“I would not suffer cruelties and indignities perpetrated against me or those close to me to pass without consequence.”
Monday afternoon, 24 November 2008
Celia: It isn’t hard to track down a public figure, especially one like a judge. It’s even easier with the last name Flores. Celia uses it to her advantage when she makes the call to book the appointment to see the Honorable Judge Payton T. Underwood. She isn’t sure why she expected to meet in a courtroom—too many movies, probably. It’s decidedly not a courtroom that she is shown to when she gets off the elevator at the Criminal District Court in Mid-City.
She’s dressed for the occasion, in an army green knee-length pleated skirt in and black sweater. It’s warm indoors, especially with the sheer black tights she wears beneath the skirt. She faces the heat rather than risk somehow offending this grandmother she hasn’t seen in some time.
The receptionist had given her the office number. Stephen gave her talking points. It’s still Maxen’s voice that she hears in her head. Stupid. Intellectual limits.
She takes a breath, pausing outside the door, then lifts her hand to knock.
GM: “Come in,” sounds an older woman’s terse voice.
Celia: Celia opens the door and steps inside. She shuts it behind her.
“Good morning, Grandmother.”
GM: The office is a somber affair. There’s bookshelves of identical-looking legal volumes that one finds in many lawyer’s offices, an oak desk, paperwork over that beside a phone and computer, and an American flag in the room’s corner. Celia can make out a few family photos on the desk too. There’s also a few framed and very old-looking pictures of other people who look like judges and attorneys that Celia doesn’t recognize.
Celia’s maternal grandmother is a 60-something woman with curled but short iron gray hair and a firm jawline. There’s a certain tightness behind its smiles that suggests they are earned rather than freely given. She’s dressed in a conservative dark skirtsuit with a maroon scarf and pearl earrings.
She raises an eyebrow at seeing who her visitor is.
“Good morning, Celia.”
She indicates a chair by the desk. She doesn’t ask why Celia is showing up at her office during court hours, but the unspoken expectation is there. The judge’s time is valuable.
Celia: Celia crosses the room to take the offered chair. She smooths her skirt as she seats herself, trying not to fidget. She feels as if the judge can see right through her. She’s pretty sure that’s her job, actually, though Celia isn’t here to be sentenced.
“Thank you for taking time this morning to see me, Grandmother. I’ll get to the point. I wanted to talk to you about Mom. And the divorce.”
GM: The iron-haired judge gives her a look like she’s just brought up a past offender with a very, very long criminal record.
“These are my work hours, Celia. Personal matters are best discussed at one’s personal residence. I have a home.”
“You may ask me about your mother and her divorce. But if someone else with non-personal business requires my time, I will ask you to leave.”
Has received instruction… is still incapable… that makes her stupid, sounds her father’s voice.
Celia: Celia straightens her spine. She tries to ignore the voice in her head. Stephen had helped her with what to say. They had practiced.
“With respect, ma’am, this is only a personal matter insofar as it relates to a member of our family.”
She brought a pen and notebook, which she consults now, flipping it open on her lap to the relevant page.
“Maxen Flores was awarded custody for his five children following the divorce to Diana Flores in 2003, despite Louisiana’s history of awarding joint custody. Diana was awarded no alimony for her time spent married to Maxen.” Celia looks up from her notes. “Why?”
GM: The judge’s lips press into a thin line.
“Because Maxen Flores and Diana Flores requested both of those things.”
She hadn’t expected that. Her mother didn’t want her? The wind has gone from her sails.
“…in, um, in cases with… with a history of domestic violence… isn’t custody generally given to the… nonviolent parent?”
GM: Her grandmother’s lips remain in that same thin line.
“No charges of domestic violence were ever filed against either parent.”
Celia: “What if there were new charges?” she asks quietly.
GM: “That would merit a judge’s consideration were a petition filed to modify a prior parental custody order.”
Celia: “And what… proof is needed? Just a claim? Or does the parent need to be charged with something?”
GM: “The best interests of the children are a judge’s sole concern when making child custodial decisions. The petitioner must demonstrate that a material change in circumstances for the children warrants a change in custody. Any and all inculpatory evidence would be considered. Charges filed by the district attorney would be lent greater weight than a private individual’s claims.”
Celia: “Do best interests include which parent has greater income?”
Celia’s tone is as mild as she can make it. Her knuckles are white around the pen in her hand. Her leg jiggles up and down.
“If the—if the children were moved, would the custodial parent be given support payments by the… other?”
GM: “In a Louisiana physical custody case, both parent’s incomes are added together, then matched to a schedule of basic child support obligations that determines how much per month the children are entitled to. A parent’s income, consequently, is a less influential factor in determining a child’s best interests than some may assume. Courts are more likely to consider housing arrangements, school attendance, and other material and social circumstances.”
Celia: She knows some of this—or at least, Stephen had told her some of this when they’d looked it up. The words still don’t mean anything the second time around. She hadn’t wanted to ask Stephen to explain. She hadn’t wanted to look stupid.
“So if… if Parent A has a better house and income and can provide better school, that looks better than if Parent B has a worse house. Even if Parent A abuses hi—their children?”
GM: “Those circumstances are relative. It is a question of ‘how much’ more than a simple yes or no. Including ‘how much’ inculpatory evidence is available for the judge’s consideration.”
Celia: Celia is tired of mincing words. She isn’t a lawyer.
“He hits us. What do I need to do to get them out of there so Mom has custody? And why… why didn’t she want it to begin with? She knew what he was.”
She knows she has veered into personal territory. She drops her gaze to the notebook in her lap. So much for being professional.
GM: “Because your mother is a spineless coward,” her grandmother answers tersely.
So much for being professional.
Or mincing words.
Celia: Celia’s lips will never be thin enough to pull off the severe line that her grandmother does. She flattens them all the same.
“She is,” she agrees. “You’re not. I can’t imagine you raised her to be this way. And yet she turned into this shell of a person after her marriage to Maxen. Doesn’t that speak to what he is?” Celia leans forward in her seat. “After all, he kept you from her.”
GM: Somehow, that line grows even thinner.
“Your mother kept herself from me. She is a grown adult who made her own choices.”
“Your father does not have the power to turn her into a different person. Merely to reveal what sort of person she is under adversity.”
“There has always been too much of my husband in her.”
Celia: “She cowers at the mention of him. She lives in poverty. My mother may not be the best role model, but no woman does that to themselves. That is systemic, daily abuse. Beaten and broken. Like a dog.”
GM: “No woman becomes that overnight. I have attempted, repeatedly, to help my daughter. It has been her decision to reject that help.”
The criminal judge’s voice isn’t tired. It is past that: the simple acceptance of fact.
Celia: “She rejected my help, too.” Celia does not want to admit how much that stings. “I don’t know what my options are now.”
