“When are you going to stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something?”
Monday morning, 10 November 2008
GM: Stephen makes a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs and grits. He drives Celia back to her dorm the next morning, so she can avoid what he calls the “walk of shame.” That’s also a new expression. Emily is passed out in her bed and out like a light.
Stephen makes plans to see Celia again for a Batman Begins viewing. Class goes on like normal.
But she’s a woman now.
She can’t even imagine how her father would react.
Or maybe she could.
Celia: Of course she can. She can imagine exactly how her father will react. Which is why she doesn’t tell anyone—even Emily—about Stephen. Even though she sees him again so they can watch Batman Begins. And then Forrest Gump, when she mentions her dad hadn’t let her watch that one either. And soon she’s… well, a little bit head over heels for him. But that’s to be expected, right? First kiss, first time, first…
“…boyfriend?” Celia asks over ice cream. She can’t quite meet his eye as the question leaves her lips.
GM: Creole Creamery has lots of flavors. Stephen got one called “Lavender Honey” that sounded intriguing to him.
Celia: Celia is made of bolder stuff than boys who like Lavender Honey. She goes for the Strawberry Jalapeno Cheesecake. It has a nice bite to it, and she offers her cone to Stephen in case he’s interested in venturing outside the lines.
GM: Stephen is amused enough to give it a try. “I can see strawberry cheesecake, but jalapeno is weird.” He also gives Celia his cone in case she feels like wandering back inside those lines. “Lavender Honey” sounds so feminine and inoffensive. She might have had enough of that.
Celia doesn’t fully see his face with her eyes averted. But she can hear the smile in his voice when he says, “My stalker might take issue. But she never worked up the nerve to ask me out.”
Celia: “Mm, well, I haven’t seen her around since we started hanging out. Maybe I was right and she had a crush.” She helps herself to his ice cream. It was offered, after all.
“So, in that case…” She pauses. She isn’t sure how to ask. Or even if she should. It might scare him off.
“Can I… ask something weird..?”
GM: He nods. “Sure, what is it?”
Celia: “Soooo… my dad has a weird dating rule… any chance you want to… meet the family? Otherwise we could, like, keep this a secret, which is fine, I’m definitely okay with that, I just don’t want you to think I’m like ashamed of you or anything. Because that is not the case.”
GM: “Oh no, I don’t think that’s weird at all,” Stephen says, shaking his head. “That’s what you do after a while. Maybe I could introduce you to my dad, too.”
Celia: “Well… the thing about my dad… he’s, um. I mean he’s… really strict. So there’d be some level of you pretending you hadn’t already kissed me. And, y’know, other things.”
GM: “Okay, we can pretend that.”
“I’ve had friends who dated girls with those kinds of dads.”
Celia: “Oh. Great. I’ll let him know. And I’d love to meet your dad.”
GM: “They give boys ‘the talk’ and act all friendly while showing off their gun collection.”
Stephen smiles. “We don’t have to pretend with my dad. He won’t care.”
“He’s great. I really look up to him.”
Celia: Celia is quiet. She doesn’t want to tell him that he does have things to be scared of with her dad. She isn’t sure what he would do to Stephen if he found out that the boy had deflowered his baby girl. Let alone what he’d do to her.
She doesn’t want to think about it.
“I feel like I’m getting off easier here. Maybe I can make it up to you.” Her smile is suggestive.
GM: “Oh, I can think of a few ways…” her boyfriend smirks back.
Friday evening, 14 November 2008
GM: Celia may indeed come to feel she needs to make it up to Stephen.
Her father greets her boyfriend at the door. He remarks how the shorter, thinner, less muscular man needs to work on his grip after they shake hands. “You play many sports, Stephen?”
“Baseball when I was younger, sir. These days I mostly go running.”
Stephen looks as if the handshake hurt his hand.
“That’s too bad,” Celia’s father says, and leaves the matter of sports at that.
The momentary silence seems to leave Stephen a little uncomfortable before Celia’s dad picks up with other topics. Stephen’s major. His intended career. The two sit down in the den to watch “the game” as they talk. Celia’s father tells her to bring them some beers.
She’s also been told to cook dinner for them tonight. Her dad wants to see that those cooking classes are paying off.
Celia: Celia did her best to warn Stephen ahead of time. Maybe she hadn’t done a good enough job. But she does bring the beers, as requested, and she… well, she planned on staying nearby, but then the request comes through for dinner.
“Oh. I thought we’d order in. I wasn’t planning…” But Celia knows better than to argue with her father. “Of course, Daddy.”
GM: “I told you this earlier, sweetie. Celia doesn’t always have the best memory,” he tells Stephen. “Does she forget many things with you?”
“Not that I can remember, sir,” Stephen answers with a faintly joking expression, as if to defuse the atmosphere with some humor.
Celia: Celia moves into the kitchen to see what on earth they have that she can prepare. Pasta? Pasta is easy. Boil noodles. Heat sauce. Cook… meat? Oh god. What do they have? She opens the refrigerator to see what the options are.
GM: “You can make us steaks,” her dad calls without smiling back at Stephen’s halfhearted joke. There’s always steak in the fridge. There’s some vegetables, too, for a side. Peas and potatoes.
Her dad talks with Stephen about his intended career. She may find some relief in that he approves of her boyfriend’s career choice. He especially approves of Stephen’s desire to prosecute the Mafia and further his family’s work.
“The Mafia are the scum of the earth,” her dad declares without pause.
Stephen doesn’t look like he disagrees at all.
They’re able to talk about a lot of the same things Celia and Stephen talked about on their first ‘date.’
“That’s a good vocation. Putting filth and degenerates behind bars. Thomas E. Dewey did that. That’s how he became a governor. An almost president. Prosecuting Lucky Luciano. You know his story, I’m sure.”
“Yes, sir. Everyone thought he was the greatest lawyer in the country. I think he’d have been a good president.”
“They were better men in those days,” Maxen declares. “Even a Democrat nuked the Japs.”
Celia: Celia has never cooked a steak.
But there’s salad stuff, lettuce and veggies, so she pulls out the meat because she heard Bobby Flay say something about letting it rest. She gets to cutting the veggies for the salad.
Salt, pepper… some of that… green stuff. She hates touching the raw meat. Hates it. She grimaces every time she does. It’s bleeding and it drips on the floor and then she has to clean it up and she doesn’t heat the pan before she puts it in with a pat of butter. Then more butter. And a little more, because butter makes everything better. Paula Dean said that.
Potatoes poked with a fork and set in the oven, wrapped in foil. She’d seen her mom do that enough times when she was a kid to remember that much. Not 350, though. 400? She takes a guess.
How do you cook peas?
Celia decides to boil them.
She dresses and plates the salad, then carries it out for Stephen and her dad.
GM: Her dad gives her a cross look.
“You bring everything out at the same time, Celia. Don’t you remember how we serve the food?”
“Does it make a difference?” asks Stephen.
Her father stares at him.
“Yes. It does.”
He does not elaborate.
“Throw it out, Celia. It’ll just get soggy now. Make it again.”
“I can help,” says Stephen, rising from his seat. “The game’s almost-”
Her father puts a hand on her boyfriend’s shoulder and sits him back down.
“Celia will do it.”
Stephen looks a little uncomfortable. “All right.”
Celia: “Oh. Daddy, at school we learned that the salad comes out first. But… of course.” She retreats back into the kitchen, giving Stephen a look over her dad’s head. She should have dated him in secret and called it a day.
The salad goes into the garbage. She drains the peas, throws some butter on those as well, and adds a dash of salt. Potatoes are… not done. Steak is barely sizzling.
“Daddy, do you want wine with dinner?” she calls.
GM: “Yes, I do. Stephen, how old are you?”
“You can pour for him too, Celia.”
Celia: Red wine, red meat. That makes sense, right? It makes sense to Celia, so that’s the bottle that she gets.
Eventually everything is done. Two steaks, three potatoes, a bunch of peas, a fresh salad. No steak for Celia. She sets the table, then moves into the doorway between rooms.
“Do you want me to bring it in here, Daddy? I set the table, but I can bring it here instead.”
GM: Stephen tries to turn the conversation back to Mafia-related things, since that hit off well. But her dad’s mood doesn’t seem in it anymore. He actually looks a bit grateful when Celia reappears. Her dad answers, “Civilized people eat at the table, Celia. I shouldn’t have to explain this to you.”
Celia: “You just looked comfortable, Daddy.”
GM: “Do either of you know what we get when people value comfort more than civilization?” he asks.
“Decadence,” Maxen answers.
“I suppose that’s true, sir,” Stephen says.
“Why are you telling me you set the table? That’s always your job,” Celia’s father says as he gets up.
Celia: “I was… calling you to dinner, is all. Letting you know it was ready. Poor choice of words.”
GM: “You can say dinner is ready next time.”
Celia: “Yes, Daddy.”
GM: “I don’t care if the table is set. I care that dinner is ready.”
Celia: “Dinner is ready.” Celia smiles at him.
