“That’s just what you gotta do. Decide what’s important and go after it.”
Tuesday night, 31 March 2009, AM
GM: “You all right?” Emily asks as they drive. “You seem… kinda rattled.”
Celia: Celia nods. Her lips are pressed together in a firm line. Tight. Her back is drenched in sweat. She reaches for the clip, needing the reassurance of its weight in her hand.
“Being back there…” Celia trails off. Shakes her head. “Let’s just get to the dorm.”
GM: Emily nods and drives.
“So… my brain’s half-dead, remind me. What are we doing next again?”
Celia: “Making a few calls. Then going back to the dorm.”
She checks the time.
GM: It’s so late at night it’s swung back around to being early.
Celia: Celia doesn’t care anymore. She’s tired of waiting for other people. She calls her grandmother.
GM: There are more than several rings before she’s answered with a decidedly groggier-sounding, “Hello.”
Celia: She’d been hoping for a voicemail. A pang of guilt shoots through her at waking the woman. She takes a breath, then dives in.
“Grandmother. It’s Celia. I’m so, so sorry to call you so late, and I wouldn’t do so if it wasn’t pressing. Dad’s been arrested. I called the man, the guy whose number you gave me, and they came. The police. They took him away. I just got out of the emergency room.”
GM: There’s a brief delay before the criminal judge tiredly replies.
“I trust you are now well.”
Celia: Well that’s a little more than she’s willing to talk about.
“Mom needs help,” she admits, “but she wouldn’t call.”
GM: “I am unsurprised,” comes a dry response.
Celia: Celia can’t help but laugh, though it’s short, a single note. She makes a promise to herself to spend more time with this woman in the future.
“She needs a place to stay. With the… kids. She has custody until the… until things are decided. She wanted to get a hotel room, but that’s…” expensive.
GM: Celia gets the impression of her grandmother pinching the bridge of her nose.
“You may tell your mother that she and her children may stay with me. She is already aware of the conditions.” The judge’s voice grows noticeably harder at that last word.
Celia: “Yes, Grandmother, thank you.” She pauses, but just for a moment. “And, I know this is a work matter… is it against rules to ask for a restraining order if you’re a member of my family? For she and I?” The apology is clear in her voice. She’s already been lectured on the difference between family and work matters.
GM: “Canons of judicial ethics require judges to disqualify ourselves from all contested proceedings in which our impartiality may be questioned. However, I will inform one of my colleagues of the particulars of your and your mother’s case, and ask that he schedule your hearing as soon as possible.”
“You also cannot file for a restraining order on another’s behalf, only your own. You and your mother must both come to the courthouse.”
Celia: “Thank you for clarifying. I will let her know. Again, I am so terribly sorry for waking you. I’ll tell you more when it’s not… the middle of the night. Tomorrow. When I come file for that.”
GM: “It is closer to the end of the night than the middle, Celia,” her grandmother replies. “I will tell the clerk to have the papers ready.”
Celia: “Right. Of course. Thank you. For everything.”
GM: “I will also be prepared for the house to remain empty and only you to file,” the criminal judge states.
As before, her voice isn’t frustrated or tired. Just resigned. And perhaps a little cool.
Celia: One more thing that Celia doesn’t understand.
“She’ll come around, Grandmother.”
GM: “Good morning, Celia,” is all her grandmother replies before the line clicks.
She texts the number ‘Elliot’ had given her months ago. Miranda.
GM: Despite the late hour, and being in high school, Em’s hacker friend is still awake. Perhaps she never went to sleep.
Damn, is she addicted? No wonder she can’t get enough of Paul.
GM: Miranda texts her ear off after that. It’s more of the same.
Celia: Celia sends a text to Em.
Emmett: He feels it buzz against his foot. He shivers mid-pleasure, looks somewhat abashedly at the woman between him and the pants around his angles, and says, “Can you pass me my phone? Left pocket. Keep doing what you’re doing, but also—left pocket.”
GM: “Thought that only happened in movies,” the black-haired girl remarks idly.
“But you’re paying for it.”
She passes him the phone.
While doing it.
Emmett: He rolls his eyes at her. “Life is a movie if you live like a star. Been meaning to talk to you about that—umph. Yes. Keep going.”
He glances at the screen and texts awkwardly with one hand.
Emmett: He looks down at his guest. Then at the phone.
Celia: There’s a very long pause between messages.
Emmett: A pair of orgasms, a mild proposal, several thrown and shattered objects, and a lot of bitter drinking, she’s gone and he’s drunk. Then he gets the text.
GM: Emily finally parks the car.
“Thank god we’re here. I’m about to collapse. Lemme help you with your stuff…”
Tuesday morning, 31 March 2009
GM: Celia and Emily walk up to Josephine Louise. Emily carries Celia’s things. “Because of your arm. Geez, though, your bag’s heavy.”
The 24-hour desk coordinator is talking with a blonde Celia passingly knows who also lives, if reluctantly-seeming, in the residence hall.
Both of them stop talking when Emily drops Celia’s purse.
A gun falls out. A heavy, brutal-looking M1911 pistol.
The desk coordinator’s eyes bulge.
Celia: Of course the coordinator is awake. Not hours ago, when Celia showed up broken and bleeding, but now, when she just wants to get back to her dorm room after a terrible night. She takes her purse from Emily, bends down, and puts the gun back inside. As if it never happened. She slings the bag over her own shoulder this time, because despite her broken arm she’s apparently less prone to dropping things than Butterfingers here.
She smiles. She hasn’t done anything wrong.
GM: “Hold the—hell up!” the desk coordinator gawks.
She grabs the phone, her fingers hovering over the ‘9.’
“Guns aren’t allowed on campus! You’ll get expelled for that!”
Emily looks just as stunned to see the gun.
Well, actually, a little less.
Then a lot less as the possible reasons seem to sink in.
There’s an ‘oh shit’ look after that.
Celia supposes their appearances aren’t doing them any favors either. Both girls look like absolute hell between the broken arm, Celia’s blood- and sweat-drenched clothes, and the haggard exhaustion lines on their faces.
Caroline: The blonde seems to do a double take at the sight of the gun, breaking off from what sounded suspiciously like a rant about the amount of vomit in the second floor hall. She takes in Celia and calmly places a manicured finger over the phone’s plastic hook, smothering the dial tone.
“Let’s not go there, Beth.”
GM: “Excuse me!” the desk coordinator declares offendely, turning her glare on Caroline.
Celia: There’s a moment when all Celia can think of is the weight of the gun in her hand. Before that thought can turn into anything more than a fleeting fantasy the other girl—is that Caroline?—speaks up, and Celia breathes more easily. She takes half a step behind Emily, as if that will protect her from this overbearing, overpaid hall monitor. Emily looks more presentable, anyway. And Celia knows when to keep quiet.
Caroline: The blonde is dressed in crimson pajamas and slippers, but still towers over the desk coordinator. Her eyes move from Celia’s arm, to the blood on her clothing, to the bags under her eyes.
“You’re Maxen’s daughter, right?” she asks.
Celia: “Yes.” She shouldn’t be surprised. “Celia. And it’s… Malveaux?”
She doesn’t lift a hand in greeting, since it’s broken and all, and anything more familiar seems out of the question, given the circumstances. Her eyes dart towards Beth.
GM: The so-named desk coordinator glares at Caroline and requests, “Please remove your hand.”
Emily mostly just watches, seemingly glad cops aren’t being called.
Caroline: “Does she look like a school shooter to you?” Caroline asks pointedly, gesturing with a crimson-clad arm at Celia.
GM: “It doesn’t matter. Weapons aren’t allowed on campus,” she repeats crossly. “Please remove your hand!”
“It’s for self-defense,” Emily speaks up.
Celia: “I was attacked,” Celia says quietly. It’s not even a lie. “I just got out of the hospital. I can… I can show you the note. It’s my dad’s. I thought I’d… feel…” she trails off. Sniffs.
GM: “Guns aren’t allowed on campus!” Beth repeats, even more crossly. “You need written approval from the public safety director!”
Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia wipes at her eyes with her broken arm. It’s an awkward, exaggerated movement. “I wasn’t thinking, I was just scared. I came through earlier and the person was sleeping and I just—I can… please, I’ll take it out.” She turns away.
Caroline: Caroline’s eyes glitter. “Beth, think this through. Do you want to be the girl who called the campus police on the beaten senator’s daughter who I can assure you will have a post-dated written authorization long before it goes anywhere?”
GM: Beth seems to falter. “Uh, senator’s daughter?”
Caroline: “Some things you’re better off letting go, even when you’re right.”
GM: Beth opens her mouth, pauses, then finally says,
“Just… get authorization, all right? Fast?”
Celia: Celia is glad she turned away. It hides her smile. She nods at the final demand, sliding past the woman on her way further into the building. She leans a little more on Emily than she needs to.
GM: Emily supports Celia and waits until they’re some distance away from the desk coordinator.
“Thanks for the assist,” she says to Caroline.
Celia: “Hoooly.” Celia looses a breath. Straightens her spine. Clutches her purse a little tighter to her side, now that the whole world knows there’s a gun in there.
Caroline: “Of course,” she answers, studying the other girls with interest. “You looked like you’d been through enough hell tonight.”