GM: “Your mother’s involvement is not required to file a police report, nor for the the district attorney’s office to pursue charges.”
Celia: “She would be the parent receiving custody. If she says she doesn’t want them… there’s no point, is there? My options are go after him myself, and as an adult child I’m essentially entitled to nothing, or walk away.”
Somehow, she turns it into a question. She fixes her grandmother with a look.
GM: Payton sighs.
“It is one matter for the DA’s office to pursue criminal charges. It is a separate matter for you to petition for modification to a parental custody order. The former would merit a judge’s consideration when reviewing the latter. But the parent who desires custody must file the petition. Otherwise, your siblings’ only avenue is your father’s loss of custody through incarceration, which is unlikely.”
Celia: In other words, there’s nothing Celia can do for her siblings until her mom pulls her head out of her ass.
“I see. And… if you were in my position, what would you do?”
GM: “Were I in your position, I would not suffer cruelties and indignities perpetrated against me or those close to me to pass without consequence. I would pursue legal action against the perpetrator. I would do so without the expectation that cowards would find their backbone.”
Celia: “Yes, ma’am. I see your point. Thank you.”
She closes the notebook, pen still tucked inside.
“I appreciate your assistance and… illumination on this matter. And if you don’t mind me taking up your office hours on a personal question..?”
GM: “Ask,” Celia’s grandmother replies.
Celia: “Mom’s living situation is… questionable considering her position at McGehee. Do you know why…?”
GM: “I am unfamiliar with your mother’s present living situation. I would be inclined to suspect further cowardice and poor personal choices on her part, as well as refusal to seek help.”
Celia: “Oh. Well. Good. I thought you were going to tell me she had to pay him child support or something.”
GM: There’s little of the assurance Celia may be seeking in her grandmother’s eyes.
“As I have said, I am unaware of your mother’s living situation, which includes her finances. That fact would not be a surprise to me.”
Payton seems to leave the matter at that, however, as she picks up her desk’s phone and dials a number.
“My granddaughter has an incident of domestic violence to report,” she says without preamble.
“I want you to file the report, ensure it is read, and ensure the follow-up investigation is conducted by the Domestic Violence Unit. As well as to conduct an informal preliminary investigation yourself.”
There’s indistinct noise from the other end of the line.
“Yes. Yes. I will owe you a favor,” says Celia’s grandmother.
There’s another pause. Perhaps some more noise.
“Whenever she stops by. Her name is Celia Flores.”
There’s another brief pause. Celia’s grandmother hangs up and turns back to her.
“When you are ready to file your report, go to 715 South Broad Street and ask for Richard Gettis or his friend Lucky. You will not find him a friendly man, but he is afraid of nothing. He will not be intimidated by your father.”
Celia: Well, Celia supposes, there is nothing quite like jumping into the deep end by filing a domestic violence report. There’s a lump in her throat that she tries to swallow.
Everything is happening very, very quickly. But the vague outlines of a plan are beginning to form in her mind. She crosses one leg over the other and smooths down her skirt.
GM: “You are welcome, Celia.”
Celia: “One last question, Grandmother. If the worst should happen and I am kicked out, my status as an adult means I have very little legal, ah, recourse or entitlement. Right?”
GM: “If you truly feel your father’s present behavior constitutes abuse, I would consider leaving his home to be ‘the best’ rather than ‘the worst’ possible outcome for you.”
“As an adult, you are correct that you are no longer entitled to financial support from your father. However, if you are attending college full-time and unmarried, you may still qualify as a financial dependent of your mother’s.”
“If your father were made to pay child support for your siblings, he would also be obligated to financially provide for you until your college graduation.”
Celia: “What about my trust fund?”
GM: “The structures and legal dimensions of trusts can vary significantly. Some trusts can be revoked by the parent. Others cannot. I do not know the particulars of yours.”
Celia: “Do you know who I would ask…? I just… I am hoping for the best. But I would be a fool to go in blind.”
GM: “You would be. I would speak to the trustee of your fund, whoever that may be. It will not be your father. He or she is likely an attorney, accountant, trust company, or family friend. Your mother may know more.”
Celia: “Thank you. I truly… I truly appreciate it. For what it’s worth, I hope that you and I can bridge the gap between us that my mother did not tend and Maxen took an axe to. I admire your steel.”
GM: “I hope so as well, Celia, and hope to see those same qualities that you admire reflected in you.”
The judge offers a faint smile as she adds,
“I like the skirt, by the way. There are worse things to have inherited from your mother than her fashion instincts.”
Celia: “Like her taste in men?” Celia smiles. “I hope she comes around. You deserve a daughter worthy of the name.”
She dips her head in acknowledgement. “Enjoy your afternoon, Grandmother. I’ll let you know how things go.”
Monday evening, 24 November 2008
GM: Celia’s mom calls her shortly later to ask, “Would you like to have dinner again tonight, sweetie? We can finish up those asparagus twists, and maybe make somethin’ else to go with them.”
Her mom doesn’t bring up any of the topics discussed last night. Her hug when she greets Celia at the door (she usually asks her daughter to take public transportation over with Daddy’s money to save on gas) seems longer and tighter.
She’s also baking cookies again. She mentions how, “Maybe we can practice some dance stretches too, if you like… somethin’ to work off the calories from all that chocolate. I don’t think we’ve done stretches together in a while, and there’s just so many really fun and goofy ones.”
She talks a lot. She talks about everything except last night.
“Let me show you this one…” she says as she lays chest-down on the small bedroom’s carpeted floor. “It’s called the locust pose. It looks hard, but I can still do it with my leg, and you can do it too with a lil’ practice. Take a look:”
“Tah-daaah!” Celia’s mom smiles up at her.
Celia: Celia can think of a quite a few uses for that pose. She warms up her muscles with a few stretches, glad she wore leggings rather than something tight, and lays on the floor next to her mother. She pushes her butt off the floor with her arms, stretches her hands out to stabilize her core, and begins the process of bending her legs.
“How,” she grits out, “is it possible that you can still do that?” Her toes are nowhere near her head.
GM: “It just takes practice, sweetie, that’s all,” her mom assures her. “Here, I’ll hold you. Get your legs used to bein’ in that position with some help, and you’ll be able to do it on your own…”
If Celia doesn’t stop her, they spend the entire evening on dance stretches, asparagus wraps, chicken pot pie (“I just love this recipe! Perfect on a nice cold winter night!”) and chocolate chip cookies.
Celia: Celia does stop her. Eventually. She enjoys the stretching, the cooking, the cookies… but she knows that she needs to have this conversation with her mother.
“Mom,” she asks as she helps clean the table, “can I ask you something? Something, um, sensitive?”