GM: They sit down. Stephen pulls out Celia’s chair, which her dad seems to approve of, as well as the fact that the men have steaks.
Stephen compliments the food. Her dad simply chews.
Stephen brings up philosophy and the works of the Stoics. Her dad seems to approve of that topic, at least. He mentions how James Stockdale, the war hero survivor of the Hanoi Hilton, credits much of his resilience to Epicetus’ Enchiridion.
“Men had guts in that era.”
“Social values were different,” Stephen says. “The Stoics belittled physical pain, but not as a form of machismo. To them, the shame and social pain of failing in one’s duty was worse than any physical suffering.”
Celia’s dad seems distracted by the underdone potatoes.
Celia: Celia makes sure to keep his glass of wine full. She leaves the conversation to the men, like a good woman.
GM: Stephen tries to bring her in a few times.
“Celia’s major is dance. She doesn’t know about these things,” her father says.
“It seems like it runs in the family,” Stephen says conversationally.
Her dad looks at him.
Celia: Celia gives him a look. No.
“He—he saw me at school,” Celia fumbles, “and I guess he asked my friend about me, and she knows about…” Celia doesn’t say the name. She sets down her fork.
GM: Stephen looks more than a bit confused.
“Celia’s mother is dead,” her father says. “It’s a painful subject for her.”
Celia: Celia nods. She looks down at her plate.
GM: “Oh. I hadn’t realized. I’m so sorry,” says Stephen.
“Why are you sorry? You didn’t do anything,” says her father.
Oh God just stop talking.
“Right. Thank you. Very painful. Daddy, did Stephen tell you what his father does?”
GM: “Yes,” adds Stephen, “he’s a prosecutor for the Eastern District of Louisiana…”
The rest of the conversation is comparatively smoother sailing, if through still-turbulent waters. Celia’s dad does not seem happy with the dinner, but at least doesn’t remark on it.
“Many girls’ fathers like to remind boys they have guns,” Maxen then says.
“I played football for years. Quarterback. I practice martial arts. I don’t need guns to kill somebody. I can kill with my bare hands.”
He stares Stephen in the eye. Silence hangs for a moment.
“I expect my daughter to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Stephen looks at a momentary absence for words.
“I understand, sir.”
Celia’s father turns back towards her.
“Celia, clear the table, do the dishes, and go to bed. I’m going to talk with Stephen about boundaries.”
Celia: Celia gathers up the plates, gives her dad a kiss on the cheek, and excuses herself to the kitchen. “Doing the dishes” really just means putting them in the dishwasher. So she loads that and tidies up the rest of the mess she made with paper towels, Lysol wipes, and Mr. Clean’s lemon cleanser for the floor. The steak packages had bled. Everywhere.
She’s not trying to eavesdrop, not really. But if it so happens that she does, well, at least she’ll know what to apologize to Stephen for.
GM: Her father is to the point. How late is acceptable to be out. What places it is acceptable to go and what activities are acceptable to do. Celia is saving herself for marriage and has made a commitment to Jesus Christ that she will wait. If Stephen dishonors her commitment, Maxen will do things to him. Things he “won’t ever forget, because they will remain on your body forever.”
Maxen then says he likes Stephen. His grandfather might have been a Democrat, but the Democrats were “a different party” back in those days. Stephen seems smart and is pursuing a respectable career. His goal of “putting scum behind bars” is laudible. If Celia’s boyfriend can abide by the above terms, “You and I will get along perfectly well.”
“I think we’ll be able to, sir,” Stephen answers.
“Good. I’m sorry for how bad the dinner was. Celia can be stupid and will be taking further cooking lessons to make up for tonight.”
“I wouldn’t say she’s stupid, sir-”
“Stephen, I tell things as they are. Celia has received instruction on how to cook and is still incapable of preparing a proper meal for her men. That makes her stupid.”
“The fault is partly mine. I should have recognized her intellectual limits and started her at a younger age instead of assuming she would recognize something’s value and apply herself accordingly.”
Celia: Celia can’t listen to this anymore. Her heart sinks. She hadn’t learned how to cook steak at school yet. She had done the potatoes the way her mom had showed her, and peas are always mushy. The dressing was hand-made, and she’d loved it, with oil and vinegar and spices. Her dad’s words are like a slap to the face. She slinks out of the kitchen after starting the dishwasher.
She wants to go back to the dorm. She has an excuse about a test on the tip of her tongue. Her books are at the dorm. It’s not even a lie. But she can’t imagine that her father is going to let her go, and after hearing what he said to Stephen…
Celia heads for the stairs. She will sleep here tonight. She will talk to Stephen tomorrow, and hopefully he will understand. Her heart is warmed by the fact that he stuck around, that he spoke up against her father’s harsh words.
She can only hope that he isn’t scared off.
Saturday afternoon, 15 November 2008
GM: Stephen talks with Celia tomorrow. He says her dad is “uh, intense.” He mentions that Maxen made plans with him to “do some martial arts together” so he could be able to defend Celia. “I didn’t really feel like I could say no.”
“He’s really… Jesus, Celia, I think I’d have preferred if you never introduced us.”
“Uh, no offense.”
Celia: Her giggle borders on hysterical. She can’t help it. She didn’t think that he would even call her back after that. Last night was both better and worse than she had imagined.
“I’m sorry. I… I don’t really know how to explain without telling you everything, and it’s… it’s really…”
There are tears in her eyes. She looks away. She shouldn’t tell him. But she wants to tell him.
“It’s bad,” she says, “growing up like that, and then when I was in the kitchen I heard what he said, and it was just…”
She wipes at her eyes. Her own father called her stupid. Her lower lip trembles. Does Stephen think she’s stupid now too? They’d just made themselves “official” and she’d ruined it by taking him home to meet her father.
“I’m sorry,” she says again.
GM: “Aw, Jesus. I’m sorry you had to hear that,” Stephen says, taking her hand. “You’re not stupid. That’s… really fucked up he’d call you that.”
Celia: “I’m a dance major.” Her voice breaks. “My roommate has to tutor me in Biology.”
GM: “I need help with Biology,” Stephen says. “I know it doesn’t have anything to do with law. Half the time I’m reading the textbook, my brain feels like it’s going to leak out through my ears.”
Celia: “But you’re so smart.”
GM: “I’m just good at different things. You’re probably a lot better at dance than me.”
“That’s really sweet how you’re majoring in dance too, like your mom.”
“I’m sorry she passed. That must’ve sucked with just your dad around.”
Celia: “If I tell you something… you can’t tell anyone else. Okay?” Her eyes search his face. There’s something in her tone that’s pleading.
GM: Stephen nods. “I won’t.”
Celia: “My mom isn’t dead. That’s not a secret. You can look her up. She teaches at McGehee. She kept my dad’s name.” Celia pauses. She isn’t sure where to begin. She doesn’t know how much to tell him.
“She wasn’t… hit by a car. My dad… I found out after they divorced that… he used to…” She doesn’t know how to say it. “He used to hit her. And… one night when I was… I was fourteen… he’d just won the senate seat, and he… I snuck back into the house. My parents were supposed to be out of town. But my mom… I heard her screaming. I heard a smack and… my dad, he…” her fingers tremble. She curls her hands into fists to keep them from shaking. “I tried to stop him. I watched him.. he threw her—both of us—down the stairs. She told me to run. But I couldn’t leave her. I couldn’t… I couldn’t leave her. I tried to call the police but they didn’t come, they never came, and I saw him… he had a… her leg… there was so much blood.”
GM: Stephen blinks.
“Did she report it to the police, try to get custody of you?”
Celia: “Custody?” Celia’s laugh is watery. “She would lose that battle. None of my siblings want to see her. Isabel, she’s still at McGehee, she hates her. She follows my dad’s logic that Mom is ‘dead.’ I don’t think they even know what happened. I told Isabel about the abuse and she called me a liar.”
Celia wipes at her eyes.
“He broke her legs. On purpose. So she couldn’t dance. And when it was over he threw away all her gear, her trophies. He cut off her parents, told them to choose us or her, and they chose us. Over their own daughter. You see how he is. And I can’t tell anyone, I can’t—he’s a senator. No one would believe me, and nothing would change, and he’d… he’d kill me.” She isn’t even sure that she’s exaggerating at this point. What is he going to do when she goes home this summer if the hymen kit doesn’t work?
“He’s going to kill me.” She doesn’t mean to say it out loud. It’s barely a whisper, more to herself than him.
GM: Stephen takes her hand again. “He’s not going to kill you. Just keep lying to him. And your mom could get custody. My dad knows lots of lawyers. You could go to the press over this. Get him out of office!”
Celia: “I can’t, Stephen. Don’t you need proof for something like that? My mom won’t say anything, and who is going to believe me? I was fourteen. And she doesn’t make enough to support four kids now. He wanted me to go to Liberty. Up North. But I had to stay here so I could make sure he doesn’t hurt them.”