“Too much for a desk clerk to get you more. She couldn’t call a janitor for the puke sea in the hallway, but she wanted to call the cops.” Caroline rolls her eyes.
Celia: Hell is certainly one way of putting it.
“Puke sea? Did I miss a party while I was holed up in the ER?” Celia glances at Emily, raises her brows. “We miss all the fun. But, hey, you know what they say about power.”
GM: “I think I heard someone barfing,” says Emily. “Residence halls, I guess. I haven’t really had time for parties lately.”
Caroline: “Not always,” Caroline answers. “My dad’s been trying to get that stupid firearms law changed for years. Sometimes there’s good intentions.”
GM: “Oh, who’s your dad?”
Celia: “Which firearm law? Open carry?” Maybe she should have strapped it to her side instead.
“Oh. Uh. Emily, this is Caroline Malveaux. Caroline, this is Emily Rosure. My roommate. Our dads are…” Celia waves a hand. Politics.
GM: “Lawmakers?” Emily fills in. “Oh, that’s neat.”
Caroline: “They work together at the state level,” Caroline clarifies. “He was advocating more for concealed carry than open carry. Still does. Plays well with the rural crowd. There’s a planned event down the line when I turn 21 to go get my permit. Good optics.”
Celia: Celia had forgotten that the other girl was actually shown how to use a gun. The dismissal from her own father on the subject is still a sore spot.
“I don’t think I realized you were on campus. Poli sci?”
Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly and glances at Emily. “Pre-med. We share a couple courses… including an exam in a few hours.”
“I had a waiver until last semester to live off campus, but they pulled a bunch of them across the board. It’s not so bad here, but I won’t regret moving back out to my own place full time. A little more privacy. A little less puking freshman.”
GM: Emily gives a grim nod at that exam reminder. “Doctor gave me a note, thank god.”
“Oh, off campus, me too. No wonder I didn’t see you around. Dads, right? But, yeah, she… took me to the ER. Was up all night with me after…” Celia trails off. “Can’t blame you, though. About getting off campus. I’ve been looking for something else. It was fun, but the rules.”
Caroline: The taller girl shrugs. “It’s not that big of a deal. Still kept my apartment, just only really use it on weekends. And staying on campus does let me sleep in a little more, so…”
Celia: The difference in their worlds is astounding. Celia hates her for it. But her smile is pleasant.
“Mmm, more sleep is always convenient. Hey, listen, we should…” she makes a motion toward the door. “Maybe when I’m not, um, super banged up, yeah? Lunch?”
Caroline: “Yeah, I’m sorry. You must be exhausted. Get some sleep.”
Celia: “Thanks again. Really.”
GM: Emily nods slowly. The night’s exhaustion looks like it’s catching up with her. “Yeah. Thanks. I don’t know what we would’ve done if that girl called the cops.”
Caroline: “I’m sure it would have worked itself out. Don’t take this the wrong way, but at the end of the day a lot of the same rules don’t end up applying.”
Implied, To people like Celia and I.
“Just a matter of finding the right lever to pull.”
GM: “You’re probably right,” Emily agrees. Her lips slightly purse.
Celia: Apparently the right lever is not the one Celia has been yanking on. She inclines her head toward Caroline. Point made. She has more to learn. Maybe a more pressing meeting than the vague “lunch someday” she’d alluded to.
“Come on, Em, let’s get you to bed. Good ni—morning, Caroline. Good luck on your test.”
GM: Emily blinks. “Oh, yeah. Speaking of.”
She digs a doctor’s note out of her purse. “Can you give this to Professor Dale for me? I really don’t want to walk to class right now. My name’s Emily Rosure.”
Caroline: “Of course,” Caroline smiles, folding the note away into a too-small pajama pocket. “I’m sure they’ll understand.”
GM: Emily doesn’t complain when the system seems to be working in her favor for once. “Thanks.”
Celia: Celia tugs Emily along, waving over her shoulder. Now that she’s turned away, there is no hiding the blood that has soaked into the back of her sundress, or the line that trickled down the backs of her legs.
Night from hell indeed.
GM: Emily follows Celia in.
“Christ,” she says. “Let’s… I’m exhausted. There’s your mom and the kids and all, but… let’s just take some fucking showers first.”
Celia: “I’m not going over there tonight. I’m not dealing with them right now,” Celia says as she plugs in her phone to recharge.
“Showers, though, now that is a grand idea. And I’m burning this dress.”
GM: “Did your… yeah, why the hell not.”
Tuesday morning, 31 March 2009
GM: They shower. Celia first, at Emily’s insistence. It feels like heaven. Emily showers next. She goes right to bed. She’s out like a light.
Celia’s phone gets a call. The ID is her mom.
It says there’s been several other calls from Mom. She may absently wonder when she missed those.
Celia: Caroline. Fucking. Malveaux.
Of course it had to be Caroline. Of all the colleges in all the world, Caroline is here. And she happened to be there when Celia came in covered in blood with a broken arm and a fucking gun. It had occurred to her to let Emily take the fall. She’d been carrying the purse. But then she’d opened her mouth.
It’s my daddy’s gun. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Everything they ever said about you was right, Celia, because you are fucking stupid.
And it wouldn’t even be a bad thing, Celia never had a problem with Caroline, except, oh, THE DADS.
What’s she going to think when she wakes up tomorrow to see her daddy’s buddy arrested for domestic abuse? And then puts it together, and remembers Celia and her story about being attacked, and then remembers the god-damned stolen gun.
Nightmare. This is a nightmare.
Her phone buzzes. She looks down at it, sees the caller ID. Mom.
“Momma?” she picks up.
GM: “Sweetie! I’ve been trying to call!” her mom exclaims, oblivious to Celia’s self-recriminations. “How are you? Did the doctors fix your arm and bum?”
Celia: “Sorry. I was… we were in the ER most of the night. And… sort of. They said I had to come back to get a cast. And didn’t do anything for the rest of it. Emily did.”
GM: “Oh, my lord. That’s hospitals for you.” Her mom sighs. “But it’s good you went, if they say you need a cast. You had to go in at some point to kick that all off.”
Celia: “Did you get the kids? Everything’s okay?”
GM: There’s a pause.
“Yes, sweetie… I did,” her mom says quietly.
There’s a quavering quality to her voice. Like she’s about to cry. But Celia can picture a fragile smile on her mom’s face too.
Celia: “How did…” She almost doesn’t want to ask. “How did that go?”
GM: There’s no answer at first.
Then she hears her mom softly crying.
“Oh, oh, Celia… it just… it was like when I was dancing… to see them again…”
Celia: “Even… Isabel?”
GM: “Isabel… Isabel’s still a bit in her shell. But just… seeing her…”
She hears her mom crying again.
“It’d, it’d been a wound on my heart, just scabbed over… we have so much time to, to make up for… so much…”
There’s some more sniffs.
“But we can now… and it’s all thanks to you, Celia… it’s all thanks to you.”
Celia: This has to be worth it. Hearing the joy in her mother’s voice. This has to be worth everything that she has been through for the past few months.
“Good. I’m… good, Momma. I’m so happy that this is, that we can—that we can all move on.” She pauses. “Momma, I talked to… I talked to your mom. About staying there. And the restraining order. She said she’d do it.”
GM: There’s another pause.
Celia hasn’t ever known her mom to sound cold. But her voice is definitely less warm.
“We’re at the hotel, sweetie,” her mom finally says. “I’ve talked to Viv too, about the restraining order. We both need to go in to the courthouse.”
“She said we have to do that ourselves, in person. But we need to find someone to watch the kids, I don’t want to wake them up. Is there anyone you can think of—who you really, really trust?”
“I’d ask about Emily, but I’m sure she’s dead on her feet.”
“Actually, what about Stephen? Do you think he could? It’d be for as long as we’re at the courthouse.”
Celia: “Yeah. He might. I’ll call him. I haven’t… told him anything about what happened.”
GM: “Ok, good. There are friends I could call, but I want… someone who knows the full story. Who knows what’s… what’s at stake.”
Celia: “Like your mom?” Celia asks pointedly.
GM: There’s a pause.
“What time do you want to meet at the courthouse, sweetie? Have you eaten?”
Celia: “Are you going to tell me what happened there or should I just believe what she said?”
GM: “Sweetie…” Her mom seems to strain for words for a moment, then just says, “Please. Let’s please not make this any harder than it already is.”
Celia: “Fine, Momma. But I want to know. After this is over.”
GM: “Okay. You will know. Once this is over.”
“Have you had anything to eat?”
Celia: She has to think about it. The night has gone on forever.
“No, not since… dinner.”
Not even then. She was a bite in before Daddy started in on her.
GM: “Okay. Come over. I’m going to make you breakfast. I’ll start now, so it’s hot when you arrive.”
“The police brought over groceries from my apartment, when I asked. They were so kind.”
Celia: “That was nice of them, Momma. But I… I can’t. I have something to take care of here first.”
GM: “What? What is it, sweetie?”
Celia: “I just ran into someone. An old friend. And I need to help her out with something. It’s nothing big, it just needs to be taken care of. She was talking to the desk lady about it when I came in with Emily from the ER. She saw me, so I can’t just back out now.”
GM: “Okay… you take care of that, then. I’ll get started on breakfast for you anyway, I need to make it for the others too. Just come on over when you’re done, first thing, all right?” Her mom gives an address. “I really want you close right now, Celia.”
