“We always want to romanticize ugly things.”
Tuesday evening, 24 June 2008
GM: Celia’s mom is elated at the news her daughter is going to Tulane and wants to major in dance. She asks her if she wants to come over to her apartment when her dad is away on legislative business in Baton Rouge. “It’s been four years since we’ve seen each other, sweetie… maybe we should stop livin’ in so much fear.”
Celia has to take the bus there, as her mom admits to not owning a car. The building is in Broadmoor, a black and lower-class neighborhood. It’s pretty sketchy-looking. Paint peels from graffiti-tagged walls outside. Inside, there’s stains and crud on the mucus-colored carpet. It doesn’t look like it’s seen a vacuum in ages. Celia can hear people arguing past their units’ thin walls.
Her mother’s apartment is very small. There’s a bedroom, a combined kitchen/dining room, and that’s it. The bathroom is shared. The bed is a small futon without a mattress or bed frame. There’s a few posters of ballet dancers and photos of the Flores children that aren’t actually photos. They’re printed paper copies that look taken from their online Facemash albums. There are three ‘real’ pictures of Celia, Isabel, and Sophia that look like their McGehee school portraits. Maybe Celia’s mom snuck copies from the school photographer.
Celia’s mom has more lines along her face than she remembers. Diana hugs her daughter for a long time and strokes her hair. She repeats how proud she is of her graduation, how much it means to see her again, and how thrilled she is to hear about her intended major.
“But are you sure that’s what you want as a career, sweetie? Dance was always more my dream than yours… I admit it’s a lil’ bit of a surprise to hear you want to go into it now.”
Celia: Celia does not comment on the run-down building, the marks that line her mother’s face, or the photos that she has taken from the internet in lieu of having any of her own. She had not realized what the separation did to her mother. She did not want to know. Easier to pretend that it had not happened. She tells herself that she will bring photos the next time she visits.
“Momma… I have something to tell you, actually. You can’t tell anyone, okay? It can’t get back to Daddy or he’ll pull me from school or, or something.”
GM: Celia’s mom nods somberly as they sit down to dinner. She knows better than anyone what sorts of things her ex-husband might do.
“Of course, sweetie. I won’t tell a soul.”
The meal is also a modest affair: veggie fried rice with broccoli, green beans, red peppers, mushrooms, eggs, bamboo shoots and peas. She looks as if she has put effort into the dinner, but could not afford to get anything too expensive.
Celia: “I love dance. I do. But… I mean, Mom, I wouldn’t make it in the professional circuit. And Daddy has expressed to me very clearly that he wants me to be a perfect wife for someone. So while I have a very real interest in dance, I won’t kid myself into thinking that it is my calling.” She pauses. She paces.
“I want to go to school for skincare.” The words come out in a rush.
GM: “Oh, Celia, that’s wonderful!” her mom beams, squeezing her hand. “You were always so into makeup and face painting as a kid… I’m just sorry you haven’t been able to practice since…”
She seems to relive that memory for a second, then banish it before continuing,
“You’ll be wonderful at it, I just know. It doesn’t even take that long to get licensed, does it—around six months?”
Celia: “If I go full time.” Celia beams. She is happy to have her mother’s support with this, and pleased that she can finally talk to someone about it.
“It’s 750 hours, but it’s kind of… like there’s full time or part time I saw, and I thought with school it would be easier to do part time, and Daddy is pretty adamant about college so full time seemed like a lot, but I don’t know how I’m going to explain being away so much. I asked for a car but he said no and most of the schools are on the other side of town, so I thought maybe I could say I got a job but then I think he’d ask why I want to work and then he’d expect me to bring home money or something so I’m just very… I’m trying to figure it out. He won’t let me live on campus.”
GM: Her mother’s brow furrows in thought. “Yes… I suppose that’s not a surprise for your father… and you shouldn’t have to wait four years to follow your dreams… you should never, ever put those off.”
She seems to think some more.
“What if I got you a car? Would you be able to go to one of those schools?”
Celia: “I…” Celia hesitates. She doesn’t mean to look around the apartment, but she does.
“Mom, I can’t ask you to get me a car. I appreciate it, but… where would I keep it? I’ll still have to disappear from home. It would be easier if I got to stay on campus, even if it’s not that far away, because then I’d have an excuse… did you know it’s a rule that you have to but Daddy said he was going to make Mr. McGregor waive the requirement?”
GM: Her mom follows her gaze with a rueful smile.
“I’m not rich, sweetie, we can both tell that. But I’ll… I’ll make it work.”
“Teach at dance academies after school and on weekends too, maybe. I can also look for families that want private lessons for their daughters. I love teachin’ dance, it’s not really extra work.”
“You could leave the car here with me. I guess it’d be our car, really.”
“And yes, you’d need a story…” Her mom seems to think. “Maybe fib to your father that you’re volunteering at McGehee? Little Gate always wants more volunteers.”
“I can get you some official-looking volunteer slips if he wants proof, just don’t ask to have the hours on any transcripts or resumes.”
Celia: “Isabel hates me and she’d tell.” Celia flops onto a chair, hands thrown up in exasperation.
GM: It’s a fold-out and one of the apartment’s only two chairs. There’s no other furniture besides the kitchen table.
Her mom thinks. “Isabel doesn’t ever really spend time around Little Gate, that I’ve seen. She’s never really liked little kids. I think we could pull it off.”
Then she gets a look.
“What about money, sweetie? How much does it cost? With how much your dad makes, I don’t know that you’ll qualify for financial aid…”
Celia: Celia hadn’t even considered the cost. Her face falls.
“Oh. I… you’re right. It depends on the school, but… I’ve seen anywhere from eight to ten thousand.”
GM: Her mom actually looks relieved when Celia quotes the figure. “Okay… that’s a lot cheaper than college, and that isn’t too much on top of a car… I think I can make it work, so long as there’s a payment plan.”
“And maybe if you wait a semester, so I have time to save up and make a bigger down payment.”
Celia: “Or I could… ask for a bigger allowance? And save?”
GM: Her mom gives an even more relieved nod. “Oh, yes please, sweetie. I can make this work, but every lil’ bit will definitely help.”
Celia: “Maybe I really could pick up a job…” She wonders how her father would feel about that and resolves to ask him when he gets home.
“I’m glad you’re on board. I’m really excited about it. Plus now I can practice on you.” Celia beams.
GM: “That’s right!” her mom beams back. “Say, if you want to get back in the groove now… I don’t have a full beauty studio in here, but I do have makeup. How long’s it been since you got to use any?”
Celia: “Besides the concealer? Oh my, six years?” Celia’s eyes dart around the apartment for wherever her mother keeps her bag of goodies.
GM: Her mom chuckles. “I was goin’ to send you home with some cookies, but maybe you’d like a helping of what’s in my makeup bag too.” Her smile briefly fades. “Just keep it under your mattress, or someplace secret.”
Celia: “I… I can’t risk it, Mom. I’d love to, but it’s…”
She trails off. The concealer is one thing. She can explain away concealer to her father. Maybe. But makeup? He won’t go for that. She hadn’t even had the courage to bring it up over dinner.
“He said I could start dating now, though.”
GM: “You could put it on on campus, sweetie, and take it off when class is over,” her mom suggests. Then she winks. “Besides, you’ll have more admirers to get dolled up for, now.”