She shouldn’t have told him. All this talk of exposing her father, it’ll just make things worse. Fracture the family even more. Ruin her mother’s life.
“You can’t tell anyone. You promised.”
“I can… I’m thinking of something to do. To help.”
GM: “Okay, statute of limitations is a thing,” Stephen grants. “I don’t think he could be criminally charged with domestic abuse, at least over that specific instance. But you should talk with a real lawyer to be sure. I bet there’s others, too. And even if there’s not, you sure as hell could get him removed from office and make him lose custody of the kids. He’d definitely be on the hook for child support if that happened.”
“I’m not going to tell anyone. I did promise. But you and your mom shouldn’t let him get away with this!”
Celia: “She’s broken,” Celia whispers. Like me.
Only Celia isn’t broken. She’s in college. She’s in beauty school. She’s dating a great guy.
She’s planning how to pretend to be a virgin still when the doctor sticks his fingers up inside of her. Protecting her mom’s abuser because she’s afraid.
“Your dad… you think he could help?”
GM: Stephen nods. “Absolutely. He’s a federal prosecutor. He’s used to taking down people in powerful positions like your dad, and has tons of legal connections.”
“Look, I wanted to introduce you to him anyway, so let’s do that. You could also introduce me to your mom, to get a better feel for things.”
“And so I get to meet at least one non-horrible parent of yours.”
Celia: “My mom is a sweetheart,” Celia agrees. “She’ll love you.”
GM: Her boyfriend smiles. “I guess you had to get it from somewhere.”
Friday afternoon, 21 November 2008
GM: Em’s second date with Mark doesn’t go as well as the first.
It goes worse.
It’s largely the same verbal and sexual degradation, though he does it in a dress, bra, and wig this time. Mark calls Em fouler names and seems even more turned on.
Or at least aggressive. Visiting his pent-up lusts on a girl (or at least boy who looks more like a girl) seems to embolden the gray-haired man. He cums over Em’s face and tells him to wipe it off, then “lick that up, you crossdressing little faggot. Lick it up with that man-pleaser mouth.”
Em is sore all day afterwards. He bleeds when he poops.
Christina Roberts sends him to a beauty salon before his next “date.” He’s under instructions to get “completely transformed” by the staff there. Clearly it’s what Mark is into.
Em could have gone to a real salon. But he took a quick look at those prices.
A little research, and he found out beauty schools have their own practice salons that offer cheaper treatments. There’s one nearby in Algiers.
He doesn’t need the money, not really, with how much whoring pays.
Going to a cheaper place is just an act of petty, meaningless rebellion no one may even notice.
Like his life.
Celia: The uniform at the John Jay Beauty College is black. Black scrubs, black aprons, black dress shoes. Even the headband Celia wears is black, pushing her hair back from her face to keep up with the neat appearance of the students at John Jay’s. She has a slip of paper in her hand as she moves into the waiting room, looking for her next client.
The waiting room itself, even at a school like this, is… comfortable. Shelves with products line the walls and invite perusal. A sofa and chairs dot the area in front of the reception desk. Guests are offered tea and water upon arrival, and if they have neither then Celia is supposed to offer again. She’s often reprimanded for forgetting.
“El… len?” she asks, hesitantly, as she stares down at the handwritten note in her hand. None of the women in the waiting room look up. She clears her throat, tries again. “El? Elliot?”
GM: “You’ll get faggots and fairies, sometimes,” one of her instructors had mentioned during class.
“Whatever. Their money’s as good as any woman’s.”
Emmett: The man who coughs and gets to his feet doesn’t look like he’s definitely gay, though. Well, he doesn’t look not gay, so much as he oozes sexuality that’s indifferent to anybody’s tastes but his own perverse appetites.
At least, he normally does.
When the pretty girl (who does she remind me of?) calls Elliott’s name, it’s like a fresh coat of paint splashed over a wall with water damage. A boyish smile warms impishly handsome features. It’s only when his expression is so transformed that Celia realizes the ‘man’ is no older than her.
You could forget it looking into his eyes, though. There’s something lost and mischievous and dark in there, and it takes most people a long time to wander that far from themselves. The faint bruises on his face, and purpling around one of his eyes, don’t help him look younger.
He’s dressed in a silk button-down and sea-colored slacks, but he allows himself the freedom of an untucked shirt and unbuttoned sleeves.
“Elliott,” he agrees, extending a slender hand with aggressively trimmed nails. “And you are?”
Celia: “Elliot.” The name gives her pause. Her eyes move across his face, and it’s after only a very brief pause that she takes his hand in her own. Her shake is less than firm. “Hi, Elliot. My name is Celia. I’ll be working with you today. We have you scheduled for an oxygen lift and makeup application.” There’s a slight lilt to the end of the sentence that turns it into a question, as if double checking the services.
“If you don’t mind following me, I’ve prepared a treatment room.” The girl at the front desk had already had Elliot fill out the paperwork—mostly a release form in case his technician messes anything up—and an agreement that he wouldn’t use Retinol based products for the next 24 hours. She leads him into the spa side of the school, quieter without the gossiping hairdressers and blow dryers, and into a small room with a flat massage table in the middle. The table is draped in sheets, a pillow on one side for his head and another at the other end that will go beneath his knees. Various bottles of skincare products line the counter near the sink.
“So, the oxygen lift is generally for drier skin. Is that a major concern for you? Or what is it that you know you need to focus on? You can have a seat if you like. In a moment I’ll step out to let you get ready.”
GM: His major concern is that he’s a piece of shit no one loves and everyone callously uses.
But you focus on the little things first, right?
Oxygen lifts. Dry skin.
Emmett: He cares about his appearance, but he’s also been blessed with looks that take care of themselves. It’s all the ugly he keeps inside.
“I honestly don’t know much about what’ll work for me,” he says. “I don’t think I have particularly dry skin. But I’d probably have to defer to you. I mean, you look spectacular, so I assume you know what you’re doing.”
He doesn’t put any particular emphasis or heat on the compliment. It’s one of the things you do automatically as a whore.
Celia: Celia is not immune to compliments. She smiles at him, cheeks turning a pretty pink beneath the layers of concealer and foundation. The full coverage prevents it from being visible, but it’s there.
“Perfect. In that case, I’m going to step out for a sec, let you get settled. There’s a… they call it a smock but it’s kind of just a wrap. So there’s hooks on the back of the door, you can take your shirt off and put the wrap on and lay back on the table there. I’ll come back in and we can take a look at your skin under the light, and you can tell me more about what you’re looking for with the makeup after this so I can create a good base.”
Celia sees herself out to let him get settled. It’s less than necessary, considering his gender, but she’s used to following the rules for female clients and maybe he’s modest or something. Besides, she needs a minute to text Cécilia to double check the fake name on her high school boyfriend.
Emmett: Meanwhile, the boy formerly known as Elliot whistles to himself as he removes the silk shirt from a chest that, if unmuscled, is at least scrawny and lean.
He wraps himself in the smock, or wrap, or loincloth, whatever, then lays down on the cool table and closes his eyes, waiting like a patient lover.
Or like a kid afraid of his first shot.
Celia: It’s awkward, the waiting. The girls always make their clients wait too long. It’s not on purpose, not really, but this time Celia was busy firing off a handful of texts to her high school friend about the guy on her table, so Elliot has some time to enjoy the smooth jazz pumped in via the speakers. Nothing he’d recognize. Muzak and all that.
Eventually, though, Celia is back with a knock at the door, and now that she has gotten a better look at the boy on her table she is sure is is the same boy from high school who cheated on her friend with that slut. But she smiles at him, because the salon has no room for personal vendettas.
“Tell me about what you’re going for tonight, look-wise.”
She starts the facial while she waits by wetting his skin. Then there’s an orange-scented cleanser that she applies liberally, her fingers gliding across his face the way she was taught. It’s half cleansing, half facial massage. Her touch is light, but thorough.
GM: Christina told him to arrive at the salon fully dressed up. Dress. Wig. Hose. Heels. “You don’t put on clothes after you put on makeup. The girls there won’t care what you look like.”
That’s another way to stick her the finger.
Stick her the finger while getting pounded in his rear.
Emmett: The answer, as with a great many subjects his mind wanders over as of late, is to not think about it.
Once, he might have felt some humiliation at his words, but not now. He didn’t even avoid wearing the dress out of pride. He just doesn’t like how it feels.
“Tonight, I need to be female. Well, feminine. Not too much paint, but enough to make me look different. Can you do that?”
He smiles faintly under her touch. “That feels nice. Do I know you from somewhere, by the way?”
Celia: Turn a boy into a girl? Celia can do that. She tells him as much while she pulls a towel out of the warmer. It’s hot against her skin, but by the time she unrolls it and sets it against his face it has cooled enough to be comfortable. She uses it to remove the cleanser, then lets him know she’s starting the first of two masks. This one is for exfoliation. It has glycolic acid, which will break up any sebaceous filaments.