GM: Her mom doesn’t reply for several moments as she turns on the sink faucet. Running water fills the silence.
“Do… do we need to, sweetie? We’ve had such a nice evening.”
Celia: “And I’d like to continue to have a nice life, Momma.”
GM: Diana’s shoulders seem to slump a bit as she scrubs the dishes. She’s always hated arguing.
“All right, if you’re sure.”
Celia: “McGehee pays you well, right? I mean… enough to live comfortably? And… and you do the private lessons, so that helps. And I know that you got the car, and are helping with tuition, but… how come…?” Celia trails off, gesturing toward the apartment at large.
GM: “I… McGehee doesn’t pay that well, sweetie… you don’t go into teaching if you want to make lots of money. And you know I didn’t have any money after the divorce.”
Celia: Celia fixes her mom with a look.
“They don’t pay enough to afford an okay apartment?”
GM: Celia’s mom gives a sigh as she turns to face her daughter, who’s now standing next to her at the sink.
“Sweetie, it is what it is. We’ve been able to make it work, haven’t we, with beauty school and the car?”
The light by the sink emphasizes the bags under her eyes.
Celia: “I’m not concerned about me, I’m concerned about you. You’re… tired. All the time. Running yourself ragged. And if you… if you need something… or if you’re in trouble… or… you’re my mom. I shouldn’t have to worry about you being able to feed yourself because I wanted to go to cos school.”
GM: Celia’s mother gives a wan smile and touches her cheek.
“It’s worth it, sweetie. For you. I want you to do what you love. To follow your dream.”
“This isn’t goin’ to be forever. I’ll cut back on the hours at the dance studio, and the lessons, once things settle down. Heck, I’ll probably just only do the studio durin’ summer months, when I’m not at McGehee anyway.”
Celia: “Do you know who controls the trusts Dad set up for us?”
GM: “Oh. That’s… the answer is debt, at least so far as me,” Celia’s mom answers with another sigh.
“Medical debt. I was… in the hospital for a very long time. And my treatment was, I guess pretty expensive. A lot of my time there… is a blur past all the drugs, and… other things, I guess. But your father dropped me from his insurance, so I didn’t have any money to pay.”
Celia: “…but the… but it happened when you were married.”
GM: Celia’s mother gives a hapless shrug.
“I went to charity programs, my doctor recommended those, but it was a really big bill. They just about had to get the paddles out for my heart after I saw how many 0’s.” She flashes a humorous smile, or at least an attempt at one. It falls utterly flat.
“I, well, couldn’t pay. I just didn’t have the money. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the money. So the hospital sold my debt to a collections agency.”
Celia: “Who controls my trust?” Celia asks again.
GM: Her mom briefly closes her eyes, but instead answers, “They are not nice people, Celia. Do not ever let your debts get sold to a third party. If that happens, you’re really up… brown creek without a paddle.”
“The agency sued me, for not bein’ able to pay, and of course I couldn’t afford any lawyer. So they got a court order that garnishes my wages. That means I don’t really make the same money that other teachers at McGehee do. The school withholds a chunk of my paycheck and mails it off to the collection agency.”
Celia: “But that’s not fair. He did that to you. Why isn’t he paying? How can he just… just kick you off his insurance like that?”
GM: “Well… there’s out of pocket costs, copays, deductibles, and all that… I guess he just didn’t want to deal with it.” Celia’s mother gives another hapless little shrug.
Celia: “He put you there! Of course he should have to deal with it!”
GM: There’s another, even more hapless little shrug. “It’s not fair, I know, but… it’s what it is.”
“Your father was always in control of our finances. The bank accounts, credit cards, all that, they were in his name. Or he’d set it up so I didn’t really have control, I was just allowed to withdraw an allowance.”
Celia: “It’s bullshit.”
GM: “It’s just… how it is, sweetie. On the law books, at least, I don’t think it’s legal, but it’s men like your dad who write the book and… well, throw it at people. Like the sayin’ goes.”
Celia: Another thing she’ll need to look into.
“He doesn’t control the trusts though, right? I mean it’s in my name and I can talk to someone about it? Find out the details?”
GM: “Sweetie, why do you want to know?” Celia’s mother asks uncomfortably.
Celia: “Because I want to be prepared in case anything happens. I don’t want to be up, um, brown creek.”
GM: “Well… say! I don’t think I showed you this pose,” Celia’s mom exclaims. She turns off the sink and sits back down on the bedroom floor.
“You might enjoy takin’ any yoga classes they have at Tulane, the practice is really good for dance.”
“So for this one, it takes a bit more strength in your arms, and the trick to pullin’ it off is…”
GM: “Oh, forget explainin’, I’ll just show you and hold it! Best way to learn, anyways!”
Celia: “Momma. Do you want this to be my life? Because that might happen if you don’t help me. And I’ll have to—to sell my body to get by. I know someone who did that. It was very sad. Is that what you want for me?”
GM: “Tah-daaa-oww!” Celia’s mom’s leg spasms, her arms give out, and she hits the floor in a heap.
“Celia, please get my—owww!—pain meds!”
Celia: “Mom!” Celia is across the room in an instant to help her mom up, lifting and untangling the woman gently. She gets her settled and moves into the bathroom to raid the area behind the mirror for the orange plastic bottle. Bottles? She doesn’t know which does what and grabs them all, then gets back to her mom’s side with a glass of water.
“Mom, are you okay? Where does it hurt? What can I do?” She hovers, wringing her hands.
GM: Her mom pops the meds, downs the water, winces, and rubs her leg.
“It’s… it’s my leg, sweetie… it always is…”
“It’ll pass, after a bit…”
Celia: Of course it is. That was a dumb question. Celia sits herself down in front of her mom to take a look. As if she’s a doctor. As if the two weeks they spent on massage in cos school will help.
“Let me see.”
GM: Celia’s mom is wearing opaque tights under her dress, evidently in anticipation of their practice together. Celia doesn’t think she’s ever seen her mother wear a pair of pants: her dad prefers women to “dress like women.” Her mom lets her knead the muscles along her thigh for a while and sighs, “Oh, that’s startin’ to feel better.” She finally admits with another exhale,
“It’s… Paul Simmons. He’s a banker and accountant. I think he works for Whitney Bank.”
“But… he and your dad are friends, sweetie, and he knows who butters his bread. He… won’t help you. I’m sorry.”
“Please don’t do anything you’ll regret. Your trust is fine. You’re getting your money still, aren’t you?”
Celia: “I just want to know the terms, Momma,” Celia says as her fingers and palms work against her mom’s leg. “In case… the doctor..”
GM: “…have you practiced with the kit yet?”
“I know, I know, you didn’t want me to ask… I just worry, sweetie. I worry for you.”
Celia: “I didn’t want you to ask in front of Stephen,” Celia admits.