Celia: “I wouldn’t even know what to do with an admirer.” Celia averts her gaze, cheeks flushed. “Cécilia got to date all through high school, and even though it didn’t always end well—you know, with Emmett and all—it was still… something. I just have books and movies.” Not even TV shows, no TV in the house.
GM: There’s no TV in this house either, for that may be worth.
Celia’s mom gently lifts up her chin and smiles. “There’s other girls at Tulane who are in the same boat as you, you know. Boys, too. And there are so many people from out of town, away from their families. And you’re all young, still figuring out who you are, and getting used to being on your own for the first time. Most everyone there is a fish outta water.”
Celia: “So we can all be awkward together?” Celia can’t help but laugh. “Can’t wait for that. Actually… I guess it will be nice being on the same level as everyone…”
GM: Her mom smiles again and squeezes her hand. “This’ll be a new start for you, sweetie. I can’t wait for it.”
Wednesday evening, 17 September 2008
GM: Tulane is and isn’t a new start. Actually getting to interact with boys on campus is novel. College feels like an extension of high school, though, when she’s still living at home.
She even has former classmates who go there. She shares a sociology class with Samantha Watts. Seami remarks what a delight it is to see her former classmate again. They really should hang out sometime. She’s all smiles on the outside, especially to their sociology professor. He takes an apparent dislike to Celia and grades her work harshly. Sami is so sympathetic about the bad grades. Maybe she’d like to be a study buddy.
Celia: Celia is cautiously optimistic about Sami’s invitation to study. She asks when and where Sami would like to get together. She makes sure to let her dad know that she’ll be staying on campus a little later that day so he doesn’t worry.
GM: Sami is happy to come over to Celia’s house, she says. They study. They chat. They bond.
Then Sami has to use the bathroom. Celia pays for her trust with a broken toilet and a huge stash of marijuana and porn magazines. They’re left throughout the completely trashed bathroom.
The clock is rapidly ticking on how long before her dad arrives home.
Celia: Bitch. Celia knew it was too good to be true. Payback for high school? How plebian.
At least it’s just the one room. Celia does her best to clean the bathroom and dispose of everything before her father arrives home. There is little she can do about the toilet, though.
GM: The crap in the bathroom is the easiest to clean up. Some air freshener gets rid of the scent of weed. It’s rooting out the porn mags tucked into innocuous places throughout the rest of the house that takes the most effort. Still, Celia thinks she’s gotten the last of them with just a few minutes left in the clock.
Isabel confronts her outside the garbage bins with a nonplussed expression.
“What the hell are you doing?”
Celia: “I misjudged someone at school and she invited herself over. Made a mess.” Celia puts the lid on the can. “Cleaning up after her.” She rubs a hand over her face. “I don’t know why I thought she changed at all. She did something like this back then too.”
GM: “Yeah, right,” retorts the 16-year-old. “I wonder what Daddy would think, if he knew about this.”
Celia: “He’d beat me black and blue, like he used to do to Mom,” Celia snaps at her. “And then make up new rules about college and boys and dating that will come down just as hard on you. Bag searches before and after school. How’s that sound?”
GM: “You’re lying! Daddy never did that!” Isabel flares.
Celia: “You’re right. Our ballerina mom fell down the stairs.”
GM: “And you’re not supposed to EVER say her name! We don’t have a mom!”
Celia: “I didn’t. But my advice to you, Isabel, whatever it is worth, is to get the hell out of here as soon as you can.”
GM: “Why would I do that?” Isabel huffs. “I’m not the one who’s breaking rules and hiding… smut, and blaming it on that woman who used to be our mom.”
“We were happy!” she suddenly exclaims. “We were happy until she ruined everything! I can’t believe you’re taking her side!”
“You’ve never believed Daddy! You’re always, always lying to him! I see it! How you think he’s a liar, how you smile to his face, but behind it, you’re just a fucking LIAR!”
She slaps Celia hard across the face.
“TAKE IT BACK!”
Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything to her sister. She turns and walks away, her face stinging from her sister’s open-handed blow. Her cheeks burn. But she waits for Daddy, to show him the mark Isabel left on her face. To explain to him how she caught her little sister with weed and porn and was assaulted for her trouble. How Isabel screamed at her that she was a liar. How she blames Celia for everything and thinks she’s betraying the family by continuing to dance.
GM: Daddy isn’t home before long.
His face grows still at Celia’s story.
Isabel desperately tells, well, the truth.
It’s not that the mark on Celia’s face doesn’t lie.
It’s that it does lie—very, very well, when paired with its owner’s silver tongue.
Maxen considers his daughters. He grabs Isabel, pulls down her skirt and underwear, and pulls her onto his lap. He brings down his hand with a sharp, too-familiar smack.
Isabel yelps and shrieks, “Daddy! Daddy, wha-” But it’s one thing to get spanked at 12 and another to get spanked at 16. Maxen seems to think so too. He doesn’t tell her it’ll stop when she says sorry.
He just doesn’t stop.
Isabel’s shrieks become screams. She writhes and flails. Celia’s dad tells her to help hold her sister down. The muscular ex-quarterback’s palm comes down, again and again and again. The skin on Isabel’s rear turns from pink to red, and then red to white, but with angry red hand-shaped imprints. It starts to smell like blood. Tears gush down Isabel’s face as she screams her pain, fury, and humiliation.
Maxen doesn’t ask her to say sorry.
She does that all on her own.
“I-AAAH!!!-M SORRY, D-AAAAH I’M-AAAAAH!!!! SORRY, CE-AAAAAH!!!”
Celia: Celia does not want to watch. Her stomach churns. It brings to mind her own humiliation at her father’s hand. But that was different. She was a child then. This… Isabel is almost a woman now. It is different.
She does not want to watch, but she will not disobey her father. When he tells her to hold Isabel down she reaches out, letting Isabel dig her nails into her wrists. Letting her squeeze her hands and send some of that pain her way. Her lip trembles, but it is nothing compared to what Isabel is feeling.
And the blood. It hits her and she reels. Her cheeks are wet.
“Daddy, please, I think she learned her lesson.”
GM: “Oh, no, sweetie. She’s not even started.”
Maxen stares down at his sobbing daughter.
“Drugs. Filth. In my house.”
Celia: “Dad, please, she’s bleeding.”
GM: Isabel blubbers apologies.
“Where did you get it from, Isabel?” their dad asks.
“I… I… I…” she gets out.
Their dad lifts his hand again.
Isabel screams and sobs.
Celia: “Wait. Daddy. There was a girl here. After school. Isabel said it was hers. I didn’t believe her. Maybe… maybe it was.”
GM: Celia’s dad looks at her.
Her hands hurt. Isabel dug into them good with her nails.
Celia: Celia describes Samantha Watts.
“I think we went to school with her. She didn’t like either one of us. I… is that right, Isabel?”
GM: Isabel nods her head, tears still running down her beet-red face.
“Okay,” their dad says.
“I’ll look into this Samantha girl.”
Celia: Celia nods. She asks him if she can draw a bath for Isabel, and if he has anything she can use on her skin for the welts in his bathroom.
GM: “N-no,” Isabel croaks.
There’s a shaky but comically wide smile on her face as she stares up at their dad.