“People usually think those black dots on their nose and chin are blackheads, but they’re just clogged pores. This helps clean it out, and then I can extract them once we get them nice and pliant under the steam. This mask stays on for a few minutes.”
She has, thus far, avoided his question. Her hands move from his body for a brief moment while she cleans them off, then they’re back on his shoulders. Her fingers glide across his traps and up his neck with firm pressure. Neck massage while masking. That’s the best part of any facial.
The first mask comes off with a sponge. Time for extractions. She puts a cotton pad over his eyes to protect them from the lamp that she swings across his face, then begins. It’s… well, sometimes it’s painful, but she doesn’t push against anything that isn’t ready to come out.
“Date tonight?” she asks, to keep him focused on something else.
Emmett: “That’s what they call it,” he agrees. “Not exactly what I’d say, though. More of an ordeal.” His eyes are still closed.
She didn’t answer that question, which makes him think she does know him. But does he know her? She’s so familiar, but somehow, he can’t think of why.
He doesn’t make any noise at the pains she causes him. They are gentle things next to some of what other women have inflicted on him.
Celia: “You don’t sound very happy about it.”
Elliot has good skin. Celia tells him so. The extraction phase doesn’t last long; she gets out what she can, wipes down the contaminated areas with a swab of something similar to alcohol that will prevent infection, and moves on to the oxygen lift.
“This is my favorite mask. You can feel the bubbles foam and pop. But, hey, tell me about your date tonight. Where are you going?”
GM: A hotel room.
There’s never anywhere else.
Not even dinner like with some of his other clients.
Emmett: “It’s sort of an obligatory date,” he hedges, not particularly caring about that secret, but not wanting to scare her off too quickly. “The kind I’m not supposed to say no to. It’s with the guy who gave me these.” He twitches his cheek slightly, emphasizing one of the faint bruises there.
He smiles under the mask she gives him. “Then I guess it’s my favorite now, too.”
Celia: Her movements slow. The mask does its thing beneath the steam, and her hands move once more to the massage. The neck and shoulders. She doesn’t dig, not quite, but if she does find an area of tension she lingers and presses a knuckle against it while the mask foams. The whole point of it is to deliver oxygen to drier areas of skin, so anywhere that needs it will be the areas where the mask foams the most.
“Client-tech confidentiality clause,” she tells him, voice mild. There’s no judgment. “If you need to, you know, talk about it. Otherwise… I have a good concealer for that kind of thing, or if he prefers seeing them then I have a lighter coverage foundation for you. How glam are you going for?”
Emmett: “Is there?” he says, sounding surprised. “They really have confidentiality for everything these days, don’t they? Next bartenders won’t be able to tell you any good stories.”
“Hmm. Why don’t you disappear the bruises for now. I’ll see how he reacts tonight and we’ll see in the future. And any glam will go a long way with this guy. Subtle is always better with rich people. They like to think they’re paying for specialty.”
Celia: “It’s literally my job to listen to you, you know,” Celia says with a laugh. “That’s part of the industry. We’re part therapist and part beautician. But sure thing, I’ll keep that in mind.”
The second mask comes off. She follows it up with an anti-aging serum, which is pretty standard, and an eye cream. Then a moisturizer and lip balm. She talks while she works.
Emmett: “You don’t want to hear me talk about it, anyway. Celia, right? How’d you end up painting faces?”
GM: Hey, Celia. That’s his ex’s name, if a couple letters poorer.
Celia: “I… just enjoy it. I’ve been into it since I was a kid, really. I go to Tulane, actually, but I’m here part time because this is what I really want to do. My mom helped me get my foot in the door.” She doesn’t mention that a foot in the door is really a tuition check and hiding from her dad. “So I’m at two schools at once. It’s kind of intense. But fun! Very fun.”
Emmett: “That does sound intense,” he agrees, wondering if it’s more or less stressful than working as a whore. He would ask, but he assumes she’s never had sex for money, and he’s never gone to college. So, really, who’s to say?
Celia: Celia asks if he’d like lash extensions for his eyes. Really make them pop, she explains, and tells him the procedure: she’ll put an extension on each one of his normal lashes, a few millimeters longer than his lashes. It’ll give them a nice curl, make them darker, longer, thicker. She can add some volume fans to fill in the gaps.
“The nice thing about extensions,” she tells him, “is that they last for a few weeks, so the first time takes a while to put on but then you come get them filled in every two to three weeks and it doesn’t take as long.”
A while, as it turns out, is two hours. Celia has him stay where he’s at on the table and look up for her so she can tape down his lower lashes, then puts a pair of eye pads beneath either eye to protect his skin. It’s not altogether uncomfortable, but it’s a little weird to feel it for the first time, especially since she showed him the tweezers she was going to use. Sharp. Two of them. Right near his eyes.
The lashes she gives him only go up to 11 millimeters. His own natural lashes are not much shorter, but if she goes too long then the extensions will damage his normal lash, and she doesn’t think that he wants to look like a girl all the time anyway.
“I’m going to follow the natural shape of your eye. Add a little bit longer in the middle, shorter on the ends. It’s what we call a doll-eye look, really opens up your eyes, makes them look a lot bigger. A lot of people like that.”
She explains the fans, too, how she takes three extensions, dips one end in the glue to keep it together, and then puts the fan on one of his lashes. It fills in gaps, makes them look fluffy. Not too many, though, because he’s a boy and only needs them for a special event.
Like the massage, her touch is gentle. He can barely feel it when she starts to work, and rather than pester him with questions about his date and life she lets him sleep. Tells him that a lot of people fall asleep, really, and it’s not a big deal.
All in all, the extensions take about two hours, and she’s glad that she had the time for him. She mists his face with a tiny bit of water to set the glue, dries him with a hand fan, and gently rubs his shoulder to wake him up when it’s done.
The first two parts are done. Now it’s just makeup. Celia excuses herself from the room and lets him know he can get dressed again, and she’ll meet him right outside the room when he’s ready to apply his face. Privacy and all that.
Emmett: He joins her outside after throwing his shirt back on.
“Anyways, I know better than anybody that just because something’s your job doesn’t mean it’s what you’d like. There’s too much pretending in this world. I won’t force somebody to listen to me if they’ve got more important things to talk about.” He chuckles. “Like what they’re going to do when they finish… I think it’s called beauty school, but I wouldn’t know lipstick from a glue stick.”
Celia: “Beauty school is what they called it in the ’50s,” Celia tells him. She leads him to the vanity, where an array of makeup is waiting. Foundation, concealer, powders, blush, eyeshadow pallets, lipsticks in all sorts of colors. There’s an apron around her waist with a veritable army of brushes ready for use.
“Now it’s called cosmetology school if you’re going for hair, or esthetics if you’re for skincare. That’s what I’m doing. Skin, waxing, makeup. And while you do have a point, it’s kind of like… bartending?” It’s a question. “It’s about the experience.” She starts with a concealer to hide the worst of the bruises. It’s a little more yellow than his skin, but she explains the color will correct the purpling.
“Can I see what you’re wearing tonight? Helps me get a good look for the face.”
Emmett: He still has a selfie on his phone that he sent Christina as reference.
The overall vibe is very… “Goldilocks.”
Celia: The photo gives her some clarity on what kind of vibe he’s going for. She nods and gets to work. Foundation, a little more concealer around the bruising to make sure it’s fully hidden, smokes out his eye with neutrals bleeding into dark grays.
“You asked what we do after this?” she says after some time. “I’d like to open my own place. Help people with skincare. I had… less than stellar skin growing up. Acne, all over.”
Hard to see it now behind all the makeup she’s wearing, but there are definitely still spots that cover her cheeks and chin. Her dermatologist couldn’t help much with the fact that she kept picking and scarred her face. But it’s possible he remembers her now—Cecilia’s ‘discount’ friend. The one who was teased about having chicken pox the day she didn’t have time to put on concealer before school.
Emmett: “Who among us, right?” he chuckles, though he absolutely had stellar skin growing up.
Celia: “Esthi school is less of a time investment than derm school. Look up for me, like you’re rolling your eyes.”
She coats his waterline in white, to make his eyes look bigger.
“What do you do?
Emmett: He blinks at her question, then remembers to look up. “Oh, I thought you realized. I’m a whore, sweetie. Well, I kind of prefer gigolo, more syllables, but a rose by any other name, right?”
He’s kind of getting into this whole ‘spa’ thing. He doesn’t even have to worry about maybe seeming gay anymore. Cloud, silver lining?
Celia: His blatant, casual use of the word startles her. She stops what she’s doing. She doesn’t mean to, but she does. Her eyes blink rapidly, confusion coloring her face. She looks down at the brush in her hand, then back to his cheek.
It seems to click.
“Oh!” She leans in. “Like… for men?”
Emmett: “Like for people who pay me. Tonight, that means a man.” He smiles faintly at her. “You thought I was just a pervert?”
Celia: “No. A crossdresser. Close your eyes a sec.” Celia sets what she has done on his face already with powder. She reaches for a blush that’s slightly darker than his skin and explains its contour, to chisel and shape his face. It will narrow his jaw, help bring his chin to a more delicate point.