GM: “Oh. Yes. That’s very fair. In front of your boyfriend and all.”
Celia: “I like him. I don’t want him to think we’re crazy. Even though… you know.”
GM: “Well, here in the South we don’t hide our crazy, we parade in on the front porch and serve it a cocktail.” Her mom gives a faint smirk.
Celia: “But I need to know. If Dad finds out. What he’ll do. If I’m going to be… kicked out. Or…”
Her eyes move to her hands, frozen on her mom’s leg. Broken. She wants to know if she’ll be broken.
GM: The smirk instantly disappears as her mom’s eyes follow her hands.
She might wonder what the leg looks like under those tights.
“Celia… I don’t know.” Her mom’s voice is small. “Just that it’d be horrible. That you can’t let him know.”
Celia: “You think he’d do this? To his daughter?”
GM: “I… think it was always different for him. With a wife.”
“I think you would lose a lot of your freedom. I don’t know we’d still get to see each other…”
The sadness and fear on her mom’s face at that thought is plain.
Celia: “What freedom? He controls everything. What do you think he’d do to me if he knew I came here? If I was going to the other school? I hide everything. And I’m tired of living in fear.”
GM: “The freedom to see each other, sweetie! For you to have a boyfriend, go to cos school, wear makeup, see Batman movies! Believe me, there is a lot you can lose!”
The sadness is gone. It’s mostly just fear now.
“Maybe we should… we could pay for another doctor’s exam, to check your hymen. See if the kit fools another doctor, as a practice run. If it doesn’t, we’ll think of somethin’ else.”
Celia: “No.” Celia’s tone is firm. “I’m not going through that. Do you know what he does? He—he puts me on the table. On my back. And puts my feet in these stirrups, he calls them. To spread me open. And then uses his fingers and puts them inside of me, and like he… he feels around. With his hand. And he touched my button once. To check for feeling, he said, but it was… it was…”
Celia flushes. It’s what Stephen does now. Doctors aren’t supposed to do that, are they?
“I’m not doing that. No. Dad shouldn’t even have access to my medical records. I’m 19. I’m not a kid. That’s why I am checking the trust. To see if I block him from access if he can cut me off.”
GM: “Celia, please!” her mom begs. Even the mention that a doctor touched Celia’s ‘button’ doesn’t erase the fear in the woman’s eyes. “Please don’t make him angry!”
Celia: “Why does that status of my vagina make him angry?!”
GM: “I, I misspoke. But please, please, don’t do anything that would upset him, that’d rock the boat!”
Celia: “Why? What do you know that I don’t? What is he going to do?”
GM: “I don’t know, Celia! That’s what scares me so much!” Her mom is starting to cry. “I don’t know if he’d lock you away forever, hurt you, kill you, or what!”
Celia: “I’m not staying there, Mom. I can’t.”
GM: Her mom clasps her hands. “Celia, please! It’ll get better, you’ll eventually get married, move out!”
Celia: “You’re right, Momma. I should ask Stephen if he’ll marry me so I can get out instead of doing something about it.”
GM: “That’s… you think he’d say yes…?”
She looks like she thinks that’s a good idea.
Celia: “Uh…” Celia hadn’t actually considered it before. “I… don’t know.”
GM: “You won’t want to do it right now,” her mom says, suddenly thoughtful. “You haven’t been together all that long and he’s… in a bit of shock, it feels like. Give him some more time.”
“And… oh, Celia, this makes me… what if you got pregnant? Do you think he’d want to support you and the baby, by gettin’ hitched?”
Celia: “We… use condoms, Mom. That’s not an issue. I’m not going to get pregnant.”
Oh my god what if I get pregnant?
“Should I start birth control?”
GM: “Well… it might be a good thing if you did get a bun in your oven…”
Celia: “Are you telling me to get pregnant and trap him into marriage?”
GM: Her mom looks away.
Celia: “…is that what you did?”
GM: “I…” Her mom looks uncertain. “It might have been… I know I really wanted a second, that I could be absolutely sure was his…”
“People don’t always think things through consciously, sweetie. Sometimes they just act on impulses they don’t even know they have.”
“But if you were to get pregnant, you’d get to keep your trust, your dad’s money, and you’d be movin’ in with Stephen. He seems like a nice boy, with a good career ahead of him. And you’ll want kids at some point. Would that be so bad, to start early?”
“You’d even be able to finish beauty school, before your due date.”
“I’d love to help, of course, with any baby. Don’t even worry about childcare.”
Celia: “I’m pretty sure Dad would know what happened if I suddenly got married and had a baby less than nine months later,” Celia points out.
GM: “You could definitely wait a bit, like I said.”
Celia: “It’s worth considering.”
Pretend she’s pregnant. Marry Stephen, keep her trust. Stage a miscarriage? Finish school. Be free without going up against her dad. Unless…
“When did it get bad? For you and him.”
GM: Her mom nods relievedly at her initial words.
“It was… oh, I suppose not that long after we moved to Audubon, sweetie.”
“After your dad was first elected and had all that new pressure.”
Celia: Blueberry pancakes. She can smell them. Taste them. The syrup is thick. Cloying. It makes her tongue stick to the roof of her mouth, now dry.
She clears her throat. She has so many questions.
“Was it gradual? Or all at once? Was he always so… controlling? Why did he decide to run?”
GM: “Well, I guess why does any man?” her mother asks with a smile that seems like it’s attempting to be humorous. “Your grandpa had held office before him, after all, so I guess he saw it as his birthright.”
“Things were always a little tense between them. Maybe he figured it would make his father proud. Maybe he thought it’d be our path to a better life. It certainly was…” her mom’s face dims. “As far as money, anyway.”
“I was a lil’ surprised at how young he decided to run, but his heart seemed set on that dream. And he’d helped me follow mine.”
“The… abuse,” her mom says the word delicately, “was more gradual than anythin’ else. All those new responsibilities, like I said.”
“And… our marriage did have problems, sweetie. Well, obviously, but ones you didn’t get to see as a kid. You know I got pregnant with you really early. I didn’t want to let it put my ballet career on hold. Dancers only get to enjoy it so many years, after all.”
“We went through a lot of nannies and babysitters, so I could do that. It wasn’t easy with five kids. And after y’all were out of diapers, I wanted to go to college. Production companies are more impressed by dancers with degrees. Plus it’d let me have a career after I retired.”
“So, more childcare. Plus your dad and his family paid for my college after your grandmother, your maternal grandmother, wouldn’t. I always felt like your dad and his family had done so much for me.”
“All that on top of how… some part of me maybe knew, but didn’t want to acknowledge, how you weren’t his. And felt guilty about it. Like I was taking advantage of a good man.”
