“I believe in stories. Life is ugly. Stories are pretty.”
Wednesday evening, 26 November 2008
Celia: She wanted to bring muffins. That’s why she’d made so many. They are sitting in her dorm room, more than she could eat herself, but she couldn’t look at them. Couldn’t bring herself to touch them, not after that night with Simmons. She’d stopped for pizza instead. Pizza and the bottle of cheap whiskey she’d gotten from one of Emily’s friends. They promised it would burn all the way down.
She’s looking to burn tonight.
It’s weighing on her, the knowledge of what she’s done. Weighing on her on the trip over to Stephen’s house. Weighing on her even as she knocks on his door, backpack with her “sleepover gear” inside slung over her shoulders. She’s wearing a smile and the dress he met her in, but it’s just a mask. She knows she’s rotten inside.
GM: Stephen greets her at the apartment’s door.
“Oh, hey, you’re a surprise,” he smiles as he kisses her.
He shows her inside. The studio apartment’s one table is laid out with his laptop and assorted papers and textbooks.
“You could’ve texted me you wanted to come over, I’d have picked you up.”
Celia: “I wanted to grab pizza.” Celia presents the box as an offering. “Surprise. Is now a bad time?”
GM: “Never with you. Never with pizza either.” He clears some space on the table, helps her off with her backpack, and starts munching on a slice. “Mmm.”
“How’d things go with Vivian and your mom?”
Celia: Celia reaches into her bag for the whiskey, too. Presents it with a flourish. There’s a bag of chips and bottle of soft drink, too. Classic sleepover food, the kind of stuff Celia doesn’t usually touch.
“I think okay.” She gives him the gist, the lawsuit against the insurance company. The police report. “Wants her to file for bankruptcy.” She’s busy pouring a glass of that cheap, shitty whiskey, but the question is there in her voice.
GM: Stephen grins at seeing the booze all the same. He munches on some chips as she does.
“Huh. That’s a great idea with the bankruptcy.”
“And reporting the earlier abuse, too. I wasn’t sure about the statute of limitations for what your dad specifically did. This is why you always talk with the real lawyer.”
He takes a swig of the cheap whiskey. “I’m not surprised she’s doing the insurance lawsuit pro bono, either. Lawyers here need to do 50 hours per year. They usually pick causes or people they really care about.”
“But if this somehow takes more than 50 hours, you’ll want to talk about a contingency fee. That’d mean she only gets paid if she wins, with some of the proceeds from the settlement. Those are pretty common with lawyers.”
Celia: “I’ll let her know. I’m glad she went. I thought maybe the bankruptcy was, like, my dad getting to Viv or something.”
Emily’s friends were right about the whiskey and the burn. All the way down. It’s fire in her empty stomach. She chases it with the soft drink, then reaches for a handful of chips.
“She’s happier, though. Thanks for setting it up. Now I just need to get out. Clean break.” Are those her dad’s words? She can’t remember. Maybe.
GM: “Oh, filing for bankruptcy is the last thing your dad would want for your mom. We look at it as this horrible thing, but bankruptcy explicitly exists so people can get out from the boot on their necks. If you’re in a position to need it, it can be a great thing.”
Stephen tosses back some more chips. “But you’re welcome. I’m glad it’s helped her. And you.”
“You’ll obviously be better off too if your mom has some money in her pocket after your dad cuts you off.”
Celia: “Yeah. I was looking into that. To see what he could do.” Looking into that from her knees. “It’s called a… irreverent trust. No. Irrevocable. He can’t take it away. Unless I fail, uh, stipulations.”
GM: “Yeah, those are pretty common for parents who want to pass on money to their kids.”
“I’m guessing his are insanely strict though. Or just plain insane.”
Celia: “Church. No drugs. The hymen thing. So I’ve got until Dr. Creep puts his hands in me again.”
GM: Stephen’s face darkens. “You shouldn’t let him put his hands in you. Money isn’t worth that.”
Celia: It’s a lot of money. Where’s that bottle?
“I know. Mom said I should run off and join the circus.”
GM: “Ha. You could do a dance act. Or maybe the clowns’ makeup.”
Celia: “I was thinking lion tamer, personally.”
GM: “Whips. Hot. I can see you in a slinky costume too.”
Celia: “Mmm, I was hoping you’d say that. My master plan involves convincing you to run away to the circus with me.”
GM: “I can be their lawyer. Circuses need lawyers too.”
Celia: “All those elephant tramplings.” Celia nods seriously. Pours more whiskey for the both of them. “To the circus, then.” She clinks her glass against his.
“To the circus.”
“Will you still go to Tulane, after you leave your dad, or cos school full time?”
Celia: “I think I’ll finish cos school full time. Should be done by summer. And then maybe Tulane, it’s just… expensive. And I’d still be considered dependent.” She sighs. It’s heavy. “I could put it off until I’m 24, then I’m independent. Or married. Ha.”
She watches his face out of the corner of her eye.
GM: “Yeah, that sounds like just what your dad wants,” Stephen remarks. The word ‘marriage’ doesn’t seem to elicit more than a blink. “I don’t think it really makes a difference whether you’re a dependent or not, unless your dad gets put on the hook for child support. Which you’d obviously want, since he’d have to pay your mom more money. Plus he’d still have to pay for your college.”
Celia: “I… is that how that works? I don’t think he’d have to pay my college. Just child support. And maybe back pay.” She doesn’t know the laws about back pay, just that it exists.
GM: “I’m pretty sure your college fund counts, actually. The courts consider all assets the parents have. They can order him to still pay for your college, if he has a fund set up for that purpose and you’re still your mom’s dependent.”
He sips some more cheap whiskey. “But you should definitely ask a real lawyer like Vivian to make sure. I’ve gotten some stuff wrong which she didn’t.”
Celia: “Oh. Well. I’ll… keep that in mind, I guess.” The whiskey is going to her head. She thinks she understands. “What if he’s in jail, though? Like when Momma reports the abuse. He still has to pay?”
“But also,” she says, holding up a hand, “you know what’s decidedly not sexy? Talking about my parents. What if we just bang?”
GM: “I think they can b…” Stephen answers at first, then shuts up at her question.
“Yeah,” he grins.
“That’s a lot more sexy.”
Friday afternoon, 28 November 2008
GM: Business sends Em back to the salon. His ‘boyfriend’ evidently loves the makeup job, because he calls him a ‘sissy faggot’, ‘crossdresser boywhore’, and ‘my fuckable little bitch’ more times than ‘disgusting cocksucker.’ They do oral more than anal that night, so Mark can get a good look at his dolled-up face all throughout. He even cums over Em’s eyes. It stings. Like fucking crazy. Em might wonder if he’s about to lose his sight.
Maybe there’s shit in those makeup chemicals. Maybe there’s shit in his client’s cum.
Or maybe he’ll go blind because Clarice was right and he’s brought it upon himself.
Em goes back to the salon, though. Mark wants his transformation to be “even more complete.” He wants Em to look like a girl in all ways, from his face to his clothes to his body to his mannerisms.
“Get more of that shit from whoever you’re getting it from. God you’re such a fuckable little bitch.”
His eye still stings the next morning.
Emmett: He goes to her again, specifically, not wanting a stranger to deconstruct and reassemble him.
He should probably be asking what to do about the various loads Mark blew on his expensive eyelashes, but he would rather talk about anything else, so he lets Celia do most of the talking for their next appointment. He’s sure she has lots of stories, as the sane one in her family.
Celia: The room they end up in is not the same as the first time. Students don’t get their own rooms to practice in, but Celia knows her way around this one well enough, and she has him lie back while she gathers supplies. She bemoans the state of his lashes—you can’t get anything on them, she tells him, or the fans close—and uses tweezers and a cream adhesive remover to begin popping them off.
Stories, though, she has in droves: that time at the insectarium at the zoo, when Isabel wanted to have her birthday party at the butterfly garden but there was a booking issue so they ended up surrounded by spiders instead. Her sister was not happy. Celia doesn’t think she’s ever seen that many children cry before.
All of the performances they went to see for their mom. The ballet. The beautiful dancers in their costumes. Celia talks about what it was like to watch her mom float across the stage, how all of the Flores girls were enrolled in classes but it never came naturally to her, how she had to practice so much harder and longer than everyone else to keep up. Until one day it finally clicked. “It’s like becoming a different person.”
She tells him, too, about the Worst Birthday Ever, though she tells it through rose-tinted glasses.
“So there I was, opening presents, and I kept thinking, none of these look like a pony. Not even a toy pony. And I get to the end and there’s no pony. And I was a kid, right, so I was upset, and I think my parents knew that, so my dad says something about having a tea party with me later, and then there’s a knock on the door. And right there, I kid you not, is a man with a pony. The pony just walks into our house as if it owns the place, has a little tutu and crown on. It was adorable.”
“I couldn’t keep it, of course, they said we didn’t have room for a pony, but then we moved later and… and had room for a pony. And I think maybe that’s when I thought magic might be real.” Her tone is wistful. “But, again, I was eight.”
All of her stories are pre-divorce.
“So. Your lashes came off okay. I think with the, erm, the molasses,” she can’t help but giggle over the word, “we might just try strip lashes. They’re less expensive in the long run and you can remove them at night yourself, then just wash your eyes thoroughly to get rid of any remaining glue. Also don’t tell my instructors I told you this but you can literally buy them anywhere, and I can show you how to put them on if you want. It’s tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it you can do them in a car. Not that I recommend that.”
She is quiet for a moment. There wasn’t a full facial this time after the lash removal, but she took the time to wash and moisturize his face to help the makeup go on more smoothly. It’s after she finishes with the eye cream and the lip exfoliant (“to make you extra kissable”) that that she says,
“Can I ask you something? Personal?”
Emmett: Well, at least it’s not like money is an issue. He’ll pay for whatever needs to be done. He doesn’t even feel like shaking down Christina for the expenses.
Elliot can relate to the dancing anecdotes. He grouses about having a stutter when he was young, how he was scared to talk in class for most of elementary school. He hated speech therapy, too, but one day his tongue found a way to click, too.
Then nobody could shut him up.
The pony story is wild, and he’s almost not sure he believes it. He can hear his father’s voice bemoaning straddling any creature with such frivolous accessories. But it’s also funny to imagine the gruff Maxen doting over his little girl.