Makeup is magical like that.
Emmett: He smiles benignly at the correction even as those eyes close indulgently. “That’s real politic of you. That the right word? Not everybody in this city would bother to point out the difference.”
Celia: “Trans… vestites?” Celia says the word slowly. She isn’t sure. Daddy always just called them faggots. “How did you get into that?”
Emmett: His smile persists at her timidity, then sombers at her second question.
“Would you believe I was following my dreams?”
Celia: “How does being a, um, a whore,” she lowers her voice, “help you follow your dreams?”
GM: Well, if Sami Watts is anything to go by, it pays.
Emmett: “It doesn’t, except by giving me something I thought I wanted once. But when you get what you want, you get what once you wanted. I’ve gotten a lot of what I wanted when I was younger. I’m still less than what I was before.”
Celia: Celia’s less sure what to say to that. But highlight follows the contour, then blush. NARS Orgasm, she tells him. Just came out. It has a tiny bit of sparkle, but the color is flattering on pretty much everyone.
Emmett: He laughs when she tells him the name of the brand. “Well, that’s only fitting, I suppose. That’s not going to be the only orgasm on my cheeks tonight.”
Celia: Not the only orgasm on my cheeks tonight. What does that mean? Celia finds the words tumbling out of her mouth before she can stop herself.
“Do you mean he like… finishes on your… face?” She gestures toward her own face, as if she needs to explain further.
Emmett: ‘Elliot’ grins slyly at her. “Well, or my other cheeks. You’ve never talked about stuff like this before, have you?”
He feels like a sixth grader showing a younger kid a dirty picture. It is not an unpleasant feeling, having been on both sides of that exchange in elementary school.
Celia: Cheeks means butt, right? Which means Elliot here is the… woman. Which shouldn’t surprise her. He’s literally here to dress and be made up as a woman. And yet somehow Celia is still taken aback. Flustered, by both his tone and the look he gives her.
Emmett: He’s quiet for a moment. “You have family?”
Celia: She considers lying. But it doesn’t really serve a purpose.
“I, um, no.” She tells him to look down without closing his eyes so she can add the eyeliner.
“Conservative parents. And I only just started seeing someone and he…” she lowers her voice again, “do guys enjoy doing that? Finishing on people’s faces?”
Everything that she has done with Stephen has been new and rather tame compared to what Elliot is telling her.
“Is it, like, sticky?”
Emmett: His laugh is heartier now, but not unkind. “Very conservative parents. You remind me of a girl I knew in high school whose father tried to find out where I lived. And some of us do. Others are more, ah, courteous. I’m sure your beau’s one of the good ones. As for stickiness… ain’t any worse than molasses.” He winks, trying to provoke a laugh.
Celia: She can’t help but picture her boyfriend with molasses spurting from his dick. Elliot gets the giggle he’s going for, quickly stifled by a hand over her mouth.
Celia shouldn’t be talking about this. It’s so unprofessional. And yet… it’s literally his profession. And he started it. And she’s, well, curious. It’s not like she can ask her mom. Poor woman would have a heart attack.
“Why did her dad try to track you down?” she asks instead, finishing the winged liner. She asks if he’d prefer false lashes or mascara.
Emmett: “It’s a silly story. She wanted to be in a movie I was making—to impress another girl, actually, but that’s a longer story. She and her mom both tried out, and the dad called me. He’s this real guff football fan, angry because he likes to know exactly where his little girl is and what kind of project I’m throwing together. He wanted to see the script, that kind of thing. He really starts breathing down my neck all the way across the line, so I kind of… provoked him.”
Celia: “Huh. That does sound like my dad. Why would you provoke him? And what happened when you did?”
GM: Because he hurts less when other people hurt more.
Emmett: “Authority issues, I s’pose,” he says breezily. “What my mom always said, anyways. I was just perfectly polite, but just before I hung up I asked him to give my regards to Diana—and that was his wife’s name,” he smiles shyly. “It’s crazy, I actually found out from his girl later he’s a politician and all. Crazy family.”
Celia: Celia’s brow furrows. “Mom never went out for a—”
She pauses. Clears her throat.
Emmett: He blinks, fucking up her work slightly. “Wait, what?”
Celia: “You made that up.” But she isn’t sure, and her voice lacks any real heat. It’s almost a question, like he has the answer to the game they’ve been playing.
Emmett: “I’m confused. Are you messing with me?” He’s trying to figure out if she’s kidding. “Um, what’s your dad’s name?”
Celia: She should just say she’s kidding. But now she has to know if her mom really did go out for a movie. And if Isabel went with her. To impress a girl. That would explain so much.
Emmett: “Um.” He fidgets. “Shit.”
Celia: Celia crosses her arms, his lips only half lined.
Emmett: He holds up his hands and says, “Look, this is embarrassing. We can pretend I didn’t say anything.”
But please don’t make me have to find another person to make me up like a girl. That’s a lot to put on a guy.
Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything for a moment. He knows who she is. She knows who he is. He may or may not know that she knows. Finally, she leans in to finish lining his lips. It prevents feathering and bleeding, she’d told him earlier. The trick is to use the same color as the lipstick to avoid looking dated. Or like a chola.
“…did you really tell him to give your regards to Diana?” She sounds amused. And impressed.
Emmett: He chuckles despite himself, actually flushing slightly even under all the makeup. “Like I said. Authority issues.”
Celia: “Which of the girls came out for the movie? Isabel?” Lipstick time. Red? She holds up two against his cheek, considering, and finally picks a third. Swipes it on.
Emmett: “Isabel and Diana both tried out, but didn’t know they both wanted a role. The movie never happened, anyways. Things didn’t go as planned.”
Celia: You cheated on Cécilia.
“I heard. Blot.” She presses a tissue against his lips. Then a translucent setting powder. Then more lipstick. “Prevents it from smearing,” she explains. As if he’d asked.
“Do you still make movies?”
Emmett: His voice takes on an edge, but not a very sharp one. “What did you hear? And no. I moved onto the bigger and brighter thing that sits before you.”
Celia: “There was a girl who…” Celia hesitates. “She had photos of you. Of the two of you.” She raises her brows at him, as if asking if she needs to spell it out.
Emmett: He snorts. “Yeah. I’ve seen the pictures. I missed the actual event.”
The bitterness in his voice is real now.
Celia: It takes her a moment. She’s quiet. There isn’t much left to be done with his face; she’s just stalling now, trying to put the pieces together in the brief moment that she has left with him. She shouldn’t have opened her mouth.
She doesn’t ask for permission. She just leans in and hugs him, cheek on his shoulder. She’s careful not to mess up his face.
Emmett: He’s surprised by the gesture, a kinder one than he’s shown to anybody in recent memory. She can feel the tension slide out of his shoulders after a moment, and then a light arm on her back, returning the hug.
He’s careful not to say anything, though. He isn’t sure if he’ll break the spell.
Celia: Celia doesn’t know if the words exist that she can string together to make this situation okay. An apology doesn’t seem to cut it. So she doesn’t say anything, just runs a hand through his hair at the back of his head, like her mom used to do with her. When she finally pulls back she finishes his face with a spritz of setting spray.
“I’m not as crazy as the rest of the family. If you want to come back sometime.” Her smile is warm.
Emmett: He can’t say anything. And for a moment he’s terrified. He wasn’t even trying to, but he’s done the thing he always does.
He’s fooled somebody into thinking he’s good.
If she only knew… but she doesn’t, and he could not tell her if he wanted to.
The only right thing to do is to walk out of her life before he poisons it—like he did to Sami’s, and Ron’s, and his own.
So instead he says, “I think I’d like that.”
Friday evening, 21 November 2008
GM: Celia’s been able to see her mom a lot more since moving to on-campus. But that’s had its own ups and downs.
She’s thrilled to hear Celia has been making friends. “I guess you really have a lot more chances when you’re livin’ together.” She’s glad that Celia can “be yourself” with her own clothes and makeup. She loves hearing about everything Celia is covering at school—both her schools. Dance is obviously the one more up her alley than esthetics, but that’s the one Celia is obviously the most into. She makes trips out to Algiers so that her daughter can practice on her at the student salon. “I’m so happy for you, sweetie, I really am. It feels like you’re just blooming,” she beams.
She’s also in semi-chronic pain from her leg. Celia hadn’t noticed it before, when they couldn’t see each other as often. There’s not much her mom can do but sit down, take some painkillers, and wait for it to pass. She tries not to let Celia see when that happens.
She also still looks tired. She’s working a lot of weekend and after-school hours at the dance studio or giving private lessons. She doesn’t ever seem to buy new clothes. She asks if Celia can give her haircuts (“just a basic trim around the edges, nothin’ fancy”) to save on styling costs. They never go out to eat or go shopping together. Meals are always ones her mom cooks at home.