Celia: “Of course, Momma. I love you. I’ll see you soon.”
GM: “I love you too, sweetie. With all my heart.”
Tuesday morning, 31 March 2009
Caroline: Caroline returns to her room after she’s broken from her conversation with Celia and Emily. She picks her way over the vomit in the hall and sends a text to Luke.
GM: Luke’s initial response takes a moment. He’s an early riser, but evidently not as early as his sister.
“Make it quick, Caroline, I have a busy day,” comes her dad’s crisp voice after Caroline picks up. She hears the slam of a car door in the background.
Caroline: She bites away the desire for something less perfunctory from her father. He’s a busy man, that’s all.
“Maxen’s daughter Celia was attacked last night. It looked pretty bad. Broken arm, blood on her clothing.”
She elaborates a little further on what she’s seen and offers to follow up to get more information.
GM: “Find out more,” her dad says immediately.
“Stop anything from getting in the papers.”
“Call Caleb if you can’t yourself.”
Caroline: “There’s something else. Whatever happened to her scared her enough that she’s carrying her father’s gun.”
GM: “Maxen hasn’t taught his daughters to shoot. She’s a danger carrying any firearm around.”
Caroline can picture her father’s severe frown.
Caroline: I’ll say, Caroline doesn’t add, having seen the gun hit the floor once already.
GM: Without further word, he hangs up.
Caroline: “I love you too,” she adds quietly into the dead line.
GM: A half hour passes. Caroline goes about her day.
Then she gets a call back from Luke’s cell.
Caroline: She showers, changes and gets ready early, putting together a few things for Celia so she can stop by her room before the exam.
GM: “Maxen has been arrested on charges of domestic abuse,” her father says perfunctorily when she picks up.
Caroline: The words send a chill down the heiress’ spine.
GM: “Stay close to his daughter.”
“Stop anything from getting in the papers.”
“Stop her from talking about this to anyone.”
Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “She’s already been to the hospital. They’ll have a full report. I’ll get the name of the attending.”
GM: “Find out everything. We are going to bury this.”
Her dad hangs up.
Caroline: Caroline stares at the phone, not daring to speak the words on her mind.
Even if it’s all true?
Tuesday morning, 31 March 2009
Celia: The bed is calling her name. She can hear it. Celia, come play with me. Slide under the covers. Close your eyes just for a moment.
She wants to. She really does. But there are things that she still needs to do. Like transfer the video from the clip’s camera to her laptop. So she gets that going, finds Emily’s stash of sugary energy drinks, and cracks one open. She can’t sleep yet.
The energy drink is, perhaps, the most vile thing she has ever put in her mouth. She almost spits it out. But the second sip isn’t so bad. And by the third she can almost pretend that aftertaste isn’t there, clinging to her tongue. Desperate times.
She scrolls through her phone until she finds Stephen’s name. It’s early. Very early. She should text him, really, but she wants to hear his voice. She wants him to tell her that things will be okay, that he’s got her, that… well, that he likes her a lot, maybe. Her stomach flutters. Maybe he’ll rush over. Sweep her into his arms. His big, strong, dark—what?
She presses the call button.
GM: There’s several rings.
“Mmghh… h’llo?” he grogs in a decidedly less than sexy tone.
Celia: “Stephen, hey, sorry to wake you…”
She should have just gone to bed. She doesn’t know what to say now that she has him on the phone. She finally just blurts it out.
“Dad was arrested. He b… he…”
She can’t tell him. The words stick in her throat. What will he think of her if he knows what her dad did to her?
GM: “Holy shit,” Stephen says, suddenly sounding more awake. “That’s great news!”
“Are your brothers and sisters finally out of there?”
Celia: “Yeah. They are. Mom has them at a hotel now. She just called. Said it’s going well. But, I have a… favor to ask.”
“We have to go get a restraining order. We don’t know how long he’s going to be held. And she wants someone to, uh, keep an eye on them, and she… doesn’t… hey, can minors get a restraining order against their parents?”
GM: “I don’t think so, but I’d tell your mom to talk with a real lawyer. I’m not sure whether kids would still fall under her order. Though if your dad doesn’t get any visitation rights to his kids, doesn’t really matter either.”
“But, okay. I can babysit if you need someone to do that. I’ve got class, but none I absolutely have to show up for.”
Celia: “Are you sure? I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
If he’s sure, though, she asks if he can meet her at eight at the dorm. She has a few more things to take care of before she leaves, and as much as she wants him here now he probably won’t be allowed in.
GM: Male visitors actually are allowed into the dorm, but must be accompanied by a female resident at all times. Celia’s heard how until 1970, men were only allowed into the foyer to pick up their dates and then leave.
Stephen repeats that he’s sure. “Everyone can skip a day of class without it being a big deal.”
Celia: It’s only Celia who can’t skip a day without falling behind. Stupid.
“Okay. Well. I have to talk to someone here in a bit, but if you want to come over…” She lets the words hang. She doesn’t want to be alone. And Emily is sleeping, which hardly counts for company.
GM: “Say no more.”
Tuesday morning, 31 March 2009
GM: Stephen comes over. He’s alarmed to see her arm in a splint, and by how tired she looks even after cleaning up. What the hell happened?
Celia: She tells him. Not all of it, not that she brought it on herself, but some of it. Arriving to dinner late. Forgetting to take off her makeup. The ridicule. The abuse. She doesn’t specify where or how, but she avoids sitting. The blood. Locked in her room. The threat of tomorrow.
“I went out the window,” she says, holding up her arm. “And the… line broke. Emily called Mom and they took me to the hospital.” She tells him about the detective, the hours in the emergency room.
“So that’s… that’s that.”
GM: Stephen looks incredulous all throughout the awful story. He holds her close and then hugs her at the end.
“Jesus Christ. That’s just unimaginable. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”
Celia: She clings to him. Doesn’t let him go after he wraps her up in his arms, pressing her face against his chest. It’s not over, she wants to tell him, it’s not even over. There’s a thing out there. But she can’t tell him about the gun. Or Caroline. She can’t be honest with him because he can’t know, he’s too… good.
And she isn’t. Not anymore. Not after getting on her knees for Paul. Baiting her dad into hitting her. Filming it. Going back to face the monster.
She thought pulling the trigger on this plan would finally get her out of that hellhole. But the monster is right: there’s only one way to keep a man like that down. Stephen isn’t the answer. But she knows who is, or at least who might have it.
She ignores the voice, rising to the tips of her toes to kiss her boyfriend.
Make me forget. Just for a little while.
Tuesday morning, 31 March 2009
Celia: Celia doesn’t know what time Caroline gets up for class. Or when she leaves. And she’d considered knocking on her door in the middle of the night after she’d finally gotten her mother off the phone, but that just seemed rude. So it isn’t until 7:00 AM that Celia knocks on her door.
She’s in fresh clothing, but there are still bags under her eyes, and her arm is still wrapped and swollen. She has a paper bag tucked beneath her other arm, and in her hand a paper tray with four cups of coffee, still steaming.
Caroline: Celia finds Caroline looking little the worse for brief interlude the night before. She’s dressed for the day and looks both surprised and pleased that Celia stopped by.
She immediately helps the one handed girl with the tray of coffee, dexterously slipping a hand under a corner and taking it. “Come in, come in,” she smiles. “I don’t know how you managed all this.”
Celia: Celia is all too happy to relinquish her hold on the beverages. She adjusts her grip on the white paper bag, following Caroline into her dorm room.
“Would you believe me if I told you Beth offered to carry it up here for me?”
Caroline: “Probably not,” Caroline answers. “Unless you threatened her with the gun.”
Celia: “How’d you know?” She flashes a smile. “I brought breakfast. Figured since I was taking up part of your morning I might as well make up for it.” Carbs, if she wants them, and other non-carb things if she prefers something more substantial.
Caroline: She sets the coffee down on the large desk that occupies the space Emily’s bed does in their room. It’s readily apparent that Caroline lives alone at the moment.
The room is neat, tidy, and well organized. Or perhaps better described as presentable, save the unruly collection of items on the bed next to a cloth tote bag.
“You didn’t take up anything, but I appreciate it all the same.” She takes the bag as well and breaks it open on the desk, sorting its contents as she gestures for Celia to pull up a chair.
“I should really be bringing you breakfast in bed. You look like you went through hell.”
Celia: Celia sinks into the offered chair, looking around the room. She wonders what sorts of strings Caroline’s dad pulled to get her the single, though at the moment she’s pretty grateful to have Emily in her life.
“I did. Ever been to an ER without someone sweet talking the nurses to make it go faster? I swear they hire the slowest people they can, and once you’re done they just leave you there, waiting on discharge papers.” Celia shakes her head. “If I hear you’re pulling that stunt in six years I’ll come knocking.”
Caroline: Caroline laughs, a gentle sound;. “Not on my list of interests. Being an ER doctor can be an absolutely merciless job though. Which hospital did you go to?”
Celia: “Ochsner.” She says the word as if that is supposed to explain everything. “It was closest,” is her only explanation, and she mentions that they told her she had to come back for a cast, “which is weird because I kind of thought that’s what they were supposed to do then, so it kind of feels like a waste of a night.”
Caroline: A nod. “Next time go to Tulane. Might be a bit further, but you’re likely to get better treatment.”