He’s grateful for her advice, too. He likes cheaper.
He puckers his extra-kissable lips in response to her question. “I’d hope so, seeing as I’m about to ask you to groom my downstairs.” He smiles apologetically with that beautiful smile of her own making.
Celia: “Groom your… oh! Of course.” Waxing. Ladies do it all the time, Celia knows; she’s tried it herself, let her classmates practice on her. Stephen likes it. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Elliot wants her to do it to him.
But it does. Because even though she’d put makeup on him, and even though she’d done a little bit of waxing with other women, she’s still about to see him naked. And beneath the foundation she wears her cheeks are redder than red.
She tells him to go ahead and remove his pants for her and she pulls the wax cart over to get herself ready. Snaps a pair of gloves on.
“I’ll start with the back,” she says, and tells him he can either turn over and put his butt in the air or lift his legs up while he’s on his back. “So my question,” she says as he figures out what he wants to do, “is if this guy you’re seeing knows you’re a guy, how come he wants you to dress like a lady?”
Emmett: It’s not impossible to retain a certain measure of dignity as he stares at her through his legs, ass in the air, his flaccid dick dangling between them like literal low-hanging fruit.
That’s what he tells himself.
“Well, you’d, uh, have to ask him,” he begins, “but educated guess? Guy is closeted, and pretty ashamed of it, so this is kinda his compromise. Lets him enjoy what he’s craving without feeling like he’s fuckin’ a man.”
“Sorry to be coarse,” he adds. She’s like a doe he doesn’t want to scare into flight.
Celia: Celia’s eyes are not on his dick, to be certain. She is very, very carefully avoiding looking at his dick. She doesn’t want to stare. She does, however, examine his ass, which is an altogether very uncomfortable experience for her. She’s never looked at one upclose like this before. She spreads his cheeks apart with her fingertips. There’s a round of cotton in her hand that she had pumped some sort of solution onto to clean and prep the skin—standard practice, not because she thinks he’s somehow dirty—and then dips what looks like a popsicle stick into the container of wax. She swirls it around, brings it back out, and swipes the wax across his rear following the pattern of hair growth. Just one strip.
“It’s okay,” she says, waving away his apology as she tosses out the stick, “I asked. Ready? Count of three. One, two—” RIP. No time to tense. She yanks the strip of hardened wax from him in the opposite direction of the hair growth, making sure to pull his skin taut, and once the wax and hair is clear of his skin she presses her fingers down against the area to reduce the stinging. Just for a second, then it’s time for another stick with more wax.
“Hard wax,” she tells him, “doesn’t need a strip of linen. It hardens on its own. Better for the skin in sensitive areas, like genitals and face.” She hadn’t heard of it before Cos school. She thinks it’s pretty cool. Thinking and talking about wax prevents her from thinking too hard about what her hands are doing and what she’s looking at.
“Do you like him? Doing this for him?”
Emmett: It feels… not great, but better than being shot. He does not, however, think it’s as cool as Celia does.
“Fascinating,” he manages nonetheless.
He laughs softly, the bitter expression on his face translating poorly through all of Celia’s hard work. “It’s not how I’d like to be spending my Friday night, but he pays.”
Celia: She knows she isn’t supposed to comment on the body itself. She’s supposed to ask other questions, keep him talking so he forgets that she’s literally ripping his hair out. But he’s… right there. Spread. Kind of… not right. Her last client didn’t look like that down there. And when she cleans the hair away with another strip of wax, she gets a better look.
“Does that… hurt? Doing it, um…” what’s a polite word for this? “…the back way?”
GM: It still hurts when he shits, at least. There’s red all over his brown.
Maybe he should eat more fiber.
Emmett: He thinks of all the things he could say, all the ways he could express how getting fucked up the ass feels as good as it sounds, and ends up just saying, “Yes. Especially if the other person doesn’t particularly care about what they’re doing. Don’t do it with your boyfriend without setting some limits first.”
Celia: “My roommate said she wants to get a tattoo that says ‘Exit Only’ after her last guy stuck it in the wrong one.” Celia makes a face. She can’t imagine why anyone would want to try that.
She pulls another strip of hair free, then decides to ask. “If they do care, is it…?” She doesn’t know what she’s asking. Fun? Enjoyable? He didn’t sound as if he particularly cared for it.
“Sorry. I shouldn’t ask.” Almost done with the backside, though, there’s a plus.
Emmett: Elliot laughs at that, even through the rectal stinging. “You can ask. I’m just bitter about it, is the truth. I’m still pretty new to… this line of work. I agreed to work with men, and now I’m reluctant to walk that back and rock the boat. It’s a problem I made for myself.”
After another moment, he says, “I imagine some people like it. I mean, people do it for fun, so presumably they enjoy it. But I’ve never much enjoyed being on the receiving side. Occupational hazard.”
Celia: Rock the boat. There’s that phrase again. Celia nods, though, because she thinks she understands what he’s getting at.
“You ever do it anyone?” She tells him he can put his legs down now, and to put the bottoms of his feet together with his knees pointing out to either side. Spread, as it were. She considers him for a moment. There isn’t a delicate way to do this. And she’s only touched the one dick before. Is this a weird form of cheating?
She reaches for the wax.
Emmett: He obliges, his body used by this point to obeying somebody else’s touch.
“One or two women who wanted it done that way. I never cared for it. The things you have to wash off after…”
Celia: Celia makes a noise. Something like an uncomfortable giggle or titter, what might have been a guffaw if she were less ladylike. But she’s not. She’s a lady. So it’s a giggle.
She claps an arm over her mouth regardless, and once the shock and awe wears off suddenly touching his dick is less intimidating.
“You’re too much,” she tells him, shaking her head. “I hadn’t considered…” She cuts off in another round of giggling. She doesn’t need to say. The hot wax finds its way onto his inner thigh with the stick. She very deliberately uses the back of her hand to keep his testes out of the way. She’s glad for the gloves, glad that there’s a barrier between his balls and her hand. The wax comes out with tiny little hairs attached in one smooth pull.
“My dad told me,” she says as she gets the wax going again, “that I couldn’t have sex until marriage. So I thought the work around would be, y’know, butt stuff.” She yanks the wax strip, presses a hand against his skin to soothe it.
Emmett: He yelps softly as she yanks, swallows as her fingers try to soothe him. Once he would have been aroused by the close contact. Now, he’s just tired.
“What does your dad need to know about what you get up to? Remember, I’ve talked to him, and he wouldn’t know a good time if it tackled him naked on the field. Besides, it’s not like you’re doing him any favors by taking it up the ass—er, to be blunt.”
“And, if I’m not wildly off-base, it’s not as though you or your sister tell him everything anyways. Kind of hard to imagine him knowing you’re working here, frankly, and being alright with it.”
He lets that sit for a moment.
“He doesn’t, does he?”
She doesn’t know how much to tell him. What’s safe. He’d been caught lying in high school; who’s to say that he changed his ways now? She swallows down her apprehension. He’s naked on her table. She’s seen his cheeks-spread asshole, torn up as it was. She literally has him by the balls.
If that’s not trust, what is?
Still, she waits until the wax is on his scrotum, the skin pulled taut to keep it from hurting, before she tells him.
“No. He doesn’t. I’m enrolled elsewhere, and I do this too. It’s what I’m actually into. And… you’re right we don’t tell him everything, and of course I wouldn’t tell him about sex, but there’s a doctor that… feels up inside to check.” She pulls the strip of wax free from his balls. It’s painful, even with the skin pulled tight, even with the hand she uses to cup the area after to reduce stinging. It’s obvious, by her very timid touch, that she is not used to handling such packages.
“The hymen,” she clarifies. She puts more wax on him, as if she hadn’t just dropped a bomb. It’s warm, almost hot. It goes along the patch of skin right next to where she just waxed. “You were right about crazy.” RIP.
“I’m trying to find a way out.”
More honest than she’s been with anyone, and all it took was a ball wax.
Emmett: It’s easier to get people to talk to you when you take your clothes off and let them touch you. Who knew.
“That,” he says, between sucking air in through his teeth at the hot-and-cold contrast of pain and soothing, “is nuts. Man doesn’t want you having sex, but pays a guy to look inside you? I’d be looking for a way out, too.” He closes his eyes. “I mean, I did look for a way out. And my parents were only obnoxious, not crazy.”
Celia: “Told you they were crazy.” She doesn’t sound pleased about it. Just matter-of-fact. “Crazier is mom’s solution for me to get knocked up and trap my boyfriend into marriage as a way out. Trust still pays then.” She huffs. Rips more hair out. Almost done now. And she’s gentle despite the dark mood, so that’s something.
“Recommend it, then? Your line?” Whoring, she means.
Emmett: He looks at her seriously, almost sternly.
Well, as sternly as he can, naked and through his legs.
“Not even a little bit,” he says. “Not in this city. Not with the options you have. It’ll break you.”
He ponders for a moment and says, “But you’re not keen on pushing out a baby, either? Or maybe forcing your boyfriend into becoming your husband?”
Celia: “Leaving one master for another?” She shrugs. “I barely know the guy. Could be just as bad as my dad.”
He helped her mom, though. That’s something. He didn’t have to do that.
“He was real nice about my first time.” Her smile is almost shy. Hard to imagine why, while she’s standing there with his dick in her hand. “But we use condoms.” She applies a final strip of wax to him, right between the balls.
“Anyway, wanna help me set him up for prison?” she grins.
Emmett: He nods along to her rationales. They’re ones he might make himself.
“Um, your boyfriend or your dad?”
Celia: “Dad. Final strip. Hold tight.” She doesn’t give him much time to brace himself, just pulls free the hardened wax and hair and drops it neatly in the trash. Then she’s got some new solution in her hands, something that’s cooling and soothing that she applies liberally, and it’s maybe a little reminiscent of a handjob.
Emmett: Which, admittedly…
He’s not that tired.
He nevertheless does his best to ignore the sensation, “holds tight,” and answer her question.
“I mean, we joke a lot in here. But… is that something you want to do? It’s not the kind of thing you do half-heartedly. You’ll need to risk everything to do it. You might not succeed. And even if you do… remember what I said about getting what you want?”