Celia: Celia isn’t as stupid as Daddy says she is. So while her mother doesn’t want to see her when her leg is in pain, an idea begins to form in the back of her mind. She brings it up over one of those home-cooked meals her mom makes, which she loves. Both because they get to eat together and because it’s an opportunity for her to learn to cook from someone other than her cooking class instructor. Plus it’s practice. Celia enjoys cooking with her mom, especially since her dad isn’t breathing down her neck about it.
“Hey Momma. My roommate, you know, Emily? She’s in school for pre-med. Kineseiology.” Celia doesn’t quite pronounce it right. “I think she was looking for people to, um, to practice on. Can she look at your leg?”
GM: Celia’s mom is more than happy to teach her how to cook. “It’s really such a useful thing to know. Everyone should learn at least a lil’ bit.” They start off with simple things, like roasted vegetables. Her mom calls them, “Like a healthy microwavable meal, since all you have to do is toss some olive oil, salt, and pepper over the veggies, then stick ’em in the oven.”
There’s no steak. That’s expensive. Produce is cheap.
The request/offer makes Celia’s mom pause mid-way through adding some mustard seeds to the pan of vegetables.
“I… don’t know how much she could do, sweetie,” her mom demurs. “It’s… it’s what it is.”
Celia: “She can look, though. Maybe give some therapy tips?”
GM: Celia’s mom looks uncomfortable, but demurs with, “All right, if you think so.”
Celia: Celia beams. “I’ll let her know. In other news, I…. met a boy.”
“And he’s my boyfriend.”
“And I want you to meet him.”
“And I like him.”
GM: The smile bursts through on her mom’s face like noonday sun through morning clouds. “A boy!? Oh, sweetie, I’m so happy for you!” she exclaims, clasping Celia’s hands in hers. “Tell me everything, absolutely everything!”
Celia: Celia’s face mirror’s her mother’s. She can’t contain her smile. “His name is Stephen. And we met at a party. And his dad is a lawyer, and he wants to be a lawyer, and he took me on a date and it was amazing and we saw Batman and got pizza and he’s 22 and I really, really like him.”
GM: “Oh, that’s wonderful!” Celia’s mom exclaims, hugging her. “I’m so glad he’s been able to show you those things, you both must have had so much fun goin’ out.”
Celia: “He kissed me.” She’s grinning now, her cheeks flushed.
GM: “Well it’s about time somebody did,” her mom grins back.
“I’m so happy you want me to meet him! We can cook up something extra special, if you want to have him over.”
Celia: “I can’t wait! I think you’ll love him. I’ll bring something to make. We learned a new recipe in class I think you’ll like, too.”
GM: “I know I will, sweetie, if you’re this into him,” her mom smiles. “And that sounds like a great idea! I’d actually meant to ask you somethin’ there, about Tulane’s grocery.”
“If your dad has you on the unlimited meals plan, you could get your meals from the commons while asking him for money to pick up groceries. So you can cook in your dorm. And… you could bring those over to me, when you visit.” Her mom’s smile dims a bit. “It’s just that, things are really tight, with the auto payments and beauty school tuition… every lil’ bit would help, sweetie.”
Celia: “I… I didn’t know…” Celia takes a look at her mom. A real look. At her face, the haggard appearance. She had thought the home-cooked meals was a way to bond, to practice her lessons, the haircuts another way to practice. Her stomach clenches. She wasn’t paying attention.
“Of course, Momma. Of course.” She’ll start saving her tips, too. She doesn’t need more makeup. She can give them to her mom, help pay the car, the gas, the tuition. Maybe see if she can pick up a job with Emily this summer, like they had talked about.
GM: Her mom nods gratefully. “All right, that’s enougha that grim talk. Let’s talk about what we’re goin’ to cook up for your beau…”
Saturday evening, 22 November 2008
GM: If some part of Stephen is still nervous to meet Celia’s other parent after his last experience, it dissolves when his girlfriend’s mom greets him at the door with a wide smile and hug. She declares that “Celia’s had so much to say about you—and yes, all good things! I’m so happy to finally get to meet you, Stephen.”
Stephen looks more than a little relieved. “Me too, ma’am. She said you were a sweetheart.”
“She gives me a lot to feel sweet over,” Celia’s mom answers brightly. “And so did everything she said about you! You want to be a lawyer, right? So does…”
The conversation flows much easier than it did at Celia’s dad’s house. Her mom invites her daughter and boyfriend to sit down while she finishes cooking: she and Celia started earlier, since “if we did with your beau already here, and you wantin’ to help cook, that’d leave him plopped on his bum.” Stephen moves to help set the table and pour water. Celia’s mom remarks “what a gentleman” he is. Stephen still seems uncomfortable at the memory of Celia waiting on hand and foot for him and her dad. He says it’s “nothing, really, you did all the cooking.”
Dinner is bacon asparagus pastry twists. The basic idea is asparagus spears grilled with lemon juice, melted parmesan, and the usual staples of salt and pepper. The spears have a long, string cheese-shaped homemade puff pastry wrapped around them. Crispy bacon strips are wrapped around the gaps in the pastry in corkscrew pattern to “clothe” the spears and leave only their heads sticking out. Some egg wash and a garnishing of salt and pepper top off the whole affair. Texture-wise, the twists have are chewy but crispy from the bacon, light and flaky from the pastry, and have a chewier crunch underneath from the asparagus. They’re technically an appetizer, but Celia’s mom made a lot of them, so it feels like a snack with endless refills.
The side dish is mandarin orange salad with the eponymous fruit, lettuce spring mix, cranberries, almonds, and orange juice for dressing. There’s a bit of crunch, but the softness of the oranges (Celia’s mom uses the canned ones that are extra soft without any stringy bits) and the wet greens provides some nice contrast to the asparagus twists. So does the cooler temperature and sweet rather than salty/savory taste. Celia’s mom always advised her to serve side dishes with different textures, flavors, and temperatures than the main dish.
Dessert is chocolate chip cookies. They’re fat, wide, and thick, with lots of half-melted chips buried throughout the dough. They’re still warm and gooey being served fresh from the oven. Celia’s mom serves them alongside glasses of cool milk for dunking.
Celia’s mother always likes to send her home with food. She insists she’s going to send Stephen home with some cookies too. He eats six and says he has “no complaints at all, ma’am,” to going home with even more. Celia’s mom tells him to “be sure you reheat them in the oven instead of the microwave, you don’t want ’em to get soggy. About five minutes at 300 usually does it.”
“I’ll be sure to remember that, ma’am,” Stephen answers. He sounds like he means it. “All of this was delicious, by the way. I’m so glad Celia and I came over.”
“Oh, I’m so glad you liked it,” his girlfriend’s mom smiles. “Celia helped a lot. She’s such a good cook.”
“I can see where she gets it from. Let me do the dishes.”
“Oh, nonsense, you’re a guest!”
“Please, I’d feel bad if I didn’t,” Stephen says as he gathers up everyone’s plates. “You and Celia spent all that time making everything here.”
Celia’s mom looks like she wants to object, then rubs her head. She doesn’t seem as if she’d mind someone else doing the housework for once. “Okay. I’ll just make something else nice the next time you and Celia are over.”
“Sounds like a deal, ma’am,” Stephen replies over the sound of the running sink and scrubbing brush. The apartment doesn’t have a dishwasher.
Stephen washes dishes for a bit as Celia and her mom talk. He seems almost uncomfortable about how to bring up… well. His girlfriend’s dad.
He finally segues into it with, “Tonight was a lot more relaxed than at Celia’s dad’s house.” As if wondering if that’s too direct, he adds, “It’s always a little tense meeting a girl’s father.”
The smile on Celia’s mom’s face dims a little. “Oh, well, that’s just dads, I guess. But I’m so glad you can feel relaxed here, Stephen. I’d just love to have you over with Celia again!”
Stephen looks a bit unsure how to proceed from there.
Celia: “He thinks there might be a case against Dad,” Celia says bluntly. She watches her mother’s face.
GM: Her mother looks a bit taken aback. “Oh. A case for…?”
Stephen, seemingly gladdened by Celia broaching the topic first, turns around as he replies, “The abuse, Mrs. Flores.”
“Oh, please, you can call me Diana.”
Her face is very still.
Celia: “Your leg. The kids. All of it, Momma.” Her voice is gentler now.
GM: Her mother’s eyes quickly flick back to hers. Her face remains very still.
“I’m—I’m sorry, what abuse?”
Celia: Celia recognizes that look. She glances at Stephen.
GM: Stephen looks at Celia, then goes on, “She told me all the details. You don’t have to pretend.”
“I just want to help.”
Celia’s mom doesn’t say anything.
Celia: “We don’t have to do anything right now. Just… Mom, just think about it, okay?”
GM: Stephen goes on, “So, with statute of limitations, he can’t be charged with domestic abuse unless he’s done anything to you since. But you could absolutely go to court over this, to get custody of your kids, and to get him removed from office. My dad’s a federal prosecutor. We know lots of lawyers, we’d love to help.”