“I… I’ll re… member… better… this way…”
She gives an almost manic little giggle as a few tears run down her face.
“I’ll… I’ll never… forget… Daddy… I’ll never… disobey…”
“Th… thank you… Daddy… thank you… thank you…”
Their dad kisses her head.
“You’re a good girl, Isabel.”
Isabel makes another shrill, excited noise that might be a sob or a giggle. A few more tears leak down her cheeks, but she’s grinning from ear to ear.
“Th… thank you… Daddy… I love you…”
“I love you too, sweetie,” he says.
Celia: Celia excuses herself from the room.
GM: Her last sight is of their dad tenderly tucking Isabel in to an early bed.
“Check on your sister in a few hours please, Celia. I want to be sure she’s okay.”
Celia: “Yes, Daddy.”
Friday evening, 3 October 2008
GM: Celia’s mom asks how Isabel is doing over their next dinner together. She loves having Celia over and cooking meals for her. She doesn’t even look sad when she asks the question.
Celia: “She’s… angry. She hates me. She hates you. She blames you for leaving and ruining everything. She loves Daddy. He hit her and she thanked him for it.”
GM: Her mom’s smiling face falls.
Dinner isn’t the same after that.
Wednesday afternoon, 8 October 2008
GM: Samantha Watts stops attending Sociology 101. Some time later, Celia watches as Sami drives up to President McGregor’s mansion in a flashy red sports car and gets out. She’s dressed in a tight-fitting dress with a suggestive neckline, high heels, and makeup. The sorts of clothes Dad never lets Celia wear. An hour later, Samantha drives back out of the mansion with flushed skin, smudged makeup, and messier-looking hair.
She looks up at Celia’s bedroom window, smirks, and gives a little wave.
Celia: Celia snaps a photo on her phone. Just in case.
GM: Samantha rolls her eyes and drives off.
There are some very loud arguments coming from the front door of the McGregor house later at night. It sounds like between the university president and Celia’s dad.
He’s in a dark mood for a while, until she mentions the picture. Samantha Watts finally stops showing up to class after that. But Dad and Mr. McGregor never say hello to each other anymore.
Celia starts to meet her share of boys, too. Edward Cherry is the son of the Democratic Senate majority leader, Noelle Cherry, and a junior in the Marines ROTC. He seems interested in her.
Dad wouldn’t approve of his daughter dating a Democrat. But he also might see opportunity. Or he might forbid Celia to ever speak to the guy.
Celia: Celia plays by the rules. Of course she talks to Daddy about Edward. She brings him up when the two have a moment alone to gauge his response. She is candid about who he is.
She doesn’t want to be bent over his knee for lying.
GM: Dad would never disrespect his daughters by using them as pawns in a political game. He tells Celia to stay away from the boy and that she’s a good girl for telling him.
Celia: Celia does not push back. She thanks her father for the advice; she was concerned that Edward was only interested because of who Maxen is. She wants to know if all boys are like this, or if she’ll be able to find someone who loves her and not her name or her connections. Not that she has her own connections, she is quick to add, she just means him.
GM: “Of course you will, sweetie,” her dad answers her. “I’d love a woman for who she was. There are other good men out there.”
Fall’s 2008 semester rolls along. It’s shortly before midterm freshman grades get posted that Celia’s mother presents her with a tuition check and car. The latter is a pink Volkswagen Beetle. She bought it used.
“It’s not the flashiest ride, sweetie, but it’ll get you to beauty school…”
Her mom looks tired, even if Celia’s makeup brush covers it well. She’s been working a lot of extra hours at the kids’ dance academy, and giving private lessons to affluent girls when more hours there aren’t available.
But her smile at seeing this day finally come looks oh so proud.
Celia: Celia is ecstatic. She has been dutifully handing over bits of her allowance to her mother, but the small portion that she had managed to save pales in comparison to what her mother put away. The check goes into her pocket with a kiss on her mother’s cheek, and when she sees the car there is a pause. Used Volkswagen Beetle. She looks to her mother… and swings her around in a dance, giddy, her face lit up in a genuine smile. The car is pink. It is adorable and she doesn’t care that it is used because she loves it, and she loves her mom, and she is finally stepping into her dream. She cannot wait to enroll in beauty school.
GM: Celia’s mom laughs with delight at her daughter’s glee. It’s a full and free sound, like before the divorce, before the abuse. She nimbly steps into the dance, matching Celia step for step. She lets her daughter lead, but lifts her arm over Celia’s head so she can execute a dramatic spin turn.
“Oh, Celia… I’m so thankful to still have you in my life,” her mom exclaims, hugging her.
“I can’t wait to go to whatever salon you work at. I want to be your very first first client.”
Celia: “I love you, Momma. So much.” Celia hugs her mother close. She’s glad of what this means for her: an end to the extra dance lessons, an end to the bags beneath her eyes.
“Of course you’ll be my first client. Of course you will. And any time you need an appointment or anything all you have to do is call me and I’ll put you in right away. And I’ll have my own place. A whole bunch of my own places! All over New Orleans! I’ll be the new… the new Vidal Sassoon or Michelle Phan or something.”
GM: “I love you too, sweetie. Every bit as much.” Her mom beams at her next words, even if she doesn’t look like she recognizes who Michelle Phan is.
“You’ll be you, Celia. And it’ll be the whole city that knows…”
Sunday morning, 13 January 2008
GM: There turns out to be a hidden blessing to the tiff with Sami Watts: Celia is required to live on-campus like a normal student. There’s a very formal-and threatening-sounding letter in the mail. It says she will be expelled (and have a black mark on any transfer transcript) if she doesn’t start following the university’s rules. The letter arrives the day before winter break ends, seemingly to inconvenience the Flores family as much as possible. It certainly does that. On top of having to get Celia moved out at the last minute, there’s no time to fight it. Much less transfer her to Liberty University. Her father’s anger is tempered only by the fact that Josephine Louise House is a girls-only dorm. It doesn’t permit unescorted male visitors. Maxen tells Celia she will see the gynecologist every semester and take random drug tests when she comes home. (After all, it’s still only a 4-minute walk away.) There is to be no wild partying.
Celia’s mom is elated by the news. They’d already had a plan for how to juggle beauty school: she had Celia volunteer at Little Gate during the designated beauty school hours. That would “build up the fib as much as possible, so you can talk about what it’s like around your dad”. No longer living at Audubon should buy them some more breathing room. And let them see each other more, instead of only when Maxen is in Baton Rouge.
Celia: Celia, personally, is elated by the news that she gets to live on campus. Home is still just down the road, so she is close to her family, but she experiences the first bit of freedom in her life. She gets to buy makeup and keep it on campus. She gets to see her mom more frequently. She gets to join clubs and not have to text her dad every time she’s running late. She doesn’t have to make up a lie about beauty school. The drug tests are worth it. Being spread open at the doctor’s office with her feet on stirrups and her gown hiked up to her waist while he sticks a finger inside of her to check that her hymen is still intact is worth it.
Celia sends Sami a very formal “miss you” letter for her trouble. This couldn’t have worked out better if she’d planned it.
GM: Sami sends back another letter saying how pleased she is and mentioning how great her life is going at Loyola University. It’s right next door to Tulane. They really should make plans to hang out again. There are some catty but polite-seeming remarks with beauty and fashion tips for the formerly makeup-less and modestly-dressed girl.