Celia: No. Celia can’t keep more than a single thought in her head at a time, Daddy said, and even that’s a challenge. She must have been thinking about something else.
Of course she can’t take him on. Stupid to say that. Stupid.
Stupid to be doing this, too. Going to school. There’s a naked man on her table and his rapidly hardening dick is in her hand and oh Lord what am I doing?
“Oh, I was kiddin’, silly.” She’s a little breathless. Her hands stop moving; she pulls them away as if they’d been scalded. She doesn’t quite meet his eye, and her smile is perfunctory. “Shouldn’t have joked about that, my apologies.”
Emmett: He’s quiet for a little while, making idle chatter with her until he can put his pants back on.
As he does, he looks at her with that dolled-up face and says, “As somebody who’s made a lot of stupid decisions? Hypothetically, if I was going to try and get out from under your dad… I would want to make sure I’ve got all the cards in my hand I could get.”
He pulls out his phone, asks her her number. When she gives it to him, he texts her ten digits.
“There’s a girl named Miranda on the other end of that number. She’s not real keen on politicians, and she has ways of finding out things. She’s like a wizard with a computer. Hypothetically, if some girl called her saying her abusive daddy was a state senator, and an asshole, and said Emmett sent her…”
He holds her gaze, pretty eyelashes doing their job far too well.
“Then she might be persuaded to help you out by finding some more dirt on him. Hypothetically. And you would have my number, too, in case things went to shit anyways. Okay?”
Celia: She’s quieter after that. Finishes her job, but maybe doesn’t look him in the eye as much. She starts to protest when he tells her about Miranda, to repeat the line about how she was only kidding, but his sincerity stops her. She nods instead. Tells him that she’ll reach out to this Miranda. Thanks him with a shy smile, and doesn’t add the wax to his service bill. Small favors.
She doesn’t point out that he gave her his real name after using an alias. She saves his number as ‘Elle’ anyway, just in case.
“Don’t be a stranger,” she tells him. She hugs him, too, because he’s nice and because she’s seen him naked and because she doesn’t know how else to say thanks.
Emmett: She doesn’t need to.
“I’m not. Call me Em.” He hugs her back, and then he leaves.
Small favors, indeed.
GM: Celia gets the funds in her bank account from Paul. $500. He calmly tells her that’s the going rate for experienced and classy escorts, which she decidedly is not. But it’s not as if he’s paying her with his money. He insinuates she is stupid for having expected more.
He’ll give her more installments in return for further blowjobs. Or anal.
Celia swallows her pride. And a good deal more.
It’s money for the business she wants to open. It’s money to help out her mom. The settlement and child support aren’t guaranteed.
Celia: She starts by telling herself it’ll just be the one time. That’s how she makes it through. Then once a month, just some extra cash. Tides her over, right? Groceries for Mom. But then it’s more. Always more. On her knees. $500 a pop, until her one time deal turns into her seeing Paul more than she sees Stephen.
She still won’t do anal, though. And she doesn’t go back upstairs.
GM: Paul starts calling her a whore. ‘His’ whore.
Celia’s mom, meanwhile, files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy with Vivian. About a month later, they meet with the trustee assigned to her case. There is no court appearance before a judge. The process is relatively straightforward, even if there is a lot of paperwork: Celia’s mom has few assets and no financial dependents. They can expect it to be done in perhaps four months.
The wage garnishment immediately stops through something called ‘automatic stay.’ Celia’s mom cuts back on her hours and seems less tired.
“It’s so nice to finally get my real paycheck.”
Celia: Celia is happy for her mom. They make a big dinner to celebrate. Get some shopping done.
But she doesn’t stop seeing Paul, even with the money struggles for her mom straightened out. She kind of likes it when he calls her his. Even if she is a little scared of him.
GM: Celia’s mom tells her it’s “all because of you” on their afternoon out. She does ask that Celia continue asking her dad for grocery money because “hey, why shouldn’t we have him pay for it?”
Stephen seems oblivious to his girlfriend’s cheating, or perhaps he’s distracted working on his senior thesis. The two are lying in bed at his apartment on a weekend night. The warmth of one another’s arms (especially post-sex) gives a cozy feeling against the December chill, even mild as it is in the city. They’re talking about nothing in particular when Stephen looks at her and says,
“I want you to meet my family.”
“What would you think about dinner with them sometime?”
Celia: The mention of a family dinner puts her on edge. She can’t help but think to the disaster of the last family meal they’d had, the one with her father where he’d threatened to kill Stephen with his bare hands. Even the dinner with her mom had been awkward once the talk of the fake hymen kit had come up.
She tries not to think about it now. Easy to dismiss thoughts of her parents when she’s curled in a naked heap beneath the blankets on her boyfriend’s bed. Head on his chest, arm slung across his stomach, she barely lifts her head to look up at him.
“Are they as nice as you?”
GM: “Well, neither of them will do this with you,” he smirks, running a hand along her back.
“My dad can seem a little… serious to some people, but if you can stand your grandma he’s nothing you can’t handle.”
Celia: There’s a beat of silence. She can’t imagine his dad his going to call her stupid if she can’t keep up, but the thought still crosses her mind.
“I’d like to meet them.”
GM: “Great,” he smiles. “It’ll go a lot more like the dinner with your mom than your dad. Promise.”
“Minus the, uh, hymen kit discussion.”
Celia: “Will they react in horror when they find out we’re sleeping together?”
GM: “I’m 22. They know I’ve been seeing you for a while.”
“Though maybe Dani will be weirder about it. 16 and all.”
Celia: “Aha, so they know you pick up girls at parties for one-night stands that turn into dates.” Celia grins at him.
GM: “Ha. I haven’t shared that much detail. Just that we met at a party.”
Celia: “Little awkward to share probably. Can’t imagine it’ll come up at the dinner table.”
GM: “It won’t. My dad might talk about work stuff, so if it goes over your head just smile and nod.”
Celia: “Sounds manageable.”
GM: “We’re pretty boring next to your family dramas, sadly. Most drama with us is a forever-ago divorce.”
Celia: “I could pretend I’m pregnant if you want me to spice things up.”
GM: He smirks. “Suddenly boring doesn’t seem so sad. My sister might freak, but my dad doesn’t do drama. It just makes him emotionally shut down, get even more serious, and try to just sort everything out as fast as possible. That it’s how the divorce basically went.”
Celia: “Was it, ah, bad? The divorce?”
GM: “Well, I can’t say it was fun to go through. But compared to your family’s, it was really tame. Worst that came of it were some angry arguments and broken plates.”
“All from my mom. My dad doesn’t lose his temper like that.”
Celia: “What happened between them?”
GM: “So, I’m not 100% on the details. My dad doesn’t like to talk about it and I… can’t really ask my mom.”
“But I think it had to do with his job. As a prosecutor. I think he might have received a death threat.”
“My mom really freaked out about it. I could hear her screaming about how he’d leave her a widow and how he didn’t care about her, or his children.”
“Or I think it might have been part of a sensitive case he was assigned to.”
“I don’t think it was just over the death threat, though. They got into a lot of arguments. Underlying issues, maybe, in the marriage.”
“My dad’s never said it, but I think he has a lot of contempt for just how hysterical she was all the time. And really didn’t like it how she kept accusing him of not caring about us. She was just always on his case.”
Celia: “I think it’s pretty normal for someone to get hysterical about a death threat… but… I don’t know, I guess if I knew what I was getting into…” she trails off. She’d like to think she’s made of stronger stuff than that. That if she and Stephen were to get married she could withstand some threats. She’d be proud of him for standing up against it. She doesn’t say it, though.
“About working too much?”
GM: “He did, does, work a lot, yeah. His job just means so much to him. Runs in our family.”
He thinks. “I think she actually accused him, once, of sleeping with his secretary.”
“Which of course he didn’t. That isn’t him at all.”
“She just didn’t get it. And maybe this is a little presumptuous of me, since she’s known my dad longer than I have, but she wasn’t born into our family. Wasn’t raised on stories about how important the work we do is.”
Celia: At least she hadn’t tried to cut his leg off for it.
“That’s, ah… yeah. I imagine it’s hard to be a wife to someone like that if you’re not raised in the same sort of environment. It’s different hearing about it versus living it, I bet.”
“Did he, though? Get a death threat? You make it sound like that’s pretty normal.”
GM: “Yeah. I guess it is different living it. She doesn’t see the big picture, or how public service really is meant to be service to the public. All she cared about was whether he’d use it to run for higher office. Talking about his political future was the only time she ever seemed to get excited about his career. I think she loved the idea of being married to an attorney general. All she cared about was us. She can just be so… small.” Stephen doesn’t hide the scorn in his voice.
“As far as death threats… it can happen. It doesn’t all the time, but it can.”
“Most of the time, though, the objective is just to scare you.”
Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. Personally she thinks it’s good that their mom cares about them, but what does she know. She’s not a mom. Or an attorney. Or a wife. She thinks she understands what he means, though.
“And he didn’t back down.”
GM: “Works on most people. Doesn’t on my dad.” Stephen’s tone is proud.
“Besides, actually killing someone like him would set off a shitstorm.”
Celia: “So they’re a bunch of cowards. Who use death threats and intimidation. And it didn’t work because your dad is a badass. And your mom couldn’t hack it at his side.”
“…sorry, I didn’t, ah, I didn’t mean it to sound like that.”
GM: “Well, it’s accurate enough,” Stephen smiles. “The Mafia aren’t badasses. Forget pop culture. They’re just bullies. They’re happy to use dog-pack intimidation, to go after already desperate people in gangs, but it’s insane how easily they ‘flip’ and rat out their fellows once law enforcement busts them. All that talk about ‘omerta’ is just pure talk. Like all bullies, they’re really just cowards deep down. People too stupid and brutish to actually hack a socially contributive job.”
Celia: “What’s ‘omerta’?”
GM: “Their code of honor. Code of silence. It means never, ever talking to the authorities, handling your own problems like a ‘real man,’ and being a ‘stand-up guy’ who’ll do his time and not cooperate with authorities if he ever gets caught. It ties into a bunch of machismo bullshit.”