Celia’s mom still doesn’t say anything.
“There are law firms that do pro bono work, for PR, if money is an issue,” Stephen fills in. “There are definitely ones that would be interested in your case.”
Celia: “Mom. I know you’re scared. But… but it would help them. Isabel and David and Sophia and Logan.” She says their names, all four of them. She has to. “David has anxiety already. He’s almost an adult. And he…”
She can barely breathe. She doesn’t know when she changed her mind to going after Daddy.
“He hurt Isabel. Like the day he hit me. He spanked her. Until she bled, Momma.”
GM: Celia’s mother closes her eyes.
“M-Diana, we could go to the media, get lots of people involved. The scandal alone is likely to sway any judge, if he thinks it’s a bad home environment. Your kids can all testify. It doesn’t have to be just you.”
Stephen looks at Celia. “And if that was recent enough, he could be criminally charged too.”
Her mom still doesn’t say a word.
“Don’t you want to see your kids again?” Stephen presses, finally sounding a little frustrated.
“Of—of course I do!” Celia’s mom whispers hoarsely, finally looking back at them.
“I think about them every single day!”
Celia: “Mom, he’s making me see a doctor. Every semester. To check my—my hymen.” Her cheeks flood with color.
GM: “Wait, what?” Stephen exclaims.
He finally sets down the dishes and sits back down at the table.
Fear instantly steals over her mom’s face. “Oh—tell me you’ve just kissed!”
Celia: Celia’s eyes drop to her plate.
GM: Her mother gasps.
“Oh… OH! Celia, we, we have to fix this! Before he finds out!” Panic rises in her voice. “We have to fix this!”
Celia: “I bought a kit,” she mutters.
GM: “A… a kit?”
Celia: “They’re these… fake hymen things. You put them in and they expand to fill the, um, area, and it’s to… y’know. For girls who…”
Why did I say this.
Stephen is going to leave her for sure. She steals a glance at him, trying to be covert.
GM: “Are you serious? Is your entire family this way?” Stephen asks incredulously.
Celia: Celia glares at her mom.
“Is my whole family afraid of my father and unwilling to do something about it? Yes.”
GM: Celia’s mom ignores Stephen completely as she says, “Okay, a kit. That sounds like an idea. You can… try it out. Around anyone you feel comfortable with. We need to be totally, totally sure this is going to work, to keep your dad from finding out.”
Celia: Celia is almost positive that her relationship with Stephen is over. She shouldn’t have said anything. Her family looks crazy. She looks crazy. But she wants to ask her mom—why? What will happen if Daddy finds out she’s not “pure”?
Just… not in front of Stephen. Maybe there’s a way to salvage this.
“Now do you see why you need to do something, Mom? Isabel and Sophia shouldn’t have to go through this.”
GM: Celia’s mom lowers her gaze.
“There’s nothing I can do, sweetie.”
Her voice is small.
Celia: Celia just humiliated herself for nothing. Her hand curls into a fist on her lap. She blinks back angry tears.
GM: “There is something you can do!” Stephen says angrily. “There are law firms, my dad has connections! You could get your kids back and stop having to buy a—a frigging hymen kit every semester!”
Celia’s mother doesn’t raise her head.
“There’s nothing I can do,” she repeats in that small voice.
“Please… please don’t tell anyone about this.” She looks up at Stephen entreatingly. “Please, don’t tell anyone.”
Celia: “He’s not going to tell, Mom. Just… think about it, okay? What he’s doing is not okay. And you can stop it.” Celia pushes back from the table. “He’s sick. He’s sick and he’s making the whole family sick. I was lucky that you were there for fourteen years with me. The others aren’t.”
GM: “…how old is your youngest sibling?” asks Stephen.
Celia: “Logan is 11.”
GM: “So… he was six, when you left?” He looks back at Celia’s mom. “He’ll have had to grow up basically his whole life without you.”
“He’d have been in… first grade? I remember barely anything about first grade.”
Celia’s mom doesn’t say anything to that.
But her eyes look moist.
She presses her head to her palm.
Celia: Celia steals a glance at Stephen. He’s good at this. She wonders how much of it is him, and how much is growing up in a family full of lawyers. She gives him a nod, as if to say “keep going.”
GM: At that affirmative look from his girlfriend, Stephen goes on, “He’s going to forget you. He’s going to forget everything about you. Everything that your asshole ex doesn’t fill his head with. He told me you were dead when I visited.”
Celia: Celia flinches. She had forgotten that. She didn’t think Stephen would bring it up.
GM: Tears run through her mom’s hand. She still doesn’t say anything.
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Stephen says. “He’s 11. That’s a lot of time to still grow up with you. And away from that sick fuck.”
Celia’s mom doesn’t say anything about the profanity.
Celia: “He needs you, Mom. They all do.”
GM: “Look, I’ll talk to my dad, and get a lawyer to talk with you. That’s all you have to do at this point. Just talk to a lawyer.”
Celia: “I need you. I needed you to do what I actually want to do. How do you think they’re feeling? And they’ll grow up just like him. Isabel will marry someone like him who hits her. David will grow up to hit someone. Is that what you want for them?”
GM: Celia’s mom hangs her head.
“They don’t need me.”
Her voice is so small. Celia has to strain her ears to hear.
“I’m too weak.”
Celia: “When are you going to stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something? Would you want me to roll over for him? What would you do if I told you that Stephen broke my legs to keep me from dancing? ‘Sorry sweetie that’s too bad?’ Are you somehow less than because it happened? You let him get into your head. You’re letting him win. If you don’t fight then… then how can you expect any of us to?”
GM: Celia’s mother has no answer to that. Tears trickle down her face.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I’m so sorry…”
Stephen gives Celia a look.
Celia: Celia doesn’t know what that look means. Did she go too far? Should she go further? There are tears in her own eyes. She wipes them away, shaking her head at him. She doesn’t know what else to say.
GM: Stephen wraps his arm around Celia’s shoulder in a brief squeeze, then gets up. He retrieves a sticky note from the counter, scrawls something, and presses it into her mom’s hands.
“That’s my phone number, and my dad’s number. If you ever change your mind.”
“That’s… kind of you,” her mom manages.
“You’re welcome. Look, I… it feels like time for me to go. Celia, do you want me to drop you off at Tulane, or to stay with your mom?”
Celia: “I have to get back. Told Emi we’d study for Bio together tonight.”
Celia moves around the table to hug her mom. She pulls her close. “I love you, Momma. I know you’re scared. Just think about it. I love you.” She kisses her cheek.
She has no idea what she’s going to stay to Stephen on the way back, just that she needs to talk to him while this is still fresh. Before he can decide he wants to run.
GM: Celia’s mom sniffs and hugs her tightly back. “I love you, sweetie. I love you too, so much.”
“Go study. I’m so glad you’re studying. I’m so glad you’re going to beauty school.”
Stephen gives a puzzled look.
“I’m, I’m so glad you’re in my life. That you’re… you’ll practice, with the hymen kit? With someone?”
Celia: “Oh my God, Mom. Stop.” Celia pulls away. “I will, but… stop.” She gives a pointed look toward Stephen, though she doesn’t meet his eye.
GM: “O… okay, sweetie.” Her mom sniffs again and rubs Celia’s arm. “I just want you to be okay.”
“Oh,” she exclaims, “I almost forgot!”
She gets up to fill some Tupperware containers with chocolate chip cookies.
“You and Emily can munch on, on a few of these when you’re studying.”
Celia: “Thanks, Momma. Emily will love these.”
GM: “Oh, I’m so glad she will. And why don’t you take the asparagus twists too, those were just sinfully good,” she says. She drops them into containers as well. “Would you like some salad, too? Stephen, would you like any cookies?”
There’s a brief pause before he answers, “Yes please, ma’am. Those were great.”
Celia: “Mom.” Celia puts a hand on her mother’s arm. “Just the cookies.” She gives her a private look.
GM: “Okay, no salad. But at least a few twists, I could tell how much you liked those.”
“And thank you, Stephen, I really am so glad you liked them.”
Celia: “They won’t reheat well in a microwave,” Celia laughs. She starts toward the door.
GM: “Okay. I’ll freeze them, for when you next come over,” her mom says. “We ate most and they’re good appetizers, by themselves.”
There’s some last hugs and exchanged goodbyes as Celia and Stephen put on coats. They’re sincere enough. But the warmth and relaxation from earlier in the evening isn’t there. This feels a little more desperate. Wanting things to go back to the way they were earlier.
300 degrees. Five minutes.
At least Celia can still do that with the cookies.
Saturday night, 22 November 2008
GM: Celia and her boyfriend get into the latter’s car with the Tupperware containers.
“Well,” he says as he starts the engine.
“She’s… nice, like you said.”
Celia: “You think we’re crazy,” Celia says quietly.
GM: “A little.”
There’s a pause.
Her boyfriend gives a sigh as he looks over the wheel.
Celia: “Do you want to break up?” She sounds resigned.