Celia’s new roommate, Emily, is a premed major with aspirations of becoming a doctor named Emily Rosure. She’s amused when she sees Celia reading the letter. “Oh, wow. I didn’t think anyone under 40 still sent those.” She’s a woman of unclear race (maybe Latina) with long black hair who looks maybe a few years older than Celia.
When she hears the letter is from Sami Watts, she remarks that she’s “heard some really sketchy stuff about her.”
“I think she’s an escort. She was always getting really dressed up for lots of dates and coming back with money.”
Celia: “An escort?”
Sami’s visit to McGregor makes more sense now. She wonders whose idea it was for the girl to see him.
“Do they just order online for something like that?”
GM: “Good question. I hear there’s a lot of girls who do it to pay tuition, but I’d rather keep my dignity.”
Celia has never considered what that must be like, being unable to afford tuition. Her daddy takes care of it, like he’ll do for her siblings.
“If it’s not too personal, do you mind if I ask… have you done things like that? Sex, I mean.”
GM: Emily nods. “Yeah. I’ve had boyfriends.”
She asks with an understanding look, “Conservative parents?”
Celia: “Like you wouldn’t believe,” Celia sighs. “All-girls school. No boyfriends. No dances. No makeup. I’m finally allowed to go on dates and it all feels so awkward. How do you know if they like you? What are you supposed to talk about? What are you supposed to do?”
GM: “Welll, guys are usually obvious about it,” Emily answers with some amusement. “You can talk about a lot of the same stuff you would with girls, really.”
“And there’s lots to do, colleges have parties all the time. There’s actually gonna be one here at Josephine Louise this Saturday.”
“I guess it’s redundant to invite you when it’s right here, but you wanna go with me?”
Celia: “I’d love to go with you.” Celia beams at her. “Should we go shopping for something like this? New dresses?”
GM: Emily looks a little embarrassed. “Oh, well, money’s a little tight for me.”
Celia: “It’s on me. And you can introduce me to someone cute and nice, and we’ll call it even.”
“Because listen, Emily. I went to school with girls who smiled at your face and stabbed you in the back. And you don’t seem like that girl. And I’m excited to be here and to be your roommate. And you didn’t laugh at me for my parents being super conservative. I like you. So let’s make a day of it, and you can tell me all about boys and answer my silly questions. And I’ll let you know if your foundation doesn’t match your neck something.”
GM: Emily smiles. “Okay, it’s a deal. Dress and makeup advice for a boy and boy advice.”
“Though… it might have to be for just an afternoon.” She looks regretful. “I work a lot of hours. The alternative to being an escort.”
Celia: “Then we should get going so we’ve got plenty of time. And I want to hear more about what you do.” Celia links her arm through Emily’s. This is going to be fun.
GM: Emily’s two jobs are less than glamorous. She’s a waitress at several restaurants. She says it’s demanding to balance on top of schoolwork. Restaurants are a fast-paced, high-stress environment with heavy partying after hours. Lots of smoking (it’s insane how much cooks smoke), drug use, and cheap booze with cheap sex. Emily doesn’t like smokers and stays off the drugs: her family had drug problems. She doesn’t want to turn out the same way, but it makes her coworkers think she’s a prude. The Tulane party is a relief. It’s a “normal party.”
She’ll be glad when she can quit the service industry. She’s not getting any help from family members with tuition, but qualified for a good scholarship. The two jobs cover the rest of her expenses.
She wants to be a doctor and is majoring in premed, with a focus in kinesiology. She’d like to “help people while making good money.”
Celia: “If you want to be a doctor and your focus is kinesiology, what about doing something like massage therapy? It’s additional school but then you can do that while you finish medical school or something. Maybe.” Celia doesn’t know how intense medical school and residency is. “Gets you out of the restaurant industry and the party lifestyle. Then you’ve got a medical background too. So it’s like practice kind of.” Celia beams at her. She had just learned a little bit about massage at esthetician school.
GM: “Med school and residency is really intense,” Emily explains. “But that might be a thought while I’m still an undergrad. Everything about the whole service industry culture is just… really distracting.”
Celia’s roommate brightens, though, when topics move to clothes and boys. She finds a purple knee-length strapless dress with ruffles at Yvonne LaFleur’s she just loves.
She answers what questions she can about the male sex. She went to a coed school and also adds that, “The restaurant industry is super macho. All of the cooks are guys. All of them. Except for the pastry chefs. They’re all girls.”
Celia: Celia peppers her with questions about boys. It’s as if she has been living under a rock and now the entire world is hers for the taking, but first she has to know about it. Not living under her father’s roof anymore is phenomenal. Shopping with her roommate is phenomenal. She is free.
“Maybe I should get a job at a restaurant for a while,” Celia muses as she adjusts the dress on Emily in front of the fitting room mirror. “Dad wanted me to focus on school. Is that the kind of thing I can do once or twice a week?”
The dress that she’s found is a classic black number with a square neckline and mesh sleeves. The focus is less on cleavage and more on the way it hugs her body, far more snugly than anything she’s ever worn before. It ends a few inches above her knee.
GM: “It is, yeah, restaurant schedules are pretty flexible. You have moms, students, full-timers, and people working 9 to 5s. You put down when you’re available and they schedule you around that. Though…” she adds with a note of caution, “it can be pretty intense. You might ask if your parents have any jobs they could get you, if you want the extra spending money.”
She smiles at their reflections in the mirror. “I feel like a princess getting dressed up like this.” It’s a nice dress, though not that nice. “And that looks really cute on you. I bet it feels good to dress how you want.”
Celia: Celia doesn’t say what she’s thinking, that the job wouldn’t be for cash. It would be too experience a different sort of lifestyle. Something that would get her out from under the sheltered life her father created for her. An excuse to be out at night, a way to meet people. She smiles, though, and makes a note to look into it. She could be a server. Or a hostess.
“It’s nice to wear what I want finally. I’ve seen girls in things like this in magazines and have always been jealous. You don’t think it’s too much for a college party?”
She finds a pair of sparkling silver hair clips and pulls Emily’s hair up.
“There. It’s no tiara, but now you are a princess. My mom always said to pick one feature to highlight with jewelry. So if you go sparkly hair you leave your neck bare.”
GM: Emily considers the question. “Hmm, I’d say it’s maybe a little dressy. You could dumb it down with a jacket, tights, or some more casual shoes.”
She smiles widely at her reflection in the mirror. “Oh wow, that looks great! I guess conservative parents give good fashion advice, at least.”
Celia: “Like a… cropped leather jacket?” Celia has worn a uniform for years. Even though she pours over fashion magazines she isn’t sure how to make this dress more casual. A jacket sounds hot. Tights sound girlish.
“Maybe I’ll find something more casual.”
And keep this one for later, since she loves it. A different party. Or a date.
GM: Emily remarks as much on Celia keeping it, since she likes it, but agrees it would be good to wear out on a date. Maybe she’ll meet someone at the party.
Celia: She finds a simple A-line that ends above the knee with wide straps to keep it up, in a dusty mauve color. She doesn’t love it on the hanger, but once she has it on she changes her mind.