“It’s also a complete joke. The best weapon law enforcement has against the mob is mobsters willing to cooperate with us against other mobsters. Whether that’s wearing wires, providing witness testimony at trials, or just information. There’s a lot they can do for us. In return, they get reduced sentences and sometimes enrolled in one of the witness protection programs.”
“There’s no question it’d be way harder to take them down if they actually followed their own code. If every guy we arrested just stonewalled and refused to talk.”
Celia: “I don’t understand,” Celia admits. “If you grow up like that, around that family, why sell out your own? I can’t imagine selling out my family like that, just to suit my own needs.”
GM: “It’s sell out or spend a good chunk of your life behind bars. Maybe all your life.”
“Prison isn’t a fun place. Most people will try to avoid spending time there.”
“Plenty mobsters are older men or family men. 30 years behind bars can mean a death sentence.”
“It’s a lot of your family’s lives to miss out on. So it can be less clear-cut than choosing your own skin or your family’s, too.”
Celia: “I thought their whole thing is family loyalty. But I guess that makes sense. When push comes to shove people choose their own skin.”
“Except your dad, because he knows they’re bluffing. And you, because you wouldn’t let someone push you around like that.” Celia smiles at him.
GM: Stephen smiles back. “Exactly.”
“But family loyalty for them is more true in theory than practice. And like all people, they also care most about their immediate families. If you have a 10-year-old kid, 20 plus years behind bars means missing a huge portion of their life. It also means not being able to provide for your family, either. Don’t forget many mobsters are chauvinistic doucehbags who prefer their women to be good little housewives and trophy wives.”
“So it’s really more like a choice between their immediate families and a ‘family business’ where their other relatives also happen to work.”
“They aren’t all related, either.”
Celia: “Oh. So they don’t all have the same last name like in all the movies you told me not to watch that I definitely didn’t watch?”
GM: “Ha. They don’t. Plenty ‘families’ are run by mobsters who aren’t actually related to the ‘mob family’s’ name.”
Celia: “Makes sense, I guess, since they only have so many kids.”
GM: “That’s a romantic thought and makes for better movies, but succession in real-life mob families tends to messier than the son always taking over from the father.”
Celia: “Can I ask a silly question?”
GM: “Only silly question is one you don’t ask.”
Celia: “Does, um… I mean, New Orleans has a family, right?”
GM: “Yeah, it does.”
Celia: “And that’s who your dad wants to take down? Is it just one family that runs a whole city?”
GM: “As in, one biological family?”
Celia: “Well like one Mafia family, I guess. I don’t know how it works.”
GM: “So maybe it’d be easier if we refer to ‘mob family’ as ‘criminal organization’, which can include multiple biological families. Plus individuals totally unrelated to those families.”
“The criminal organization in our city has been led by the Agnellos, the Machecas, the Matrangas, the Carollas, and the Marcellos at various times. Leadership inevitably changes over 150 years.”
“Lot of those family’s descendants are still around. Lot of them have intermarried, too.”
Celia: “But it’s all the same organization?”
GM: “Yes. There’s only one Mafia criminal organization in the city. That’s true in basically every city except New York, which has the Five Families. But it’s an exception. Even Chicago just has the Chicago Outfit.”
“Organizations from different cities frequently work together, though. Or get into fights.”
“For instance, Al Capone once visited New Orleans in the ‘20s. The local mob broke his bodyguards’ fingers and sent him back to Chicago.”
Celia: “They didn’t want his bootleg whiskey?”
GM: “The reverse, actually. He wanted theirs and demanded that Carollo supply the Chicago Outfit with imported alcohol, rather than his rivals the Gennas.”
“That’s one of the exceptions to cities having just one Italian-American crime organization. Chicago had two in the ’20s.”
Celia: “But Capone won, didn’t he? Took out the other family?”
GM: “Yep. They had a pretty bloody war and eventually the Outfit absorbed the Gennas.”
Celia: “You know how I knew that?”
“‘Cause I’ve never heard of the Gennas.”
GM: “Ha. I was about to say, ‘Because Al Capon had a larger than life public image and reputation as the ultimate gangster despite not actually being Chicago’s most successful gangster.’”
Celia: “Right, see, but he brought them whiskey, and that’s all people really care about in the end.”
GM: “Case in point, we busted him for tax evasion, sent him to prison, and when he got out he died with syphilis as a broken man.”
Celia: “Oh. That’s, uh… huh. Terrible ending.”
GM: “You don’t hear about that as much. He spent his last days in Florida as a half-senile shell of his former self.”
“It’s Tony Accardo, one of his successors, who was probably Chicago’s most successful gangster.”
Celia: “What did he do?”
GM: “He never got caught.”
“Case in point, how you’re asking what he did. He kept a lower public profile. You haven’t heard of him, and that’s just how he’d have liked it.”
Celia: Of course not. That’s why she asked.
GM: “He died in the early ’90s at the ripe old age of 82. Over his whole life, he only spent a single night inside a jail cell.”
“He stepped down as Chicago’s mob boss in ‘57 to take less heat. He’d made enough money he was able to ‘go legit’ and invest in a variety of legal commercial holdings. He died a rich man.”
“And that’s a travesty.”
Celia: “But that won’t happen here, with the family you mentioned. Because you and your dad are going to lock them all away.”
GM: He nods. “Maybe not in our lifetimes. But we’ll put away as many as we can, and make things easier for the next generation. Maybe my son or grandson will finish the job.”
“That’s why people like my dad can’t get intimidated by death threats, though. Evil wins. Monsters like Accardo get to die rich in their own beds.”
Celia: “Not your daughter, though?”
GM: “Well, I suppose it’s 2008. I wouldn’t rule that out. But the legal profession can be pretty female-unfriendly in a lot of ways.”
Celia: Celia uses her hand to prop up her chin, lifting her head so she can raise her brows at him.
GM: “Lot more men than women serve as prosecutors. That’s just how it is.”
Celia: “That doesn’t mean it’s unfriendly.”
“What’re you gonna do if you only have girls, then?”
GM: “I’ve talked to female lawyers who say it 100% is unfriendly. Law schools enroll roughly the same number of men as women, but the latter are still a minority in the trial room. Especially when it comes to the high-profile role of first chair.”
“The female lawyers I know say they get way more scrutinized over their clothes and mannerisms. They apologize and say ‘thank you’ a lot more often in court transcripts. They can’t use the same ‘bare knuckle’ arguing style male attorneys can. They have to be ‘fencers’ instead or they get seen as bitches, unhinged, hysterical, etc. They say everyone from judges to juries to clients can be sexist in a million little ways.”
Celia: “That’s kind of any female, though. Get angry and someone asks if you’re on your period because you aren’t allowed to show emotions. Be assertive and you’re a bitch. It’s a bunch of… BS, really.”
GM: “It is, and it isn’t fair.”
“In private practice, women also tend to make lower salaries, and vastly fewer rise to a firm’s inner circle. Big Law is very much a male-dominated industry.”
“I’d honestly rather have a lawyer son than a lawyer daughter.”
Celia: “So obviously if you have daughters you’ll push them to do the same things you’d expect of your sons.”
GM: “Well, two reasons I might not.”
“First, I’d rather they just not have to go through that. There’s tons more women-friendlier jobs out there.”
“Second, they’d be less effective in the courtroom. 100%, it’s sexism and would be nothing to do with their own skill as lawyers. But that’s just how it is.”
Celia: “That’s terrible.”
GM: “The Mafia, especially, holds women in contempt.”
Celia: “You mentioned that. That they’re abusive and cheat on their wives and stuff.”
GM: “Yep. On top of flat-out not allowing women to actually join the Mafia. They wouldn’t be as intimidated by female prosecutors.”
Celia: “My dad told me to pick a major that would attract a husband.”
GM: “Your dad’s one of the worst human beings I’ve ever met.”
Celia: “I guess it just kind of… I don’t know, I thought other people would be more open-minded. It’s 2008. Who cares if I have a vagina.”
GM: “The legal field’s a pretty conservative institution. Slow to change.”
“And the Mafia’s even more backwards.”
Celia: Celia sighs at him, as if it’s his fault.
GM: “So, yeah. Isn’t politically correct, but I’d rather have sons carry on the Garrison family legacy than daughters.”
Celia: “Are you going to be like that king who killed his wife for giving him daughters?”
GM: “Ha. I’d think it was too bad if she only gave me girls. But I’d draw the line there.”
He pauses. “That sounds really sexist.”
Celia: “It does.”
GM: “Look, if women didn’t face the same obstacles as men, I’d be happy to have lawyer daughters.”
Celia: “It’s fine,” Celia says after a minute, “I guess I get it. You want good things for your daughters, don’t want them to struggle twice as hard to get half as much.”
GM: “It’s not just that.” Roderick looks like he’s trying to explain. “Look, it’s as if they were weightlifters, and they got weights that were 100 pounds heavier than their male competitors’. The system is unfair and is specifically designed to make women less successful than men, but that’s how it is. We can’t afford to be anything but completely successful in destroying the Mob. More people will die or have their lives destroyed if we don’t.”
Celia: Well, she’d been trying to give him the benefit of the doubt.
She nods, though, as if she gets it.
As if she agrees.
GM: “Every court decision that goes even a little bit more in a mobster’s favor because the prosecutor was female means he could cause that much more misery in the world.”
“Trial outcomes and plea deals aren’t just a matter of ‘busted’ or ‘not busted,’ either. There’s a sliding scale of outcomes and being female tilts the scale against the good guys, as unfortunate as that is.”
Celia: “Well, who knows, maybe your future wife will only pop out sons, anyway. And if you do have a daughter you can tell her to pursue dance so she can meet a lawyer of her own.”
Celia smirks at him.
GM: “Ha.” He smirks back and strokes her thigh.
“Dance is pretty great at keeping that lawyer, too…”
Celia: Celia takes the invitation for what it is. She shifts, rolling her body across his so that her thighs part to either side of his waist. The blankets pool around her hips, but the top of her is bare.
“Because I’m so flexible?” she asks him.
“Although…” she twists again, moving off of him in a fluid motion that he couldn’t even dream of replicating, “I guess I can’t take top since women are, you know, beneath you and all.”
“Shame, too. I know how eager you are to have me try it.”
GM: He smiles. “The courtroom’s sexist and unfair. My bed isn’t.”
“How about I go down on you, and then you take top?”