“The cast thing is pretty normal though. If they cast it immediately it usually ends up causing problems when the swelling goes down. Not quite like the movies.”
Celia: “Mmm, I’ll keep that in mind next time I decide to start trouble. Only go for those must be seen immediately wounds.” Celia glances down at the splint. It’s going to be an awkward week. “Good to know, though, I kind of wondered if the guy was just blowing me off, since he didn’t even check out the rest of me.”
“Are you gonna ask?”
Caroline: Caroline looks away. “I didn’t want to pry. I’m sure you’ve had to explain yourself plenty already.”
She looks back. “But if you want to talk, or need to talk, I’m happy to listen, and if you need something I’ll do whatever I can.”
Celia: “When I was in grade school there was a girl who fell off a scooter and broke both her arms. I was there for the first telling, so I heard that, but I think she got tired of people asking so she changed the story after. Every time it was different.” Celia smiles. “So I’ll tell you that I fell out a second story window, but if anyone else asks, tell them I fought off a bear.”
Her humor fades after a moment. “You still close with your dad?”
Caroline: The heiress laughs at the bear joke. “Not that many bears in the city, maybe go with biker gang.” She offers.
When the topic shifts to her father the humor vanishes from her voice, seeming to strain. “As close as I can be, with him living in Baton Rouge. He’s very busy, what with the ongoing fight to flip the state. I’m sure you know the deal.”
GM: The elections are in 2010. Just a little bit longer, and his work will be done.
Caroline: Hasn’t that always been the truth? Sometimes Caroline wonders why she lies to herself.
Celia: “Yes and no,” Celia hedges. “Mine is at home more. He only travels when he has to. You must miss him, though.” Celia would trade with her in a heartbeat.
“He doesn’t tell me much. About how it’s going. And I’ve been so busy with school that I’ve neglected to keep up.” Stupid, says his voice in her head. “He’s been stressed, though. Is it… close?”
Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue. “It’s always close.” She admits.
“But then, I’m sure you know that. It’s why we have to be so image conscious. Any little thing, some ridiculous ‘scandle’ on the news might be enough to tip an election at the wrong time.”
Celia: “Of course. We all have our roles to play.”
She hasn’t heard anything on the news yet. Not that she’s been listening. But wave enough money at a problem and it can disappear, right?
“No wonder he’s been so… stressed. Yours too?”
Caroline: Caroline nods, “Same problems your dad has—trying to keep everyone else in line, trying to keep anyone from making poor choices, trying organize everything, control messaging. You’d be amazed at how many people are on the party’s books just to handle things like messaging, social media, and the like.”
“And yet every year there’s something that get’s someone in trouble, makes them retire in disgrace.”
Celia: “Well all this tightrope walkin’ is starting to make more and more sense. I always wondered at the rules. Party can’t be too happy with people who set a toe out of line. Ooh, I don’t even want to think about what happens to them.” But it’s in her voice, the request for harmless gossip between friends. “Is it bad?”
Caroline: “I mean, it depends. Family members? Depends on the family I guess. How would you react to someone you love undermining everything you care for? Some take it better than others. Elected officials though?” Caroline shakes her head. “Their future is done. It’s almost impossible to recover from being forced to resign in disgrace. Especially for a personal misjudgement. And even being seen around them can be bad, so they tend to become pariahs.”
Celia: “Hard to blame someone else for your own actions though, isn’t it? I mean, when the people mess up. It’s not like you can just point at someone else and pass it off.”
Caroline: “In what sense? I mean, there’s always a desire for a scape goat if possible, when things go public. Most of those scandals never make it that far. You’d be amazed at the resources than can be brought to bear to stiffle them before they get out. For every politician that gets caught doing something wrong that goes public there’s probably fifty more with enough skeletons in their closet to bury them.”
Celia: “Huh. What if they’re already arrested for something? They just make it go away?” Her arm throbs. “Daddy doesn’t tell me anything interesting like this. It’s all very dry.”
Caroline: “I mean, it’s not exactly polite table talk. A lot of it I picked up more through observation and talking to my father’s security people than by being directly told. With police reports though, absolutely. Easier for Republicans than Democrats since they’re in bed with most of the police unions.” She gives a faint smile, “if you’ll parden the expression.”
“Most people have a price. And there’s an unbelievable amount of money and power in politics. When dad runs for national office we’ll probably spend eight figures on his campaign alone before fundraising.”
Celia: “Wow.” Celia waves her apology away. “I guess I always thought there was someone holding them accountable to… be good people.”
Silly, silly Celia. Her brow furrows at the mention of fundraising, though. She can only assume it’s to bury skeletons. She wants to ask, but settles for a politely curious expression instead.
Caroline: “I mean, the party usually does hold then accountable. Marring the brand for everyone is a pretty big deal. They’d just rather do it quietly.”
Celia: “I mean, that’s just public image though, isn’t it? No one really cares what goes on at home as long as it isn’t brought to light. So if it is, they just… remove the problem. Eight figures can make anything go away, right?”
Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “I don’t know that things are that cut and dry. Making problems go away for one time errors may be easy, but patterns are a problem. There are only some many times anyone is going to be willing to clean up a mess for someone.”
“Even if you’re cynical enough to think that the party of family values is all talk, there’s plenty of incentive to rein in inappropriate activities.” She shrugs. Oor to replace those that can’t control their worst impulses."
Celia: It’s an effort to keep her face impassive. She wonders if the party has ever had a reason to speak to her daddy, or if he’s been able to keep a carefully controlled lid on things. How far are they willing to go to silence the girl who unmasks the beast?
“It’s kind of scary, when you think about it. All these men, all that power, and no one has any idea what they might really be like.” Her voice is soft. She doesn’t look towards her broken arm.
“Well this has… certainly gotten serious for a school morning.” If her cheer seems forced she blames it on the pain in her arm. “Can I confess something to you?”
Caroline: “Not especially lady-like topics,” Caroline agrees with tightly false humor, before biting her lower lip. “Of course you can.”
Celia: “I was tellin’ the truth before about it bein’ my daddy’s. Only… he’s only shown me what to do once. And I don’t want to sound like I’m silly, but you think maybe at some time we could get together and you could give me a refresher? I just don’t wanna bother him with this kinda thing when I should remember, everything they got going on and all.”
Caroline: The blonde bites ‘her tongue in seeming thought for a moment. “I can give you a very basic refresher, but learning to actually shoot a pistol with a degree of proficiency is an exercise in time. So much that when my dad’s ran out, he had one of the family security people devote hours and hours to making sure I knew what I was doing.”
“I don’t quite subscribe to the liberal ideology that a firearm is ever more a danger to yourself than someone else, but hitting a moving target with a pistol—or anything more than a few feet away is a tall order.”
Celia: “Ah. Right. Well, it was silly anyway, to think that I could do something like that. Should have started younger, like the boys did.” She gives Caroline a wry smile. “Thank you though. Maybe when we both have more time. Can you make sure Professor Dale gets that note from Emily? She’s out like a log. I think I might not have made it to the hospital last night if it wasn’t for her, truth be told. She splinted it and everything before we even left.”
Caroline: “Oh, I didn’t mean to suggest we couldn’t make an afternoon of it,” Caroline answers quickly, “only that you should coach your expectations. Hollywood puts forth all these ridiculous images and ideas. The truth is shooting a handgun and actually killing someone is more difficult than you’d think. There’s a reason there are so few deaths by firearm compared to shootings by criminals.”
“That was one of the first things they taught me—if you ever have to shoot, keep shooting until they stop moving or the gun’s empty.”
Celia: “Oh!” Celia laughs, waving her hand. “I didn’t expect to be an overnight expert. I just meant more like the basics. You see those movies with girls who grab the fallen gun and then try to fire them and the safety is on or something silly, so the bad guy just slowly disarms her. I’d hate to be in that situation: ‘had a gun but didn’t use it.’ Maybe once I’m out of this splint we could make an afternoon of it, I’d like that. Or sooner if you think it’s not going to handicap me.”
Nothing says female bonding like time at a range, right?
GM: Caroline agrees. It’s a date.
Tuesday morning, 31 March 2009
GM: Stephen goes to an 8 AM class while Celia takes care of things with Caroline. He meets back up with her at her dorm. Emily still out cold in the exact same sleeping position.
“Geez. Your roommate is sleeping like the dead,” he remarks.
He asks if she’s slept too, but relents when Celia enumerates her plans for the day. He helps her pack up any things she wants to bring and makes the drive out to her mom’s hotel.
“I saw my stalker again,” he mentions in the car. “I wonder if I should introduce you two, after how long we’ve been going out. Feels almost rude not to.”
Celia: With everything that had been going on in her own life, Celia had completely forgotten about Stephen’s stalker. She looks up at the word, face a mask of concern.
“Did you figure out what she wants?”
GM: “She’s still shy. Maybe you’ll be just the thing to make her more comfortable,” he jokes.
Celia: “So you think she’s harmless?”
GM: “Uh, I honestly don’t know and it’s kinda creepy by now,” her boyfriend admits. “Why the hell is she so interested in me?”
He shakes his head. “But whatever. This is small potatoes next to your dad.”
Celia: “Because you’re so darn cute,” Celia says with a smile. It fades after a moment. “I keep thinking it might be… I mean, when you told me about it… I know that it’s not common for the Mafia thing to be women…” she trails off. She doesn’t know what else it could be.