Celia: Celia wants to interrupt her mom at several points. But this is the most she has spoken about her father in some time. She presses her lips together to keep from jumping in, eyes on her mother’s leg where her hands still work across the muscles. She has no idea what she’s doing. There are spots that feel more firm than others and coalesce into knobs of tautness, so that’s where her fingers move. She keeps kneading when she finally speaks up.
“When you say Grandfather… you mean the man who bought me Sugar Cube?”
GM: Her mom shakes her head. “I mean the man who raised your father.”
She gives a sigh as Celia’s hands continue to massage her leg. “Oh, that feels so good, sweetie… you’re really good at this.”
Celia: “Who is his real dad?”
GM: Her mom seems to pause at that question for a bit, but answers, “Jim Jameson. He’s a retired politician.”
Celia thinks she might have seen the ex-governor’s canceled reality show.
“Plus, you know, the pay for ballet dancers is terrible… at least here in Louisiana,” she fills in. “So I was always very dependent on your father and his family.” Her mom looks wistful. “When I was a little girl, I always dreamed about tryin’ out for the San Francisco or New York or London companies. What the company here in New Orleans… well, everyone there definitely puts their hearts and souls into it. Every ballerina does, because you certainly don’t go into ballet expectin’ to get rich. But this city is not where you perform if you want to make it really big.”
“That was my plan in high school, actually. I’d applied to colleges in all those cities… I even got accepted by a couple.”
“But kids meant I had to say goodbye to that dream. And I think some part of me might have blamed your father. We were just dumb kids foolin’ around who shoulda been more careful.”
She strokes Celia’s cheek. “I don’t regret havin’ you and your siblings, not at all, sweetie. You’ve been the lights of my life. I always, always wanted kids. But given the choice I’ll admit I’d have waited to become a mother.”
“And… with your father… I guess some part of me was blamin’ him for stealing my dream, even though I knew it was me too, while also being so grateful for all he was doing, how I still got to dance and do college even with five kids, and how he always worked so hard to provide for me, even if it wasn’t exactly what I’d wanted, and then there was how you might or might not have really been his, and how on some days…”
Her mother gives a short laugh. “I don’t even know what I’m gettin’ at, sweetie. There were a lot of very complicated emotions in my marriage.”
Celia: There isn’t an easy way for Celia to point out the error in her mother’s logic.
“You just told me that you wish you’d have waited to have kids. But you’re also telling me to go have a kid with Stephen so I can marry him and move out and still keep Daddy’s money. Mom, do you… I mean you recognize the folly there, right? If you had to do it all over again, you’d have waited. Moved on. Gone to a different city. That was your dream. And you’re telling me now to… to sabotage myself to play nice with him? I can dream, but only so big? Only so long as it doesn’t rock the boat? What do you think he’ll say to me when I tell him I want to open a salon?”
Celia shakes her head.
“This is why, Momma. This is why I have to get out. You should have gone off to dance. And I shouldn’t have to hide what I’m doing or who I’m dating or worry about being… locked in a tower.”
GM: Her mom’s face falters. “But do you want to open a salon here in the city, sweetie? I mean, I certainly don’t expect your dad will be thrilled, but… well, with your husband… it might be… you could alw…”
But something in Celia’s words seems to strike a chord with her mother. She trails off for a moment, the two of them still seated on the floor, then murmurs, “Oh, Celia… I gave you some very, very bad advice…”
She clasps her daughter’s hands. “The pregnancy idea. Don’t do it. You’ll poison it, sweetie, your relationship with Stephen. Your kids’ lives. No, no good fruit can come of poisoned seeds. I should know. I should… I should know…”
“I’m just… I’m just scared for you, baby…” Celia’s mom sniffs, then hugs her crushingly tight. “I don’t want to lose you… I don’t ever, ever want to lose you…”
Celia: Celia clings just as tightly to her mom. Something has shifted. The dam that was keeping her mom from spilling her truth has collapsed under this scrutiny. There’s a flutter inside of her stomach, her nerves getting the best of her. But she remembers her grandmother’s steel. She will be steel wrapped in velvet for her mother.
“Tell me,” she says softly.
GM: Her mom is crying again. “Oh, sweetie, you… you don’t even know… your father… the things… all the… your grandm… thinks I’m so weak… but she… oh, Celia…”
Her mother clings to her for a while, then dully says,
“I don’t want you to be as scared as me.”
She pulls back and looks her daughter in the eyes.
“I’ll… I’ll talk with the lawyer. Your boyfriend’s lawyer.”
Celia: “There’s something… deeper, isn’t there, Mom? Something else?” She doesn’t want to pry too hard. Not if her mother has agreed to finally speak with the lawyer. But she has to know.
GM: Her mother shakes her head. “It… it doesn’t matter, sweetie… just… just reasons I’m scared…” Her mom’s face looks white. “But I’ll try. For you and the others. I’ll… I’ll try.”
Celia: “You got out, Momma. You don’t have to be scared anymore.”
GM: “I’ll pray you’re right, sweetie,” her mom says quietly.
“I’ll pray to God you’re right.”
Tuesday afternoon, 25 November 2008
GM: Celia decides it’s better not to waste any time while her mom still has nerve. She calls Stephen. He can’t introduce her to his father just yet: the federal prosecutor’s schedule is always busy. But he comes through with a law firm his family knows people at. He sets up an appointment and assures Celia’s mom that the first consultation is free. He sits down with the pair to hash out things they can bring to meeting. There’s a notecard with lots of contact information, a “key facts” sheet about their case, and as much documentation and evidence as they can gather. Celia’s mom seems a bit intimidated by it all. Stephen assures her this is “all stuff your lawyer will ask you, we’re just giving you a head start.”
Celia’s mom is disappointed when her daughter’s boyfriend says he can’t come to the meeting with the lawyer. This isn’t his lawsuit and he can’t sit in on the meeting without waiving attorney-client privilege. In fact, Celia can’t be present for the meeting either. Her mom is even less happy over that. She accepts that it’s for the best after Stephen explains more of how privilege works. But she still really wants to have Celia close by. When the day finally comes, they dress up in nice clothes (Celia’s mom is thrilled to have her do their makeup) and go to a downtown law office together.
The lawyer who greets them is a black-haired woman around Celia’s mom’s age named Vivian Carney. She takes the mother and daughter back to her office together. She makes pleasant small talk with them about their jobs, interests, and relationships.
She’s a divorcée too, herself. She personally disavows the idea of marriage. “It just never works out. I’ve worked on way too many family law cases to feel like it does.”
“Oh, I think it can!” Celia’s mom maintains as they sip coffee. “That special someone is out there, you just have to find him.”
“Still in the market for a Mr. Right, huh?”
“Oh… I wouldn’t say that,” her mom demurs. “I’ve just got so much on my mind… all the stress, still, of all… well, what we’re here for.”