Celia: “Yes, sir, Mr. Lawyer, sir.”
Saturday evening, 13 December 2008
GM: Stephen’s family lives at an old-looking Queen Anne house in the Uptown neighborhood. It’s got an iron fence around the perimeter, a few palm trees around the expansive yard, and a tall set of stairs leading up to the front porch. Like many homes in New Orleans, the ‘basement’ is actually the first story and the ground floor is the second floor. It’s not a true mansion like the ones in Audubon Place, but it’s a large and nice-looking house. Federal prosecutor looks like it pays pretty well.
The property is surrounded by an eight-foot iron gate and requires a private code to enter, which Stephen shows Celia as he inputs. Security cameras are visible around the property. Stephen also mentions that a private security company patrols the neighborhood.
“For some of our neighbors it’s honestly just a vanity thing, but my dad would rather be safe than sorry.”
Celia: Compared to the gun-toting Blackwatch security with their snarling Dobermans, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds, the security around Stephen’s dad’s house is downright pedestrian. She just smiles at him, though, because she gets it. She lives in Audubon, after all.
“It makes sense,” she says as the gate swings open. “I’d probably want the same for my family if I had his job.”
GM: “Yeah. We haven’t really needed it but I’m glad we have it.”
Stephen rings the doorbell. It’s promptly answered by the man who must be his father. Henry Garrison is a middle-aged man with a squarer jaw, larger nose, and stockier build than his son, but the same brown eyes and hair (if receding in the senior Garrison’s case). Stephen seems like he’s inherited his best looks from his mother’s side of the family.
Mr. Garrison is wearing a button-up and slacks as he greets his son and shares a hug with him, who then turns to introduce his girlfriend.
“…and this is Celia, Dad.”
Celia: Celia will never tell Stephen how much anxiety she’d felt today while she waited for him to pick her up at the dorm. She’d driven Emily mad with the way she’d paced around the room, until her roommate had finally snapped at her that she was trying to study and by god if she changed one more time she’d slap her silly. Celia had ceased her pacing after that. Even the days leading up to the dinner had been fraught with worry: what if his dad doesn’t like her? What if his sister doesn’t like her? What if they’re mean? What if she says the wrong thing or they think she’s stupid? Daddy had always said she’s slow. She’d gone through seven different outfits before she’d settled for a tea-length pink dress and moderate heels, and even now she second guesses her decision as she takes in Stephen’s dad. She should have dressed up more, maybe. Or less. Or something.
Daddy says that women don’t shake hands. Celia hadn’t known if Mr. Garrison would feel the same way, so she’d made the choice early to keep her hands full to avoid the difficult situation. Mom always told her not to show up empty-handed to an event, anyway, so she’s got a freshly made pie in her hands.
She smiles up at Stephen’s dad as he introduces her.
“Hello, Mr. Garrison. It’s wonderful to meet you. Thank you so much for having me over for dinner.”
GM: Celia’s mother adored the dress. “It’s very cute, sweetie. Very wholesome look to meet your beau’s dad in.”
Emily didn’t have an opinion beyond, “Go naked with a friggin wooden barrel over your tits if you want to, so long as it’s the last outfit you try on.”
Stephen’s father smiles at her. It’s a shorter, tighter-feeling smile than Stephen’s which reminds Celia of her grandmother. And of how the woman doesn’t often smile, so upgrade there, at least.
“It’s our pleasure, Celia. Stephen’s said a lot about you.”
“All good things,” her boyfriend adds.
“That pie looks wonderful. Let me take it for you,” Mr. Garrison offers, reaching out with his hands. His son gets a not-so-subtle reproachful look.
Stephen had volunteered to carry it.
Celia: She hadn’t explained to Stephen why she wanted to carry it. It felt silly even to her. But she passes it off to Mr. Garrison with a smile to cover what might be a slightly awkward moment for the two.
“I thought I couldn’t go wrong with chocolate,” Celia says as she hands it over. “I wasn’t sure if y’all had a sweet tooth or not, but ’tis the season.”
‘Tis the season, indeed, though it doesn’t quite feel like it here in the Big Easy. The rest of the world might be covered with snow, but here, at least, it’s warm enough out to let her get away with wearing the dress.
Emily’s patience might have been a little short with Celia because she’s been debating what she should get Stephen for Christmas, too. If anything. “What if it’s too soon?” she’d asked her roommate multiple times.
GM: “Then I guess you’ll break up and he’ll hate you forever. Better stress yourself out for days deciding the date,” Emily had answered after the third+ time.
Celia: Emily gets coal, Celia had decided.
GM: “I’m sure we’ll all enjoy it,” Mr. Garrison answers as they head inside. Celia’s greeted by a large black doberman pinscher that sniffs her knees. “This is Ajax,” Stephen says, patting its muzzle.
Celia: “Oh!” Celia hadn’t been warned about a dog. She’s intimidated by its size at first—she’s seen the Dobermans around Audubon and knows how aggressive they can get—but after a moment of it simply sniffing at her she offers it a hand to sniff and finally pets its back. She’s delighted by the way it wags its tail at her.
“He’s adorable,” Celia says with a fond smile, looking to Stephen. “I didn’t know you had a dog.”
GM: The large dog licks Celia’s hand.
“Only people without love in their hearts aren’t pet people,” Stephen smiles.
The home’s interior is neat and well-kept. There’s a Christmas tree out with presents stacked around the bottom. It’s a smaller Christmas display than at her dad’s house, but larger than the mini-tree Celia’s mother keeps in a pot on the dining room table. Three stockings hang by the fireplace.
Celia: “Dad won’t let us get one,” Celia sighs, scratching behind the dog’s ears. Daddy had told her that she isn’t responsible enough for another pet after what happened to Sugar Cube.
GM: “Well, not everyone can. But only people without love don’t want one.”
Celia’s mom really wanted cats, but ‘no pets’ is the policy in her cheap apartment.
Celia: “He’s a cutie, yes he is,” Celia says while she pets the dog. Forget Stephen, she’ll take Ajax home with her and call it a day. She can feed him bacon and buy him tennis balls for Christmas. She smiles up at her boyfriend once the dog gets tired of her petting him, though.
“Did you grow up here?”
GM: Stephen’s father tells the pair that he and Dani are “almost finished” with dinner as he carries the pie into the kitchen. The younger Garrison is left to entertain Celia for the few minutes until then.
He nods at her question. “Yep. Parents got this place when I was pretty young.”
Celia: “Can I help?” she asks Stephen. “Set the table or anything?”
GM: “Oh no, that’s all done. Dad doesn’t like to make guests work.”
Celia: “Does your family decorate the tree together?” Celia nods toward the Christmas tree.
Daddy has “people” for that. They come in and stage the whole house. There isn’t a lot of personal holiday cheer in their house since Mom left. They’d used to do it all together, make a big day of it with cookies and stringing popcorn, but since the divorce… well, it’s not the same, even if the amount of presents has grown.
GM: He smiles. “Don’t all families? That’s one of the best moments of the holiday.”
Celia: She gives him a vague smile and a nod that might be assent.
GM: Celia’s mom did decorate the tree together with her. It didn’t take very long, given how the tree was small enough to fit on top of her dining room table. “But it is nice to be doin’ this again together, now isn’t it, sweetie?” she’d smiled.
Celia: It had taken no time at all. Mom’s tiny tree only took a dozen ornaments before it was full, and even the smallest light strand had been too much. They’d had fun with the tinsel, though. To be fair, most of it had ended up in their hair when they’d started tossing it at each other rather than draping it across the baby pine’s boughs.
They do have plans to make cookies for Santa in a few days, though.
“What’re you hoping for from Santa this year?” she asks, in what she thinks passes for a sly, subtle question.
GM: It’s been a modest Christmas thus far.
But a more joyful one than her dad’s.
“Subtle,” Stephen smirks. “But I’m hop…”
He’s cut off by a crashing sound from the kitchen.
Celia: Well damn. Now she’s back to square one.
“Uh oh. Should we investigate?”
They hear voices on their way over.
“…maybe we can just rinse them off?”
“We’re not going to serve a guest food off the floor, Danielle.”
“It’s fine. I’ll make another side.”
Celia: Celia pokes her head into the kitchen. She can’t help but notice the differences between households. Mr. Garrison doesn’t even sound mad; she doesn’t think too hard on what would happen if she were to do the same thing at her father’s house.
“Five second rule,” she chimes in. “I’ll pretend I didn’t see it, if you like.”
GM: Mr. Garrison looks up. He’s picking up roasted baby potatoes from the floor, alongside a teenage girl with neck-length brownish-blonde hair and hazel eyes who must be Stephen’s younger sister. She’s dressed a little more casually than Celia in a blue top and darker skirt, but she’s more dressed up than in jeans too.
“That’s kind of you to offer, Celia, but it still happened,” Mr. Garrison replies as he drops potatoes into the trash. “This is Stephen’s sister Danielle, by the way.”
“Hi,” she offers a little lamely.
Celia: Celia smiles at the girl.
“Hi, Danielle. It’s great to meet you. I dropped a salad the other day when I was at home with my dad. It went splat, all over the floor.” Celia gives a kind of what-can-you-do shrug and grin. “The dressing was a nightmare to get up. Oil and water, you know. Anything I can help with? Chopping or sweeping…?”
GM: Dani smiles back. She looks a little less embarrassed at the story.
“You’re a guest here. We’ll do the housework,” Mr. Garrison says. “Stephen, can you help me make a replacement side while Danielle entertains Celia?”
“Sure, Dad.” He looks at his girlfriend. “We’ll try not to take too long.”
Celia: “Oh, no, take as long as you want. Now I’ve got the inside scoop on you.” Celia takes Dani by the arm to lead her from the kitchen, already leaning in to stage whisper, “tell me everything.”
GM: The younger teenager gives a slightly nervous laugh. “Okay, about Stephen…?”
Celia: “Every embarrassing story you can think of,” Celia confirms, winking at her boyfriend over her shoulder as she and Dani take their exit.
GM: Stephen just draws a finger over his throat with an exaggerated expression.
Dani stifles a giggle at that and rolls her eyes.
Celia: She waits until they’re out of earshot to giggle.