Stephen sounds a little taken aback.
Celia: She looks out the window. She doesn’t want him to see that she’s crying.
GM: “I… just tell your dad we are,” Stephen finally says. “I am not spending another second with him. Just no way.”
Celia: “I hate him.”
It’s the first time she’s said the words since she was twelve.
GM: “I don’t blame you. It’s… beyond fucked up. All of it.”
Celia: “I thought staying here was doing the right thing. But now I don’t know if there is a right thing.”
GM: “Well, I think your mom’s glad to have you.”
Celia: "The others won’t talk to her. Just me. And we had to hide it. Only when my dad was out of town…
GM: “Does she have anyone else in her life?”
Celia: “Like a guy, you mean? I… I don’t think so, no.”
GM: “Well, guy, family, whatever. But if not, I think staying sounds right.”
“I mean, Liberty University is crazy. I’d never want to go to college there. Probably why your dad’s okay with it.”
Celia: “I’m in cos school.” The words come out in a rush. “My mom mentioned it. I didn’t tell you. I didn’t mean to lie, it just never came up.”
GM: There’s a pause.
“…why wouldn’t you tell me? I asked about your major.”
Celia: “My major is dance.”
“And I’m also enrolled in another school.”
“And I didn’t know you at the time, and it… never came up again.”
GM: “Yeah, but I also asked what you wanted to do. And… all this time we’ve been going out.”
“I see your psycho dad calling you stupid and saying he’ll kill me with his bare hands if we have sex. But you can’t tell me you’re in cos school?”
Celia: “Because you told me you wanted to be a lawyer and I… felt really stupid. Like I’m… you heard the way he talks to me, and I know you would never do that, I know that, but his voice is in my head telling me I’m stupid. We had dinner and I asked what he thought I should study and he said ‘something that helps you find a husband,’ because that’s what he thinks of me, that’s all I’m worth to him, and there you were at the party and you were smart and interesting and when you asked it just felt like I’d be letting you down somehow because it’s like… it’s skincare. And makeup. And talking about it makes me feel so—so stupid.”
There’s that word again. Stupid. Her dad calls her stupid. Her teacher called her stupid. And now Stephen is probably thinking the same thing: stupid, crazy, psycho.
“Some—someone said that estheticians are just girls who are too stupid to go to medical school to be dermatologists.”
GM: Stephen doesn’t say anything for a few moments.
“Uh, what’s an esthetician?”
Celia: “The girls who do facials and waxing and makeup.”
GM: “Oh. Well. That doesn’t sound like the same thing as a dermatologist. They don’t do makeup.”
Celia: She can’t tell if he’s making fun of her or not. She doesn’t say anything.
GM: “So why are you majoring in dance, though, if that’s what you really want to do?”
Celia: “Because it’s easy and it lets me focus on that. And I do like dancing. And I didn’t know what else to do.”
GM: “Yeah, but you don’t need to go to college if you’re going to trade school.”
“I mean, I think. Do they like estheticians with BAs?”
Celia: “He doesn’t know about it.”
Celia: “My mom knew. And now you.”
GM: “That’s… your dad’s sort of all over your life, do you realize?”
Celia: “I don’t know how to get out.”
GM: “The abuse is abuse. It’s horrible, but… it’s a normal horrible.”
“It’s really weird you’re going to college just to hide going to trade school. Or at least, that you have to.”
Celia: “I know. I just think… if I leave, I won’t get to see my siblings. He’ll cut me off from them. And then they have nothing.”
She sounds like her mom, she realizes. Too afraid of him to do anything about it.
GM: “Ah. Yeah. I was going to say, you could just walk out, even if your mom is scared of him.”
“Unless she gets custody… I don’t think there’s really any way around that. And she doesn’t seem like she wants to pursue that.”
“Though if something happened again, you could report it to the cops without her.”
Celia: “…something like what?”
GM: “Spanking your sister until she bled. That’s definitely battery, at the least.”
Celia: “What if it was something with me? I’m not a minor. Does it matter?”
GM: “It can, in various ways, but spanking you is absolutely a criminal offense. If your dad was charged with something that’d go a ways in making him lose custody.”
Celia: “Would he have to pay my mom child support?”
GM: “That’s up to the judge, but it’d be an insane one who didn’t require him to, given how much less money she obviously makes.”
“What’s her job, again?”
Celia: “She’s a teacher. Dance teacher.”
GM: “Oh, that’s right, you’d said.”
“That’s weird, though. Just a dance teacher, versus a general performing arts teacher?”
Celia: “She’s been picking up a few various things to make ends meet.”
Because of me, Celia thinks, but doesn’t say. She sinks lower into her seat.
“Just dance, I think. Unless it’s changed.”
GM: “Well, that’d be weird. Because having a teacher specifically for dancing suggests a pretty well-funded school. And they make okay money at those.”
GM: “I mean, okay money. Like, tight to raise a family on, but okay if it’s just you. Or even pretty good if it’s just you.”
“Your mom looked really poor. Er, no offense.”
Celia: “She… did,” Celia says slowly. “She’s helping fund cos school… and she got a car… but it was used…” Celia trails off.
GM: “Well, you should be able to afford a car. Definitely a used car. And how much is cos school?”
Celia: “Um. JJ’s was 10.”
GM: “10 grand? And that’s spaced over, what, two years?”
Celia: “No, it’s just 750 hours. You have to pay at various points, but like… eight months.”
GM: “Okay, so a bit more, but… that’s really weird. Your mom’s apartment looked about as big as mine. And I’m a college student with just a part-time job.”
Celia: “You think she’s spending on something else? Like… drugs?”
Celia can’t see it.
GM: “Well, either she’s spending it on something else, or she’s getting paid a lot less than other McGehee teachers.”
“They don’t make good money, but she should be able to afford more than just a studio and a used car.”
Celia: “She asked me to cut her hair a few times. A trim. We don’t do hair in my program. And… I’m on a meal plan… and she asked me to bring groceries with it…”
GM: “Like, buy groceries for her?”
Celia: “Yeah. That’s why I didn’t want to take anything tonight.”
GM: “Geez. That’s really weird. Something’s up with your mom’s money.”
“Which I guess isn’t my business, but a judge is likely to think about those things when child support comes up.”
Celia: “I should have noticed that.”
How could she not have seen?
GM: “Even if she made normal teacher money, I’d be very surprised if a judge still didn’t mandate child support. Four kids is a lot and your dad is obviously well-off.”
Celia: “I… think I know someone I can talk to about this.”
GM: “Oh, who?”
Celia: “My grandmother. Payton Underwood.”
GM: “I know her. She’s a judge.”
“She sounds like a great person to talk to. She could give way better advice than me.”
Celia: “You give pretty great advice, though.”
GM: “Yeah, because I’m smart and grew up around a bunch of lawyers,” Stephen smirks. “But I’m still not an actual lawyer with decades of experience as a judge.”
“What do you want to do about your dad, anyways?”
Celia: “I… just don’t want him to be able to hurt anyone ever again. And I don’t want to talk to him. Or have to go to the doctor and lie about being a virgin. Or worry that he’s doing to disown me. Or worry that he’s going to kill my mom, or hit my siblings. I don’t want him to control me anymore. So whatever that looks like.”
GM: “Well, he doesn’t control you. You’re an adult. You could just cut off contact with him. And if you’re not really going to college, no loss if he cuts you off there.”
“But I don’t think there’s anything you can do for your brothers and sisters, besides reporting him to the cops or your mom starting a custody battle. Or both.”
Celia: “You think I should… walk away?”
That’s what he’s saying, isn’t it? Walk away. Leave her siblings to their fate. She isn’t doing anything for them anyway, he said as much, and she has been feeling that since the beginning. It’s her fault that he hit Isabel.
Cut off. No money. She’d have to get a job, like Emily. She’s never worked before.
The thought is terrifying.
And also… intriguing.
GM: “I think so. You’re going to finish cos school pretty soon, so you’d get a job.”
“It’s a completely poisonous environment with your dad.”
Celia: She could start moving her stuff out. Say she’s taking it to college. Then just not come home after school ends. Pretend she ran off with a boy. She’d have to find an apartment. Maybe her mom? Or… Stephen…?
She doesn’t look at him. That’s too soon.
She’s lose everything. All sense of stability. And yet… how stable is it, really, to walk on eggshells? It’s not like she doesn’t have another… another dad. That she’s never spoken to. Who doesn’t know she exists.
“It is,” she agrees, faintly.
Cos school finishes during fall semester. If she can hold out during the summer… and fall? Register for classes. Let him pay. Drop. Take the refund. She’d heard of other people doing that with their loans.
Or just go. Now. Run.
GM: “Well, it’s up to you.”
“I just know there’s no way in hell I’m sitting through another dinner with your dad. I don’t want anything to do with him.”
Celia: “I told you I’d make it up to you. I don’t actually have plans to study tonight.”
GM: “Oh, I think you do. Biology is hard, right?”
“Let’s get in some anatomy practice…”