Vivian nods in understanding. It seems like a good moment to dive into business. Celia is asked to wait outside in the reception area so they can retain attorney-client privilege, per the discussion with Stephen. Her mom seems glad to have had her along up to this point, and to now find the whole “meeting a lawyer” business less intimidating.
Celia reads magazines (there’s even a few recent style ones) and chats with the receptionist before her mom re-emerges with Vivian. The black-haired lawyer makes some more small talk with them both. She says she’s looking forward to seeing them again.
“I’ll tell you how it went in the car, sweetie,” her mom murmurs. “Viv said we shouldn’t talk about this stuff around other people if we can help it.”
Celia drives the pink Beetle, like normal: it’s “her” car, even if they split its use between them.
“So Viv said there’s three different cases here,” her mom begins.
“There’s the suit against the insurance company, there’s getting custody of the kids back, and there’s reporting your dad’s abuse to the police. Which isn’t really our case, because she said the DA’s office would all take care of that.”
Celia: “No, I have someone we report that to,” Celia cuts in. “I have to see someone specific for it.”
GM: “Oh? Who’s that?” her mom asks.
Celia: Celia pulls the note her grandmother had given her from her pocket and hands it over. She had been carrying it around, just in case, ready to leap into action. She hadn’t thought it would be quite this soon.
GM: Celia’s mom doesn’t seem to recognize the names, but on hearing she got them from her grandma, remarks, “Oh. Well… good on you, sweetie, for still havin’ a relationship with her.”
In any case, Vivian thinks the case against the insurance company is very strong. The hospital bill amount is over six figures, so the company likely won’t choose to quietly settle. But it’s a pretty cut and dry case of suffering a hugely traumatic injury that wasn’t covered. They should be able to get the full cost of the hospital bill covered. Vivian says there’s potential for significant further damages, given Diana’s subsequent hardship. Especially given how she wasn’t able to get proper surgery to repair her leg.
“She said she was… ‘chompin’ at the bit’ to take this case,” her mom says with an almost shy smile. “Those were her words. Chompin’ at the bit. She’ll do it pro bono, just because she thinks we’re so likely to win, and to get the company to pay her attorney’s fees.”
“She did say we couldn’t sue your father for this, though. Just because it happened when we were married, and there’s all sorts of legal protections against suin’ your own spouse.”
“I mean, we might be able to try. But it’s a way more complicated case than against the company, and it’s a civil rather than criminal matter. So she doesn’t think it’s worthwhile to.”
Celia: “I’m really, really happy for you, Mom. I’m thrilled. This is amazing. It’s going to be great.” Celia is all smiles. “I didn’t think they’d be able to go after him, but even the insurance thing would be huge. Get you out of debt. And pro bono! Momma, that’s amazing. Did she say if we should report the abuse now or if it has to be recent…?”
GM: Celia’s mom smiles back at her.
“I know, sweetie. It… almost doesn’t feel like it’s real, but it’d be just such a weight off…”
She looks out the window for a moment as Celia drives, her smile fading.
“She said… your father could still get prosecuted. For what he did to me.”
“That the statute of limitations for what he did is six years.”
Celia: “Then we’ll handle that too, Momma. I just need to take care of something first.”
She gives her mom’s hand a squeeze. There’s no more time to delay.
Tuesday afternoon, 25 November 2008
GM: Celia drops her mom off at home, who says she’s due pretty soon to teach a class at the dance studio. The lawsuit might promise relief from her financial woes, but for now there are still bills to pay.
Celia goes back to her dorm at Tulane. Emily is konked out fast asleep over several textbooks despite it being afternoon. There are bags under her eyes, like with Celia’s mom. Her bed is a mess of half-finished assignments.
Celia looks up Paul Simmons on the online yellow pages. He actually works for Fidelity Bank, not Whitney Bank. She finds that he owns a home in Audubon Place. That may not be so surprising: her father would trust a neighbor he’s gotten to know as the manager for his children’s trusts.
She passes the afternoon working on homework for her classes: who knows if Paul is home yet. Emily starts awake several hours later with an, “Oh fuck! I’m late!” and hurries out the door to work. The assignments are left unfinished.
Celia: Once Celia is finished with her own work there isn’t much for her to do but wait. She could go see Simmons at work, but he lives right down the street. That’s pretty convenient. She tries to remember if she’s ever met the man, then uses her laptop to find a recipe for muffins she can take over. Everyone likes muffins. And she’d just made them in cooking class where she’d gotten good remarks from her teacher, so she knows she makes good muffins. Just not blueberry. Banana nut? Pistachio? There’s an oven somewhere she can use. Probably.
Her thoughts are interrupted by Emily’s quick exit. She’ll have to leave a note for the girl if she ever wants to talk. Or text her, like a normal person. Celia takes a glance at the assignments that her roommate left behind. Maybe there’s something she can help with. Or hire a tutor for. Or both.
GM: They’re premed assignments. The ones she’s supposed to be doing well at.
But that’s something to deal with later. Celia makes the four-minute walk to Audubon Place with her muffins in hand. She flashes her ID past the guards and knocks on the door to Paul’s home. It’s an expensive-looking, three-story house with a wide driveway. There’s an impeccably-maintained yard with several neat rows of trees and flowerbeds. A Porsche and BMW sit in front of the house.
There are several Blackwatch guards outside, too. Celia isn’t sure what they’re even doing there. They question her suspiciously, even inspect her muffins, and then knock on the door for her.
Paul sees her in. He’s a middle-aged man with rectangular glasses, a receding hairline, and bland smile.
He knows who she is. He remarks, “Those muffins look scrumptious. Your father said you were learning to cook.”
His house’s style of interior decor is minimalist, with almost no art or decorations to speak of, save a few bland landscape photographs. They would get an “A” in art class for meeting the teacher’s grading requirements, and nothing else. Not so much as a smudge of dirt or creased rug is present in the house. There are no scattered clothes or electronic devices. No dirty dishes. No sign it’s actually lived in. There are no signs of co-habitation by a spouse, kids, or even pets, despite how large it is. It feels more like a model house than a lived-in home. Indeed, for all the dwelling’s well-to-do-ness, its architecture is almost offensively generic. It’s the same McMansion style copied in hundreds of wealthy suburbias throughout the country. The house feels as if it lacks a soul.
Celia: Celia feels as if she has stepped into some sort of museum exhibit rather than a home. There is nothing here. No personality. No style. It is… austere. Stern, even, as unwelcoming as the guards outside his home. She is keenly aware of every step she has taken in these shoes, every opportunity she had to clean them that she did not take. She removes them before following him into the living room to talk about her trust. She’s glad for her well-tamed hair and neat, professional clothing: an echo of what she wore to visit her grandmother. The material here is less heavy and she’s swapped her top for a cross-knit sweater that leaves one shoulder bare. She does not tug at it, but smiles up at Mr. Simmons—“I certainly couldn’t call you Paul, sir”—with guileless wide eyes.