“No, no, that’s okay. Unless you’ve got something super juicy about him.” Celia wiggles her brows. “I talk to him enough, though. Tell me about you.”
GM: Dani pauses for a moment at Celia’s question and answers, “Oh, well… I’m a junior at McGehee. I think I’m going to go to Tulane.”
“I think I know your grandma, too? We have a judge, Payton Underwood, who sometimes volunteers with the debate team.”
Celia: “I went to McGehee,” Celia tells her. “My mom actually… ah, yeah! I didn’t know Grandma was still involved.”
“Are you on the team? I bet you can really hold your own in a debate, family like this.”
GM: “Well, I try. Stephen has a lot more trophies than me.” Dani smiles self-deprecatingly.
“But yeah, I am! I’m not the captain or anything but I’m in varsity.”
Celia: “Stephen is an overachiever. And he’s got, what, six years on you? Plenty of time to beat his record.”
GM: Dani smiles faintly. “He really is, yeah. But you were saying something about your mom?”
Celia: “Just that she teaches at McGehee. The dance classes. Mrs. Flores.”
GM: Dani smiles widely. “Oh, I have your mom as a teacher! For Ballroom Dance.”
“I didn’t know she was your mom. Or Judge Underwood’s daughter. Those different last names, I guess.”
Celia: Celia beams at her.
“Yeah, she is. She loves teaching dance. I took ballet lessons all through childhood from her, actually. She really likes it there.”
GM: “Oh, you’re lucky. She’s really, really nice,” Dani gushes. “There’s just so much pressure at McGehee to do well, but when you come in to her class all you have to do is dance and unwind and listen to music, and know you’ll get an ‘A’ so long as you show up. She makes it a really positive space. I bet you already know, but her class is really popular.”
Celia: “She’s the best,” Celia confirms. “We’re making cookies later this week. For, um, for ‘Santa.’ She’s a mean hand at decorating, I tell you. I think she could do pretty much anything she puts her mind to.”
GM: “Oh I bet,” smiles Dani. “She decorated the classroom for Christmas, too. And Halloween and other holidays. I guess she likes to liven the place up. She also lets us change out of the uniforms on Fridays.”
Celia: “Ha, sounds like her. That must be a nice treat.”
“Those blouses,” Celia says with a shake of her head, “are so… y’know. Ugh.”
GM: “Oh, I thought you took ballet lessons with her?”
“And, yeah. Those blouses.” Dani makes a face. “I guess they’re whatever in most classes, but she says it adds a lot for us to wear actual dance clothes for practice.”
“Even if we can’t actually dance with any guys, ha ha.”
Celia: “I did. Growing up. My parents split when I was a teenager, and Dad got kind of sad when I brought up continuing to dance in her class, so I just take private lessons now.” Celia kind of shrugs. ‘Sad’ is hardly the word she’d use.
“Ha, but that’s what those mixers are for. Don’t they have the Snowflake Ball coming up soon?”
GM: “Oh. I’m sorry, divorces aren’t much fun. Stephen didn’t say.” Dani looks sad for her, but goes on, “But yeah, they do. Your mom only mentions it, like… every single class.”
Celia: “Sounds like Mom.”
GM: “But I guess she does have a point. Why learn to dance in her class if you aren’t going to a real one.”
Celia: “Are you going with anyone?”
GM: “Uh, I’m shopping around, guess you could say. Schoolwork just takes up so much time, plus extracurriculars.”
Celia: Celia nods her head. She’s been there. She gets it.
“What do you do, besides debate team?”
GM: “I do lacrosse too. Plus the school newspaper and some volunteer work. Little bit of everything, I guess. Anything to make the college app look good.”
Celia: “That is a little bit of everything.”
GM: “I dunno if Stephen’s told you much about LD debate, or if you ever did that, but I once made the mistake of writing my cases at the tournament. Figured that’d give me more time to relax at home.” She gives a mild laugh. “Definitely never again, there.”
Celia: Celia makes a sympathetic noise. “Yeesh. That is definitely brave of you, though. I think I’d have a panic attack even thinking about trying something like that.”
“D’you know what you want to do, so far as Tulane? I’m sure you get that question a lot, sorry.”
GM: “I mean, they said you had hours sitting around between rounds. And you do. Just hours sitting around with a bunch of teens in semiformal clothes eating junk food.”
“But I guess I should’ve listened to Stephen, he kept telling me it was a horrible idea.”
Celia: “Ah, well, we need to learn things for ourselves sometimes.”
“Plus, y’know, older brothers are supposed to worry and all that.”
“I hope he didn’t say, ‘I told you so.’”
GM: “It was, uh, more like a wince.” Dani gives a partly sheepish look. “I lost every single one of my cases.”
Celia: “Oh no.”
GM: “I was at least too sugar-bombed to notice a lot, though. I actually got sick the day after from all the junk food I ate at the tournament. Plus nerves, I guess.”
Celia: “I had a friend once who played a competitive card game, and he told me that he liked to throw the first round. Lose on purpose. So his opponents underestimated him and thought they’d have an easy win, and he smashed them.”
“So, really, you could just say you were lulling them into a false sense of security.”
GM: “Oh, that is good strategy. Maybe a little hard to replicate with LD, though. Since you usually go up against different people. And you’re in a closed room with them and the judges. So.”
“I wasn’t on the debate team,” Celia admits.
GM: “Oh, well, you have to be crazy into it if you want to do really well at it. It takes a lot of ‘homework.’ Stephen would spend hours and hours writing his cases and practicing with our dad.”
“He said you’re a dance major, like your mom?”
Celia: “I bet. You must be really smart to be able to pull it off on top of everything else you do.”
GM: “Welll, Stephen still picked up a lot more trophies than me. But I try.”
“He actually went to nationals.”
Celia: “I am, yeah. Dance major. I’m also… well, I’m also going to school for esthetics, which is skincare, so I’m kind of pulling double duty.”
Of course he did.
GM: “Oh, you are? That’s interesting! Are you going to be a dermatologist, or…?”
Celia: “Stephen told me it was good practice for law.”
“Oh, um… Maybe. It’s a separate degree, but I’ve thought about it.”
GM: “Yeah, he’s right. He and our dad say you have to love LD debate if you want to love law. Or at least trial law.”
Celia: “Are you going into law, too?”
GM: “Oh, uh, I’m not sure. I’ve thought about it, but Stephen’s sort of got that base already covered. Plus he’ll be a way better lawyer than I’d be anyway.”
She chuckles. “Like I said, you should see all the debate trophies we have in the house.”
Celia: Celia huffs a laugh. She waves a hand, though, to dismiss the claim that Dani won’t be as good.
“What do you want to do then?”
GM: “I’m, ah, I guess leaving my options open. I’m not totally sure yet. Figure I’ll just major in something broad like English I can use for a lot, you know? I mean, Stephen’s majoring in philosophy. He says your undergrad is basically whatever you want to have fun with, if it’s not STEM.”
Celia: “He told me the same thing when we met,” Celia confirms. “That he thought it was interesting and it doesn’t matter. And he’s right. You’re also super young, so you definitely have time to play around and change your mind.”
“I told him I was majoring in dance and then going to law school since it ’doesn’t matter,’ but I don’t think he thought it was funny.”
She grins, though.
GM: Dani laughs. “Well, I guess you could pull it off, if it doesn’t matter. You said you were thinking about dermatology, or did you want to dance professionally…?”
Celia: “Oh, I doubt I’ll ever be as graceful as my mother. I’ll stick to the skincare, I think. My dad wanted me to get the college experience, though, so here I am.”
“If I were serious about dance I’d have looked into a performing arts college, maybe even high school.”
GM: “True. But I’m sure a dance degree is still worth a lot, for them to offer it. Though I’m surprised you’re not doing a STEM major, if you’re going into skincare…?”
“Dermatologists are doctors, right?”
Celia: “They are. I’m doing esthetics. It’s a little different. Trade school.”
GM: “Oh. And you’re still going to Tulane?” Dani sounds surprised.
Celia: “Well, dance isn’t a super demanding major. Just the gen eds.”
GM: “Oh, I guess that makes sense. I mean, you have to try not to get a good grade in dance classes.”
Celia: “You really, really do.”
GM: “At least at your mom’s, anyway, I dunno if it’s harder in college?”
Celia: “There was this girl in my class who was, um, kind of rude to the instructor, and said something about how being a cheerleader made her really good at dance, and then started kind of making fun of some of the other dancers, so that was awkward. She didn’t last long.”
GM: “Oh, wow. That is really arrogant.”
Celia: “Little bit, yeah.”
GM: “But, yeah. Dance is a fun class. Or major, I bet. It’s an easy ‘A’, you don’t have to study anything, and you get to move around after all that sitting and lecturing.”
Celia: “We have performances to do and shows to see, but it’s nothing like writing essays and taking tests. Definitely an easy ‘A’.”
GM: “And I bet your mom’s always asking about it or wanting to practice dance moves with you, so that must be a lot of fun to get to do together.”
“That’s how it is here. Stephen isn’t even in law school yet and he and Dad are just talking about law-related stuff all the time. Constantly.”
Celia: “That sounds like it might be a little… exclusive.”
GM: “Well, he knows what he wants to do. Dad’s thrilled over it. Really proud of him. We’ve had a lawyer in the family every generation going back forever.”
Celia: “Sure, but there’s more to life than law.”
GM: “Oh, sure. He talks about you a lot, too.”
Celia: “Does he?” Celia finds herself blushing.
GM: “He’s really sweet! It’s nothing bad,” Dani assures.
“Lot of good things. He’s really… just really into you.”
Celia: “I’m really into him, too.”
She can’t quite keep the smile off her face.
GM: Speak of the devil, and he’ll appear.
“All right, dinner’s ready,” Stephen tells the two.
Celia: Uh oh. She hopes he didn’t hear what she’d just said about him.
GM: Her boyfriend just smiles at her.
Maybe she should.
“We’re having chicken and dumplings,” he starts as they walk back to the dining room. “We’d actually made dessert, too, so I guess with your pie we’ll have two.”
Perhaps it’s premature to already call this dinner a success, but at least hymen kits haven’t come up.
Monday evening, 15 December 2008
Celia: Celia hadn’t known what to wear.