GM: A text pings from her mom.
“I guess…” Stephen says. “Maybe she’s acting on her own, trying to impress a boyfriend or male relative.”
“Women can still be in really deep with the Mafia, even when they aren’t allowed to be official members.”
Celia: She should have been more concerned about this. Looked further into it. Pulled her head out of her own ass and cared more about the people around her.
“It’s… weird. We should find out. Talk to her. Or see if… maybe your dad..? He might have an idea.”
GM: Stephen pauses. “My dad’s always really busy. I don’t want to bother him with this until we have a better idea.”
“Maybe talk to her, though.”
“I’ve approached her a few times but she just disappears.”
Celia: “Do you see her during the day mostly? Or at night?”
GM: Stephen thinks. “It’s around parties where I tend to see her. So more at night.”
“I guess crowds make it easier to disappear.”
“She looks around our age, like I said. She could be a student at Tulane.”
“Or maybe Loyola. They show up for a lot of the parties.”
Celia: “We could throw a party. See if it draws her in.”
GM: “That’s an idea,” Stephen muses. “It’d be our home ground.”
“Maybe something at Josephine Louise.”
Celia: “Bait her up into the room,” Celia muses. Because nothing says stable like bringing monsters into your bedroom. If she is a monster.
Celia reaches out to take Stephen’s hand in hers. She won’t let them ruin him, too.
Tuesday morning, 31 March 2009
GM: Stephen holds Celia’s hand as he drives, but eventually has to withdraw it to park the car along the curb. They walk up to the place her mom has rented in a cool Old New Orleans style neighborhood in Faubourg Marigny. It’s a large 1200 sq ft or so two-bedroom apartment occupying the old-looking building’s top floor, with green walls, nine large windows, two couches, and mostly comfortable amenities despite the fact the table looks too small to seat six people. There’s a few pieces of art and wooden Saints plaque to liven the place up.
Celia’s mom greets them at the door with an, “Oh, sweetie, I’m so glad you’re here!” She hugs Stephen and her daughter tightly, then sits them both down to an ample-looking breakfast she’s laid out of scrambled eggs, grits, bacon, and fresh fruit.
“Now Stephen, I’m not sure if you’ve had anything to eat already, so I won’t be offended if you’re full up. I just figured I’d lay out a place for you since we had so much food.”
“And Celia, if you’re still hungry, there’s plenty more where that came from. I bet you’re so famished right now your stomach done thinks your throat’s been cut.”
She looks towards the bedroom doors. “The others are asleep right now, if you’re wondering where they are. They’re really tuckered out.”
“I only got to snarf down a piece of toast,” Stephen says as he sits down. “This looks delicious, ma’am, thank you.”
“Oh, thank you, Stephen. And you really can call me Diana. Y’all’s eggs are green, by the way, because I added some grated spinach. Figured you wouldn’t make faces about gettin’ some extra vitamins now that you’re grown-ups.” She winks.
Celia: She hadn’t realized how hungry she was until she sat down at the table. Now that the food is laid out in front of her she finds her stomach growling its agreement with her mother’s words about famished, and she lets the woman baby her by loading up a plate with a little bit of everything. She keeps quiet while she eats, though her eyes follow the conversation flowing between the two of them, and more than once she looks towards the bedroom doors.
Only when she thinks her stomach might revolt does she put down the fork and reach for the coffee.
“Thanks, Momma. How’d it all go? With them?” She nods toward the doors. She isn’t sure if she’s relieved or dismayed that they’re all still sleeping.
GM: Celia’s mom watches concernedly as she eats, but doesn’t try to draw her into conversation, letting her daughter fill up until she feels like talking.
“It was…” She looks at Stephen for a moment, then says quietly, “They were… they were really spooked, Celia, after last night…”
Celia: Her throat closes. She manages a tight nod. They were spooked? They were spooked. They’d sat there and watched their father beat her bloody, none of them said a thing to stop him, or came by her room to see if she was okay, or lifted a god damned finger, but they were spooked.
She swallows her anger.
“Right. Any of them say anything?”
GM: “They… they couldn’t have stopped him, sweetie,” her mom says, more quietly. “You know they couldn’t.”
“They were… a bit shocked by it all, at first.”
“To see me again, that is. But Logan spent a while on my lap crying.”
Celia: “Because they’ve never seen him hit someone before, right? Because no one knew what a piece of work he is?”
She exhales, long and slow. She did this. Her fault. Her fingers tremble and she moves them to her lap.
“I’m glad you had a happy reunion.”
While I went back to the house. Alone. With that thing.
GM: “I don’t know, sweetie,” her mom admits. “I just know that… they didn’t get hurt like you, obviously, but it was like you said. He’s sick and was making them all sick. Sophia’s been cryin’ in the bathroom, I’ve heard her, but she’s tried to cover it up. David… David’s tried to be there for us, bein’ the oldest boy and all, but he seems the most spooked, in some ways. I’m really worried about him.”
“And Isabel…” Her mom’s face flickers. “She’s still really in her shell.”
Celia: “You mean she’s delusional. And she thinks Daddy hits her to show her that he loves her. And she hates you, and now me.”
GM: Celia’s mom looks uncomfortable. “I’ve tried to be there for them all. And to give them space, too. I think this is just… this isn’t goin’ to get better overnight. It’s going to take time.”
She sniffs and squeezes Celia’s hand in hers. “But we have that now, sweetie. All thanks to you.”
“You were so brave last night. So, so brave.”
“You didn’t… you didn’t let him get to you, like you said. Get in your head and tell you you’re worthless. You kept him out. And you got… all of us out.”
She sniffs again and dabs at her eyes.
Celia: But I am worthless. Stupid, worthless, whore.
She doesn’t know why that hits her, but it does. She turns away, wiping at her eyes. She’s not going to cry. She’s done crying. She’ll put him down and that will be the end of it, and then his voice will finally be out of her head. She’ll never have to listen to him again.
“We should get going. I told Grandmother we’d be there early.”
GM: Celia’s mom doesn’t say anything as she turns away. Just hugs her close and strokes her hair. She can hear her mom sniff again too.
She pulls away after a bit, as if to say something, but the words seem to stick in her throat. “Sweetie, we… can’t go to your grandma’s. We just…”
She blinks. “Oh. You mean the courthouse.”
GM: “Ah, yes. Reckon we should. I’ve talked with Viv about it, like I said, and she says we both need to go.”
“Have you had enough to eat?”
Celia: “Yes, Momma. I’ve had more than enough.”
GM: “Okay. That’s good.”
She rubs Celia’s head with a concerned look. “My poor baby. You don’t look like you’ve slept a wink.”
“I really hate to drag you back out right now. But… anything that keeps your dad away from you.”
Celia: Because a piece of paper will really stop a man like him.
Tuesday morning, 31 March 2009
GM: Celia’s mom frets about leaving the kids behind with someone they won’t know on sight, “Even if I am so glad you’re here, Stephen, thank you so much for comin’ out.” Stephen admits he isn’t perfect and suggests maybe she slide a note under their doors, explaining the situation. Celia’s mom says that’s a great idea and does so. She gets in the Beetle with Celia to drive out to the courthouse.
“I’ve taken a sick day at work, and called the kids’ schools too.”
Celia: “Probably for the best.”
Celia hasn’t bothered to turn in the note the doctor gave her. She doesn’t think her teachers will care until she shows back up, and there were no pressing tests or assignments due today.
“Hear from the detective at all? Or anything on the news?”
GM: Her mom shakes her head. “Pete had to take off. He said he’d check in again later, though, just to see how things are goin’.”
“He was really such a gentleman last night. It was all just so overwhelming. I was so glad to have someone take a bit of the weight off.”
Celia: “Gentleman?” Celia looks out of the corner of her eye at her mom. She grins. “Yeah? You two hit it off?”
GM: Her mom actually laughs out loud at that remark. It’s a full and happy sound, unburdened by last night’s traumas and today’s labors. She covers her mouth, gives a quick roll of her eyes, and says, “Oh, sweetie, that was the furthest thing from my mind. Way too much else goin’ on.”
Celia: “Yeah, well, maybe it’s time you think about it. Get back out there. Smile more.”
GM: “Oh, I don’t know I’ll have time,” her mom demurs with a fainter laugh. This time she covers it with her hand. “There’s goin’ to be so much else, still. Rental house, bankruptcy, custody, lawsuit, bein’ a mom again to four kids who can’t take care of themselves yet… I am altogether too much for any man to take on right now.”
“Though… he is cute, I’ll admit that,” Celia’s mother finishes with an impish smile.
Celia: “Well, nothing wrong with some no strings attached fun,” Celia says with a smirk. “Plus once you’ve got it figured out you’re a catch. I’ve seen you bend. Reel ’em in, Mom.”
GM: Celia’s mom laughs aloud again. It’s another full sound that makes her eyes crinkle and her hand seems barely enough to contain.
“Oh, sweetie, you are altogether too much! That is such a naughty thing to say to your mother!”
Her eyes sparkle as she says so, though.
“And when the heck have you seen me ‘bend’, huh?”
Celia: “I blame the lack of sleep.” And the very creative way she and Stephen had messed around this morning. “Anyway, you showed me all those stretches that one day. I’m sure the detective wouldn’t mind a hands on lesson.”