GM: “Oh, that’s also cute,” Emily says on the next dress. “It’d look good with some ankle boots. Knee dresses with open toes or ballet flats always give me a little girl vibe.”
Celia: “How come they’re called skater dresses? Do you skate in them?”
GM: She thinks. “I think it’s because they’re modeled after the costumes skaters wear.”
Emily demurs that she’s happy with the purple strapless when the subject of other clothes comes up. She says she’ll pay for the hair clips. She seems embarrassed for money to be an issue.
Celia: Celia seems happy with the two dresses. She doesn’t want to make a big deal out of looking for shoes since Emily is already balking at the price. So she mentions she has something at home she’ll pick up before the party. She doesn’t take “no” for an answer about the clips, pointing out that the price is marked up because of the store. Emily is doing her a huge favor.
“Besides,” she adds, “if there’s no cute boys at the party I’m going to ask you for help with my Bio homework. My dad said if I don’t keep my grades up I’m in big trouble, missy.” Celia makes a face. She doesn’t mention that big trouble for her is probably an extra doctor visit and drug test, as well as an over-the-knee pantsless spanking. She isn’t quite that comfortable with Emily yet.
GM: Emily relents at Celia’s insistence over the clips and laughs at her impression of her dad. “He sounds so, well, Southern. No offense.”
Celia: None at all taken.
Saturday evening, 8 November 2008
GM: Josephine Louise House, better known as JLH, is a three-story red-bricked building that serves as one of the girls’ dorms. Built in 1887, the 121-year-old building is one of the four structures still remaining from Tulane’s original campus. The dorm party is a buzz of music, alcohol, high-caloric snacks, and above all, boys. Celia doesn’t think she’s ever seen so many guys her age in the same space without adults (well, “real” adults) present.
Emily introduces her to a cute brown-haired and slim-figured one named Stephen. He’s majoring in philosophy and plans to go into law school, then work for as a lawyer for either the DA’s office or the FBI. He’s passionate about wanting to prosecute organized crime. He says it’s “huge in the city” and has "made a real comeback since 9/11 when so many cops and lawyers got reassigned to counter-terrorism and political corruption.”
Celia: Celia has often been warned about the dangers of alcohol by her overbearing father. She doesn’t plan on drinking this evening. She does allow herself the fatty snacks that she normally shies away from, the chips and soft drinks and pizza. She wants to try the booze. She really does, but she’s seen a few girls puke already. She has no interest in spending the rest of the night with her head over the toilet bowl.
Stephen is cute, even if he talks about crime for the most of the night and doesn’t ask her a single question about herself. But his views on the organized crime families are interesting, and she wants to know what he knows: what is a mob family actually like? How does he know so much about it? Is it mostly drugs, or do they deal in other things? She asks if he’s looking into Tulane for law, and if he’s going to practice in Louisiana.
GM: Stephen asks whether she means a mob family “as a criminal organization or as an actual family.” Though there is a lot of overlap. “It’s way less glamorous than in the movies. Most of them past age 50 are obese and have all sorts of health problems. Most of them are dumb, uneducated, could never hold a real job, and use dog pack intimidation to get what they want. They’re also incredibly sexist. Pretty much all of them cheat on their wives, expect the women to just take it, then beat them if they complain.”
His dad and grandpa were also federal prosecutors who clashed with the Mob, so “I guess it’s in my blood.” It’s been a long and grueling struggle to break their power, and it’s not even succeeded. They had their best chance after the Cold War ended and now it’s backsliding. RICO wasn’t as effective as people think. It’s mainly competition from other criminal groups that have been weakening the Mob as a result of demographic shifts. Fewer Italian-Americans need to turn to crime to make a living.
“They deal in everything,” he answers. Drugs. Prostitutes. Construction. Porn. Online gambling. Protection rackets. Contract killings. Bribery and graft. Bookies and numbers. Money laundering and loan sharking. Theft. Unions. “The Mob has their fingers in everything, like I said. Whatever it is, they can find a way to turn it to crap.”
Tulane is one of the law schools he’s applying to. “If I could go to Yale Law, awesome,” but wherever he goes, he wants to come back to the city to practice.
He also remarks a little embarrassedly between a sip of booze, “Oh. Sorry. I’ve been talking about myself all this time. What are you majoring in?”
Celia: “Nothing as exciting as all of that,” she tells him. She wants to know more. About his father and grandfather, what they did. About RICO, since she’s never heard the word before, and what other criminal groups he means. “Like gangs?” She hadn’t had to deal with any of that nonsense in Audubon Place. The walls, uniformed guards, and dogs kept them out.
“If your father and grandfather haven’t been able to succeed, what makes you think you will?” The question isn’t a challenge, just curiosity. She wants to know what makes him different. What makes him special.
GM: Stephen’s grandfather was a federal prosecutor back in the ‘60s. He investigated the Mafia for its involvement in JFK’s assassination (Lee Harvey Oswald was from New Orleans), which he believed they were behind. Stephen also believes the Mafia was behind it. His dad also works as a federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Louisiana. He’s thinking of running for office as a judge.
RICO, or the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, is a complicated piece of legislation. The short version is that mob bosses historically avoided prosecution by issuing orders through intermediaries. For example, a mob boss who wants someone dead might give the order to a capo (a mid-level leader of a criminal crew). The capo passes on the order to the soldato (made man within his crew) who actually carries out the killing. There can be even more intermediaries than this. The more intermediaries there are, the harder a case is to prosecute. RICO, which was passed in the ‘70s, was intended to let mob bosses be charged directly no matter how many subordinates they hid their orders behind. It also has a bunch of other statutes specifically targeting the Mafia to make prosecution easier. Just as importantly, RICO makes it more tempting for wiseguys to “flip” on their fellows and cooperate with prosecutors. RICO specifically targets patterns of criminal behavior. It was meant to make anyone charged with it go, "Oh fuck I’m doomed."
In practice, RICO has helped, but not as much as it could have. The Mafia and connected special interests found various ways to water it down. It’s quite rare for mob bosses to actually get charged with RICO violations. The government has expanded RICO’s applications to target people who have little to nothing to do with organized crime. “But that’d also take a while to explain. It’s just… promised a lot more than it delivered.”
“I don’t know that I will succeed,” he answers to Celia’s last question. “But I think the problem would be worse if my dad and grandpa hadn’t tried.”
“They didn’t win, but that doesn’t mean they lost. The Mob is still weaker today than it was in the ’30s. Maybe my kids or grandkids will get to see it finally bite the dust.”
“And I’ll have helped it get there.”
Celia: “You’re carrying on the family tradition,” Celia says, nodding. “That’s noble. Admirable. To preserve your family’s legacy because it’s expected, or because it’s what you actually want to do?” She eyes him over the rim of the plastic cup she’s drinking from, the hint of a smile curling the corners of her mouth upward. She’d let someone talk her into a splash of rum in the coke. It is… sweeter than she expected. Cloying, almost. She isn’t sure how she feels about it. Warm, maybe.
GM: “Oh, it’s what I want to do,” Stephen answers between another sip from his own plastic cup. He barely pauses to consider the question. “It’s making the world a better place, lawyers make good money, and I already know a ton about the job. It’d feel almost dumb not to.”
He smiles back at Celia. “But I’ve talked a ton about myself. Can I at least hear what you’re majoring in?”