It’s a weird question to ask the Internet, isn’t it, ‘what do I wear to meet my dad who I’ve never spoken to also he raped my mom and he’s apparently a little sleazy.’ She hadn’t asked Emily, either, since Emily had threatened to lock her out of the room in just her underwear if she ever asked what to wear again. Also Emily doesn’t know, and Celia doesn’t plan on telling her. A girl’s relationship with her dad is between her and her dad.
She’d settled for the sort of thing she’d wear to see her grandmother, though. Long skirt, tights, a sweater over the top of it. A pair of cute ankle booties complete the look—it’s December, even if it’s December in New Orleans—and she pulls a coat on over that as well for her trek into the French Quarter.
His address had been easy to find. That’s the trouble with being famous, really: people are always able to track you down. Her mom has the car this week, so Celia takes the bus to the proper stop, which gives her plenty of time to figure out what to say to him.
None of which is still sounds right when she lifts a hand to knock on his door.
GM: ‘His’ door, in this case, is the one to the building.
There’s a buzzer that Celia hits, scrolls through a list of units/residents, and finally calls.
“Yeah, what?” crackles a fat-sounding older man’s voice from the machine.
Celia: Well this is hardly what she’d been expecting when she’d pictured the first time speaking to him.
“Hi, Mr. Landreneau? My name is Celia.” She pauses. She’s not sure what to say after that. ’I’m your kid’ doesn’t quite seem like the appropriate thing to say to the box.
GM: “Celia who?” asks the box.
GM: “Dunno who that is, but you have a sexy voice. Come on up.”
The door unlocks.
Celia: Oh boy.
Celia pushes the door open and steps inside, looking for the elevator. His apartment number had, conveniently, been on the callbox outside, so she can at least get to the right place.
GM: She takes the elevator up. The door opens after she knocks. Ronnie “Ron” Landreneau is a wide-nosed, mustached man in his middle years with a receding hairline and expanding paunch that speaks to a life of comfortable self-indulgence. He’s dressed in a bathrobe, slippers, and probably nothing underneath.
He looks her up and down.
“All right, kid, these days I’m not into the chase, so I’ll cut to the point. If you’re as good in bed as you’re pretty, I’ll get you a movie part, take you out, pay for your meals, yada yada, and we’ll probably be done in a couple months.”
Celia: Celia stares up at him. Her eyes widen at the implication that he wants to sleep with her. Even if he weren’t her biological father, the very thought of sleeping with him for a part in a movie is… well, she’s not sure what it is. Is this how it works, getting a movie deal? Getting anything else? You just sleep with someone and get what you want?
She tucks a stray strand of hair behind her ear at the same time she tucks the thought away for later.
“Um, actually, sir… I’m not here for that.”
GM: “Then what is a young pair of tits like you here for?”
“If you’re selling anything besides your body, I’m not interested.”
Celia: Celia flushes. This isn’t how she expected things to go. Are all men like this?
“I think you might be my dad.”
GM: “Oh, okay,” he says casually. “Wait a sec.”
He walks back into the condo. The décor is quirkishly tasteful falling just short of tacky, and includes a painting with ‘I play so much zydeco—make your feet hurt’ lettering and a Saints flag with the team’s chant.
Ron comes back a few moments later with a cotton swab and a small plastic vial that’s partly filled with liquid.
“Open your mouth.”
Celia: Celia stares after him as he walks away, studying the apartment. She doesn’t mean to, but she’s curious about this man who her mom said is her father. She pretends like she wasn’t when he walks back toward her.
Open your mouth. Well, at least he hadn’t asked her to get on her knees first. She’s seen those swabs before at the doctor’s office, anyway. She hesitates for only a second before she opens her mouth.
GM: Ron gets the inside of her cheek with the swab, uncorks the vial, drops the swab in, and re-corks it.
“Okay, if the genetics lab says you’re mine, we’ll talk.”
“Until then, we got nothing else to talk about.”
Celia: “Oh. I thought we could… okay.”
There’s an awkward beat of silence.
GM: “Could what?”
Celia: “Should I leave my number?”
Celia: Celia scrawls her cell number on a spare bit of paper she pulls out of her purse. She offers it to him. The whole thing leaves her feeling kind of grimy, like she did something wrong in coming here. She swallows.
“Sorry to bother you, then.”
GM: He grunts, takes it, and closes the door.
Celia: She stares at the door for half a moment when it closes in her face, but doesn’t linger overmuch before taking her leave.
So much for happy family reunion.
Tuesday evening, 23 December 2008
GM: It’s about a week later before Celia gets a call to come back. Ron opens his condo door in the same bathrobe and slippers.
“All right, lab said you’re mine. C’mon in.”
“I’ve had way too fuckin’ many girls claim I’m their baby’s daddy, so don’t blame me for being a little cold earlier. Want something to drink?”
Celia: Celia follows him into the condo. She hadn’t expected him to call her back, even if she is his. After leaving that day she hadn’t even known if she’d come back if he’d called. But here she is, and here he is, and those are the words that confirm it all for her: she’s his. She isn’t Celia Flores. She’s Celia Landreneau. Maybe not officially, maybe that’s not the name on her birth certificate, but that’s who she is. A bastard. Half-black. God, is Diana even her mom? Some part of her had hoped that Mom was wrong, that Daddy is her dad.
She’s still reeling from the implications when he speaks again.
“Oh, um, a… soft drink, maybe? I’m only nineteen.” A pause, then, “I think I understand. My dad… my other dad, I mean, he told me that’s kind of what it’s like in Hollywood, with famous people.”
“There was that Saints player whose girlfriend took the condom out of the trash to get herself pregnant.”
GM: “Yeah. That is the sort of shit you see. Hollywood is a fucking piranha tank.”
Celia: “Is that why you came back?”
GM: “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven, I always say,” answers Ron as he opens the fridge. “I got seltzer and harder stuff, and don’t give a fuck if you’re 21.”
Celia: She doesn’t think he wants to hear that she’s never had anything harder than a splash of rum in her coke before.
“Whatever you’re having then.”
GM: He returns from the kitchen with two glasses filled with a light brown liquid. Celia isn’t sure what it is. He sits down on a leather couch and gestures for her to take a seat wherever.
“Who’s your mom, by the way?”
Celia: Celia takes the offered drink and finds a seat on the couch. She keeps her back straight, not quite ready to relax around him—even if he is her dad.
“Diana Flores. Or, well, Underwood at the time. She said you met at a party.”
It’s meant to be helpful, but she realizes belatedly that he probably meets most of his women at parties. When they’re not banging on his door to fuck, anyway.
GM: “Yeah, I dunno who that is.”
GM: “Well, whatever. Paternity test says you’re mine.”
He takes a sip of his drink.
Celia: Celia follows suit. She supposes she hadn’t expected him to remember her mom if he’s as hounded by other women as he implies that he is. Probably has a few side pieces at any given time.
“She doesn’t know I came to see you, anyway. She doesn’t want anything. My… her husband thinks I’m his.”
She’s pretty light-skinned for a girl who’s half black. Hair is a little more wavy than a white woman’s, maybe, but it’s nowhere near the coarse, kinky locks she’s seen on other black people.
GM: It tastes really strong and makes her want to sputter and gag.
Her apparent dad chuckles. “That’s funny.”
“Can see why, though. You’re pretty light.”
“Guess that’s this city. Who the fuck is completely white or black.”
Celia: She wrinkles her nose at the taste, even coughs a bit after she swallows. The second time it goes down easier, though. She has no idea what it is, but that doesn’t stop her from using it to kill the nerves.
“I was pretty surprised when I found out.”
GM: He takes another sip.
“Life’s full of ’em, I guess. So who are you?”
Celia: It’s a broad question, one that she’s not sure how to answer. She’s just a kid, really. Sheltered behind the walls of Audubon for 19 years, finally out in the real world.
“I’m a freshman at Tulane. I went to McGehee. I’m in the dance program. My mom taught us all ballet growing up, so that’s kind of my focus, but we expanded a little to include more contemporary things.”
Celia swirls the ice around in her drink. She’s a little warm. Is she boring him? What does he want to know?
“I’m also at John Jay Academy for esthetics.” There’s a pause, then, “no one knows that, though. My da—my mom’s husband said I need a four year degree, so I’m doing both, but when I finish and get my license I can start working in a real place instead of the student salon, so that’s kind of where my focus and energy go mostly.”
She lifts her eyes from her drink, her smile sheepish.
“Not very exciting.”
GM: “Huh, neat. If no one knows you’re at John Jay, how you paying for it?”
Celia: “My mom is helping. It’s not that much, next to a place like Tulane. I’ve been saving some money, too. Allowances and that kind of thing.”
She sips the drink. The charcoal and gasoline tastes downright sweet next to that lie.
“I followed your career a little, when you were out west. And when you came back.”
GM: “You need money?” Ron asks. “If it’s not much, things must be tight with your mom not covering it all.”
Well, not as tight since her mom filed for bankruptcy, apart from having to get on her knees every week.
Celia: “Oh, no. I mean, I appreciate it, but we’re managing. Thank you, though.”
GM: Paul hasn’t seemed as happy with that anymore.
He’s tried cuming on her face or into her hair a few times, as an alternative to her swallowing, but he’s remarked that the sight of “my whore on her knees” is starting to grow “familiar” and that “familiarity breeds contempt.”
Celia: What does Paul care. It’s not his money.
GM: He’s hinted they’re going to do anal soon. Whether she wants to do anal or not.
That second scenario seems like it would turn him on.
Celia: She tries not to think about it. She can stop soon. As soon as everything is fine with her mom. If he tries for more she’ll just stop seeing him.
Maybe she’ll finally have the balls to follow through on the blackmail. Get the evidence of those weird doors, find out what’s behind them. Turn him in for… something.
GM: Ron considers her.
“Guess you could be saying no to build trust. Make me work to get all the sad details, really build up how much you and your poor mother need the money, and get a higher figure. But you seem too naive for that shit if you care about drinking age and hearing ‘tits’ makes you blush.”
“Granted, you could also just be a really good bullshitter. It’s not like those don’t run in the family.”
Celia: Celia looks up from her glass. There’s less than there maybe should be considering her age and lack of tolerance. She blinks at him, the movement slow. Her cheeks and chest are a little more red than usual.