GM: “Oh, you mean the dance stretches! And here I thought you’d meant somethin’ naughty instead of corrupting something entirely innocent.” Her mom smirks at that remark.
Celia: “You really should get your mind out of the gutter, Momma.” But Celia laughs, at ease for the first time since last night.
GM: “But that would be nice,” her mom says. “To dance on some dates. Get yours out of the gutter too, missy. Lord knows I’ve taught enough dance classes to do it for just me sometime, and not work.”
“I’ve had a few gentlemen… express interest, at those. But I’ve always turned them down.”
Her smile dims a bit. “I was always thinking of your father.”
Celia: “But… why? No one is telling you not to do something anymore.”
GM: “I was just scared, sweetie. Scared what he’d do, if he found out. It never really crossed my mind to go on dates, even though I had plenty of time.”
Celia: “Found out that you danced with someone?” Celia wants to tell her mom that’s silly. But she’s not so sure that Daddy wouldn’t have done something. “You can’t let him control you anymore.”
GM: “I… I know. I’m getting older and I let those six years swirl down the drain.”
“Honestly, sweetie, I don’t even know that much about dating, to be honest. The last gentlemen I went out with were in high school, before your father.”
Celia: “They have apps for that now, you know. We could get you set up on one.”
GM: “Apps?” her mom says.
Celia: “Like a… thing on your phone. Technically they’re just websites, but for dating. Like Facebook. Oh, hey, there’s an idea. We could find your old flames.”
GM: “Oh, I’m sure they’ve moved on by now. But… I suppose I wouldn’t say no to something that was really just… no strings,” she emphasizes in a low voice with a sly smile, as though it’s scandalous to say aloud. “Something that wouldn’t take a lot of time. Just with how much else is goin’ on.”
“And maybe dip my toe back in those waters, for real, once things are more settled.”
She laughs into her hand again. “My lord, I can’t believe I’m talking about these things with you. But I suppose you are a grown-up now.”
Celia: “They?” Celia repeats. “Like, more than one? You always made it sound like you and Dad were… well, and… y’know. Hey, can I ask… how did you meet him? Mr. Landreneau. He’s… a lot older, I looked him up.”
“And he’s…. y’know. Black,” Celia whispers.
GM: Her mom’s smiling face goes still at that name.
“He was, sweetie. He was a lot older. And darker.”
“It was at a… party. I’d been fighting with… your grandmother. Had too much to drink. Altogether too much.”
Celia: “Did he… take advantage of you?”
GM: Her mom looks away.
“I’d just had so much to drink,” she repeats.
Celia: Celia presses her lips together.
So both my daddies are scum.
“Did you tell your mom?”
GM: “Oh, of course not, sweetie. We weren’t gettin’ along. I just assumed—wanted to assume—you were Max’s, when I started getting sick in the morning. We met very soon after that. Well, started dating, I should say. I’d known him a while longer.”
Celia: “And you never spoke to him again? My real dad?”
GM: Her mom shakes her head. “I don’t think he knows.”
Celia: “So you never cheated on him. You weren’t dating at the time.”
GM: “Of course not! I wouldn’t ever cheat on someone, sweetie. I… of course not. And your dad and I were…” She trails off. “Happier, then.”
Celia: There’s a hollow pit where her stomach used to be. Her mom never cheated. It doesn’t run in the family.
Celia’s just a whore.
“Oh. Well. That’s…”
She doesn’t know what to say. She’s the product of rape and lies. No wonder she’s so stupid.
GM: “I felt like the luckiest girl in McGehee. Your dad was very popular at his high school. Star quarterback and all. Everyone wanted to be his friend. Every girl wanted to date him.”
Celia: It’s hard to imagine Daddy as anything but the man he has become. But she nods and smiles while her mother talks.
GM: “I really don’t know what he saw in me. I was just some ballet dancer. But I was very flattered. And he was very gentle and sweet.”
Her lips purse. “And he stood by me when your grandmother wouldn’t. Stood up to his own folks, too.”
“About keeping you, that is. They wanted to put you up for adoption.”
Celia: “They wanted you to give me up? All of them?”
GM: “Oh, no, sweetie, your grandmother didn’t ever want me to give you up.”
Her mother’s hands tighten around the wheel.
“She wanted me to murder you in the womb.”
Celia sits back in her seat. Her smile fades. All of them, against her for her entire life. Her mother taken advantage of. Told to abort her daughter. Me, Celia thinks, they wanted to kill me. Not some nameless daughter, not some mystery baby given away at birth. Celia. Little helpless baby Celia.
And Maxen had stood for her. Not even his and he’d stood for her, made the argument not only to keep her, but to raise her. He didn’t know. He couldn’t have. Even now, he has no idea that she isn’t his. And he’s done awful, horrible things to her, but he has not once ever told her that she should have been aborted.
The tears don’t care that she’s said she won’t cry anymore. They come anyway. She turns her face toward the window, swallows hard against the lump in her throat.
GM: Her mom looks ahead as she drives, but steals a glance at her.
Celia: It would be different if she had. If her mother had listened to her grandmother or his parents. Celia wouldn’t exist. And maybe Momma would be happy. Maybe Daddy would have met someone else. Maybe their daughter wouldn’t have wished for a pony at eight and caused the events that made Daddy make deals with monsters in the middle of the night.
Her mouth is dry. She wets her lips with her tongue. Swallows again. Tries to smile, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes.
“Is that why you don’t talk to her?”
GM: Her mother looks at Celia with concern for a moment longer, but has to turn her eyes back to the road.
She squeezes her daughter’s shoulder with one hand.
“That’s… really just one of the reasons, sweetie.”
“We never got along. She never approved of ballet. Called it a waste. ‘Frivolous.’ I think she always wanted me to be a lawyer, like her. She tolerated it, because your grandfather liked it. And I was just a little girl. All little girls do ballet.”
“But after he passed… she told me it was time to get ‘serious’ about my life. And I knew more than ever that I wanted to dance. In London. New York. San Francisco. Someplace I’d make it big.”
“She just got more and more demanding, without your grandfather. Harder. I could barely stand to be around her anymore. I’d find any excuse to get out of the house.”
“Like… maybe iffy parties…”
“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, I guess. She told me I was ‘destroying my life.’ That she wouldn’t stand for it. That she wouldn’t let me do this. She said she’d kick me out, if I wanted to keep you. And she’d only pay for college, if I aborted you.”
Celia: “But you kept me. And destroyed your life.”
GM: Her mom looks at her with a startled and then hurt expression.
“I… you didn’t destroy my life, sweetie! I still went to school. I still got to dance. I followed my dream. Maybe it didn’t go quite the way I pictured it would, but, well, that’s life.”
Celia: “Your dream was London, New York, and San Francisco. Not McGehee. Not five kids and a broken leg and medical debt and custody battle.”
GM: Her mom sighs.
“McGehee, or somewhere like it, was always in the cards, sweetie. You know ballerinas don’t dance past their 30s. It’s a young woman’s game. Maybe I could’ve had another five years, if… the leg. I won’t deny, I’d have… I’d have really loved that.”
“But I got to be a ballerina.” She looks ahead at the road. “First lessons at 6. Pointe shoes at 11. First grown-up show at 15. Last one at 30. That was 15 good years.”
“So I checked that box. Mission accomplished.”
Celia: It’s not the same. They both know it. Celia’s been ruining lives since she was in the womb.
GM: “And you and the others have been the lights of my life. I always wanted kids. Always. It just happened a little earlier, maybe, than I figured it would.”
“But that has blessings too.” She smiles. “I’ll get to be a grandma to your kids for a lot longer, now won’t I?”
“The medical debt’s history. And the custody battle will be too.”
“Life goes on, sweetie. It always goes on. You just do the best you can when it tosses you curveballs.”
Celia: Celia the curveball. That’s a new one to add to her list.
“Right, Momma. Of course.”
GM: “I mean, take your father.”
“I was goin’ to fold, to your grandmother. I mean, how in heaven’s name was I goin’ to raise a baby without any home. And she can be a… hard woman to stand up to.”
“But your dad did. I remember the fight they had. He said you were a blessing. That you were goin’ to live. That I’d come live with him, if she wouldn’t let me stay.” She chuckles. “He hadn’t even asked his folks, if that was fine with them.”
“It was a curveball for him too. He wanted to go to Notre Dame, to play for the Fighting Irish. And when he went to Tulane instead, there were still offers, to play for the Saints and the NFL.”
“But he wanted a family too. God plopped one in his lap earlier than he’d figured, so… he changed plans. Took a swing at the curveball. That’s just what you gotta do. Decide what’s important and go after it, as best you can.”
Her mom squeezes her shoulder again. “And you were important to us, Celia. You were our dream. We don’t regret it for an instant, havin’ you.”
Celia: Celia isn’t sure that she believes her mom. There’s some part of both of them that hates her for existing. Without her, they wouldn’t have been stuck together. Without her, they both could have gone on to live their real dreams. Not this ‘I want a family’ bull her mom is spewing.
But it’s something else that lands with Celia, something her mother said: decide what’s important and go after it. And Celia knows what’s important.
“Thanks, Momma. Thanks for telling me.”