GM: “I’m gonna guess… you want to be a dancer? Like, ballet?”
Celia knows from her mom well you don’t go to college for ballet. It’s something to round out credentials over actually teaching dance fundamentals. Training starts with kids. The younger, the better.
Celia: “I just wanted to learn to do the splits.”
“Kidding. But no, you don’t need college to dance.”
GM: “Splits seems useful. Insert joke about liberal arts degrees worth more as placemats.”
Celia: “Clever. I suppose philosophy would be more beneficial.”
GM: “My dad told me to just major in whatever seemed fun. It doesn’t really matter next to law school.”
He sips some more from his cup.
“Is that what you want to do, though, dance professionally?”
Celia: “Law school,” Celia says, winking. “It doesn’t matter what undergrad is, and it seemed fun.” She finishes her drink. “In all seriousness, no. I don’t want to dance professionally. I suppose I wouldn’t mind it, but… that’s generally something you go to a specific institution for, some in high school, others earlier. I’d have gone to a performing arts college or joined a company.”
There’s a pause as she looks down at her empty cup. She swirls the ice around in the tiny bit of liquid that has melted at the bottom.
“Everyone wants to dance. Could I audition? Certainly. Do I have other aspirations? Of course.”
GM: “Well, it sounds like a fun major. What do you want to do, if you don’t plan on auditions?”
Celia: “Right now? Enjoy college. Want another?” She nods toward the plastic cup, but doesn’t wait for an answer. A minute later she’s back, two drinks in hand. She offers him one.
“I have some ideas. A dance degree translates into various areas, so it’s not as if I’m limited to only professional dancing. I think it kind of depends on where things go for me.”
“But you were wrong earlier. It’s much more interesting to hear about underground mobsters than Swan Lake. So, federal lawyer? That sounds… intense.”
GM: “It pays less than private practice, but it’s most prestigious than being an ADA. I’m thinking about whether I want to do that after I finish law school, or if I just…”
Stephen seems to take the hint that that Celia doesn’t want to talk about herself, so he talks about himself. He can do that for a while. It’s when his second cup is nearly drained that he mentions in a tipsier voice,
“I have a stalker. She changes her hair but she’s always in a black turtleneck. I’ve tried to talk to her, but she always disappears. Dunno who she is. It’s freaky.”
Celia: “A stalker?” Celia scans the crowd, as if looking for the girl in question. “She here? How long has she been stalking you? Wait, I have so many questions. Should we go upstairs to keep you safe?”
Upstairs is where her room is at.
GM: It’s a thick and increasingly sloshed-looking crowd as the evening wears on. Emily’s off with another guy, but Celia doesn’t see a girl who fits the description.
Stephen makes a “psshh” sound and waves his hand.
“My dad and grandpa went after the Mafia. So will I. She’s nothing next to what they’ve done to try and intimidate my family. Just really weird. Dunno what she wants.”
He grins at her. “But upstairs still sounds like a good idea. It’s getting pretty noisy.”
Celia: Celia cuts through the crowd easily, leading Stephen toward the stairs. She has more questions for him—she wants to know how, exactly, the Mafia went after his family—and she finds the whole thing quite thrilling. She has him by the hand by the time they get to her dorm room. All the better to keep track of him in the party that has quickly gotten wilder than anticipated.
Emily had told her prior to the party about the dorm room trick with the rubber band or hair tie around the knob to request privacy. There is neither waiting for the two of them. She opens the door to allow them inside.
There is a clear divide in the room, and Celia’s side is evident even before the would-be dancer leads her new friend toward that side. It’s more feminine than the other, with an easy elegance that comes naturally to the Flores child. Her bed is lifted off the ground to allow space for storage. Art decorates her wall, a simple print of flowers, a quote, and a metal hanging with her initials over the bed: CAF. A mound of pillows perches precariously on top of her bed, along with both a velveteen comforter and a fur throw. A sturdy-looking ottoman provides a step up, if needed. All of it is done up in hues of gray and pink and cream.
GM: Emily’s side is a lot more bare next to Celia’s. It’s just a plain bed with two blankets and one pillow. The main ‘decor’ seems to be her textbooks, binders, and notebooks.
Stephen plops down with Celia on her bed.
“That’s a cute setup,” he says, looking the decor over. “Though not as cute as you.”
He leans in to kiss her.
Celia: The drink dulls Celia’s nerves. Stephen looms closer, and though her mind races—what am I doing? What should I do with my hands? Is my breath okay? What if he tries to put his tongue in my mouth?—her body reacts accordingly. She lets him come to her. 90/10, like Hitch said, and it’s up to her to close the gap.
She does so. It’s… warm. And wet. And her first kiss, so her eyes close like they’re supposed to, and her leg shifts on the bed to face him fully, and her hands… well, she’s still not sure what to do with her hands.
GM: Stephen puts his hands around Celia’s waist at first, but brings them up higher as he goes in for a second kiss. Her dad technically didn’t say she couldn’t do this, but it somehow feels transgressive. Perhaps satisfyingly so.
If she seems receptive, Stephen’s tongue starts to explore hers.
If she still does, his hands start to fondle her breasts.
Celia: There’s something thrilling about flaunting the rules so thoroughly. Alcohol. A boy in her room. His hands moving up her body. Heat colors her cheeks when he touches her. Her hands finally move, spurred into action by his boldness. They start at his shoulders, then sweep down across his chest, around his back. She shifts, moving forward until she is on his lap.
GM: Stephen hungrily reciprocates Celia’s growing confidence and starts peeling off her clothes.
Daddy would never approve of that.
Celia: Too much. Too soon.
That threat had lingered in the back of her mind. The doctor. Her dad. How far is she supposed to let him go, this boy she doesn’t know that she met at a party? Isn’t everything supposed to be more magical than this? Dinner or a movie or dancing or… or something. Candles and roses, not cheap beer and cheaper rum. She didn’t even put a thing on the door; what if Emily walks in?
She seizes the excuse. Her hands fly to cover herself.
GM: “What is it?” Stephen asks, a little surprised.
“I have a condom, don’t worry.”
Celia: “I—uh, my roommate is, uh, due back soon.”
The lie is clumsy. She doesn’t meet his eye. She’s already reaching for her dress, or the throw, or whatever is close by that she can use to hide her body away again. Her shoulders are hunched.
That seems to kill the mood a little.
More than a little.
“We could… go back to my place, if you want. I live off-campus.”
Celia: “I…” She can’t even look at him. She is sure her cheeks are burning. “I’ve never… I mean…”
She covers her face with her hands. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
GM: Stephen seems to hesitate a moment, then puts an arm around her shoulder.
“Hey. It’s okay. There’s, there’s lots of girls who haven’t.”
Celia: “I know. I just… I didn’t mean to, um, to like… lead you on.”
GM: “No, no. I’ve had fun. This has been nice. And you’re really pretty.”
He adds after a moment, “Do you want to, though? I don’t mind it’s your first.”
“I could also… take you out, if you want it to be more special. You know, dinner and a movie.”
Celia: Special. There’s that word. And exactly what she wants. For it to be special. Like the movies, and books, and everything she’s ever thought it should be. Does that mean Stephen is a nice guy? Like an actual nice guy, or a ‘nice guy’ nice guy, like Emily explained, who just puts in friendship tokens and expects sex? No, they’re not friends. What would they be if she lets him take her out, though? Dating? Like a boyfriend? She wants to ask, but the question sticks in her throat. What if he thinks she’s stupid?