GM: Paul gives a bland smile in response. He pours coffee to go with Celia’s muffins while he talks with her about trusts in his living room. He explains how there are two basic types of trusts. Revocable trusts are under the grantor’s complete control. Per the name, they are revocable from the beneficiary at any time. However, this is almost never done with trust fund kids, because revocable trusts don’t enjoy tax incentives. Every payment to the child is taxable as income. One of the primary benefits is that you can say at any point, “This trust is no more.”
Irrevocable trusts are essentially tax-free. They can have all kinds of limits on them, but you can’t make changes once they’re made. Once money is in an irrevocable trust it’s no longer considered ‘your’ asset. But that also doesn’t make it the beneficiary’s asset. Irrevocable trusts can have significant limitations placed on the beneficiary’s vestment by the grantor. Some examples might be, “This trust will not vest if you have any outstanding debt in excess of X,” or “If you’re in legal trouble” or more nuanced things. These limitations are intentionally broad, but only enforced when desired.
The terms of Celia’s trust include her monthly allowance, much of which she has been using to help support her mom with the car, gas, and tuition. Celia is also due additional payments when she graduates college, marries a husband, and has her first child. Her trust will also not vest if a gynecologist’s examination finds that she has had premarital sex (or if she fails to have regular examinations), if she stops attending her father’s church, if she fails a drug test, or otherwise violates a plethora of stipulations regarding the life her father has planned out for her.
Of course, her father can always choose to let her inherit anyways. Trust limitations can’t be changed, Paul repeats, but are only enforced when desired.
He also asks why she’s interested in the particulars of her trust. He not-so-subtly inquires whether she’s experiencing financial troubles. He’s very sympathetic.
He insinuates he’s willing to let her receive the trust’s payments early if she performs oral sex on him.
Celia: Trust limitations can’t be changed. He’d said it twice, to make sure she heard, and the words echo. She can’t change them. Can’t forge them. Can’t ask him to change them. And she has already violated one of them. She is so enraptured in her own planning that she almost doesn’t hear him ask and offer a solution—it’s his hand on her bare shoulder that does it. Rather than pull away, she blinks a few times until her eyes begin to water, and nods her head.
She spins a tale for him: stressed about school, struggling to keep up with her classes, terrified of disappointing her father. She mentions her roommate’s downward spiral. How she’s had to work two jobs to make ends meet. How Celia is afraid she will end up like that if her father decides to cut her off. None of it is a lie.
“He says I’m—I’m stupid,” Celia confesses, voice catching in a sob. She wipes at her eyes, puts the thought into his head of the scared little girl, too dumb to know what she’s talking about. “And what if he’s right? While you were talkin’ it all went over my head, vested and irrevocable and taxes,” she waves a hand around, clueless, “and then you’re offerin’ to, to let me buy out early, as it were, and Mr. Simmons please don’t take this the wrong way but what if my daddy were to find out?”
She drops her gaze, looks down at her lap. Her cheeks are flushed.
“I never—I mean I never messed around like that, like with what you said,” she stumbles over the words, “and I’m… Mr. Simmons, you got me all curious, and I know you’d treat me real nice, but them doctor visits, they scare me. That doctor, he puts one finger up there and it hurts and hurts and I keep thinkin’ my daddy can’t know what they’re doin’ to me, he just can’t, but it’s there on the trust and…”
She trails off, a helpless large-eyed doe, wringing her hands.
GM: Paul looks amused at first, then finally tired and cuts Celia off by placing a finger on her lips.
“I’ll cum in your mouth.”
“It won’t make any difference with your doctor visits.”
He lowers Celia to her knees and starts unbuckling his pants.
“Be sure to swallow.”
Celia: “W-wait, Mr. Simmons—I’ve never…”
She’s on her knees, though, looking up at him.
GM: “Just suck it like it’s a popsicle.”
“Your dad’s right that you’re stupid, but you are pretty.”
Celia: So she does. On her knees, while he tells her that she’s stupid but pretty, she sucks him off. Like a popsicle.
And when it’s over, when she swallows his cum and the shame and guilt along with it, she excuses herself to the upstairs restroom. To see if the rest of his house is as weird and lifeless as the bottom. And to see if the vague plan that’s forming in her mind has any merit.
GM: Paul pats her cheek when she’s done and repeats how pretty she is while fondling her breast. He gives her very specific directions to follow to the bathroom and says not to look around. The house’s upstairs isn’t as weird and lifeless as the bottom floor, though.
It’s more so.
There aren’t even any rugs or furniture or pictures on the walls. There’s just bare wall and floor. Some of the doors are made out of steel and have secure-looking magnetic keycard swipes.
Celia: Whatever Celia had been expecting, it wasn’t this. First the guards, now the steel doors. What, exactly, does Paul Simmons get up to in his spare time? She walks slowly down the hall to the bathroom, locks herself inside, and turns on the faucet. She opens any cabinets in the bathroom as quietly as she can. She doesn’t expect there to be a keycard lying haplessly around, but maybe… a prescription bottle? Toothbrush? Something that says someone else lives here. Something that gives some form of life or answers or something. Because right now there is an itch between her shoulder blades that is telling her to get out. She is reminded of the dull, lifeless eyes she’d seen when she was a kid. Her mind goes wild with theories. Her half-baked plan of somehow blackmailing Paul into changing the unchangeable trust melts away.
What if he locks her behind one of those doors? What if that’s what the guards are for, to prevent people from getting out?
Walk downstairs, get the money. Walk downstairs, get the money, don’t come back. Never come back. She can handle that.
GM: There’s nothing in the cabinets. There are no prescription bottles, toothbrush, or toothpaste. Just the absolute essentials of soap and towels.
But there’s more in the shower. A faded rust-red residue along the rim.
It smells… faintly coppery.
Celia: He cut himself shaving, right? He had to have… cut himself… But the smell of blood doesn’t linger like that. She’s bled before. Period blood. Cut herself shaving. It doesn’t linger unless there’s a lot of it. It doesn’t stain unless there’s a lot of it.
The smell puts her back. The memories of that night play again in her mind. Her mom screaming. The hacksaw. The man on the phone telling her help isn’t coming. It’s just her and the monster in the hallway. The gun is too heavy for her hands. Then it’s gone—only this time when the monster tucks her into bed he tells her to kneel instead. He calls her stupid, and asks, in a voice that might be her dad’s, if she knows why she’s stupid, and the word ‘whore’ plays somewhere in the back of her mind.