Tuesday morning, 31 March 2009
GM: They arrive at the courthouse. Celia’s mom has a thick folder of evidence. They ask the clerk for two TRO forms, plus separate forms requesting child custody, child support, and alimony. They’re fairly simple. The clerk tells them to fill the forms out in black pen, as neatly and clearly as possible. Celia’s mom tells to be “very specific” in the section asking why they need the restraining orders. “Viv said to include what he did and when he did it. The judge’ll find that more persuasive.”
They sign the forms, get them notarized, and make copies of each—“Viv said to do that too”—and ask the clerk to file, who stamps each one with the date. Celia’s mom asks for a fee waiver form, given her declared bankruptcy, which she also has to fill out. She has Celia fill out one too “since you’re just in college, you shouldn’t have to pay a fee.”
The court clerk tells them to come back later to pick the TROs up, if they’re approved.
Celia’s mom thanks him. As they walk back to their car, they pass some cops dragging along a profanity-screaming, prison jumpsuit-attired black man thrashing against a full set of leg and arm restraints. The cops kick him to the ground and beat bloody him with their nightsticks, yelling for him to “shut up! Just shut your fucking mouth!”
“Mothaf-aaaagh! You’re killin’ me! FUCK! YOU’RE KILLI ME-EEE-V-EVIL GOD ALMIGH-GOD FUCK DDDEEEEEVILL-!”
Celia’s mom shudders, tightly takes her daughter’s arm, and briskly walks away with her.
They sit down in the Beetle. It hurts, even with the blankets Celia’s mom has laid under her seat.
“So, sweetie,” her mom says a moment later as she starts the car, “one thing I wanted to talk about was your future. In the long and short term.”
“In the short term, I’d like it if you could move in with us. I don’t know when the money from your dad is goin’ to arrive, or how much. The lawsuit might also be a while. I could really, really use your help with a lot of things.”
Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. She’s still slightly shaken by the chained up man and the officers hitting him. Are all people who go to prison treated so poorly? Did they beat her dad like that? She isn’t sure where this knot in her stomach is coming from. Then her ass throbs and she feels a vindictive, petty spike of serves him right.
“I… move in? I can’t move in. I have to stay on campus during the school year. You mean after?”
GM: Her mom rubs her head. “Oh. Yes. That’s right.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie, I haven’t slept a wink, since the ER. I’m runnin’ on fumes here. So are you, for that matter. We’ll konk out once we’re home.”
“But, yes. I’d like to have you over on weekends and afternoons, if that works for you. When school’s out for the others.”
“And… that ties in to somethin’ else. Do you still want to go to Tulane?
“If the court makes your dad keep paying tuition, that is. If they don’t, I’ll be honest I can’t afford to send you. At least right now.”
“But all that comes after whether you want to keep goin’, or do beauty school full time.”
Celia: “You need me to babysit, you mean.”
GM: Her mom nods. “And help around the house, with driving, with… money, until things are more certain there, and a whole lot else.”
“This isn’t like it was six years ago, sweetie. Where your dad brought in a lot of money, ballet was only really a part-time job for me, and we could afford extra help around the house.”
“I work full time now. There’s nobody else around to help. And I’m probably goin’ to have to pick up extra hours again outside McGehee, until your dad starts paying his share.”
“I know it’s a lot to ask. But I need you. The kids need you.”
Celia: “Emily is looking for a place this summer. Maybe she could help too. She said she’d be happy pay some rent.”
GM: “Oh, absolutely, then,” her mom says relievedly. “Yes, another adult in the house would be very, very helpful. And she seemed like such a nice girl too, to come out with us to the ER on a school night. She didn’t have to do that.”
Celia: “She’s pretty great. Introduced me to Stephen, too. I’ll let her know.”
GM: “Wonderful,” her mom smiles. “And what about you, sweetie? Do you think can help out?”
“And what do you want to do so far as Tulane and beauty school?”
Celia: Helping out. Evenings and weekends. All of her free time. When will she dance? When will she spend time with Stephen, or hang out with Emily, or just do nothing like the normal college student she is?
“I… yeah, I mean, as long as it doesn’t cut into school. I have dance. And auditions. And we have to do a certain amount of Saturdays at John Jay. But… I mean once summer hits I can see if they’ll let me switch to full time so I can finish early.”
“You want me to drop out of Tulane?”
“What does that mean for my future? I thought maybe if Daddy wasn’t pushing me into liberal arts I could… pursue something more, um, scholarly. Like… business…?”
GM: Her mom blinks. “Oh, no! Celia, I don’t want you to think I’m encouraging that!” She places a hand on her daughter’s shoulder in emphasis. “Follow your dream, sweetie. If you want to study business at Tulane, I am all the way behind you.”
“Even if I may miss bein’ able to talk about dance with you over dinner,” she adds ruefully.
“But if you could spend your off-hours at home, that’d still really, really help out. Since I think you’re only required to live in the dorms your first year.”
Celia: She tasted freedom, momentarily. And then it was snatched away. Her mother’s house is just another cage, one with more rules and responsibilities and restrictions, only instead of spankings and verbal abuse it will be gentle admonishing and guilt trips.
She already chafes at the idea.
GM: Her mom immediately looks relieved.
“Thanks, sweetie. That will… that will really help out, to have you around.”
She squeezes her daughter’s shoulder again. “I know you might’ve wanted, probably wanted, more independence. College and all. I’ll… it’ll get better, once your dad starts coughing up alimony and child support. Once the lawsuit is settled. I’ll make it up to you.”
But perhaps unlike her father’s house, that sacrifice of her freedom will serve a worthwhile purpose.
Celia: “And if he doesn’t?”
“Do I just… babysit forever?”
GM: Her mom emphatically shakes her head. “Oh, no! Viv tells me that child support is required under the law, from the parent with a bigger income. If I win custody, the money will come.”
“If it doesn’t… well. Looking after the kids won’t be an issue. For either of us.”
Celia: “Wait, what? What does that mean? Are you implying that he’s going to…”
She trails off. She won’t finish that thought. She can’t. He wouldn’t. She’s his daughter.
GM: Her mom blinks.
“Oh. I meant if I don’t get child support, it’d most likely be because your dad would… still have custody. That’s what Viv told me. I didn’t mean to say that…”
She trails off.
“We’ll have the restraining orders,” her mom declares emphatically.
“If he shows up, tries to… force his way back into our lives, he’ll go to jail.”
Celia: Ah, yes. Paper. Against her father.
Celia doesn’t point it out to her mom.
GM: “I’ll call Pete about it,” she declares. “He asked me to. If I have any problems.”
“But your dad won’t, I don’t think. Bad for his public image. It’ll be enough headache just to sweep the arrest under the rug.”
Celia: “You think that’s what he’s going to do? Sweep it under the rug?”
GM: “Viv said the law is very likely to be on our side here, with the amount of evidence we have.”
“I’m not ever about to say what your father did to you was a good thing, but she said having that second incident and so well-documented would really help a lot. What he did to me might’ve been a felony, but so many years ago, she said it just wouldn’t go as far with the DA. Even if it is still within statute of limitations.”
Celia: “So the whole thing hinges on my experience. Which, you know, the kids are going to lie about. Isabel is going to lie about. Because she idolizes him.”
“So I go through all of that and they just… sweep it all under the rug? Is that what I’m hearing you say?”
GM: “Viv said my experience would help too, sweetie. She also said we have lots of witnesses, for yours in particular, which is very helpful. Witness accounts make conviction rates go up a lot.”
Celia: “Isabel is a fucking liar and will do whatever Daddy tells her to do. God, Mom, why do you pretend that she’s normal? He did the same thing to her and she thanked him for it. She’s literally. Fucking. Insane.”
Celia has never sworn this much in her life.
GM: Her mom looks strained. “She just needs time, sweetie. We just need to give her time. And not take her to court.”
“But…” her mom’s face falls a bit, but also grows thoughtful, “we all deal with trauma, horror, in our own way. Your sister, I think, is just trying to stay sane. By convincing herself what’s happened to her isn’t actually bad. We just need to remind her what a normal home life is actually like. What… what love is like.”
She doesn’t chide Celia’s language.
Celia: “Us not taking her to court isn’t going to mean anything if he can do it.” But Celia doesn’t have anything else to say to her mother’s arguments. She crosses her arms and stares out the window.
She’s quiet a moment, then says, “She hates me. I failed to be there for her. To keep her out of all of it. After you left, Dad called me ‘lady of the house.’ Like a title. And I failed at it. I failed her. All of them. And she hates me for it. I didn’t protect her. What are older sisters for if they don’t protect the rest of the family?”
GM: Celia’s mom just gives a sad smile.
“What are moms for if they don’t protect the rest of the family?”
Celia: “You weren’t there. It’s different.”
GM: “I was there when your dad put you over his knee, as I remember.”
Her mom squeezes her hand.
“But you’re here with me now. We forgive and move on. And maybe accept, too, there wasn’t a whole lot we could have really done.”
Celia: “He didn’t beat me. I watched him. With Isabel. I watched. I stood there and I watched it happen, until she bled. And it was my fault. Mine. I did that to her. And now she’s… she’s this… twisted little freak.”
GM: “You didn’t turn her into that, sweetie.” Her mom has since started the drive back home. “Your dad did.”
Celia: “It’s my fault he hit her that day. I keep thinking, what if I’d just let her rat me out? What if she’d watched him do it to me instead? Would she still be just as messed up?”