“I don’t want your money, Mr. Landrenau. I didn’t come here to ask for a handout. I’m not going to tell you a sob story. I wanted to meet the man who’s responsible for my existence, and that was it.” There’s a pause, then, “I’m nineteen. If I wanted your money or child support or something, I’d have contacted you five years ago.”
GM: “How much does John Jay cost?” he asks.
Celia: “Not enough to make a difference. I’m a trust fund kid. The guy who’s raising me is a senator. We don’t hurt for money.”
GM: “Uh huh. Except you say he isn’t paying for it, and your mom only partly is. So either she’s stealing from the cookie jar, and she’s afraid he’ll notice if she takes any more, or she’s poor and can’t cover it all. Plus if your trust was big enough, you’d just be paying your own way.”
“I’ll just look it up if you don’t tell me. So how much is it?”
Celia: She doesn’t know why there’s a sudden pressure in the corners of her eyes, moisture threatening to leak out. She blinks it away. This isn’t how she’d expected things to go.
She really is stupid. Like Daddy always said. She thought she could trade him out for a new dad and this one thinks she’s a money-grubbing opportunist.
Celia puts her glass down. She reaches into her purse, pulling out a small scrapbook with a smiling photo of a child-aged Celia on the cover, missing one of her two front teeth. There’s a bow in her hair and she’s holding up three fingers.
“I made this for you. Old baby photos, things like that. I thought maybe we could catch up on the years we missed. Maybe that was stupid of me.” He’d raped her mom. He wants to cut her a check and be done with her. Fifteen thousand to never speak to her again. What a deal, right?
“I’m sorry I bothered you.”
GM: He looks at the album. Something seems to pass over his face.
“Kid, hold the fuck up.”
“Look, you’re not the first baby a girl I’ve slept with has popped out. I don’t even know how many half-brothers and sisters you might have. It was always pretty hard for a girl to get me to use a rubber. Some have hit me up for money and some haven’t. They’ve all moved on with their lives. Some have tried to hit me up without popping out a baby, that’s always fun.”
“For the most part I didn’t give a fuck. I didn’t want to take care of a crying poop machine or go exclusive with a single girl. Or go to the effort of hiding I wasn’t exclusive. Only kids I had in my life where my niece and nephew. I got to be the cool uncle.”
“My niece… I fucked things up. I really fucked things up. I fucked things up so bad it was the last straw for my sister, and she didn’t want me in her kids’ lives no more.”
“So to my nephew that just made me the even cooler uncle. He used to hang out with one of my kids. Frankly, I always liked him more. My nephew, that is.”
“To my kid, I was… I was in his life, but I wasn’t in his life. He was in a ‘business’ I was interested in, and that’s pretty much all he was to me.”
“Well, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree with my nephew. Not far at fuckin’ all.”
“I don’t talk to him anymore. And my kid’s dead.”
Celia: Celia blanches at that. It isn’t the ending she’d expected. And to be phrased so bluntly.
“I’m sorry you lost him.” She hadn’t known. How could she have? Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. “Lost them both. That’s… I’m sorry.” What do you say to something like that? What words make it okay?
GM: “I didn’t lose him,” says Ron. “I never even had him.”
“I could have, and I didn’t.”
“My nephew I shoulda seen coming.”
“There’s real poison in our blood, you know. That makes us hurt the people we say we love. Makes everything we touch turn to shit.”
He looks her over. “Hope it’s skipped a generation with you.”
“Or that your parents stomped it out. They all right folks?”
Celia: Celia hesitates, but only for an instant.
“My mom’s the nicest lady in the world, or at least the city. She’s just a real sweetheart. Doesn’t have a bad word to say about anybody. There’s five of us, you know, but she went to school and she preformed as a ballerina for a long time. She… retired a few years ago. She teaches now. Says it’s the highlight of her day, teaching kids.” There’s a softness to her voice and face when she talks about Diana.
“She and her husband split a few years ago. He’s… a little old fashioned, you know, very Christian conservative. We all live with him.”
He didn’t want a sob story, so she doesn’t tell him one. Nothing about the abuse, nothing about the hacksaw.
GM: “Sounds like a douche. Your mom sounds nice, though. Hope I treated her right.”
Celia: Celia smirks at the first comment. It’s a little strained at the second.
“She didn’t mention.”
GM: “Well, I probably didn’t.”
Celia: She was seventeen and he raped her.
“It was a long time ago, anyway.”
GM: “I don’t have a lot to show for my life except mostly shitty movies and shittier regrets, anyways. After my son died, I tried to get in touch with some of my other baby mamas, but I was fuckin’ kiddin’ myself. They’d all moved on with their lives.”
“Well, except my son’s mom. She’ll hate me forever. Can’t really blame her, part of it was on me.”
“You showing up here is really sweet and all, kid. Really sweet or some grade-A quality bullshit, but it wouldn’t change my mind about you if it was.”
“Or how I’m gonna cut you a check either way. Spend it on tuition. Or drugs and shoes and shit. I hope it’s the former, as that’d make me feel better, but I’m used to not feeling better.”
“‘Cause the truth is, there’s no making up for 19 years, and I’m not your daddy. The guy who raised you is. I’m just a guy who blew his load between your mom’s legs.”
“So, you gonna tell me how much tuition is, or am I gonna look it up and drop the check off with your mom?”
Celia: Celia shakes her head. She doesn’t quite flush at his language, but she looks away for a moment, and beneath the foundation her cheeks are pink.
“I meant what I said. I’m not here for that. I don’t want that. I don’t want to be given a check and sent on my way. I don’t expect you to suddenly… be my dad, or something, and you don’t… you don’t want that anyway. I just wanted to meet you, I guess.”
GM: “Well, I don’t care if you don’t want it. You’re getting the money, either way. It’s the one thing that I’m good for.”
He takes a pull of his drink.
Celia: Celia just looks at him for a moment. There’s a lot she’d like to say to him. A lot of stories she’d like to tell him. Questions she’d like to ask. Things she wants to know about the world, because she thinks that maybe he’d be more honest with her about it than her parents are.
She lifts up her drink again, peering into the contents as if the slowly melting ice will tell her what to say. It’s quiet on that front, but another sip gives her that liquid courage she’s heard so much about.
“I’d like to get to know you. As a person, I mean, not a father figure. If you’re interested. Maybe we can get dinner sometime.”
GM: “Tell you what,” he says.
“You’re cute and sweet and innocent, and blush when I talk about cuming inside a woman, and need the money to help out your kind sweet mother. It’s a good story. I don’t care if it’s real or not. I’ve spent my whole life selling lies on a screen. I like this story. I want to write the next part.”
Ron makes a motion as if directing a camera.
“And the way it goes, the bad old man cuts the protesting girl a check after she stops protesting, and feels a little better knowing he’s made her life a little better. It’s a better ending if I give the protesting girl the check than her mom. Let me fuckin’ have that, and we can get dinner if you’re dead set on it.”
Celia: Celia huffs, but she can’t help the way it turns into a bit of a laugh at the end. He might be a scumbag rapist, but he’s kind of charming for all that. She can see why women like him enough to put up with him for a part in a movie.
“Dinner first,” she counters, “and then if you’re dead set on handing me a check I’ll… let you, I guess.”
“I’ll even wait until I’m out of your line of sight to rip it up. You’ll never know.” Except that she just told him. She looks down at her drink as if it has betrayed her. “Oh.”
GM: Ron laughs.
“Protesting girl turns it around and still gets the check, but not in the way the audience was expecting. Shows she has spunk, then reminds them she’s still young and naive.”
He looks at her thoughtfully. “You’d be a good actress, especially if you don’t mind spreading your legs.”
Celia: Is there a word that describes someone who is both mortified and flattered?
“Um.” Oh boy, look how interesting this drink is. Super interesting. She can’t help but stare at it. Look at the way the light refracts off the ice and spills onto the ground in a neat diamond pattern. Look how silly her legs look under the glass, like a fun-house mirror. One’s big and one’s little.
She blinks at them a few times.
“Um. I’m… I mean I…” She can’t claim she’s a virgin. She’s not. But that doesn’t mean she’s some sort of hussy. “There were, um, rules growing up. About boys. I have a boyfriend now. For the first time. He’s really nice.”
“I mentioned that once. Performing. I dance, though.”
“Ballet,” she adds quickly.
GM: Apart from how she has sex for money. With another man.
“A really nice boyfriend. That is sweet. Doesn’t rule anything out, but it is sweet. The dancing doesn’t hurt either.”
“It’s also going to be a cashier’s check, so you’ll just be setting money on fire if you rip it up. My bank account will be emptier either way. But I bet your poor sweet mother could use the money.”
Celia: Celia drains the rest of the glass. She doesn’t manage to take it down as smoothly as he has, but she doesn’t cough and sputter her way through it, at least. She finally looks up at him, cheeks still red. The flush has spread to her neck and chest, too, a sure sign of the alcohol working its magic. That and the bone-deep embarrassment from his words.
“If that’s what you want to do because you want to do it, then that’s fine. I just don’t want you to think that’s what I’m after or why I contacted you because it’s not. And if you don’t want to be my dad that’s fine too, I’m not asking that either, and maybe we can just do birthday dinners or something if you don’t want to see me more than that. Mine’s in July.”
She wants to ask if he really thinks she’ll make a good actress, but she doesn’t want him to think she only wants a part in a movie, either. Because she doesn’t.
GM: “I don’t care if it’s why. I told you. It’s a good story.”
“I believe in stories. Life is ugly. Stories are pretty. Or at least can be. Most of the ones I sell are ugly. But you’re still more likely to find a wholesome story than a wholesome person.”
“The idea I can be your dad is a story, too. He raised you, your whole life. I didn’t.”
Celia: She smiles for him. It’s a pretty smile, like the rest of her.
“Okay,” she says at last. There’s a real warmth to her eyes that hadn’t been there before, kicking the wariness out as if it had never existed.
GM: “Ah, see, that’s a smile,” he remarks appreciatively. “You’d look great on camera.”
Celia: “Maybe someday.”
GM: “In show biz, kid, ‘maybe’ is ‘yes’ and ‘no’ is ‘maybe.’”
Ron raises his glass.
“Here’s to ‘maybe.’”
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