“Like, um… dating?”
GM: If Stephen finds the question unintelligent, he just answers, “Yeah, it’d be a date.”
Celia: Date. Singular. One time thing.
GM: As if realizing his poor word choice, Stephen adds, “We could go on more, if we have a good time.”
“How’s Sunday tomorrow? Or Friday, if that doesn’t work for you.”
Celia: Sunday is God’s day. Doesn’t that makes this somehow more blasphemous? No, she can’t think like that. Maybe it’s a… blessing.
“Sunday is good.”
It gives her less time to get worked up over it.
GM: Sunday is church with her family. But that doesn’t last all day.
“Great,” Stephen smiles. He trades phone numbers, hashes out a time to pick her up, and gives her a parting kiss goodbye.
She could call her mom. Ask her roommate.
Or just freak out about the hymen inspections every semester.
Celia: She makes sure to get his last name to save in her phone, so it’s not just ‘Stephen Party.’ Since that would be awkward.
GM: His last name is Garrison.
Celia: Once he’s gone she finds a bottle of water and sits down with her thoughts and a clean sheet of notebook paper. She starts a list of things to do tomorrow.
3. New bra & panties
Someone has some shopping to do.
How to fake a hymen, she types into Qeeqle. Celia has some serious research to do if she wants to fool the doctor.
GM: She finds results for ‘artificial hymen kits’ that one can order online from Cadabra.com.
Celia: She purchases two.
GM: The website says they’ll arrive soon.
Celia: Not soon enough.
Sunday morning, 9 November 2008
GM: Emily doesn’t come home Friday night, or the next morning by the time Celia is expected back home. Church services feel very different from the dorm party in her high-necklined dress, makeup-less face, and flat shoes. The sermon is about filial duty and honoring one’s parents. Isabel drinks it up. Their father looks pleased and even tells Celia how nice she looks today.
Celia: Celia smiles for her daddy and doesn’t say anything snide to Isabel. She is the one to lean down to gently shush Logan when he starts getting antsy. There’s something wrong about being in church with her family and knowing what she is going to get up to later that feels… wicked.
After the service, she checks her phone to see if Emily called or texted. If the girl hasn’t reached out then Celia sends her a message.
GM: Emily’s Sundays seem largely spoken for, and she isn’t home by the time Stephen swings by to pick her up. He takes her out to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It’s actually set in New Orleans and is about a man who ages in reverse. He’s born a frail old man and dies as a young infant.
It’s an interesting gimmick. His love interest Daisy is a ballerina who gets her leg crushed in a car accident. She’s forced to give up her career, which is implied to lead to her romance with Benjamin. That might hit close to home. The film has a somewhat nonchalant air about it. She supposes it has a somewhat nonchalant air towards everything. The World War II scenes also don’t depict any suffering or death.
GM: “And if only one thing had happened differently…” goes the narrator.
Celia: Celia’s mood plummets as soon as Daisy ends up in the hospital. The entire scene leading up to it is filled with anxiety. Each close call, each near miss. She knows what is coming. She has seen this situation before. Her stomach twists itself into knots and her mouth goes dry. Stephen’s hand is on the armrest next to her and she squeezes his fingers, her other hand curled into a fist. Her nails dig into her palm.
If one thing had happened differently. If she had gotten the gun sooner. If she had run and called from her neighbor’s house. If she had given a different name. Because as often as she thought back to that night, she kept coming back to the fact that as soon as she gave her name—her sister’s name—the dispatcher said the officers weren’t coming.
She doesn’t want to watch the rest of the movie. She wants to find the nearest bathroom and vomit her guts up. She can’t help the tears. And the blasé way the movie handles it, as if this is just a thing that happened… it’s not Daisy lying in that bed, it’s Diana.
GM: They even have similar names. That’s a funny coincidence.
“…hey, you all right?” Stephen asks with a concerned frown. He looks blasé about the accident until Celia starts squeezing his hand with an upset look.
Celia: Celia hadn’t realized how tightly she was squeezing. She loosens her grip, then leans in so she can keep her voice low in the theater.
“My… mom was injured like that, ended her career. Traumatic.” She shakes her head. “Tell you later.”
GM: “Oh. I’m so sorry,” Stephen whispers back. “Do you want to leave? It’s not even that good a movie.”
Someone throws popcorn at Celia’s back.
Celia: Celia sinks lower into her seat. She shouldn’t be making a big deal out of this. But he said the movie was bad, so that means he doesn’t care, right? But… it’s a movie. What if he thinks she’s a terrible person for leaving a movie? And everyone will watch them get up. And what if he only wants to leave to have sex?
Why aren’t there guidelines for things like this?
“If you don’t mind,” she finally whispers.
GM: Stephen takes her hand and leads her out of the theater. More people seem to be watching the screen than the departing couple. Celia hears one guy in the back whisper to his presumed girlfriend, “She’s such a bitch, I’m glad her leg got ruined.”
“Sorry,” Stephen says again once they’re out. “I didn’t know.”
“I guess The Dark Knight would’ve been a better choice after all.”
“First movie I’ve ever walked out on, actually.”
Celia: Celia takes a few moments to simply breathe once she gets outside the theater. She waves off Stephen’s apology.
“It’s okay. You couldn’t have known. I didn’t think seeing that would hit me so hard, honestly.”
She rubs a hand over her face. She feels ridiculous now.
“Is The Dark Knight the new Batman one?”
GM: “Yeah. I thought everyone’s seen it, so figured this would be something original. Plus it’s set in the city.”
Her dad didn’t let the family see it.
Celia: “I’ve… never seen any of the Batman movies. I just heard about it. Have you seen it? Is it good? Any mutilated ballerinas?” She tries to laugh it off.
GM: Stephen looks a little surprised, but answers, “Yeah, I have. It’s amazing.”
“Hey, why don’t we get tickets for it? I totally don’t mind seeing it again.”
Celia: “I’d like that.”
GM: “Great! And there’s no mutilated ballerinas.”
“There actually are some ballerinas, but nothing bad happens to them.”
Celia: “Oh good. Apparently that’s my trigger.”
GM: “Well, I don’t blame you. That had to be really upsetting for you and your mom.”
Celia: “I went to visit her the day after,” Celia says quietly. “It was… it was bad. Seeing Daisy in the bed like that just brought up all those memories. Sorry, I’m not usually squeamish or anything, it just took me right back to being in that moment.”
GM: “Oh, I totally get it. That must’ve hit way too close to home.”
“Movies about the Mafia really get to me too. I hate The Godfather and I haven’t had anything personally happen to my family.”
Celia: “You said that…” Celia lowers her voice, just in case, “you said that they tried to do things to your family?”
GM: Stephen shakes his head. “We were too public. They actually couldn’t do anything serious to us. But they’d still try to scare my parents and grandparents. Like following them when they were out driving, or pulling cars up around their kids’ schools.”
“Some mafiosos actually pick up peoples’ kids and drop them off at their houses. Just to show how easily they could take them away forever.”
“But the Mafia didn’t do that to us. They’re cowards. They never want real fights.”