GM: Her mom shakes her head. “Sweetie, hitting someone a single time won’t turn them into a different person. If it did, just bein’ nice to your sister once would… would help her,” she seems to settle on. “Change takes time. Good and bad.”
Celia: “I guess.”
GM: Her mom just gives another wan smile and squeezes her shoulder.
“We’re together, now. That’s what matters. Things will get better. Have gotten better.”
“And it’s all because of you, Celia. They’d all still be with your dad if not for you.”
Celia: “Stop saying that.”
GM: Her mom’s face looks confused. And a little hurt.
Celia: “I know you mean it to be nice or whatever but it… there’s so much pressure. Yeah, I did this one thing and what if Dad wins, Mom? What if he wins?”
GM: “I held Logan,” her mom says quietly. “He cried into my arms. He got to let it all out and feel safe. I made everyone breakfast. I told them all how much I loved them.”
She looks out across the road.
“Your dad can’t ever take that away. Even if he wins. He can’t take the time we had away.”
Celia: All 24 hours of it. Celia doesn’t know what to say to her mom to that. She just nods.
Tuesday morning, 31 March 2009
GM: They drive home. Stephen is there working on schoolwork at the kitchen table. He says the others haven’t been up, besides Isabel. Might be they’re still tuckered out. Or maybe they saw the note and don’t feel like meeting a stranger right now.
“You’ve not slept a wink, have you, sweetie?” her mom doesn’t ask so much as observe concernedly. “Go on. There’s two beds in the girls’ room. You’ll need to share with Isabel or Sophia, but they’re pretty wide.”
Celia: “Can’t,” Celia tells her mom. “I’ve got a meeting soon.” Soon is relative; it’s in a few hours, whenever Miranda texts her. But Celia doesn’t want to be stuck here all day if Stephen leaves, and it definitely isn’t fair to ask him to stay, and if she’s going to sleep anywhere she’d rather do it in her dorm or at his apartment where she doesn’t need to share a bed with one of her sisters.
Coward, a voice inside her head tells her, and she knows it’s true. She doesn’t want to face them. She straightens her spine.
“I’d like to say hello to them, though, and let them know I’m okay.”
She asks Stephen if he wouldn’t mind waiting a moment, then moves down the hall towards the doors that lead into the bedrooms. She knocks on the boys’ first, just a gentle tap in case they are still sleeping.
GM: Celia’s mom objects to her staying up, protesting that, “You should get some sleep, sweetie! Take care of your body!”
Stephen doesn’t mind waiting, but perhaps to her relief, Celia’s knock receives no answer.
“They must still be tuckered out,” her mom says quietly. “We should let the boys get their sleep. But I’ll let ‘em know you came by. And… aren’t mad.”
She looks at Celia’s boyfriend concernedly.
“Stephen, you’ll drive, won’t you? I can’t make Celia go to bed, but she really shouldn’t be driving with how little sleep she’s had. It’s asking for an accident.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll drive. My car anyway.”
“Oh, that makes me so relieved to hear.” Celia’s mom starts scooping eggs, grits, bacon, and fruit into plastic containers, then scribbles out what looks like a thank-you note. “Celia, can you bring these back to Emily? It’s not the same microwaved as it is hot off the grill, obviously, but making her breakfast is the least we can do after how big a help she was last night.”
Celia: Aren’t mad. Right. Celia should come back when her emotions have had a chance to calm down. When she won’t fly off the handle at Isabel. She stands idly by while her mother packs things away into containers for Emily, her head a mess of half-formed accusations. Mostly it just hurts. Everything hurts. She needs her bottle of pain meds, the ones they had to get over the counter that don’t actually do anything because apparently everyone is an addict now, so why give it to people who have broken arms, right. Just splint and go.
She hugs her mom before she goes. It’s just the one arm, but she hugs her tight, thanking her for the meal and for the conversation in the car. She winks at her at the last bit, forcing herself to be in a good mood for her mother’s sake.
“Love you, Momma. I’ll see you soon. Tell the kids… tell them I love them too. And I’ll be by tomorrow. Probably sleep after this meeting.” A quick peck on the cheek and she’s out the door, her hand tucked neatly into Stephen’s.
Tuesday morning—afternoon, 31 March 2009
GM: Stephen admonishes Celia she really should get some sleep when he drops her off at Josephine Louise, but says he has to get to class. Celia sticks the food and note in the fridge after she sees Emily is still out like a log. She texts Miranda again about meeting times, who repeats in the afternoon. It’s still morning.
Celia sets five alarms and konks right out. Waking back up is not pleasant. Emily, who’s still passed out, has a point that little enough sleep just makes you more tired.
Stephen is still in class. She takes public transportation to Miranda’s high school. Em’s friend is everything she might have expected. She’s heavily overweight, with pasty skin and greasy hair that likely offends the soon-to-be esthetician on a professional level. She’s also confined to a wheelchair. That’s why Celia had to come to her.
“Getting anywhere in this thing is such a fucking bitch.”
Miranda is excited by the “hairclip video” Celia shows her. “Yeah, send this to the Picayune!” she exclaims while munching on some 100% organic non-GMO potato chips. “Send it to the TV outlets, send it in emails to a bajillion people, send it fucking everywhere. I’ll get it fucking everywhere. Fuck your dad.”
“They’ll try to ignore it. Bury it. They’re all owned. But I’ll make it so they can’t. It’ll be everywhere!”
Celia: “We need to wait for the right moment,” Celia tells her. This is the key part. The timing. If it’s released at the wrong time everything crumbles.
GM: “By the way is it true your dad raped your mom and has her chained up in the attic as a sex slave?”
Celia: She stares at Miranda’s question. Blinks a few times.
“Uh, no. My mom has an apartment elsewhere. Where did you hear that?”
GM: “There’s an underground sex ring all the politicians here are in on,” she explains. “Like, all of them. Democrat, Republican, doesn’t matter, they’re all screwing the same sex slaves. They make their wives be the slaves sometimes. Your mom might have banged the whole city council.”
“Are you sure she has an apartment? Like, it isn’t just staged?”
Celia: Celia’s lips flatten into a thin line.
“I’m pretty sure. I’ve seen it. We hang out there. Aren’t slaves kind of, you know, always chained up?”
GM: “Well I think they let the ones who are their wives out sometimes. But they go back in. With all the other slaves. They kidnap girls off the streets all the time. When someone you know goes missing that’s probably where.”
“Your dad’s fucking them. And the whole thing’s funded by the Malveauxes. They want everyone under their control. Blackmail on everybody.”
Celia: “So what you’re saying is we should go after the Malveauxes?”
GM: “They’re working together with Endron too. The board of directors. The Malveaux whole feud with them is just a smokescreen. The sex slave ring is just the first step to take over the state.”
“Well you should go after everyone, because everyone’s corrupt and in on something. Like Martin Borges sabotaged the levees during Katrina. So he’d get to become mayor. He’s behind the sex slave ring too, wants to take it over from the Malveauxes.”
Celia: “Wait, how does one equal the other?” Her sleep-deprived brain is struggling to keep up.
GM: “And the worst guys of all don’t even show up in the news, like Sebastian Ortega, this super reclusive rich guy who Borges and the police chief and your dad take money from. Follow the money.”
“He wants to turn the city into a dictatorship like in South America. You think that’s illegal, right, but it could happen. Huey Long was basically the dictator of Louisiana, everyone admits that, well they want another. They’re all just fighting over who it’s gonna be.”
“Also your mom is a sex slave, I’m sorry, but she is. And you’ll be too. Like, when you graduate college probably.”
“So you wanna get this out soon, about your dad. What are you waiting for?”
Celia: “The right moment,” Celia tells her again. “There’s something else I need to do first. Can you agree to that?”
GM: “Okayyy, sure,” Miranda huffs.
Celia: “It’ll be worth it. I’m… going in deep. But, Miranda. If you don’t hear from me in 72 hours, put it out there. Put it everywhere.”
GM: “Oh I’ll put it out either way,” the hacker says cheerfully. She extends a pudgy hand. “Gimme.”
Celia: Celia hesitates.
“How sure are you about that sex ring?”
GM: “Positive. Completely.”
“I’m sorry about your mom. Being a sex slave probably sucks.”
Celia: She nods. “I overheard something recently that lends credence to it. You want to expose that, right?”
GM: “Oh, what is it?”
Celia: “Just a few comments from someone in the party who knows things. But listen.” Celia lowers her voice. “I’ve got an in right now. Because they don’t know that I’ve got this. If I reveal it then my ‘cover’ is blown. You want to take down one douchebag, or do you want to take down the whole damn thing?”
GM: “The ring, duh!”
Celia: “All right. Then I’ll be in touch.” Celia pockets the clip.
GM: “Hey, you should leave that with me, in case they come for you!”
“They wanna make you a sex slave too, eventually! They’re gonna be fucking you in the same bed as your mom! At the same time!”
Celia: “I need it for more proof. I’ll get the video to you, don’t worry.”
GM: “Okay, fine, just remember. You’re gonna be having three-ways with your mom if you sit on this too long. As a sex slave. Because you’ll be a slave.”
Celia: “I can think of worse threesome partners.” Celia waves over her shoulder as she walks away.
What a nutjob.
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