks, spider-webbing like the mask she wears. “It’ll be suicide. If there’s anything you think he’ll need to read in the note, I’ll entertain suggestions.”

GM: “Yes, it would. You’ll give the Albino and I common cause against our family’s enemy, and prove everything your father said about you completely right,” Claire answers severely.

“And you’re not killing yourself that way either. There will be no note, and no scandal brought down upon our heads. If there’s at least one, one good thing to come out of this tragedy, it’s an outpouring of public sympathy and goodwill for the Malveauxes. I won’t squander it just because I’m in grief.”

Caroline: “Why do you even care?” Caroline demands. “If it were Orson, or Matthew, or Vera… but you know what this family is built on better than anyone, and that it’s nothing but a tool for him.”

GM: “So many tragedies befall his family, yet Senator Malveaux bravely soldiers on, not missing so much as a vote in his state’s service. No can ever say that this Senate Republican ’isn’t ‘doing his job.’ That’s the narrative we’re going to sell.” Claire swishes her sugary-pink, edge-frosted drink as the Corner Club’s artificial fire-pit casts crackling tongues of orange light over her face.

“I care because it’s true. Some people… some people describe their loved ones as ‘fighters.’ Too often when they’re losing or succumbing to some incurable disease. And I suppose a fighter isn’t a poor thing to be.” Her mother sets down the glass, staring into the artificial flames. “At Cornell… your father joined one of the fraternities there, Alpha Delta Phi. Very old. It’s included senators, chief justices, even several presidents, and the like. He used it to network. He didn’t care about parties or hazing pledges. He was a teetotaler—he didn’t even drink.”

“It drove some of his frat brothers mad. They felt like he was only there to use them, to tick off another box on his list of accomplishments. They never liked him. But by the end of his time at Cornell, he was still the chapter executive officer.”

“Your father… I would describe as a conqueror, not a fighter. For as long as I’ve known him, he sets his mind to something and achieves it, damning to hell what it costs him or what others may think. I’ve never known him to give up on a challenge. Only to come at it from another angle, with another set of tactics.”

“It’s never been his own ambition that he’s served. Not really. Your grandfather weakened the family, and I suppose your father has always seen it as his responsibility to pick up the pieces. And has never hated anything more than seeing others shirk their responsibilities.”

“He can be a hard man to love, at times. He still hasn’t let me see him cry over Westley, even back in DC. Even when I can tell the tissue box next to our bed is lighter. It simply isn’t… isn’t his way. He’s out of his depth with your brother’s death, because there’s nothing he can do about that ‘problem.’ He can’t conquer death. I think it’s angered—scared him, like nothing else has in years. He sees you slipping through his fingers, on the same path as Westley, and he sees something he can finally do. He sees fixing your life as that enemy he can conquer. And he’ll do it, even if his methods make you hate him.” Claire shrugs. “That at least is just part of being a parent.”

“He can be infuriating, at times. He’s made me furious, many times. But I’ve never felt apathetic or resigned over him, not like Vera and Matt do with each other. There’s no man I’d rather spend the rest of my life with.”

“And of all our children… you’ve always been the one in whom I’ve seen the most of him, Caroline. Gabriel is too gentle. Luke too mild. Westley too…”

Claire doesn’t finish that sentence as she takes another libation from her drink.

Caroline: “I guess it’s going to be awful for him when he gets to fail with me too,” Caroline spits, her anger still there, but sputtering under the assault of her mother’s words.

There’s hurt under the anger, shame. And also anger directed elsewhere, and this cruel and unfair world, at her sire, and at God for making her a failure long before anyone else knows it. Her mind crawls back to that night, to that phone call. Ten minutes to show up before they handed over Westley. The question of whether she could have saved him haunts her. Her rational mind says no, but that ugly voice in the background screams that it’s her fault. She thinks it might be her conscience, but she doesn’t remember it being so quiet before.

GM: Claire glances at Caroline severely as she sets her glass down.

“You shouldn’t have seen that scene last night. He shouldn’t have talked with you then. But don’t be petulant, Caroline. People can say the most poisonous things to one another when family dies. I had the most vicious fight of my life with Joanna, after your grandmother passed. The death of a child, especially… tragedies like that can destroy marriages. But be assured that he mourns Westley. And that he loves and… will mourn you. In his own, proud way, as you and he always do things.”

Caroline: Caroline’s cold fury ignites again at her mother’s defense of her father’s actions.

“At my brother’s funeral I was called a failure, a harlot, a whore, a slut, a drop out, a burden, and a threatened with disinheritance and a lifetime in a convent. I was blamed for my own ‘rape,’” she pauses before continuing in a lower voice, “which may have very well been true, as an aside.” Her knuckles are white and strained around the edges of the table as she grinds out the words, low and deep. “Given that my last moments in life were spent suffering the same gentle affections that Westley did in the same place.”

“You don’t get to defend that,” she growls. “There aren’t excuses for that. ’It’s his way’ isn’t an excuse. I hope he chokes on those words to me. I hope they’re his last to me and that he has to live with him. I hope they haunt him in all of his noble pride.” She says the last with red rimming her eyes, and has to look away, one hand digging out a black handkerchief from her purse to wipe the blood away before it runs.

GM: When she finally lowers the coppery-smelling tissue she becomes conscious of her mother staring at her, eyes as cold and motionless as glass.

Caroline: “It’s his own choice,” she adds, almost accusingly at her mother’s glare. “Not as though he’ll have time to speak to me again before it happens.”

GM: “He’s damn well going to. And you’re damn well going to go along with it. I won’t have something like that hanging over his head for the rest of his life.”

Caroline: “Great, then I’ll do my best to explain to him as he does so why I shouldn’t be excommunicated by the family for not getting back into law school, since I’ve been barred from Riverbend.”

GM: Claire just gives a disgusted sigh. “Then take online classes. Or cut a deal to get back in. Why don’t you try actually solving a problem, for once, instead of throwing tantrums and making more?”

Caroline: “Why don’t you stop creating problems so that you and everyone else can feel better about this?” Caroline snipes back.

GM: “Because you’re the reason this family has gone through everything that it has,” Claire lets loose, her eyes flashing. “If you hadn’t gone to that debauched festival with your awful friend, none of this would have happened!”

Caroline: “You’re wrong!” Caroline snaps back.

GM: “Oh, that’s right, none of this can be your fault! I suppose you’re blameless for Westley’s death too, and for exposing me to your kind! I’m sure that’s only going to end well, for us both!” Caroline’s mother flares, anger rising to meet her daughter’s own.

Caroline: Caroline seems about to argue the point, about to launch into her own response, but the wind falls out of her sails as she looks at her mother. She looks old, and tired. It’s not the time or the place, and it may never be. There are few enough people she can talk to about anything of her life, and little enough time to spend with them. She doesn’t want to spend what little time she has left in the evening arguing.

It’s not as though she can tell her mother the truth, or what she suspects it is. That she was singled out years ago, targeted, selected, groomed. That her fate was sealed when she was born into this family, when she was tied to this city by the events of her pre-debutante ball and her uncle’s fury.


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