Celia: “That honestly sounds terrifying.” Celia can’t even imagine what it would be like to be picked up by a mobster and dropped off at her father’s house. Or one of her siblings… Her face pales. She takes Stephen’s hand in hers and squeezes. It’s more gently this time than the crushing grip she’d had on him in the theater.
“Do you think the girl following you is one of them?”
GM: Stephen thinks.
“The Mafia is really sexist. Women can’t be official members. They’re supposed to be wives and mothers.”
“But there are ones who still get pretty involved with mob life. Molls and girlfriends, or older wives and moms giving advice from behind the scenes.”
Celia: “Oh.” Celia hadn’t realized that, even in 2008, the Mafia would be sexist. That seems so… old-timey. Like they should have evolved beyond that.
GM: “I guess it’s possible, but I don’t know why they’d be interested now. My family hasn’t gone after them in any real cases lately.”
“I’m not scaring you with this, am I?” he asks, looking at her pale face as he squeezes back.
Celia: “No, no,” she assures him, “you’re not scaring me. I guess I’m just curious. It’s… okay, so don’t get mad, right? I know you said you hate movies like The Godfather, but that’s kind of the only thing I know to base what I know of the Mafia off of, and I’ve never seen that either, so it’s like I just have this… kind of vague idea of it all, I guess, and it’s… is it wrong to say fascinating? Should I stick to interesting? Is that morbid?” She flushes. “I know they’re bad guys and everything, I’m not idolizing them. Sorry, I don’t mean to sound silly. I mean, I guess I’m worried for you that you have a stalker, but no you’re not scaring me, to get back to your question.”
GM: “Well, that’s good. And I think we’re all interested in morbid stuff, on some level. That’s what The Godfather appeals to. I mean, even The Dark Knight. I can also admit that The Godfather has cinematic merit. There’s a reason it’s so acclaimed.”
“The problem is that it romanticizes the Mafia and makes them sympathetic figures. It’s not possible to to see what they’re actually like outside of, well, real life. Or I guess growing up around people who’ve seen them up close, like me.”
“But there’s nothing romantic about what they are. They’re thugs, parasites, that exploit people and destroy their lives.”
Celia: “Like how people romanticize anything negative. Pirates. Monsters. Domestic abuse. I can change him, he’ll love me, but really he’s a giant piece of garbage and you’re better off without him. And pirates are dirty. And the mob is sexist and… and parasites, like you said.”
GM: “Yeah. What you said about your mom… that’s the sort of thing they’d do. Break a ballerina’s legs if she couldn’t pay protection money, or pay back a debt.”
Celia: She looks horrified at the thought of a mobster breaking her mother’s legs. The truth is even worse.
GM: “Well, that’s the Mafia. But I guess you’re right, we always want to romanticize ugly things.”
Celia: “What do you think that says about us as people, Mr. Philosophy Major?”
GM: “Hey, that’s more like psychology. But Aristotle actually has some interesting stuff to say about it.”
“Because the ancient Greeks were all about awful tragedies. Oedipus killing his dad and marrying his mom and all that. It’s the whole concept of catharsis, which means purging emotions through art. We get to feel fear, grief, anger, disgust, and other negative emotions in a controlled setting where no one gets hurt. Since we sympathize with the protagonist, it broadens our perspectives. It helps us develop empathy and teaches us about ourselves and how we deal with negative emotions. It makes us better people.”
Celia: “So in Artistotle’s mind, I should have stayed in the theater to watch Diana’s leg get shattered? Or I create my own art around the, um, the trauma?”
GM: “You mean Daisy’s?” Stephen corrects.
“But I actually don’t think he’d say that. You’ve already seen it in real life. You don’t need to develop empathy through a movie. Just like I don’t need to see any Mafia movies when I’ve already grown up on my family’s stories.”
“Though if you wanted to create art, well, they all say write what you know.”
Celia: “Yeah. Daisy.” Shit. What had she said? “I think… maybe I meant more like processing trauma. I was on a different subject altogether.”
It’s given her an idea, anyway, and she’s eager to get back to the studio to find an appropriate piece of music.
“I hope my questions don’t make you uncomfortable, I guess is what I’m getting at. And… also if you see your friend, let me know. Maybe she’s just a fervid admirer.” Celia winks at him.
GM: “Ha ha. Sucks for her I’m taken tonight,” Stephen smiles back.
There’s some time until the next showing starts. Stephen suggests they should get food now instead of later. They grab tickets while there’s no one else in line, then grab pizza at a nearby joint. The Dark Knight is completely unlike any movie Celia has been allowed watch at home. Those either have to be made during the Hollywood Production Code era or get pre-viewed and approved by her father. The Batman movie is full of blockbuster special effects. The ending is far from the good guys winning and the bad guys getting their just desserts like the old Hollywood Code mandated. Stephen is enraptured by the movie and clearly doesn’t mind seeing it again.
There is some catharsis there, she supposes, in getting to experience something she normally wouldn’t.
Celia: Celia is hooked from the get-go. She cannot believe the opening scene. The betrayal after betrayal after betrayal building into a villain that is, for all intents and purposes, insane. Despite not knowing the history of Batman, despite not quite understanding the play between the characters, it captures the entirety of her attention. And then the party scene… there’s something there that draws her in. The girl, Rachel, picked out of the crowd and manhandled by the villain, caught from behind by the monster.
It takes her back to the hallway.
She shivers, moving Stephen’s arms around her shoulders.
Later, once it’s over, she tells him that it was amazing. That she’s so happy she got to experience it with him. All the way back to to his place she asks him questions. She wants to know more about movies that she has missed out on. She is careful to never quite phrase it like that, and if he asks she cites her dance practice as the reason she missed out.
GM: She’s also able to talk about some famous movies she has seen, like Gone with the Wind. Her dad loved that.
Stephen’s happy to answer questions about other movies. He tells her there’s a prequel to The Dark Knight, actually, which is the second movie in a planned trilogy. Batman Begins isn’t quite as good, in his opinion, but it’s still really good. “It’s an A next to an A+. There are some things I’ll admit it does better than The Dark Knight. Like, Batman does more actual detective work. The city’s ambiance feels more like Gotham than Chicago.”
He thinks it’s a better movie than The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
“That movie sort of felt derivative of Forrest Gump. It wants to give this sort of laid-back ‘life goes on’ feel, but it doesn’t explore subject matter as serious as Forrest Gump does. It’s more sanitized and I don’t think really ultimately does anything with the whole ‘ages in reverse’ gimmick.”
“But there’s lots of good movies out there. I can show you Batman Begins another night.”
That sounds like another date after all.
Stephen drives Celia back to his place in Riverbend as they talk. It’s a college student’s starter apartment, not that big and messier than Celia’s dorm room. But there’s no roommate and she supposes it’s neat enough for a guy’s place. They’re soon back where they were yesterday night, except it’s on his bed this time.
Celia: This time, when Stephen takes her dress off, she doesn’t pull away or tell him to wait. She doesn’t worry about her roommate interrupting them. Or her upcoming doctor visit. Or her dad’s disapproving stare. Or the fact that she was supposed to bring Stephen by the house for his approval to even kiss the boy, let alone what they’re doing now, which is…
Well. Magical, really. It’s all she’s ever wanted.