She vomits. It comes up suddenly, her stomach heaving its contents into the porcelain bowl in front of her. Cum and raw muffin batter and something that might have been the lettuce she’d eaten for lunch. She flushes it away, eyes watering. She stares at her distorted reflection in the swirling water.
Stupid. She is stupid. Stupid to think she can go against her dad. Stupid to think she could find a way to blackmail Paul. Stupid to think she’ll be able to help her mom.
She uses the noise of the flushing toilet to close the drawers and cabinets she had opened. She rinses her mouth. Pats her face dry. And presses record on her phone before she leaves the bathroom.
GM: She runs almost right into Paul’s chest as she steps out.
“I’m glad you’re cleaned up,” he says. The words feel as fake, hollow, and forced as the bland smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.
Celia: “Oh!” Celia stumbles backward a step. Her heart hammers in her chest. “Mr. Simmons. Thank you for lettin’ me use your washroom. And for… for goin’ over everything with me.”
Real pretty. But stupid. Her face burns. She looks down at her bare feet. Her toes are painted a pretty shade of pink.
GM: “It is desirable to be clean.” The words feel uncomfortable and out of place, like plastic.
He looks her over.
Celia: “Your house is—is real clean, Mr. Simmons. I was noticin’. I was gonna ask who does it for you.”
GM: “Who does what? Designed it? Cleans it?”
It’s there in his voice.
Celia: “Ah, cleans, yes.”
GM: “Maid in NOLA,” he says dismissively, clearly not considering it to be important.
“It’s time for you to go. Here is your money.”
He hands her a clip of bills.
Then his hand cups one of her breasts.
“We can do this again if you want more.”
Celia: She is very, very still when he touches her. But she nods.
“Yes, Mr. Simmons. Thank you. I’ll be… yes.”
Tuesday evening, 25 November 2008
GM: “You doin’ all right, sweetie? You seem a little quiet,” her mom remarks at dinner.
She’s had more good news to bring up. Viv says she can settle all of her debt right now by filing for bankruptcy.
She admits she “feels a little dumb” she didn’t think to do that. The collections agency put her on a payment plan which she assumed was final. She’d been under so much stress and, well, trauma after the hospitalization. The option hadn’t occurred to her.
Celia: “Just thinking, Momma. But if you file for bankruptcy, doesn’t that mean the hospital doesn’t have to pay you?”
Something doesn’t make sense here. Celia doesn’t know what it is, though.
GM: “Oh, she said I should file right now,” her mom explains. “While I’m actually, well, still pretty bankrupt. And then sue the insurance company for damages, which she said there was still lots and lots to collect on.”
“Between the money I’ve already paid I shouldn’t have had to, and compensation for not getting proper surgery and a bunch of other damages.”
Celia: “Don’t they take everything if you file? The car? Your… apartment?” Celia gestures around them.
GM: Her mom shakes her head. “Oh, I definitely asked that. She said I’d be able to keep the apartment, and the car is moot, since it belongs to you.”
“She said it would be a smart idea. Because while the case against the company is still really strong, this gives us two shots at wipin’ out my debts. And it could give us a stronger bargaining position, since we’d be asking the company for less money. Though still quite a lot.”
“Plus I don’t know how long settlin’ with the company could take. So I can finally get my full McGehee paycheck while that’s happening.” Her mom looks relieved. “Give us some more breathin’ room.”
Celia: “If you think that’s your best option, Momma.” Celia thinks she should talk to Stephen about it, but she’s been afraid to call the boy since her run in with Simmons. What if he knows? She pushes her dinner around her plate with her fork.
“There’s no drawbacks? No… hidden traps?”
GM: Her mother shakes her head. “Oh, believe me, I asked. She said I’d have to sell off any nonexempt property. Which is anything besides a house, car, clothes, home furnishings, retirement accounts, and trade tools. But… well, look around, sweetie,” her mom laughs, “I don’t own a whole lot.”
“She did say it would hurt my credit score. But in the long run, it’s better, with all the debts wiped off. Since those drag down your score too.”
“And there’s some court filin’ fees, but that’s all peanuts next to what I owe.”
Celia: Celia can’t keep her things here, then. Maybe a storage unit?
“Oh. Well. I guess that makes sense, then.” Doesn’t it? Wipe out the debt, let her get her full check, let her be able to live again instead of feeling like a burden? And if things go south with Daddy… then at least Celia won’t be on her knees for Simmons again, right?
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Whore.
“Peanuts,” Celia echoes, nodding.
GM: Her mom nods and smiles. “She said we can go over my property in more depth, just to be double sure I won’t lose it.”
“But that there probably won’t be anything much to worry about. I really don’t own a whole lot.” She laughs. “I mean, what are they gonna do, repossess that poster I printed out at work?”
It shows the feet of a ballerina dancing en pointe with the caption:
“It’s actually been a little illuminating, losing everything to your father.” Her face dims a little. “I still miss my old ballet things, of course. The trophies and the costumes and my sewing kit and all that.”
“But a lot of my old stuff, I don’t miss. And I don’t think I’m in any hurry to replace it. It’s amazing how much clutter we pick up over our lives.”
Celia: Celia remembers that night. Luanna’s words to her. How her mother would rather have her ballet things than jewelry. She’d gone for the concealer instead.
“I’m sorry,” she tells her plate. “I’m sorry you—you lost it all, that he—he threw it all out.”
GM: Her mom rests a hand on her shoulder.
“Are you sure you’re doing all right, sweetie?”
Celia: There’s a monster that lives under the bed. And another one next door. And another one that calls himself Daddy. And nobody knows it but me.
“Yes. Tired. I think I’m about to start my period. Cramping.” Celia puts a hand on her abdomen.
GM: “Oh, I’m sorry!” her mom exclaims. “You know, I’ve got a heat pad I use for my leg, it oughta work just fine for cramps too.” Her mom digs it out, turns it on, then curls up on the couch with her. She wraps her arm around Celia and leans her daughter’s head against her shoulder.
“I still have you, sweetie,” she murmurs as the pad clicks on, running a hand along Celia’s hair. “There’s nothin’ else in all the world I rather would.”
Celia: The heat doesn’t do much for Celia. Her stomach is all in knots, and it’s not because of any upcoming shedding of her uterine lining. No, it’s anxiety, fear, and self-loathing. She wants to go home. To curl up in her own bed and cry, maybe with a pint of ice cream. She wants to be eight again, in that rental house where she and Isabel had to share a bedroom, without a pony to her name. Before the world became awful. Before the monsters came out from under the bed.
She leans against her mom, closes her eyes, and lets herself be held. Because this is the one nice haven she has in this sea of uncertainty and turbulence and darkness, and she’ll take what she can. Before she ruins this, too, by wishing for more things she shouldn’t have.